Why Are Norwegian Cruise Line Cruisers Are So Unhappy?
Why Are Norwegian Cruise Line Cruisers Are So Unhappy?
I met so many regular Norwegian cruisers on my Norwegian Viva cruise that disliked this new class of Norwegian Cruise Line ships. So much so that I started wondering whether they had gone out of their way to create a new type of ship they knew current cruisers wouldn’t like. Perhaps to attract different cruisers, like me. While I am not a big fan of other Norwegian ships I’ve been on, this ship did somethings so differently it appealed to me and maybe will to you too.
I’m not a frequent Norwegian cruiser, partly because I’m not a fan of their big ships and previous classes, although I have cruised on Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway, and Norwegian Encore. But I wanted to try this new class of ship because they seemed to be different in every way.
Norwegian Cruise Line Prima Class
They’re called Prima Class ships, the first being Norwegian Prima. Norwegian Viva was second, and the third is Norwegian Aqua. They hold between 3,100 and 4,000 passengers based on how many people are sharing cabins.
And on these, Norwegian have discarded their existing ship layouts to embrace a concept I found incredibly like Virgin Voyages ships. Instead of having big grand venues to have lots of small venues dotted all around the ship to basically spread people out across the ship.
So, although it’s a big ship carrying thousands of guests, there are almost no big central venues.
But before I get into some of the drawbacks of this overall layout and concept, I need to explain some key additions and notable introductions.
One is the having a surprisingly small pool and pool deck considering the up to 4,000 passengers. Instead, they’ve created the Ocean Boulevard for people to hang out on and around instead.
Again, much like on Virgin Ships, this is basically a widened promenade deck running all the way around deck eight. Around this Ocean Boulevard are infinity pools, seating areas, two glass floor walkways called the “Oceanwalk”, some bars and outside seating for several restaurants.
The Boulevard is a bustling and busy space day and night, and can be noisy. Creating a problem for the cabins on the decks above it, which many people I spoke to said was an issue.
Another change akin to Virgin Voyages is they have dispensed of their usual traditional cruise line theatre to have a large flexible space, where the seats retract to enable each show to have a different layout.
So, a traditional theatre layout for the Broadway show (Beetlejuice) and game shows like “Deal or No Deal”.
For their production show called “Icons” – a review show featuring the songs of iconic stars through the ages – it had a cabaret style layout. For a Prom party show inspired by the one in “Back to the Future” it was an open space for dancing with podiums. Most evenings it also became the nightclub.
It seemed to have small capacity for the size of the ship, so getting bookings for the shows I needed to move fast.
Indulge Food Hall
One introduction that I and everyone liked, again similar to a Virgin Voyages venue, is the Indulge Food Hall.
Though while on Virgin Voyages it replaces the traditional cruise buffet with a range of different themed dining stalls, on Norwegian they have kept the Surfside Buffet, but added the Indulge Food Hall.
It is included within the fare, and I used an electronic pad at my table to order food from a wide range of different themed food stalls (like Asian, Indian, tapas and so on) to be delivered to my table. It has an inside space and then outside on the Ocean Boulevard.
Norwegian Cruise Line Favourites
They have kept and built in many of the big entertainment features from other Norwegian ships, things that are not on Virgin ships.
On top of the ship is the huge Speedway Go-kart track, which on Aqua is a water slide attraction. Also in this area on Deck 18 is The Bulls’ Eye darts area, Tee Time Crazy Golf, The Stadium with table tennis, shuffleboard, pickleball and so on.
They also have a Wave waterslide ride, Kids Aqua Park, and then long slides down the side of the ship from Deck 18 to deck 8. As well as the Galaxy Games area, full of virtual reality games.
But, what did not work that well and why?
Hits and Misses
I found that creating these small spaces dotted around the ship to spread people around created a less intuitive layout, and many people, me included, found it hard to find their way around.
This was made more challenging by the lack of a big focus area where all the main bars, shops, music venues and restaurants are usually clustered around.
Unlike other Norwegian Cruise Line, or most cruise ships, that I am used to with a big central atrium, this was not the case on here.
