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Norwegian Cruise Line is betting that Alaska cruise passengers will turn up — and pay a premium — for a big new ship designed for the market.

After a disappointing stretch for Mediterranean and Caribbean sailings, Norwegian Cruise Line on Thursday announced the operator is upping its game for the Alaska market.

The Miami-based cruise line will base a brand new ship in Seattle seasonally for the first time starting in June of 2018. The 4,000-passenger vessel will visit Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway in Alaska as well as Victoria, British Columbia on weeklong voyages.

Norwegian Bliss will be designed for Alaska cruising, though the cruise line is not saying yet what that means. Wyland, the marine artist and conservationist, is designing the artwork that will cover the hull.

The company has been sending ships to Alaska from Seattle for more than a decade, but has typically saved its largest, newest vessels for other markets. Over the past six years, three new ships have launched in Miami and one kicked off in New York City. Next year’s Norwegian Joy will sail in China. New ships typically command higher prices and more onboard spending because they are packed with revenue generators such as specialty restaurants, bars and activities that cost more than the cruise fare.

“Norwegian was the first cruise line to begin cruising to Alaska from Seattle in 2000 and it’s only fitting that we bring our newest ship, Norwegian Bliss, directly to this incredible location,” Andy Stuart, President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, said in a statement. “Alaska is one of the top destinations for our guests to explore and we are thrilled to be the first cruise line to offer our guests the opportunity to experience this coveted destination aboard a brand new, state-of-the-art cruise ship custom designed for Alaska, the first of its kind to ever debut in Seattle.”

Parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and the Port of Seattle will each invest $15 million to upgrade the terminal the line will use, expanding the check-in area, adding a VIP lounge, and installing new boarding bridges. Norwegian has agreed to a 15-year lease at the facility.

Norwegian hasn’t said yet where the ship will go after the summer season in Alaska, or which other ships will sail in Alaska at the same time. A spokeswoman said even if the number of ships sailing in the market stays at the current level — three — the passenger counts will be higher because Bliss is larger.

The ship, which is being built by the Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany, is due in April of 2018. It will sail across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, and head up the West Coast to Seattle by June.

Alaska has been a high point for the cruise line even as other stalwart markets have failed to meet expectations this year. North American demand for the Mediterranean has been weak due to terror attacks and political instability in the region, and prices in the Caribbean   have not been as high as the cruise operator expected.

During Norwegian’s second-quarter earnings call in August, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio told analysts that the company was seeing strength in Alaska, Hawaii, and Bermuda.


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Tags: cruising, norwegian cruise line

Photo credit: A rendering of the Norwegian Bliss is shown against a backdrop of mountains in Alaska. Norwegian Cruise Line is sending a new ship to Seattle for Alaska sailings for the first time. Norwegian Cruise Line

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