Check out our Norwegian Bliss review to find out why this new ship provides a great vacation option for your next family cruise.
The Norwegian Bliss debuted in Mid-2018 as the latest offering from Norwegian Cruises. Currently, the ship primarily splits time between Alaska and the Caribbean. This past March, we were able to catch one of its last Caribbean sailings before it headed back to its home port for the Alaska season. (Find out more about that itinerary in our post on best Alaskan cruises for families.)
In addition to being one of Norwegian’s largest ships (20 decks, 4,000 passengers), Norwegian Bliss offers several unique attractions such as a go-kart racing track and outdoor laser tag. But even without these extra premium bells and whistles, this beautiful ship competes extremely well with the other large family ships offered by other lines. We all had a fabulous time! If you’re trying to plan a cruise for your family, you should definitely put this on your list for consideration. Read on for details on our Norwegian Bliss review.
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Norwegian Bliss Review: Our Cabin
After a relatively unremarkable embarkation process, we stepped into the Bliss experience. The ambiance was noticeable immediately. Very calm and soothing. Which I suppose goes along with a name like “bliss” Colors are cool and appealing. Nothing garish. Cool blues, varying shades of grey and brown. Lots of woodish accents.
This same theme carried over to the room. The cabins were as pristine as what you’d expect for a new ship. When it comes to comparing cruise ship staterooms, Norwegian’s cabins have a reputation for running on the smaller side, and that remains true with the Norwegian Bliss. Knowing that the mini-suite staterooms were comparable in size to more typical balcony staterooms, we chose that option. But, to save some money, we opted for a “guarantee” cabin where we agreed to be assigned a mini-suite rather than selecting our own.
Booking a “guarantee” cabin is one of the surefire ways to save money on family cruises. For this cruise, it saved us $900, and we also ultimately ended up with a better cabin. We were initially assigned a cabin on deck 10, by the time we sailed, we had been assigned to a higher category room on deck 12. It had a very spacious bathroom with a deluxe shower like the ones in the spa mini-suite. It had an awesome walk-in waterfall shower with six strategically placed body jets and glass doors.
Limited Storage Space
While the cabin itself was quite comfortable, storage space was very limited. Drawer space was almost non-existent. Although there were two large drawers under the pullout couch, those were taken over by our stateroom attendant and used to store items for the room. The room had two cabinets under the TV area that each had a very narrow shelf. We had to squeeze to get our packing cubes to fit. And, the nightstands did not have drawers. Instead, they had open shelf space.
So the primary storage was the compact closet. It had two sides, one with hanging space and one with shelving and the in-room safe. There was also one long shelf above the hanging clothes. Because of the limited storage space in the main room, we definitely made full use of our hanging closet organizer.
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One extremely convenient amenity that this cabin had that you don’t usually find in a cruise ship room is extra outlets! There was an outlet with slots for three standard cords above the desk. Plus, the room provided two additional outlets – one on each side of the bed. All of these were standard plugs, not USB slots.
Although it was nice to have some extra space to plug in our electronics, during our mandatory muster I learned that Norwegian had a policy we’d not previously seen. As a precaution against fire hazards, guests were instructed to unplug all of their electronics when they were not in the room. And, a notice was printed in the first guest newsletter that: “Your stateroom attendant has been instructed to disconnect any electronic device that has been left unattended.” So, even with the additional outlets, we were still glad that we brought our trusty outlet expander (definitely a must have cruise accessory) so that we could make sure everything was charged overnight.
Norwegian Bliss Review: Food & Dining
NCL promotes “Freestyle Cruising” as one of its key distinguishing factors. Basically, there’s not a system of having assigned seatings and table in a main dining room. Rather, you have a menu of dining venues to choose from. In theory, you go where you want, when you want.
The Norwegian Bliss has a decent mix of complementary and upcharge options. Although reservations aren’t required, they’re recommended if you want to be sure of having your preferred dining experience.
