My family of four just returned from our seven nights on the Joy, and we couldn't be more thrilled about our vacation! This was our first time cruising with Norwegian but our eighth cruise overall. We have previously sailed with Royal ... Read More
My family of four just returned from our seven nights on the Joy, and we couldn't be more thrilled about our vacation! This was our first time cruising with Norwegian but our eighth cruise overall. We have previously sailed with Royal Caribbean and Carnival, and after reading about how much Norwegian has improved over the years, we couldn't wait to give them a try. Think NCL is the red-headed step-child of the cruising industry? Think again! From our experience, and while there are some areas that can be improved, they are right up there with the other top dogs, and I'll explain why.
We flew into LAX from Chicago the day before we set sail as it is always nice to have a cushion in case anything decides to go crazy. When we arrived, we took an hour long Lyft from the airport to Long Beach where we were staying, conveniently located about ten minutes from the port. With the airport being so far from the our hotel (and the cruise port), it was a good $50 to get us there, and you can expect to pay more on peak travel times during the day (more on this later). Finally its the day we've been waiting for for MONTHS, and we couldn't wait to get going! On the morning of our sailing, we took another Lyft to the port around 10am and arrived with no issues. After handing off our bags, we walked into the terminal to find a massive amount of cruisers already there. Overall, the embarkation process was pretty smooth. They separate you into lines based on which deck your stateroom is on, check over your documents, give you your sailing cards, and send you on your way. However, since we arrived before the ship was ready to board, we ended up waiting a little bit which was the only minor drawback. For this sailing, we booked a Concierge level stateroom (in between a regular stateroom and The Haven), so we were given a dedicated line and area to wait in. Still, there were many other excited cruisers waiting in a small corner, along with those in regular staterooms waiting in chairs in the main area. Given the size of the terminal, it can fill up quite quickly if the ship is not open yet, but if you arrive after opening, you should have no problems. When they opened the gates, we were the first to board, so it was a pretty painless process.
Stunning. Elegant. Beautiful. CLEAN. So many great words to describe the Norwegian Joy. Being just recently refurbished after relocating from Asia, everything looked, felt, and smelled brand new, and the crew made sure it stayed that way. We always saw crew cleaning, polishing, you name it. As for getting around, the Joy is easy to navigate for the most part, although there are some quirky spots. Along with NCL's app, there are touch-screens located on every deck by every elevator bank to help you get around. Need to look at the daily activities? They are there. Need to find where the closest restroom is? It'll tell you. Had too many drinks and don't remember how to get back to your room? It'll give you step-by-step instructions and a map on how to get back, and so much more. See how full dining rooms are, make reservations, and view menus all at your convenience.
-Activities and Entertainment-
This is where the Norwegian Joy really shines. There is so much to do aboard the ship it is nearly impossible to be bored. Let's list them: Two water slides, two pools, hot tubs, go karts, laser tag, Virtual Reality Arcade, mini golf, casino, music, bars, lounges, shows, games, competitions, comedy, and the list goes on! When was the last time you saw go karts on a cruise?! These things were FAST and so much fun to drive. We did them during the day and night, and being on the top deck, it was neat to see the track and ocean at the different times. If you choose to do laser tag, definitely book it at night. We were highly impressed with the setup and quality of the game. One area many reviews complained about was the up-charges for these activities. Go Karts will put you back $15/person, laser tag $10/person, the Galaxy Pavilion (VR) $7/game (or $20 for four), and Wine Lovers The Musical ($12/person). At Wine Lovers, you receive SEVEN generous wine tastings and a three-course lunch all while enjoying the comedy musical put on by the Footloose leads. It was an incredible value that'll leaving you laughing and feeling good on your way out. We loved all four options and definitely found them worth-while, plus you're on vacation! Experience what the ship has to offer if you would enjoy these things. On the same note, if these activities were free, I couldn't imagine the lines and headaches it would cause trying to get four thousand people a chance to participate. The small cost helps control the flow which we found to be quite painless. A few other can't-misses are shows Footloose and Elements with a fantastic and talented cast, Deal Or No Deal game show, Bejeweled Heist, and countless other activities found at any given time around the ship. Lastly, don't forget to make reservations! Shows can be reserved in advance, but go karts, laser tag, Bejeweled, and comedy shows need to be reserved as soon as you board. Reservations can be made in The Social, a process that could certainly stand to be improved, but we managed.
