Trip Date 05/25/2018
Posted On 07/25/2018 17:38:20
Destinations | Cruises | Review of Norwegian Bliss | Norwegian Bliss Public Areas | Norwegian Bliss Balcony | Norwegian Bliss Dining | NCL
The Norwegian Bliss inaugural Panama Canal sailing was our 29th cruise together, and as passengers we are a cruise lines worst nightmare! We are not loyal to any one cruise line, we typically choose inside, ocean view or highly discounted cabins, we don't sail with children, we are happy with the included dining options, we don't drink much, we don't gamble, we don't shop much, we usually explore ports on our own or with private tour guides, we are not spa or beach club or salon patrons ... you get the point. It's surprising that they let us on the ship!
Of the four cruise lines on which we have traveled together (Celebrity, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean), we have sailed the most number of days with Norwegian. This 15 day cruise was our our first sailing on an almost brand new ship and our second canal transit. We became interested in this sailing upon hearing about it earlier in the year, however with a variety of other vacations scheduled for 2018, we waited to commit.
I obsessively watched the price beginning in February and in early April, after numerous reductions, I reserved Southwest flights. We finally pulled the switch on April 14 and reserved a guarantee balcony. I've always wanted to book a "last minute cruise" and, at 26 days before sailing, this may be the closest I ever get. We are usually planners and with less than a month our typical research into shore excursions was significantly reduced. (Plus, our hope was for this vacation to be as inexpensive as possible!)
Norwegian Bliss - The ShipWe made an effort to visit all of the public areas and then some! While we did a better job of spending time in a variety of venues than on our previous sailings, the ship was huge (the biggest that we have sailed upon) and we didn't make it everywhere.
I'll start with some overall comments about the Bliss. (Note that the few negative comments are intended not to dissuade anyone from sailing on the Bliss, but as an attempt to provide balanced feedback for anyone trying to decide whether or not the Bliss is for them. Personally, other than to those who are miserable on mega ships, if the itinerary and price were right, I would highly recommend the Bliss.)
- Being on a new ship was awesome!!! Everything was clean, the public areas were beautiful, the staterooms looked and smelled new, the list could go on and on. While we truly enjoyed our experience, and would absolutely consider a return sailing based on price and itinerary, we haven't joined the "only Norwegian Bliss" or "only NCL" clubs just yet!
- With so much of the pre-sail advertising focused on how the Bliss was custom built for Alaska sailings, it was surprising that there was no covered pool (except for Haven guests).
- As a non-smoker, I loved the more limited smoking areas. It was especially pleasing to be able to use the walking/running track and outdoor promenade without having to hold my breath while on the smoking side of the ship. Additionally, we could breathe the air while walking through the casino and our clothes did not smell like cigarette smoke afterwards.
- I agree with comments overheard from others saying that NCL should offer stations to fill up water bottles - at minimum in the gym.
- Although the public announcements were difficult to hear depending on your location, I did notice that the regular (and very annoying, in my opinion) "it's bingo time" announcements were nowhere to be heard aboard the Bliss.
- The port side stairwells in the ship's aft were haunted! We laughed every time we walked up or down the stairs as they creeked when the ship was sailing.
- In general, the palm activated electronic door switches worked well, however a couple of them were out of the typical persons walking path (Deck 16 aft near the fitness center and Deck 8 aft near the gelato and bake shops).
- Although I realize that Hotel Director Jovo Sekulovic was busy with his manager Klaus Lugmaier aboard, I was surprised that suggestions placed in the "Dear Jovo" box were not answered or even acknowledged.
Beginning at the top of the ship, our impressions of the public venues of the ship that we experienced can be found here:
Deck 20 (Laser Tag)Although we received permission to walk through the Laser Tag course during daylight hours, we never had a chance to play (6:00 PM - 10:00 PM on most days). The course design is an excellent rendition of an "Aliens" like spaceship.