Norwegian provides a variety of options for booking dinner reservations. Supposedly, you could do this pre-boarding, but for some reason, we weren’t able to do that. Other options are your in-room television, various interactive screens near every elevator bank, the telephone (by calling room service agent), or in person by visiting the hostess stand of any restaurant, or a specially designated table in the main atrium on Deck 6.
And, for those who truly like to wing it, the ship has prominent screens posted on Deck 8 (where most of the restaurants were located) that posted current availability for various restaurants. So, presumably, you could just wander down to Deck 8 when you got hungry and check out your immediate options.
The complimentary dining venues included the Garden Cafe Buffet, the Manhattan Room (dinner only), Savor, Taste, and the Local Bar and Grill. The Manhattan Room, Savor and Taste all serve the same menu. The Local Bar and Grill serve a very tasty Pub style menu.
Take note that room service is not complimentary. There’s a $7.95 charge at all times. (For us, this put the kibosh on the routine ordering of evening snacks.)
The specialty restaurants all required additional fees or the purchase of a restaurant package (available as a “free at sea” promotional perk). Most restaurants had a la carte pricing. But, if you had a restaurant package that presumptively allowed you to select an appetizer, an entree, 1 or 2 sides, and a dessert. In practice, the wait staff seemed very flexible about this as long as you were making requests within reason. So at times, we were able to try multiple appetizers or sides that didn’t strictly follow the formula.
All the specialty restaurants also featured a free kids’ menu. So there was no additional charge for kids who ordered off that menu.
Here’s the lineup of restaurants:
- La Cucina – Italian. Sample dishes include pesto pasta or shrimp fettuccine. A la carte pricing.
- Food Republic – Sample cuisines from around the world. Ceviche from Peru, sushi rolls from Japan, noodles from China, etc. A la carte pricing.
- Teppanyaki – Japanese Hibachi restaurant. Rave reviews. Cover charge of $29.95.
- Ocean Blue – Upscale seafood restaurant. With dress code. A la carte pricing.
- Cagneys – Steakhouse. A la carte pricing
- Le Bistro – French. A la carte
- Los Lobos – Mexican. A la carte.
- Q Texas Smokehouse – BBQ. A la carte
Also, the ship has a Margaritaville which is near the pool/slide area. But it’s only open for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is complimentary. Lunch has a fee of $14.95.
And What About The Actual Food?
Overall, the food ranged from good to very good. With one surprisingly unfortunate exception: Q Smokehouse.
Q Smoke has received favorable reviews elsewhere, but our experience left very much to be desired. Granted, I grew up in places where BBQ is a fine art, so perhaps I have higher expectations than many. But still, it was disappointing.
The service was great. But sadly the food was not. The meat itself lacked flavor and was overly fatty. The chili and chips appetizer was the one dish that stood out. It was flavorful and yummy. Everything else was not. Probably about 70% of our food remained untouched. And we decided to skip dessert entirely.
Notably, I had a hint that something might be awry when I was making various reservations. At a time when almost every other restaurant was booked out for the entire cruise, this one had availability for any day we wanted.
Also, the location of the restaurant itself left much to be desired. It was on Deck 6. In a windowless room. There was a stage up front of the room that suggests they may have live music some point, but not while we were there. It felt very much like a banquet room in a conference hotel.
We found better options among the venues on Deck 8, which also provided the opportunity for outdoor seating on the Waterfront. The Waterfront is basically a boardwalk-style promenade deck with the ocean on one side and various restaurants and seating areas on the other.
We visited the Waterfront at various points of the day and found it delightful. It had great views of every port, and there were even those standing tower-viewer binoculars to get a better look. And the cordoned off seating for individual restaurants was interspersed with various lounge areas of couches and chairs. You could sit down, relax, chat and enjoy the view with ice cream snagged from the nearby ice cream/cupcake shop.
Our favorite restaurant was Los Lobos. And, we ended up going there twice. The tableside guacamole was fantastic!
