It’s six o’clock in the evening and there is a lively atmosphere in the Observatory Lounge on Norwegian Encore. Why of course, it’s cocktail hour. The waiters are serving canapes and champagne is being handed out to guests.
Guests are lazing on the plush chaises and perusing the books from the lounge’s extensive library.
It sounds and feels like a luxury ship.
But a mere two decks above us, the rev heads are suiting up and donning driving helmets like Lewis Hamilton before a Grand Prix. They’re getting ready to race on the ship’s heart-pumping go-kart racetrack.
And on the other side of the ship, others are in the Galaxy Pavilion, saving far-off planets and escaping from dinosaurs in virtual-reality adventures.
This incredible range of activities is what you’ll find on much of Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleet of 17 innovative ships, sailing to over 300 destinations around the world. You might say they’re the goldilocks of cruising.
Somewhere between contemporary and premium, NCL is carving out an entirely unique category all of its own.
NCL calls it Freestyle Cruising, and it speaks directly to Australian consumers who are seeking flexibility and freedom to holiday their way; without a schedule and with no set dining tables, dining times or dress codes.
I was on Norwegian Encore, part of the line’s Breakaway Class and boy, does NCL deliver. Whether you’re young or young at heart, NCL’s vessels have been designed so there is something for everyone.
So you can imagine how much anticipation there is for the launch of Norwegian Prima, the first of the line’s new Prima Class vessels, debuting in bucket list destinations like Iceland and Norway in Northern Europe from August 2022.
This is cruising, but not as you know it
These are not the largest ships in the world – far from it – in fact, the new Prima Class will have less capacity than other NCL ships. So perhaps surprisingly, what you will find on Norwegian Prima is oodles of space and service in spades.
She’ll lay claim to the title of the most spacious new contemporary or premium cruise ship. The most spacious accommodations of any new cruise ship. The highest staffing levels for a new cruise ship. NCL’s largest ever inside, oceanview and balcony staterooms. Plus, the biggest bathrooms.
And as the titleholder of the most outdoor deck space of any new ship, one of the truly revolutionary features guests will find on Norwegian Prima is Ocean Boulevard. It’s an expansive open-air wraparound deck with 360-degree views and an indulgent firepit where you can relax under a starry sky. The Infinity Beach area has two infinity pools designed to blend into the horizon and there’s also Oceanwalk, where two glass bridges let cruisers take a walk on air, over the water.
For the epicurious
For the foodies, NCL seriously delivers. There are up to 29 different eateries and bars on some of its ships and the quality is incredibly good, so every night is a delicious adventure. In fact, it’s possible not to dine at the same restaurant twice.
The most notable new addition is Onda by Scarpetta, an Italian-style eatery that could rival a local restaurant in Venice or Rome, which cruisers will find on Norwegian Spirit – debuting Down Under in 2022 – as well as Norwegian Encore and Norwegian Prima.
Onda by Scarpetta marries the best of fine produce with vino to match. The menu is family-style so there is a great intimacy when dining with your friends. There are dishes like fresh tuna crudo, rich mushroom ragout with creamy polenta as well as melt-in-the-mouth short rib to start. The handmade pastas are married with a simple beautiful tomato passata and fresh cut basil, while a spaghetti dish is coupled with delicious prawns. However, the pièce de résistance is the main course. Giant crumbed veal cutlets and grilled steaks with seasonal vegetables – buon appetito!
Dining at Taste and Savor restaurants on Norwegian Encore is complimentary, and they are my favourite places for breakfast. The staff make a delightful shakshuka – a Turkish dish of baked eggs with tomatoes – and I can’t disclose the embarrassing number of crispy hash browns I consumed on my short three-day voyage.
My pick: Don’t miss the brand-new Indulge Food Hall on Norwegian Prima, inspired by the world’s great open-air markets. A variety of artisanal mini-restaurants and food trucks serve everything from tacos to tandoori.
