NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE CRUISES TRAVEL GUIDE

Flexible Dining: Norwegian’s dining policy lets you sit where and with whom you want, dress as you want (within reason), and dine when you want, again within reason (dinner is served 5:30-10pm; guests must be seated by 9:30pm) at a wide variety of restaurants, including one that’s open 24 hours. Room service is also available, o Above-Average Entertainment: In addition to quality musical groups and Vegas-style shows that are actually good (a rarity in the cruise biz), NCL also has comedy shows by the Second City comedy troupe aboard its newer ships, and performances by the Blue Man Group, o Hawaii-Centricity: If you want to sail the islands, NCL’s U.S.-flagged sub-brand, offers the only big-ship cruises that never leave state waters.

It’s Not All Freestyle: While Norwegian promotes its pioneering âœFreestyle Cruising❠(see below), shows and activities have specific start and end times; it’s not up to the passenger, o Few Quiet Spots: Other than the library (and even that’s not always serene) it’s very difficult to escape the non-stop, piped-inpop music on these vessels, o Difficult Dining Reservations: The most popular of the alternative restaurants can get booked up early; it’s best to make reservations as quickly as one can.

Overview

In business since 1966, Norwegian is like the cat of the cruise industry: It’s got nine lives, and has continually re-invented itself over the years. Back in 2001, Norwegian was the first line to do away with set dining times and assigned seating; its competitors mocked it mercilessly, then almost immediately followed suit. The intervening years saw the line introduce new features, including a bowling alley aboard Norwegian Pearl in 2006 and true Broadway-quality production shows like the

Blue Man Group, the Rockettes, and Legally Blonde.

Norwegian was also one of the first cruise lines to actively cater to solo travelers, introducing special single-occupancy interior Studio Staterooms aboard the Norwegian Epic in 2010 (with their own lounge) to single guests. The concept was so popular that it’s appeared (in various forms) on some of the line’s newer vessels.

Not everything that Norwegian touches turns to gold (its venture into Hawaii back in 2004, for example, was an unmitigated disaster, though the company has since made it work), but the line is largely responsible for a major shift in how we cruise. If it wasn’t for Norwegian, well we’d all still be picking âœearly❠or âœlate❠seating dining with strangers we really didn’t like.

EXPERIENCE

Norwegian excels in activities, entertainment, and alternative dining. Recreational and fitness programs are among the best in the industry. The line’s youth programs for kids and teens are also top-notch.

The company offers what it calls âœFreestyle Cruising❠which gives guests freedom in when, where, and with whom passengers dine. Guests can eat in their choice of a variety of restaurants pretty much any time between 5:30 and 10pm (you must be seated by 9:30pm), with no prearranged table assignment or dining time, though you might be sent away with a pager to have a drink and wait during peak times. Other features of Freestyle Cruising are that daily service charges are automatically charged to room accounts, dress codes are more relaxed at all times, and at the end of the voyage, passengers can remain in their cabins until their time comes to disembark, rather than huddling in lounges or squatting on luggage in stairwells until their lucky color comes up. Freestyle Cruising has since been copied, to whatever extent possible, by other lines operating in the U.S.

Each new ship in the line’s fleet of late has added some innovative whether it be bowling alleys, ropes courses or an exclusive complex called The Haven which gives the priciest suite guests a dedicated restaurant for breakfast and lunch, a key-card access courtyard, and butler service, among other perks.

ROUTES

The bulk of the line’s sailings are in the Caribbean, with Bahamas and Bermuda cruises as well. That said, these ships do head to New England, Europe, and, for those looking for more far-flung destinations, South America (and through the Panama Canal). Norwegian Cruise Line is the only big-ship cruise line to offer sailings to Hawaii that depart roundtrip from Honolulu.

PASSENGERS

Norwegian appeals to a wide range of ages and types. On each sailing you’ll find a mix of first-timers and veteran cruisers (many of whom have cruised with this line before). The demographic breakdown does vary by region: In the Caribbean, passengers range from 20-somethings to families with children to retirees; on Alaska cruises the overall demographic tends toward affluent seniors. (Still, even there, you’ll find an increasing number of younger couples and families, attracted by the line’s flexible dining and relaxed dress code.)