Generally, there’s no formal dress code. As noted in the daily planner, “With Freestyle Cruising, there’s no formal policy, so you’re free to wear whatever you wish.”
Instead of a traditional formal night, Norwegian generally has a night where guests are encouraged to be more “dressy.” I believe that’s what the “Dress Up or Not Night” was supposed to be about. But I didn’t notice any appreciable difference among all of the nights of our cruise.
Norwegian Bliss Review: Splash Academy Kids’ Club
The Norwegian Bliss has all of its youth programs on Deck 5. There’s the Splash Academy, which is a drop-off program for children ages 3-12; a separate Guppies playroom for ages 6 months to 3 (not drop-off); and at the end of the hall, Entourage which is a teen club for kids ages 13 to 17.
The Splash Academy has three age divisions: Turtles are 3-5; Seals are 6-9, and Dolphins are 10-12. Children who wear diapers can still participate in Splash Academy, but a parent or guardian must be on standby to change diapers. The club provides a special pager/phone for that purpose.
Dolphins can have sign out privileges with parent authorization. Sign-out authorizations do not apply on port days (for 10-12).
Splash Academy (Kids 3 to 12)
The hours for Splash Academy generally run from 9:00 a.m through 10:30 p.m. daily. It closes for 2 two hour meal breaks from 12:00 to 2:00 and 5:00 to 7:00. On port days, there’s an option to have kids stay during meal times for an additional fee. On the days where we sailed into port earlier, the club also opened earlier. You could sign up for the early hours for a fee.
During the regular schedule, for the first hour of each day and the first hour after the lunch break, the club offered Freestyle Free Play. That meant that the kids weren’t segregated by age, and could play together as they wished.
Throughout the rest of the day, the club provided a variety of rotating age-based themed programs. So, for instance, on sea day #2, the theme for the Turtles program was “Jungle Fever” and scheduled activities throughout the day included a Teddy Bear Picnic, a Birds, Bugs & Butterflies game, and Rumble in the Jungle. That same day, the theme in both the Seals room and the Dolphins room was “Survivors at Sea” but each room had a different schedule of activities.
Throughout the week activities included a variety of ball games, obstacle courses, competitions against counselors, mystery challenges and different versions of game shows. The club also offered a variety of arts & crafts, board games and video games.
The Splashtacular Circus
On the final sea day, each program had its own version of a circus school where the kids learned various age appropriate circus tricks. The kids then showed off their new skills at an afternoon show in the main theater. Although many cruise lines have some version of a youth talent show, this one seemed to have much more focused participation and assistance from the club staff.
Late Night Fun Zone
Late Night Fun Zone runs from 10:30 p.m to 1:30 a.m. for children ages 3-12. The club charges a fee of $6 per child per hour; $4 per sibling/per hour.
During the late night sessions, the kids were no longer grouped by age and all kids could play together.
Note that if older kids have sign out privileges, they were automatically kicked out of the club unless a parent had previously informed the youth staff that their child could stay for that particular day during the paid session. After 10:30, sign out privileged no longer applied and all kids have to be picked up and signed out by an adult.
Late Night activities included dance tournaments, video games, and ball tournaments (including gaga ball tournaments, which are my tween’s favorite kid club activity on any ship its offered.)
Entourage (kids 13 to 17)
The Entourage teen space combined a hangout zone, dance zone, game zone, and party zone. Program counselors host teen activities and challenges within the club space and around the ship. The youth staff for this program, however, do not monitor the comings and goings of the teens in the club.
On sea days, the club opened from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m., and it opened later in the afternoon on port days depending on sailing times. The ship also had a teen curfew that required all teens to be in their rooms by 1:00 a.m. unless accompanied by an adult.
Throughout the week the counselors hosted a variety of scheduled activities that included tournaments, game shows, dance parties, trivia, video games, a pool party, and an exclusive session of laser tag.
