I recently completed a 7-day Alaska cruise onboard Norwegian Bliss. In fact, this was the second cruise to Alaska for this ship. I have been on several NCL cruises, and look forward to the excellent level of service, high quality dining, ... Read More
I recently completed a 7-day Alaska cruise onboard Norwegian Bliss. In fact, this was the second cruise to Alaska for this ship. I have been on several NCL cruises, and look forward to the excellent level of service, high quality dining, and great entertainment. While I understand that no cruise is perfect and minor things come up from time to time, I encountered a high number of issues. The press and others that follow the cruise industry game this ship very high marks on the preview voyages. It appears that the Norwegian Bliss is experiencing a lot of issues in its first weeks of taking fare paying passengers. I detail my experiences and observations below.
Considering this was the second embarkation of this ship, I was expecting quite a long and lengthy process to checkin and board the ship. I arrived at Pier 66 around 10am. Check-in was extremely smooth and efficient. The layout of the terminal was somewhat confusing (a lot of twists and turns, down corridors, etc.) to get to the waiting area. However, there was staff stationed along the way. I completed checkin and was sitting in the waiting room shortly before 11:00am and was in boarding group 3. Embarkation started around 11:30am. I was on the ship by 12:00pm.
Embarkation Score - 10/10
The Norwegian Bliss is the newest ship in the fleet and the fifth in the Breakaway/Breakaway Plus Class. I have previously sailed on the Breakaway, Getaway and Escape and was familiar with the similar layout of those ships. The Bliss has a very similar layout, but included a lot of enhancements. I was blown away by the ship as we boarded. The decor was stepped up a notch from the other ships in her family. As the cruise progressed, I continued to be impressed with the ship. Many improvements were made to help with passenger flow. The pool deck area is extremely open compared to her sister ships. The Garden Cafe (Lido Deck buffet) was moved to the forward section of Deck 16 (vs the aft section on the Breakaway/Getaway/Escape) and was opened up some to help with passenger flow. There were still a few bottlenecks but greatly improved. Additional outer aisles were added in the theater with helped tremendously with passenger flow at the end of shows. The only area where they took a step back in regard to passenger flow was at The Local Restaurant (O'Sheehan's on the Breakaway/Getaway/Escape). Walking through this section got tight at times due to a decreased sized walkway. The elevators on the shift were a pain point for many passengers, including myself. I took the stairs a numerous occasions but there were times I prefered to take the elevator. The elevators were a pain point on my other cruises on Breakaway plus ships, and I don’t understand why this area was not addressed on the Bliss. Other mega cruise ships have addressed this area by installing smart elevators (you select the deck you want in the elevator lobby and are assigned an elevator).
Ship Score - 9/10
I stayed in a studio cabin on Deck 10. I have been in the studio cabins on the other Breakaway class ships, and the layout is similar. The walls have a light woodgrain finish to break up the all white cabinetry. Replacing the one-way mirror/window from the other Breakaway class studio cabins is a virtual window. This has been done on other cruise ships, but this is a first for NCL. The virtual window gives you a live look outside the ship anytime day or night. I was blown away by the quality of the picture. You could also lower a shade which would turn off the virtual window monitor.
The layout of the studio cabins on the Bliss remains unchanged from her sister ships. The only exception was a smaller width bed. The beds in the studio cabins on the other Breakaway Class ships are full size, and the Bliss has a bed that is somewhere between a full and a twin. Personally, I appreciated the smaller width bed and the increased floor space. The stateroom television and interactive features were a significant improvement compared to her sister ships. The only downside was the sleep timer on the television did not function. I called guest services to inquire about this--they seemed confused about my request. After explaining what a sleep timer was to the guest services staff, they said they would send someone down. The ship was unable to get this resolved while onboard.
Housekeeping services were top notch on my sailing. My stateroom steward, Leslie, did a fantastic job!
Stateroom Score - 9.5/10
I dined in all three main dining rooms (Savor, Taste and Manhattan Room) and three of the speciality restaurants (Margaritaville, CoCo’s, and Q Texas Smokehouse).
Main Dining Rooms - The quality of the food was stellar on this cruise. I have always been impressed with the meals I’ve had in the main dining room on NCL ships. It appeared to me that the number of available dishes at dinner were lower in number compared to previous cruises. One dish in particular, Meat Lasagna that I have grown to love on NCL cruises, was not available any night of the sailing. Also, the chocolate lava cake dessert was not available every night at dinner as I have come to expect. I inquired about these during the cruise and was told that corporate had made some changes to the menus and the ship had to follow the menus. Service was hit and miss in the main dining rooms. Some meals we received excellent service while others were very lackluster.
Garden Cafe - I had a few meals in the Garden Cafe. This space would get extremely busy one hour prior to arrival on port days. The selection and quality was on par with other NCL ships. The outdoor seating for the Garden Cafe featured overhead heating elements which was appreciated on our sailing to Alaska in early June.
Margaritaville - I joined three friends for lunch in Margaritaville after a long day in port. The venue was busy, but there were still tables open. We were seated immediately, but the service was extremely slow. We waited over an hour for our entree that never came out. Two of us in our group (myself included) had to leave without having lunch due to another reservation. The manager ended up comping the meal for the other two in our party while myself and another that had to walk out and leave went without a meal (or an apology).