It is interesting that Norwegian chose to include their first ever laser tag course on a ship designed for Alaska sailings. Since the course is open air, it can be unbearably cold and windy - I'm not sure how well this will work during the Alaska season. Additionally, since we were told that the game is best played in the dark, what will the opening hours be on Alaska sailings when there is often sunlight past 2:00 AM?
We had reservations for one evening, however upon our arrival we were encouraged to reschedule as we had the only two reservations. (The staff correctly thought we would have more fun if we competed with others.) Unfortunately the cruise was nearing its end, and we already had plans for most of the remaining nights.
With no reservations available, we attempted to go standby on the final evening. The check-in area was quite chaotic and after waiting around, it appeared that all parties with reservations had shown up, so we left without playing. If you are not cruising with a group of people eager to play, here are some recommendations:
- Meet people and gather a group of 6 to 10 players willing to pay the $5.00 per person entrance fee. Once you have your players, make a group reservation - just remember that the earlier you make your reservation the better as you'll have more choices of dates and times.
- Make a group reservation early in the cruise for your preferred night (after knowing the dates and times of other events you want to work around). Then, meet people to fill your group. Remember that cancellations must be made 24 hours in advance if you can't find enough interested and willing participants.
Deck 19 (Race Track, Mini Golf)Reservations were required for the $7.00 race on the two level aft track billed as the largest Race Track at sea. Scott enjoyed driving his electric go-kart (and I loved watching). We agreed that it would have been more fun with additional drivers competing - it was just Scott and an amazing 80+ year old woman.
After checking in on Deck 18, drivers were required to watch a short safety video before receiving a full face head sock and helmet, being assigned a car and learning how to operate it. Once the previous race concluded, the drivers were off on their 8 lap race. (Since it was not busy, they allowed me inside during the preliminary preparations, and once the race began, I headed upstairs to the observation deck.)
During our sailing, construction of Mini Golf was completed and we were among the first few people to play. With only 5 holes and no real obstacles (pars 2 and 3), the course is very small, and while it does fully use the limited amount of space, the layout is poor.
If you are lucky, there will be a ball and club available at the course entrance. When you finish your game, the only ways to return your club and ball to the first hole for others to use is to walk back through the entire course dodging other golfers or to walk downstairs, around to the entrance and back up the stairs. Therefore, most passengers leave their equipment in the bucket at the end of the course - but then it's not available for the next player at hole 1.
We also enjoyed soaking in the rarely used public hot tub on Deck 19 port side (across from the Vibe Beach Club entrance). We do wish that at least one of the ship's hot tubs were open past 10:00 PM.
Deck 17 (Spice H2O, Hot Tubs, Ocean Loops, Aqua Racer)Spice H2O (adults only from 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM daily and open to all guests each evening) was a fun home for late night events. The venue worked well for dances and parties with a bar, stage and sun deck by day which converted to a large dance floor by night.
I'm not sure what to say about the "water feature" located in Spice H2O - other than that it was interesting.
There were six hot tubs on Deck 17 - 4 smaller tubs located mid ship plus 2 in Spice H2O. Although we could sometimes hear the poolside music or see the big screen from the mid ship tubs, our favorites were the larger hot tubs in Spice H2O. We especially liked the port side hot tub as we never had to worry about second hand smoke. (The starboard side tub had one of the ship's few smoking areas nearby, although there were never many smokers there.)
While the bottoms of the two slides were on Deck 17, the entrances required upstairs climbs. After watching others and hearing stories about people getting stuck, I couldn't muster up the courage to ride Ocean Loops, the drop slide. Scott was much braver than I, and although he did enjoy it, he said that because it went so fast with water rushing in his eyes, he couldn't enjoy the fact that he looped out over the water.
Aqua Racer, billed as a tandem water slide (compete for the best of three), was actually not a tandem slide and there was no way to compete! Riders obtained an inner tube at the base of the slide from either an exiting rider or staff member and carried it 2 flights up to the starting point. We rode it several times back to back - it was a lot of fun and not crowded. With colored lights inside the tube, I thought it would be really fun in the evening however it closed at 6:00 PM daily.