The Bliss also has a large, attractive playroom for children under age 3. There is no drop-off childcare offered. Kids in this space must be supervised by their own grownups at all times. The playroom has a variety of toys and games, and throughout the day, the counselors would host organized activities for the Guppies and their grown-ups. These included a variety of art projects, building projects, games and story time.
Down the hall from Splash Academy you’ll find the arcade. It’s one of the largest arcades that I’ve seen on a cruise ship, and it was stocked with lots of current games, including virtual reality. Best part was a all, you can buy a package that was $175 for unlimited play on non prize games. Since games like the virtual reality were $10, it was very good value.
This package could be purchased online before sailing (at a discounted price) or during the first two days of the cruise. And, you had the chance to try out the arcade before you purchased. As long as you purchased the package within the first 2 days of the cruise, the unlimited play would apply retroactively and remove the charges from your account.
Also, it was possible to have your kids cards turned off for charging purposes, but have only the arcade package feature available.
Norwegian Bliss Review: Activities
The cruise ship offered a varied program of activities throughout the day. Here’s a sample:
- Traditional bingo games for cash prizes.
- A Deal or No Deal game show offered in main atrium that also offered cash prices. Guests could purchase cards for a chance to win up to $5,000.
- Many other free game shows in the atrium (without cash prizes).
- Educational presentations, dance classes, arts & crafts projects, and more.
Some activities were expressly designated as family activities and included a family circus workshop, a Beat Your Bedtime game show, a glow party and a dance challenge. One noteworthy special event was a circus-themed escape room activity.
There was also a special fee-based Canvas By U! painting class. Participants received step by step instruction that resulted in self-created artwork to take home.
With the exception of the first night, the ship offered movies by the pool each night. But, for the most part, these movies were all PG-13, with the exception of one night designated as “family” movie night where the ship screened Christopher Robin. The other screenings included films such as Crazy Rich Asians, Lion, Lincoln and Wonder Woman.
Bowling & Golf
Many cruise ships now have some version of bowling and miniature golf, and you can add Norwegian Bliss to that list. The ship has a small two-lane bowling alley tucked away behind the Local Bar on deck 7. These are fully self-service. You swipe your keycard to pay. It’s $6.00 per person for a full 10 frames. No bowling shoes required. And, the balls are scaled down in size (almost like duckpin bowling balls) which make them perfect for smaller kids.
And the Bliss also offers a scaled down version of mini-golf. While the balls are regular size, the course itself is a compact five holes that you can move through very quickly. It’s also a little tucked away – back behind the racetrack.
During our sailing, the ship featured a comedy show and three musicals – Jersey Boys, Havana, and the Beatles. The comedy show had two versions with the later show after 10:00 designated as adults only. Each night also featured a different line up of live music and dance party options. There were also many opportunities for late night karaoke.
All of the musicals and comedy shows were free, but reservations were recommended. The most popular show on our sailing was Jersey Boys and those reservations filled up quickly.
Norwegian Bliss Review: Iconic Attractions
Norwegian Bliss features a two level outdoor race track with actual electric go karts. It’s located high up on deck 18 (two levels above the pool deck). There are single rider cars and double karts.
For our sailing, this attraction was extremely popular. All go karts reservations for the cruise were gone by noon the day after embarkation.
This activity has a fee of $9.95 per person. There’s no minimum age to drive, but you must be at least 48 inches tall and weigh less than 300 lbs.
On the opposite side of the ship from Go-Karts, you’ll find a full-fledged open air laser tag course on Deck 20. It’s built as an abandoned space station where human colonizers have lost contact with Planet Earth and its your team’s job to find them. Two teams play during each session and square off. It costs $5 per person for two sessions. Happily, there are no age restrictions or size restrictions.
This was also an extremely popular attraction with all reservations for the cruise filled up during the first day.
