Setting trends since their very beginning, way back in 1966. In some ways you could say that Norwegian Cruise Line invented large scale cruising, with their ships first running to the Caribbean from Miami and back. Many of the concepts they’ve introduced over the years have gone on to become staples of the entire cruise industry, like their freedom dining, part of their freestyle concept.
That freestyle concept is central to what Norwegian Cruise Lines (or NCL for short) are all about and we talk a lot more about it below…
Is There A Typical NCL Cruiser?
Norwegian Cruise Lines are great for those who want something different from the “traditional” cruising experience. Whether you’re cruising as a family, on your honeymoon, trying your first cruise, travelling solo or just those wanting a fun filled holiday, NCL has something for everyone with family and solo accommodations and plenty of entertainment on-board for all.
Whilst they’ve an impressive range of activities and amenities, what sets NCL apart is their “freestyle” atmosphere. “Freestyle” is defined by NCL cruisers being able to do what they want, when they want and not being forced to follow the cruise lines rules. This comes through in a wide range of dining options without set dining times and the freedom of cruising without dress codes.
The typical NCL cruiser then is someone who wants the freedom to cruise how they want, enjoy great entertainment and go on a holiday to truly relax.
A past passenger of NCL told us her experience of the atmosphere on-board:
“Not having to follow strict rules required on some other vessels really eases the atmosphere and provides the perfect background for a great holiday.”
You can read more of Ghazali’s review of Norwegian freestyle cruising here…
Meet The Fleet
NCL, with the addition of their newest vessel the Norwegian Escape, have a fleet of fourteen ships…
These ships are then split into five different classes:
The Breakaway Plus class: which includes the Norwegian Escape
Breakaway class: Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway
Jewel class: Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Gem, and Norwegian Pearl
Dawn class: Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Star
Sun class: Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Sky
And then there are some ships that are individuals without a class which include the Norwegian Epic, Pride of America and the Norwegian Spirit.
Each class is grouped with ships with the same facilities or things to do on-board, the newest of which is the Breakaway Plus class.
There aren’t actually that many differences between the classes of ship and perhaps the most noticeable difference between them is the number of dining options & bars available on-board. Breakaway-Class vessels offer a choice of up to 28 dining options and 22 bars & lounges for guests to enjoy, while the Jewel-Class offer an average of 19 restaurants and 15 bars.
In terms of entertainment, Epic & Breakaway ships have the best waterparks in the fleet as well as the exclusive Svedka Ice Bar whilst Studio Cabins for singles are only available on the Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Escape and the Pride of America.
Entertainment and On-Board Experience
As you might expect on a line that caters to families and those wanting plenty of fun, there’s plenty to do on an NCL ship!
Lots of people spend a huge amount of money travelling to see West End or Broadway shows – but on NCL you can see them on-board… for free!
That’s right, you can see West End and Las Vegas style productions such Priscilla Queen of the Desert or the Tony Award winning Million Dollar Quartet…
They also show performances of Legally Blonde the Musical, Rock of Ages and a show called Legends in Concert, with tributes to famous acts such as Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga and Elvis Presley.
If you don’t fancy that you might like a Cirque Dinner show to enjoy circus acts whizzing over your head and performing as you eat your dinner in a circus tent! You’ll be served cocktails by contortionists and aerialists will even drop down from the ceiling to fill your water glasses.
The thrill seekers amongst you have plenty of high energy entertainment to enjoy. Have a go at the ropes course, which is a three story course along ropes and planks or try walking the plank – 80 feet above water! You can see what we mean by watching the video below…
Unlike a lot of other cruise ships NCL don’t just have a pool with a few hot tubs… they’ve got Aqua Parks! The fastest water slide at sea, called Freefall, is on an NCL ship and you’ll travel over 25mph down it!
The Norwegian Breakaway then has a three storey water slide with a two hundred foot plunge pool called the Epic Plunge! You can read more about the water parks here.
But the excitement doesn’t end there. Have a go a mini golf on the mini golf courses or practise your swing in the golf nets. If you have a head for heights you can climb the rock climbing wall and tower over the ship at 15 metres in the air. Alternatively, go ten pin bowling and challenge your friends to get a strike.
Did you know? NCL bowling alleys are designed to work in rough seas as they are built on a tilting lane – so nothing will get in the way of your game!
If you love sport you can play basketball or volleyball on the sports court, go jogging around the track on the top deck or work out in the fitness centre. The gym has a range of classes in yoga, TRX (which is strength training using ropes and your own body weight in case you haven’t heard of it!) as well as normal classes such as Zumba. If you have energy to burn – NCL have a place for you to do it in!