There is one sort of multi-level atrium with guest services, a couple of bars, Starbucks, and some shops. But then I had to hunt out the other bars, restaurants, and venues, as they were dotted around the ship without a clear theme.
It also meant there were some long hallways on some decks. It felt they had shoehorned in things like the Park West Artworks and a couple of shops. The layout to me felt a bit random, and I found finding places was less easy than on other ships.
I have to say I didn’t find Virgin Voyages particularly intuitive either for the same reason!
On the positive side I kept stumbling across new places and venues right until the end of my 10 days of cruising!
But that was the first main frustrations people I spoke to had with this prima class of ships, the sense of it not being very intuitive and easy to find venues.
The second key criticism they had, is because of the focus on small venues, some of the venues proved to be too small for how popular they are and were hard to get into.
The main ones were the Indulge Food Hall, which is probably way more popular than Norwegian expected. I often found it hard to get a table at popular times, especially on my cruise where it was not always great weather to sit outside.
The Surfside Buffet seemed way too small. For breakfast and lunch, they had to use nearby Food Republic and Palomar restaurants to have enough seating, and even then, it was still challenging.
The Improv at Sea Comedy Club was always standing room only, and across the way the Syd Norman’s Pour House live music venue was rammed full and hard to get into.
I think what’s also important about this ship is that it is designed for warm weather sailings, as I saw on my sailing which was a chillier November in Europe, and the ship became cramped inside when people could not be out on the open deck spaces.
But this was further exacerbated by something Norwegian dialed up on this class of ships. And it was the cause of the third big complaint most cruisers I spoke to had.
They felt a lot of the ship was closed off to regular guests, making it more crowded than it needed to be, as on this new class Norwegian has not only carried across but increased several of its well-known segregated spaces, reducing and cutting off a lot of the ship to many.
The biggest offender they felt was The Haven, an access-controlled area for suite guests only. I could see, as I stayed in here, Norwegian have leaned into it very heavily. It’s clear this ship class is designed to carry and cater for more premium suite travellers.
A lot of space is taken over by Haven suites across multiple decks at the rear of the ship. The Haven itself covers a large space on deck 16 with a lounge, bar, restaurant, two-level deck with infinity pool, bar, hot tubs, sauna, and steam room.
They also have a large access-controlled solo cabin area with lounge. Kids clubs, of course, take up a large space too.
There is also a paid-for adult-only Vibe Beach Club with pools and bar.
Then of course the go-karts and the game space, which closes off another big part of the ship if you don’t want to use that.
So, I could see why for those not in The Haven, solo cabins, or using the kids clubs or adult only area it would feel being crammed into a smaller amount of space.
Plenty Of Choice
Though when it came to dining, like on all Norwegian Cruise Line ships few companied about the lack of choice.
The included dining venues were the Local Bar and Grill, the Surfside Grill and Cafe, Hudson’s and the Commodore Room main dining rooms, Indulge Food Hall, and in the Observation Lounge, snacks, and a pretty good afternoon tea.
The additional paid for specialty dining, included Hasuki which is Teppanyaki, Cagney’s Steakhouse, Food Republic (a contemporary Asian place that I really liked), Le Bistro French, Los Lobos Mexican, Noma Sushi, Onda by Scarpetta Italian, and Palomar seafood.
There were many bars, but as I mentioned, dotted around all over the place.
I did feel this new class is a conscious decision to create a different concept for Norwegian Cruise Line and to their big resort competitors like Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises and Carnival who focus on their big iconic spaces for crowds.
As a result of the smaller venues, I found the ship was much less boisterous, loud, and noisy compared not only to those other lines, but even to my experiences on Epic, Breakaway, and Encore.
I did feel like this is a ship designed to attract to a different type of person because certainly, for me, I enjoyed it because I felt, although I was on a big ship and had all the huge amount of choice, it wasn’t as manic and loud and crazy as on those other ships. Certainly, if I was heading back to Norwegian, the Prima class would be the choice versus their other ships.
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