Generally, passengers are not seeking high-voltage activities or around-the-clock action. The disco is seldom the most frequented room on a Norwegian ship, the exception being the Bliss Lounge on Norwegian Pearl.

DINING

Norwegian offers an extensive number of alternative restaurants (albeit many at an extra charge). Some ships in the fleet have as many as 28 restaurants, so planning out your meals may take some time and consideration. Depending on the boat, options might include an Italian trattoria, a Japanese restaurant with sushi and sashimi; a Brazilian-style churrascaria steakhouse; an American-style steakhouse; a noodle bar; and a pub. Pricing for the specialty restaurants ranges widely, but it’s typical to pay $15 to $30 per person for many of the eateries, and more on some of the finer dining venues on the newest ships. In some specialty restaurants, more expensive items like high-end steaks and surf and turf are priced a la carte.

In addition, there are always two traditional (and smaller) main dining rooms.

As on all ships, breakfast and lunch are available either in the dining room, on an open-seating basis, or in the buffet up top, which features chefs manning cooking stations.

ACTIVITIES

Activities vary by destination, but you’ll always find breakfast with Nickelodeon characters, including Dora and SpongeBob, much to the little ones’ delight, classes that teach Cirque du Soleil-inspired circus tricks, and even (onNorwegian Breakaway ) dance classes taught by New York’s famous Rockettes.

You may also find wine-tasting demonstrations; pub crawls; art auctions; other types of dance classes and a fitness program; daily quizzes; crafts; board games; and bingo, among other activities. Passengers also tend to spend time at sports activities, which include basketball and mini-soccer. In some parts of the world, including Alaska, destination lecturers are aboard to discuss local history, landscape, and culture.

CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS

Norwegian ships tend to be very family-friendly: There’s at least one full-time youth coordinator per age group, a kids’ activity room, video games, an ice-cream stand, and group babysitting for ages 3 and up, plus a Nickelodeon Pajama Jam Breakfast and sometimes destination-specific activities, such as a visit from a park ranger for the ships that sail to Glacier Bay National Park.

The line is constantly upgrading its kids’ program More family features aboard ships include exclusive Nickelodeon at Sea programming, with character meet-and-greets and special Nickelodeon game shows; a bowling alley and a jungle gym with a ball pit and tunnels on the Pearl; and arcades on all Norwegian ships.

ENTERTAINMENT

Entertainment is a Norwegian hallmark, with lavish Vegas-style productions that are surprisingly artistically ambitious (the gymnasts are superb). On some nights, the show rooms also feature magic or juggling acts. These ships boast big, splashy casinos, and all have intimate lounges that present pianists and cabaret acts. On the newer builds entertainment is even more sophisticated, like Blue Man Group (onNorwegian Epic) or a Latin-dance extravaganza (onNorwegian Breakaway).

While other lines have comedy acts, Second City offers improv in a purpose-built lounge on the newer ships, Norwegian Breakaway’s Broadway show, âœRock of Ages,❠may not raise eyebrows in Manhattan, but at sea it’s potty-mouth languageand adult themes push boundaries.

Music for dancing usually by a smallish band and invariably the kind of dancing that mature passengers can engage in (that is, not a lot of rock ‘n’ roll) is popular and takes place before or

After shows. Each ship also has a late-night disco with contemporary music. Norwegian’s hip theme party âœWhite Hot Night❠really keeps the ships lively into the wee hours.

SERVICE

Generally, room service and bar service fleetwide are speedy and efficient. With the introduction of the line’s flexible dining program, additional crew members, mostly waiters and kitchen staff, have been added to each ship and improvement in service resulted quickly.

In order to eliminate any tipping confusion, the line automatically adds a charge of $12 per passenger per day to shipboard accounts, which also can be prepaid at the time of booking (you are free to adjust the amount up or down as you see fit). Full-service laundry and dry cleaning are available.

