Explained: The Major Differences Between Norwegian and Other Cruise Lines

When it comes to cruising, Norwegian Cruise Line is not only one of the biggest players in the industry, but also one of the most unique.

Norwegian Cruise Line is one of the biggest players in cruising, but if you think it’s just like all the others out there, think again.

Sure, for those that have sailed other lines, much about the experience aboard NCL will feel familiar. It is a cruise, after all. So if you’re headed to the Caribbean, expect lots of activity around the pool, plenty to eat and drink, and generally a festive atmosphere onboard.

But there are some important distinctions that set Norwegian apart from other cruise lines that you would be smart to know about before you sail.

NCL Offers “Free at Sea”

Drink on an NCL cruise ship
With Norwegian’s Free at Sea offer, you can have things like drink packages, specialty restaurants, and wi-fi included in your cruise.

On most cruise lines, it’s common that you are “nickeled and dimed” throughout the cruise. You pay the cruise fare, but that’s the start of what you’ll spend. Then there are extra costs for drinks, specialty restaurants, gratuities, shore excursions, and more.

Norwegian is somewhat unique in that they offer the ability to pay one price and get many things that are normally an extra charge all included in the cruise fare.

Dubbed, “Free at Sea,” this offer can include a number of perks, such as an included beverage package, specialty dining, shore excursion credit, wi-fi, third/fourth guests, and even airfare. To be sure, there’s nothing free in cruising and the fare you pay for these perks will likely be higher than the barebones “sail away” fare. Even so, the value of the included items will be much higher than the extra cost, providing you with a deal.

A Shifting Focus to Luxury

Newer ships from NCL are taking a turn toward high-end design and luxury that sets it apart from other large lines.

All cruise lines want to be “nice” but NCL seems to be pointing the line toward having a more upscale luxury feel — especially with newer ships.

First, you should know that we’re not talking about having to wear a suit and tie everywhere. It’s still a cruise after all. And older ships definitely have a more “casual” styling. However, newer ships like Norwegian Prima and Encore (especially Prima and others in her class) aim to have a design on the ship that’s much more high-end and modern.

Instead of feeling like you’re on a cruise ship, these newer vessels can feel like a high-end boutique hotel — despite having thousands of other passengers with you.

NCL’s “Resort Within a Resort”: The Haven

The Haven pool
Those wanting the highest-end accommodations can stay in The Haven, which features exclusive amenities like a private pool and sun area.

Another way that Norwegian is focused on luxury is with its most posh accommodations — The Haven.

You can think of this as a “resort within a resort.” Found on newer ships, it’s a bank of staterooms that are exclusive to the rest of the vessel. Amenities include not just higher-end cabins, but exclusive lounge areas, sundecks, pools, and even a restaurant. These rooms also come with their own butler and priority access to dining reservations, embarkation, and entertainment.

In short, if you want the experience of a luxurious small ship or yacht, but also want the entertainment, restaurants, and activities of a large ship, The Haven is built for you.

Higher Onboard Prices

When you cruise, there really are two different costs. There’s what you’ll spend on the cruise fare and then what you spend on the ship.

In some ways, NCL has addressed the onboard spending with its Free at Sea offer, which offers up a group of perks with your cruise fare for less than you’d spend if you bought them individually.

But if you do plan to make purchases on the ship or don’t opt for the Free at Sea, then you can expect to see higher prices than you might be used to seeing.

As one example, NCL charges $20 per person, per day in gratuities for most cabins. Most other cruise lines charge around $16 per person, per day. The basic beverage package runs $109 per day. And the fastest Internet wi-fi service runs $40 per day.

These rates are generally higher than what you’ll see elsewhere.

Broadway Entertainment Included

Choir of Man
Entertainment on many newer ships features Broadway and West End shows — like Choir of Man — meaning you get world-class productions included for free with your cruise.

