We recently returned from the 7-day Alaskan Cruise on the Norwegian Bliss. We spent some time in Seattle prior to boarding and we always love visiting the downtown area.
A little background: I booked this vacation in October 2017 for a family get-together (20 people), who came in from all over the world. We chose Norwegian because of the new ship, as well as the entertainment offered for kids, including the go-kart track. For those reasons alone we looked past the fact that this particular cruise was severely overpriced. I had raved to my family that Alaska was the most enjoyable cruise I had been on and they all wanted to experience it, too.
Embarkation was the smoothest, most efficient one I've experienced to date, on any cruise line! The whole process, from arrival at the port to the time I stepped on the ship, was MAYBE 45 minutes. Exceptional!
So that our entire party could communicate and wouldn't spend precious time wandering around looking for one another, one person in each stateroom bought the NCL chat/phone app. It cost $10 per device and was a total waste of money. The app is super glitchy. Some of us could only text and not call, others..the opposite. I could see messages coming through, but when I opened the group chat, there were no messages there. Sometimes I would get messages the next day. All in all, I felt scammed. When I brought it to a staff members attention, after waiting in the customer relations line for 30 minutes on the 3rd day, I was told there was nothing that could be done.
The ship itself is beautiful! The amount of effort put into the details is reflected throughout. The ship is very clean and inviting..it also feels very modern. Although massive, it doesn't take long to learn your way around. It is decorated tastefully. That being said, the Atrium and the Bliss Theater are both WAY TOO SMALL for the events and amount of people that are being entertained. The elevator system is just ok (we never waited longer than five minutes) and there's always the stairwells to use instead. The signage placed throughout the ship is very helpful and the layout of the ship makes sense. The touch screen monitors make it simple to find out what entertainment is being offered, how to get from point "a" to point "b", make reservations, etc.
The cabins, however, are super SMALL. Much smaller than I've seen on two other cruise lines. We opted for an inside cabin (even though we did provide a "good" bid for an upgrade - it was ultimately denied). Although the stateroom provided enough room for my family of four (myself, my spouse, and two teenagers) to sleep, we could barely move around each other during the day. We made it a point to not be in the room all at one time unless we were sleeping. My spouse and I subsequently split our king bed into two twin beds and had our stateroom attendant rearrange the room so that our twin beds were directly below our kids bunks. This action provided a little more space to walk in the room, but not much. Our stateroom attendant was very thorough and friendly every time we saw him.
The club activities for our kids were super fun and the kids enjoyed meeting other kids their age from all over the world. The staff/club leaders were very friendly and made the sign up process a breeze. I would like to note that Norwegian is very strict with their age requirements for the clubs. For example, there was a 12-year-old in our group and she was not allowed to go into the club for 13-17-year-olds, which was a bummer for her, but we understood. A negative aspect of the club/daycare situation is: the hours of operation vary and after 10:30pm you are charged hourly for having your youngster in there. My teenagers were free, but for little ones (5 and under) there's a charge.
The Garden Cafe (buffet) was stellar! It's huge and the food that was offered varies from day-to-day, but is always good. The Manhattan Room (main dining) is beautiful but the service is slowwww. I believe it took 2+ hours both times we ate there and the second time we went early and hardly anyone else was in the room with us. The menu is good, but not amazing. The staff was ok. The Savor and Taste Dining Rooms were also good. They were accommodating for those times that we did not have reservations. None of the staff was overly friendly. The Local is the only 24-hour food source and has a very restricted menu after 11pm. There is no Captain's Dinner on any Norwegian cruise and I wasn't aware of that. We had all brought our formal wear hoping for a fun dress up night, so that was disappointing. My family of four never ate in any of the specialty dining rooms. I couldn't justify the expense. However, we did enjoy some marvelous treats at Coco's desert shop and the on-board Starbucks was also a hit (both charge extra fees).
