Norwegian Cruise Line announced this week that it will return to Australasian waters for the first time in 13 years.
Norwegian Star will begin sailing itineraries in South-East Asia from spring 2016 before heading to Australia and New Zealand early in 2017.
It will operate 11- and 14-night sailings around the region in December and January, departing from Singapore and Hong Kong. On January 16 2017 Norwegian Star will leave Hong Kong for a 21-night itinerary sailing through Vietnam, Singapore and Bali, before calling at several northern Australian ports en route to Sydney.
But if you want to get onboard Norwegian Star in local waters you’ll need to be quick, as there are only two sailings – one departing Sydney on February 6 and one from Auckland on February 18.
Ahead of the lines return to Asia and Australia, here are 10 things you should know about cruising like a Norwegian.
- It’s big
We might not have heard much about NCL, as it’s known, in Australia but it has a fleet of 14 ships capable of carrying a total of almost 40,000 passengers. The ships range from mid-size vessels carrying about 2,000 passengers up to huge megaliners with space for 4,200.
- It’s about to launch a new ship
Norwegian Escape is set to launch in October this year and will be the largest ship in the fleet. Onboard activities are geared for families, with the largest water park at sea, a mini golf course and a ropes course. Escape will have more studio cabins for solo travellers and an expanded suites area accessible only by keycard, called The Haven. New food options include the Jimmy Buffet-inspired Margaritaville restaurant and dining venues from Iron Chef Jose Garces. The spa will also introduce a Snow Room, kept just below freezing and with flurries of snow released throughout the day.
- It’s all about freestyle cruising
NCL pioneered the freestyle concept (launched back in 2000), which means the formal rules of cruising have been thrown overboard. Freestyle really means flexibility, with more choice in cabins, activities and entertainment, although it’s in the restaurants that you’ll really notice the difference. There’s no assigned seating and passengers can dine at any restaurant they choose from 5.30pm until the last seating at 10.30pm. Leave the tux at home – dress code is resort casual and there are no set formal nights, although special events may give you the chance to dress up.
- It’s won plenty of awards
In 2014 NCL was named the leading cruise line in both Europe and the Caribbean, a title it has held since 2012. In recent years the line has received numerous awards for its ships, service and facilities from Yahoo Travel, Travel + Leisure, Cruise Critic, Porthole and Bon Voyage.
- It has an exclusive area for premium passengers
The Haven is an exclusive “ship within a ship” complex that’s accessible to only a few passengers. It’s found on eight ships and the complexes contain between18 and 60 suites. The suites themselves range from spacious balcony suites to truly enormous three bedroom, 3.5 bathroom villas with a private garden and more than 530 square metres of floor space. Haven guests have access to The Courtyard, a keycard-only area with a pool, hot tub, fitness centre, sun deck, restaurant and bar. There’s also 24-hour butler service, valet service by the pool, white tablecloth dining in your suite and lots of VIP extras at port. If you want to see any of the shows or make a reservation in the spa, Haven guests get priority treatment.
- It’s got an app
Norwegian’s custom iConcierge app is available on eight ships (including the Australia-bound Norwegian Star) and provides passengers with general information about the ship and daily schedule, and lets them book specialty restaurants or shore excursions. For a one-off fee they can also message or call other passengers on the cruise – a boon for families or groups travelling together.
- It’s great for families
Norwegian goes out of its way to cater for kids. Youth programs are run for children aged six months to 17 and there are special programs that teach circus skills or run team sporting events. Interconnecting cabins are available across multiple room categories to cater for groups of all sizes. If passengers want to cut down on their luggage, they can even preorder nappies and baby wipes to be stocked onboard. And while the kids are safe and happy, parents can retreat to the adults-only SpiceH20 beach club on Epic, Breakaway and Getaway.
- It cruises everywhere
With the addition of Asia and Australia for the 2016-17 season, NCL will sail all over the world. Norwegian passengers can choose between Alaska, Canada and New England, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Hawaii, South America, the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.
- It has seriously artistic hull designs
You can’t miss a Norwegian ship. Each hull is painted with a distinctive, brightly coloured design that relates to the ship’s home port and the sea. American artist Peter Max, famous for his psychedelic, modern designs, is responsible for the New York-themed work on the hull of Breakaway. The new Escape will have an ocean-themed hull from marine wildlife painter Guy Harvey.
- It has onboard acrobats
Billed as the only show of its kind at sea, the Cirque Dreams show is a mix of aerialists, acrobats, contortionists, jugglers and musicians. The show is performed as a theatrical dining experience onboard Norwegian Breakaway and Epic. Dining tables are right in the action, so passengers are eating as the artists move and dance around them.