MSN has partnered with The Points Guy for our coverage of credit card products. MSN and The Points Guy may receive a commission from card issuers.
Looking for a cruise where you can do what you want, whenever you want, without a lot of structure and rules? Norwegian Cruise Line could be your brand.
The Miami-based cruise line pioneered the idea of “Freestyle Cruising” — cruising without rigid dining schedules and dress codes and formal nights — and it’s still the go-to line for vacationers who want a floating resort experience with a casual, laissez-faire vibe.
Instead of a few big main restaurants with fixed seating times, Norwegian ships offer no assigned seating times and varied specialty eateries at which you can dine whenever you want — just make a reservation. When it’s time to head out, if you want to dress up, fine. But there’s no rule saying you must.
For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s new cruise newsletter.
Norwegian vessels also offer lots of options for daytime fun and evening entertainment. On the evening entertainment side, in particular, the brand is known as one of the industry’s leaders. You’ll find everything from music halls with Beatles cover bands and dueling piano bars to theaters with some of the most elaborate shows at sea — including some big-name Broadway productions.
Also, Norwegian ships are loaded with bars, lounges and nightspots, including always-busy casinos. Put it all together, and you have vessels with a very lively atmosphere — particularly at night. If you had to compare Norwegian ships to something on land, you’d probably say they were like floating versions of the casino resorts you find in Las Vegas.
Just to be clear, Norwegian is a big-ship line. Its largest vessels are among the biggest cruise ships at sea (they must be, to fit in all the stuff mentioned above). So if you’re looking for an intimate cruise experience, Norwegian probably isn’t a good choice. That said, the line does offer some relatively smaller ships that aren’t quite as big and bustling as its giants.
Norwegian also is a mass-market brand, not a luxury cruise operator. Still, as we’ll explain below, it offers a wide range of accommodations, some of which fall squarely in the luxury segment. In some cases, its ships have exclusive areas for top cabins and suites called The Haven that come with their own private pools, lounge areas and even restaurants.
In short, if you want to turn a Norwegian cruise into a luxury experience, you can do that, too. Norwegian really is the line where you make the trip what you want it to be.
Related: Which cruise brand is right for you?
In This Post
3 things TPG loves about Norwegian Cruise Line
- The do-what-you-want “freestyle” vibe
- The wide range of eateries, bars and nightspots
- The stellar entertainment, including Broadway shows
What we could do without
- The sky-high extra charges
The Norwegian Cruise Line fleet
Norwegian is the world’s fourth-largest cruise line by passenger capacity, with 17 ships that together offer 50,581 berths.
Smaller only than Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line and MSC Cruises, the brand has become increasingly known for some of the biggest, most amenity-filled vessels at sea. But the line doesn’t just operate giant ships. More than half its fleet is made up of vessels that by today’s standards are considered almost midsize.
Indeed, Norwegian essentially is two cruise lines in one. The line’s seven most-recently built ships are big, bustling floating megaresorts that can carry around 4,000 passengers or more at double occupancy (even more with every berth filled). At around 145,000 to nearly 170,000 tons, all seven currently rank among the 30 biggest cruise ships in the world (although their rankings will shift downward as more big ships debut).
Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles
But Norwegian’s 10 older ships are much more modest in size, measuring around 75,000 to 94,000 tons and carrying closer to 2,000 passengers at double occupancy.
Norwegian thus appeals both to cruisers who like a giant resort vibe and those who prefer something more modest. The key, depending on your tastes, is getting on the right ship in the fleet.
On the big-ship end of the spectrum, Norwegian’s four new Breakaway Plus vessels — Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Escape — are the line’s premier offerings. While not quite as big as Royal Caribbean’s giant Oasis Class ships, they are firmly in the pantheon of the world’s cruising giants. They are the Norwegian vessels most packed with eateries, bars, entertainment and over-the-top attractions.
Just unveiled in 2019, Norwegian Encore is, notably, the 11th biggest cruise ship in the world as of this story’s publishing (it will drop in the rankings over the coming years as additional megaships debut). At 169,116 tons, its bigger than any Carnival ship and all but three MSC Cruises ships. Only Royal Caribbean has a significant number of bigger vessels.
One step down in size from the Breakaway Plus ships are the still-quite-large Breakaway Class ships — Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway — and the one-of-a-kind vessel Norwegian Epic.
