Cruising has long been seen as the bastion of those over a certain age. However, that mindset is changing as newer ships from the likes of Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Voyages weigh anchor with everything from speedways to VR gaming.
Wanting to experience this ‘new wave’ of cruising firsthand, we climb aboard NCL’s latest ship – Norwegian Prima – to review its inaugural US sailing.
It’s a short four-day cruise from New York to Halifax and back, enough to get a feel for what the ship has to offer and all the ways it stands out from the pack.
New York practically chose itself for this sailing; no other US port fills you with the same magic of cruising.
Down the Hudson, alongside the Statue of Liberty, then under the Verrazano Bridge before heading into open sea, all with that iconic backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.
This review was originally published in January 2023.
Norwegian Prima: first impressions
Embarkation is a simple and efficient process. Following a quick photograph you’re issued an electronic pass card, which is used for payment throughout the ship.
Boarding via Deck 6 you enter a spacious three-level atrium; its neutral colour scheme and décor instantly relaxing.
The design team from Studio DADO – responsible for much of the interior – have done an excellent job creating a light and relaxed feel in all open spaces, while also extending through to the cabins.
What’s not so obvious is how easy it is to settle in, not to mention how intuitive it all is.
There are no safety drills; those have all been done via online preboarding. Touch screens in the lift lobbies allow you to book experiences like the speedway and specialty restaurants, eliminating the traditional queuing at the Customer Service Desk.
For those who don’t feel comfortable with technology, there are still helpful staff on hand to assist.
Prima’s straightforward layout makes it easy to find your way around:
- Decks 6, 7 and 8 are for restaurants and bars mid-ships and aft. The theatre/disco is forward. All are centred by the light-filled three-level atrium, with its unique modern chandelier.
- Deck 16 forward is for Mandara Spa and Salon plus the Pulse Fitness Centre while Deck 17 forward is for the Galaxy VR Pavilion and the Observation Deck.
Mid to Aft on Deck 17 and above are the pools, casual dining restaurants, the three-level Speedway, slides, mini golf and other entertainment/experience options.
Overall, the feeling is one of casual comfort with light-filled open spaciousness. It takes less than an hour to find your bearings and settle into a relaxing cruise while you consider all the dining, entertainment and experiential options available.
Norwegian Prima: cabins and suites
Prima has the most extensive cabin and suite configurations of all 18 ships in the NCL fleet.
There are 13 different configurations from small solo cabins through the usual inside, ocean view and balcony cabins and larger suites for families.
My cabin is a mid-ship Balcony: large at around 21 sqm, the layout fairly standard with bathroom on the left, wardrobes, and storage on the right as you enter. Beyond is a king-sized comfortable bed with quality pillows and bedside tables.
The cabin also has a built-in desk and sofa bed, which could sleep two but would be a bit cramped. I could see it being used by families with one or two small children.
The desk is small but adequate for working on a laptop and with papers at the side.
Other inclusions are a television, safe, and bar fridge for water but, rather surprisingly, no coffee-making facilities. It’s not far if you do need to venture out for a coffee though.
The balcony is large enough for two chairs and a small table, while the bathroom is a good size, featuring a large vanity and shower. It doesn’t feel cramped.
Like the whole vessel, the décor is understated with a relaxed almost Hamptons vibe.
Norwegian Prima: drinks and dining
Prima, with its new design and enhanced space, offers a wide choice of included dining, plus a variety of specialty restaurants. Around the Promenade on Deck 8, the restaurants offer outdoor dining options for those looking to pair their meal with a sunset.
Included options range from the traditional white linen restaurant the Hudson for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the Commodore Room for evening dining. The menu is the same across both venues while each offers a unique experience.
It’s worth noting NCL doesn’t change the menu daily on their cruises, believing they can serve a higher quality and consistent offering with a fixed menu.
Other included dining venues are the traditional cruise buffet venue The Surfside Café and Grill plus the almost 24 hour The Local Bar and Grill.
A new concept for NCL and Prima is Indulge: a food hall offering 11 different cuisines and around 120 menu items, together with a range of indoor and outdoor seating choices.
The concept works well, using touch screen ordering for quick turnaround. But we warned, it’s very popular, with seating at a premium during peak times. Eat slightly outside these hours and you have a better experience.
Overall, I couldn’t fault the quality of the food or the service. The staff are well trained, very helpful, friendly and talkative if you want a chat.
The Prima offers a wider range of specialty dining options, many of which are staples across the NCL fleet. Among them: Cagney’s Steakhouse, Onda by Scarpetta for Italian, Le Bistro, Los Lobos Mexican, Hasuki and Nama, plus Palomar and Food Republic.
We dined at Onda for authentic Italian flavours – the antipasto, seafood pasta and seared tuna steak are excellent, but the standout for me is Le Bistro for the famous baked onion soup with gruyere cheese followed by the beef fillet with foie gras, accompanied by a 2020 French Cabernet Sauvignon.