Deck 16 (Sun Deck, Fitness Center)As is common on Norwegian ships more so than on other lines which we have sailed, the poolside lounge chairs on the Sun Deck were quite difficult to come by. Passengers "reserve" them so that they are available for the limited times that they actually want to use them. Although the Freestyle Daily stated that items will be removed, our experience was that the staff did not remove personal items unless requested to do so.
When we were watching, the big screen most often had cool photos of destinations around the world, however near the end of our sailing that changed. The screen was one of two public screens where the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry & Meghan was broadcast, and shortly afterwards a great decision was made to show a couple of evening poolside movies.
We were quite impressed with the equipment in the Fitness Center yet we never saw many guests making use of the facility. There was even a Peloton Exercise Bike (actually two, but only one was reservable for guest use). A walk or run on the smoke-free Jogging Track, also on Deck 16, required 8 laps per mile.
At the opposite end of the ship from the Fitness Center, but also on Deck 16, sat two Ping Pong Tables near one of the sliding doors leading to the Garden Cafe. While we didn't actually play and score a true ping pong competition, it was fun to hit some balls (and frequently chase them all over the area when our hits weren't on target)!
Deck 15 (Observation Lounge)The Observation Lounge was beautiful and not usually crowded (except during the Panama Canal transit). Although we often found the temperature rather cold, with lounge chairs and other soft cushioned sofas and chairs, the furniture was very comfortable. The venue was perfect for special events including evening music and the "Exclusive Gathering" for Latitudes members.
I especially loved the port side entrance lobby, home to an intricate scale model of the ship. Near the end of our sailing, the plaques received when the ship docked at a port for the first time were finally on display. Believe it or not, one of the reasons for my desire to join a ship's inaugural sailing was for these plaques. I erroneously thought that there would be an event during which the plaque would be ceremoniously presented to the captain. I have now learned that there is no event (at least not one that passengers can witness) and that the staff is in no hurry to hang the plaques!
After asking employees of various ranks and receiving different answers from each, as well as leaving a comment/question for Jovo which remained unanswered, I finally gave up my hopes of seeing the plaques for our ports of call (all of which were firsts). Lo and behold, toward the end of the sailing they were hanging on the wall in the entrance lobby. Since we didn't frequent the lounge, I was glad that we walked by or I would have missed them since the display was unannounced.
Deck 8 (Sugarcane Mojito Bar, The Cavern Club, The District Brew House, Los Lobos)We frequently listened to music in Sugarcane Mojito Bar, The Cavern Club and The District Brew House. There were almost always standing room only crowds - so we did a lot of standing! The Cavern Club was definitely too small for the highly promoted performances.
The District Brew House was poorly designed for allowing guests to see the performers. There were a limited number of bar stools with a good view of the musicians but all remaining chairs were located in the back of or along a side wall with a completely obstructed view.
Late in our cruise, I realized that Los Lobos was open every afternoon for game players. It turned out to be a good venue for card and dice games and had a number of people enjoying games including the bunco group organized by a Facebook roll call member.
When the weather was nice, Sugarcane on the Waterfront was an excellent venue for relaxing (or enjoying a drink). I hope that a trash container can be placed in the Waterfront area - I realize that it's so minor, but I had a piece of garbage that I didn't want to leave on a table so I went on a hunt and the closest place to dispose of it was inside near the aft elevator lobby. Although I didn't discover them until our disembarkation day, I am sure that the binoculars located at Sugarcane on the Waterfront will be very popular during Alaska sailings.
Deck 7 (Bliss Theater, Box Office)The Bliss Theater was awesome - in our opinion it is one of the best theaters at sea. Views were not blocked by poles as is common, and one of our favorite aspects of the design were the four walkways (one on each of the far perimeters plus the two standard main aisles). There was far less need for late arriving guests to crawl over others when seated in the two outside sections as there were twice as many aisles than many other theaters have.
