(2 p.m EST) -- Norwegian Cruise Line is putting an emphasis on ship refurbishments, addressing drifting smoke in its casinos and didn't rule out fees for Margaritaville at Sea, a new restaurant on Escape.
The announcements took place at a press conference onboard Norwegian Escape this morning, with Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, and Andy Stuart, COO of Norwegian Cruise Line. The two men talked about their newest ship in front of a slide that read, "Three distinct brands. One incredible company." Here are more details:
Norwegian Fleet Refurbishments
Despite a strategic fleet expansion program, "which is fancy speak for more ships coming," Del Rio feels strongly that older vessels can still maintain their oomph; not every high-yielding ship must be brand-new, he said. That is why every ship in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet will be refurbished in the next 24 months -- save for Norwegian Jewel, which is scheduled to enter dry dock in 2018.
"There's no reason older vessels can't yield as high as new -- it's about the upkeep, itineraries, service and food," said Del Rio, pointing out that Regent Seven Seas Navigator, the oldest ship in sister brand Regent's fleet, is also its most popular.
A (Half) Smoke-Free Casino
A previous story mentioned that the casino on Escape would be going smoke-free, and those plans will take effect in an upcoming retrofit, leaving the largest casino in the fleet at about 50 percent smoke-free. The VIP room will also be smoke-free. There were no specific details on when or if these changes will be rolled out to the rest of the fleet, but Del Rio did mention that he was working with designers and architects on the drifting smoke issue also recognized on Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway.
Margaritaville For a Fee?
Within the first 10 minutes of opening yesterday, Margaritaville at Sea -- a complimentary dining venue in partnership with musician Jimmy Buffett -- had an hour-plus wait time. New, highly anticipated and free, the venue was a huge draw for lunch offering conch fritters, club sandwiches, fish tacos and, of course, its signature cheeseburgers and margaritas. However, a thread on the Cruise Critic message boards alerted us to a potential plan to add a small cover charge for dining at the Deck 17 hangout. When asked whether Margaritaville would charge in the future -- whether onboard or at its land-based location in Norwegian's forthcoming private island Harvest Caye -- Del Rio commented that, for business and crowd-control reasons, that's always a possibility, but it's too early to tell.
--By Brittany Chrusciel, Associate Editor