CRUISETOURS & ADD-ON PROGRAMS

Norwegian offers four cruisetours on Alaska sailings. You can add one on before the 7-day southbound cruise or after the 7-day northbound cruise: the Denali Express, Denali/Alyeska Explorer, the Denali/Fairbanks Explorer, and the Authentic Alaska. All cruisetours are fully escorted by local Alaskan guides, feature two nights in Denali, include a stop at an Iditarod Sled Dog musher’s house, and have an airport meet-and-greet by a representative. Please note that it’s not difficult to recreate these types of experiences on your own and at a lower cost (you’ll even book tickets on the same trains if you decide to do a rail visit to Denali National Park).

FLEET

Norwegian Cruise Line is made up of 14 ships, with plenty of variety among them They range in size from 2,018 passengers to 3,969 passengers.

Norwegian Breakaway – Norwegian Getaway – Norwegian Escape

THE SHIPS IN GENERAL

Norwegian Epic debuted to some less-than-stellar reviews in 2010, but Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway have made up for it. These well-designed, thoughtfully laid-out beauties launched in 2013 and 2014 tookthe best aspects of Epic and combined them with the most loved features of the line’s modestly sized Spirit, Star, and Jewel ships. The result: dozens of dining options, hundreds of balcony staterooms, exciting entertainment venues, the largest onboard spas

Norwegian has ever created, and a gorgeous wraparound promenade deck known as The Waterfront.

Think of relative newcomer Norwegian Escape (2015) as the stretch-limo version, outfitted with the same basic design and amenities, but with additional decks tacked on.

Cabins Every bad decision that plagued the cabins on Norwegian Epic has been scrapped entirely. Gone are the curved walls, translucent bathrooms, and bizarre in-room sinks that got water all over the place. Instead, designers have gone with a crisp, clean look emphasizing bold colors and clean lines and thoughtful touches like bedside reading lights, backlit headboards, and some of the best-designed bathrooms the line has ever come up with.

One feature that did carry over from Epic, though, is the Studio Staterooms specially designed for solo travelers a boon for an underserved group. These 100-square-foot rooms are admittedly small, but they’re smartly designed to make good use of what space there is, and, as a bonus, Studio guests get access to their own two-deck private lounge where they can meet other solo travelers.

Standard inside staterooms include options for families such as connecting cabins clustered near the kids’ facilities. Oceanview cabins add a picture window, while the largest cabins have private balconies. Standard balcony staterooms, however, have balconies that are substantially smaller than on past Norwegian ships.

Suites are where things get really interesting. Spa Suites come with complimentary access to the spa’s massive thermal suite, and Haven Suites offer Norwegian’s top-of-the-line luxury experience, with priority embarkation and disembarkation, a pillow menu, butler service, and access to private restaurants and lounges.

Public areas & activities These ships set a new standard for Norwegian, with a refined look that manages to be fun at the same time. Expect lots of dark wood paneling complemented by vibrant teal carpeting, rich reds, and soft accent lighting.

A three-story atrium anchors Decks 6, 7, and 8, where nearly all of the bars, lounges, and entertainment venues are clustered. The arrangement makes it easy to hop around, popping into Shaker’s Cocktail Bar for a nightcap or settling in at the Cafe Atrium for people watching.

Among the bars and lounges, you’ll find tried-and-true Norwegian favorites like Maltings Beer and Whisky Bar and the very cool (literally) SVEDKA Ice Bar. But Norwegian Escape also shakes things up with the first Five O’Clock Somewhere and Tobacco Road bars at sea, as well as a bar serving up nothing but mojitos and another, The District Brewhouse, with 24 beers on tap and over 50 different brews by the bottle.

Entertainment remains Norwegian’s strong suit. On Decks 6 and 7, the main theatre puts on shows direct from Broadway as of this writing, Breakaway is hosting the musical Rock of Ages, while guests aboard Getaway enjoy Million Dollar Quartet, and Escape ‘s guests are treated to After Midnight, a musical featuring Duke Ellington tunes. The massive casino on Deck 6, however, won’t be to everyone’s liking: There’s no way to get around it, and cigarette smoke has an annoying tendency to waft up to other decks.

The best public area of all is the wraparound Waterfront, which does double duty as a promenade deck and spot for outdoor seating for restaurants and lounges on Deck 8.

Each ship offers a single main pool midships. On Breakaway and Getaway, the pool is flanked by four hot tubs; on Escape, there are only two hot tubs for over 4,000 people. Overall, the pool decks feel disjointed, claustrophobic, and crowded. If you’re looking for a quiet corner, you’re not going to

Find it. You’ll be lucky to find even a deck chair.

