Note: Cruzely recently set sail aboard the Norwegian Joy on a cruise compliments of Norwegian Cruise Lines. The opinions below are our own.
It isn’t rare that a cruise ship undergoes a $50 million renovation. What is rare is when a practically brand-new ship sees that kind of overhaul. But that’s exactly what the Norwegian Joy underwent as the ship — originally built for Asian markets — transitioned to the United States to take travelers on trips to Alaska, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
The revamped covered the entire ship, including everything from the pool deck to carpet to restaurants, and even changes to the ship’s popular Joy Speedway (the go-cart track at the back of the ship).
So what can you expect on the Norwegian Joy after refurbishment? We recently sailed aboard the ship to get a firsthand look at what passengers will experience.
The Joy is one of three ships in Norwegian’s Breakaway-Plus class, it’s largest class of cruise ships. Coming in a 168,000 gross tons, it is the second-largest ship in the fleet and less than 1,000 tons smaller than the largest ship, Norwegian Bliss.
First setting sail in 2017, she measures nearly 1,100 feet and has 20 decks. At capacity, the Joy can hold about 4,000 passengers. In other words, no matter how you slice it, the ship is big. You can feel the size the second you board. None of the ship’s public spaces feels like it is a condensed “at sea” version of the real thing. From the restaurants to the casino to even the Starbucks, they all feel full-sized like you’d find on land.
Meanwhile, Norwegian has spared little to pack something for everyone onto the cruise ship. Whether you are a family, a young couple, retired, or anywhere in between, you’ll find something to keep you entertained. If you want fun and active, you can take a ride on the carting track, play laser tag, or ride a waterslide that juts out over the edge of the ship. If you want dining options, there are about 15 different spots to eat on the ship. And if you just want to relax, the Observation Lounge offers a quiet spot — with a stunning multi-story window panel — to take in the view.
For more specific details on what you’ll find on Norwegian Joy, keep reading.
One of the nice things about sailing on a large ship is that there is plenty of room to put public spaces. These spots are great places to relax, people watch, have a drink, or just hangout. The Joy features a number of open areas where you can sit and take it all in.
Located on Deck 6, the main atrium on the Joy is the largest we’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. Around the edges you’ll find a number of services such as the shore excursion desk, guest services, the Internet cafe, and Starbucks. In the center, however, there is a large open area with ample seating that’s open to the deck above. Since it’s at the center of the ship, it’s one of the most-trafficked areas; sit here long enough and you’ll see everyone on the ship pass by.
The Norwegian Joy sails trips to Alaska, and we can think of no better spot to watch the scenery than in the Observation Lounge. Located forward on Deck 15, the lounge has multi-story windows that wrap around the front of the ship. This gives the best view of anywhere on the ship while also being protected from the elements. There is also a Starbucks and a bar if you get thirsty. One tip — if the forward lounge is full, you can also go to the Garden Cafe (buffet) on Deck 16. It features windows that look out onto the Observation Lounge, giving you a similar view.
Circling Deck 8 is a promenade walkway that wraps almost around the entire length of the ship. Here the restaurants on Deck 8 all have outdoor seating, but there is also open seating and you can sit in the restaurant areas if they aren’t open at the time. In our experience there were few people taking advantage of this deck in the mornings, making it a perfect place to have coffee in peace and quiet.
Of course, the Norwegian Joy has a pool deck and a rather large one at that. When originally built for the Asian markets, there was a garden area in the middle. Today the space is empty, with pools and hot tubs relegated to the ends of the deck. While having a large empty area in the middle of the pool deck is honestly an awkward use of the space, it does mean there is ample space to sit and soak up the sun. Finding a spot for a deck chair would be no problem.
Located at the back of Deck 17, Spice H20 is an adults-only spot that offers a little of everything. There is a large hot tub (covered) that’s the size of a swimming pool, a bar, and a ton of seating and loungers if you want to get some sun. All that’s missing is an actual swimming pool. At night, the area turns into nightclub with large dance floor
As you would expect of a ship built so recently, the staterooms on the Joy are modern with all the most recent amenities. Our time was spent in a mini-suite, and we were also able to tour a number of other cabins on the ship. All offered everything you would expect in a cruise cabin — and sometimes much more should you book a more expensive room.
The decoration is tasteful and modern, with darker wood tones on closets and cabinetry. Walls and ceilings are neutral tones, with a busier dark blue carpeting. The entire look is modern and comfortable, making you feel at home instead of like you’re staying in a museum where you can’t touch anything.
