Hotel Director Jovo Sekulovic has known Norwegian Bliss from the days when she was under construction in Germany. He was with the ship during her first Alaska season, through her transits of the Panama Canal (she is the largest cruise ship to make such a journey) and with her cruising the Caribbean.
“The Bliss is obviously the evolution of the Breakaway class ship. From Breakaway, which was very much a ground-breaking ship, to Getaway, to the Escape, to Joy and Bliss, the ships have been better and better. It is a perfect version of everything we have had so far, which has been pretty good. It really gives an incredible amount of possibilities to everyone. It is Freestyle cruising brought to the next level with 29 dining options, the variety of shows and entertainment It has been really good from the get-go and that is really rare. All the parameters for measuring the success of a ship have really been outstanding.”
Although similar in many respects to her predecessors, it is clear from just walking around the ship that Bliss is different. The atmosphere is more upmarket with more original artwork and changes in décor.
“We, as a company, have gone a little bit above, not only on this ship but in the ones to come. It is really important to make the environment pleasing for the guests. The ship is much lighter than the ones we have had so far and this is something that makes the environment so much better. It comes from our CEO [Frank Del Rio] - - take care of that little cherry on top of the cake. It is a very good cake already but he really humanizes it in a way that is really pleasing to everybody.”
“We have actually reduced the number of cabins on this ship because of the Observation Lounge. We have an observation lounge that extends through two fire zones. This whole ship is six fire zones so one third of the ship forward on Deck 15 is actually an observation lounge. Then we have another one up in The Haven, which is called the Horizon lounge. Those are all things that came on account of cabins but that is the philosophy that we have taken a few years ago with the arrival of Frank Del Rio that you have to offer to sell, not discount to sell. Make it a little more comfortable for guests, much more quiet areas around the ship then you will be able to cater properly to the guests and this is something that has proven to be absolutely true.”
The Observation Lounge on Bliss is not just a bigger version of the observation lounges on Norwegian's Jewel class ships. “People have more options, more places to go. More venues to do things. The Spinnaker Lounge does not come close to this. This is a Spinnaker Lounge on steroids. It is really enhanced. Not only that but it is a dining venue. Beautiful breakfast there, lunch as well. We have missed that kind of lounge on the Breakaway type ships.”
Bliss also has several dining venues not found on earlier Breakaway style ships. “We have re-introduced the Mexican restaurant. We used to have Mexican restaurants but the elaborate offerings [in Los Lobos] have brought the Mexican cuisine to another level.“
“We have Q, which is the Texas barbecue. If you are a meat lover, you definitely have to go there and have a look. It is not an easy thing to have on a ship but from the standpoint of the logistics, getting the proper material aboard, the equipment and the knowledge of people dealing with it, I would say it is as authentic as it can be. There is a stage there because we have a [band] there post-hours. After nine o'clock the [band] starts with some nice country music.”
“The third one which is a new concept on this ship is Coco's. This is a little chocolateria that we have. That one is very popular with the kids. The crepes, the ice creams and the beautiful pieces of dessert.”
“We have a Starbucks. It was the first proper Starbucks shop at sea. Of course, everyone is following suit and having it. Starbucks has an interest in being across the board and does not give exclusivity. It has been a very good move, people are ready to pay a couple of dollars especially because you can redeem your points, use your card, and do anything else just like you can do anyplace else in the United States. It is absolutely the same offering.”
Turning to entertainment, the Headliner comedy cub has been replaced by The Social. “It is called differently but the purpose is pretty much the same. It is more pleasing, more technologically advanced with all the screens on the side and on top. We have beautiful shows there. We have the silent disco, which is a new concept. You are given headphones and four different zones of the place play different kinds of music. It is really popular. We have a Prohibition show there and of course, the comedians every night. So it is really a more elaborate room, more pleasing décor.”
Another change is that Fat Cats has been replaced by the Cavern Club. T“he Cavern is the original club where The Beatles performed in the beginning. It is not a replica but it resembles the Cavern in Liverpool. It has that flavor. Everybody is crazy about The Beatles. They are just the norm for the youngest to the eldes It is so busy that we had to put a complete [Beatles] show in the theater on the last day of the cruise.”
Norwegian has always been the revolutionary kid on the block, always. Of course as the technology advances, there are many, many things that are being implemented.
For example, on this [ship], there is the opportunity to do the pre-check-in. Basically, when you comes to the terminal, all you have to do is show your identity and get the key card. There is no more swiping of the passports and swiping of credit cards and all the other stuff that used to be done that made this process slower.”
“With the Norwegian app, you can customize your experience. You can choose and plan activities that actually suit you instead of carrying the Freestyle Daily with you and going through the whole list of things that are happening every single day. This is just one small aspect of the technology that is being applied.”
While technology can help to make the cruise experience more enjoyable, the key factor remains a friendly and willing crew. Therefore, much of the focus of the senior officers is on motivating the crew.
“We have almost 1,800 crew aboard. We try to develp a culture where the people aspire to make a difference. You never know who is in front of you so everyone has to be given basic respect - -. good morning, how are you, a few words. [Our] people understand that with that kind of culture within them, they will advance. Its visible, they see examples of that every single day. They want to succeed, they want to be better. Hard work is a given.”
Norwegian Bliss was designed with Alaska cruising in mind and her first season in Alaska was very successful. “Alaska is the last frontier, It is one of the few itineraries in the world that is dramatic in every sense of the word.”
Cruising in Alaska is different than cruising elsewhere. “[Guest] habits are completely different. The climate is cooler and people are very much outdoors, ready for the hikes and excursions. Everything is very early. The people do not have so much energy to stay late at night.”
In addition, the cruise ships must comply with strict environmental regulations. “This ship not only meets the standards of Alaska, which are the strictest of all, but she exceeds them by far. The Alaska rangers are able to come aboard anytime and test the grey water and the black water. After our purification is done, the water is as good as potable water and we are able to discharge it into the sea. With the solids, we are actually drying them up, putting them into bricks and incinerating them. All the gases going through the funnel are purified as well. It is an incredible thing. The footprint of this ship on nature is very, very positive. Even though it consumes lots of fuel like any other ship would, what we leave behind is like we've never been there. All those things make you really excited to be part of the whole project. It is really a very exciting time for us.”
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Cruise interview - Norwegian Cruise Line - Norwegian Bliss - Hotel Director Jovo Sekulovic