9 reasons families should choose Norwegian Bliss
The first time I went on a cruise, I was instantly won over – despite being a little dubious in advance. And if that particular voyage was all about cocktails and city trips, I discovered cruising with kids was just as good, when my daughter – then newly toddling – and I headed to the Caribbean for her taste of life on board.
Now she’s old enough to enjoy more of the kids’ club, the activities on board and the endless delicious food (not to mention the destinations!), I’m more determined to turn ‘one day we’ll go on another cruise’ into ‘some day soon’.
And after spending two days on the inaugural sailing of Norwegian Cruise Lines’ latest ship, I now know where I’d like that to be too. Not convinced yet? Here are my 9 reasons families should choose Norwegian Bliss.
1. The variety
NCL talks of its fleet – the Bliss in particular – as being a floating resort, and it’s not a bad description. With pools, waterslides and splash zone, 27 different places to eat on board, plus activities including laser tag and a race track (yup, a race track… we’ll come back to that), kids’ clubs for all ages (more on that too) there’s masses to entertain – and the theatre and Cavern Club, plus a spa on board for adults too.
But unlike some of the biggest ships at sea, it never feels completely overwhelming. Occupancy is 4,004 compared to around the 6,000 mark for some – having been on what was then the world’s largest, I was still struggling to get my bearings after three days. Norwegian Bliss, however, felt much more manageable: enough space to fit an awful lot on board but without spending half your time wandering around in circles.
2. The race track
It might not be the first thing you check when you book a cruise, but now you know? Well, who doesn’t fancy whizzing around a two level 984ft long track in an electric car (go kart, basically), on the longest track at sea – I could hardly stop grinning when I pulled off my helmet.
The cars can go up to 30mph and while I doubt I hit top speed, I had a lot of fun pressing the boost button, speeding around corners and managing to overtake one other person. There’s no age resctriction but kids have to be at least 1.2m tall (and adults a max of 2m), with a $5 per ride cost. And yes, there are plenty of barriers between you and the waves.
3. The kids’ club
Slightly under that height restriction still, I suspect my mini Minnie would be having the time of her life in the kids’ club instead – well, I say kids’ club but it’s actually several rolled in to one, all with qualified staff. Not only one of the largest I’ve seen, it’s beautifully designed so most of Splash Academy is open plan, but with partitions and sections to divide it into different areas for the different age ranges.
The groups are split into ages three to five (turtles), six to nine (seals) and 10-12 (dolphins) with various activities including crafts, games, storytelling, treasure hunts and circus skills. Honestly, I quite fancy the latter myself. There are occasional film nights too, and three sessions on sea days from 9-12, 2-5 and 7-10.30. On port days, the club is open pretty much all day, with a small extra charge for meals (otherwise it’s all included) if parents wanted to leave kids to go on a shore excursion.
After 10.30pm there’s also additional childcare for $6 per hour for kids aged under 12, which needs to be booked. It’s worth knowing that if you plan to leave younger kids at Splash Academy in the early evening while you have dinner, they’ll be expected to be awake and joining in the activities rather than snoozing in a corner before 10.30.
And if your kids are younger? There’s sensory play in the Guppies playroom for six months to three-year-olds, accompanied by parents for a couple of hours every day. Older? Teens get their own space called Entourage, which is much more hands off – there’s video games, cards, table football, music and activities for those who want it, a place to chill out for those who don’t. And it’s open until 1am as well.
There’s also 60 minutes of WiFi as part of the Premium All Inclusive package – inevitably not as speedy as on land, but enough for teens to check in on online life while they’re at sea… and not so much that they’re glued to devices rather than spending time as a family.
4. The food
Well, it wouldn’t be a cruise if there wasn’t immense amounts of food, right? And 27 different dining options definitely covers that off. But one of the things I love on board NCL cruises is the Freestyle Dining – effectively eating where you want, when you want (perhaps not quite 24h, but all the hours my daughter is awake and then a few).
So no hanging around with a starving preschooler waiting for official dinner to start… or rushing to be in the dining room for a specific time, when you’ve been having a lovely chilled afternoon together. Kids aged three and under eat for free, and there’s a kids’ menu for four to 12-year-olds in the restaurants, including the speciality dining. So if you’re dying to have oysters and fresh fish in Ocean Blue (do, it’s delicious) but have kids who definitely won’t consider that, no problem.
