Sailing aboard a Norwegian cruise? You’re no doubt excited, but might have some questions on what exactly to expect and maybe some tips to help your trip go more smoothly.
Above all, you should know that you’re about to have a great time. Norwegian is a popular cruise line, and one of our personal favorites.
But if you’ve never been on the cruise line, there things to know that can make your trip better.
Overview: What It’s Like to Sail Aboard Norwegian
Before we get into the things to know, you might be wondering what it’s like to sail aboard Norwegian Cruise Line… and how it is different from other cruise lines. For that, we have an entire guide to sailing NCL here.
In general all those things that you love about taking a cruise on any line apply to Norwegian. If you’ve sailed other lines, you will likely find the experience to be similar overall.
For instance, the ships are almost works of art (especially newer ones) and an engineering marvel. There’s a big focus on things to do on the ship, and it starts with your time around the pool, often with large pool decks, plenty of chairs, as well as things like putt-putt, sport courts, and more to keep everyone occupied. There’s also a big focus on food and drink; there’s no way that you will go hungry or thirsty on your cruise.
But while Norwegian Cruise Line might offer an experience that cruisers know and love, there are some touches that set the cruise line apart from others.
A Focus on Outdoors: While any cruise ship will have outdoor space, Norwegian seems to be on a trend toward opening up the outdoors to the indoors. For instance, some newer ships have observation lounges with tall multi-story windows with 180-degree views. Ships also focus a lot on outdoor dining, and promenades that offer seaviews around the entire ship. NCL also likes to put open promenades down closer to the ocean, putting you closer to the sea.
The Haven: If you’re a cruise passenger with a higher budget, then Norwegian offers The Haven, which is unique to their ships. Instead of just offering a suite, The Haven is essentially a “resort within a resort.” In addition to luxurious (and large) rooms, the area has private entry, its own pool, restaurant, and bar. It offers the small ship experience with larger ship amenities.
Cruise Line Size: We like to think of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian as the “Big Three” cruise lines. They dominate the market. But when it comes to size, Norwegian is the smallest of these three. What does that mean for you? Once on the ship, it means very little. But when planning, Norwegian sails from fewer ports and has fewer total sailings than its bigger rivals, so you don’t have as many options.
Onboard Expenses: Every cruise line aims to get passengers spending on the ship, but Norwegian seems to have prices that are higher than rivals like Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Internet and drink packages — two major areas of onboard spending — are good examples. Specifically the basic drink package is $109 per person, per day. Compare that to Carnival, which charges around $60.
Tips & Things to Know About Sailing Norwegian Cruise Lines
Now that you have an idea of what you can expect on board, below we’ve pulled together some of our favorite tips and things to know for sailing on a Norwegian cruise. Use these ideas to make your trip as much fun as possible, but also potentially save money, time, and have a better vacation.
Sail on the Newer Ships When Possible (There’s a Big Difference!)
Over the last few years Norwegian has made big headlines by introducing some of the most extravagant ships at sea. Ships like the Norwegian Joy, Bliss, Encore, Prima, and Viva take cruising to another level with the public areas, restaurants, and things to do on the ship. For instance, you can even ride go-karts or dabble in virtual reality — all on a ship that’s built with a luxury feel (especially the new Prima-class vessels).
While older ships are typically cheaper to sail, we’ve found them smaller and with fewer things to do on board. Unless you only want to sit by the pool and relax, newer ships offer so much more to passengers, and the design and atmosphere is second-to-none.
So if you have the means, we recommend sailing on the newer ships.
Download the Cruise Norwegian App (It’s Free)
Everyone has an app these days, including cruise lines. The big difference? Instead of doing something silly like showing how you will look when you’re older, the cruise line apps — including the Cruise Norwegian app — are extremely useful.
Download it for free and you can use it for tons of things on the ship. It includes deck plans (so you don’t get lost), an overview of your onboard spending, the daily schedules, and you can even book reservations and excursions. Best of all, you don’t have to purchase wi-fi on the ship to use the app. It can save you a ton of time and headache.
Make Reservations Early (As Early As You Can)
These days there is a lot to do on new ships from specialty restaurants to activities onboard. Some Norwegian ships even have go-kart tracks at sea! The thing is that with thousands of people on the ship and only a certain amount of open spots, the restaurants and things to do can fill up quickly. That’s why Norwegian has implemented a reservation system.
One piece of advice — sign up as early as you know you want to do something. Space is at a premium. You can do so through the app, through your online account, via phone, or once you are on the ship. No matter how you do it, just make sure you try and reserve a spot early so that you don’t miss out.
