For Captain Konstantinos Fafalios the sea is in his blood. “My whole family were sailors, my father, my grandfather, my brother. It was my goal from an early age. I wanted to be a captain.”
After graduating his degree from the maritime academy in 1976, he went to work on cargo ships. However, in 1986, he switched to cruise ships, sailing for Chandris Line, then Celebrity Cruises and later Royal Cruise Line. “Living on a cruise ship is much better.”
At the time, Royal Cruise Line was an affiliate of Norwegian Cruise Line and in 1997, Captain Fafalios, who is from Greece, was asked if he wanted to become a captain on Norwegian.
“I was the only non-Scandinavian captain at the time. In the beginning, I was a little bit concerned, even skeptical, but after that I was very pleased. It is a great company. A lot of changes but the changes are always for the best, for the good of the company if you consider how small the company was in 1997 and how it is now. It is growing and growing.”
Immediately before taking command of Norwegian Gem, Captain Fafalios commanded Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Star, two similar, medium-size cruise ships.
“They are very beautiful ships. Most passengers feel very comfortable with the size.”
Still, Norwegian Gem stands out. “It is very popular, the Gem. We have very good ratings, the best ratings in the fleet.”
“It is very convenient sailing out of New York. You don't have to take an airplane. Just park the car and you are sailing with us.”
While sailing from midtown Manhattan is convenient for the guests, docking the ship there can be challenging for the sailors. “We have to deal with the current. Sometimes the current can be strong. Northwesterly winds combined with the ebb tide can be difficult.”
But the Gem makes the maneuver appear easy. “It is very maneuverable. This ship has two azipods [on the stern] and we have three powerful bow thrusters, 35,000 horse power in total. It makes it very maneuverable.”
Especially in the winter, guests also like the fact that Gem can transport them down to the warm weather relatively quickly without taking an airplane. But once again from a nautical perspective, this is something that is not as simple as Gem makes it look.
“It is not that easy of a run especially when we do this run in the winter. In the North Atlantic, sometimes you have to deal with unfavorable weather conditions.. But the ship is a big ship with very efficient stabilizers Also, the ship is a fast ship, capable of making high speeds.”
To illustrate one way how the ship's speed is utilized, say the ship is going from Tortola back to New York City. In order to cover the distance in time to arrive on schedule, the ship must average a certain speed. “If we see a low pressure system [ahead] we try to do the maximum speed before we reach [the storm] and then there, the required speed has dropped.“ The speed can then be reduced, making for a more comfortable ride while still allowing the ship to maintain its schedule.
One might well expect that having sailed the North Atlantic for 10 years would leave a visible toll on a ship but one has to look long and hard to find any rust. “You see Deck 7 [the outdoor promenade] is spotless. There is constant maintenance. Our company does not hesitate to spend a lot of money on the maintenance of the ship. That's why she is in great shape and looks like a brand new ship”
When a rust spot is discovered, the crew does not merely slap on a layer of paint to cover it up. “We grind it to remove the rust, and after that two or three coats of primer before the final white color.”
Norwegian's goal is not just to maintain the status quo. “We are always doing something to improve the ship.”
For example, during Gem's last session in a dry dock, not only were improvements made to the interior décor, but the hull was given a new coating to enable her to slip through the water with less drag. “It is more efficient. It increased the speed of the vessel and reduced the fuel consumption.”
The personal touch
While the convenience of sailing from New York and the fine nautical qualities of the Gem contribute to her success, they are not most important ingredients.
“It is the atmosphere aboard the ship - - the friendliness, the service. [Passengers] come on once and see this atmosphere - - the excellent service provided by the crew members. That makes them feel comfortable and then they come a second time. They feel like they are at home. We have a lot of repeat passengers sailing with us all the time. They are cruising again and again with us”
This atmosphere “comes from the officers and the crew. The crew are very happy and do their best to provide the passengers with friendly service and to make them feel comfortable aboard the ship.”
“We take care of the crew and they do their best for the passengers. Norwegian has a good name for the care we take of the crew. I hear that from the crew. The standards and environment we provide on the ship have a tremendous payback in performance. Once [crew members] come and see that the environment aboard the ship is friendly, they feel comfortable. It makes them very efficient and dedicated to do their jobs. They are very happy to work for Norwegian Cruise Line.”
Cruise ship interview - Norwegian Cruise Line - Norwegian Gem - Captain 2017