And here we find some criticism. Norwegian offers a unique take on dining called Freestyle Dining. Essentially, you eat what you want when you want without any set dining times or attire. This sounds (mostly) great in theory, but it did raise a few problems. To understand why, we need to compare to how other cruise lines do dining. Traditionally, you receive set dining time (either earlier around 5 or later around 8), and you are assigned the same table and waitstaff each evening. This allows you to be seated right away, the waitstaff to gets to know you and your preferences, and it provides plenty of time to dine before the next seating. What we experienced on this cruise was quite the opposite, while admittedly we could have planned better. The Joy has three main dining rooms: The Manhattan Room, Savor, and Taste. The Manhattan Room is the largest of the three, but each one offers the same menu every night. On the first evening, we arrived at The Manhattan Room around 6pm to discover a huge line of people waiting to be sat. Granted this is peak dining time, so we were quoted a 45-minute wait, while the other two dining rooms had a wait of an hour. We did not expect waits to be this long, especially because we were used to just walking in on previous cruises. Eventually we were sat, and we found these dining rooms to operate like normal restaurants. They were focused on getting tables in and out, with little to no personability from the waitstaff. Sure they were pleasant, but we felt rushed and like we were in the way. Every evening in the dining room was like this, although we planned better on following nights. From a food aspect, it was delicious, fresh, and prepared perfectly. We also had a dining package for three specialty restaurants. We chose to eat at Ocean Blue, Le Bistro, and Cagney's Steakhouse. The experiences here far outshine the main dining rooms, and I would HIGHLY recommend buying this package if your booking doesn't already come with one as it as a great value. Our final bill we would have paid came out to be over $300 for four people at Cagney's, but we actually paid around half that with the package. Overall, we were happy with our dining experiences even though we were caught off-guard the first evening. You CAN make dining reservations for the main dining rooms (and specialty if you choose) online before you sail which I absolutely recommend doing. Other free dining options include The Observation Lounge for lite bites, The Local for 24-hour options (free but with a 20% automatic gratuity added), and The Garden Buffet which we were highly impressed with.
-Ports and Excursions-
Cabo: We chose to do Norwegian's Luxury Day Sail and Snorkel which was so much fun! We shared a very nice sailboat with about 10 other people and were accompanied by a photographer, captain, and two guides. The sailing lasted about three hours, and they provided a snack, lunch, and unlimited drinks, as well as stops at popular spots and some time to snorkel. While we didn't really spend any time on land, we got some beautiful views of the port, delicious food, and high-quality service from everyone on board. Highly recommend!
Mazatlan: We chose not to book an excursion for this stop, but we ended up getting an open-air taxi once we arrived. The driver charged $25/person to drive us to some hotspots which lasted around 4 hours. The port itself is beautiful, and we got to see a great deal of it.
Puerto Vallarta: For this spot we booked the Vallarta Outdoor Zipline Adventure, but it ended up being SO much more! We began with a 20-minute speedboat ride to a secluded location to begin our journey up the mountains. We then rode in an off-road vehicle up to base camp where we found our absolutely excellent tour guides. After getting suited up, we rode mules the rest of the way to the first zip line. In the end, we
completed five zip-lines, a repel down a waterfall, a free-fall down another waterfall, two water slides, and a zipline "roller coaster." The entire thing lasted about 6 hours, with time for refreshments and viewing pictures afterwards. Our tour guides, especially Edgar, were incredible and quite possibly the best I've had anywhere. If you choose this adventure, you MUST bring a swimsuit and change of clothes. You do get fully submerged in water, so bring closed-toed shoes you don't mind getting wet or water shoes. I would give this excursion 15/10 stars. Incredible time!
For us the disembarkation was a non-issue, but I imagine it was quite the headache for others. The deboarding process was supposed to begin at 7am, but the ship was not cleared by customs until around 8:30. For anyone with early flights this was probably a nightmare. Luckily we stayed in LA another two days so we weren't pressed for time. The only small annoyance was once we were in the terminal. Since disembarkation was behind 1.5 hours, all of those people were released into the terminal when the ship was cleared, so we ended up waiting in line for customs for nearly an hour. We got off the ship at 9am and weren't out of the terminal until after 10am. Grabbing a Lyft outside was quite easy, and we were on our way.
While improvements could be made with dining, we were highly impressed with the Norwegian Joy and the quality of service that Norwegian offered. We had an amazing time and were constantly taking part in different activities around the ship. As I always say, your vacation is what you make of it, and Norwegian makes it easy to make it great! Read Less