Aboard the second of Norwegian Cruise Line’s six planned Prima-class ships, her maiden sail oozing with grandeur, it’s clear that the Norwegian Viva will appeal to voyagers who love their bright, shiny objects or simply want an enjoyable holiday at sea with 3000 or so new best friends.

By the time of this Norwegian Viva review, the 19th ship of NCL’s fleet, embarked on her first official voyage two months late, but according to this fan of class namesake Norwegian Prima, the wait was worth it. Scoring high on service, food and beverage, ship design and, yes, even thrills with a three-deck go-kart track and a fleet-debuting virtual reality ride, Viva made a wonderful mid-August first impression – just as her sister did one year earlier.

You know a ship is full of style when even the main dining room impresses. Hudson’s, the ship’s largest restaurant, looks lavishly luxe with elegant appointments and 270-degree views through floor-to-ceiling windows. The French-accented Le Bistro is the most opulent of the specialty dining options. It is resplendent in every detail right down to the three large chandeliers in the centre of the restaurant hung at eye level for dramatic effect. The epitome of poshness is found in The Haven, NCL’s five-star “ship within a ship”. It’s a concept that is so exclusive on Viva, only 107 of her 1586 staterooms are within this tiny suite community.

Stepping up the game

It’s also no accident that NCL is stepping up its game as Virgin Voyages grows in popularity, Princess Cruises readies its launch of the next-gen Sphere class with Princess Sun, and Celebrity will roll out Ascent, its fourth Edge-class ship, later this year. So, yes, NCL’s newest ships boasting all the gold-plated bells and whistles is literally by design.

“We consider Prima and Viva as ‘upper-contemporary’, and we’re very proud to be an innovator within that space,” said Jason Krimmel, NCL’s chief international sales and marketing officer, adding that “mainstream” and “premium” aren’t terms used internally. “All of our brands sit atop their category, and within each category is a wide range [of amenities].”

After carving out a niche within a family that includes Oceania and Regent Seven Seas, NCL’s newest ships are well-positioned in a vast sea of competitors. “Somewhere between Royal Caribbean and Celebrity” is how the UK-based Krimmel positions Prima class against one formidable rival.

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“We can be luxury for those looking for that, especially in The Haven and Mandara Spa,” he said. “But you don’t need to be in The Haven to get that upper-contemporary offering. Prima class appeals to a variety of people including full family segments.”

NCL is going all-in with these ships through the remainder of the decade. Four more Prima-class vessels will be rolled-out from 2025 and 2028. Each will be 10-20 per cent larger than the initial two that share the same passenger capacity (3099) and gross tonnage (143,535). Identical twins they are not, however. Differences between Prima and Viva are subtle and sparing, but clearly prove that NCL takes those passenger surveys to heart.

Enhancements on Viva include a beefed-up weight room in the fitness centre and more standing room in the Improv comedy club and Syd Norman’s Pour House concert hall. There are also tweaks to where food and drink are served. That includes more seats inside and outside the globally eclectic Indulge Food Hall. This is due in large part to removal of the hand-scooped ice cream station, plus a secondary shipboard Starbucks, both of which remain on Prima. The least popular experiences in the VR-loaded Galaxy Pavilion on Prima aren’t on Viva. That’s a good call that allows for a satisfying fleet debut of Gyro, a combo simulator thrill ride and shooting game.

TV games and musicals

Speaking of games, an audience-participation version of American TV’s “Press Your Luck”, the show known for the catchphrase, “No whammys!” premieres on Viva in mid-September. (Non-Yankees might want to study up by watching YouTube clips of the programme in advance of their Viva holiday.)

Scheduled to debut a bit sooner, albeit later than planned due to production issues, is a scaled-down adaptation of the Tony Award-nominated “Beetlejuice: The Musical”. It’s destined to be a must-see show on every Viva cruise. The 800-seat, triple-deck Viva Theater where “Beetlejuice” will undoubtedly scare up standing ovations, currently transforms into Club Viva on certain nights. Engineering magic plus pulsating techno-pop equals one hot dance party.

