(5:30 a.m. EST) -- Norwegian Cruise Line is celebrating the float out of its newest ship, Norwegian Bliss, which features the largest race track at sea.
The 167,800-ton 4,000-passenger ship touched water for the first time February 17, when it was floated out from the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, marking the latest milestone in its construction. It is now berthed at the shipyard's outfitting pier to be fitted with its funnel.
Norwegian Bliss, the third member of Norwegian Cruise Line's Breakaway Plus Class, will remain at Meyer Werft until its passage along the river Ems to the North Sea, which is scheduled for the second weekend in March. In the meantime, the final stage of construction work will be carried out, and the 1,600 members of crew will start their training onboard, ready to welcome the first passengers in mid-April, immediately after delivery.
Purpose-built for Alaska cruises, the vessel will spend its first summer sailing weeklong Alaska itineraries from its homeport of Seattle. In autumn 2018, Norwegian Bliss will feature a series of three Pacific Coastal, Mexico and Panama Canal voyages before arriving at its winter homeport of Miami, from which it will offer seven-night Eastern Caribbean sailings.
Highlights of the ship include The Waterfront area with 13 restaurants and bars, and the largest go-kart racetrack at sea, which is 40 percent bigger than the track on sister ship Norwegian Joy. The electric karts will travel at four speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. Other top-deck attractions include a laser tag court and two high-speed waterslides, including one that extends over the side of the ship.
A new cabin category for solo travelers features 82 inside staterooms with virtual ocean views, and the exclusive suites-only The Haven is double the size of the complex on its other sister ship Norwegian Escape, with 80 staterooms. The 20,000-square-foot Observation Lounge spans the entire forward section of the ship, offering unparalleled 180-degree views. Plus, to tie in with the Alaska itineraries, the hull features a marine life design, painted by Wyland, an artist renowned for his whale murals.
Onboard entertainment will include the Broadway production, "Jersey Boys," "Prohibition, the Musical" and an original musical being produced exclusively for Norwegian Cruise Lines by Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Warren Carlyle; it will focus on Cuban dance and music.
--By Jeannine Williamson, Cruise Critic contributor