The Norwegian Joy, a 3,900-passenger cruise ship that will be sailing to Alaska in the summer of 2019, then transitioning via the Panama Canal to the Caribbean for the winter, is outfitted for multigenerational fun with a quarter mile of gorgeous views along the waterfront and specialty dining options. For little ones, there’s a waterpark and pool plus a kids club. For older kids, there’s laser tag, a go-kart speedway, and Galaxy Pavilion,a virtual reality gaming area that is plenty of fun for adults, too. There’s even a luxury option called The Haven for families that want a more upscale cruising experience..
Disclosure: We were hosted on this the preview cruise of this new ship by Norwegian Cruise Line, along with other media and travel agents, for the purposes of this review. Our opinions, however, are our own.
Norwegian Joy Review – Does this Ship Work for Families?
When Kim Orlando, the publisher of TravelingMom, and I were invited to join the inaugural press preview cruise of the new Norwegian Joy, we didn’t bring any kids. Too bad for them and really great for us. It meant that we were REQUIRED to try everything ourselves.
We hung out in the Galaxy Pavilion killing zombies and aliens, drove through the dinosaur lands of Jurassic Park and raced the levitation cruisers (I won). Nothing beat the feeling of whipping go karts around the twisty race track. Having access to a go kart track on a cruise ship is a brilliant way to spend time with the family, especially if you are on the Alaska cruise with cool weather.
Chilly winds on our Vancouver-Los Angeles cruise kept us from donning bathing suits to check out the water slides. But they looked like loads of fun. Even better, the pool water is heated, which should prove to be a comfort on the Joy’s late season cruises from Seattle to Alaska.
TravelingMom Tip: The race track, laser tag and virtual reality room require an upcharge, ranging from $9-30 per person. Be sure to include that in your vacation budget.
What Can Teens Do on the Norwegian Joy?
According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), cruises are a preferred vacation choice for families, especially those with children under 18, and children are involved with the decision process for cruises more than they are for land-based vacations.
Is shouldn’t take much to convince a teen to lobby for a cruise onboard the Norwegian Joy or its sister ship, the Norwegian Bliss. There’s laser tag, a go-kart racetrack and a virtual reality game center.
There’s also the Entourage Teen Club, where adults are carded. If that doesn’t win them over, this video of the Galaxy Pavilion and the other teen-friendly features should do the trick:
TravelingMom Tip: Laser tag, the go karts and Galaxy Pavilion all have height, weight and clothing requirements. You can see the details here. Generally speaking, participants have to be tall enough, weigh less than 300 pounds and wear closed toe shoes.
What Can Younger Kids Do on the Norwegian Joy?
For little ones, there’s always the pool. When you need a little adult time, there’s a kids club that was unoccupied when we visited, but seemed to offer plenty of programming to keep little ones entertained while their adults get a drink, soak in the hot tub or have a grown-up dinner at one of the specialty restaurants.
Does the Norwegian Joy Work for a Multigen Family Vacation?
The Haven, Norwegian Cruise Line’s upscale ship-within-a-ship brand, has proven popular with multigenerational families cruising together, the company says. The cabins are larger and the service definitely upscale, from the locked elevators that whisk Haven cruisers directly to the 16th floor for check in, to an exclusive pool area with a retractable roof to keep things cozy on chilly days. There’s even an observation lounge open only to Haven passengers.
The upscale Haven experience also is popular with millennial travelers, who consider vacation planning to be something of a competitive sport. And, the Norwegian PR person insisted, the larger rooms that can accommodate 6 or more can make the per-person price “very palatable.” That’s because the first 2 passengers pay full price (likely $10,000+ for the Haven onboard the Joy) but additional passengers sharing the same room are increasingly less expensive. Plus, ongoing NCL cruise deals mean that people who book into the Haven get a more inclusive cruise than others who book lower cost cabins and end up spending more for everything they do onboard.
Read More: 8 Reasons to Take a Multigenerational Cruise
Norwegian Joy Review: The Food
It’s a cruise, so you expect to eat your way through the vacation, right? You certainly can onboard the Joy. Included in the price are five dining options — The Garden Cafe (the standard cruise ship buffet), Manhattan Room, Savor, and Taste (three white-table-cloth restaurants with table service and a changing selection of soups, salads, appetizers, entrees and desserts that serve as the main dining rooms) and The Local Bar & Grill, which is open 24 hours a day for those midnight snacks.
And then there are the specialty restaurants, available at an upcharge. Expect to spend $20 or more per person for meals here. And make reservations! The dining rooms sell out.
Are they worth it? Our 3-night cruise meant we were not able to try all 8 specialty restaurants, although we were treated to a tasting lunch that included tidbits from each. Here is our estimation of the specialty dining option onboard the Joy:
This was an interesting mix of Asian foods, ranging from pad Thai to sushi to kymchi fried rice with a few avante garde Indian options such as a salmon “pizza” on nan. The restaurant also offers several unique cocktails. Ordering is all electronic — you page through an iPad menu of photos of the offerings and click to order. In a few minutes, the waitstaff brings your choice to the table.
This is the steakhouse has the dark ambiance I picture when I think of old-timey steakhouse restaurants. The steaks were cooked as we ordered and the service friendly.
This Texas Smokehouse BBQ spot gets my vote for the best tasting treats. The dry rub ribs we tasted were delectable.
We did not get a chance to try La Cucina, Ocean Blue, Teppanyaki or American Diner. I had really hoped to grab lunch at American Diner. It’s located near the race track, which makes it a good spot for parents to chill while their teens ride the go karts. It serves a selection of burgers and other American fare for lunch only. If you want to try it, get there before it opens at 11:30am. By 12:30, the line was 20+ deep. The diners I asked said the burgers were delish.
Entertainment Onboard the Norwegian Joy
Disney Cruiseline sets the standard for entertainment on a family cruise ship — as it should. After all, it’s Disney. And I’ve been on ships where the entertainment was truly lame. Not on the Norwegian Joy. Here, the nightly entertainment is first-rate. The Broadway-style shows featured talented dancers in slick, choreographed numbers.The “Footloose” show started out feeling a little like a high school musical, but won us over by the end.
Norwegian Joy Review: The Cabins
Our cabin was on the concierge floor, which meant it was bigger — there was room to walk around comfortably, the balcony was double sized and the bathroom included a bathtub, a real rarity on a cruise ship.
See all the features of a concierge cabin (including a warning) in this video:
The king-sized bed was fluffy and comfortable, as were the linens and pillows. But, as two women traveling together, we were disappointed to learn that the king sized beds on the concierge floor cannot be pulled apart into two twins. That’s the norm on most cruise ships. It meant that one of us was relegated to the pull out sofa bed. It was comfortable for a pull-out sofa, but it definitely lacked the luxurious experience of that big ol’ king bed.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’re traveling with someone you would prefer not to share a bed with, ask before you book to make sure the bed can be deconstructed into two twins.