A Five Star Resort on One Big Ship!
I’ve been on many cruises to different destinations, but this was my first time on a Norwegian vessel. For the last year, we at 78 Adventures have been planning our own “inaugural” Norwegian Cruise Line voyage to Alaska on the Norwegian Jewel, which would have been my first experience on a NCL ship.
Alaska is a booming cruise market right now and earlier this year Norwegian Cruise Lines announced that they were relocating one of their newer large ships, the Norwegian Joy, from its original routes in China to routes in the Alaskan market. Then, last Monday night, I was invited to board the Norwegian Joy, just 20 days before our own Alaska Cruise Adventure and see what she had to offer. It was a grand experience! We had an excellent time and here’s what I thought of the Norwegian Joy:
The Decor of Norwegian Joy is outfitted from bow to stern with a “grand elegance” style. As I mentioned before, Joy was built for and spent the first year of her life sailing throughout China, and you can tell that it was built specifically to appeal to Chinese tourism. It’s all very attractive and elegant, but does lack a theme of any significance, except for maybe one that was unintended. My spouse who accompanied me and is Chinese, joked how everything felt like “Extreme Upscale Chinese Buffet”, when it came to the decor. He wasn’t wrong. Everything is very fancy on board, very elegant, very upscale, but has that “Fancy for fancy sake” feel, without much intention. But on top of all that elegance, the ship was virtually spotless and gleaming like new.
Sanitation on board was one of the first things I noticed walking around the decks and exploring; Norwegian gives serious attention to health and sanitation. Everyone who knows anything of cruising knows that norovirus is a common problem on cruise ships. Norwegian is serious about fighting this problem. Every restaurant has a bank of hand washing stations at its entrance – a feature I’ve NEVER seen on any ship I’ve sailed on before, and I thought was genius! Of course they have plenty of hand sanitizer stations too, and a cheery attendant who exclaims “Washy Washy, Happy Happy!” encouraging you to use them. Throughout the ship, the restrooms have multiple signs reminding you to wash your hands frequently. All of this seems like a unprecedented focus on health and sanitation, which was a pleasant surprise.
Technology on board is certainly a mission that NCL is conquering. I was very impressed with the touch screens around every corner that allow you to figure out how to get where you’re going, make reservations by scanning your key card and so much more. Instead of swiping your card in your stateroom door, you wave it to unlock it. Speaking of staterooms, we were also impressed by the signal sign on each stateroom that was controlled by switches inside, that allowed you to signal to the room steward: “Do not disturb”, “Please make room”, and “We’re home!”. There is a very impressive arcade on board that was very technologically advanced, but more on the Galaxy Pavilion later.
The Artwork on board was also ever-present, and you’ll find the typical art gallery, sculptures and more. However, one of the first things I saw upon getting up top to the pool deck was this incredible sculpture, which I have very few words to describe. It’s presence and… ahem…content seems so unashamedly present yet inexplicable that everyone seemed to be dumbfounded and obsessed at the same time. Perhaps its a nod to fertility and the cultural origins of the vessel?
Dining & Food – Main Dining Room: Buffet:
Now, lets get straight to the point that most people care about: The food! Overall, we found the food on board to be above average or excellent. For lunch after boarding we hit up Norwegian Joy’s buffet restaurant, The Garden Cafe and it was one of the best buffets we’ve experienced at sea. A grand variety of offerings, all presented elegantly. The quality was above average, although the burger bar was lacking in toppings, without even any cheese or vegetables of any kind.
The Manhattan Room, one of the main dining rooms, was spectacular to look at and was certainly as elegant as its name. It was one of the few places on the ship which I felt actually evoked personality and matched it’s identity. The table setting was that of a high-end restaurant in NYC and having dinner was certainly a highlight of the evening. I had the beetroot salad and shrimp cocktail as starters, which were both delicious. My spouse had the “jumbo” crab cake, which was not jumbo nor delicious. It came with a bonus crunchy crab shell hidden inside and was mushy and disappointing. For dinner, we had the Chicken Milanese and the Lobster Tail. Both entrées were OK, but disappointing in their presentation and accompanying sides.
