As the ships have got bigger, so have the expectations of a new generation of cruisers, younger and more adventure-hungry than their ocean-going predecessors. With the launch of every new cruise ship, there comes a raft of new innovations and gimmicks to attract passengers and, while being aboard the world’s biggest cruise ship comes with a certain cachet, sometimes it is quality and not quantity which really matters.
Norwegian Bliss, the newest vessel in NCL’s ever-expanding fleet, is not the biggest ship in the world, but it is certainly ranks amongst the very best of my many cruise ship experiences.
Boarding Bliss at Bremerhaven in Germany, just a matter of hours after NCL’s CEO Andy Stuart had signed a rather substantial cheque and the ship had been officially handed over to Norwegian Cruise Line by its builders, I felt privileged to know that I would be one of the very first passengers to sail on her during a two-day pre-inaugural cruise from Northern Germany down to Southampton.
Although it is now NCL’s largest ship with a length of 994 feet, Bliss is around 125 feet shorter than Royal Caribbean’s recently launched record breaker, Symphony of the Seas. Part of the line’s Breakaway Plus class, it shares many features with its sister ships Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Joy and has a capacity of over 4,000 passengers who can be accommodated across a total of 2,043 staterooms.
My first impressions after boarding were that Bliss was a very classy ship – the public areas were very tastefully decorated and my stateroom, a mini-suite with balcony on deck 13, had been very well designed to make the maximum use of the available space, with a double sink and large shower in the bathroom and queen-size bed, mini-bar and flat-screen television in the living area.
During the winter months, Bliss will be based in Miami, offering seven-day cruises around the Caribbean. But during the summer, it will be based in Seattle and will be cruising around Alaska and, with this in mind, the ship has many design features built-in which will undoubtedly enhance the experience.
These include the unique artwork on the front of the hull, depicting various whales and Alaskan sealife by the marine artist Wyland, to the large sculpture of a polar bear and a central atrium chandelier, depicting a massive whale’s tail fluke. But the most impressive feature is the Observation Lounge, located at the front of the ship on Deck 15. From here, guests can relax in comfort and enjoy 180-degree views of the local wildlife, be it tropical or polar, through floor-to-ceiling windows.
One of NCL’s innovations is Freedom Dining, meaning guests can eat where and whenever they want during their cruise, although booking is strongly recommended for the speciality restaurants. On Norwegian Bliss guests can choose between eleven complimentary dining options, or pay a nominal charge to dine at one of the ship’s signature venues.
With a total of 27 options, these include French gourmet food at Le Bistro, Italian cuisine at La Cucina, Cagney’s Steakhouse, fine seafood at Ocean Blue, Barbeque diner Q Texas Steakhouse, which is unique to Bliss, and the ever-popular Japanese joint Teppanyaki, where chefs put on a spectacular table-side show.
Bliss is the first NCL ship with a full-service Starbucks store, while the chocolate-themed dessert outlet Coco’s is another first for the ship. Food Republic offers international cuisine via an iPad ordering system, while Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville serves up a casual, American-style dining experience topped off with delicious cocktails.
If you’re still peckish, The Local Bar & Grill is open 24 hours a day, while the Garden Café buffet restaurant serves up a huge range of complimentary, international food during breakfast, lunch and dinner.
After the evening meal service, the ship becomes a floating palace of entertainment, offering a huge variety of choices to encourage guests such as myself from just rolling back to their cabin to watch a movie, while trying to digest the inevitable excess of top-notch tucker.
I could have opted to go and see a performance of Jersey Boys, the Broadway blockbuster, or joined in with the Happy Hour Prohibition, an interactive musical involving cocktails and Al Capone-era singalongs.
But I got no further than The Cavern Club, a realistic replica of the legendary Liverpool venue where many local bands including The Beatles cut their teeth. And, as luck would have it, The Beatles were performing that very night! OK, not the actual Beatles, but an excellent, note-perfect, cover band who had the look, the clothes, the sound and even the genuine sixties instruments down to a tee. It was clear that the cruise line had hired the best in the business, but Norwegian would, wouldn’t they?
Then there’s the largest racetrack at sea – not something you might expect on board a ship, but Bliss has installed another of NCL’s innovations which debuted on Norwegian Joy – a 994 foot-long, two-level competitive racetrack featuring electric go-carts. I’m not normally one for getting involved with anything which might involve raised levels of adrenaline, but I’m glad I tried it. It was a lot of fun, as was the laser tag experience, but booking a slot in advance is advised – the cost is $5 per person, per session.
There are fourteen bars and lounges on board the ship, serving everything from finely-crafted cocktails, to vintage wine and cigars, but craft beer aficionados will be pleased to hear that the District Brew House serves up 24 different beers on tap and around 50 bottled varieties to choose from.
For more well-heeled guests, or those who simply want to treat themselves, The Haven offers something even more fabulous than the usual Bliss experience. This private annex of the ship contains its own dedicated restaurant and swimming pool, concierge and 24-hour butler service, a dedicated private sundeck and 80 well-appointed suites which range from the luxurious to the spectacular.
And solo travellers needn’t feel left out as NCL have pioneered the concept of including specially-designed studio staterooms, in which single passengers can enjoy their cruise at a discounted price, while having exclusive use of a dedicated lounge in which to socialise and meet fellow solo cruisers.
Families are catered for as well, with a range of dedicated kids’ clubs for toddlers to teenagers to hang out at under the watchful eye of qualified staff, while their parents lie by the pool, have a treatment at the Mandara spa, visit the casino or enjoy some time at one of the bars. Now, is that not pure Bliss?
Norwegian Bliss offers seven-day Alaskan cruises from Seattle starting at £1,349 pp (cruise only) between June 2 & September 22 2018, with seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruises starting at £1,099 pp (cruise only) from Miami, between November 17 2018 and spring 2019.
NCL’s Premium All-Inclusive package includes premium beverages, service charges & gratuities, soft drinks & bottled water and a wifi package. For more details, visit ncl.com, your local travel agent or call 0333 336 0794.