After spending the last few years sailing exclusively on Celebrity Cruises and Virgin Voyages, I spent 11nights onboard the brand-new Norweigan Prima, a new class of ship that NCL is hoping moves them into the premium market.
Norwegian is a contemporary cruise line that I typically describe as being on par with Carnival Cruise Line. Their Freestyle Cruising appeals to a broad base and, on the surface, sounds like a great way to vacation.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably asking if the Prima is a hit or miss. And if you should spend your vacation dollars on NCL’s experiment.
Keep reading to get all the dirt about this ship so you can make an informed decision for your next vacation.
The Norweigan Prima is the first of six new ships ordered by Norweigan Cruise Lines, entering into service in August of 2022. The Prima is a significant departure from the traditional NCL Breakaway and Breakaway-Plus class ships with many NCL firsts. The Prima measures 981 feet long and is a whopping 143,535 Gross Tonnage, carrying a staggering 3,099 passengers.
Norwegian spent a lot of design energy into keeping the size of the Prima in the medium-class category, allowing it to compete with the Celebrity Edge class and the Lady Ships of Virgin Voyages. However, by limiting the size of the ship, there is not enough deck space to allow for areas to be large enough for all the passengers who want to enjoy the space.
Venue Size is the first major issue with the Prima
As you will find on Virgin Voyages and the Celebrity Edge Class ships, the Prima continues the latest trend of multiple smaller venues. The concept makes cruisers feel like fewer people are on the ship because you never see mass gatherings. While this concept works well for Virgin and Celebrity, the Prima’s larger passenger capacity leads to too many people wanting to use the venues simultaneously.
The comedy club, intimate band space, bars, casual dining venues, theater, and nearly every other space on the ship are too small for the demand they regularly see. The main pool deck is comically small, almost to the point it seems they felt bad for the flack that Virgin got and wanted to one-up them by shrinking the area even more.
In the atrium, they would set out plastic folding chairs for the overflow for the live music in the evenings. The theater or comedy club shows would “sell out” as soon as reservations open. And seating in the Indulge Food Hall was comedically limited, often used by cruisers using the tables for card games or just grabbing drinks.
Food on the Prima is good in theory but needs tweaks.
Instead of one massive main dining room, the Prima introduced two smaller main dining rooms and the Indulge food hall. These included dining options are in addition to the buffet and NCL’s popular “The Local” all-day dining option.
One of my favorite parts of the ship is Hudson’s, the larger of the two main dining rooms, located aft on deck 7. Hudson’s has sweeping views of the wake, with 270 degrees of floor-to-ceiling windows. But while the aesthetics of the dining room are amazing, the fixed main dining room menu is problematic. On an 11-night cruise, we had four specialty dining meals, meaning we enjoyed the main dining room the other eight nights of the cruise. By the fourth day, we had the menu memorized and tried to get creative with the combinations to keep things interesting.
I expect that the fixed menu is less likely to be an issue on shorter cruises, but most will still likely eat from the same menu three or four times during a week cruise. The options at Indulge, The Local, and the buffet were just as repetitive, providing little escape.
The Prima looks like modern-luxury, but was built cheaply.
During my 11-nights on the ship, I noticed something already broken in nearly every part of the ship. Starting with our stateroom, the AC was not functioning when we boarded, and it took them a few hours to do a hard reset of the equipment to get it to come online.
Down on deck 8, one of the glass walkways had already shattered (something I imagine caused a heart attack of whoever was walking on it at the time). Lamps that decorated my favorite watering hole (The Belvedere) mysteriously disappeared after they broke. Automatic doors would open without a prompt and fail to open when approached.
To pass the time, my traveling companions started making a scavenger hunt to identify all the broken items on the ship. Sending close-up photos to each other to see if we could guess where they were at. I’m sure this isn’t one of the activities that NCL wants on their daily Freestyle.
The crew was the shining light and made the most of the cruise.
The original 11-night itinerary had us scheduled to spend a day at sea, stop at Cozumel, then two more sea days before we made it to Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire. The second half of the cruise included two sea days before our final port of call at Great Stirrup Cay. However, Mother Nature had other plans with Cozumel, and Great Stirrup Cay were canceled due to hurricanes (yes, that’s plural).
The disappointment of missing two ports of calls is palatable for cruisers, but for the crew who were counting on having much-needed time off, is a whole new level of disappointment. Every crew member I interacted with took the added work days like champs and did everything they could to make the trip memorable for their guests.
Even in the main dining room, our favorite server, Gypsy, welcomed us warmly each evening. Greeting us with a broad smile and chatting about what we did with our day. She ensured our picky eaters were well-fed and helped us make the most of the limited menu.
As someone who has spent over two months of combined time on ships over the last 13 months, it saddens me to say that the NCL Prima is a letdown in nearly every single way. If you are considering an NCL cruise, I’d strongly encourage you to look at one of their other ships.
For a medium-class ship worth experiencing, my favorite options remain the Celebrity Edge Class ships and Virgin Voyages’ Lady Ships. They have spent considerable effort designing high-quality ships built to last, taking better care of their investments, and creating memorable vacations.
Disembarking the Prima, the best word I’ve come up with to describe the experience is “Meh.” It’s an okay cruise, but not one that will be memorable for good reasons. But this is the type of experience that I’ve come to expect from NCL, a cruise that’s not memorable.
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