"We expect to see the fruits of all our efforts with Freestyle Cruising in 2002," said Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) CEO and President Colin Veitch - with that payoff delayed after NCL "was particularly hard hit" by the events of Sept. 11. NCL's "very substantial loss" in the fourth quarter, said Veitch, resulted from "our company being rather ambitious in spreading our fleet all over the place - 35 percent of our capacity was based outside of North America. We were farther from home than any of the other major cruise lines," he said - not the ideal itinerary mix when American passengers suddenly decided not to fly.

Consumer response has been positive after NCL rapidly redeployed its fleet on a new ''Homeland Cruising" program, with 90 percent of all sailings departing from U.S. or Canadian ports.

"Prices are still down over last year but pricing in the last few weeks is higher than in the previous few weeks," Veitch said. Wave Period bookings are 65 percent ahead of last year, well ahead of NCL's capacity increases. "And surprisingly, the demand for the European cruises is much stronger than we thought it would be," he said, echoing similar comments from other cruise line executives.

Veitch also revealed that NCL plans to have a second ship homeported in Seattle for the 2003 summer season, featuring both Saturday and Sunday departures. (As a result, Holland America Line will sail the Amsterdam weekly out of Seattle departing Fridays in 2003, according to a port spokesperson.)

Regarding the new Norwegian Star program in Hawaii, Veitch commented, "It continues to be our strongest ship. Yields are good and after an initial couple of operational hiccups, it's running smoothly."

Turning to sister brand Orient Lines, Veitch said that the potential addition of the 37,000-ton, 670-passenger Ocean Voyager, currently sailing as the Superstar Aries for Star Cruises, will be considered once more next year, ''but I'm not confident yet that it will enter service in 2003," he added.

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