Bathrooms also have a nice modern update compared to typical ships. One noticeable feature was a larger-than-usual glass shower with sliding door. Compare this to many cabins we’ve been on cruise ships that are simply a round enclosure where it’s hard to even bend down to wash your legs.
One disappointing aspect was the water pressure in the shower. Using the overhead shower we had weak pressure during the entirety of the trip. That said, there are stronger pressure body-massaging outlets that offered pressure that was frankly too strong.
In the cabin, we did appreciate having three separate electrical outlets, offering plenty of spots for charging phones and tablets. There were also USB charging ports built into the wall sconces next to the bed.
During tours of The Haven — Norwegian’s exclusive area with more luxurious cabins — there were spaces that you’d never see in a typical ship. This included wraparound balconies, walk-in closets, multiple bedrooms, and even a bathtub next to a massive window so you can look out while you bathe.
Food & Drink
While in our opinion the Joy is excellent in a number of ways, it’s hard to beat the food and drink options aboard the ship. Including both complementary and specialty restaurants, there are 14 places to eat on the ship (not including room service and two Starbucks locations). In other words, you could stay on the ship for two weeks and never eat the same restaurant for dinner.
On the free side, the options are the basics that you’d find on most cruise ships. There is the buffet (Garden Cafe), along with three main dining rooms (The Manhattan Room, Savor, and Taste). One nice perk is The Local, a 24-hour restaurant in the middle of the ship on Deck 7 that features casual fare including salads, burgers, wings, desserts, and more. Everywhere we ate had good quality. Special notice was given to the desserts in the buffet and the freshly-made burger served at The Local. That said, we do wish that Norwegian offered a few more complimentary options.
Instead, the cruise line focuses more on specialty dining. These restaurants encompass everything from high-end Italian (La Cucina) to seafood (Ocean Blue) to steak (Cagney’s) to BBQ (Q Smokehouse, pictured above) to pan-Asian (Food Republic). There are extra charges to eat here, which are usually priced a la carte like you’d find on land.
While we weren’t able to try every restaurant during our cruise, we can say that Food Republic (which offers Asian dishes like sushi rolls) was outstanding. If we were to take a week-long cruise, we’d suggest eating at specialty restaurants 2-3 times in order to try the different fare offered. Eat more than that and the bill at the end of your cruise could start to creep up.
If you’re interested in drinks, then you’re going to be happy on the Norwegian Joy. The ship offers roughly 15 different places to grab a drink so you are never far from your beverage of choice. One special thing we noticed is that the cruise line has put a lot of work into its beverage menu, going so far as to partner with outside professionals to come up with new and interesting cocktails. Drinks we had during our cruise were tasty… and also quite strong.
Like beer? Don’t miss The District Brew House located on Deck 8. While many cruise lines have recognized the trend toward craft brewing and offering more choices than just Bud Light and Miller Lite, it’s hard to beat this spot. From a fridge filled with dozens of different beer types to a tap wall with about 20 beers on tap, The District is dedicated to beer.
If tropical cocktails are more your liking, don’t miss the Sugarcane Mojito Bar. It sits on Deck 8 and features a menu filled with delicious drinks. We tried the Wiki Rum Punch, a strong drink served in a fun tiki glass — complete with a paper umbrella. During the evenings there is a band playing Latin music, adding a little extra to the atmosphere.
While the food and drink on the ship is superb, even it pales in comparison to the things to do aboard the Joy. There is especially a lot to do for those who are young or young at heart.
Perhaps no feature of the Norwegian Joy stands out as much as the Joy Speedway. The ship features a full-sized go-cart track where you can race around corners and straightaways while in the middle of the ocean.
The cost is a little pricey — $15 for about a 10-minute ride — but it’s worth doing at least once. So how does it work? First, you need to make sure you are dressed to ride. That means closed-toe shoes and no loose garments like scarfs or open jackets. Once in your cart (there are also two-person carts), you put on your helmet and strap in. When the light turns green, you can take off racing.
The carts are electric and the staff can control your speed. At the start you will take off rather slowly, but once everyone is on the track, the speed picks up. At no time are you going fast in absolute terms, but on the track with its bends and corners, it feels like you are flying.
While the Joy sails Alaska it’s doubtful the waterslides will get much use. But in warmer climates, it’s something to enjoy. The big draw is Ocean Loops. The slide rises several stories above the deck, drops you nearly straight down and into a massive loop. Did we mention that the loop juts out over the edge of the ship, meaning you slide out over the water? It’s by far the most extreme waterslide we’ve seen at sea.
