The Freestyle Challenge

NCLs Klaus Lugmaier who served as hotel director during start up of the Norwegian Star

For Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), the 2,200-passenger Norwegian Star offered a new challenge: For the first time, a ship was being introduced to the North American market with main dining rooms that did not have capacity to handle half the ship’s passengers - making it essential that diners were spread throughout the ship’s extensive alternative selections.

Cruise Industry News asked Klaus Lugmaier, who served as hotel director during the ship’s startup period, how NCL overcame the challenge.

Describe the challenges you faced in delivering Freestyle Dining aboard the Norwegian Star during its initial sailings.

“On the repositioning cruises (from the yard), we had many traditional cruisers who wanted to dine in the main restaurants at the same times each night. Again, when the Hawaii season started, we had many guests showing up in the main restaurants at once. We had lines outside of the main restaurants, especially the Versailles; its design attracted much attention. We had to boost the other restaurants to make them more enticing for our guests. We noticed that at the beginning of every cruise, everyone was shooting for the Versailles, but toward the end, they had been well-educated on the specialty restaurants and were trying those out.”

How exactly did you solve these issues?

“The first few weeks aboard the Norwegian Star were challenging. Through emails and daily phone calls, I was in communication with Frank Schmitt, senior vice president of hotel operations. We immediately began to adjust the onboard dining product, as well as entertainment, for a smoother operation, and we were able to fix the shortage of capacity and waiting time in the main restaurants within a short period of time.

“We made the dining outlets more attractive. We waived the cover charges in the Endless Summer restaurant, where we currently serve over 200 guests nightly. We expanded the capacity in La Trattoria restaurant from 125 to 250 seats. We further upgraded the menu in the Market
Cafe, added even more staff, and further upgraded the venue by adding demo- graphically oriented theme nights with even more food action stations.

“We concentrated heavily on our specialty restaurants. The Soho Room went from a-la-carte individually priced items to a fixed cover charge of $ 12.50. Le Bistro was the most popular of the specialty restaurants so we decided to extend it into the wine cellar in order to accommodate more guests. We began to offer all-you- can-eat sushi on the conveyor belt in the Ginza sushi bar for $ 10 only. ‘Food’ Happy Hours have also helped alleviate traffic from the main restaurants (i.e. two-for-one in the specialty restaurants during certain hours). We have also added extra seating in the main restaurants.

“We created a flyer to communicate all of the Freestyle Dining options to guests. They currently receive these flyers at embarkation, as well as in their cabin. The flyer gives details of the type of food served in each restaurant, how to make reservations, and cover charges (if appli-cable). We began taking reservations in the atrium all day long. We also have a channel on the in-cabin television programming that includes details of all food and beverage outlets.”

“From an entertainment standpoint, we analyzed the movement of passengers and adjusted show times accordingly. We began to increase food and beverage in different bars during peak dinner times, complimented by exciting entertainment. For example, we have a flamenco guitarist in the Tapas Bar and Restaurant, a pianist in the Red Lion Pub, and a Hawaiian duo in the atrium.”

In light of your experiences with the Norwegian Star, will you be making changes on the sister ship, the Norwegian Dawn?

“We have increased the seating capacity in the main restaurants on the Norwegian Dawn. A steakhouse will replace Norwegian Star’s Las Ramblas and a large part of the Star Bar on the top of the ship. Endless Summer will be called Salsas, which will include Las Ramblas Tapas Bar and Restaurant and a Tex-Mex-style restaurant.”

Now that you've made the changes, and several months have passed, how is Freestyle being received aboard the Norwegian Star?

“The entire operation is running exceptionally well. The future in cruising is definitely in providing passengers with more options. People like having the choice of eating Asian, Italian, French, Mediterranean, Hawaiian, contemporary or traditional cuisines, depending on what they feel like having. Our guests’ feedback has been excellent.

"The Norwegian Star is the only cruise ship in the North American market to offer 10 restaurants. In addition, she also offers 24-hour room service, German foods in the Bier Garten, Fish and Chips in the Red Lion Pub, Caviar and Pates in Gatsby’s Champagne Bar, Viennese pastries in the Java Cafe, and barbecue in the Outdoor Grill. This is definitely the largest number of options available on a ship in this market and gives us the opportunity to offer our guests choice and flexibility. This is what Freestyle Cruising is all about. With the support of my team, I was determined to make this product exceptional.”

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