The Ultimate Experience

Helge Naarstad (right), founder of Sea Goddess, and Martin Saarikangas, CEO of the Wartsila Helsinki ShipyardSea Goddess introduced the yacht-like luxury experience in 1984, created by Norwegian Helge Naarstad. After a stint with a mass market brand, he said he wanted to create the kind of cruise experience that he personally would like to take.

“This led me to invent the yacht cruisers and with them a lot of new developments in the industry, like all inclusive, one price, all staterooms equal, first class cuisine and an atmosphere where passengers regarded each other as interesting and pleasurable to spend some time with,” he told Cruise Industry News.

“And, of course, smaller ports of call, more shore experiences and sports from the aft deck of the ship were part of the package. This concept is still viable, and the more and bigger ships the mass market operators are building, the more they are helping to create a market at the top as well.”

First Mega Ship

“When I entered the cruise industry in 1978, I saw a mass market fueled by affordable prices and reaching far out into almost all income brackets and all geographical areas of the U.S. The market was in the early stages of development and it was quite clear to me that bigger and more cost-efficient ships would help to expand the market, while onboard entertainment would attract new users,” Naarstad said, who then was president of Norwegian Caribbean Lines.

“The answer to these trends was to build bigger ships,” he continued. “As this would take time, we found that converting an obsolete, but not too old Atlantic liner, would bring us faster into a position to serve this market. So we found the S/S France and converted her into the S/S Norway, taking the leap from 700 passenger ships to 2,200 passengers in one jump. It worked remarkably well, and the ship was paid for in three years.

“Now our major competitors saw the threat that this ship, and its possible followers, would pose for them, so in turn they contracted for new big ships to fight for their position in the market. They all understood this, except Norwegian, which had then changed management. The new guys took the company in a different direction.”

Ultra Luxury

After leaving Norwegian, Naarstad said his next goal was to create the ultimate cruise experience, with two 120-passenger, 4,000-ton vessels, Sea Goddess I, introduced and christened by Princess Caroline in Monaco in 1984, and the Sea Goddess II in 1985.

But to introduce a new product and concept was easier said than done. Creating the product was one thing, getting paid for the product in a reasonable time frame was a different ball game, and high-end operators today are building bigger ships to make ends meet, according to Naarstad. (In addition, the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro wiped out the profitable Mediterranean summer season.)

“This (bigger ships) would not satisfy the customers we attracted to Sea Goddess and it leaves a market opportunity between these operators and the mega yachts for rent,” he said.

“To satisfy this market you need to deliver quality in details that is possible only if you know how to do it. I do not see any operators in this category today. I see a certain tendency that mega yachts will be more organized, so in the future we may see a company offering several mega yachts in different locations, and operated more efficiently and in better alignment with the product experience. This way it could possibly bridge the gap between today’s high-end operators and the rented yacht at a competitive price per diem.”

The Sea Goddess vessels today sail as SeaDream I and II, still offering an ultra-luxury experience.

This article ran as part of a special Legends and Leaders section of the 100th edition of Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine, Spring 2015. A PDF download is available here.

Related articles:

Knut Kloster: A Man of Vision

Ted Arison: Creating the Fun Ships

Micky Arison: Exceeding Expectations

Nicola Costa: Developing Europe

Ed Stephen: Great Future

Arne Wilhelmsen: Next: Sensible Growth

John Chandris: Innovation is Key

Phoenix: True North

Art Rodney: Launching New Brands

Helge Naarstad: The Ultimate Experience 

Stanley McDonald: Full Ships from Day One

Barney Ebsworth: It’s All About Marketing

Lord Sterling: Worldwide Outlook

Stein Kruse: Global Expansion

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