Last updated: 10:58 AM ET, Mon March 09 2015

Travel Insights: The Great Cruise Executive Makeover

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | James Shillinglaw | March 09, 2015

Travel Insights: The Great Cruise Executive Makeover

This past week news came that Andy Stuart, long-time executive vice president-sales for Norwegian Cruise Line, had been promoted to president and chief operating officer of the line, a wonderful move by Norwegian and one widely praised by the travel agent community. Andy is a good friend of mine and it couldn't have happened to a nicer and more capable person—as well as someone who is very travel agent friendly to boot.

Nevertheless it got me thinking: There have been more changes at the top of major cruise lines in the last six months than I can ever remember. I mean, is there something in the water? (Not to use a perhaps over-used pun.)

In just the last three months alone we've had new presidents announced for Norwegian, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Cunard, Carnival Cruise Lines and Costa. My apologies for missing any lines who have named new presidents, but it's been rather challenging to keep up.

Part of this has been sort of a natural evolution, a changing of the guard, so to speak, as more senior people departed in favor of a new generation of executives. Andy Stuart is certainly evidence of that, but so is Jason Montage at Prestige (Oceania and Regent Seven Seas), Lisa Lutoff-Perlo at Celebrity, Michael Bayley at Royal Caribbean, Rick Meadows at Cunard (who also oversees Seabourn), Christine Duffy at Carnival, and Neil Palombo at Costa.

Palumbo, at 35, just might be one of the youngest cruise line executives ever. I've been watching his career since he became one of the youngest ship captains at MSC Cruises. And Meadows, another good friend, has received a well-deserved promotion to oversee both Seabourn and Cunard. It's also gratifying to see more women being named to top cruise line posts, in this case with Lutoff-Perlo and Duffy's appointments.

Turning back to Andy Stuart: it's rare these days to see someone who basically started in cruising (Andy was a bartender onboard a Norwegian ship 27 years ago) end up running a major line, let alone the line he started with. It's also rare, at a time when cruise lines seem to want executives with finance or accounting experience, to find someone who built his reputation in sales rise to the top.

On the other hand, Andy has been the "face" of Norwegian for so many years that it's hard to remember. He’s also someone who is extraordinarily popular with travel agents. He replaces Drew Madsen, a former restaurant executive who was appointed president just six months ago.

Stuart's move to the top post also comes after a number of executive shifts at Norwegian following the abrupt departure of Kevin Sheehan as president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Holdings, who had named Madsen as president six months ago. Sheehan himself was replaced by cruise veteran Frank Del Rio, who then proceeded to make his own executive appointments at Norwegian and its sister companies. In choosing Stuart, however, Del Rio has made what I think is a brilliant move. Good luck Andy! We'll be rooting for you!


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