Norwegian’s 10 smaller vessels break down among five classes, but many are roughly the same size and offer relatively similar amenities.
One notable outlier among the smaller ships is the 2,186-passenger Pride of America. Sporting a patriotic, U.S.-theme (you’ll find venues named after Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, among nationalistic flourishes), and its own unique array of lounges and entertainment, it’s the only big cruise vessel based year-round in Hawaii.
Pride of America notably operates with a mostly U.S. crew, in keeping with regulations governing cruise itineraries that only include U.S. ports.
For those looking ahead, Norwegian has ordered six new ships for delivery between 2022 and 2027 that will measure an estimated 140,000 tons — about 17% smaller than its biggest ships today. The ships are being designed as an entirely new class of vessels under the code name Project Leonardo. Few details have been released.
Related: Our take on the new Norwegian Encore
Destinations and itineraries
Norwegian sails almost everywhere in the world, but its heaviest presence is in the Caribbean, Europe and Alaska.
In a typical summer, the line will deploy nearly half its ships to Europe while sending several more to the West Coast to sail to Alaska from Seattle; Vancouver, B.C.; and Seward, Alaska. It’ll also operate trips to Bermuda from New York City and Boston, usually with two ships, and trips to the Bahamas and the Caribbean out of Miami — again, usually with two ships.
During the winter, the line will move many of its vessels to North America to operate sailings to the Caribbean and Bahamas. It also sends a few ships to Asia, Australia and South America, and it’ll typically keep a single vessel in Europe, too.
As mentioned above, the line also operates one ship (Pride of America) in Hawaii year-round. It’s the only cruise line to offer year-round voyages in Hawaii.
In North America, Norwegian ships sail out of Boston; New York City; Miami; Tampa; San Juan, Puerto Rico; New Orleans; San Diego; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Seattle; Honolulu; Vancouver, British Columbia; Quebec City, Quebec; and Seward, Alaska.
In Europe, Norwegian ships sail out of Amsterdam; Stockholm; Copenhagen; Southampton, UK; Reykjavik, Iceland; Lisbon, Portugal; Barcelona; Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) and Venice, Italy; Piraeus (the port for Athens); and Istanbul, Turkey.
Related: The best Caribbean cruise for every type of traveler
Who sails Norwegian Cruise Line?
Norwegian appeals to vacationers who want a big-resort experience at sea with lots of options for dining and entertainment. In that, it’s similar to Royal Caribbean — perhaps its closest competitor.
But unlike Royal Caribbean, Norwegian hasn’t retained any of the trappings of old-style cruising. There are no formal nights, as you’ll still find on Royal Caribbean ships, or dress codes. Norwegian also has thoroughly done away with the concept of big main restaurants with fixed seating.
Because of that, Norwegian is popular with people who are looking for the ultimate in freedom on a cruise — freedom to eat when they want, with whom they want and dressed however they want, for sure, but also more generally freedom to just set their own schedule day and night.
Norwegian cruises are very unstructured vacations, and that’s by design.
Like Royal Caribbean ships, Norwegian vessels have an inordinate amount of teen- and tween-friendly attractions — everything from some of the largest waterslides at sea to the only go-kart tracks at sea. That makes them particularly appealing to families, including multigenerational groups. Families are a big part of Norwegian’s business.
But it’s not just families that flock to Norwegian. The line’s ships are designed to offer a little something for everyone, and they thus appeal to a wide demographic, including couples of all ages and even solo travelers (the line has been a leader in adding solo cabins to ships in recent years). They also draw customers from a wide range of the income spectrum.
At their core, Norwegian ships are mass-market ships, with entry-level cabins that are affordable to middle-class travelers. But overlaid across most vessels are high-end suites and services that are at a luxury level, and the line draws a good number of luxury-seeking travelers, too.
The exclusive, keycard-accessed The Haven suite complexes found on 11 of Norwegian’s 17 ships, with their private lounges, pools and other tony features, essentially are small luxury vessels that have been planted atop what are otherwise middle-class, mass-market megaships. These complexes appeal to well-heeled travelers who want a luxury cruising experience while also getting all the fun attractions, entertainment and dining venues that only a mass-market megaship can offer.