Norwegian Bliss Review: Pools & Water Slides
The Norwegian Bliss has two large water slides. One of them is ideal for younger kids. It’s sort of a sped up lazy river with energizing curves. Guests must be at least 40 inches to ride, and double tubes are available. The maximum weight for the tubes is 300 lbs (total for double tubes). I was surprised to see that they have an actual scale near the entrance to weigh people. I swallowed hard and got on. But the attendant did say some folks turned away when asked to step on scales.
The bigger double slide has loops that partially jut out over the ocean. The loops contain transparent sections so that you look out and amplify your thrills! This slide has has a minimum height requirement of 48 inches and minimum weight of 99 lbs.
During our sailing, we were told that there’s a rule that all male guests cannot wear shirts on the double slide. And, my 11-year-old was instructed to remove his rash guard if he wanted to ride. We were told that shirts were considered a safety hazard. ??? But apparently this safety hazard does not present for girls and women.
Kids Aqua Park
Separate from the two main water slides, the ship has a semi-enclosed kids aqua park that also has two smaller slides of its own.
The aqua park also included a variety of fun water games including a medium size tipping bucket, water cannons and spray jets.
The Bliss has two main pools that seemed a little on the small side, but there were also several hot tubs. The Haven has its own pool. There’s also an additional sundeck lounging area with a hot tub that guests could access by paying a fee, the Vibe.
The two main pools were directly across from each other on the pool deck.
One of them was designated as the “main pool” while the other was designated as “adults only.” Somewhat oddly, the “main pool” seemed like the smaller of the two.
Staying on the Ship
During the stop in St. Thomas, we stayed on the ship and explored. While pay options such as go karts and laser tag were not open while we were in port, almost everything else was. And, we essentially had VIP access to anything we wanted to do.
For instance, when we first showed up at the water slides, there were literally no lines. We were able to ride three times in 10 minutes before anyone else showed up. At the pool, and on the sun decks, we could find chairs in any location we wanted. And, the kids aqua park was not crowded. There were about a half-dozen kids or so having the run of the place.
The Observation Lounge
One of the other iconic features of this ship is the Observation Lounge. It was specifically designed to enhance Alaska cruising. It’s an oversized 20,000 square foot lounge with 180-degree panoramic views on Deck 15 at the front of the ship. Breakfast and lunch are also served here. And you’ll find a full bar as well.
Not surprisingly, the Norwegian Bliss has a beautiful state-of-the-art spa facility on Deck 16. It has all of the services you’d expect. And the ones that I was able to sample (a bamboo massage and facial) were excellent.
Next time, I would definitely consider getting a day pass to the adults-only Mandara Thermal Suite (depending on price). The Thermal Suite consists of a very large area at the rear of the ship that contains a thalassotherapy pool, tropical showers, sauna, aromatic steam room, DIY herbal scrub, salt room, the “snow paradise,” and heated mosaic tiled lounge chairs.
The “snow paradise” was literally a room filled with ice. When you open the door, it looks like you’re stepping into the North Pole.
The Thermal Suite is located at the very end of the ship which provides a great location for soaking in relaxing ocean views. The numerous mosaic lounge chairs were arranged before a large wall of floor to ceiling windows that offered arresting panoramic sea views. Quite the oasis.
The casino was very nice. It was non-smoky and relatively light-filled for a casino. It had lots of table games and a wide range of slots. The table games have Euro-style seating, where you sit down at a table rather than climb up on a stool. And none of the chairs were squeezed.
It’s located on Deck 7 mid-ship, and rather than being entirely enclosed, the center floor opens down into the main atrium on Deck 6. Giving the whole place a more open feel than usual. It also had an entirely separate enclosed room for smoking.
Norwegian Bliss Review: Closing Thoughts
Overall, Norwegian Bliss provides an excellent venue for a family cruise. There’s plenty to do for families with kids of any age group, but the age groups with most options will be kids over the age of 3, and especially kids in the 8-10 range and older.
We will definitely add the Bliss to our list of future cruise options. And, the future Alaska sailings particularly look attractive.
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