I’ll post later about the location of our most recent travel, but in this first post I wanted to talk about the ship we were on. The Norwegian Pr1ma is the newest ship in Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleet of cruise ships. I’ve been on transatlantic cruises before – I was on the maiden voyage of the Norwegian Encore from London to New York and had a great time on that ship, so I was looking forward to experiencing another new ship and spending days relaxing during the crossing.
Alas, with the Pr1ma, it would seem that Norwegian has lost what was fun about cruising. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the cruise, because overall it was still a nice vacation, but I won’t book another cruise on the Pr1ma unless major changes are made. We had booked a cruise in Italy and Greece next fall on her sister ship, the Viva, which is still being built, but I’ll be canceling that one.
Let’s start with the good. The Pr1ma is a beautiful ship. Inside and out the aesthetics are just gorgeous. Everything is light and gives the feeling of airiness and roominess, even on a cruise through the North Atlantic in September. The stabilizers are also very good. On the rough days and nights, it didn’t seem like we were moving as much as I remember from my Encore transatlantic. The food was very good for the most part. We dined in Hasuki (teppanyaki), Onda (Italian), and Los Lobos (Mexican) specialty restaurants and they all were very good.
We initially booked an inside cabin but won an upgrade to a balcony cabin. This was great for me and my son who was traveling with me. It gave us plenty of room. I liked the room a lot as it was more spacious than I’m used to in a cruise ship cabin. There were good storage options in the closet with baskets that slid out to hold things like underwear and socks, as well as space to hang things. I also felt the bathroom had more storage than usual and didn’t mind that I didn’t bring any of my usual cruise ship hacks for storage.
If you look at the pictures above, you’ll see a number of the atrium. On other ships I’ve been on, the atrium is a center of the action, with enough space for people to gather and listen to music, play games, and watch movies or sports if necessary. There is usually a large screen there for visual games such as trivia, or for watching the “big game” like the Superbowl, as I did on the Norwegian Bliss earlier this year.
This atrium doesn’t have that. Instead of being a large gathering space, it’s more of a series of niches where things happen. There’s no screen anywhere there. While we did morning trivia at the Penrose Atrium bar, there was no screen for the questions. The space also couldn’t hold all of the participants. On other ships, I could sit on the next level up overlooking the stage and the screen and still participate or just watch. There was no space for it on the Pr1ma.
Public space was a problem the entire week. Perhaps this won’t be such a problem for the Pr1ma when it’s in warmer waters where people can spend more time outside by the pool, but it certainly was a problem on this trip (as an aside, the little bit I saw of the pool area didn’t look promising either, but I’ll talk about that more in a bit.) Many events took place in the Improv Comedy Club – very small. Some took place in Syd’s Pour House – also small. If we tried to see a show it was difficult to get in unless a reservation was made the first day, and even then it was slim pickings.
It used to be that when you went on a cruise, everything was included, except for drinks. Even now, many cruise lines offer a drink package. Norwegian’s is usually complimentary with the booking, we just have to pay the gratuities. People would gather every night to dine in the dining room at the appointed time. Changes have been made with cruise lines adding “specialty restaurants” at an extra cost. With the Pr1ma, Norwegian made it a set menu every night in their two main dining rooms, Hudson’s and the Commodore Room. That means for the 12 nights we were on the ship, the menu did not change for their included dining rooms. We did have a “free” dining package (plus gratuities) that gave us three meals at the specialty restaurants. That still left 9 nights with the same menu to choose from. The food we had was very good, there just wasn’t the usual variety of rotating menus. I actually ended up skipping some meals because nothing appealed to me.
Go to the buffet you say? Well, the same problem exists there in that the Surfside Cafe & Grill (the buffet) was small compared to other ships, and also didn’t have a lot of inside seating. There were two other alternatives. The Local is on many Norwegian Ships (same idea as O’Sheehan’s on some ships). There’s a menu there that can be ordered from 24/7. On the Encore this was part of the atrium, so as I said, I would sit and watch entertainment fromt he balcony and get a snack or a drink. On the Pr1ma, it’s more like a sports bar on one side and a diner on the other. I did end up enjoying the hot fudge sundaes from here.
The other option is the Indulge Food Hall. The idea is it’s a food truck area. Guests enter and sit down and have the option to order a variety of things off of different menus. There are computers with menus to order from on the table and then the food is brought out by food runners. Once again, the problem here was space. There were only a few tables, and they were usually occupied. Many of the “food trucks” had counter areas, but then you could only order from that specific place. There were a number of days where I went to the buffet and it was crowded with nothing that appealed to me, then to Indulge only to find every seat taken, and then onto The Local before deciding to eat something.