My chicken was advertised as “with fingerling potatoes and grilled tomatoes”. I had expected legitimate side servings of these features but it was quite literally a garnish. There were 3 pieces of potatoes, sliced thinly on top of the chicken filet, and they resembled slices of garlic. I was legitimately surprised to find they were the potatoes. As for the tomatoes, there was one halved grape tomato (2 pcs). Dessert however was a different story. We highly recommend the Lemon meringue Pie and the Mexican Chocolate Cake, both of which were decadent and delicious.
Breakfast at the buffet was just as satisfying as the lunch buffet, with vast choices over multiple stations, including options to make a complete English Breakfast!
Unfortunately, we weren’t invited to experience any of the premium dining offerings, but they all looked incredibly well appointed and appealing. The choices of dining on the Norwegian Joy is astounding, including 25 locations (!!) to make sure everyone has something that appeals to them.
Entertainment & Activities –
The entertainers on board are incredible! There is the expected band or trio here and there in the evenings, entertaining in lounges. There’s even a Beatles tribute that plays in the appropriately named “The Cavern” bar. They’re all great, but where the Norwegian Joy REALLY shines (sometimes literally) is the in the ship’s main theatre, the Joy Theatre. With enough seating to rival some actual broadway theatres this stage was one of the most technologically advanced we’ve seen on any ship. (Are you catching the theme here yet?) The production of Footloose, based on the iconic 80’s movie, was spectacular, and definitely felt like it could have been imported directly from the Great White Way. While they seem to be ironing out some technical sound kinks, the cast is phenomenal and the production value was the highest we’ve ever seen out of all the other cruise lines. By the time the cast hit the high note in the finale, the entire audience was on their feet.
The Casino on board is ENORMOUS! I have never seen a larger casino at sea, even on the largest ship we’ve been on with Royal Caribbean! It was massive and packed to the gills with slot machines and gambling tables. There was even 2 separated areas which seemed to be a smoking section and perhaps a “high rollers” room. Most, if not all of the machines were still all Chinese themed from the Joy’s time in China, which I felt was interesting but may be confusing for future cruisers who will very likely be out of the United States. If they don’t know the history of the ship they’re going to wonder why all of the gambling machines are Chinese themed.
The Activities on board are top-notch, just like everything else, and clearly aimed at providing fun for everyone. Norwegian has done an incredible job at packing in the fun for all ages, as well as the pools and spas. There is a very fun go-kart track, with electric (there’s that “technologically advanced” thing again) go-karts. There’s mini-golf. There’s TWO water slides, one of which is more of a water-coaster thrill ride. There’s a traditional arcade, but one of the crown jewels (there may be more than one crown jewel on the Joy) is the state-of-the-art virtual reality arcade called the Galaxy Pavilion. This very high-tech arcade area is bursting with exciting virtual reality games and activities. There’s even a giant “video aquarium” where you can color your own sea creature on paper with real-life crayons and it appears to swim around in the wall-sized aquarium! In addition to these special features, there is the more common, but no-less special facilities you’d expect to find, such as the teens-only club, fitness gym, board game room, and more.
Public Areas & Lounges –
It’s slightly more challenging to find your way around the Norwegian Joy than other ships that I’ve been on. The hallways seem to jag and turn when you least expect it, and sometimes it feels as if you’re finding your way through a labyrinth.
Overall though, it was great fun to explore, which is one of my favorite things to do on a new cruise ship. There are many different lounges and sitting areas for every taste. There’s a cigar lounge and a whisky only bar for those with expensive taste. On deck 15, almost the entire front of the ship is the Observation Deck with 3 story Observation Lounge off the front bow. The whole area features very comfy seats and a huge number of reclining loungers so you can plop down and gaze out the floor to ceiling windows. This area is going to be the hottest ticket on the ship when it sails to Alaska!
We were in a standard balcony stateroom in category BA. It was very comfortable, if slightly smaller than we’re used to. The bed was comfortable and I loved the pillows. The couch was by the balcony door, and I felt that the design of the floor plan was much more efficient and well thought out than other cruise ships. The closet, however, was about half the size of every other cruise we had been on. The bathroom was modern and clean. The room was decorated in the same “generic elegance” style like the rest of the ship, but it was still very comfortable and relaxing.
Staff & Crew –
All of the staff and crew were very eager to please and cheerful in our interaction with them. There seemed like an army of crewpeople doing every job, and the ship benefitted from it. It was spotless and the food was delivered fast and most of the time, was of great quality. We did not meet our room steward, but we’re sure if we had needed him, he would have been just as eager to be there for us.