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Live from the Shipyard: First Impressions of Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady
Live from the Shipyard: First Impressions of Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady
Live From Norwegian Cruise Line's New Ship Norwegian Prima: Hits and Misses
Norwegian Prima on its maiden voyage (Photo/Colleen McDaniel)

Live From Norwegian Cruise Line's New Ship Norwegian Prima: Hits and Misses

Live From Norwegian Cruise Line's New Ship Norwegian Prima: Hits and Misses
Norwegian Prima on its maiden voyage (Photo/Colleen McDaniel)

August 31, 2022

Colleen McDaniel
Editor-In-Chief
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(1:15 p.m.. EDT) -- With a celebration that included a concert by pop icon Katy Perry and a departure from picturesque Reykjavik, Norwegian Prima set sail on its maiden journey this week.

Delayed, like nearly everything else, by the pandemic, the triumphant debut brings a fully new class of NCL vessels to the seas. Norwegian Prima is the first in the eponymous Prima Class, which will ultimately grow to six ships.

The much-anticipated 3,100-passenger ship -- which we first got a sneak peek of at the shipyard in July -- doesn't disappoint, with new restaurants, a modern vibe and more activities than you can get to in the space of a week. Cruise Critic is onboard Norwegian Prima as it sails to Amsterdam. Here's what works, and what doesn't.

Hits on Norwegian Prima

Norwegian Prima's Design is Modern, Resort-Like

Sunbeds on Norwegian Prima's Ocean Boulevard (Photo/Colleen McDaniel)

No doubt, Norwegian's design aesthetic has evolved over the years, from bright, colorful and bold to sleeker and more sophisticated. With Prima, the ship nails the upscale, resort feel the cruise line was hoping to achieve.

"Our goal was to create something that didn't feel like a cruise ship," NCL President Harry Sommer said onboard the ship.

Mission accomplished. You won't find giant, over-the-top public spaces or bars that feel like banquet halls. Instead, Prima is filled with more intimate venues, be it the sleek Belvedere Bar or the swanky Vibe Beach Club. It starts with the gorgeous three-deck atrium area, which feels very much like the impressive entry spaces you might find in an upmarket hotel.

The absolute best new spot on Norwegian Prima is its spectacular Ocean Boulevard. Wrapping the entirety of Deck 8, it includes al fresco seating for Onda by Scarpetta, Los Lobos, Indulge Food Hall and The Local. It also has lounge chairs, sunbeds, swinging seats, dip pools and infinity pools. And there's a fanciful sculpture park. This is where you'll want to be spending your time when the weather is pleasant.

Our most-surprising "wow" spot is the main dining room, Hudson's. Curving around the back of Deck 7, this restaurant features more floor-to-ceiling window seating than we've seen on any other ship of this size. Crystal and gold chandeliers hang over beige and white marble and tan chairs, and natural light infuses the space during the day. It's breathtaking.

Indulge Food Hall Offers Solid Variety

Dishes from Indulge Food Hall on Norwegian Prima (Photo/Colleen McDaniel)

While the concept of a food hall isn't new (Virgin Voyages debuted a food hall of its own on Scarlet Lady), it's new to the NCL fleet. Located aft on Deck 8, this space is set up for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The concept is, well, exactly like a food hall concept on land. That is, you can order from any of 11 restaurants in the hall, mixing and matching as you'd like. And like most food halls on land, it is a busy, buzzy space where groups can meet up, gab and linger.

Restaurants include Nudls (Asian noodles), Tapas Food Truck, Q Texas Smokehouse, Tamara (Indian) and The Garden (salads), among others. You order from a tablet and a server brings you your dishes and drinks.

We gave it a shot at lunch, ordering a little bit from everywhere, and we were happy with our picks. It's a natural choice for people looking to share, as we treated the whole meal like it was a tapas experience, passing dishes and picking at everything.

We also loved the exuberance of our server, Frankie, who explained the process to us newbies and checked in often to see if we were missing anything or still hungry (we weren't).

Through the first part of our sailing, this has been the toughest spot to get into, as everyone wants to try it out. If this holds up for other sailings, we'd venture to say NCL has a big winner on its hands.

NCL Prima Nails the Fun Factor

Tee Time mini golf on Norwegian Prima (Photo/Colleen McDaniel)

Maybe a bit of "duh" from a cruise line that has a storied history of upping the fun on its ships, with innovations like a go-kart track and virtual-reality gaming pavilion. But Norwegian Prima is a real blast.

The go-kart track returns, this time at three stories, and so does the VR Galaxy Pavilion. But it's also got a few new additions, including a nine-hole goofy-golf course, dubbed Tee Time, and an outdoor darts spot, called The Bull's Eye. There's also the stadium, where you can play pickleball, table shuffleboard and more.

We loved Tee Time, which felt like the kind of mini-golf you'd play on land, rather than a putting green with small hills added to slightly up the challenge. The Bull's Eye, too, was a fun way to spend the evening when weather was milder. And the pickleball courts were packed many days, a testament to the popularity of this recreational game.

The ship also has two 10-story dry slides, called The Drop, that starts with a zero-gravity plunge, and The Rush (side-by-side slides) that ultimately send you shooting down from Deck 18 to Deck 8 at dizzying speeds. And a waterslide, called The Wave, is the first in the fleet to feature a tidal wave raft waterslide.

The reason these activities work is they're geared for kids and adults. You might not drive go-karts at home, but onboard Prima, it's a chance to cut loose and enjoy the novelty of it. And it's something you can enjoy no matter your age.

Beyond the activities, Prima offers entertainment that guests will love. For starters, there's the "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical", ripped straight from Broadway. The performance is excellent, featuring a range of Summer's top hits, including "Love to Love You Baby," "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls." NCL does musicals well, and the latest is especially fun for the singalong crowd.