Dining There are so many dining options on board it’s almost overwhelming and some of the restaurants will cost you. If you don’t want to spend another dime, each ship features three attractive main dining rooms, the best of which, the Manhattan Dining Room, boasts a huge dance floor and some pretty spectacular views from two-story windows overlooking the stern. Also in the free category is the sprawling Garden Cafe buffet and O’Sheehan’s Pub.

As for the restaurants that aren’t free, we’re fans of the French-themed Le Bistro (try the French onion soup) and Mode mo Churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse trotting out a never-ending cavalcade of meats. The latter will run you $24.95 per person; Le Bistro, which used to charge a flat fee, has now gone a la carte across the fleet. Other options include the Japanese Teppanyaki experience ($29.95/person), Cagney’s Steakhouse (a la carte), and, onNorwegian Escape, Jimmy Buffet’s only Margaritaville (a la carte) at sea.

Originally designed to be the first of three identical super-megaships, Epic almost ended up not being launched at all due to disputes with the shipyard regarding design changes and cost overruns. In the end, a compromise led to her completion, but orders for sister ships were cancelled, leaving Epic the sole vessel in her class. That’s probably for the best.

Our major complaint is a layout that can feel unintuitive. The main interior public decks often force people to walk through public areas, and the placement of furniture and other impediments leads to bottlenecks. The pool deck is full of odd angles that make it difficult to cross when crowded, and some staterooms are hidden away in corridors behind unmarked doors.

Still, you have to admit the ship is fun especially at night, when the entertainment venues and numerous bars and lounges come to life. Kids certainly won’t be bored either, thanks to the playroom, teen center, water slides, climbing features, and activities with Nickelodeon characters including SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer.

Cabins Let’s get our major complaint out of the way first: What was NCL thinking with these bathrooms? The shower and toilet have been set in their own separate cubicles, while the sink is out

In the cabin The idea seems to have been that this arrangement would allow two or more people to use the bathroom facilities simultaneously, without having to crowd into a tiny space. The reality, though, is that it all just doesn’t work, especially the sink which was designed with a tiny bowl. Since counters are also tiny (and often placed right next to the cabin’s sitting area), water often shoots out onto the floor and furniture, major splashing all over the place. It’s a mess.

But bathrooms aside, there are some intriguing features freeform, curving walls in balcony staterooms, concealed contour LED lighting, dark wood trim, and an earth-tone color palette.

Epic’s major innovation: 128 studio cabins for solo travelers. Years ago, many cruise ships (the old QE2 comes to mind) were built with a number of small staterooms designed specifically for people traveling on their own. That idea died out over the past 3 decades, but Epic brings it back with a vengeance, creating a whole separate wing for solo travelers, who in addition to their staterooms get private keycard access to the Living Room, a modern, double-height space with its own bar, TV screens, and concierge area. You can think of it as a swinging singles hangout, but that all depends on what kind of singles end up on board. The Studios themselves were designed by a different creative team than the rest of the staterooms onboard, and you can tell: They’re all neon and bold angles, and pack a lot into their modest 100 square feet of space. Each has a large one-way âœporthole❠window that looks out into the corridor, and ingenious small storage nooks. Priced for the solo traveler (at about $150 per stateroom more than the per-person price of a double-occupancy inside), they can actually accommodate two hipsters, so long as they like togetherness.

In terms of suites, the big draw on Epic, as aboard NCL’s other recent ships, is its Courtyard Villas, a separate âœship within a ship❠area perched way up on Decks 16 and 17. In addition to knockout suite accommodations, villa guests get access to a private pool, lounge, two restaurants just for folks in this class, and other exclusive features.

A total of 42 staterooms and suites across a range of categories are wheelchair accessible.