The “Free at Sea” Offer May Still Cost Gratuities
One of the big draws to Norwegian has been their “Free at Sea” offer. You book a cabin and you can get the regular bare-bones fare, or you can get a number of perks included for a slightly fare. The perks include everything from shore excursion credit to alcohol packages to wi-fi.
You can choose whether or not to take advantage of the deal and even which perks you would like.
One thing to watch out for is gratuity. If you select an option that typically has gratuity — like the alcoholic drink package — then you still have to pay this amount. For instance, the drink package is normally $109 per person, per day. But it also has a 20% gratuity on top of that. So even with the free drinks offer, you’re paying around $20 per day. A couple on a weeklong cruise would pay a total of about $300 in gratuities on the free drink offer.
Keep this in mind. You’re still getting a good deal as far as a drink package for $20, but it might be an added expense you didn’t realize you’d have to pay.
Know That Prices for “Free at Sea” Are Often Higher (But Usually Not By Much)
We mentioned the “Free at Sea” offer above that’s been popular for Norwegian. Depending on which cabin you cruise, you can get a number of freebies included with your cruise like free drinks or free wi-fi.
One thing to watch, however, is that you actually end up paying more for the ‘free’ perk. For instance, we did a recent search for a balcony cabin on an upcoming 7-night cruise. The headline price shown was $1,599 per person, for a “sail away” balcony. This is a cabin where Norwegian picks your room, and it isn’t eligible for any of the perks in the “Free at Sea” offer.
Want to get perks included? The cheapest balcony cabin in our example search with the free perks was $1,649 — $50 more per person. This $50 per person increase seems to be consistent in our check.
That’s not exactly “free,” but it’s a small price to pay for a drink package, wi-fi, shore excursion credit, and specialty dining.
Norwegian Casinos Are a Great Place to Learn Games
Lots of people that go on cruises love the casino. It’s a fun way to spend some time at sea whether you’re a serious gambler or just like to bet a few bucks.
Always wanted to try a new casino game but been too intimidated? That’s understandable. It’s scary to saddle up next to a bunch of pros at a blackjack table or when rolling dice in a craps game.
On Norwegian, the casino offers daily classes on games. Here, newbies can take their turn learning the rules and playing practice rounds without risking cash.
Even without the classes, cruise ship casinos are a great place to get your feet wet with new games. Limits are low, making it less intimidating for beginners.
Want to Cruise Hawaii? Norwegian Is Your Best Bet (Here’s Why)
Is Hawaii on your bucket list? Then check out cruises aboard NCL’s Pride of America. Through U.S. law, foreign-flagged vessels can’t pick up passengers from an American port and take to to another American port without having a stop in a foreign country. The vast majority of cruise ships are flagged under a foreign nation. That means to go to Hawaii, they have to put in a visit to another country along the way.
That’s why most cruise lines leave a port like Los Angeles, sail to Hawaii, and then return for a quick visit to Mexico before heading home. Given the distance, it ends up to be a lot of time at sea.
NCL, however, operates Pride of America — the only major cruise ship we know of that’s flagged under the United States. That means it can sail all around the Hawaiian Islands, instead of spending days traveling to another country to comply with the law. So instead of spending days at sea, you spend more time exploring Hawaii and simply fly back and forth from the mainland.
Dine Outside for Fantastic Views
For some reason cruise ships seem to keep getting bigger and better but continue to bring you more inside to the shops and the restaurants. One thing that Norwegian does really well is give passengers places to connect with the ocean. One example is their outside dining.
Now, you might think that sitting outside to eat during a cruise is pretty simple. Truth is, there’s a lot to take into consideration, including the sun, rain, and the constant wind as the ship is underway.
Norwegian, however, takes all this into account with covered spots to eat that are also out of the wind. The result? A number of great places where you can sit outside, sip a drink, and enjoy a meal without having to worry about a sunburn or the wind carrying your napkin away.
The Fish (Or Other Designs) Face Forward to Tell You Where You’re Headed
A quick and easy tip to help you get your bearings on the ship — the fish face forward. Let us explain…
In the halls of the ship where there aren’t any windows, it’s easy to get turned around. All the cabin doors look the same and the hallways are long. You could walk for hundreds of feet before realizing you’re going in the wrong direction. In this case, just look down.
Many Norwegian ships have carpets with a design with lots of small fish. Other ships it’s a design with random triangles. As an aid to passengers, all the of these face forward. So you are walking in the direction of the fish or the triangles on the carpet, you’re going forward. Walking the opposite direction? Then you’re headed aft.