Our favorite new addition might "The Price is Right LIVE." As you might expect, this is a take on the popular CBS game show, but right-sized for a cruise ship. (Don't worry: The Big Wheel is still big.) It's a bit bawdier than the version hosted by Drew Carey, but participants can come on down win real prizes. It's probably as much fun to watch as it would be to play. This one is not to be missed.

Katy Perry is Everything You Want in a Godmother

Katy  Perry  Performance

Celebrity godparents have long been an integral part of the cruise line story. Those godparents, though, notoriously have shown up for the naming ceremonies, collected their paychecks by doing the bare minimum and hit the road.

Not so with Katy Perry, who is Prima's godmother, christening the ship in a ceremony Saturday night then performed an hour-long concert in the ship's main theater. Perry seemed genuinely touched by the experience, speaking on how excited she was to sail on the ship. And she did sail, a contrast as many godparents never spend a single night onboard their ships.

She also celebrated her daughter Daisy's second birthday with a party onboard. She even participated in a raucous game of "The Price is Right," wearing a NSFW T-shirt and finishing the night twerking with Marcia Del Rio, wife of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio.

While it's unlikely you'll ever cruise with Katy Perry, the fit of her as godmother speaks to the fun of the line and the potential for a fantastic, long-term partnership. (NCL has maintained strong ties with past godparents including Pitbull and radio personality Elvis Duran.)

Free Dining Offers Lots of Options on Norwegian Prima

Hudson's on Norwegian Prima (Photo/Colleen McDaniel)

For a lot of people, cruising is a great option because of the excellent food and the value. While we love the great specialty restaurants that have emerged over the years on cruise ships, the main dining room and other included restaurants still matter.

Prima's take on included dining is different, and perhaps it sets the standard for the future of cruise ship dining. Traditionally, main dining rooms -- the biggest included onboard restaurants where many passengers eat night after night -- have offered a different menu each night of the cruise, so you could go each night and have new options.

On Norwegian Prima, the main dining rooms, Hudson's and The Commodore Room, offer only one menu for the cruise. The menu here isn't overwhelming, but it does have solid options so you could eat here each night without getting bored.

The menu includes a number of items under categories like small bites (California roll or spinach and artichoke dip, for example), soups and salads (including clam chowder or Caesar salad), a pasta course made with your pick of noodle, sauce and topping, meatless (such as cauliflower piccata or risotto), from the sea (like mahi-mahi or salmon), from the land (strip steak or beef Wellington for example) and sides, including sweet potato fries.

But NCL is counting on guests wanting to try other venues, as well. And they can still stick with included options by hitting Indulge Food Hall (its dinner menu differs from the lunch menu) and the Surfside Cafe buffet. There's also The Local Bar & Grill, a comfort food spot open 24/7 that offers burgers and wings, fish and chips, and a solid apple pie. We hit up all these venues multiple times on our sailing and never had the same thing twice.

Yes, you can (and should!) try the specialty dining, including our favorite so far, Nama sushi, but you won't feel like you're missing out if you stick with included options.

Misses on Norwegian Prima

Storage Space in Cabins on Norwegian Prima is Lacking

Cabin on Norwegian Prima (Photo/Colleen McDaniel)

The cabins on Norwegian Prima are elegant and spacious. We're staying in a standard balcony cabin, and at 231 square feet, it has noticeably more room similar cabins on the ships in the Breakaway and Breakaway-Plus ships. And the large balconies, with cushy chairs, are a dream -- definitely the best in the fleet.

But there's no place to put anything. The wardrobe is fairly large, with three spots for hanging (on wooden anti-theft hangers), but instead of drawers, the closets offer only four tiny wire baskets, which are shallow and hard to pull out as the closet doors block them unless you precisely open them.

We also struggled hanging long dresses, as shelves prevented them hanging fully, and they pooled at the bottom.

Beyond the closet, you have two drawers in one night stand and a shallow drawer in the desk/vanity. Thankfully, you've got a good amount of storage in the bathroom, thanks to shelving, cabinets and a drawer that you could miss, behind a towel rod.

It's a shame, as the cabins are otherwise beautifully appointed and well laid out.

Pricing and Reservations Are Needed for Many Activities

Prima Speedway go-kart racetrack on Norwegian Prima (Photo/Colleen McDaniel)

With all the activities Norwegian Prima has, they're in fairly high demand. To cap capacity, reservations are necessary, and fees have been added to many the most popular events, including the go-karts.

It's understandable, as only so many people can do the same thing at the same time. On the other hand, it takes away a bit from the Freestyle cruising concept for which Norwegian is known. Making reservations means you have to commit to a schedule, something people are loathe to do on vacation.

Likewise, those looking to stick to a budget might feel a bit of FOMO when they aren't trying out all this ship has to offer.

Open Deck Space is Limited on Top of Norwegian Prima

Pool deck on Norwegian Prima (Photo/Colleen McDaniel)

To make room for all the bells and whistles onboard, the cruise line had to cut into what traditionally is an open pool deck with expansive views of the sea. There are no top-deck views that feel wide open.

It makes the overall vibe of the pool deck and top decks in general feel closed in and tight. The swimming pool is also tiny for a ship this size, and on busy Caribbean it will likely be a challenge to find space. The pool's location also means you absolutely will have your bliss disrupted by the sounds of motors revving and tires screeching.

Your best bet for amazing views and calmer pool options is the serene Ocean Boulevard. This outdoor promenade that wraps around Deck 8 is loaded with sunbeds and lounge chairs, as well as small, side-hanging infinity pools. This is a great alternative to the tight and loud pool deck and is perhaps the most resort-like spot onboard.

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