Public areas & activities On Decks 5 and 6, the Epic Theater is home to the ship’s headlining shows: the edgy Blue Man Group and Legends in Concert, a revue of celebrity impersonators. Getting Blue Man onboard was a huge coup for NCL, and really broke the mold for shipboard shows. Another novelty entertainment, Spiegel Tent doesn’t work as well; essentially dinner-theater-in-the-round, essentially, it hosts a shrill, disjointed show about out of work circus performers who constantly require audience participation (you’ve been warned). Other onboard entertainment options: Headliners Comedy Club and, for a fun capper to the evening, Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club, where the musicians don’t hold back for the tourist crowd and are liable to invite any instrumentalists in the audience onto the stage for an impromptu jam One of the most intriguing nightlife venues is the Svedka Ice Bar, a frozen locker kept at 17 degrees Fahrenheit. All the furniture and artwork are made of ice, and specialty vodka drinks are served to guests wearing parkas.

For kids, Epic has an extensive children’s center with video games, a climbing maze, ball-jump pit, and more. Teens get a hangout called Entourage. Youngsters are also likely to gravitate toward the pool deck’s three giant water slides they’re so big, in fact, that the actual pool area seems small in comparison. In fact, we’d say that Epic has one of the busiest, most activity-packed Pool Decks we’ve ever seen and whether that’s a good thing or not depends on your taste.

Nearby you’ll find the ship’s 33-foot-high rock-climbing and rappelling wall and a sports and play area with a full-size basketball court, bungee trampoline, and 24-foot Spider Web you escape by

Climbing your way out.

For a more relaxing experience, the enormous Mandara Spa supposedly the largest spa at sea, though we didn’t get out our tape measure to check has 24 treatment rooms and a relaxing thermal suite (extra fee required). The ship’s well-stocked fitness center has dozens of machines and free weights (including kettlebells, the first we’ve seen at sea); and four different aerobics studios for classes.

Dining Of the ship’s 21 dining options (!), some are complimentary, some charge extra, and a few are exclusively for guests in the ship’s suites or studio cabins. One of the two main restaurants, we prefer the Manhattan Room, an art-deco spot with a two-deck window overlooking the ship’s wake, and a bandstand and dance floor. While guests sample contemporary fare, musical acts mix it up on the stage, and cocktails are prepared tableside.

Specialty restaurants (all of which charge a per-person cover or price a la carte) include Cagney’s Steakhouse ($25 per person); Modemo Churrascaria, a South American-style steakhouse where servers keep bringing slices of grilled meats to you until you pop or tell them to stop ($18 per person); La Cucina, a casual, family-style Italian restaurant ($10 per person); Shanghai’s, a classic Chinese restaurant ($15 per person); and Wasabi, which serves sushi, sashimi, and a selection of sakes (a la carte pricing).

These sexy sisters are some of the most fun megaships at sea today. Each has a supersocial atmosphere, creative decor, and onboard music and pop culture references tailored to a surprisingly young demographic: folks from their 20s to their mid-40s.

Want fun? There are lounges with bowling alleys and bordello-like decor. Want food? Choose from 8 to 10 different restaurants, from fancy steakhouses and teppanyaki restaurants to casual Tex-Mex and burger joints. Want fantasy? The nightclubs and atriums feature furniture right out of Alice in Wonderland. Want high style? Check out Gatsby’s Champagne Bar on the Dawn and Star ships, and Bar Central on Jewel, Pearl, and Gem.

Though NCL divides these ships into three classes (Dawn and Star in the Dawn class; Jewel, Pearl, and Gem in the Jewel Class; and Spirit all by herself), they share more in common than not, including nearly identical layouts.

Cabins Standard inside and outside cabins, though not large compared to some in the industry, are roomier than what’s onNCL’s older ships. Closets and drawer space are ample, and bathrooms are efficiently designed. Balconies aren’t very spacious, however. As for decor: It’s a mix, with stylish elements (such as cherrywood wall paneling and snazzy rounded lights), kitschy elements (bright island-colored carpeting), and cheap touches (spindly chairs and end tables, and wall-mounted soap dispensers in the bathrooms).

Owner’s Suites are huge by comparison, with two balconies and 750 square feet of space. But that’s nothing when you look at the extravagant Garden Villas the biggest suites at sea today with an incredible 5,350 square feet apiece. Each features private gardens, multiple bedrooms with mind-blowing bathrooms, separate living rooms, full kitchens, and private butler service. The price tag is impressive too: about $13,750 per person, per week.