Cruise lines in general put on great shows, but Norwegian does things a little different on its newer ships. Here, the cruise line offers Broadway shows. And while tickets to a show on Broadway might cost hundreds, on NCL it’s included with your cruise fare.

Productions of Footloose, Beetlejuice, Burn the Floor, Jersey Boys, Kinky Boots, After Midnight, and more are available on different ships.

In other words, you don’t have to go to New York to see some of the most famous Broadway productions. They could be part of your cruise.

A Focus on the Outdoors

NCL waterfront
NCL likes to put a focus on the outdoors, often with large promenades close to the water.

When you think of a cruise, you likely think of hanging out on the pool deck, getting some sun. And yes, that’s a major part of any cruise ship. But apart from the pool area, many lines don’t focus on the outdoors. NCL is a bit different in this regard.

The cruise line is a pioneer in focusing much more on the ocean and connecting passengers to the outdoors. For example, large outdoor promenades are a major feature on newer ships. Norwegian Prima includes a wraparound walkway with infinity pools, an outdoor sculpture garden, and more.

One other focus is on outdoor dining. That might seem as simple as putting some tables and chairs outdoors, but between the sun and the wind, making dining outside on a moving cruise ship can be a challenge. NCL has it perfected to make dining outdoors enjoyable, and it’s a trend that other lines have seemingly followed in recent years.

The Only Racetrack at Sea

When it comes to activities on ships, Norwegian features one of the most unique on its newer ships — a complete racetrack with electric cars that winds around the top decks.

While NCL is seeming to focus more on luxury, that doesn’t mean they forget about fun. In fact, one activity is available only on Norwegian and is a major differentiator when it comes to things to do.

The newest ships in the fleet like Prima, Encore, Joy, and Bliss have a go-kart racetrack. The electric carts circle around a track on the top deck that winds back and forth, with sweeping views of the open ocean as you race against other passengers.

It’s definitely a unique experience and although there is a charge to drive, we suggest anyone take advantage of doing it at least once.

A Focus on Solo Cruisers

Solo cruise lounge
Not only are there solo cabins on many NCL ships, but some also have solo lounges where travelers can meet and mingle with each other.

Are you someone that’s interested in cruising solo? If so, then you likely have noticed that many cruise lines penalize you for cruising alone. Lines sell rooms based on double occupancy. So a person traveling alone has to pay double the cruise fare in order to sail.

Norwegian is one of the few that seems to actually work to cater to solo cruise passengers. Many ships feature solo cabins, which while priced higher than the per person charge for other cabins, are still less than paying a double fare.

As well, these rooms are built with solo passengers in mind, including being grouped together with central common spaces for mingling with other solo cruisers.

Global Itineraries

Many of the largest cruise lines seem to focus on a geographic region with their itineraries. When it comes to Norwegian Cruise Line, the brand is truly global in nature.

Sure, there are Caribbean trips and Alaska is also a major region where NCL takes cruises. But there are also cruises in the Mediterranean, Greek Isles, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and more.

In other words, if you’re a fan of NCL then you don’t have to compromise whether you want a quick trip to the Caribbean or a multi-week cruise of a lifetime.

The Only Major Cruise Ship Based in Hawaii

Cruises to Hawaii are offered by several major cruise lines. What’s unique about NCL is that they offer the only major ship — Pride of America — to be homeported in the state.

Due to U.S. law, foreign-flagged vessels (which encompasses nearly every cruise ship) departing the United States must visit a foreign port before returning. That means most ships leaving the west coast to tour Hawaii must not only take a long trip across the Pacific, but also stop in Mexico before returning back to port.

Since Pride of America is a U.S. vessel, NCL can homeport it in Hawaii and it doesn’t have to stop in a foreign port. That means no long trip back and forth across the Pacific and instead more time on your cruise visiting different ports around the islands.

If you’ve ever wanted the chance to explore more of Hawaii, NCL offers up one of the most convenient ways.

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