Norwegian Cruise Line, established in 1966, has grown to become one of the leaders in the cruise industry. Their pioneering “Freestyle Cruising” concept offers guests a relaxed, resort-style cruise, breaking away from traditional cruise norms. This means no fixed dining times, relaxed attire, and more lounges, bars, theaters, and other entertainment and activity options.
With such a diverse fleet, choosing the right ship can be a challenge. In this article, we’ve taken the guesswork out of the equation. We rank the best Norwegian Cruise Line ships, taking into account what each of these vessels offer. Whether you’re a first-time cruiser or a seasoned sea traveler, this post will help you find the best Norwegian Cruise Line ship for your vacation.
Best Norwegian Cruise Ships (NCL) Ranked and Reviewed
1. Norwegian Bliss – Overall Score: 9.8/10
Launched in April 2018 and refurbished in 2021, Norwegian Bliss offer passengers a memorable cruising experience. We were impressed with the range of cabin layouts, from one-person Studios to The Haven villas, penthouses, and suites. If you’re looking for a touch of luxury, The Haven accommodations come with perks like private sun decks, king-sized beds, and 24-hour butler service.
For entertainment, you won’t run out of things to do. The ship has a race car track, laser tag, and even a virtual rollercoaster in the arcade. We found the 19 bars, nightclubs, and lounges perfect for unwinding after a day of fun. And when you’re craving food, there’s a choice of three Main Dining Rooms, a buffet restaurant, and a 24-hour pub. If you’re in the mood for something different, there are 13 other eateries offering everything from Mexican to Texas-style barbecue.
However, it can feel crowded at times, especially around the pool area. So, if you’re someone who values a bit more personal space, this is something to consider.
2. Norwegian Joy – Overall Score: 9.7/10
Launched in 2017, Norwegian Joy initially served the Asian market before transitioning to cater to Western cruisers. We really like its two-level race track on the top deck, which offers a unique go-karting experience at sea. If you’re into tech and games, the Galaxy Pavilion provides a lot of interesting virtual reality games.
Deck 8 is a hub of activity, hosting a variety of restaurants and bars. Evening entertainment includes the Broadway show “Footloose” and comedy performances. It’s worth noting that while there’s a plethora of activities onboard, some come with an additional fee.
Accommodation options on the Norwegian Joy cater to a range of preferences and budgets. The attentive crew ensures a comfortable stay for all guests. However, some travelers find the pool deck layout, featuring two smaller pools separated by a space, a bit odd.
3. Norwegian Encore – Overall Score: 9.5/10
Introduced in 2019, the Norwegian Encore has quickly become a favorite among cruisers. This ship is a celebration of the arts, with the Tony Award®-winning musical “Kinky Boots” headlining its entertainment lineup. The Encore’s cabins are a blend of luxury and practicality. The Haven suites, with their spacious layouts and dedicated butler service, are a an excellent choice for those who want an upscale experience.
If you’re into racing, the ship has the longest racetrack at sea. For those who enjoy tech, the Galaxy Pavilion offers a range of virtual reality games. And for evening entertainment, the Choir of Man show is worth checking out. For food, there are six main restaurants and 12 specialty spots. You can grab a quick bite at an American diner or sit down for some Japanese hibachi. When it’s time to rest, you have a range of room options, from solo traveler Studios to the more private Haven staterooms.
A heads-up: some areas, especially popular dining spots, can get a bit busy during peak times. And like any other NCL ship, be prepared for extra charges.
Related: Best Carnival Cruise Ships
4. Norwegian Escape – Overall Score: 9.4/10
The Norwegian Escape, with its unique design and offerings, stands out in the NCL fleet. The ship’s expansive spa and wellness area promises relaxation like no other, making it a haven for those looking to unwind. The cabins, ranging from the luxurious Haven suites to the cozy inside cabins, cater to every traveler’s preference.
Food enthusiasts will find a plethora of dining options, from the French-inspired Le Bistro to the flavors of the East at Bayamo. The ship’s entertainment lineup, including Broadway-style shows and live music, ensures guests are always entertained.
5. Norwegian Breakaway – Overall Score: 9.1/10
The Norwegian Breakaway provides a holistic cruise experience. Launched with the promise of blending luxury with fun, the Breakaway delivers on every front. The ship’s staterooms, from the opulent Haven suites to the ocean-view cabins, are designed to offer comfort and stunning views.
Gourmands will revel in the ship’s dining options, with the seafood haven of Ocean Blue being a standout. Entertainment is varied and engaging, from Broadway hits like “Rock of Ages” to the unique Cirque Dreams.
6. Norwegian Getaway – Overall Score: 8.8/10
The Norwegian Getaway offers a getaway like no other. This ship is a paradise for those seeking both relaxation and adventure. Its Aqua Park, featuring the fastest waterslides at sea, is a major highlight. Accommodation options are diverse, with the Studio cabins for solo travelers being a unique offering. Dining is a global affair, with options like the Tropicana Room offering complimentary dining and the Illusionarium promising a magical dining experience.
7. Norwegian Epic – Overall Score: 8.7/10
Living up to its name, the Norwegian Epic offers an epic cruising experience. This ship is known for its entertainment options, with the Epic Theater hosting award-winning shows. The staterooms, especially the studio cabins with exclusive access to the Studio Lounge, are a highlight. Dining on the Epic is a treat, with options ranging from the classic Taste & Savor to the upscale Cagney’s Steakhouse.