Four cabins are wheelchair accessible aboard Spirit, as are 20 on Star, 24 on Dawn, and 27 on Jewel, Pearl, and Gem.

Public areas & activities Public areas throughout the vessels are fanciful and spacious, adorned with a mix of bright, Caribbean- and Miami-themed decor and high-style art deco, with lots of intimate nooks and some great lounges and bars amid the restaurants. Spirit and Star have a covered outdoor Bier Garten stocked with German pilsner, hefeweizen, and wheat beers. Jewel, Pearl, Jade, and Gem, meanwhile, feature whiskey, wine, and cocktail offerings at Bar Central on Deck 6. Aboard Spirit, Maharini’s combines a Bollywood theme with a kind of fashion-world ambience, its mood-lit nooks separated by thick red velvet curtains and outfitted with large, comfortable daybeds strewn with pillows. The similarly decorated Bliss Ultra Lounges on Pearl and Gem add four 10-pin bowling lanes to the bordello vibe, gaining NCL points for retro-chic credibility.

Outside, the pool areas have the feel of a resort, ringed by flower-shaped âœstreetlamps,❠deck chairs arrayed around the central pool and hot tubs. On the Dawn, Star, and Spirit these spaces will be especially alluring for families with kids. On Dawn, it’s right out of The Flintstones, with giant polka-dotted dinosaurs standing around faux rock walls, slides, a paddling pool, and even a kids’ Jacuzzi. Star’s has a space-age rocket theme. At a huge bar running almost the width of the ship, ice cream is served on one side, drinks on the other.

Of the ships’ stylish spas, the one aboard Dawn takes the prize. At the entrance, a sunlit foyer rises three decks high and is decorated with plants and Maya reliefs, with a juice bar on the side. Further in, you’ll find a large lap pool, hot tub, jet-massage pool, and sunny seating areas in front of windows. Jewel, Pearl, Jade, and Gem have four of the better onboard gyms of recent years large and extremely well appointed, with dozens of fitness machines and a large aerobics/spinning room Outside there’s an extralong jogging track, a sports court for basketball and volleyball, golf-driving nets, and facilities for shuffleboard and deck chess

Dining These ships are all about their restaurants, with between 8 and 10 on each ship two or three formal restaurants plus a buffet, at least one casual establishment, and several alternative specialty eateries serving Italian, steakhouse, French/Continental, and Asian cuisine. The high-end Le Bistro serves classic and nouvelle fare amid floral upholstery and original paintings Matisse, Monet, van

Norwegian Sky and Sun were the first two megaships built for NCL’s modern era, and blazed the trail that all the later ships followed, with multiple restaurants and everything designed with casual cruising in mind. Sky spent four years sailing as Pride of Aloha for NCL’s Hawaii operation, but is now running Bahamas itineraries under her original name.

Cabins The cabins are decorated in bright island colors, but they’re quite small and have limited storage space. Bathrooms are also compact, with tubelike shower stalls and slivers of shelving. Oh, and watch out for those reading lamps above the beds: Their protruding shades make sitting up impossible! Norwegian Sun is heavy on suites and minisuites, the latter measuring a roomy 264 to 301 square feet and featuring walk-in closets. Twenty large Penthouse and Owner’s Suites include the services of a butler and concierge who will get you on the first tender to port, make dinner reservations, and generally try to please your every whim Six cabins on Sky and 20 cabins aboard Sun are equipped for wheelchairs. It’s worth noting that there is no wheelchair access to Oslo Deck 6A, a small forward deck with about two dozen oceanview and inside staterooms.

Public areas & activities Even though Norwegian Sky is the older of these two vessels, refurbishments in 2009 left her looking fresher and more fun (another update is scheduled for 2017); while Sun is still done up in a pleasing but not too jarring pastiche of mostly cool blues, sages, deep reds, and soft golds blended with marble, burled-wood veneers, and brass and chrome detailing (she was refit in spring of 2016 last). Both ships are bright and sun-filled, thanks to an abundance of floor-to-ceiling windows. Each ship has nearly a dozen bars of several types. With soft music coming from the adjacent piano bar as a soundtrack, the Windjammer Bar is the most appealing place on the ship for quiet conversation. A large, attractive observation lounge becomes a venue for live entertainment in the evening. Tip: Many of the balcony seats in the two-story show lounge have obstructed views of the stage so try and sit on the first level. For kids, the ships’ huge children’s area includes a playroom, a teen center with a large movie screen and foosball games, and a video arcade. Each ship

Also has a wading pool.

