Once again, I was lucky to be on the first transatlantic of a brand new ship from Norwegian Cruise Line. Just out of the Fincantieri Shipyards in Italy, the Norwegian Prima is the first ship of a new class of which 5 others are already planned, from 2023 to 2027. The next one has already been named: the Viva.
The company has communicated a lot about this new project, called Project Leonardo, and about a new approach to designing its vessels. Although incorporating many NCL classics, already present on previous ships, this new one is indeed very different.
The first major change is a new step for the Haven, this private enclave reserved for Suites passengers. Formerly located at the front of boats on the upper decks (the first of its kind having appeared in 2010 on the Norwegian Epic), the Prima revolutionizes this place by moving it to the aft and on 8 decks, downright. This is almost an industrialization of the concept: no more limited number of passengers, with the explosion in the number of cabins. With its own elevators, a larger restaurant, a lounge area and outdoor spaces, the place granted to the Haven is multiplied.
The rest of the ship also seems to have benefited from the same desire to increase public places and I can say that there are many of them! But this has a significant effect: all these places are relatively small and quickly saturated. I will come back to it. And the climatic conditions of this first transatlantic did not help. NCL has chosen to take it very far north, with a stopover in Reykjavik, Iceland. The temperatures were therefore not favorable for exploring the exterior parts… thus reducing the useful space.
The 12-night cruise, from September 23 to October 5, 2022, was from Southampton to New York. One of the port of call (Kirkwall, Scotland) has been cancelled. Only left Reykjavik (with one night there) and Halifax. The cabin was a suite in the Haven, on deck 12.
The Suite, The Haven
The cabin category was “HE”, Haven Penthouse with Balcony, approximately 40m2. Very pleasant with a large balcony and a bathroom, with separate toilet, a lounge area, a Nespresso machine, a small fridge, and a huge television. The entrance served as a dressing room. Room service came twice a day, and a buttler was there to take care of any requests.
On deck 16 is the Haven reception with the concierge and his office. Just before the entrance to the Haven Restaurant is an indoor bar in the middle of the lounge. Another bar is located outside, where there is also an infinity pool, jacuzzis, a sundeck and an outdoor part of the restaurant.
The weather conditions of this crossing did not allow many people to really enjoy these exteriors. The passengers in the suites therefore gathered more in the lounge, around the bar… and it no longer gave the impression of a haven of peace. Impossible to find a place to sit at peak times. A confirmation that with the greater number of cabins and therefore of passengers in the Haven, the place immediately loses one of its interests in the versions of the previous vessels: calm.
The much larger restaurant always had enough room to accommodate anyone who wanted to eat there. The menus are now fixed. One for breakfast, one for lunch, one for dinner: they will not change throughout the cruise. The level was revised upwards despite everything. These menus are those of all the Havens in the fleet. There are enough different choices not to get bored during a not too long cruise. NCL explains that in addition, passengers will dine in the various specialty restaurants, so all is well. However, this is certainly less true for longer cruises, or when returning for a new cruise… the lack of change is still felt.
Big undeniable fault in the service, the question of possible allergies to certain foods (“Any food allergies?”). This question on possible dietary restrictions was asked to us at all meals, morning, noon and evening, and sometimes even several times at the beginning of the same meal, either because the server had forgotten to have already asked it, or because another server asked it in turn. I cannot help comparing it with another company, whose ships I consider to be a bit like a Haven in their own: Viking. During a first cruise with this company, the question had also been asked to us… only once! Our answer, recorded in the computer system , then became known to all the servers. Even better: during a second cruise with Viking, the question was asked to us in the form “still no dietary restrictions?”… to update the information. In short, NCL has a hell of a margin improvement on this point!
Moreover, after having had the chance to try cruise lines more in the luxury segment, I can affirm that the claims of giving luxury with the Haven at Norwegian Cruise Line are far from being realized, apart from maybe in the price charged … The service is very mechanical, artificial. We feel that NCL has trained its servers “by heart” and they all repeat more or less the same gestures, the same sentences, the same questions. Day after day, we would have liked to see a little more naturalness! This is what marked me on my first luxury cruises: the incredible naturalness of the staff, always at ease, remembering everything (without a doubt with the help of a little computer science), and each with their own personality. And not a standardized personality that everyone replicates.
And I was talking about the price: the Haven’s prices since 2010 have never stopped rising and sometimes see them soar above $700 or $800 per night (and not only for the largest cabins). This puts them above certain luxury companies which are, by default, “all inclusive”, whereas the Haven is not all inclusive at all. I often cite the example of water: although a drink package is offered with most reservations (well, partially offered, since you still have to pay the taxes on this so-called “gift”), the water is not included. Well in the Haven, it’s the same: water is not included. You have to pay for it. It is not for nothing that NCL does not easily shed its reputation as a company where you have to pay for everything. Impossible for me not to make the comparison with a Suite on Celebrity, from where I left with a note of $0 (yes, when everything is included…) compared to the bill when leaving the Haven, very high, for a cruise already paid very expensive on booking.
And NCL doesn’t seem to pay its employees enough. In the Haven, each day there is a service charge of $20, per person. Or $40 per day for 2 people which is added to the final bill. It’s supposed to pay for room service and services in the Haven in general (some companies include it in the overall price of the cruise, NCL sometimes too, but only by charging you upfront, in addition to the list price of the cruise). It was therefore surprising to see the buttler, on the last day, come and explain to us that these $40 per day did not concern him, that he did not receive the slightest penny… and that therefore, you also had to think of him. I had believed the NCL advertisement, which said that the Suites had, among other advantages, the presence of a butter… I had misread and I did not know that it was still a service to pay for…
In short, the luxury for NCL, it is especially in the price of the cabins of the Haven, rather than in the Haven itself.
To be fair, it is true that the setting offered by the Haven on the Prima is magnificent, the design is very classy and the promise of a sumptuous place is kept. Unfortunately, by putting too many people there, and by charging a price that is far too high compared to the various services and additional costs… there is a problem. You really don’t have to have tried real luxury companies to be satisfied with NCL, at least at this price.
Last example, anecdotal but which reinforced my overall feeling: during the stopover in Halifax, the weather had become milder and, for the first time on the cruise, it was possible to dip in the Haven’s infinity pool, without freezing to death. However, the water level in the pool had been greatly lowered. Several passengers have therefore requested that the level be raised. Asked once, twice… 3 times… no effect. Finally, a passenger went to get the Concierge (the master of the place!) to ask again that the level be raised… but despite the acquiescence of the said Concierge, once he left, nothing was done, without the slightest explanation. It does not matter whether or not it would have been possible to modify the level. It’s the handling of the whole situation that really prevents NCL from being able to boast so much about its quality of service in the Haven. The passengers were very talkative, in the evening, about this misadventure, surely thinking back to the price charged by the company!
To be continued, following pages, the restaurants, the spa, the activities on board, the ports of call and the price.