Norwegian Viva is the latest entry in the NCL Prima Class line-up. Credit: NCL

Cruise ship review: Norwegian Viva

Author: Deborah Stone

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Deborah Stone found games go large on NCL’s impressive new ship, Norwegian Viva

Some people say modern cruise ships lack the elegance of a classic ocean liner, but hand on heart, my first up-close sight of Norwegian Viva took my breath away.

Yes, it was enormous, but it was also magnificent – and it held the promise of fun and adventure. Of course, it helped that it was a warm August evening in Trieste, and the sun was just getting to the molten lava stage as it prepared to drop into the sea behind Norwegian Viva.

It was a magical setting; the ship moored beside an attractive old cruise terminal opposite the elegant 19th-century palaces that line the massive Piazza Unita d'Italia.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) newest ship was due to depart on its inaugural cruise the next day, sailing south down the Adriatic coastline to Croatia, then along southern Italy to pass through the Messina Strait that separates Sicily from the mainland and up the Amalfi coast, past Naples to Civitavecchia.

It was a colourful itinerary, and the cruise was possibly the perfect example of how you can have an experience that’s totally different from your fellow passengers’ while on board the same ship and calling at the same ports.

One of the stops on Norwegian Viva's Mediterranean cruise is the beautiful city of Naples. Credit: Shutterstock

The fun starts here…

Norwegian Viva is NCL’s second Prima Class ship, with a three-deck electric go-kart track; state-of-the-art games such as Bullseye – darts with an electronic twist – and Tee Time – mini golf with super-sized novelty holes – plus practically half a deck dedicated to virtual reality games and simulators in the Galaxy Pavilion.

I met people who had three or four go-kart races booked for the sea day – at $15 a go – and others who raved about the Galaxy Pavilion’s escape rooms, which cost $15 each for six people.

Children, in particular, loved the electronic mini golf ($10 per person) – a forest of bright lights and whiz-bang wizardry – while mums and dads raced their children down The Rush – the 10-deck twin slides – or screamed their way down The Drop, a 10-deck freefall slide. The Wave water slide was popular, too, and all the slides were free.

But the beauty of being on such a big ship is that there’s something for everyone, so although I didn’t feel the need to part company with my stomach on a slide or squeeze into a racing car, I absolutely loved soaking up the rays on a luxury double sunbed after cooling off in one of two infinity pools on either side of the extra-wide boardwalk on deck 8.

This promenade deck was my favourite place to hang out because you feel so much closer to the sea there than anywhere else.

Plus, it’s got a sophisticated feel, with hanging basket chairs where you can curl up and read and a beach club atmosphere at the back of the ship where you can watch the sun go down from the open-air Soleil Bar.

Take in the views from Norwegian Viva's Penrose Atrium. Credit: Norwegian Cruise Line

Eat and Indulge

There’s also plenty of choice for dining and night-time entertainment. Norwegian Prima has six complimentary dining rooms, from Hudson’s with wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows to funky Indulge Food Hall with 11 individual cafes including a shiny Airstream caravan serving tapas.

There’s also excellent Indian food from the Tamara counter. The Local Bar & Grill serves American-style pub food and has sports TV screens in the bar, while there’s more intimate formal dining at The Commodore Room and the trusty buffet at Surfside Café and Grill.

I always have breakfast at cruise ship buffets so I can spend more hours ashore, but I met several people who preferred to get up earlier and enjoy the calm of a waiter-served breakfast in elegant Hudson’s.

They had a point; Surfside Café and Grill takes up just half the area of most ships’ buffets, and mornings there could be manic.

Enjoy a glass of Limoncello in Sorrento. Credit: Shutterstock

Amazing Excursions

Talking of excursions, there’s something available for all tastes on this cruise.

A group I met on the ship loved their trip to an olive museum and vineyard before exploring Split on their own, whereas I just wanted to see the old town built on the stunning remains of Roman emperor Diocletian’s 1,700-year-old palace.

Over the centuries the supersized palace’s rooms and outdoor spaces have been transformed into markets, shops, restaurants and piazzas – it’s an amazing sight.

But it’s hot and crowded in August so after a few hours I escaped to the town beach with the locals – definitely an... authentic experience!

But there are times when excursions shouldn’t be missed. At Salerno, the same couple who loved the peaceful breakfast at Hudson’s were thrilled to visit Pompeii but having seen it three times previously, I opted for the glamour of Sorrento.

This cliff-top town overlooking the Amalfi coast and Bay of Naples is known for its lemons, Limoncello liqueur and narrow streets full of tiny shops selling groceries, elegant clothes and loads of irresistible souvenirs.

Who doesn’t need a ceramic olive oil pourer decorated with lemons, or a glamorous Moda Mare Positano resort dress or swimsuit?

Another couple I met opted to explore Salerno, which has its own historical centre with narrow streets and shops, and a much nicer town beach than at Split.

But it seems to lack the vibrancy of Sorrento and the pair returned to the ship for yet another go-kart race and a couple of (paid-for) hours in the Mandara Spa’s thermal pools, sauna, steam room and salt room, which is not a bad escape from the Mediterranean heat.

Evenings on Norwegian Viva are full of choices, too.

As well as all the complimentary places you can choose to eat, there are eight paid-for speciality dining restaurants: Cagney’s Steakhouse, Le Bistro for French cuisine, Palomar for seafood, Nama sushi bar, Los Lobos for Mexican food, teppanyaki at Hasuki, Food Republic serving Asian fusion and – my favourite – Onda by Scarpetta on Deck 8 for a menu of excellent Italian dishes.

And afterwards… well, there’s a show in the Viva Theatre & Club most nights (unfortunately ‘Beetlejuice: The Musical’ wasn’t ready for the first sailing), exceptional live music in Syd Norman’s Pour House and more acoustic style sets at the Penrose and Metropolitan bars, plus comedy at ‘The Improv At Sea’ (with rather an American slant, I found).

But my favourite option? Music and dancing in the velvety-warm Mediterranean evenings after sunset. Who doesn’t like a bit of song and dance by the pool at night?

'Stay in your seats'- enjoy a performance of Beetlejuice: The Musical onboard Norwegian Viva. Credit: Shutterstock

My verdict:

Great for: Couples, groups of friends and the young at heart.
Don’t miss:
Beetlejuice: The Musical and almost any night in Syd Norman’s Pour House – especially Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours night.
Best bar and restaurant:
Soleil Bar for sunsets & Hudson’s for fabulous food and views.
Value for money:
Free At Sea includes a beverage package, two speciality dining options, free Wi-Fi and excursion discount. There is also a Free At Sea Plus package.
Saving the planet:
A cocktail using syrup made from the restaurants’ uneaten fruit.
Star rating:

Fast facts

  • 3,099 Passengers
  • 1,506 crew
  • 14 restaurants
  • 5 pools

Get onboard

Embark on NCL’s 10-night ‘Mediterranean: Italy, Greece & Croatia’ cruise aboard Norwegian Viva, departing May 6, 2024. Sailing from Rome to Trieste via Livorno, Naples, Messina, Valletta, Catania, Corfu, Dubrovnik, Split and Koper. Prices start from £1,311.

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