Q Texas Smokehouse - I dined with a group of 6 at Q Texas Smokehouse for dinner. I was really looking forward to this meal and trying the BBQ. I’m a product of the South and appreciate good BBQ. I ordered the sampler platter which came with four smoked meats (brisket, pork, sausage, and chicken) and four small sides. We asked our server if we could substitute sides (I really wanted to try the Mac & Cheese and Cheese Grits), which he said we could. The food was very good! I left extremely full and wasn’t able to finish my meal. We did receive some sticker shock when I was charged for additional sides where I had substituted. After making the inquiry, the additional charges were removed. I was never given a clear answer if the substitutions are extra charges or not. The service was very good in this venue. Live country music started around 9pm in this venue. The band was very good! It would have been nice if this music would have started earlier in the evening. We were getting ready to leave when they started.
I joined a group for an after show dessert at CoCo’s one evening. I had one of their crepes, and it was excellent! The menu had a large variety and the prices were reasonable. The service in CoCo’s was very good!
Service at the various bars on the ship was excellent!
Overall Score of Dining - 6/10 due to lackluster service at times, lacking menu selections compared to other NCL ships, and poor service at Margaritaville.
A lot of activities were held in the Atrium (deck 6 midship near guest services). The turnout for these were high which made for tight seating (and lack of seating) at these events. Some of these events should have been held in the theater.
There was ample seating around the Waterfront (deck 8) but wasn’t utilized much on our sailing due to the cooler temperatures. It would be nice if they had some overhead heaters on this deck which would have made it a nice place to hang out in the evenings.
The space in the pool area is dramatically increased compared to the other BA class ships.
New to the Bliss is the Observation Lounge on Deck 15 forward. This was my favorite public space on the entire ship! Ample seating--only a few occasions where I was unable to find a place to sit. The Observation Lounge also features a light breakfast and lunch, beverages (juice coffee, water), and full bar service.
Overall Score of Public Spaces - 9/10
Solo Travelers Program
The Norwegian Bliss offers a solo travelers program. This includes a member of the cruise staff serving as solo travelers host. A solo travelers meet and greet is held each evening. The time and location are printed in the freestyle daily. Our first solo travelers meet on my sailing was held at the Sugarcane Mojito Bar. We met our solo travelers host for the cruise. She took us as a group to the studio lounge. She had sign up sheets available for people who wanted to attend shows and other activities (silent disco, race track, laser tag) as a group. She also made dinner reservations for us. Overall I was pleased with our solo travelers host and her work to book reservations for the group. We ended up with close to 10 people that consistently attended dinner and shows as a group. The solo travelers program that NCL offers makes their cruise line stand out ahead of others for those travelling by themselves.
Only a few minor things with the solo travelers program which I attribute it to being a new ship. There was an absence of a solo travelers communications board in the studio lounge that is available in the studio lounge of the other NCL ships. I feel like this affected turnout for events as some people were not aware of the solo travelers program. I wish NCL would make some additional effort to communicate to passengers traveling solo prior to the cruise about this program. It is a great benefit when cruising solo on NCL. Additionally, we had trouble getting bar service in the studio lounge during our evening solo travelers meet. The studio lounge on the Bliss does not have a bar (similar to the Escape). When I cruised on the Escape, they had a bar waiter come to the studio lounge and take drink orders. After taking this question to the assistant hotel director, he worked on getting a similar service started on the Bliss.
Overall Score of Solo Travelers Program - 9/10
The two main shows on the Bliss are “Havana” and “Jersey Boys”. NCL has always invested heavily in quality entertainment and shows. The production quality of both shows on the Bliss were top notch! I didn’t quite follow the storyline of “Havana” but really enjoyed the music from the live band. “Jersey Boys” was hands down the best show I’ve seen at sea!
Other musical acts on the ship were solid as well.
A new entertainment feature new to the Norwegian Bliss was the “Silent Disco”. This required reservations in advance. Our solo travelers host made reservations for us. For those unaware, a silent disco consists of participants wearing wireless headphones. All music during the event are played through the headphones. The music in the headphones can be switched from four different genres of music. I had never participated in a silent disco before and signed up out of curiosity. I was very pleased with my experience and would definitely do it again!
The Norwegian Bliss also offers an upcharge show called “Prohibition”. I did not attend this show as reservations filled up very quickly.
The headliner party on the Norwegian Bliss is called “Caliente”. This replaced the Glow Party on other NCL ships. Caliente features latin techno music. Many of the Glow Party elements are gone as well. Personally I am not a fan of Caliente and would like to see the Glow Party on the Bliss instead.