Cabins and suites
Norwegian is known for offering a wide range of accommodations on its ships. You’ll find everything from relatively low-cost, windowless “inside” cabins that measure as little as 135 square feet (perfect for the budget traveler) to massive, multi-room suites that are more than 50 times that size.
At the high end, the accommodations are aimed at affluent travelers who, for whatever reason, prefer the megaship experience to being on a luxury ship, and they truly are among the most spectacular accommodations at sea. Some, such as the giant Garden Villas found on six Norwegian ships — Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Dawn and Norwegian Star — sprawl over thousands of square feet and have as many as three bedrooms, living rooms and dining rooms.
The Garden Villas also have private outdoor sundecks and courtyards with hot tubs. Additionally, the Garden Villas on Norwegian Dawn and Norwegian Star include private outdoor dining areas and steam rooms.
Depending on the ship, top suites can come with such perks as private butlers and concierges that attend to your every need; access to a private restaurant, suite lounge and sun deck; reserved seating in entertainment venues; and priority boarding and disembarkation.
On more than half of Norwegian’s ships, many of the top suites are part of an exclusive, keycard-accessed area called The Haven. Billed as an upscale “ship within a ship” and aimed at luxury travelers, The Haven complexes are located at the very top of vessels and often come with private lounges, pools, sunning areas and even restaurants.
Norwegian also is heralded for kicking off the trend of more solo cabins on cruise ships. In 2010, it debuted an entire zone of small “studio” cabins for one — 128 in all — on its then-new, 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic, and it has since added them to six more new ships.
The studio cabins are tiny at just 100 square feet in size. But they’re superbly designed to maximize storage space. On the ships that have them, they are clustered around an exclusive Studio Lounge where solos can mingle at daily hosted happy hour gatherings.
Related: What it takes to get concierge lounge access on a cruise ship
Restaurants and dining
Norwegian was an early pioneer of the idea of giving cruisers lots of choices when it comes to eateries on ships, and even its smallest vessels offer a wide range of options.
On Norwegian’s latest Breakaway Plus Class ships, there are up to 21 places to grab a bite, ranging from high-end French restaurants and steakhouses to casual pubs.
Every vessel has two or three main restaurants and a casual buffet eatery where meals are included in the fare — the latter usually called the Garden Café.
Other included-in-the-fare offerings found on some ships include O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill, a casual pub; an outdoor bar and grill called Topsiders; and casual Asian eateries that go by many names including Shanghai’s Noodle Bar, Shogun, Ginza and Bamboo.
Also, every ship has a least four and often many more extra-charge eateries. Two found across the entire fleet are Cagney’s, the line’s signature steakhouse, and Le Bistro, a fine French restaurant. Every ship also has an Italian eatery, called either Onda by Scarpetta or La Cucina. There also are churrascaria restaurants called Moderno on most Norwegian vessels.
On some ships, you’ll also find Ocean Blue, a seafood restaurant; The District Brew House, a gastropub serving craft beers; and a Mexican food outlet called either Los Lobos and Los Lobos Cantina. In addition, every vessel has some sort of sushi-serving venue, often called Sushi or Wasabi, and there are hibachi-style Teppanyaki restaurants on nearly every Norwegian vessel.
There also are starting to be Starbucks stores on some ships. Plus, some ships have private restaurants just for passengers staying in the exclusive The Haven area of vessels.
Video: Tour Italy on a New Cruise Ship That’s Like a Floating Venetian Palace (Travel + Leisure)
Some of the extra-charge eateries come with a flat fee (the Teppanyaki outlets are $39 per person, not including the cost of drinks). But most are a la carte, with sometimes hefty pricing. One thing that you need to know up front about going on a Norwegian cruise is that there are a lot of extra charges — and sometimes quite high extra charges — on the line’s ships, particularly for things like restaurants.
A surf-and-turf dish at Ocean Blue that combines an 8-ounce filet mignon with a lobster tail costs $49, for example. If you just order a whole lobster, you’ll be out $39. The least expensive entree on the menu, a roasted cauliflower steak, is $19.
If you know you want to eat at several extra-charge restaurants during a single voyage, you can buy one of several dining packages that offer meals at a discount.
Related: The 7 best meals you can have at sea
Entertainment and activities
Few lines offer as broad a range of entertainment and activities on their ships as Norwegian. The line’s biggest vessels offer multiple entertainment venues, from theaters to comedy clubs; a wide range of deck-top attractions; large casinos; full-service spas; and even virtual reality attractions. Plus, you’ll find a seemingly endless array of bars, lounges and nightspots.
