Cruising in high style on the open seas

The Norwegian Prima is a ship the way the Belvoir Castle is a house, a Jaguar is a car and a filet mignon is a piece of meat. It’s a ship, but there's more.

 THE ‘NORWEGIAN PRIMA’ – at 18 stories it is a huge ocean liner, at full capacity able to carry some 3,100 guests and a staff of 1,600. (photo credit: NCL)
THE ‘NORWEGIAN PRIMA’ – at 18 stories it is a huge ocean liner, at full capacity able to carry some 3,100 guests and a staff of 1,600.
(photo credit: NCL)

If it looks like a ship, floats like a ship and has a ship’s foghorn, it’s probably a ship, right?

Wrong.

It could be a five-star, elegant hotel resort on water. At least that’s the case with Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest addition, the Norwegian Prima. 

The Norwegian Prima is a ship the way the Belvoir Castle is a house, a Jaguar is a car and a filet mignon is a piece of meat. It’s a ship, but there's more. 

It’s a food court and a nightclub, fancy restaurants, a Broadway theater and a raceway and a spa and an amusement park and an art gallery and a virtual arcade and a swimming pool and a casino and a big, big bar. And much more. 

 THE ‘NORWEGIAN PRIMA’ – at 18 stories it is a huge ocean liner, at full capacity able to carry some 3,100 guests and a staff of 1,600. (credit: NCL) THE ‘NORWEGIAN PRIMA’ – at 18 stories it is a huge ocean liner, at full capacity able to carry some 3,100 guests and a staff of 1,600. (credit: NCL)

Plus, it floats.

In late August, NCL launched its newest ship, the first of an investment of some $9 billion in six new vessels in its Prima line to be rolled out by 2027, with a maiden voyage from Reykjavik to Amsterdam. My wife and I joined the eight-day voyage at the start in Reykjavik, and sailed for half the journey, disembarking in Cork, Ireland, because Shabbat issues would have arisen had we stayed on until the very end. 

Believe me, I would have loved to have stayed on until the very end because this was a vacation in an altogether different league. 

First, there is the ship itself. At 18 stories it is a huge ocean liner, at full capacity able to carry some 3,100 guests and a staff of 1,600. 

What that means is that there is a little more than one crew member for every two guests. On our sailing, which was a non-revenue journey for travel agents and journalists, there were 2,500 guests and some 1,300 staff, or about the same ratio. It would have been great if NCL would have manned their call centers – where I had to wait an inordinately long amount of time to get some basic pre-cruise questions answered – the way they staff their ships. 

What that staff-customer ratio onboard means is that you are pampered. From the moment you board, until the time you disembark – at the bar, in the restaurants, in the cabins – there are loads and loads and loads of people waiting on you. And these are not the grumpy staff that sits behind the desk at some dank hotel, these are folks – from the cleaners to the stewards, to the waitresses, to the maitre d’s, to the folks handing out the putters at the 9-hole mini-golf course – who have obviously been trained to be cheery. 

THE ‘NORWEGIAN PRIMA’ – at 18 stories it is a huge ocean liner, at full capacity able to carry some 3,100 guests and a staff of 1,600. (credit: NCL)THE ‘NORWEGIAN PRIMA’ – at 18 stories it is a huge ocean liner, at full capacity able to carry some 3,100 guests and a staff of 1,600. (credit: NCL)

For they are cheery, smiley helpful, and just plain nice. This is infectious and sets a very pleasant mood – which is the cruise’s overall aim. 

Nothing makes for a more enjoyable time away, anywhere than a cheery, helpful staff. And this ship has it. Walking to the buffet breakfast, I felt like a celebrity. By the way every staff member smiled and chirped “good morning, good morning.”

Heck, I felt almost like the pop star Katy Perry, and how she must feel whenever she travels, what with everyone probably fawning all over her. For a minute I thought the staff was confusing me with Katy, since she was on the inaugural of this ship, acting as its “godmother.”

That’s right, ships have godparents for their christening, and Perry was the Prima’s. What that meant was that just before the ship set sail, she hit a button that sent a huge bottle of Champagne crashing against the bow. Ceremonies of christening ships go way back to the days of the ancient Greeks and Phoenicians, or so I’m told. 

Then Perry did something that they never did on those Greek or Phoenician vessels. She gave a concert in the ship’s theater, which rises over three decks.

I thought she’d sing two or three perfunctory songs, and be done with her godmotherly duties. But Perry gave an energetic performance of more than an hour, singing all her top hits, before settling down with her husband, Orlando Bloom, and their two-year-old daughter for the rest of the cruise, something she said she had never done before. 

THE WORD theater here is no misnomer. The theater on the Prima is one that would make any town in Israel proud. State-of-the-art sound and lighting and three levels and retractable chairs and a chandelier with so many functions that it can do everything but sing itself.

During my stay on the ship, the theater hosted Perry, as well as Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, a Broadway-caliber musical that played on Broadway a few years ago. The only difference was that on the ship there was no live orchestra. 

