Norwegian Cruise Line is celebrating 50 years of operation this year. On December 19, 1966, the M/S Sunward made her first voyage from Miami to the Caribbean signifying the birth of Norwegian Caribbean Lines. Now, as Norwegian Cruise Line, the group is a global cruise brand with 14 purpose-built ships sailing to more than 300 destinations worldwide.
The cruise line was founded by Knut Kloster and Ted Arison, with just one 8,666-ton, 140m cruise ship/car ferry, Sunward. Arison soon left to form Carnival Cruise Lines, while Kloster acquired additional ships for service in the Caribbean.
Norwegian pioneered many firsts in the cruise industry including the first combined air-sea program (marketed as "Cloud 9 Cruises") which combined low cost air fares with the cruise. It was also the first cruise line to develop new ports in the Caribbean, including Ocho Rios in Jamaica.
Like the original Sunward of 1966, Norwegians' second ship, the Starward had the capability to carry cars. Later, this area was turned into cabins and public spaces.
Norwegian made headlines with the acquisition of the France in 1979, rebuilding the liner as a cruise ship and renaming her Norway. The conversion cost more than $100 million. At the time, the Norway was significantly larger than any existing cruise ship, and exploited the extra space available by adding a greater than usual variety of onboard entertainment. Her success paved the way for a new era of giant cruise ships.
Norwegian has expanded to other parts of the world, including Alaska, Europe, Bermuda, and Hawaii. Between 1997 and 2001 the company also operated cruises out of Australia under the name Norwegian Capricorn Line.
Its subsidiary Orient Lines, founded in 1991 to run the Marco Polo, was acquired in 1998. Norwegian itself was acquired by the Star Cruises, subsidiary of Malaysia-based Genting Group, in 2000.
Norwegian acquired the rights to move two ships built entirely outside the U.S. to the U.S. flag, making it possible to start a U.S.-flagged operation under the brand name NCL America.
In August 2007, Star Cruises sold 50 percent of Norwegian for $1 billion to U.S.-based Apollo Management (owners of Oceania Cruises). In January 2013, Norwegian Cruise Lines filed for an IPO. In September 2014, Norwegian Cruise Line purchased Prestige Cruise Holdings, the parent company of both Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
The Current Fleet
Norwegian's fourteen ships sail a variety of exciting itineraries, from the Caribbean to the Panama Canal, Europe, South America and the Mediterranean, as well as the Far East and Australia. Norwegian has eight ships, including the line's newest ships, Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Getaway, cruising to the Caribbean and the Bahamas during the Winter/Spring 2016/2017 season from homeport locations including Miami, New York, Tampa, Port Canaveral (Orlando), New Orleans and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
This fall, Norwegian Cruise Line will cruise to the Far East for the first time since Fall/Winter 2001-2002, with Norwegian Star sailing to the region for several unique itineraries that also feature first-ever visits to The Gulf and India.
This winter, Norwegian Sun will journey south for a season for a range of seven, 10 and 14 day sailings departing from Santiago (Valparaiso), Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Rounding out the fleet this fall is Norwegian Jewel, sailing seven-day itineraries to the Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles; Norwegian Spirit, sailing the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands from Barcelona; and the recently renovated Pride of America, sailing weekly intra-Hawaii cruises.
Leading Cruise Line
Last week, Norwegian Cruise Line was named "North America's Leading Cruise Line" for the first time, along with being honored as the "Caribbean's Leading Cruise Line" for the fourth consecutive year at the 2016 World Travel Awards.
Earlier this month, Norwegian also received awards for "Europe's Leading Cruise Line" for the ninth consecutive year, "Europe's Responsible Tourism Award" for the second consecutive year and the award for "World's Best Cruise Spa" for the Mandara Spa on board Norwegian Cruise Line.
“We are celebrating fifty years of incredible moments aboard our ships and it’s the people - our guests, travel partners, team and crew members - who make our history so special. We wouldn’t be here today without their loyalty and dedication,” said Andy Stuart, President and Chief Executive Officer for Norwegian Cruise Line. “We invite everyone who has sailed with us, commemorated a special occasion with us or made memories onboard to share their favorite moments and celebrate our first fifty years along with us.”
Through the global initiative, Norwegian Cruise Line guests, travel partners, and current and former employees are invited to upload their photos and stories to NorwegiansFirst50.com, which showcases a dynamic timeline of photos and stories spanning the brand’s first 50 years.