Once you have decided to take a cruise vacation, you must select a cruise line. (If you are debating a cruise vacation, read my list of pros and cons here.) Although each cruise line has its strengths and weaknesses, we regularly cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) because we think it has several advantages over other comparable cruise lines. Below is my review of Norwegian Cruise lines.
NCL is considered a mid-range cruise line. It has budget friendly options available for inside cabins but also offers more moderate priced outside and balcony rooms. In addition, on some ships they offer the Haven, a luxury cabin option with additional perks. They are most well-known for their ‘freestyle’ cruising and sail to a large range of destinations around the world.
How NCL is different
#1: Type of clientele
Norwegian Cruise Line tends to attract adults (specifically couples) and families. The average age demographic of these cruise ships is notably higher than some of the lower-cost cruise lines. Carnival Cruise Lines for example tends to attract more of a ‘spring break’ crowd with lots of young adult and college-aged individuals. You will see less of this demographic on most NCL cruises- especially those longer than a few days.
Because of the different clientele, NCL ships tend to have a more relaxed ambience. While there is endless alcohol available on an NCL cruise, it doesn’t really have a party atmosphere. Although NCL hosts several parties during the cruises, they are restricted to certain areas of the ship and tend to end at a reasonable hour.
Friends who have cruised with other cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Carribean describe them as sometimes hectic or chaotic with entertainment (and partying) going well into the early morning hours. Even Disney cruises have a different vibe because of the large numbers of children running about. Generally, on an NCL cruise, the vibe is pretty low-key. In general you can always find a lounge chair by the pool (but you definitely want to get to the shows early to get a good seat).
#3: Freestyle cruising
The NCL freestyle cruising was what first attracted us to the cruise line. Brian despises forced conversations with strangers and didn’t want to have to do so on vacation. We also didn’t want to have a set dining time. NCL has several sit-down options that you can make a reservation for or just show up to. We like the flexibility of deciding when, where, and what we will eat each day.
The freestyle cruising approach also means that there is no dress code and there are always numerous activities scheduled each day. On vacation, you want to be able to choose what you do, wear, and eat. NCL’s freestyle approach allows you to do this.
#4: Loyalty program
Most cruise lines have a loyalty program. NCL is no exception. You earn points with each cruise you take and they never expire. At the lower levels, perks include priority check-in and a bottle of sparkling wine. At the highest levels, it includes a behind-the-scenes tour and even a complimentary 7-day cruise.
#5: The Haven
On our last cruise, we had the opportunity to stay in one of the luxury rooms that make up the Haven. Although it was a significant expense, the benefits were outstanding. In addition to a private pool and deck area, the Haven came with countless perks. We got the best seats for the Cirque du Soleil performance and were the first passengers to disembark at each port. We got reserved seating for all shows and access to the Haven concierge.
The part of the Haven that we enjoyed the most, however, had to be the private restaurant. We ate breakfast here every morning. One of my least favorite parts of cruising (as I discuss in my post about the pros and cons of cruising) is the buffet. On NCL ships, it is one of the only options for breakfast. I find the whole experience stressful and frustrating. The Haven allowed us to avoid it altogether.
#6: The Thermal Spa
Most cruise ships offer spa treatments including massages, facials, acupuncture, and the like. Where NCL stands out is its Spa Thermal Suite. The Spa Thermal Suite is more characteristic of the more expensive luxury cruise lines. Purchasing the Thermal Suite pass allows you unlimited access to a myriad of relaxing amenities. The Thermal suite includes saunas, hot tubs, therapy pool, steam room, and tropical rain showers. You can enjoy all of this while listening to relaxing music and sipping flavored waters. Our favorite part of the Thermal suite, however, is absolutely the heated ceramic lounge chairs. We try to make a point to spend some time here every day of our cruise.
An additional bonus of the Thermal spa is that it is for adults only. The Thermal Spa is usually located at the front of the ship with a wall of windows. We love to relax on a chaise lounge and watch the ship make its way across the ocean. It is like a secret hide-away from the other people with whom you share the ship.
Where NCL struggles
In addition to the free-style cruising, NCL is known for charging for items that are included with other cruise lines. Many NCL cruisers report feeling nickeled-and-dimed once onboard. It is true that we usually end up with a pretty hefty on-board bill at the end of each cruise. However, we generally receive very good customer service and have a great vacation.
We generally enjoy the atmosphere and amenities on NCL cruises and will likely continue to cruise with them into the foreseeable future.
What is your favorite cruise line? Why do you think it stands above the rest?