This can save you a lot of time, frustration, and wasted steps as you leave the cabin and head to go have fun. Look down, and the fish will tell you where to go.
Get Your Spot at the Pool Early on Harvest Caye
One of the favorite stops by Norwegian ships is Harvest Caye. The private island in the southwest Caribbean is a beach-lover’s paradise. There’s ample space to lay out by the beach, a huge freshwater pool, restaurants, bars, shops, ziplines and more. And because it’s only for Norwegian cruise ships, it’s like your own personal paradise.
One tip is to head to the pool first thing on the island and stake out a spot. Even visiting on a smaller ship, we’ve found that the chairs around the pool fill up quickly. It’s by far the most popular spot on the island.
If you head over in the late morning or early afternoon, there might not be a single open chair. During our visit we didn’t hit the pool until the peak time and had to just set our stuff on the ground. Crowds are much thinner in the early morning or late afternoon when many have headed back to the ship already.
Now, we’re not saying to be a chair hog. So don’t just set your stuff down and leave. But if you know you want some pool time, try to do it early.
Head to the 24-Hour Restaurant for Fresher Food
While cruise ship buffets are on every ship, not everyone is a fan of them. Want something fresher that’s made special for you? Head to the 24-hour restaurant on the ship.
Each Norwegian ship will have a restaurant (O’Sheehans on some, The Local on others) that serves around the clock. Have a seat, get whatever you want on the menu, and you don’t have to pay anything. The nice part is that there is a variety of things to eat, and it’s prepared for you instead of being intended to feed the masses.
Are You an Investor? You Could Get Up to $250 Onboard Credit
Most of the major cruise lines are actually part of larger public companies, including Norwegian. That means you can actually own a stake in the ship that you sail. Shares of the company trade under the ticker “NCLH”. And for those owning at least 100 shares at the time of sailing, then you are eligible for a shareholder benefit.
The amount of the benefit depends on the length of your cruise, and is currently set as follows:
- $250 onboard credit per stateroom on sailings of 15 days or more
- $100 onboard credit per stateroom on sailings of 7 to 14 days
- $50 onboard credit per stateroom on sailings of 6 days or fewer
You’ll need to submit some documentation before you sail. If you want to take advantage, then you can read more about the benefit here.
No Reservation? There Might Still Be Space Available
Miss out on making a reservation before a specialty restaurant was booked up? Head down anyway. Reservations are important, but there is still a chance you can get a seat.
Often times people make reservations and then don’t show. Or other times there is still a space, even if the reservation list is full.
The best bet is to show up early or late in the dining time — not during the peak when most people want to eat. In fact, we’ve personally showed up to a restaurant that had a full reservation list and found it largely empty when it first opened, allowing us to grab dinner with no problem.
NCL Has the Youngest (Major) Fleet in the Industry
There’s no arguing that the salt and sun take a toll on anything near the coast — especially ships. At the same time, the pace of development on cruise ships is breathtaking. A ship built 20 years ago barely even compares to a ship built today.
That’s why it’s noteworthy that NCL features the youngest fleet of any of the major cruise lines. In fact, its oldest ship was built just over 20 years ago, but many more ships have been built recently. And with the addition of its Prima class — where one new ship is slated to join the fleet each year through 2027 — that fleet should continue to stay fresh.
Want a Deal? Look for the Drink of the Day
On some cruise lines, the Drink of the Day isn’t anything special. The cruise line literally just calls a drink the “Drink of the Day” to make it seem special and charges the same amount.
Norwegian is different. On their cruises the Drink of the Day is actually discounted a couple of bucks. So if a cocktail is normally $11, it will be priced at only $9. It’s a small difference, but it’s nice to get a little discount. So not only can you try something new each day, but you can also save money doing so.
Be Prepared For Higher Prices
As mentioned above, Norwegian’s “Free at Sea” offering is popular… and for good reason. For just a little more, you can get a lot of extras included with your cruise. This can be everything from wi-fi minutes to drink packages to shore excursion credit.
One thing to note, however, is that if you don’t opt for this — and even if you do — you should be prepared for higher prices than what you see on many other lines.
We mentioned that the drink package starts at $109 per person, per day plus a 20% gratuity. That’s considerably higher than most lines. Unlimited wi-fi runs as much as $40 per day. Gratuities cost $20 per person, per day for most cabins (and $25 for higher-end rooms). Then there are charges for things like the go-karts and the Galaxy Pavilion (a high-end video gaming experience) on newer ships.
