Cruise Industry

5 things to expect on a new ship’s first cruise

Sailing aboard a brand new cruise ship is a wonderful experience. Not the first revenue generating cruise, the first scheduled voyage (which is often erroneously referred to as the maiden voyage), but the true maiden voyage, the re-positioning cruise from the shipyard to the first embarkation port.

TAUFE AIDAprima 07.05.2016bei dem 827. Hamburger Hafengeburtstag

AIDA Cruises celebrates the delivery of new ship AIDAprima in Hamburg (cruising roundtrip from Dubai in 2018/19 and 2019/2020 seasons).

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You’re the first person to ever sleep in the bed in your stateroom, the first person to ever enjoy morning coffee on the cabin balcony, the first to experience the evening theatre show, the first to try a particular cocktail at the signature on-board bar… You’re the first to do just about anything aboard that ship.

But, there are some disadvantages that come with being a passenger on a cruise ship’s first ever voyage. Luckily, they’re vastly outweighed by the positives. Here are the five things to expect on the first cruise of a brand-new cruise ship.

The crew are new too

Most lines will get their best crew members from other ships in the fleet for a new ship’s first season. These crew members will be chosen because they have shown themselves to be capable of dealing with the unexpected, and are able to think on their feet. They may also have experience breaking in new ships, but even the most experienced crew won’t know every part of a new vessel. So sometimes it make take a little longer to get things done, and some services may not yet be available, such as a particular evening show, a turndown service, a particular rose off the wine list or any other multitude of things.

Some things won’t work

New ships are temperamental machines, made up of tens of thousands of moving parts, both human and mechanical. The new vessel’s technology, dinner arrangements, show bookings, and all forms of service on-board aren’t all going to work without a hitch. Aboard the recent delivery cruise of Norwegian Bliss the ship’s spa was still being finished off ahead of her first scheduled cruise from Southampton, and mid-way through the voyage the on-board Wi-Fi stopped working.

Diverse fellow passengers

You’ll be sharing the ship with journalists, bloggers, minor celebrities, local officials and shipyard contractors. A lot of the time, top executives from the cruise line will also be on-board. Many of the celebrities associated with cruise ships are often chefs, such as Guy Fieri, Jamie Oliver, and Thomas Keller in the United States, or James Martin, Atul Kochhar and Marco Pierre White in Britain. You may spot one onboard an inaugural.

Norwegian-Bliss

Contractors were still aboard Norwegian Bliss on the voyage from the shipyard to Southampton, fixing the on-board Wi-Fi and making finishing touches to the spa.

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There will also be shipyard workers and contractors still on-board for the repositioning cruise from the shipyard. There is almost always last minute issues such a restaurant that still needs to be built or plumbing issues that might need to be fixed – we had contractors aboard Norwegian Bliss for the spa and internet issues for example. The shipyard workers will never be as friendly as the crew, so don’t treat them like employees of the line.

If you’re a big fan of the particular cruise line, the chance to interact with senior executives and provide constructive feedback is also not to be missed. They’ll be getting to know the ship as well and will appreciate your feedback. I ran into Andy Stuart, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, on the stairs aboard Norwegian Bliss on his way back from the gym. We spoke briefly and I went for lunch, but half an hour later when I passed, he was still there, having a conversation on the stairs with several passengers. Accosting the CEO on the staircase isn’t good manners though. Many cruise lines’ top people will hold Q&As or informal gatherings, which will be posted in the daily planner.

You’re the first to experience the ship

The reason a ship is filled with journalists, bloggers, cruise line execs, travel agents, contractors and loyal fans of the cruise line, is because it’s the shakedown cruise when the crew are put to the tests with a full compliment for the first time. Essentially, you’re all part of an experiment to see if the ship, her crew and systems can work as designed. You’ll be the first to see new shows, the first to try out that new celebrity restaurant, the first to sample new technology and the first to try out the activities.

IHavana!-show-Norwegian-Bliss

iHavana! launched aboard Norwegian Bliss, had never been shown anywhere else in the world apart from on the maiden voyage.

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These experiences and the feedback you provide on them will inform the way in which that ship and others like it in the fleet are operated. The cruise line uses the shakedown cruise to decide which policies work, which shows are the most popular and which on-board features are best-received. In many cases, upper management is very responsive to passenger opinions.

Local officials and media will be excited

The city or town in which the cruise ship is built will often rely in large part on the shipyard for its economy, so every ship launch and inaugural sailing is treated with great pomp and ceremony. There’ll be brass bands, local dignitaries, exchanges of commemorative plaques and many column inches in local newspapers (or websites in today’s digital age).

This is one of the aspects of a new cruise ship that carries over into her inaugural cruise season or first revenue-generating voyage. Cruise ships are always delivered from the shipyard to their homeport, and they’re then named and officially handed over in that port.

Queen-UK-P&O-Cruises

This is when the big-time celebrities might be on-board, Queen Elizabeth II for Cunard and P&O for example.

At the maiden ports of call on the first few voyages there will also be great excitement, a steel band and dancers in the Caribbean, a marching band in Europe, a troupe of Arabic dancers in Dubai, and always a group of dignitaries. Cruising is a huge source of foreign revenue for port cities, so new ships are treated to great fanfare by mayors, town officials, port officials and local press.

All of these reasons are why cruise fans love to be involved in the inaugural sailing, or better-yet the first ever voyage, of a brand new cruise ship.

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