Theaters and shows
Entertainment is one of the core areas where Norwegian excels, and if you’re the kind of person who loves a lot of nights out for live music and lively performances on your vacations, you’re going to love the line.
Many of Norwegian’s biggest ships have state-of-the-art theaters as big as you’ll find on Broadway, with big-name Broadway shows to match. Norwegian Encore has the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Kinky Boots, for instance, and Norwegian Bliss has the Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys. In some cases, the Broadway shows are cut down slightly from the original versions, and the casts aren’t quite as seasoned as what you’ll find on Broadway. But these are quality productions. And, the best part … they are entirely free. Compare that with the hundreds of dollars you’ll spend to take your family to a show in New York City.
Norwegian ships also are jam-packed with lively music venues. Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Epic, for instance, have the Cavern Club, a reproduction of the British club that gave rise to the Beatles. It comes complete with a Beatles cover band that plays the group’s greatest hits.
There also are Howl at the Moon dueling piano bars on some Norwegian ships. Other lively music venues include Q Texas Smokehouse. Found on Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Joy, the latter is a music-and-food concept that pairs live country music with barbecue.
In addition, several Norwegian ships offer dinner theater venues with circus-type productions, while one vessel — Norwegian Getaway — has a magic-infused dinner theater show in a steampunk-inspired space called The Illusionarium.
Several ships also offer comedy club entertainment.
Other interior attractions and activities
In addition to entertainment spaces, the interior of Norwegian ships are loaded with other venues where passengers can kick back and let loose day and night, including a seemingly endless array of bars, lounges and nightspots.
All but one Norwegian ship (Pride of America) has a casino, and on the line’s bigger vessels, they are huge operations. The casino on Norwegian Encore sprawls with more than 300 slot machines and 26 table games (including blackjack, roulette, poker and craps), plus its very own bar.
On the line’s big Breakaway Class and Breakaway Plus Class ships, the casino along with a large proportion of all onboard eateries, bars and nightspots sprawl over three central decks that are connected by an atrium-like space known as 678 Ocean Place (the name derives from the location of the decks, which on each ship are decks 6, 7 and 8). At night, these three-deck complexes become lively places.
The Breakaway and Breakaway Plus Class ships also have innovative outdoor promenades called The Waterfront that are lined with outdoor seating for many of their restaurants and bars. The Waterfront is located on Deck 8 of each of the ships, which is one of the main decks for restaurants on them all.
Among other innovative spaces, two of the newest Norwegian vessels — Norwegian Encore and Norwegian Joy — have state-of-the-art gaming and virtual reality zones called Galaxy Pavilion.
There’s nothing quite like Galaxy Pavilion in the cruise world. The venue has an amazing array of super-high-tech virtual reality experiences, including incredibly realistic race car simulators (on Norwegian Encore, there are eight in a row along one wall), hang-gliding simulators, virtual mazes and a virtual reality Jurassic Park jeep ride.
The Galaxy Pavilion on Norwegian Encore is bigger than the one on Norwegian Joy and features more attractions. Among the additions: A 45-minute Escape Room experience laced with special effects. Themed around a Spanish galleon, it’s designed to be played by up to six people at a time.
Just be warned that you’ll pay a hefty amount to play in the Galaxy Pavilion. A week-long pass to the venue will set you back $199 per person. There also are hour-long passes available for $29 per person, or you can sample a single ride for $8 (except for the Escape Room, which is priced separately at $15 per person).
A little less high-tech than the Galaxy Pavilions, but still stunning to find on a cruise ship, is the bowling alley that you’ll find on Norwegian Epic.
Norwegian ships also all have Mandara Spas, which can be quite big on the bigger vessels, and there are fitness centers on every ship.
What you’ll find on the top decks of Norwegian ships will vary quite a bit depending on the vessel. The line’s smaller ships will have at least one or two pools, sunning areas and usually some sort of sports court area but not all that much else. But the big ships are a different story.
On the line’s Breakaway, Breakaway Plus and Epic class ships, you’ll find giant waterslides and kiddie splash zones as well as — in some cases — even more over-the-top attractions such as go-kart tracks and laser tag arenas.
