by Aaron Saunders

There were times, some years ago, when Norwegian Cruise Line was really striving to find their their rightful place in the mainstream cruise industry. Their unorthodox brand of cruising finally broke the back of the rigid traditions that had defined cruising for decades and now Norwegian is winning accolades for their stunning accommodations, superb entertainment, and their absolute willingness to cater to multi-generational families of all tastes and backgrounds.

 NCL_GetawayCourtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line may have been around since the 1960’s, but the line has been on a steady course of innovation for the past decade or so. They were the first cruise line to introduce Freestyle Cruising: for the first time you could dine when you want, where you want, with whomever you want, dressed however you want. Their ships became colourful and surprisingly elegant, with a sort of Moulin Rouge theme to the interior décor and a host of innovative features.

Norwegian first let guests try their hand at bowling at sea when they introduced it on Norwegian Pearl in 2006. They introduced the first true Ice Bar at sea aboard Norwegian Epic in 2010, and made solo travel cool again when they introduced their funky Studio Staterooms that same year. And let’s not forget: Norwegian was first to feature a shipboard internet café way back in 1999 aboard the then-new Norwegian Sky. Plus, pioneered roundtrip cruising from Honolulu, and are today the only line to offer such journeys.

NCL_WaterfrontCourtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Innovations continue to this day. When Norwegian introduced their Norwegian Breakaway in 2012, they took the Freestyle mantra to a new level, creating an outdoor resort area known as The Waterfront. This took the traditional promenade deck and turned it on its head. Now, you can choose between indoor or outdoor seating in your favorite bar, lounge and even restaurant onboard – perfect for those warm nights in southern climes.

Norwegian’s newest ship, Norwegian Escape, enters service in November. Though she may look like a larger version of Norwegian Breakaway, don’t be fooled: this is Norwegian’s most feature-laden cruise ship to-date. Noteworthy additions include their first Nursery dedicated for the two-and-under set, a snow room (with real snow) in The Spa, an 80’s-themed Supper Club, a three-story-high ropes course, two new Broadway-style revues, a gastropub, and the first Jimmy Buffet-themed bar at sea, appropriately titled – you guessed it – Five O’Clock Somewhere.

NCL_RopesCourtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Escape’s sister-ship, Norwegian Bliss, will join the fleet in March of 2017.

By the end of the year, Norwegian will have a fleet of 14 cruise ships, carrying between 1,936 and 4,266 guests. Big, bold and fun, they all fully embrace Norwegian’s pioneering “Freestyle Cruising” concept. No stuffy dress codes, and no forced entertainment venues and times, instead, you’re free to do, well, whatever!

The Haven

If you like your ships big and your suites luxurious, you’ll love The Haven by Norwegian. The line’s luxury-ship-within-a-mainstream-ship concept, The Haven is available on nearly every ship in the fleet.

NCL_HavenCourtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

The very last word in luxury, guests staying in The Haven get to enjoy priority embarkation and disembarkation, the services of a dedicated butler, and the use of restaurants, lounges, and even private pool and sun deck areas designed exclusively for them. The entire area is accessed by a special platinum key card, creating an exclusive experience that’s ideal for couples celebrating special occasions and for multigenerational families travelling together.

Norwegian Escape will have the largest Haven yet, with a total of 95 luxurious suites that range from the four sprawling Haven Deluxe Owner’s Suites that clock in at 1,307 square feet apiece to the 14 Haven Spa Suites that feature their own private, complimentary access to the adjacent Spa Thermal Suite and Fitness Center. The Haven will span Decks 17, 18 and 19, and most suites can accommodate a small family.

That Norwegian Escape will boast a larger Haven than her siblings Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway is rather remarkable. Both vessels include a dedicated Spa, lounge, restaurant, two-story courtyard featuring a swimming pool and two hot tubs, and a private sundeck with bar as part of their exclusive Haven amenities.

NCL_Haven restaurantCourtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

With that kind of luxury, it might be difficult to tear yourself away from your private enclave, let alone off the ship. But plenty of fun awaits ashore!

Caribbean Blue

Although Norwegian offers itineraries that explore Alaska, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Canada & New England, Europe, Hawaii, the Mexican Riviera and South America, the warm waters of the Caribbean have always been their strong suit. With the exception of a few ships, nearly the entire fleet repositions to the Bahamas, Caribbean or Florida in the winter months, offering cruises from seven different departure ports.

The Eastern Caribbean is full of lovely islands and sandy beaches as far as the eye can see. Nearly every itinerary calls on the duty-free shopping mecca of St. Thomas, which actually offers more than you might think. Spend the afternoon taking the Champagne Sail & Snorkel excursion to nearby St. John, one of the most pristine spots in the Eastern Caribbean.

History buffs will love the Western Caribbean thanks to its proximity to the ancient Mayan ruins of Mexico. From Cozumel, you can easily take an excursion to the seaside ruins of Tulum, and even go for a dip in the bright blue ocean in its shadow. Georgetown, Grand Cayman is another favorite stop – and not just for its famous Seven Mile Beach. Here, you can swim with the stingrays, go on a mountain biking tour, or snorkel on the numerous reefs that surround the island.

If you’ve got more than a week to spare, the 2,394-guest Norwegian Gem offers a series of exciting Eastern Caribbean departures from New York this winter, ranging between nine and 12 days in length. A great option for those coming from the north-east, Norwegian Gem’s Caribbean voyages call on popular ports in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean like San Juan, Puerto Rico and the beautiful island of Barbados. Ashore, you can cycle your way through Philipsburg, St. Maarten or just kick back and relax with a beach break in St. Thomas.

NCL_Private IslandCourtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian also has some new tricks up their sleeve in the Caribbean. Great Stirrup Cay – the line’s private island paradise in the Bahamas – recently underwent a multimillion-dollar refurbishment that’s made it more fun than ever before. The water is crystal-clear, which makes it great for those who want to spend their afternoon snorkeling in the deep blue sea. You can hike, stroll the beach, or just grab an inflatable raft and bob around in the sea all day – the choice is yours.

The private island experience isn’t confined to the Eastern Caribbean anymore, either. Guests sailing aboard select Western Caribbean itineraries later this year will be among the first to call on Harvest Caye, Norwegian’s newest private island situated just off the coast of Belize. It set Norwegian back $50-million, but when complete, the island will feature its own floating pier, an island village, a marina, a dedicated watersports lagoon, and even transportation to the mainland for excursions in Belize.

Norwegian is also spicing up their short getaways to the Bahamas aboard the venerable Norwegian Sky by offering three and four-night cruises from Miami featuring all-inclusive beer, wine, spirits and cocktails as of January 2016. That means no worrying about how much that refreshing pool drink with the little umbrella in it will cost. For the kids (and guests under 21), unlimited soft drinks and juice is the order of the day.

For Norwegian, it’s just another way they can help guests choose how they would like to experience their cruise vacation. That’s what the concept of Freestyle cruising is all about – sailing on a choice of fabulous ships full of marvelous amenities, in the way that suits you and your lifestyle, whether with family, friends, or in a larger group, celebrating life’s occasions or simply enjoying a well-deserved vacation.

Originally published in Dream Voyages Fall 2015 issue.

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