If possible, avoid the Box Office, located at the starboard entrance to the Bliss Theater, on embarkation day! We attempted to make reservations about an hour before the muster drill (during advertised box office hours), however were turned away. The box office had scheduled hours immediately after the drill, and there was tremendous congestion - people still trying to leave the theater following the drill plus others lining up for reservations. It was a madhouse!
Deck 6 (Social Comedy & Night Club, Atrium, Q Texas Smokehouse)Comedy performances, a Silent Disco and late night DJ music were on the agenda most nights in the Social Comedy & Night Club. As it was another small venue, there was often a line of people hoping that all with reserved seating for the comedians didn't show up. The venue was also used for art lectures and auctions during the day.
Surrounded by Shore Excursions, Guest Services, Cruise Next, Starbucks, the Atrium Bar, Internet Cafe and the Photo Studio, the Atrium was filled with comfortable seating. The Atrium was used for a wide variety of events - musical performances, trivia, presentations, cooking demonstrations and more. Passengers seated in the Local on the Deck 7 stools which surrounded the Atrium could also see and hear, therefore allowing a larger audience.
In addition to other musicians, the Q hosted a highly raved about country music band on most evenings. We had the opportunity to see two performances, and the venue worked well with both a stage and dance floor. The escape room competition, Escape the Big Top and many other events were also in the Q.
Stateroom ExperienceWe were assigned stateroom 13304 fairly quickly after making our payment. Our guarantee balcony cabin was the last room on the port side - just before the true aft balcony staterooms. Upon entering, the bathroom door (which had several hooks) was on the left with the shower and toilet against the outside wall. The bathroom had a single sink, open shelves both above and below the vanity plus storage and a trash dispenser in a cabinet below the sink. It was great to have a brand new clean bathroom, and like most of the newer ships, a shower with a door rather than a clingy shower curtain.
Just past the bathroom entry door was a full length mirror. Our room was a connecting cabin with a door to stateroom 13302 located on the right past two wall hooks and just opposite the mirror. When walking from the hallway toward the balcony, the closet was next, followed by the sofa and bed - all against the left wall of the cabin.
Facing the sliding closet doors, there were several cubicles on the left (one with a room safe) and a closet rod with hangers on the right. The top closet shelf had more storage space than in most of our previous cabins as life jackets were stored centrally versus in individual staterooms. The downside of the closets was that they were narrow - so narrow that the provided hangers barely fit! Additionally, it was rather difficult to put hanging clothes into and get them out of the closet with such a small space between the sofa and closet.
The sofa had 2 large drawers below the seat, however since our cabin had room for 4 passengers (1 on sofa bed, 1 on ceiling drop down bed and 2 in standard bed), the drawers were stuffed with bedding for the additional beds. I'm sure that we could have asked to have it removed, but we were not in need of more space.
Across from the sofa and against the right cabin wall was a lighted desk with a mirror and narrow shelf. Along with the telephone which sat on top of the desk, a coffee pot, ice bucket, cups and glasses sat on a desktop tray. While seated on the padded stool, the blow dryer hanging below the desk was accessible as was the mini-refrigerator in a cabinet to the left of the desk. A television hung left of the desk above a rack (holding all stateroom marketing materials) as well as two small, narrow cabinets with additional shelving.
Outside on our balcony sat two chairs and a small table. Due to the design of the ship, our balcony was slightly longer than a standard balcony. (Rather than the furthest aft wall being perpendicular to the ceiling, it angled down toward the ship's aft from the ceiling to the floor.)
Personally, I go back and forth on whether a balcony is worth the extra money. I absolutely loved having a balcony on this Panama Canal sailing as we made great use of it with the very enjoyable weather during all but the last couple of days. Additionally, I enjoyed several unexpected wildlife sightings and sunset views during our 15 days aboard - plus we spent much of the day on our balcony when sailing through the canal.
Dining ExperienceWe did not purchase a drink package therefore we didn't experience the service or quality of drinks at any of the bars. Additionally, other than for two meals included due to our Platinum Plus status in the NCL Latitudes loyalty program, we did not dine in specialty restaurants.