If you’d rather relax, head to the luxurious Mandara Spa instead for a treatment or to visit the salon. The spas don’t just have relaxation rooms and treatment rooms – they’ve salt rooms and snow rooms as well! The Norwegian Escape has a snow room as part of its spa, where you can chill out as powdery snow falls. Whilst you might be a bit chilly – at a temp of -6 to 0 degrees Celsius – it’s worth it as it’s thought to improve blood flow and circulation if you spend time inside!
Did you know? The Mandara Spa also has a men’s barber shop but also offers everything from teeth whitening to acupuncture to Botox!
If that isn’t enough relaxation for you – then why not try staying in the Haven? The Haven is a private world of luxury, comprising of luxury suites that have access to exclusive areas including courtyards, pools, hot tubs, lounges, fitness and dining areas and 24 hour butler service. You’ll also enjoy priority access to the spa and VIP shore excursions. So if you don’t want to lift a finger on holiday – this is for you! You can find out more about this here.
For those amongst you ready and waiting to put on your dancing shoes, you can enjoy the lines nightclubs or dance in one of the many lounges. There are also lots of enrichment activities to learn something new on your holiday. Go along to a wine tasting class, listen to one of the lectures or get involved in an art auction.
The Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway also feature extra entertainment venues including 678 Ocean Place – which is three decks (decks 6, 7 and 8 if you hadn’t guessed) of entertaining, dining and shopping as well as The Waterfront, a quarter mile long open air boardwalk with ocean front restaurants, shops and bars. All ships also have a casino if you’re feeling lucky and a variety of shops to splurge some cash.
Norwegian Cruise Line introduced “freestyle dining” which was later copied by some other major cruise lines! Essentially this means that it’s dining, without all the restrictions you have on other cruise lines.
You aren’t tied to a main dining room – you have a choice of several main dining rooms. You don’t have to sit next to the same people all the time – you can choose who you sit with instead of being assigned a permanent table. You don’t have set dining times – you can choose when you eat from 5.30pm-10pm. You won’t have a limited choice of restaurants – there are up to twenty-eight dining options to choose from!
Did you know? On NCL you can have pizza delivered to your room! So if you have the munchies after a few drinks – problem solved! It even comes in a real pizza box…
The restaurants that are included in your cruise fare are the two or three main dining rooms, the buffet restaurant, the kids restaurant or café, the outdoor buffet, the pool bar and grill, the tapas bar, the Asian restaurant, the coffee bar and O’ Sheehan’s, the 24 pub and eatery. That’s quite a lot for your money compared to some other lines! Rather than having one large main restaurant to eat from every day – you are given much more choice and variety.
The food in the main restaurants could be braised lamb shank from The Manhattan Room, chocolate raspberry truffle cake from the Summer Palace, gnocchi and short rib ragu from Aqua or a selection of buffet and made to order food from The Garden Café. Each main restaurant generally serves a range of classic favourites from the menu or buffet food to cater to all tastes and there are different main restaurants on different ships.
As well as this, there are also speciality restaurants. You can expect culinary delights such as the French Restaurant (Le Bistro), a Brazillian steakhouse (Churrascaria), a Japanese restaurant (Teppanyaki Restaurant), a Steakhouse (Cagney’s), an Italian (La Cucina), a Seafood Restaurant (aptly named Seafood) and a Sushi Bar – to name a few! All have varying cover charges per person, but allow you to go on a culinary exploration as you enjoy your holiday.
When it comes to a tipple, NCL continue to have a wide range of choices, with up to twenty-two bars on board each ship! Some are perfect from a coffee, others for a margaritas and others for their whisky!
They’re also famous for having the first ice bar at sea. The SVEDKA and Inniskillin Ice Bar is the first true ice bar on a cruise ship and is found on the Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. The bar is literally made of ice and you are provided with fur coats as you sip drinks out of cups carved from blocks of ice.
Did you know? Some ships feature a happy hour in select bars but don’t like to shout about it! For example, on Norwegian Epic “Maltings Bar” has 2 for 1 on drinks from 4-6pm. Perfect for a quick tipple after you’ve come back from an excursion!
Family Friendly Facilities
There’s plenty of family friendly facilities on NCL as they cater well to family groups and children. In terms of entertainment, the whole family can enjoy the water parks, bowling, Wii stations, five a side football and board games that are available on-board.
