During a pre-inaugural cruise aboard the newly delivered Vista, Seatrade Cruise News sat down with Harry Sommer, president and CEO-elect Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings; Frank A. Del Rio, president, Oceania Cruises; and Nikki Upshaw, SVP global sales, Oceania Cruises, for an update on travel partner policies and changes, itinerary trends, new shore programs and considerations for future ships.

According to Sommer, business has been ‘amazingly steady since August, especially since October,’ and since Del Rio assumed the presidency in January he’s brought changes to propel things further.  

‘If we look at how we’re booked for 2023, which we’re pretty much done with, and look out to ’24 and 25, the enthusiasm is amazing,’ Sommer said.

Now there’s an additional boost with Vista being shown off to many hundreds of trade partners at ongoing events in Europe and, come September, October and November, in New York, Miami and Los Angeles.

No NCFs pilot and new promotions

Following sister brand Norwegian Cruise Line’s no NCFs policy, Oceania is running a six-month test with 50 top producers globally. They have to create a detailed marketing program, and the line will provide marketing support and training to convert leads into sales. In exchange, elevated exposure within the agency and an additional share of business are expected.

Six weeks in, Del Rio called the success ‘moderate,’ and Upshaw expects that as Oceania puts more marketing programs in place, this will help.

The current promotion is ‘Extraordinary Savings’ on top of Oceania’s long-running ‘OLife Choice,’ which gives a choice of amenities. A new promotion coming in July will be simpler and clearly convey the value.

Global approach to policies and offers

With Upshaw in charge of global sales since the start of the year, Nathan Hickman as VP global marketing, Kim Izaguirre as VP revenue management and Carlos Ortega as VP global guest services, the line’s policies, promotions and practices are now uniform around the world.

‘It’s really refreshing to have this continuity from a global perspective,’ Upshaw said. ‘Internally, when we talk, we have one voice for sales, one for marketing and one for revenue management. It’s efficient and powerful.’

She works directly with the international offices led by Jason Worth (Australia), Bernard Carter (UK) and Frank Medina (Latin America).

Pandemic distribution changes

Adapting to pandemic-caused changes in the distribution system means developing new programs to connect with a larger number of independent contractors working virtually. As Upshaw put it: being ‘advisor-centric’ versus communicating only with the agency location ‘but keeping the owner involved.’

Another change has been how much key travel partners such as Cruise Planners and Avoya have invested in technology and how savvy they’ve become at using modern marketing tools, Del Rio said, adding this is starting to pay dividends ‘for them and for us.’

In still another pandemic change, agencies that focused on cruises had to diversify to survive, so now some sell nearly as many hotels and resorts. ‘That’s good for them,’ Sommer said, ‘but we have to find a way to win a larger share of their business back.’

There’s an opportunity to work with those advisors to help them interpret the value of cruising to their database of land-based clients.

‘The finest cuisine at sea’

With Vista out and trade and media experiencing the dining on board, there will be a spotlight in the coming weeks and months on Oceania Cruises, which touts itself as ‘the world’s leading culinary- and destination-focused cruise line with the finest cuisine at sea.’

In 2002, company founder Frank Del Rio claimed he was spending more per capita on food than any other brand.

According to his son, that is still the case, with Oceania allocating more resources to the culinary experience than any other line. This spans the number of staff, including an impressive one chef per 10 passengers, provisions and Michelin-star-level galley equipment.

2026: Asia or South America?

And destinations are as important as culinary, the younger Del Rio said.

The line is working on 2025-26 deployment, which could potentially see two ships in Asia or two in South America during the January to May 2026 period.

‘If we had to decide today, based on a couple votes, it would be Asia, Del Rio said, adding Japan is ‘by far the leading destination’ for the line but delivering the Japan experience is not as easy as it was pre-pandemic.

‘The demand is there for the destination but it’s a balance right now. If we were to decide based on current bookings, we would put all of the ships in Japan, all year-round.’

Pre-pandemic, Oceania’s Japan-immersive itineraries sold well and more were added.

Del Rio said because China is still offline, when travelers think of Asia, ‘Japan has become the No. 1 destination in that region.’


Turning to the 2026 world cruise, it’s likely world-cruise stalwart Insignia will be replaced with ‘at least an O-class ship, a Marina or Riviera.’ Maybe even Vista.


Meanwhile, besides Asia’s popularity, the Mediterranean is holding its own. Del Rio called Italy ‘the anchor in the Med’ since it is ‘by far the hottest country in total tourism from North America.’

Upshaw noted that since Baltic itineraries had to be revamped without St. Petersburg, it has taken a while for people to appreciate the appeal of what she calls the ‘Scandinavian Riviera,’ however ‘That’s really starting to come through.’

In 2025 the line will be testing new itineraries in Iceland and Greenland.

Grand voyages

Oceania features longer, destination-rich itineraries and now 40% of its deployment consists of ‘grand voyages’ that link more than one cruise.  

According to Del Rio, these actually draw a higher percentage of new-to-brand customers.

Small batch, special interest excursions

When it comes to shore programs, Oceania aims to give multiple lenses through which to view the destinations. Harnessing enrichment experts from the ship for excursions — for example, culinary and art tie-ins with the onboard Culinary Center and the Artist Loft — is a way to do that.

‘Go Local’ tours also include ‘Go Green’ options (focused on sustainability, from hydroponic farming to eco-conscious art) and ‘Beyond Blueprints’ (going behind the scenes at iconic architectural landmarks).

Such excursions provide a greater connection with destinations, giving a ‘genuine sense of place that people think you can’t get on a cruise,’ Upshaw said. ‘With our extended and late-night stays, that sense of place can really come through.’

Also, Del Rio said this is how to convert land-based travelers into cruisers: ‘You create these experiences ashore that are authentic, exclusive, small batch — 10 to 15 people — to give them the same kind of experience they get on a land safari or a small-group tour in Asia.’

Newbuild pacing and size

There were 11 years between the second O-class ship, 2022’s Riviera, and Vista, the first of two Allura-class ships. (The second, Allura, is to arrive in mid-2025.)

Sommer pledged there will never be such a long gap going forward. He sees a new ship for Oceania (and sister brand Regent Seven Seas Cruises) every two to three years as the right pace ‘we can absorb from a staffing, guest acquisition and experience perspective.’

Though there was more than a decade between Riviera and Vista, the size and passenger count stayed essentially the same — this, despite how the notion of small or mid-sized ships has changed.

Del Rio said Oceania may consider going a little larger — 5, 6 or 7% — but the key is keeping a high crew to guest ratio and maintaining service standards.

Like father, like son

And he indicated that, like his father, he’ll be very involved in future designs: ‘Absolutely. That’s the way I was brought up in this business. You’ve got to be in all the details.’

During the four years Del Rio was gone from the company, he was building very high-end custom homes and ‘fell in love with the interior design part of it, selecting stones, working with carpenters to create furniture …

‘It’s something I am passionate about … I’m as much of an art lover as as my dad, and probably even more of a foodie than my dad,’ he added.

So the transition from father to son in the hallmarks of Oceania Cruises is likely to be a smooth one.

Sommer, his boss, said ‘Frank is doing fantastically well. I couldn’t be any happier with the direction the Oceania brand is taking since he took over in January.’

For his part, Del Rio said: ‘It’s a beautiful time right now. At Oceania we have an energy that is very similar to the early days — this “Go get’em” attitude. Failure is not an option. We have an amazing product and amazing people delivering it day in, day out.’