The go-kart tracks — now on three vessels, Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Joy — are quickly becoming Norwegian’s signature can-you-believe-this-is-on-a-ship attraction, and they truly are stunning to see. The biggest of them, on Norwegian Encore, is nearly 1,150 feet long and has four sections that extend up to 13 feet over the sides of the vessel.
Note that this is some serious go-karting. The cars that Norwegian uses can hit speeds up to 32 miles per hour. The Norwegian Encore Speedway also features a new, middle-of-the-track observation area where your family and friends can cheer you on to victory — and even shoot you with “lasers” that’ll give you a boost of power.
The open-air laser tag arenas also are significant venues that are unlike anything you’ll find atop the ships of other lines. The one on Norwegian Encore, which is the largest laser tag arena ever put on a ship, is themed around the lost city of Atlantis and sprawls across the back of the vessel.
As is the case with the Galaxy Pavilion attractions mentioned above, the go-kart and laser tag experiences on Norwegian ships don’t come cheap. You’ll pay $15 per person for an eight-lap romp on the go-karts. Joining a five-minute laser shoot-out costs $10 per person. In both cases, you can buy a week-long pass for $199.
The top decks of a few Norwegian ships — mostly the bigger ones — also have a ropes course, a climbing wall or both of the venues. Some vessels also have miniature golf courses.
You’ll also find an exclusive, extra-charge, adult-only VIP sunning area on six Norwegian ships called Vibe Beach Club. The biggest of these areas is on Norwegian Encore, where Vibe Beach Club is a sprawling private lounge area with a full-service bar, cabanas and two hot tubs that is designed to hold up to 270 people — far more than on other ships.
For those with money to burn (pricing on Norwegian Encore recently was $99 per person for a day pass), the Vibe Beach Clubs are lovely, secluded deck-top hideaways. But there’s a downside for everyone else on board the ships that have them, which is that they take away from the deck-top lounge space available to everybody else.
Related: The 12 cruise ships with the most spectacular attractions at sea
As is typical for big-ship cruise lines, Norwegian has an extensive children’s programs, with programs and activities for children as young as six months through the age of 17.
The heart of the program, called Splash Academy, brings free, supervised activities daily for children ages 3 to 12. The line splits children here up into three age groups: Turtles (ages 3-5 years); Seals (ages 6-9 years) and Dolphins (ages 10-12 years), and they each have their own age-appropriate activities ranging from treasure hunts to video game competitions. On many ships, there are extensive dedicated spaces for the different groups.
While the free programming ends at 10:30 p.m., you can pay extra to leave your kids at Splash Academy past 10:30 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. — when it is billed as the Late Night Fun Zone.
Norwegian also has rooms on its ships for babies and toddlers ages 6 months to 3 years. Called Guppies, the program offers parents a place to play with their youngest children, with occasional youth staff-lead activities and games. But parents must remain with their children. Only one ship, Norwegian Escape, has a Guppies Nursery program where parents can drop off their littlest children for supervision during the day (for a fee).
Norwegian also offers dedicated teen zones and programming on ships for children ages 13 to 17. Called Entourage, the teen zone is a place for teens to hang out, dance and play games, and it is supervised by counselors who plan activities and challenges.
What to know before you go
A passport is required for all cruises leaving from a non-U.S. port and all Panama Canal sailings (regardless of departure port). If you’re a U.S. citizen, you don’t need a passport for most sailings from U.S. ports (including sailings to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, the Mexican Riviera and Alaska). You instead can travel with a state-certified birth certificate or other proof of citizenship, and a driver’s license or other government-issued photo identification. That said, Norwegian strongly recommends that all travelers bring a passport.
Passports must be valid for at least six months. Note that it is important that the name on your reservation be exactly as it is stated on your passport or other official proof of nationality.
Norwegian adds an automatic service charge of $15.50 to $18.50 per person, per day to final bills, depending on your cabin category. If you are unhappy with the service you receive, you can adjust this amount downward before disembarking at the Guest Services desk. (You can also increase the amount if so desired.) In addition, a 20% gratuity is added to the bill at bars, extra-charge specialty restaurants and ship spas.
