(1:55 p.m. EDT) -- Norwegian Cruise Line is not known to do things by halves, and this vast ship -- the second in the Breakaway Plus class -- is no exception. It carries 3,900 passengers, soars to 20 decks and boasts a number of industry firsts -- a go kart track, laser quest, a virtual reality room, a Serenity Deck and dedicated karaoke booths.
It's just a shame we -- North American, U.K. and Australian passengers -- won't be seeing any of this. Norwegian Joy, like Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas and Princess Cruises' Majestic Princess, is heading straight to China where it will be christened by a Chinese pop star on June 23rd.
Yet the ship still merits interest. As EVP International Business Development Harry Sommer said: "Anytime we put a ship out there, we see what resonates with our customers [and] you're going to see that on another ship."
In other words, you may well see a lot of these amazing new features on the line's next ship - Norwegian Bliss, which launches next year - though no one would confirm that.
When Joy was originally conceived as a ship dedicated exclusively for China, it was felt that a number of features would resonate better with Chinese passengers than Europeans or Americans. So, the Go Kart track replaces the ropes course; Laser Battle takes up the top deck sundeck and the VR room came into being because Chinese would prefer to spend their time indoors rather than out.
Now that the features are here, though, the question needs to be asked: Why wouldn't international cruise passengers enjoy go karts and laser battles? The answer is: Of course we would.
We got onboard for a day and a night to sample Norwegian Joy, and here's what we think will work on future ships (and a couple of thing we don't).
The Go Kart Track
Why hasn't a cruise line thought of this before? We've been on many cruise ship attractions and, we have to say, this beats them all (the idea came from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' CEO, Frank del Rio's grandson). The track has a top speed of 30 kmh (about 23 mph) and the course is double height at the top of the ship, at the back, so you get great views. The electric cars are completely silent, but when you are driving, speakers in the seat pump out engine noises, synced with your acceleration and braking. It feels fast, and the bends are sharp, causing many pile ups and crashes. Most importantly -- it's a lot of fun.
The Virtual Reality Room
There are eight individual things to try in the VR room, each of them amazing in their own way: a simulated rollercoaster experience, a simulated 'walk the plank' experience, real bumper cars, a Star Wars cockpit simulator, simulated hang gliding, a real F1 race car you can sit in and play a simulated race; a multi-player race game; and a 4 or 5D cinema (we're not sure, so much was going on). We tried the hang glider, the cinema and Star Wars. While the cinema gets our vote, Star Wars comes a close second. You're in the cockpit of an X-Wing Starfighter with a mission to destroy the Death Star. Enough said.
Full disclosure: We enjoy karaoke, especially on cruise ships. However, there are times, when you are in front of a whole group of people that you don't know -- especially when a number of those people are colleagues -- that you can feel slightly intimidated. Answer: private karaoke booths. With only a handful of your buddies -- the rooms hold between four to eight -- you can sing to your heart's content.
Traditionally on Norwegian ships, the top deck is used for sunning. With sunbathing less popular among Chinese, the space is used Laser Battle on Joy. Sadly, the venue wasn't ready for us to use, but we've done this before on land (think paintballing but without the bullets) and can vouch that it's a whole lot of fun. Yes, the hunt for a quiet space on a Sun Deck is important to a lot of cruisers, but it's not like Bliss will be short of space (and why not retrofit it onto the other big ships?).
Family Connected Suites
In the new Concierge class, these suites consist of a master bedroom with bathroom, a living space with a sofa and table and plenty of closets and a second, smaller bedroom with a bed, a Pullman and a shower room attached. The rooms have a virtual balcony instead of a real one. We loved the thoughtful layout, the generous use of space and multiple storage options, and can definitely see these cabins being a big hit on future ships.
Anyone familiar with the Breakaway class of ships (Breakaway, Getaway and Escape) will know that the casino is not enclosed and that smoking is permitted for players. The result is a residual smoke smell across a large area of the ship, which will be even more invasive on Joy, where the casino takes almost the entirety of Deck 7.
The Serenity Park was conceived as a gorgeous open space for Chinese passengers who wanted the outdoors, without a huge pool or sunbathing area. But with fake trees, a winding path surrounded by Astroturf and a pool that seems like an afterthought, this would clearly not work on a European or Caribbean-bound ship. (It's also right near the kid's splash area so we're not sure how serene it will actually be).
Concierge Class and Concierge Lounge
A new class designed especially for Joy, Concierge Class includes 100 large balcony cabins, which are about twice the size of a regular balcony cabin and include extra features like a coffee machine; Bulgari bathroom products; a wider, longer balcony; bigger TV and a walk-in wardrobe. The bathroom also has a tub. Concierge is considered a step below The Haven suites; the cabins do not have access to a private swimming pool, for example, or key card access. They do have exclusive access to a vast Concierge Lounge with its own bar, however.
But that's not the main draw. The big wow is the Lounge's double-height, floor-to-ceiling glass windows, which are absolutely jaw-dropping. This area will become the Observation Lounge on Bliss, open to all passengers. We feel that there would still be a demand for the Concierge cabins, however, even without exclusive access to the lounge.
--By Adam Coulter, Managing Editor, U.K.