As for activities, the problem I encountered was there was hardly anything to do that didn’t cost extra. The exception were the slides and trivia. I went down the Rush slide. It dropped down 10 stories from the 18th deck to the 8th deck winding its way down. Once I conquered the anxiety and actually pushed myself to go down, it wasn’t all that bad. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would do it again. However, besides that and trivia, everything else cost money. It felt like I was being nicked and dimed the whole time I was on the cruise. Every activity seemed to be about money, and ridiculous amounts. On the 18th deck where the slides began, there was a recreation area with games such as darts, mini-golf, electronic shuffleboard, etc. If you wanted to play darts it was a $40 charge! Mini-golf was showing as $15 per person when we heard through the grapevine it was free during the cruise. The reason for this was none of the electronic fun things in the course was working.
Before embarking on the cruise, we purchased an arcade pass for my son. He’s 22 and on the autism spectrum, and his favorite thing to do on the cruise is to spend time in the arcade. Unfortunately, there is NO arcade on the Norwegian Pr1ma. When he told me that the first day, I was sure he was wrong because they sold the arcade pass, right? The Galaxy Pavilion is a VR game area. I told him to go up there and ask them what games were included in the arcade pass. He was not comfortable doing that, so I did it for him. That was when we found out that there is no arcade planned for any of the Leonardo class ships. I went down to guest services and they looked at the account and refunded the money we paid. There was no apology, no offer of a few laps on the go-karts or time in the Galaxy pavilion to make up for their error. My son ended up spending time in our cabin watching movies and playing his Nintendo Switch for most of the cruise because there wasn’t anything for him to do. He wasn’t interested in the Galaxy Pavilion (I think he has altered perception of VR games) and the inclement weather meant most days the go-karts weren’t running.
I purchased a spa pass before the cruise, figuring that with it being a North Atlantic cruise there wouldn’t be too much outside subathing and swimming. I’d like to say that I felt I got my money’s worth, but that wasn’t the case. First of all, it’s not as advertised. If you look at the sign for the Vitality Pool, it talks about massage jets. There are no massage jets in the pool (second picture). This pool also had to be drained any time we were in rough waters, which meant the only pool was the smaller salt pool. In addition to being small, it didn’t seem to be salt water, and the heater didn’t always work in this pool. There were six heated chairs near the pools, but it was hard to find one free.
There were a number of different steam and sauna rooms in the spa. I did enjoy the salt room quite a bit as it cleared my sinuses. However, there was one day that wasn’t working either. Many things seemed to be hit or miss as to whether they were working. I don’t remember as many things being glitchy on the Encore maiden voyage. There were not enough spa robes as many people apparently took them back to their rooms. Eventually, I did as well because there was no other way to have a robe when I visited the spa.
Another problem was the design of the spa. The main entrance is on Deck 16. There is a desk to check in for those who are getting services and anyone who has a Thermal Suite Pass. After checking in, you have to walk down a winding staircase to Deck 15 to access the locker room, pools, and Thermal Suite. Anyone who can’t navigate the stairs, they have to check in on Deck 16, go back to the elevators and descend to Deck 15, then wait for someone to open the doors on that level to get into the Spa. It’s just not well-thought-out when the majority of cruise passengers tend to be older and have mobility issues.
The shows we went to were very good. The Price Is Right was fun to watch, even if none of us were selected. Donna Summer, The Musical was Excellent, as was Noize Boyz. We only were able to see the comedian one night, and he wasn’t very funny. There was another on the ship who we never got to see. The shows in Syd’s Pour House were always packed, so we couldn’t get in. Most of these shows give preference to Haven guests. When we saw the Donna Summer show, almost all of the front rows were saved for Haven guests, with everyone else being allowed to move into those seats if they weren’t filled by showtime.
My cabin attendant was wonderful as was most of the staff we encountered. However, any time we were at a bar I had a hard time finding a waiter to take our order if we weren’t seated at the bar. With most of the outside areas being closed, that shouldn’t have been a problem, yet it was. At most of the bars, I had to go to the bartender to get a drink and then go back to my table. If we were lucky there was one waiter walking around.
My opinion after being on the Pr1ma is that Norwegian is trying to push people to spend more money on board. The set menus in the dining room are likely with the idea that more people will buy dining packages for the specialty restaurants. Galaxy Pavilion, mini-golf, darts, go-karts, and other entertainment all had additional charges. The pool area that I saw was very small. There are a few other small pools around the ship, but they aren’t that big at all to really swim in. The solution to that would be to spend the money to buy Vibe beach club passes for your family, also additional money.
We only had about 2,100 passengers on our cruise, so about 2/3 full and couldn’t get into many shows and events. There might be more space for people to spread out when the ship is in a tropical setting, but the problems will still be there. If people want to go to shows or activities that are only in these smaller venues there will always be people shut out. It’s hard to be just an audience member for them since space is at a premium. If you don’t want to spend more money other than your cruise fare, there’s not a lot of activities, and you’ll be stuck with the same menu to choose from every night in the dining room.
I’ll cruise on Norwegian again, but not on either the Pr1ma or the Viva. We’ll see if they solve some of the problems with this class of ship with subsequent builds, but I can honestly say that this ship wasn’t a good fit for me or my family.
*Some pictures are the author’s, some are courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line