The well-stocked oceanview gyms on these ships stay open 24 hours a day, and the adjacent aerobics room has floor-to-ceiling windows and a great selection of classes, from spinning to kickboxing. Out on deck, there’s a pair of pools and four hot tubs.

Dining Like the rest of the NCL fleet, Sun and Sky excel in the restaurant department. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there are two elegant dining rooms. An indoor/outdoor casual buffet restaurant also serves all three meals daily, plus snacks like pizza and cookies in between. For dinner, you can opt instead for one of eight specialty restaurants on Sun and three on Sky. On both ships, the Italian eatery H Adagio, is a fave offering Caesar salads prepared tableside and warm chocolate hazelnut cake that is to die for ($10 cover charge).

Pride of America Pride of America is the only big ship operating cruises entirely within Hawaiian waters, sailing round-trip from Honolulu. Because Hawaii’s islands are all relatively close together, the ship can visit a Hawaiian port every single day, and even do overnights in Kauai and Maui, giving you an opportunity to sample nightlife ashore and get a better feel for both of those beautiful islands.

There’s a downside, however: Because these cruises put so much emphasis on the port experience, there’s not much effort left over for on-board activities. And you can expect lots of extra costs, from expensive drinks to pricey Internet access. You’re likely to spend a bundle, too, on shore excursions and car rentals in port. (Because most of the islands’ real attractions aren’t near port facilities, you have to take an excursion or rent a car to see anything worth seeing.)

Cabins Cabins on Pride are pretty, with their vibrant, tropical hues but they tend to be small: You get as little as 121 square feet in standard inside cabins and as little as 149 square feet in outside units. (That’s 20% smaller than Carnival Cruise Lines cabins, to give some perspective.) Balcony cabins are recommended for the nighttime run between Kona and Hilo, since you can watch lava flowing from Kilauea Volcano without changing out of your pajamas. The captain turns the ship 360 degrees at the optimum viewing point, so cabins on both sides get a view.

There are 23 cabins equipped for wheelchairs. The ship has laundry and dry-cleaning service but no

Self-serve launderettes.

Public areas & activities As you might expect from the ship’s name, Pride of America features patriotic decor including giant photos of the Grand Canyon, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Chicago skyline, and other American icons. The Gold Rush Saloon has a prospector motif, Pink’s Champagne and Cigar Bar salutes with islands with Hawaii-patterned carpeting, while the Napa Wine Bar supplies a more elegant, Mad Men -esque drinking experience. Because of Hawaiian law, there’s no casino on board.

For young ones, the Rascal’s Kids Club has an elaborate indoor jungle gym, a movie room full of beanbag chairs, and an outdoor splash pool with a tube slide. The main pool deck is underwhelming, but look above and you’ll spot a trampoline with a bungee harness, and, next to that, a gyroscope in which passengers can strap themselves in to revolve 360 degrees in any direction, like astronauts in outer space.

America’s equipment-packed oceanview gym is open 24 hours a day, and the adjacent aerobics room has floor-to-ceiling windows and a great selection of stretching, step, and other traditional classes at no extra charge, plus spinning, kickboxing, and other trendy choices for $10 per class. Nearby, the spa and beauty salon afford ocean views as well.

Dining Pride of America ‘s two main restaurants are the Skyline Restaurant, with its art-deco skyscraper motif, and the Liberty Restaurant, where you’re greeted by statues of George Washington and Abe Lincoln, seated beneath a soaring eagle on the ceiling, and surrounded by more stars, stripes, and bunting than you’d see at a political rally. Passengers can also choose from several intimate, extra-cost options: the Lazy J Texas Steakhouse, where waiters sport cowboy hats; Jefferson’s Bistro, an elegant eatery serving French cuisine; and the Pan-Asian East Meets West. Because of the ship’s emphasis on port calls, restaurants tend to be busiest in the early evening, with long lines often forming at 5:30pm The later you dine, the shorter the wait.

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