Norwegian Bliss is a beautiful vessel with a refined feel you don't normally expect to find on such a megaship. Its most striking feature is the 20,000-square-foot Observation Lounge, which dominates the entire forward section of the ship on Deck 15. Originally designed to serve as a focal point for cruisers during its Alaska sailings (so far Bliss will spend every summer in Alaska and was designed with Alaskan sailing requirements in mind), its sole purpose so far is to serve as a space for cruisers to read, chat with new friends and even fall asleep (we saw plenty of napping cruisers here all day long). No games, lectures or seminars are held here. It doesn't transform into a nighttime disco. There's no stage for a small band to play. It's simply a refined indoor haven of calm, and we've never seen anything quite like it on a mainstream ship.
In fact, there's a lot about Norwegian Bliss that's unexpected. It feels like a big ship that's taken on the trappings of one that's smaller and more upscale.
Don't let pictures of the go-karts and water slides fool you. Consider the refined choice of fabrics and color schemes in cabins and public spaces, the excellent service and top-notch food in the restaurants, the range of educational activities during the day (language classes, guest lectures). And, family-friendly features seem less visible (the one exception being the kids splash zone on Deck 16).
In these areas, the ship more closely resembles something you'd find in one of Norwegian Cruise Line's sister upscale and luxury brands (Oceania Cruises or Regent Seven Seas Cruises) than a fleetmate. It's an evolution that the line began with Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Joy, which serves the Asian market.
But Norwegian Bliss can only mimic a small upscale vessel to a certain extent. At 4,004 passengers at double occupancy, it is a big ship, with a robust selection of dining venues, top-deck fun and enjoyable nighttime entertainment -- particularly The Beatles cover band in The Cavern and the full-scale production of the Broadway hit musical, the "Jersey Boys."
We loved the combination of upscale and mainstream; it gave us the perfect mix of high-energy fun (laser tag and go-karts!) but plenty of spots for quiet relaxation without having to go to an adults-only solarium, which we often find too hot or too stuffy.
But we're not sure the mix works for everyone, especially families. We can't figure out what a family with small kids or teenagers would do in the evening. Will they want to see a show about a 1960s-era band? Havana, which highlights Cuban music and dance, is, in some scenes, kind of inappropriate for kids. There is plenty in the kids' clubs to keep the kiddos busy as the sun goes down, but less for families to do together (which maybe is just what parents want on their cruise vacation?!).
With that said, there is one family-friendly comedy show most nights, a hypnotist displays her talents once per cruise and laser tag and go-karts run till late. But both of those cost extra money -- not necessarily surprising on a line that pioneered extra-fee specialty dining -- so how many times are parents going to let their kids loose on the "rides"?
Overall, we enjoyed our transatlantic sailing on Norwegian Bliss and we think it can only get better once it gets to Alaska and the Caribbean, where the destination will play a bigger part in the overall experience. While we do wish there were a fewer extra charges (especially for the laser tag, which was our favorite top deck activity), there is still lots to keep you busy. And, a few hours luxuriating in a good book on a comfy chair in the Observation Lounge can't be beat.
Norwegian Bliss Dress Code
Norwegian Cruise Line maintains a casual atmosphere onboard and this is reflected in its dress code. During the day, casual is the name of the game, with swimsuits, shorts and tees the norm in warm-weather destinations, and warmer clothing more common in Alaska. There's not much of a formal dress code at night either; we did see shorts in the three main dining rooms. But two of the specialty restaurants (Ocean Blue and Le Bistro) do require long pants, a collared shirt and closed shoes. Generally speaking, dark jeans or khakis and collared shirts are the norm for the men, while women don blouses with slacks or skirts, or sundresses. (Bring a cardigan or a wrap for when the A/C is too high.)
Norwegian doesn't have formal nights, but passengers are urged to dress up for the line's Norwegian's Night Out, held once per cruise on weeklong sailings. You'll rarely see a tux or gown, but suits and cocktail dresses are not unheard of.
If you want to take part in all the fun the line offers, try to find out ahead of time what themed nights (glow party, '70s or '80s, etc.) will be hosted on your sailing and bring a few extra items accordingly.