MIAMI BEACH - While the big news from Norwegian Cruise Line today was about the homeport for the new Norwegian Escape and the reveal of its hull art by Guy Harvey, buried in the lead was the line's reveal of which of its older ships will be headed to Port Canaveral.
The 879-foot, 1996-passenger Norwegian Spirit, which is currently based in Europe, will head back to the U.S. and begin sailing from Port Canaveral on alternating 7-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries beginning Nov. 21, 2015.
"It makes logical sense for us. It's the next step in building out our global presence," said Kevin Sheehan, President & CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line. "We need to be in the markets. We have the ability to be a little bit more selective because we have only 13 ships now. So we can cherry pick the locations and this is a very important market for us to be in."
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Sheehan made the announcement from a press conference at the Cruise Shipping Miami conference in addition to providing details on the Miami-bound Norwegian Escape due in fall 2015, the opening of the line's second private island, Harvest Cay in Belize and the deployment of the fleet for the winter 2015/2016 season.
It's the first time the line has sailed from the port since the Norwegian Sun left in April 2012, and only the second time in 15 years the line has had embarkations from Central Florida. The line does make port of call stops with both of its New York-based ships, the Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Gem.
The Port Canaveral Authority in February revealed it had brokered an agreement to bring Norwegian Cruise Line back to the port beginning in winter 2015 as well as keeping the New York-based ships returning to Port Canaveral for the next three years.
"We are thrilled that Norwegian Cruise Line again will homeport seasonally at Port Canaveral and allow our staff and community to provide their passengers with a great experience before and after they cruise from Central Florida," said Port Canaveral CEO John E. Walsh. "We look forward to expanding our relationship with NCL."
The Spirit was originally built for Star Cruises in 1998 at the Meyer-Werft shipyards and was acquired and renamed Norwegian Spirit in 2004. It's the only ship of its class in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet and was last refurbished in 2011. At 75,338 tons, it's about half the size of Norwegian's two newest ships, the Miami-based Getaway and sister ship Breakaway.
The ship will sail on Saturdays and make visits to Nassau, Bahamas, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands and Totorla, British Virgin Islands for its eastern Caribbean itineraries and for its western Caribbean trips, will visit Cozumel, Mexico, George Town in the Cayman Islands, Ocho Rios, Jamaica and the line's private island Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas.
The addition of the ship will make Norwegian the fourth major cruise line to call Port Canaveral home, joining Disney, Royal Caribbean and Carnival. Port Canaveral currently hosts eight ships. With visiting ships, Port Canaveral is the second busiest in the world behind PortMiami with 4 million passengers and 164 annual port of call, according to port spokesperson Rosalind Harvey.
"We expect to increase to 11 home port ships and up to 200 port of calls by 2016," Harvey said.
The port currently has seven terminals, but construction has begun on an eighth terminal scheduled to open in November and plans are to build a ninth in 2016 and 10th by 2019 with a goal of doubling the port's growth to 8 million by the mid-2020s, Harvey said.
Currently sailing out of Port Canaveral are the Disney Dream, Fantasy and Magic, the Royal Caribbean Enchantment of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas and the Carnival Dream, Liberty and Sensation. The Dream will be leaving in April and will be replaced by the Carnival Sunshine. In December, Royal Caribbean brings a third ship to the port, the Explorer of the Seas.