Related: Everything you need to know about tipping on a cruise ship
Norwegian has been rolling out faster WiFi systems across its fleet in recent years, such that you now can stream video on ships. Pricing changes over time, but the fastest “premium” service on Norwegian vessels recently was priced at $29.50 per person, per day, if you bought it in advance (the price was $34.99 if purchased onboard). Norwegian also offers a less expensive plan that doesn’t allow video streaming for $25.50 if purchased in advance ($29.99 if bought onboard).
An even less expensive plan that only allows access to key social sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) is available for $12.50 per day if bought in advance ($14.99 onboard).
Note that this pricing is quite a bit higher than what some other lines such as Carnival or Princess charge for Wi-Fi. Princess recently was charging $9.99 per day for Wi-Fi at streaming speeds.
Related: Wi-Fi on ships really is getting better
Carry-on drinks policy
Norwegian allows you to bring bottles of your own wine or Champagne on board, but it will charge you a hefty $15 per bottle corkage fee for the privilege — even if you plan to drink the bottle in your room. This is a more draconian policy than you will find at most lines. Most lines allow passengers to bring at least a bottle or two of their own wine on board at no charge.
On all ships, smoking (including e-cigarette smoking) only is allowed in designated outdoor areas and cigar lounges (for cigar smoking only) and in casinos. It’s forbidden in cabins and on cabin balconies. Passengers caught smoking in their cabins will be charged a $250 fine per occurrence.
Unlike many cruise vessels, Norwegian ships do not have self-serve launderettes on cabin decks for passenger use. Instead, the line offers extra-charge laundry and dry cleaning services.
Related: Everything you need to know about cruise ship laundry services
All cabins on Norwegian vessels have standard North American-style, 110-volt outlets and European-style, 220-volt outlets. Some cabins also have USB ports.
The currency used on all Norwegian itineraries is U.S. dollars. All vessels operate on a “cashless system” with any onboard purchases you make posting automatically to your onboard account. You’ll receive a cruise card that you can use to make charges. This same card also is what lets you into your cabin.
The official drinking age on Norwegian ships is 21. That said, passengers who are 18 to 20 can purchase and consume beer or wine on ships that are in international waters with permission from their parents or legal guardians. The parent or legal guardian must be on board and sign a waiver at Guest Services. Note that the lower drinking age in international waters does not apply during sailings in Alaska and Hawaii.
Norwegian Cruise Line may be the most laid-back line out there when it comes to dress codes. You basically can wear whatever you want, whenever you want.
The line specifically says that casual wear — think khakis, jeans, shorts and casual shirts for men; casual dresses, skirts, shorts, jeans and tops for women — is just fine anytime during the day, at the buffet and in most specialty restaurants.
The line just recommends a step up to “smart casual” outfits in its more formal dining rooms and upscale specialty restaurants. In keeping with Norwegian’s laid-back-ness, this might still mean nothing more than a crisper pair of jeans, or maybe slacks with a collared shirt, for men. Definitely no need for a jacket. For women, think slacks or jeans, dresses, skirts and tops.
Related: What to pack for your first cruise
Norwegian Cruise Line loyalty program
Norwegian has a point-based frequent cruiser program, Latitudes Rewards, that has six tiers, ranging from Bronze (requiring 1 point) to Ambassador (700 points).
Members earn points for every night they sail on one of the line’s ships. They get an additional point for every night they stay in a Concierge room, a suite (not including stays in mini-suites, or stays in suites resulting from an upgrade) or a The Haven room. They also get an additional point for every night booked through a Latitudes Rewards Insider Offer.
To hit the first tier, Bronze, takes one cruise. Reaching the second tier, Silver (30 points), would take at the most five cruises if you’re doing seven-night trips.
Lower tiers don’t bring all that much in terms of truly valuable benefits. You’ll get things like priority check-in and discounts on spa treatments performed while ships are in port. But higher levels of the program start to be enticing.
The third-to-highest tier, Platinum (80 points), brings free dinners at two extra-charge restaurants, free internet minutes, behind-the-scenes ship tours and concierge service. The top Ambassador level brings a truly wonderful perk: A one-time complimentary seven-night cruise in a balcony cabin. You can pick almost any sailing except trips around Christmas and the New Year.
Note that, in contrast to airline frequent flyer programs, cruise line loyalty programs do not require you to requalify for status every year. So, yes, the perks with lower tiers aren’t great. But it’s not as difficult as it might at first seem to hit the more rewarding higher level tiers in just a few years if you’re cruising a lot.
