Carnival Cruise Lines has long been practically synonymous with a Caribbean cruise vacation.
When it comes to having a diverse array of profitable home ports, no one else is close. And it's still quite strong in its base, too. As MSC has discovered, it's CCL above all others that poses a strong barrier to entry for year-round south Florida departures.
But Carnival's supremacy has come under attack in recent years. It has been forced to contend with the likes of Royal Caribbean and Disney, often unable to compete on their terms and being forced to cut prices. Now, Norwegian is looming larger than ever as a competitor.
It's no secret that Norwegian has emerged as a solid Caribbean player in recent years, but it seems more intent than ever on grabbing market share. The new features of Norwegian Escape are particularly indicative of how the company intends to proceed.
During a recent agent webinar, Executive V.P. Sales Andy Stuart recapped the facilities of the upcoming Norwegian Escape to give a sense of how this ship represents true innovation, rather than just a tweaking of Breakaway.
It starts with the name itself, which may seem a bit jarringly direct next to Dawn and Jade. But while those names are intended to conjure up certain imagery, Escape is a direct reference to what a vacation feels like. It also speaks of Norwegian's Caribbean ambitions, because for those in Canada and the northern U.S., a Caribbean vacation in January will certainly seem like an escape.
As for the ship itself, it has the rope courses and aqua park of Breakaway, but also Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed mini golf, 2 restaurants from Iron Chef Jose Garces and the Jimmy Buffett-blessed Margaritaville at Sea and 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar.
The 2 Buffett additions are revealing both because they are so very Caribbean and because, quite frankly, they're a bit Carnival-esque. Not to say that Carnival has a monopoly on ideas aimed at the heartland that involve drinking and having a good time in the Caribbean. But still, no one would have been surprised a few years back if Jimmy Buffett bars had popped up on the Fun Ships.
In the end it's Norwegian that spent the money to nab him, and it fits in with the general trend of what makes Escape different from Breakaway: facilities aren't radically different - except for the "Snow Room", a cool take on a reverse sauna - but lots of outside branding from well-liked people and companies that, Norwegian hopes, will further entice those who want to try out its version of the Caribbean.