ABOARD THE NORWEGIAN PRIMA -- A staircase that runs like a ribbon down the side of the atrium. The 752-seat theater that morphs into a nightclub. A wraparound deck with a pathway past two infinity-edge pools and a sculpture garden.
When Norwegian Cruise Line unveiled the Norwegian Prima late last month, NCL sought to introduce a premium version of itself filled with unique and intimate venues to make people forget they were sailing on a ship with 3,099 guests.
It accomplished its goal: Travel advisors I talked to when I sailed on the Prima's inaugural voyage out of Reykjavik, Iceland, on Aug. 27 gushed over the ship's look, the upscale designs and dining options -- and they were ready to book their premium clients on a Prima cruise.
First Call: Norwegian Prima
"I love the curves. It's not boring to look at," said Beci Mahnken, owner of Seattle-based MEI-Travel. "It feels expensive, along that 'luxury' line, without being over the top."
The Prima is the first in a class of six ships due out yearly now through 2027. This class is the first with the fingerprints of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio all over it. This went as deep as his critique of color schemes and the placement of outlets to standing in shower stalls to judge whether they were big enough, said Yohandel Ruiz, founding partner at Studio Dado. That firm, which designed the cabins and other spaces on the ship, has worked with Del Rio on ships for NCLH's other two brands, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas.
Del Rio is known for introducing Oceania Cruises in 2002 as a line more elevated than "premium" but less expensive than "luxury." He appears to be attempting something similar for NCL by elevating the Prima to a space that marries "contemporary" family-friendly cruise ship toys, such as a three-deck go-kart track and 10-deck slide, with a "premium" vibe and ship design.
For instance, there's the asymmetrical atrium, the central gathering place on the ship to which all corridors lead. The three-story, glass-walled space in the middle of the ship is open like a resort atrium, leaning on natural light. White and bright, the space gives guests chances to peek up or down at other gathering spots, like the ocean-hued Penrose Bar on Deck 6, the Starbucks on Deck 7 and the caramel-shaded Whiskey Bar on Deck 8.
The Prima also introduces a theater stage that converts into a Vegas-style nightclub. After an evening performance of "The Donna Summer Musical," staff collapsed the blue crushed-velvet seats and the rows were recessed like high-tech high school bleachers to create space for dancing. The finishing touch -- an automated, three-ring, 60-ton chandelier -- lit up the dance floor with a rainbow of lights.
Myriad options in the food hall
Another new concept is the Indulge Food Hall, which has dining options from 11 restaurants offering Asian noodles, Indian food, Texas barbecue and more. The space was popular on our sailing and quickly filled up. Wesley Cort, NCL's vice president of food and beverage operations, said the crowding was a symptom of the hall's popularity combined with poor weather keeping people from spilling out onto the deck to dine alfresco.
For a product trying to give off a premium vibe, travel advisors said the staterooms lacked a few staple amenities: robes and slippers, lotion, hair conditioner (bathrooms instead had "conditioning shampoo"), drinking water and a coffeemaker, the last of which would be delivered upon request. My guest who wanted to use the Deck 17 hot tub asked five crew members for a robe, and all said no until housekeeping eventually brought us a set. Robes are only available in Haven and Spa suites.
The Indulge Food Hall is quite a popular spot on the Norwegian Prima. There's outdoor and indoor seating. Photo Credit: Andrea Zelinski
NCL said that to eliminate its use of plastics, it is no longer offering lotion in all cabins. Instead, all Haven and Spa cabins and suites have lotion dispensers.
Those missing elements, however, didn't give advisors pause about booking a Prima cruise for their clients.
"Robes would be a nice touch, but it's not the end of the world," said Mark Wimberly, owner of Making Memories Travel in Hartford, Wis. Even his luxury clients, he said, would feel at home on the ship if he booked them in the Haven, NCL's ship-within-a-ship concept. On the Prima, the Haven was moved to the aft as the ship's design has midship engines. The space includes private dining and a private, top-deck infinity-edge pool facing the sea.
The Prima will begin sailing from the Netherlands, Denmark and England on Northern European voyages on Sept. 3. In October, the ship will move to the U.S., where it will sail the Caribbean out of New York, Miami and Galveston, Texas. The Prima will homeport in Port Canaveral, Fla., and Galveston for the 2023 and 2024 cruise seasons.