It’s a truly memorable fine dining experience and of hatted restaurant quality.
NCL offers at least one specialty dining experience with the standard Take Four for Free package. I’d recommend trying at least one additional speciality restaurant if you’re on a 7-day plus cruise.
A wide range of juices, soft drinks, beer, wines, spirits and cocktails are included as standard. There is a premium drinks package that can be purchased but is expensive relative to the standard drinks package. NCL recognises it’s not popular, while understanding some guests do want premium Champagne and spirits.
For those who don’t like brewed coffee, there is a full-service Starbucks on Deck 7 with all the usual hot and cold drinks and pastry offerings (not included in the drinks package). It’s extremely popular with American guests.
Norwegian Prima: entertainment
All up there are 14 different bars onboard the Prima, many boasting live music.
Notable ones are the Metropolitan bar, serving sustainable cocktails (items such as bananas or oranges not suitable for the restaurants are turned into syrup for cocktails) paired with a more laid-back acoustic soundtrack, from folk to alternative rock and country.
Syd Normans Pour House is a rock venue with its walls plastered in 60s and 70s rock photos and memorabilia. When live bands aren’t playing, a DJ spins out the music. Penrose bar on Deck 6 also has different styles of music, depending on the time of day and night.
For the late-nighters, there was a Fusion group that mixed up sessions from Love Songs, Pop Hits and Latin vibes.
One of the key features of NCL ships is the high-quality productions, using all the creative resources from Broadway – directors, set design, lighting, and costuming. These shows run for around two years and are not changed for each sailing.
On the Prima, the headline show is Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. It runs for 85 minutes, slightly shorter than the two hours on Broadway making for a tighter format with all the well-known songs like Love to Love You Baby, Hot Stuff and Bad Girls.
The Summer musical is complemented by the different, more edgy Beat Box, Rap and Tap high-energy show Noise Boys, with an industrial warehouse setting. First performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it’s another quality production.
Capping off shows in the 700-seat theatre is the iconic American TV game show The Price Is Right – a staple on television for fifty years. It’s more humorous than the TV version, but with the same level of audience participation and prize giveaways.
A fascinating feature of the theatre is the lower third of the seating retracts, and the floor becomes the after-show Disco. An alternate venue is Improv at Sea, a more intimate space with the vibe of a NY Comedy Club.
Norwegian Prima: unique cruise experiences
If you thought putting a go-kart track on the top of a cruise ship was crazy, well it is… but the three-level Speedway is so much fun for all ages. At 423 metres with 14 turns, everyone will find it a challenge. Here you race against both the clock and other carts.
The simulated noise and the bumps in the track give a totally immersive experience. After a couple of laps, you can’t help but race to beat your time.
The speedway deck also has crazy mini golf, interactive darts, and cruise favourites like shuffleboard and pickleball. There are also two slides each over ten levels.
The Drop starts with a zero gravity fall while the Rush has more twists and turns. Both land you on Deck 8. Depending on the time, you need to queue, so it does feel a bit like being in a theme park.
Another immersive experience is the Galaxy Pavilion: a virtual reality gaming hall where the experiences include roller coaster rides, mazes, race cars, and golf simulators. It’s fun to watch passengers with their headsets on playing the 14-minute Descent as they twist and turn trying to shoot at monsters coming at them from all sides.
There are areas for small children including the Kids Aqua Park with a splash pool and experiences for the little ones. There is also a water slide.
Norwegian Prima: relaxation
Those wanting to chill will be drawn to Mandara Spa and Salon. Within, it boasts two salt pools, a steam room, and different saunas, in addition to a charcoal and salt room. And, if you want to literally ‘chill’, an ice room.
Forward of the Spa Deck 16 is the well-configured Pulse Gym for those looking to burn off cruise indulgences. It’s all the latest Technogym equipment plus weights and rooms for studio sessions.
The reimagined Promenade on Deck 8 incorporates a beautiful Sculpture Garden, two Skywalks over the water and on each side two smallish Infinity pools with cooling tubs.
For a more intimate Norwegian Prima cruise, book a cabin in The Haven – the ship’s all-suite playground, complete with its own restaurant, bar, elevators and infinity pool.
Norwegian Prima: our verdict
We all have personal highlights and memories from our travel experiences. Mine on the Prima are departing from New York and taking in the iconic skyline, the entertainment, particularly Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, and the fantastic Speedway.
Surprises are its spacious feel and subdued décor, overall casual feel, with plenty of dining options to appeal to every taste, and the use of technology to simplify the experience.
It’s not all perfect, with small things like limited seating around the pools (especially the infinity ones), and the Promenade not being suitable for jogging. Perhaps the Speedway could be used as a jogging track before 8:00 am? That said, the gym with the treadmills is excellent.
But really, these are minor gripes on an otherwise exceptional cruise. Would I book on the Prima? Certainly, if I had a destination in mind, and the Prima was going there it would be a priority consideration.
The writer travelled as a guest of NCL.