Not long after 2016 began, Norwegian Cruise Line initiated a program called Norwegian Edge, which aims to enhance the cruise experience on Norwegian's ships. One of the first ships to implement this program was Norwegian Breakaway. We spoke with Breakaway's Hotel Director Prem Kaninikkara about the enhancements to Breakaway.
As part of the Norwegian Edge program, on January 31, 2016, Norwegian implemented a new series of menus on Breakaway.
“Apart from [Norwegian] Escape, we are the first ship to roll it out. I have tasted the menu everyday and I have to say they are exceptionally brilliant menus. Its a very high quality menu. It's a very high end menu.”
In the main dining rooms, the new menus reflect an upgrade in quality and an increase in variety. They seek to balance popular dishes such as rack of lamb, prime rib, Chateaubriand and escargot with dishes reflecting current dining trends such as fresh grouper, shrimp cerviche, Atlantic scallops, and braised beef short ribs.
“The breakfast, the lunch and the dinner menu in particular, all three are very, very good menus. I have worked in five star hotels most of my life prior to joining the ships and they are equally comparable to or better than any of the ones I have been able to facilitate in the Hyatts and the Sofitels where I have been privileged to work.”
Most of the items on the new menus are complimentary. However, guests also have the option of ordering items such as surf and turf and grilled lobster tails for an additional fee. “So you don't need to go to a specialty restaurant to have a lobster or surf and turf.”
To ensure that the implementation of the new menus went smoothly, Norwegian started preparing for their implementation well in advance. “Prior planning prevents poor performance.”
The menus first debuted on Norwegian Escape when it entered service in November 2015. Thus, even before their implementation on Breakaway, it was known that they were operationally practical and that guests would like the menus. Nonetheless, the Breakaway team assisted by a chef from Norwegian's head office, began working on implementation a month and a half beforehand.
“The most important thing was for the team to get used to the new menu and the new recipes. From the production side, getting them used to the recipes. From the service side, the main thing is that the waiters, waitresses and maitre d's have to get an in-depth knowledge of the menu itself and [be able to] explain it the guests.”
Changes to specialty dining
Breakaway's specialty restaurants not only experienced changes in their menus but also received new chinaware and silverware, giving each venue an even more distinct identity. “ The whole quality of the process is much more expensive, more high end.”
At the same time, Breakaway also implemented ala carte pricing in all the specialty restaurants except Moderno and Teppanyaki where a flat fee cover charge still applies.
“ I can go with my experience and say that at a shoreside hotel or a resort, there is nothing which is known as a cover charge. Unless it is an all-inclusive place, you go to a restaurant and you pay for what you order, be it the Cheesecake Factory or any fancy restaurant out there.” Thus, ala carte pricing makes Norwegian more comparable to the shoreside hotels and resorts with which it competes for vacationers.
In addition, ala carte pricing gives the guests more freedom. “Basically, you are paying for what you consume, not paying for what you potentially could consume. For me, it makes pure sense. If I go with my wife and daughter to dinner, my daughter may not eat much at all as she is three-years old. There is no point in me paying a cover charge for someone who is not going to consume anything.”
Also, at least in theory, ala carte pricing allows a guest to have an appetizer in Cagney's and then go to Le Bistro for his or her main course. “If you wanted to do this prior to this you had to pay X amount of dollars as the Cagney's cover charge and then you have to pay X amount of dollars for the Le Bistro cover charge [even though] you may not want to have all of it. Now, you are only paying for what you are consuming.”
Those guests who would rather pay a flat fee for specialty dining should consider Norwegian's specialty dining packages. Under these packages, guests can dine in the specialty restaurants on a number of nights for a flat fee. (The amount of the fee depends upon the number of nights the guest selects). On a per night basis, the overall cost is often less than ordering the same meals ala carte. “ It is excellent value for money. It is a bargain actually, an absolute bargain.”
The reason why
The question naturally arises why is Norwegian doing all of this on Breakaway? Breakaway is a successful, state-of-art cruise ship. What about the old adage: if it ain't broke, don't fix it?
“We are in a competitive market, we are a publicly listed company and we need to be out there and be the best. I think it is important for us to go to that quality menu and product because we cannot be complacent as a company and say 'Ah we are good.' Its a process of getting from good to better and better to great, so to speak. We have to be competitive, we have to be different and we have to show the difference.”
“Its all about having the complete experience. One of the things I find, most of the cruisers come - - apart from the destination - - for basically food, entertainment and service. I would say that the team [i.e., the officers and crew] in itself is probably the first priority, followed by food and by entertainment. When these three things are taken care of, the rest falls into place. So in that process, it is important to be up there with any five star or four star resort in the competitive world.”
“I am a firm, firm believer that it is the team that makes it happen. A ship is a ship, be it Royal Caribbean, Carnival or whatever. I am extremely proud of the team [on Breakaway]. They do it with passion, they do it with love, they do it with integrity. They are loyal. I can't ask for anything else.”
Cruise ship interview - Norwegian Cruise Line - Norwegian Breakaway - Hotel Director