As you might expect, this is a North-American cruise line first. Italian cruise lines MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises already use the multiple embarkation port model in the Mediterranean.
With the multiple embarkation port model, everyone still has a 7-Night cruise, but the "first" and "last" night concept no longer exists. That might take a little getting used to for those that have cruised before. For example, a cruise leaving Barcelona, Epic's summer homeport, on July 1 will embark some passengers in Barcelona, some on July 4 in Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) and yet more in Marseille on July 7.
Benefits to Multiple Embarkation Ports
2011 saw the highest airfares in recent times from the U.S. to Europe. Those that follow our column on a regular basis know that we did a 12-Night Mediterranean and Greek Isles cruise this year. Seeing the Mediterranean by cruise is the best way to go. Your ship is your floating hotel with meals and entertainment included onboard, saving you from those expenses on land. Fortunately, we had air miles which we were able to leverage, otherwise the relatively inexpensive cruise fare would have been dwarfed by the cost of air transportation. The high airfare would have potentially put the whole trip in jeopardy.
2011 also saw record ship deployments in Europe, as the cruise lines responded to the increasing demand. With the soaring air prices, the cruise lines had to find ways to entice passengers to cruise Europe. Next year the cruise lines will maintain or exceed current capacity levels in Europe. Unless there is a silver bullet in the airline industry, we don't see prices reducing to pre-2011 levels any time soon.
So, Norwegian's move couldn't be more timely. It puts the passenger in the driver's seat on naming the cost of the air transportation. They might be able to find cheaper airfare to Rome instead of Barcelona for example. Perhaps they will be able to extend their cruise vacation with pre-cruise or post-cruise stays in the embarkation city. We always suggest flying early to your embarkation port to avoid the hassles of same-day arrival and to help with jet lag.
The multiple embarkation ports of call should have a ripple effect benefit to the entire tourism industry in those embarkation cities. The carriers involved in moving all those passengers to/from their destination should benefit also. Instead of having several thousand passengers in port at the same time, from several ships, that load is disbursed to several different points in time and destinations. Passenger satisfaction should increase, as less drain is put on the infrastructure making for a more pleasant embarkation / disembarkation process.