In 1966, Knut Kloster and Ted Arison began operating a single 8,666-ton cruise ship/car ferry between Southampton, UK, and Gibraltar under the auspices of their newly formed company, Norwegian Caribbean Line. Today the Miami-based organization—now called Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (Norwegian)—encompasses not only Norwegian Cruise Line but also Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. With a combined fleet of 23 ships and approximately 45,800 berths, the three brands offer itineraries to more than 510 destinations worldwide.
The key to free-style cruising: an ultra-reliable website
Over the years Norwegian has established itself as an innovator in the cruise industry by initiating a series of firsts. It was the first company to offer inter-island itineraries in Hawaii, the first to offer a combined air-sea program, the first to introduce its own website, and (perhaps most important) the first to offer Freestyle Cruising.
Indeed, Freestyle Cruising—which Norwegian initiated in 2000—took the industry by storm by freeing guests from the rigid formal dining experience offered on traditional itineraries. Suddenly, assigned seats, dress codes, and fixed meal times were a thing of the past, and passengers could eat with whomever they wanted, whenever they wanted, dressed as they pleased, and with the ability to choose from a staggering variety of dining options.
Not surprisingly, cruise customers loved it, and today the concept of Freestyle Cruising (or Feel Free Cruising, as it’s now branded) has been expanded to give travelers a wide range of choice in everything from accommodations to entertainment, shore outings, and more.
But allowing guests to “vacation on their own terms” means providing both consumers and travel agents with an enormous amount of freedom and flexibility in setting up their cruise packages. And that in turn demands a website that can handle all of the ensuing complexity. Unfortunately for Norwegian, its efforts were hindered not only by the notoriously slow back-end reservations system used by the travel industry but also by the bevy of disparate underlying code bases that had been developed under contract by various companies before Norwegian hired an in-house development team.
Explains Fidel Perez, Norwegian’s director of enterprise architecture and performance, “Whether you’re a guest or a travel agent, booking a cruise is an intensive process that involves numerous choices. When the website crashes when you’re 10 to 15 minutes into that process, it’s enormously frustrating.” Unfortunately, that was exactly what was happening with Norwegian’s site. With five code bases on five different stacks—all with their own weaknesses and none of them designed to work together—uptime was far below what it should have been. And with no visibility across the entire site, Perez says, “It was like driving a car with the windshield blacked out.”