Bottom line, it seems that NCL prices many things at a premium. Don’t have sticker shock.
Weather at Great Stirrup Cay Can Cause Cancellations
You wake up, the sun is shining, the sea is blue, and your day at Great Stirrup Cay (NCL’s private island) is… cancelled?
Great Stirrup Cay in The Bahamas is a must-see. It features beautiful beaches, activities, food, and more, and it’s all for the exclusive use of NCL passengers. But the ship anchors offshore and then a smaller boat (a tender) brings you in.
Unfortunately, we’ve been on a cruise where the stop was cancelled because, while the weather was beautiful, it was too windy for the tenders to operate. Instead, we spent the day at sea. To be sure, it is disappointing. Just know that since there is no dock, weather is a bigger issue on if you’ll actually be able to visit.
Sugarcane Mojito Bar Can’t Miss
Every cruise line has their own unique bars like Carnival’s Alchemy Bar or Royal Caribbean’s Bionic Bar. One of the special ones on NCL is the Sugarcane Mojito Bar.
This spot features an intimate setting that’s filled with comfy leather seats and dark wood panels that give you a Cuban vibe. But what’s special is the menu. It’s all focused on mojitos.
You can try a jalapeno cucumber mojito, or a pineapple coconut style. One that we thought sounded most interesting is the Floridita, made with Bacardi, grapefruit juice, maraschino liqueur, and lime.
Even if you’re not a huge mojito fan, the vibe and atmosphere is something you’ll want to stop and enjoy.
Bring White (or Neon) Clothing for the Party
One tip is if you are sailing the Caribbean, you’ll want to bring some white or neon clothing with you. On trips to this area, the cruise line often puts on white — or now moving to “glow” — parties on the pool deck. So you’ll head out to poolside at night, listen to some music, dance, and generally have a great time while all glammed up in either white or neon.
And after the main party, there is likely an afterparty located in the ship’s nightclub.
Wi-Fi Package Prices Fall Through the Trip
There’s no arguing that NCL likes to push prices higher. In fact, cruise line executives have said as much. That can lead to some pricey items on the ship. For example, the highest-tier of wi-fi service runs a staggering $40 per day if bought onboard, and you buy service for a whole cruise.
But there is a way you can save some money. We’ve noticed with sailing NCL that after each day you can still buy the Internet package, but the total cost reduces day by day. So if you buy the $40 service on the first day of a 7-day cruise, you’ll pay about $280 for the trip. Wait until the next day, and the price drops to around $240, and so on.
So if you can go without for a couple of days at the start of the cruise, you should be able to save some considerable money.
Boarding Early Means Waiting on a Cabin
We all want to get on the ship early and start our vacation. What we’ve noticed, however, is that boarding early (before 1-2 p.m.) usually means having to wait for your cabin to be ready. So you’ll board the ship and find that the doorways to the cabin hallways will be closed off.
You can still enjoy the ship, but you’ll either have to drop off your luggage as you board and come back later to pick it up (there is a location where they will hold bags until rooms are ready), or explore the ship with your bag in tow.
Or you can just wait to board later and be able to go right to your room as you get on the ship.
Souvenir Glasses Make Cool Keepsakes
Souvenir glasses for drinks aren’t anything new in cruising. But often they are honestly pretty tacky or gaudy. They may be fun on the cruise ship, but they are nothing you’d really use at home.
On Norwegian Cruise Line, it’s a bit different. They offer souvenir glasses you can take home, but they offer cool styles. For instance, there is a porcelain tiki glass that would be perfect for sipping something in the summer back home. Or maybe you’d rather a porcelain pineapple mug?
The point is, instead of being junky plastic cups that get tossed after a few months, these glasses are things that you’ll actually want to use back home.
Norwegian Doesn’t Allow Drinks Onboard
Something to know for those soda drinkers who might have a favorite brand — NCL as a whole serves Coca-Cola products. You won’t find Pepsi or other products from that company on the ship.
As well, Norwegian also doesn’t let you bring on beverages (other than a bottle of wine/champagne) when you board, unlike other cruise lines. So you can’t just bring on your preferred beverage for your trip.
So if you have a drink that you just can’t live without, then you’re going to have to wait until you reach a port of call.
More on Sailing NCL:
- Worth It? Complete Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Drink Package Guide
- Norwegian Cruise Line Gratuities (Tips): Full Guide to Cost & How They Work
- Good Deal? Everything to Know About Norwegian’s “Free At Sea” Sale