Did you know? The Wii stations on-board are on two storey high screens! You’ll really feel like you’re in the game.
Restaurants either cater specifically to children (such as the Kids Café which provides child sized chairs and child friendly menus) or provide menus for children or else serve food that children would like. With non-formal dress codes, kids can relax in their comfortable clothes whilst no strict dinnertimes means children don’t have to wait until late sittings for dinner.
As well as this, NCL provide youth and teen programmes to keep them entertained throughout their cruise. They are grouped into different age groups, each group enjoying different activities suitable to their interests and needs.
Guppies is for those aged 6 months to 2 years old. Babies will enjoy sensory play and interactive play with their parents and youth staff.
Turtles is for those aged 3 to 5. Children will enjoy taking circus school, playing with arts and crafts, painting, indulging in messy play and listening to story time.
Seals is for those aged 6 to 9. Here children will have a go at Wii games, embark on treasure hunts, have a go at pizza making, watch movies and play sports with their family.
Dolphins is for those aged 10 to 12. Children will enjoy team building challenges, attend circus school, play a variety of different sports and watch films.
Then there is an Entourage Teen Programme for those aged 13 to 17 and is further split into groups of 13-14 and 15-17 year olds. This programme allows teenagers to hang out together in their own clubhouse where they can have a go on Wii consoles in the video arcade or else watch movies, attend parties, join in fashion or theatre workshops, dance, or play sports.
All youth staff are carefully chosen with full training and have first aid and CPR training. Each child will receive a bracelet with their name, stateroom number and muster station on as well as any relevant medical information to make sure that their needs are met at all times. Outside of club hours (between 10.30pm and 12.30am) the youth counsellors can also supervise children for a fee.
Did you know? NCL were the first cruise line to launch a kid’s activity programme back in 1980.
Staterooms are also equipped to deal with families, as there are rooms with sofa beds, interconnecting staterooms, staterooms connecting with suites and family suites with an additional bedroom for children.
Did you know? Most family accommodation is located nearby to the kids club so they don’t have far to go to find it!
NCL have some facilities that other brands can’t boast about. For example, some of their ships have a series of studio rooms that are exclusive to solo travellers. This studios then all have access to the studio lounge where you can sit, watch TV or mingle with other passengers. By creating these areas – it means solo travellers won’t be held back from making friends due to the flexible dining plans!
We’ve already briefly mentioned the Haven suites – but something we haven’t mentioned is the Haven Garden Villas. These suites comprise of 622 square meters of space, three bedrooms (each with their own bathroom) a private sundeck, whirlpool, and a garden area! You can read more about this here.
Every room comes equipped with upgraded linens, mattress toppers, a hairdryer, air conditioning, a TV, safe, phone, internet access and a refrigerator. Guests in suites can enjoy complimentary bottled water, sparkling wine and fruit, a butler and concierge service, priority embarkation and disembarkation and a mini bar.
There are also rooms and services available for those with special requirements. Features include wider doors for wheelchairs, adjustable beds, a height adjusted clothes hanger, tilting mirrors, braille stateroom numbers and close captioned TVs for visually impaired guests. You just need to let NCL know your requirements when you book.
Did you know? The TV system in your room is interactive, and you can book meals, look at your bill and see where you are on the system as you sail! Restaurant and show reservations can be made prior to sailing.
Staff, Dress Codes and Gratuities
The dress code on-board is purposefully relaxed, to make sure you aren’t feeling hot, bothered and uncomfortable in tight or hot formal wear. Instead, there are no formal nights or gala nights, just nights where you can “dress up or not” – the choice is yours! Whilst there is usually at least one night on an itinerary that allows you to dress up, for example NCL white night (where all guests dress in white for a party whilst the staff dress up as angels,) you aren’t forced to attend if you don’t want to!
The dress code is officially called “resort casual” which means you can essentially wear what you like, as long as you don’t turn up to the casino in your bikini and you remember not to wear your holey jeans to dinner. In the evening it is “dress to impress” and men can wear collared shirts, trousers or nice jeans to shows and dinner whilst women can similarly wear smart jeans, dresses, skirts or tops and kids under 12 can wear small shorts in restaurants.
The gratuities on board are $13.50 per person, per day and you will have to pay 18% gratuities on drinks and dining. Suite passengers will pay a gratuity of $15.50 per person per day.
So there you have it! Would you be tempted to cruise with NCL?
Have you sailed with them before? What did you think?
Let us know in the comments below!