If you’re sailing with smaller kids who aren’t quite ready for the big waterslides, then they will enjoy the kid’s waterpark. It’s not huge, but there are a lot of contraptions spraying water all around and lots of interactive water features to play with. Check out the big yellow bucket at the top of the park that fills with water. About every 5 minutes it will tip, flooding the entire area.
With the revamp to the Joy comes the Galaxy Pavilion. Located on the back of the ship at Deck 18, it’s a virtual reality playground. During our cruise we saw all ages enjoying everything that’s offered. There are your classic virtual reality staples like roller coasters and truck rides. There is also a bank of racing games where you can feel like you’re on the track. Around the corner is a 4-D experience with moving seats and effects, plus a 3-D video screen. During our try, we got to blast robots while going through a western town.
But our favorite thing to do was the virtual F-1 racing. You climb into a replica car sitting in front of a bank of screens. Just like a real Formula 1 car, you use the brake and gas pedals and there is a detachable steering wheel with paddle shifters. Put simply, it’s as close to the real thing as you can get without being an F1 driver.
The Galaxy Pavilion runs $29 for 90 minutes of access, and it’s an extra $10 to drive the F1 car. While the fees will help keep crowds down, it is in our opinion a little steep to go multiple times. Still, it’s likely worth it to experience at least once.
Next to the Joy Speedway on the back of the ship is the mini-golf course. The course is free to play and consists of nine holes. It’s not too challenging, making it fun for both adults and kids.
While on our cruise we heard rumors that when the ship was made for the Asian markets, there were four casinos around the ship. Today there is just one (located on Deck 7), but it’s large. In fact, while most ship casinos are contained in one area with distinct entrances and exits, the Joy Casino is much more open and spread out.
In the casino area you’ll find every game you could want to play, from craps to blackjack, roulette, baccarat, slot machines and even a few other games like The Big Wheel and coin-pusher games. If you’re a non-smoker, you’ll appreciate that the casino doesn’t allow smoking, but there is an enclosed part of the casino where smoking is allowed.
Limits are low — we saw most tables at $5 and penny slots are everywhere.
Another big draw for kids and families on the ship is the laser tag arena. Norwegian has built a detailed course that’s designed to look like an outer space outpost. Two teams face off, armed with their laser cannons to save the world. The course is at the very top of the ship on Deck 20. Games last about 10 minutes and cost $10 per person.
Cruise ships are known for their shopping, and the Joy doesn’t disappoint. At Tradewinds, you’ll find what’s essentially a miniature mall, except everything is tax and duty-free. There’s lots of high-end shopping, including watches and jewelry, as well as liquor. There are also clothing stores, handbags, and a spot to grab toiletries that you might have forgotten at home.
There’s a lot to take in about the ship and everything it has to offer. Here are a few final thoughts if you are considering sailing for your next cruise.
What’s Great about the Norwegian Joy
If you’re planning on booking a cruise aboard the Norwegian Joy, don’t hesitate. The ship is large, new, and offers an amazing array of amenities.
We particularly loved the Observation Lounge, which offered a quiet spot to take in breathtaking views. On trips to Alaska, the views would be especially amazing. We also enjoy the variety on the ship. Whether you want to gamble… or eat… or ride go-carts… or watch a production show… just hang out and soak up the sun, there’s something for you to do. Put simply, we can’t think of any demographic that wouldn’t have fun on the ship.
What Could Be Improved
That said, not everything is perfect on any ship — even the newest and greatest. While it’s a small issue, the water pressure in the cabin shower could be greatly improved. We were still able to bathe, but had to huddle close to the wall to get under the shower spray. It wasn’t a relaxing shower.
A bigger item in our opinion are the extra costs associated with many things on the ship. Things like the go-carts, specialty restaurants, laser tag, Galaxy Pavilion and more all cost extra. Yes, these items are optional, but if you want to enjoy the entire ship then be prepared to open up your wallet a little wider. That said, they all seemed worth doing at least once.
All in all, the refurbished Norwegian Joy sets a high mark for cruise ship — especially those sailing to Alaska, where the ships tend to be a little older and smaller. It offers something for everyone. We’d have no reservations about sailing aboard the ship again, although we would certainly be prepared to spend a little more than usual once on board.
Have questions about sailing aboard the Norwegian Joy? Let us know in the comments below.