And even with a five-year-old whose very particular approach to food has seen me order plain pasta for her before now, the Garden Cafe buffet is so impressively big that even she’d find something to like. The Premium All-Inclusive option means, unsurprisingly, that it’s all included – with the exception of the speciality dining and the treats at the Bake House, freakshakes and chocolate at Coco’s and Dolce Gusto ice cream, alas.
Having tried the Grand Marnier cupcake and passion fruit macaron, it’s worth paying the extra for though! Yum. (Happily the the raspberry and guava mojito at Sugarcane mojito bar – for me, obvs, not Minnie – was covered under Premium All-Inclusive, as are all drinks under $15).
5. Aqua Park
The water might have been a little chilly on our April mini cruise from Germany back to the UK, but who cares when you have two rather fabulous water slides to whoosh down. Ocean Loops extends for 11ft over the side of the ship and starts 159ft above water, while Aqua Racer lets you race side by side on your inner tube through the other slide.
I can’t see my cautious girl going on those just yet, but the splash pads, water cannons, smaller slides and tipping buckets of the kids section would be a big hit. As with most cruise ships, the two pools and the splash zone are only for toilet trained children (no swim nappies). Plus there are six infinity hot tubs, if you do get a few moments to relax…
6. The activities
You want more? OK, how about the first open air laser tag on a cruise ship, themed around an abandoned space station. Open day and night, there’s no height and weight restriction for this one either, as long as players can carry their equipment. Kids get special hero blasters instead of the standard laser guns, so there’s nothing to stop younger ones joining in.
There’s also an arcade and for older ones, the amazing musical Jersey Boys on at the theatre (with authentic New Jersey language, so take your own decision on how old is OK – teens upwards, I’d expect).
And depending where you’re cruising, the fantastic views from the 180 degree Observation Lounge count as an activity in themselves – watching glaciers calve in Alaska beats any arcade hands down, although I suspect my daughter wouldn’t appreciate the chance to watch the waves quite as much as I did.
There are extra activities in the Freestyle Daily info sheet left in your stateroom each day. Not forgetting the ports you stop at too. Bored is not going to be a problem.
7. The staterooms
Space on board can be an issue for families on cruise ships, but if you book far enough in advance, there’s an option to suit most people – 50 Family Oceanview cabins have five berths for larger families, as well as connecting staterooms (some with connecting balconies), or suites if you fancy splashing out. Those also give you access to the exclusive The Haven area with an array of other luxuries thrown in.
If you’re travelling as a multigenerational group, there are also Studio staterooms designed for solo occupancy – which also has access to the Studio complex and Lounge. Ideal for grandparents or older siblings who want their own space.
8. The style
Admittedly I can’t see Minnie caring too much about the decor, although I suspect her magpie eye would mean she’d love the gigantic super sparkly chandelier in the midship section as well as the bright colours of Splash Academy. But I suspect she’d enjoy how open the ship feels, even if she didn’t appreciate the work that goes into creating that effect.
Wandering around the open-air Waterfront deck and the sundecks up top, for example, or the feeling of space inside the restaurants with their high ceilings. Even my stateroom, designed for two, makes the most of every inch – the double sink in the bathroom is bigger than my one at home, and the same goes for the shower. Unlike older ships, where a lot of the areas can feel dark and cramped, not to mention dated, there’s no claustrophobic sense of being squished in together.
9. The itineraries
It’s sometimes easy to forget, with a cruise ship like this, that being on board is only part of the experience – and there’s plenty for families to discover on dry land as well. In summer, she cruises Alaska, somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit – from dogsledding to wildlife spotting to watching icebergs be created from the huge chunks falling from glaciers, even the scenery is awe-inspiring.
Then in winter, my preferred place to be… on a beach. The Eastern Caribbean to be precise, stopping at the US and British Virgin Islands as well as the Bahamas. As Minnie’s first trip also took us flamingo spotting in Nassau, it’s very tempting to head back and check up on them or try snorkelling in St Thomas. Bliss indeed.
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Disclosure: My two-day sailing on Norwegian Bliss was courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Lines. All opinions and helmet hair from hitting the race track are my own.
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