A passenger staying in suites and booking through Latitudes Rewards Insider Offers could get to the Platinum level with just four seven-night cruises.
Related: The TPG guide to cruise line loyalty programs
How much does a Norwegian cruise cost?
Norwegian designs its ships to appeal to a broad mix of people, in part by offering a wide range of cabin types at varying price points. On a typical sailing, you might find an entry-level cabin for around $100 a night while a high-end suite is five to 10 times that amount.
As of the date of this story’s posting, for instance, a sprawling The Haven Deluxe Owner’s Suite with Large Balcony on Norwegian Breakaway for a seven-night Caribbean cruise in May 2022 was going for $7,369 per person, based on double occupancy — about 10 times the cost of the least-expensive “inside” cabin (which was starting at $739 per person, based on double occupancy). Balcony cabins on the same sailing started at around $1,139 per person, based on double occupancy.
Note the “based on double occupancy” caveat in the above paragraph. As is typical for cruise lines, Norwegian charges on a per-person basis, not per room, and it prices most cabins based on two people occupying a room. As mentioned above, it does offer some cabins for solo travelers on some ships that are priced based on single occupancy.
In general, Norwegian’s newer, bigger Breakaway and Breakaway Plus ships will be more expensive than the line’s older, smaller vessels. But there are a lot of factors that go into pricing for any given cruise, including the popularity of the specific itinerary, the time of year when the cruise is taking place and changing demand trends.
As you might expect, pricing for all ships generally will be lower during off-season periods such as September and October.
The timing of when you book also can matter. Cruises book up much further in advance than airplanes or hotels, and many cruisers will tell you that the best pricing for any given sailing often is available when cruises first go on sale (which can be a good two years before a departure). Booking far in advance also will give you the best chance of getting your preferred cabin type and location on a ship.
Once on board a Norwegian ship, you’ll pay extra for most drinks, extra-charge restaurants, spa services, shore excursions, internet service and a few other things — unless you’ve bought a package for some of these items in advance. Some onboard activities such as go-karting also come with an extra charge. What’s included in the fare is your lodging, meals (in non-extra-charge restaurants) and most entertainment.
Related: 15 ways that first-time cruisers waste money on a cruise
How to book
If you’re sure you know what sort of cabin you want, on which ship, on which itinerary — and about a dozen other things — you can head over to ncl.com to make a booking directly.
That said, given the complexity of booking a cruise — there are a lot of decisions to make during the booking process, trust us — we recommend that you use a seasoned travel agent who specializes in cruises.
A good travel agent will quiz you about your particular interests, travel style and preferences, and steer you to the perfect cruise line, ship, itinerary and cabin for you. They also can help you if something goes wrong just before, during or after your voyage.
If you’re sure that Norwegian is your line, look for a travel agent who specializes in trips with the brand. You want someone who understands all the little quirks that are unique to Norwegian’s cabin categories and, preferably, has done ship inspections to see the cabins first hand.
Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles
Whether you use a travel agent or not, make sure to maximize your credit card points when paying for the cruise by using a credit card that offers extra points for travel purchases. This could be the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining (excluding the annual $300 travel credit) or the Citi Premier℠ Card, which offers 3x ThankYou Points on travel, including gas stations. There’s also the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which brings 2x Ultimate Rewards points on travel (and dining).
The information for the Citi Premier Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
For big-ship lovers, Norwegian pretty much has it all. There’s tons of great entertainment on Norwegian’s vessels; plenty of venues for eating and drinking; and all sorts of deck-top diversions — at least on the line’s newest ships. Throw in the brand’s low starting prices, and it’s an even more compelling package.
If we have a gripe with the line, it’s about the “extra-charge creep” that we’ve been seeing for attractions on Norwegian ships such as go-karts and laser tag in recent years, and the higher a la carte prices spreading across the line’s onboard restaurants. But, then again, you get what pay for, as the saying goes. If you’re on a tight budget, there are plenty of included-in-the-fare choices for dining and entertainment. If money is no object, you can follow a different “journey” through the ship, as Norwegian executives like to say, to a far more high-end vacation.
Featured image courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
SPONSORED: With states reopening, enjoying a meal from a restaurant no longer just means curbside pickup.
And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free.
These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.