Norwegian Cruise Line is a company on the move
and on board Norwegian Star, the officers and crew are caught up in the excitement.
“Norwegian, from where we were a couple of years
ago to where we are now and where we are heading - -it is awesome. A great feeling and you can feel the vibe. Everybody is on the same page, everybody wants to succeed,”explains Sean Wurmhoesinger, Hotel Director of the Star.
“Up until five or six years ago it was a different company. It was sad. We had all this great hardware [but] too many people didn't care. It has changed since Kevin Sheehan has taken over. He cares, he knows exactly what he is doing.”
The most visible example of Norwegian on the move is the line's most recent ship, the innovative Norwegian Epic. It will be followed by two more innovative ships, Norwegian Breakaway in 2013 and Norwegian Getaway in 2014. These ships are designed to carry forward Norwegian's signature Freestyle cruising.
“With Epic, we took it to another level and with the Breakaway, we will be taking it to another level. It is exciting to be a part of this,” says Wurmhoeringer who has served as hotel director on Epic.
Freestyle, as it was originally conceived, focused primarily on dining. Traditionally, all of the passengers on a cruise ship dined in the main dining room at an assigned table at an assigned time. Freestyle offers guests the choice of several dining venues and when to dine is
up to the guests.
“With Freestyle, it is all about freedom of choice. Tonight, you want to go to Teppanaki, tomorrow you feel like a steak, the day after tomorrow you feel like sushi - -it's all about freedom of choice. Having done the traditional, I even more appreciate the Freestyle. It
For some of the dining venues, there is an additional cover charge. “It is not to make revenue. It is to control the flow [of passengers]. The Italian restaurant used to be free of charge. We could not control the flow [of guests] because everybody wanted to go. So we had
complaints about people not being able to get in there. We put the $10 charge there [and] we get 150 [guests] a night. Everybody is happy. It would be impossible to take away the charge for Cagney's or Le Bistro. On a fair basis, you could not accommodate the people.”
With Epic and Norwegian's forthcoming ships,
“Freestyle is all about freedom of choice, not only for food and beverage but also for entertainment. Entertainment is so important.” The ships have been designed so that there is not just one main entertainment venue but several venues offering quality entertainment simultaneously. Thus, the evening does
not revolve around the shows in the ship's theater as on traditional cruise ships.
While the spotlight is on Norwegian's newest
ships, the line has not forgotten about its existing fleet. Norwegian's fleet is one of the youngest in the industry. Moreover, the majority are from the highly respected Meyer Werft shipyard.
Consequently, on ships such as Norwegian Star,
passengers are seeing enhanced dining offerings that add an element of entertainment or education to the experience. These include such offerings as a
murder mystery lunch where the Second City comedy troupe engages guests in an interactive performance during the meal; a chef's table offering where the
ship's executive chef provides insights during the course of a gourmet meal; dining with the ship's officers where guests can meet and chat with the ship's senior officers during dinner; and a jazz brunch that combines a buffet feast with a jazz concert. Not all of these concepts are original to Norwegian but the line has put its own stamp on each. Furthermore, the number of enhanced
dining offerings is impressive.
“Again, it is freedom of choice. You want to go
and enjoy some jazz with your brunch, it is adding value. You don't have to do it but you can if you wish to.”
Although Norwegian's existing ships were not
built to have all of the types of entertainment venues as on Epic, the entertainment offerings are also being enhanced. For example, Norwegian Star has implemented the sea-going version of the popular television game show “Deal or No Deal.” In addition, the line no longer uses an outside production company
for its singers and dancers.
“We feel as a company, we can do better from a
cost point of view and also from an entertainment point of view bringing these people in-house. We [can] also use them for other things [e.g., parties, theme nights, professional dance classes]. The idea is eventually to include them as part of the cruise staff team and lift that area more.”
Along the same lines, Norwegian Star offers original productions such as the high-energy “Elements”that combines innovative choreography, lighting, sound and illusions.
Above: Mr. Wurmhoeringer with Food and Beverage Director Shailendra Sawant.
While the aforementioned enhancements to the
Norwegian experience attract attention, Wurmhoeringer recognizes that the Star cannot succeed if the basics are ignored. “Number one is guest satisfaction - - making sure that everything is taken care of. Revenue will follow. A guest who is happy comes back and you will win.”
“My philosophy is hospitality. It is all about hospitality. Every meeting that I go into - - it doesn't have to be a formal meeting it can be a group of people together in the galley - - I get them together and I explain over and over again the philosophy of hospitality. It is a simple concept. You invite someone to your home, you open the door and give them a warm welcome. You are pleasant you are friendly, you are congenial, you are jovial, you are just warm. It comes from the heart It's an attitude. It is not rocket science. From the minute they come to your home until you open the door and they leave again, you take good care of them.”
Building a hospitable environment cannot be done
by sending out a memo. “You don't run the business from chairs like this.” Wurmhoeringer says gesturing at his office furniture. “You have to be out and with the guests and you have to be out supporting the crew. I'm a strong believer in supporting the team members. Don't leave them alone out there because they need our support. I remember when I was a waiter - - although I
studied hotel management back at home [in Austria], when you start on ships, you start at the bottom
again and work your way through the ranks - - it is a different story when you are on your own than when you have support from management. I believe in being
out there with them. They see me - - leading by example. I will not walk by [someone] without greeting them. This is so important, the basics of
Management's support for the crew must also be demonstrated in other ways. “We have to make sure, of course, that we give them a good working environment. They are here for nine months. We make sure that
they have good cabins. If there is something broken in the cabin, it is to be fixed a.s.a.p. [National and ethnic] food, of course, is a big one for them. Tours, crew recreation rooms, Internet, crew barbeques, crew parties - - it is very important.
“They feel the support. They feel that we care. They know that we need them. They are the ones that are out with the guests on a daily basis.”
“Another good thing is that we have so many career opportunities now and much more coming as well. That's
another good tool to motivate team members and bring them along. We have two ships coming. We have space for 5,000 more people.”
“A new position we have implemented just recently is human resources director. It is a great tool to help us develop them. They see that we are doing this for them, which is great.”
Cruise ship interview - - Norwegian Star - -Norwegian Cruise Line - Hotel Director Sean Wurmhoeringer