We did have the beverage package as a Free At Sea promotion. Although we had to pay $200 in beverage service charges for it, it still kept us from having to pay full price for liquor. While in Washington waters, we had to pay a 10% tax on every drink even though we had the package, so that was unfortunate. The bartenders do pour heavy handed and you can select top shelf, so that part was nice.
The Observation Deck is lovely. I would say it is a main focal point for this cruise ship and one that definitely works for great for Alaskan Cruises. The views are stunning. Even though the lounge is large, it was full most days and hard to get a spot. Even though there are multiple announcements made that reserving sitting areas is prohibited and footwear is always required while lounging, neither of these rules is observed or enforced.
Same thing goes for the Thermal Suite. People would reserve a chair or ceramic lounger in the thermal suite by placing a towel or robe on it, then go get in the vitality pool for hours. It was frustrating. We found that the best time to go to thermal suite was on port days while everyone was busy getting off of the ship. For the price point (my spouse and I paid $250 each for the week-long use of the thermal suite) it certainly wasn't worth it. It was nice to get away, but with people not observing rules it was considerably overpriced. There are multiple rooms (sauna, salt bath, cold/snow, steam) as well as a hot tub and vitality pool/hydro jet pool that were wonderful. There just wasn't enough space to lounge and relax after the treatments.
As far as entertainment goes, we attended Havana (disappointing), Jersey Boys (phenomenal!), Prohibition The Musical (extra cost - but fun!), three Beatlemania performances (outstanding!), four comedy shows (hilarious!!), Bingo, Deal or No Deal, and Trivia events. The first four were limited to only a few shows during the entire week-long journey and required reservations. If you don't have reservations, you stand in a stand-by line that opens up 10 minutes prior to the start of the show. This means that you may be separated from your party because seating is limited by the reservations. The Bingo games were fun but severely overpriced. Same goes for Deal or No Deal. The Trivia game was the ONE thing on the ship I didn't have to pay extra for (that being said, the prize was a deck of playing cards).
The arcade provided some family fun on a couple of occasions; however each game averages $2, so that can quickly get out of hand. My son went to play games for 20 minutes and came back to us having spent $90. The go-karts and laser tag also cost extra ($8-$10 each time) and require reservations be made, even if there is no one in line. Our kids only went once and some kids in our party didn't make it at all because of the hours of operation and crazy reservation system. The pools were closed for the majority of the trip and the slides/water park for kids only operated during certain times of day (also processed by reservation). We didn't play mini-golf or ping pong, as the one time we stumbled upon each of the locations, there was a line of people waiting to play.
The casino seemed to be the only fun way to spend our late evenings (after 10pm). It takes up the better part of Deck 7 and has a secluded smoking area so you don't have to breathe it in second-hand. The only negative is, if you choose to charge your gambling money to your room instead of using cash, there's a percentage fee that is slapped on each time you make a withdraw (comparable to what an ATM withdraw fee would be). I thought that was ridiculous!
Since we've been to Alaska before, we had already been on quite a few excursions so we took it easy this time. We did go on the Mt. Roberts Tram (booked directly at the station in Juneau), the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show (booked directly through the website) in Ketchikan, and visited a Mushers Camp that provided us with a campfire and S'mores in Skagway. All of these events were fun and well executed.
Debarkation took longer than expected but it was well-organized.
I feel my "poor" ratings are fair because it comes down to this: the staff seems too busy, some were untrained (when asked a question, a staff member would give me an answer and two minutes later another staff member would give me a completely different answer to the same question), and they are possibly overworked. The capacity of this ship just exceeds the available services available. The reservation system is unfavorable. It makes for a more strenuous vacation when you have to continuously plan everything out and be on a strict schedule. The extra charges for this and the added fees for that are, ultimately, what put a sour taste in my mouth - especially after we paid $5,300 for an inside stateroom that was 135 square feet. I suppose my first clue should have been that Norwegian provides an amazing amount of dining opportunities; however, the majority of the options are not complimentary.
This was my 7th cruise overall (second to Alaska) but first (and unfortunately my last) with Norwegian.