(1:10 p.m. EDT) -- Now that Norwegian Bliss -- Norwegian Cruise Line's newest ship, custom-built for Alaska -- has been delivered, what's next for the line?
While onboard Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Cruise Line President and CEO Andy Stuart, took time out to speak to Cruise Critic. Here are a few reveals about the line's next class of ship, the smaller Leonardo Class; environmental concerns; cruise slowdown in China -- and the dangers of new technology.
As previously reported, the first of four Leonardo Class ships launch from 2022 through to 2025, with an option of two more. The 3,300-passenger ships sit between Norwegian's two current size ships -- the 2,000 and 4,000-passenger classes.
Why this particular size? It's all about the ports, Stuart explained.
"Leonardo Class will be a slightly smaller footprint, so that gives you more options in terms of ports. There are some ports which can't take a big ship like Bliss," he said. "And there are some ports that from a capacity standpoint we wouldn't want to go in with a brand-new ship that has 4,200 beds, we'd prefer to start with one with 3,300 beds. There are some where we'd prefer to start with 2,000, but 3,300 gives us something in the middle with a lot more flexibility to enter a destination a bit earlier than with a big ship like this."
Flexibility and variety are also important, Stuart said. "We really like this idea of these three different sizes of ships that gives us a lot of flexibility. We are as a brand thinking about things a little differently. We want to offer variety,… and we thinking having another size in between offers another option, and a sense of flexibility and choice.
"The jump from 2,000 beds to 4,000 beds is quite a big one. If you go 2,000 to 3,000 to 4,000 that's a more measured increase that will allow us to maybe accelerate a move into another market."
In terms of what the ships will look like, media were shown a rendering, which shows a much wider Boardwalk area at the aft of the ship. A series of aft cabins that look like Miami condos -- similar to what MSC Cruises did on Seaside -- were also shown.
"The connection to the sea is definitely going to be to the next level in this next class of ship," Stuart said. "What we've learned from this class of ship is people want that…We are bringing the connection to the ocean that's typically on the top deck more effectively down to lower decks."
The ship will have an inverted bow, which will improve its flow through the water and make it look "more futuristic," Stuart said.
Stuart did not give many details on Norwegian Encore, which will be the last in the Breakaway Plus class of ship and launches in 2019. When asked whether there would be a new show onboard, all he would say was: "Entertainment will continue to evolve, yes."
None of the Leonardo-class ships will be pioneering new fuel technology; the company is not going down the path of LNG-powered cruise ships that Carnival Corp. has started on.
"The next new build, we will evaluate all the technologies available to us," Stuart said. "We don't have a specific class beyond Leonardo at this point and we don't have any specific plans. We have the two options for Leonardo but it's not possible for us to change those ships."
Norwegian will give more details about how it is tackling environmental issues in a report to be published on April 23rd -- Earth Day.
Bliss has many new features and the old iConcierge phone app has been replaced by a next-generation program called Cruise Norwegian, which offers a multitude of functions that can be used from the time of booking through disembarkation day.
But don't expect the line to go full robot. Stuart said the line takes a "thoughtful "approach to technology.
"You don't want 4,000 people wandering around the ship staring at their phone," he said.
"And I think you've got to be careful you don't have 1,800 crew with their heads in iPads. We think we can meaningfully change the guest experience using technology but we don't want to do it in a detrimental way."
Embarkation is one area where Stuart sees technology playing a role. " We're going to do it one step at a time and how we can use technology to give you more choices in a more effective way."
Norwegian was planning on deploying Encore in China, to join Norwegian Joy but those plans have been changed as China's growth slows and the North America cruising market stays strong, Stuart said.
"We think about China as another market," Stuart said. "We're not going to obsess about it. We see it as a market with long term opportunity. Joy is making money, guests are happy and we'll review deployment. There are no short-term plans to put another ship into China."
All in all, Stuart sees a bullish outlook for the cruise industry for the next few years.
"I think we have a strong economy, consumer confidence is high," he said, noting that people are spending money for cruises nearly two years away. "The cruise industry is a good barometer for the economy."
–by Adam Coulter, Managing Editor, UK