Norwegian Cruise Line has introduced a lot of firsts. Most importantly, the line pioneered Freestyle Dining, a move away from rigid seating times and table assignments in the main dining room and toward loosened dress codes.
Its 15 ships pack in a lot of fun for guests — particularly for families looking for high-energy cruises — with bustling swimming pools, big spas and gyms, lots of bars to choose from, and a large variety of restaurants, ranging from Brazilian churrascarias to noodle bars. Norwegian's newest vessels, including Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, and Norwegian Breakaway, present everything from twisting waterslides to ropes courses and dinner theaters. The line's older ships may not have all the coolest new features, but they're getting upgrades as part of a $400 million project that's scheduled to last through 2017.
While the complimentary restaurants and buffets can be ho-hum at times, the line's for-a-fee-restaurants deliver. On Norwegian Escape alone, we loved Iron Chef Jose Garces's Latin-style Bayamo, the creative fusion dishes at Food Republic by the Pubbelly Boys, and the fun, festive lunches at Margaritaville.
In addition to Freestyle Dining, the line was the first to provide Studio staterooms designed for solo cruisers, which are priced without single supplements and include access to a shared lounge. Norwegian was also one of the first to present Broadway shows at sea. You can now see Tony nominees "Rock of Ages" on Norwegian Breakaway and "After Midnight" on Norwegian Escape. Other entertainment options include popular comedy shows designed with the Second City troupe, game rooms, and dueling piano bars from Howl at the Moon. Newer ships also have ice bars, and Norwegian Escape has the craft beer-focused District Brew House.
Kids can spend time at the complimentary kids clubs: The Splash Academy serves kids ages 3-12 with activities ranging from treasure hunts to circus skills classes. Meanwhile, Entourage entertains teens with movies, sports, and dance clubs, the highlight of which is their own themed party. For an extra fee, parents can enjoy a grown-ups dinner when they drop the little ones off at Port Play or the Late Night Fun Zone. Norwegian Escape also has a fee-based nursery that accommodates kids ages 6 months to 3 years; other Norwegian ships require parental supervision for the smallest travelers.
Like other mainstream lines, Norwegian has a private island in the Bahamas: Great Stirrup Cay. The island will get an upgrade in 2017, including the addition of a lagoon retreat with a secluded beach and waterfront villas. And the line is adding a second exclusive retreat, scheduled to open in November 2016: Harvest Caye, located in southern Belize, is a 75-acre island that will have activities such as snorkeling the world's second-largest barrier reef and a 130-foot-high Flighthouse with free fall jumps and a 3,000-foot-long zip line. Another highlight will be a shallow lagoon with family-friendly activities like kayaking and canoeing, plus manatee-spotting.
The majority of Norwegian's fleet sticks close to home, sailing Caribbean, Northeast, Alaska, and Pacific itineraries, as well as Hawaii. Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Jade, and Norwegian Spirit cruise in Europe during the summer, though, before relocating to the Caribbean for the winter, while Norwegian Star cruises in Europe and Asia. Norwegian Joy will be based in Asia year-round when it launches in 2017.