The theater also played host to a knock-off of the iconic American game show The Price is Right, including someone playing the role of Bob Barker and calling on the lucky chosen few in the audience to “come on down” and try to name the price of a wide variety of items. It was a lot of fun and made you feel as if you were in a studio audience during the taping of the show. 

Cruises – and this one especially – have come a long way from entertainment consisting of bingo and shuffleboard on the starboard deck. 

Over a span of four days, my wife and I saw one concert, one musical, participated in one game show, attended one disco, saw one comedian perform and sat in a bar room-lounge setting listening to one male-female duo sing songs of the ’80s, and another sing Latin hits that compelled me to do something I only ever do at religious weddings: get up and dance.

Now that’s entertainment, er, that’s live entertainment. 

THEN THERE’S the non-live entertainment component of the program. 

First, there is a go-kart track that takes up three decks of the top aft of the boat – after just four days I’ve taken a real fancy to nautical lingo. That’s right, go-karts. There you are sailing in the North Atlantic, racing helmet on head, whipping around curves at nearly 45 km/h, feeling like you are in a Formula 1 race car. On this sailing it was free, for paying cruise customers, however, it will cost $15 for an eight-minute whirl, but it’s worth it for the experience. 

If that’s not enough adrenaline for you, the ship boasts three dry slides that drop off the exterior of the ship – starting on deck 18 and landing at deck 10, right near one of the ship’s many bars. There is also a water slide.

I tried both dry slides – it was a little too cold for the wet one. 

One of the slides is called “The Drop,” and the ship boasts that it has the highest “G-forces” of any slide on any cruise ship sailing. The way it works is you enter a capsule in a sleeping bag-like device, a speaker counts down “four, three, two, one” and then the floor of where you are standing drops, hurtling you down a few stories until your fall is broken by some twirls in the slide.

The other dry slide called – “The Rush” – allows you to compete head to head with someone as you spiral down eight stories.

The overall concept behind all of this is simple: create activities that both adults and children can enjoy because the ship wants to attract inter-generational families. That’s also why there is a hi-tech mini golf course on board, as well as computerized darts. This is all something that parents, kids and even grandparents can do together, and enjoy.

BUT BACK to the mood. This ship is all about setting the mood, and – it seems – the overarching mood it is trying to create is a feeling that you are in an upscale hotel.

“Our goal was to create something that didn’t feel like a cruise ship,” NCL President Harry Sommer said on the ship. They succeeded. I had to search high and low for a porthole. I have more portholes in my bomb shelter at home than they do on the Prima. 

Rather than portholes, this ship has floor-to-ceiling windows in the two main dining rooms, and in various lounges around the boat, that afford stunning, breathtaking views of the sea. 

The hotel feel is attained as soon as you board on Deck 6, and are greeted by a three-story atrium. 

The decor throughout is sleek and elegant, like sitting in a hotel lobby. $6 million worth of artwork decorates the ship, and on Ocean Boulevard – a 44,000 sq.ft. outdoor walkway on Deck 8 that wraps around the entire ship – there is a small sculpture garden. This boulevard also features small infinity pools and inviting lounge chairs, sunbeds and swinging seats from which it is possible to sit and compare the way you are sailing the ocean blue, to the way Vikings plied the same route. 

And then there is the food.

Full disclosure: My wife and I ordered the kosher food – prepared food brought in from the United States – and even though we ordered it well in advance, and received a confirmation notice weeks before we set sail, the food never made it on board. Like every other screw-up since corona, I was told the reason had to do with supply chain issues.

We actually might have been fortunate. The staff on the ship was extremely well acquainted with kosher diners, and the requirement to double wrap fish in aluminum foil and serve it with a similarly wrapped baked potato and steamed vegetables. There was a wide variety of kosher fish to choose from, as well as an abundance of smoked salmon. Plus, everyone was willing to show us the containers of the food items at the breakfast buffet, such as English muffins, to determine whether they were kosher. There was also a vegan option cooked in dedicated vegan pots and pans. 

The staff was extremely accommodating to our dietary needs, and the chef – when asked – cooked an omelet for us in a pan we brought from home. 

For those who do not keep kosher, the food options are simply endless. 

There are two large dining rooms that serve a set menu, a buffet dining room, plus a new concept – a food court – where you can choose from the menu of one of 11 different restaurants – ranging from tapas to Indian food, to barbecue from a Texas-style smokehouse to an upscale dessert bar. In addition, there are specialty restaurants onboard – including a Mexican restaurant, an Italian one and a French eatery – as well as two for-pay restaurants: a high-end fish restaurant and a sushi and sashimi restaurant. 

There is so much to do on the boat, and so much to eat and drink, that the main problem is not being able to relax because of a fear of missing out. But, hey, that should always be the worst of my problems. 

Norwegian Prima embarked on inaugural voyages to Northern Europe from the Netherlands, Denmark and England in September, before sailing to the US where it will sail to the Caribbean from New York City, Galveston, Texas, and Miami in October and November before settling into her homeport of Port Canaveral, Florida, and Galveston, Texas, for the 2023 and 2024 cruise season.

The writer and his wife were guests of the Norwegian Cruise Line on the Norwegian Prima.