Norwegian Cruise Line offers a hybrid cruising experience, mixing traditional elements with innovative features, amenities and ambience. Decor is colorful, fun and occasionally loud, especially on newer ships. The dress code is flexible and very casual. It's not unusual to see T-shirt-clad passengers dining among their more dressed up shipmates. (Tuxedos are rare.)
All Norwegian cruise ships have multiple dining venues, ranging from French bistros to steakhouses and sushi bars. Room service is available around the clock, but always comes with a service charge. Specialty dining generally comes with a $10 to $25 cover charge and/or a la carte menus ranging from $8 to $25. All specialty dining venues require reservations. Another don't-miss onboard all Norwegian cruises is the signature Chocoholic's Buffet, held once per cruise. It's a magnificent sight to behold.
You'll want to plan ahead for a Norwegian cruise. With so many dining options, snagging reservations is key and on the largest ships, many people book all of their meals before they board. If you want to try the many specialty restaurants, make sure you budget accordingly, as most are not included in the basic cruise fare. That being said, Norwegian frequently offers value-added fares for its cruises, with drink or dining packages included; these can also be bought before the cruise to make your onboard experience less stressful.
In addition to eateries, the cruise ships also have multiple bars and lounges. Norwegian is serious about entertainment, and offers exuberant musical productions (including Broadway and off-Broadway shows), comedy from Second City, live bands, lounge singers, piano bars and DJs in the discos. The casinos are a good size and offer the expected games. The requisite libraries, game rooms, shuffleboard, Ping-Pong, art auctions, perfume seminars, gaming lessons and port talks are available every day. Steiner-run Mandara Spas offer luxe treatments at luxe prices, with teeth whitening and acupuncture sessions, as well as Botox by visiting onboard doctors. All ships have fitness centers.
Well-trained counselors staff the children's programs on Norwegian cruises; age-appropriate offerings range from parties and video arcades to kid-friendly learning sessions. The Guppies program offers sensory-based interaction for parents with children 6 months to 3 years. There are teen centers, discos and kids' pools, too. The newer ships in the NCL cruise fleet are particularly welcoming to children, and although standard cabins run substantially smaller -- at an average of 160 square feet -- than those on other new vessels, Norwegian does boast a large number of adjoining cabins and family-centric suites
The crowd is diverse -- primarily American -- ranging in age from young families to older folks, as well as a good many cruisers with disabilities. Norwegian has cultivated a broad appeal, which means its cruise ships are oriented to both families and couples. They're appropriate for gay and lesbian travelers, too.
Norwegian has carved out a major niche for itself in the U.K. and Europe, and homeports ships there both full time and seasonally. In 2016, Norwegian decided to base a ship in Australia and it entered the Chinese cruising market with Norwegian Joy in 2017, a ship built especially for Asian travelers.
Known for introducing "freestyle" cruising to the industry, Norwegian has built its brand into one that's fun and full of entertainment options for the entire family, as well as choice among dining and cabin categories.
Norwegian's newest mega-ships -- all part of its Breakaway Plus class -- include 4,200-passenger Norwegian Escape, which launched in October 2015, as well as two ships that are being custom-built for the destinations they sail -- the 3,900-passenger Norwegian Joy for the Chinese cruising market and the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Bliss, which is being specifically designed for Alaska itineraries. The ships will debut in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
The mold for these new ships began with Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, mega-ships that debuted in 2013 and 2014. While the vessels weren't the first in the fleet to introduce features like water parks, multiple restaurants and entertainment venues -- some of these first debuted on 2010's Norwegian Epic -- the pair of 4,028-passenger ships took many of the line's innovations to the next level. The ropes course, for example, was new, as was The Haven, Norwegian's luxury cabins and suites enclave that provide a separate upscale experience. The Haven concept was later rolled out to older ships.
The older ships in Norwegian's fleet have undergone refurbishments over the years to make them more conducive to the line's ethos of choice. The Jewel class -- Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Gem and Norwegian Pearl -- consists of ships that are comfortable and relaxed, with more spacious lounges and cabins than the newer vessels.
Even older vessels from the Dawn class (Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Star and Norwegian Dawn) have also received upgrades but were built for Freestyle cruising; the layout of these ships, which were built in 2001 and 2002, might seem old-fashioned to today's passengers who are used to a more streamlined layout.
Even though it's the line's oldest ship, Norwegian Spirit still has 11 restaurants. Norwegian Sky, dating back to 1999, sails short fun-in-the-sun cruises with all drinks included. Both ships carry slightly more than 2,000 passengers, making them good choices for cruisers who like a more intimate experience.
Finally, Norwegian is the only mainstream cruise line to have a ship that sails year-round in Hawaii. Built and staffed by Americans in accordance with the Jones Act, Pride of America is the choice for cruisers who want to maximize their time in the islands.