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Norwegian Cruise Line to pour free drinks on Miami-based ship

Norwegian Cruise Line said Wednesday that beer, wine and premium spirits will be free on Norwegian Sky starting next year.
Norwegian Cruise Line said Wednesday that beer, wine and premium spirits will be free on Norwegian Sky starting next year.

Seeking to attract more demand for short cruises out of Miami, Norwegian Cruise Line on Wednesday announced it will give passengers more booze for their buck.

Starting in January, the Miami-based cruise line will include wine, beer, spirits and soda up to $11 in the cost of the cruise fare on Norwegian Sky, which sails three- and four-day itineraries from Miami.

“We’re super excited about this,” said Norwegian president and chief operating officer Andy Stuart during a press conference at the annual cruise3sixty conference in Fort Lauderdale. “We think it’s absolutely a standout change.”

While luxury cruise lines frequently include at least some alcoholic beverages in the cost of a sailing, contemporary and premium lines such as Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Celebrity set their fares lower and charge for extras such as drinks.

But most lines have rolled out beverage packages that allow cruisers to pay a certain amount per day per person — normally in the neighborhood of $50 — for unlimited beverages. For this year’s wave season promotions, Norwegian has been offering the drinks package as an incentive for booking and found it popular, Stuart said.

“We really saw it resonate, and we really felt there was an opportunity to differentiate Norwegian Sky in the three- and four-day market to make it an all-inclusive product,” he said. “We think our guests are going to get on board and feel more freestyle. It takes away the stress of who’s going to buy this round of drinks?”

With the free drinks, Stuart said he expects Norwegian Sky to stand out compared to competition from other cruise lines as well as land-based options for quick getaways.

The company is touting the move as introducing “all-inclusive cruising,” but it’s really just more inclusive, since passengers will still have to pay a cover at the three specialty restaurants and shore excursions will cost extra as usual. Drinks up to $11 at the cruise line’s private island in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay, will also be free. Only passengers 21 and older can take advantage of the offer on the ship and island.

Stuart said the company has raised the base price of cruises on the 2,004-passenger ship for next year “a little bit,” but not as much as it would cost people to buy a drinks package. The equivalent package would cost about $60 a day per person, he said.

A check of 2016 sailings on Norwegian Sky shows a three-day trip in November 2015 starting at $209, compared to $379 in June 2016 for an inside cabin. Prices were closer for a four-day Bahamas cruise, starting at $249 a person in May 2015 compared to $339 a person next February.

“Ultimately it will be driven by demand,” Stuart said.

He said the decision to offer free drinks fits into the cruise line’s goal to boost demand by adding value to the experience rather than slashing prices, which has long been an industry practice.

“We’re definitely going to be imaginative in how we think about that and making sure the value proposition is such that we’re driving early demand, getting customers excited and moving price to the end of the priority list,” he said.

Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer and co-owner of home-based travel agent network Cruise Planners, said the announcement had already been getting positive reactions early Wednesday afternoon.

“Our agents are very excited about it,” she said, after feedback started popping up on Facebook.

She said some agents have wondered if the model will be confusing because it’s only available on one ship.

“But who knows if it’s an initiative in the right direction?” she said.

Miami-based cruise expert Stewart Chiron, CEO of CruiseGuy.com, said he thinks introducing free drinks on one ship could raise passengers’ expectations on the rest of the fleet.

“You want have a product with consistency,” he said.

For his part, Stuart said there are no plans to roll drinks into the cruise fare on other ships.

“It’s not in the conversation right now,” he said. “I wouldn’t describe this as a test.”

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