The buffet style Garden Cafe was often crowded, however the layout of the venue which included multiple stations serving the most popular food items helped to avoid long lines and wait times. We love the complimentary drink selection in the Garden Cafe - especially the Vitality flavored water.
During peak times, the dining tables were quite full and often the only seating available was at a table with others willing to share. Service in the Garden Cafe was very good and tables were promptly cleared.
The restaurant was sometimes warm at tables located in the furthest forward area near the glass. Additionally, although the glass was used as a selling point, at times the reflections from deck 15 obstructed all of the views.
Breakfast at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville at Sea (17), Garden Cafe (16), Observation Lounge (15) and The Local Bar & Grill (7)As is common for us, we ate the majority of our breakfasts in the Garden Cafe due to the more flexible dining hours. Although the menu did not vary greatly from day to day, there was a huge selection of food items. In addition to hot and cold breakfast items (fruit, cereal, meats, pancakes, waffles, international cuisine, etc.), cooked to order eggs and omelets were available ensuring that we never had to eat the same thing every morning. Our only breakfast complaint was that it was rather difficult to find a banana - in fact, on most mornings, the only way to get a banana was to ask someone to get one from the back!
In our effort to try out some of the additional breakfast venues, we ate one breakfast each in the Observation Lounge and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville at Sea, both serving buffet style. Located outside, Margaritaville offered cooked to order eggs in addition to a more limited selection of hot and cold breakfast items. The decor was much like other similarly named restaurants, however when we dined there, the atmosphere felt different as there were very few patrons. The Observation Lounge offered a limited continental style breakfast which was a good option for a lighter and quicker breakfast.
We had sit-down service for breakfast at both Taste and The Local Bar & Grill. While enjoyable, our breakfast at Taste took longer and the food options were similar to the buffet offerings - just a smaller menu from which to choose. The only real difference was being served by the wait staff - definitely enjoyable at times. The Local, with nearly identical breakfast options to O'Sheehan's on sister ships, had an even more limited menu. While the food quality was fine, I personally preferred the other Bliss restaurants for breakfast due to the menu items offered.
Lunch and Midday Snacks at Garden Cafe (16), Observation Lounge (15), The Local Bar & Grill and The Manhattan Room (7) and Starbucks (6)Like breakfast, our go-to venue for lunch was the Garden Cafe. As we often ate larger breakfasts than while at home, we were seldom ready for another meal during the main dining room 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM lunch service. In fact, on many days we ate nothing more than a snack or salad for our midday meal.
While the lunch stations were the same each day in the Garden Cafe (salads, sandwiches, soups, pizzas, pastas, hot entrees, etc.), the individual menu offerings at many of the stations changed on a daily basis making it easy to eat something different for each lunch of the cruise. Although this was the first ship that we have sailed on that did not offer an outdoor grill, the Garden Cafe did have a station with grilled items each day.
We ate one lunch each in The Local, the Manhattan Room, and the Observation Lounge. The menu at The Local had more options than I remember at O'Sheehan's, and we both really enjoyed our sandwiches. Much like breakfast, the Observation Lounge offered lighter fare such as sandwiches, soups and salads. Our lunch turned out to be the perfect size to follow with an afternoon sweet treat. At the suggestion of a fellow passenger, we returned to The Local for a late afternoon dessert. I was delighted at the recommendation to have a slice of carrot cake served without raisins, and it did not disappoint!
We sat at a shared table for 6 during our lunch in the Manhattan Room. (It was the first of two lunches with a venue change during our 15 day cruise - lunch was typically offered in Savor and/or Taste.) Our meal was good and it was nice to dine with others while having table service, however our lunches in the ship's other venues were actually more memorable.