More good times are found on The Drop, a free-fall dry slide that has the daring descending 10 decks. Another fun shortcut from Deck 18 to Deck 8 is The Rush, dual dry slides ripe for racing. Also outdoors is The Stadium, which sports tabletop shuffleboard, pickleball, foosball, beer pong and other activities. Nearby are tech-enhanced darts and mini-golf, for a fee. Three infinity pools and a scattering of hot tubs offer wet relaxation for teens and adults, though the main pool is puny for a ship of this size. Splash Academy makes a big splash with soaked small fry.

Beetlejuice on Norwegian Viva
The Tony Award-nominated “Beetlejuice: The Musical” is onboard Norwegian Viva.

Like Prima, Viva has just one waterslide, but it’s a dandy. For a pure adrenaline rush, there’s the Gyro ride as previously mentioned and Viva Speedway, which now is the second three-level race track at sea. The electric-powered racing experience has guests riding single or double around a 420-metre circuit. When conditions are good, meaning minimal stoppage by the sometimes overly cautious ride operators, going fast and furious on a moving ship is a blast at the nominal fee.

All this fun and excitement can build up one’s appetite. Good thing there’s some decent tucker on board. The best fast-serve Indian food at sea is at Tamara, one of the 11 stations within Indulge. What a treat eating amazing chicken tikka masala and saag paneer with naan bread (not pita!). And it’s freshly baked in an actual tandoor oven, a cruising rarity. Hudson’s, the ship’s aforementioned main dining room, and the Surfside Café and Grill, aka the buffet, get generally high marks. Not so great is the near-24-hour Local Bar & Grill with limited menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If only the food there was as consistently warm as the staff.

Getting what you pay for

Onda by Scarpetta offers Italian onboard Norwegian Viva
Onda by Scarpetta offers Italian onboard Norwegian Viva.

You do get what you pay for at a couple of Viva’s upcharging specialty restaurants. The monkfish, tuna crudo and citrusy galaktoboureko dessert at Mediterranean-themed Palomar are winners. So are the tuna poke nachos and “Green Tea Jar” dessert at pan-Pacific-inspired Food Republic. (Note to NCL: Jettison the tablet ordering system and restaurant’s name; both don’t work.) Onda by Scarpetta (Italian), Los Lobos (Mexican) and Hasuki (teppanyaki) haven’t improved since their disappointing debuts on Prima a year ago; at least one dish from each was actually inedible on Viva’s maiden voyage. Specialty restaurants that went untried were Cagney’s (steakhouse), Le Bistro (French) and Nama (sushi).

Accommodation-wise, the largest is the 640-square-metre “Haven Premier Owner’s Suite with Balcony” that sleeps eight. There’s two of those and 94 others that will appeal to social solo travellers; the single-occupancy, 94-square-metre “Studio” staterooms come with a dedicated lounge for an upscale hostel vibe.

Designed to please

Did we mention that Viva is also one of the prettiest ships in the industry’s armada? Adorning an already aesthetic vessel is original artwork inside and out. A selfie-worthy sculpture garden graces strollable Ocean Boulevard, an outdoor promenade on Deck 8 that encircles the ship. Indoors, along a wall of the Metropolitan Bar on Deck 7, is where the eye-catching “Every Wing Has a Silver Lining” is mounted. The 16-metre-wide interactive digital artwork by British artist Dominic Harris consists of 48 million pixels that form over 2000 fluttering butterflies when activated by a passing hand. It’s the pièce de résistance of a ship lacking only in an iconic feature.

Norwegian Viva sails the Mediterranean before heading to Miami for a November 28 christening ceremony. From December 2023 to March 2024 she will homeport in Puerto Rico for a series of Caribbean itineraries. When asked whether Viva or any existing or future Prima-class ship is destined for Australasia or Southeast Asia, NCL’s official response was “stay tuned”.

The verdict

Highs: It’s a shame to call Viva a mainstream cruise ship, which might be why NCL doesn’t, opting instead for the term “upper-contemporary.” Whatever term you use, the second Prima-class vessel is loaded with features atypical of this price point.

Lows: Food is hit or miss, more of the latter coming out of the galley kitchens of specialty restaurants. The tablet-dependent, needlessly chaotic Food Republic and Indulge can use either new software or a switch to human interface.

Who it’s for: Cruisers of all ages looking for a new megaship in the mid-range of capacities; premium-class loyalists who can be wooed by the perks of booking a suite in The Haven.

See NCL.com

Play mini-golf onboard Norwegian Viva
You can even play mini-golf onboard Norwegian Viva – for a fee.