'Pride of America' reborn

The cruise ship, rebuilt and newly christened after severe damage, recovers in red, white and blue style.

Published June 19, 2005

BREMERHAVEN, Germany - Even without its troubled beginning, the Pride of America is one handsome cruise ship. But if you consider that less than 18 months ago it was sunk four decks deep in the North Sea, it's more apt to call the vessel astonishing.

You can see for yourself by turning your TV set Monday morning. Live with Regis and Kelly, at 9 a.m. on WTVT-Ch. 13,, will air this week from a temporary stage on the Pride's outdoor basketball court, on the 14th deck.

Just christened Friday in New York City, the 2,138-passenger ship serves as a floating TV studio on its way to Miami. The vessel sails June 25 for its home port in Honolulu, from where it will sail seven-day cruises beginning July 23.

The Pride of America's arrival in Hawaii would be news at any time, but it comes a full year late. In January 2004, the vessel was under construction here when a storm struck. Though all details have not been disclosed, the ship took on water from one or more open hatches and sank.

The shipyard's insurance company paid Norwegian Cruise Line $200-million, according to NCL president and CEO Colin Veitch, "to rebuild the bottom four decks.

"All of that money has been spent," Veitch told a news conference onboard the ship June 6, as workers raced through various projects so the Pride would reach New York on schedule.

The red, white and blue

In addition to the insurance settlement, about $400-million more was spent - an amount Veitch said is the true price of the vessel as originally ordered in 2002.

That figure includes furnishings and decor, which are splendid.

"There is no mistaking - this is an American vessel," Veitch said. That begins with the enormous stylized painting on the hull of an eagle, rendered in red and white ribbons a la the Star Spangled Banner.

On the interior, the references to the United States are both broad and subtle, but tasteful:

- The three-deck high Capitol Atrium features the Great Seal of the United States on its tile floor, and framing the twin stairways to the next deck are fluted square columns, giving a colonial feel to this notably open area.

- The largest of the eight restaurants is the Liberty Room (seating 496) and the Skyline Room (644). The Liberty has swags over its large windows of white stars on a deep blue background, busts of famous government leaders in wall niches, and paintings of historic moments. In the Skyline, frames around the windows resemble the trademark metallic arches of New York's Chrysler Building, and the posts supporting the ceiling are covered by frames like miniature skyscrapers.

- Jefferson's Bistro, seating just 88, has a side room with book-lined walls to resemble his Monticello library. The library seats just 20. The ship continues NCL's trademark "freestyle dining," in which the line abandoned the practice of assigning passengers their dinner times and tables when they board.

- Other dining room and lounge touches: The Lazy J Steak House boasts a real saddle on a wooden fence, the Gold Rush Pub is filled with frontier-style artifacts, and Cadillac Jack's lounge has a real Pure Oil gas pump at the door, diner-style banquettes and tables, and a wall mural of an Elvis movie poster.

Along hallways from public areas, delicate watercolors show the bird, flower and seal of each state and territory. The wide walls in the landings of the stairways are filled by beautiful photo murals of American scenes such as the wetlands of Florida's St. Johns River, South Beach's art deco hotels, the Lincoln Memorial and Golden Gate Bridge.

Reservations, tax deductions

Though some cabins on the Pride have the snugness typical of cruise ships, the suites are spacious. The 12 Family Suites, measuring 330 to 360 square feet, offer two sleeping areas and two bathrooms.

There are 664 cabins of varying sizes that have balconies. All 1,069 cabins have at least one TV, telephone with voicemail, refrigerator and safe.

Other amenities: Two pools, spa and fitness area, spacious library and a small Internet room, though it does have Wi-Fi areas. Toddlers have a colorful indoor play area and their own outdoor pool, and teens have both a video arcade and a room with a video jukebox.

Something new to the NCL fleet: Outside each of the Pride's eight dining rooms will be a flat-screen TV showing up-to-the-minute wait times for all the other rooms, so that passengers can reserve a table elsewhere if necessary.

In addition to the 868-seat Hollywood Theater, the ship has five meeting rooms plus a circular auditorium seating 250.

"This ship is well-suited for conferences and continuing education," Veitch said. "Our flying the U.S. flag allows passengers to take tax deductions for their educational business expenses, and Hawaii is one of the big destinations for such trips."

Another German shipyard is currently building the third vessel that NCL will station in Hawaii. "We are looking at . . . having 6,500 beds in port there, sailing seven, 10- and 11-day voyages" in what was termed "a premium price destination, year-round."

Consequently, NCL sells the Hawaii trips at a higher price per diem than its voyages in the Caribbean and elsewhere command.

With that in mind, Veitch said the interrupted creation of the Pride of America has "been a long time coming . . . but this is not some noble gesture on our part."

- Robert N. Jenkins can be reached at 727 893-8496 or jenkins@sptimes.com IF YOU GO

For more information on the Pride of America, including prices for the nine cabin categories and sailing dates, contact Norwegian Cruise Line toll-free 1-800-327-7030; on the Web at www.ncl.com or a travel agent.