Race Track - The Norwegian Bliss alongside her sister ship, the Norwegian Joy, feature the only race tracks at sea. The race track on the Bliss is slightly longer than the Joy. There is a charge of $9.95 per person for an eight lap race (up from $5 initially and $7.95 two weeks prior to my sailing). Reservations are required for this activity. I would highly recommend making these reservations soon after getting onboard the ship. I heard that these reservations were full prior to sail away on day one. Overall, my racetrack experience was mixed. All participants are briefed on rules and procedures (safety, proper lane use, etc.) prior to the race. I observed a lack of enforcement of rules by the staff during the race. In particular we were briefed to stay in the right lane if we were going slow to allow other to pass to the left. Some of my fellow racers that were going slow stayed in the middle of the track which prevented passing. This took away from the experience.
During my race some oily, liquid substance came out of the smokestack of the ship and get all over my clothes while racing. I brought this to the attention of the staff after the race and was directed to guest services. The guest services staff offered to launder my clothes complimentary. Upon return of these items, the stains were gone but the clothes had shrunk and no longer fit. Repeated attempts by guest services to rectify the issue were not successful. I have escalated this matter to guest relations at NCL’s corporate office. At the time of this writing this issue has not been resolved.
Laser Tag - This activity also required reservations in advance. I joined a group of solo travelers for a laser tag reservation. It was raining during the time of our reservation and it was cancelled. We inquired about rescheduling and were told this wouldn’t be possible as no other slots were available. I don’t understand why they built an outdoor laser tag venue without some sort of cover from the elements--especially when this ship was purpose built for Alaska.
Ports and Excursions
Ketchikan - This was our first port of call on my cruise. The cruise ships are docked right in downtown so it was an easy walk to dining and shopping ashore. I participated in the Rainforest Zipline Canopy Adventure Tour offered through the ship. We were transported by motor coach from the pier to the zipline location. The trip took approximately 20 minutes which included some information about the area from our driver. The zipline tour itself was excellent! It was one of the best zipline canopy tours I have participated in. We were in smaller groups and never felt rushed through the tour. After the zipline tour we were transported back to the pier. After my shore excursion, I had ample time to shop before all-aboard.
Juneau and Dawes Glacier - Juneau was the second port of call on this tour. There are several cruise ship piers in Juneau and the Bliss was at the furthest from downtown. A free shuttle is provided. The walk to downtown is approximately one mile. I participated in the Helicopter Glacier Walkabout tour through the ship. We were picked up at the pier by the tour company, Northstar Trekking, and transported by van to their location near the airport. The excursion consisted of a 20 minute helicopter tour of the Mendenhall Glacier followed by a one hour guided walk on the glacier. Everyone was outfitted with a windproof/waterproof outer layer, gloves, special boots, and a trekking pole. The guided walk on the glacier was very informative and we even had the opportunity to drink glacier water! After the walk, a helicopter picked us up for return to the airport. This excursion was one of the best experiences I’ve done in my life! I cannot recommend this tour and Northstar Trekking enough!
Departure from Juneau was early (1:30 pm), and due to my shore excursion I did not have any time to explore the downtown area of Juneau.
The afternoon was spent cruising towards the Dawes Glacier. Our itinerary had us going to the Sawyer Glacier but the conditions did not permit. There are numerous public spaces that provided excellent viewing. They opened up an additional space, the bow on deck 8 forward, for viewing by guests. This space is normally a crew only area. I thoroughly enjoyed the views. We even had several wildlife sightings including bald eagles, whales, and seals! An absolutely great day!
Skagway was the third and final Alaska port of call on this cruise. The pier in Skagway is about a 15 minute walk to downtown. A free shuttle is available to take you to/from the pier and downtown. I booked the Yukon Territory Scenic Drive excursion through the ship. This was a 6 hour bus tour that included multiple stops along the way for pictures and lunch. Our tour bus consisted of only 22 passengers so it was a nice small group. Our tour guide/driver, Doug, was fantastic! He told us all about the gold rush and the areas we were driving through. Doug was extremely knowledgeable about the area and was a great speaker and storyteller. I had a little bit of time after our tour to do a little shopping in Skagway before getting back on the ship.
Our final port of call was in Victoria, British Columbia. We had a late arrival (4:00pm) to port. The pier used is about a 20 minute walk to downtown. A shuttle bus is available for $13 round trip. Our group opted to walk to downtown. The walk is relatively flat and nice. I didn’t participate in any organized excursions in Victoria. I just walked around the city, enjoyed dinner with friends, and took pictures. The port area offers great places to take pictures of the cruise ships.
Disembarkation began shortly before 7am. I enjoyed one last meal in Savor with my friends. I had chose the self-assist disembarkation where you leave the ship when you are ready and carry all your luggage off the ship. By the time I had finished breakfast they were already calling the second group to disembark (those who had placed their bags outside their stateroom the night before for delivery inside the terminal building). It took approximately 20 minutes from my stateroom to being off the ship, past customs, and being curbside at Pier 66. One of the easiest disembarkations I have ever experienced.
This was a great cruise. The ship was well designed with plenty of public spaces to enjoy the views. The ports and excursions were fantastic. I had a higher number of issues come up during this cruise. The majority of them were resolved on the ship. I was a little disappointed in the level of service. I came in with high expectations on NCL’s newest ship but they were unable to deliver on these at all times. Despite the opportunities, I would definitely sail on the Bliss to Alaska again. Read Less