Sat, 07 July 2018
George Vaughan embarked on The Norwegian Bliss to experience the very best that this cruise liner has to offer.
As someone who looked at cruises as a more traditional holiday experience for the over-50s with money to burn, the opportunity to experience the inaugural launch of Norwegian Cruise Line’s latest ship, Norwegian Bliss, didn’t exactly fill me with excitement.
My immediate thoughts were a combination of ‘70s sitcom The Love Boat, over-the-hill crooners, overweight, retired couples whose idea of excitement was post-breakfast shuffleboard and endless queues for the buffet at lunch and dinner.
However, within 10 minutes of boarding and being shown to my cabin, those poorly amassed preconceptions rapidly evaporated like smoke on the ocean breeze.
The Norwegian Bliss is an impressive sight to behold, more like a floating hotel than a conventional liner, and, I was reliably informed, it is the first cruise ship that has been custom-built with features and amenities to enhance its primary route, the coast of Alaska, where it started sailing from June 2.
Once the luggage was unpacked and the obligatory safety procedures completed, we were given the chance to explore the vast ship, to discover a feast of new and, in some cases, innovative firsts aboard the vessel.
The sleeping quarters – a basic double cabin with balcony – included the amenities you would expect to find: double bed, TV, wardrobe and seating area together with a larger than expected bathroom with shower.
Stepping out of the corridors on our deck, we quickly made our way to the first eye-opening location, the observation deck, which is an impressive 180-degree viewing area that provides the most expansive views of the sea. The perfect way to get our voyage under way, with drinks served from the central bar as the ship pulled away from port.
After a brief excursion through the casino and shopping areas, thoughts moved towards food and 29 restaurants to choose from – The Bliss caters for every taste. Whether you want a Texan-style steak or freshly made pasta, the diverse range of eateries can satisfy your needs.
We grabbed a spot of early dinner at Food Republic – not a name you would immediately associate with sushi – and found it to be a pleasant experience, although the at-table ordering through tablets and café-style environment didn’t put it at the premium end of the restaurant selection. That said, the food here was excellent and we had an enjoyable meal.
Post dinner, after booking ourselves seats for the theatre (more of that in a moment), we wandered over to the Skyline Bar for a cocktail and took in the sights of the slot machines and roulette tables as the early evening gamblers came out to play.
The Bliss has two specially commissioned shows – Jersey Boys, the Tony Award-winning musical based on Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which is an excellent version of the Broadway and West End hit; and Havana, which was written and debuted on the ship and takes its story from the colour and vibrancy of Cuba. This wasn’t quite up to the standard of Jersey Boys but was a credible effort. On both occasions, we quickly forgot that we were miles out at sea and not in a theatre in the heart of London.
The Bliss boasts an impressive 19 decks in total, and the following morning we took breakfast at one of the dedicated restaurants, Savor, before taking a stroll out on the main deck, where there is a series of swimming pools, a water slide and a laser tag arena that was a huge amount of fun. Probably the true standout experience was the top deck race track, a two-level thrilling ride on electric cars that can take up to 10 drivers at a time and – we were reliably told – is the longest of its kind on any ship.
This was a great hit with all age ranges but potential drivers should be reminded that there is an additional fee for racing and other restrictions also apply.
For those of you looking to chill out a little and more inclined towards luxury, then The Haven Spa is a must-visit location. This area of the ship is restricted to paying guests or Haven residents and showcases the very best that The Bliss has to offer. If you want to experience the premium end of cruising, then this is it. Kids are also not allowed in certain areas here, so it’s a great place to come if you want to escape the younger members of the family for a few hours.
And where do those younger members go while you are being spoilt rotten? Fortunately, The Bliss has an amazing range of spaces dedicated to the very young right up to late teens, decking out really engaging areas with everything from video games to air hockey and dance floors. A great deal of thought and attention has gone into the design of these locations and it was one of the highlights of the ship. It’s good to see that the kids haven’t been forgotten and, not only will they be happy exploring this section, fathers and mothers will not feel guilty about leaving them there.
For the fitness freaks amongst you, there is a fully featured gym that covers everything from a comprehensive weights section to running machines that let you look out over the sea as you exercise.
All in all, The Norwegian Bliss certainly surprised us. Cruises have come a long way since I last contemplated one.