During the day of our canal transit, we decided to splurge on Starbucks Frappuccinos. I had read that Starbucks rewards were redeemable aboard the Bliss and I had a number of rewards saved for our cruise. As it turned out, points were earned on purchases and orders could be paid for using either funds on a Starbucks card (internet access required) or by charging to a shipboard account, however rewards could not be redeemed on board. While not priced significantly higher than on shore, after adding the mandatory service charge the total for our two grande sized drinks was $13.80.
Although we had no plans to pay the $14.99 per person fee, we did pass by Margaritaville regularly during lunch hours (12:00 PM - 5:00 PM). We never saw the restaurant with more than a very small number of diners, which makes me wonder if it will survive in the long run.
Complimentary Dinner at Garden Cafe (16), The Manhattan Room (7) & Savor and Taste Main Dining Rooms (6)We ate dinner at the Garden Cafe on two occasions, however it was not our primary dinner venue. While we usually prefer to eat more quickly at breakfast and lunch, we enjoy visiting with others and dining in a more relaxed manner during dinner. Since our sit down dinners at shared tables lasted about two hours, having the ability to dine in a shorter time frame when trying to see an early show was helpful.
Although we did dine in Savor and Taste on a few occasions, we ate more than half of our dinners in the Manhattan Room. We never made reservations for complimentary dining and only once were we issued a pager for what turned out to be a short 20 minute wait. The staff from the specialty restaurants rotated in the main dining rooms to reduce delays and ensure outstanding service.
The identification numbers on the Manhattan Room tables did not match the maps used by the staff. All of the main dining rooms struggled with coordinating shared tables during the early part of the cruise. Our success at shared dining increased as the days progressed - quite possibly due to the request that Boris, a Maitre'd in Savor, promised to note in our account. (As our best success seemed to be in the Manhattan, it became our preferred dinner venue - although it was louder and more difficult to hear conversations than in Savor or Taste.) Unlike other similar NCL ships, there was no live music during any of our meals in Manhattan.
The selection and quality of all main dining room dinners and desserts was excellent. I still wish that NCL had not eliminated lobster as a "formal night" entree option - in my opinion that's one downside of sailing with Norwegian. The dining room chairs were nice and comfortable, however we were surprised that light colored padded arms would be selected for a high traffic room susceptible to spills.
Specialty Dining in Cagney's Steakhouse (8) and Q Texas Smokehouse (6)The two specialty restaurants that we tried were Q Texas Smokehouse and Cagney's Steakhouse, both with vouchers received due to our Latitudes status. Scott is a huge barbecue fan so we chose the smokehouse for his birthday dinner. Our voucher allowed us each to have one appetizer, entree, side and dessert. So that we could sample more dishes, we shared the loaded fries with pulled pork, chopped salad, brisket, turkey breast, mac n cheese and chunky potato salad. As if that wasn't enough, we also split banana pudding served in a Mason jar and a slice of pecan pie. Both the taste and quality of the food was excellent and we had more than enough to eat. My only suggestion is that the name of the restaurant should be changed to eliminate the word Texas. Being a native of the state, I can confirm that no Texas barbecue restaurant would offer Carolina BBQ sauce!
We saved Cagney's Steakhouse, one of our favorite NCL specialty restaurants, for one of our final days aboard. The food taste and quality as well as service remained excellent just as during previous visits on the fleet. We did notice that the menu was slightly different than our visit in January when aboard the Norwegian Sun (Scott's favorite ribs and my favorite salad were no longer offered) and the prices of some entrees had increased. For those with a specialty dining package, the price increase had no effect, however for those redeeming a loyalty voucher, the number of included entree options was reduced as the voucher amount was not increased to match the price changes.
The Rest of the Bliss StoryFor part two of our review of the Norwegian Bliss, take a look at Norwegian Bliss Review: Activities, Events, Entertainment & Ports of Call.
Favorite Cruise ShipsHere are two questions for you:
- Based on both the public venues and staterooms, what cruise ship is your favorite and why does it rank as your number one?
- Based on all things dining (meal quality, selection, dining venues, restaurant staff, etc.), what cruise ship is at the top of your list, and why?
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