Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line Highlights
Norwegian Cruise Line Fleet (17)
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.
Explore Norwegian Cruise Line
About Norwegian Cruise Line
Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line (Norwegian or NCL) is notable for revolutionizing the cruise experience via its "Freestyle Cruising" philosophy. Eschewing traditional cruise line stuffiness -- in dress codes, dining options and even entertainment offerings -- Norwegian has inspired other lines to copy the concept. Norwegian also features departures from a number of Continental U.S. homeports, including New York, Seattle, New Orleans, Boston and Tampa, among others.
On its newest ships, Norwegian Cruise Line offers a number of amenities -- like luxury "ship within a ship" The Haven, adult-only sun decks, martini and Champagne bars, large spas and thermal suites, interconnecting cabins, ropes courses, water parks and electronic restaurant reservation systems -- that are reminiscent of land-based resorts. The line regularly wins accolades for its entertainment, which includes Broadway-style productions, live music, cabaret-style shows and more.
You can always recognize a Norwegian ship by its colorful hull art. For its most recent ships, the line has hired famous artists to create destination-influenced designs: Peter Max for New York-influenced Breakaway; Guy Harvey for Miami's Norwegian Escape; David "Lebo" Le Batard for Norwegian Getaway. Upcoming ship-artist pairings include marine artist Wyland for Alaska's Norwegian Bliss and Chinese artist Tan Ping for Shanghai-based Norwegian Joy.
Norwegian's history begins, not surprisingly, in Norway. Starting with one ship in 1966, Norwegian Cruise Line was first established by Oslo-based Klosters Rederi A/S, one of Norway's oldest and most respected shipping firms. Its first ship (M/S Sunward) repositioned from Europe to the then-obscure Port of Miami for Caribbean cruising. The line added four more vessels by 1971 and the former S/S France (which was renamed the Norway) in 1979, and NCL was on its way to becoming an industry leader and one of the largest cruise companies in the world.
Malaysia-based Genting Hong Kong (then Star Cruises) acquired Norwegian in 2000. As a result of the investment by Star Cruises, the largest Asian-based cruise line, NCL underwent an unprecedented growth spurt that resulted in the introduction of ships specifically designed to carry out its Freestyle innovations.
In 2007, Norwegian entered into another chapter when private equity firm Apollo Management agreed to become a 50-percent owner of the cruise line, sharing leadership with Genting Hong Kong (which, as of 2016, is no longer a major shareholder in the company). The cost for half the company? A mere $1 billion. In early 2008, TPG Capital, another private equity firm, acquired a 12.5-percent stake in the cruise line.
In 2014, Norwegian acquired Prestige Cruises International from Apollo Management and that company's brands, Oceania Cruises and the luxury line Regent Seven Seas. The overall publicly traded corporation is called Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.
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 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 is Norwegian's signature Chocoholic's Buffet, held once per cruise on each ship. 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, 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 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; 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 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 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 in 2017, it will enter the Chinese cruising market with Norwegian Joy, a ship built especially for Asian travelers.