8. Norwegian Dawn – Overall Score: 8.6/10
The Norwegian Dawn, with its classic design and modern amenities, promises a cruise experience that’s both nostalgic and contemporary. The ship’s Garden Villas, offering three bedrooms, a private garden, and a hot tub, are the pinnacle of luxury. Dining options like the Bamboo Asian restaurant offer a culinary journey, while entertainment venues like the Stardust Theater promise engaging shows every night.
9. Norwegian Gem – Overall Score: 8.6/10
The Norwegian Gem is a jewel in the NCL fleet. This ship, with its 6 hot tubs and a 1,000-seat theater, ensures guests have a variety of entertainment options. The staterooms, from the Penthouse to the Inside cabins, are designed for comfort. Dining on the Gem is a diverse experience, with the Grand Pacific offering classic dishes and the Orchid Garden serving Asian delicacies.
10. Norwegian Jade – Overall Score: 8.5/10
The Norwegian Jade, with its unique Mediterranean offerings, stands out in the NCL lineup. The ship’s Courtyard Villas, offering private pools and sundecks, are a luxury offering. Dining is a global affair, with options like Jasmine Garden providing an Asian flair and the Alizar offering contemporary dishes. The ship’s entertainment, from comedy shows to dance numbers, ensures guests are always engaged.
Best Norwegian Cruise Line Ships Ranking Methodology
When it comes to ranking the best Norwegian Cruise Line ships, our approach is both comprehensive and objective. Here’s a breakdown of our methodology:
- Data-Driven Approach: Our rankings are not based on personal biases or opinions. Instead, we’ve aggregated data from multiple trusted sources, including customer reviews, expert analyses, and industry reports. This ensures that our list is both accurate and representative of the broader cruising community’s experiences.
- Customer Reviews: One of the primary metrics we consider is feedback from passengers. By analyzing reviews from various platforms, we gain insights into the real-world experiences of those who’ve sailed on these ships. This helps us understand the strengths and weaknesses of each vessel from a passenger’s perspective.
- Transparency: While we strive to provide the most accurate rankings, it’s essential to note that our team has only been on a few Norwegian Cruise Line ships. Therefore, our list is primarily based on the data we’ve gathered and not on personal experiences.
Choosing the Best NCL Ship for You:
Selecting the right ship for your cruise adventure can make all the difference. Norwegian Cruise Line offers a diverse fleet, each ship tailored to cater to specific traveler needs. Here are some tips and considerations to help you make an informed choice:
1. Traveling Style:
- Family-Friendly: If you’re traveling with family, especially kids, look for ships with amenities like kids’ clubs, family cabins, and water parks. Ships like the Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Bliss are known for their family-oriented activities.
- Couples-Oriented: For a romantic getaway, consider ships that offer couples’ spa treatments, intimate dining options, and adult-only zones. The Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Getaway provide a more romantic ambiance
2. Ship Age and Experience:
- Newer Ships: If you’re looking for the latest amenities, cutting-edge entertainment, and modern designs, opt for the newer ships in the fleet, such as the Norwegian Encore.
- Classic Experiences: For a more traditional cruise feel with a touch of nostalgia, the older ships like the Norwegian Dawn or Norwegian Jade might be more to your liking.
3. Dining Preferences
NCL is known for its ‘Freestyle Dining’ concept, allowing guests flexibility in their dining choices. However, each ship offers a unique set of restaurants. If you have specific culinary preferences, research the dining options available on each ship.
4. Entertainment Options
From Broadway-style shows to live music and comedy acts, entertainment varies across ships. If entertainment is a priority, check the lineup of shows and activities on offer.
5. Itinerary and Destinations
While the ship’s amenities are crucial, the destinations it sails to are equally important. Ensure the ship you choose sails to the locations you’re eager to explore.
Last but not least, consider your budget. While all NCL ships offer a luxury experience, the cost can vary based on the ship’s age, itinerary, and cabin type.
FAQs on the Best NCL Ships
The most luxurious ship in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet is the Norwegian Prima. Introduced in 2022, Norwegian Prima was designed to be more upscale than its predecessors. The ship boasts the largest variety of suites in the NCL fleet, with 13 categories, including the most expansive three-bedroom suites of any new cruise vessel.
The highlight of Norwegian Prima is “The Haven,” an upscale luxury zone that spans eight decks. This area houses 107 of the ship’s suites, a vast private indoor lounge, private outdoor lounge and pool areas, and an exclusive restaurant. The entire ship exudes a more refined ambiance, reminiscent of Norwegian’s higher-end sister brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
The biggest Norwegian is the Norwegian Encore. Launched in 2019, it spans 169,116 gross tons and can host up to 3,998 passengers. As part of the Breakaway-Plus class, the Encore is renowned for its expansive go-kart track, laser tag area, and the immersive Galaxy Pavilion virtual reality zone. Alongside these attractions, it offers a variety of dining and entertainment options, ensuring a memorable experience for its guests.
According to reviews and our testing methodology, the best NCL ship is Norwegian Bliss. But ultimately, the best ship for you depends on your preference and taste.
NCL offers a fleet of 19 ships, each with its own unique offering. The newer ships offer a lot of features and activities, so they’re great for families. But if you want somewhat quiet and a classic cruising experience, older ships can be a lot of fun too. Depending on your preference, you can choose a NCL ship that’s just right for you. If you’re exploring other cruise lines, we’ve also put together a list of the best Princess Cruise ships and best Royal Caribbean Cruise ships.