Rev up the action
For the families, there’s a wealth of activities, from a 10-storey slide (the fastest at sea, no less) that winds down the side of the ship to the kids’ Aqua Park, where a tidal wave waterslide and cascading water features provide splash-tacular fun.
Norwegian Prima sees the return of one of the most revolutionary and coolest rides I have ever been on – the go-kart track. It’s already available on three ships but, in another first for the line, the heart-pumping Prima Speedway is three-storeys high and 420-metres long – the largest racetrack on an NCL ship, capable of accommodating 15 drivers at the same time racing at up to 50 kilometres per hour.
Arguably the line’s most modern offering is the Galaxy Pavilion, a space where virtual reality comes to life. On Norwegian Prima, there are 40 different experiences to choose from, including a TopGolf Swing Suite, two different escape rooms, a VR maze and the first flying theatre simulator at sea.
Rooms with more room
NCL has revolutionised cruise accommodation offerings. It was the first line to build dedicated staterooms and common areas specifically for solo travellers, with studio staterooms now available on eight NCL ships sailing worldwide.
NCL has also revolutionised stateroom design across its fleet. The best thing about the cabin design on Norwegian Bliss is the balcony – designed to view the beautiful Alaskan scenery, it’s large and spacious. Definitely one of the biggest balcony staterooms I’ve ever seen. With two sun loungers as well as a table for two, it would be the perfect place to enjoy a croissant and coffee while watching the Alaskan glaciers pass the ship. And on Norwegian Encore, the ocean-facing cabins are ideal for families, and the interconnecting cabins give parents some reprieve.
Meanwhile Norwegian Prima kicks things up another notch with NCL’s largest staterooms yet, including larger bathrooms, more amenities and intuitive technology.
The balcony staterooms come with ample storage, plenty of hidden drawers, a large closet and lots of shelves. With a comfortable king-sized bed and a small seating area, the cabins have been well designed, but the best thing about any NCL stateroom is the bathroom. No matter what category of cabin you are in, the bathrooms are extremely spacious with large showers and some with a double his-and-hers vanity.
At the top end of town, The Haven by Norwegian, NCL’s “ship within a ship” concept, is where you’ll find the ultimate in luxury. Accommodation ranges from spa suites, which are outside The Haven and have their own jacuzzi by the bed, to two-bedroom penthouses with private seating area and a grand piano. Plus, there are exclusive spaces reserved for guests of The Haven, including a private pool deck, stunning sun deck and restaurant and bar.
Can’t wait to cruise again?
While NCL sails all around the world, the line’s Pride of America is the only cruise ship that sails round-trip from Honolulu year-round. Cruisers who can’t wait for local cruising to begin again can island hop Hawaii in style. Like Norwegian Bliss, the ship’s accommodation is designed for guests to whale watch, sail past the Kilauea Volcano or take in the dramatic views of the Napali Coast. All from the comfort of your private balcony.
Whether it’s an adventure on or off the ship, NCL delivers every time.
Save up to 35% and get US$2900 (about AU$4015) in bonus value for a limited time on these NCL deals.
7-day Greek Islands cruise from $1726
Norwegian Jade will set sail from Athens, the cradle of modern civilization, on this seven-day round-trip “Greek Isles: Santorini, Mykonos & Rhodes” voyage showcasing the diverse highlights of the Greek Islands.
7-day Western Mediterranean cruise from $1960
Depart from Barcelona aboard Norwegian Epic on a seven-day round-trip “Mediterranean: Italy, France & Spain” sailing to places such as the French island of Corsica, Rome and Florence, Naples as well as the glamarous coastal cities of Cannes and Majorca.
7-day Hawaii cruise from $2885
Island hop Hawaii-style with Pride of America’s seven-day round-trip inter-island cruise from Honolulu, with sailings departing every Saturday all year round.
10-day Iceland cruise from $3340
Explore Northern Europe on Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship, Norwegian Prima, sailing from Reykjavik to London via stunning destinations in Iceland, Norway, Netherlands and Belgium. Norwegian Prima will be the newest ship in the NCL fleet.
*Note: All prices quoted are per person and correct at time of publication.