Someone should have called Nick Knowles, because Norwegian Cruise Line were very much in need of some DIY SOS.
Following the enormous success of Norwegian Bliss in Alaska, the decision was made to sail two ships in the region. And that meant Norwegian Joy – which had only just launched for the Chinese market – needed a speedy relocation and some fairly drastic modifications.
The work has now been done, so it’s goodbye to the high-end shopping stores, along with those delightful tea rooms (replaced by the most American thing possible – a Starbucks). Three of the four casinos have disappeared, giving way to something altogether more practical. And someone had the unenviable task of changing every bit of Chinese signage for something we Westerners might be able to make sense of, even after a few cocktails on the upper deck.
The job cost more than 50 million dollars and took about a month in dry dock, followed by some frantic final touches on the sailing over to Vancouver, where I joined the vessel for her first foray north. The end result is that Joy is now nearly identical to sister ship Norwegian Bliss. I say ‘nearly’ because NCL took the opportunity to include some rather nifty updates, too.
Chief among these is the smash- hit musical now playing in the opulent Joy Theatre. Yes, it’s time to cut loose as the 80s classic (and recent stage fave) Footloose takes to the ocean waves, jam-packed with iconic tracks from the movie, and a few new songs besides.
The production is top-notch and testament to just how far cruise- ship entertainment has come in recent years. The show? Look, it’s Footloose, and if you didn’t feel like holding out for a hero before, then nothing here will change your mind. On the other hand, if you have special memories of Kevin Bacon in his teeny vest, circa 1984, you’ll be screaming in the front row.
But never mind that. These days, the true highlight of any Norwegian ship has to be its top-deck race track. Joy was the testing ground for that brilliant concept when it launched two years ago, and the formula has been tweaked again here to allow for more overtaking and higher speeds on the straights.
Want to add a fresh twist to your F1 fantasy? Go after dark. The track remains open until 11pm, so you can create your very own Singapore GP race night (though you might want to wear a jacket, as the Pacific Northwest gets quite nippy once the sun dips over the horizon).
If you like the race track, you’ll love the new Galaxy Pavilion, a large space near the top of the ship dedicated to VR, arcade and 7D gaming. This is one for kids of all sizes, including those big enough to know better. Here you can traverse a tightrope (not really – don’t worry) and teeter your way to saving a cat, you can go on a Jurassic adventure and you can save the world from an alien invasion, all without leaving the ship, thanks to Joy’s wide suite of VR experiences.
Unfortunately, as keen VR fans will already know, the tech is rather temperamental and the headsets are prone to going offline. There were a couple of games broken on my visit, so it might be worth checking if the one you want to play is working before shelling out your dough (a cool $29 per person).
Feeling peckish? Norwegian Cruise Line is a sister company of Oceania Cruises – the premium line famous for its culinary expertise – and NCL has been calling in a few family favours to raise its gastronomic game.
The changes are starting to take effect, and from the delicious barbecue I enjoyed at Q Smokehouse to the fresh, just-caught seafood on offer at Ocean Blue (get the scallops, trust me), there’s plenty for foodies to get excited about. Other tastebud-pleasers include Teppanyaki, Cagney’s Steakhouse, and speciality Italian restaurant La Cucina.
The Manhattan Room is an Art Deco haven for complimentary dining, and, if you can get in, lunch at Food Republic brings with it sharing plates of high-quality pan-Asian cuisine at a reasonable price (about $7 per plate). There’s the American Diner for classic burgers ’n’ fries, and you can even stop by The Local at 2am and order chicken wings to soak up a few of the craft beers on offer at the District Brewhouse. As I did. For research, of course.
Staterooms are well appointed and cleverly laid out (praise be to the person who put USB sockets in the bedside night light), with plenty of balcony space for watching the gorgeous scenery of the Pacific Northwest float by.
Not that you’ll be spending much time in your cabin, because there’s all kinds of entertainment to keep you up till way past bed- time. The Cavern Club – familiar from Norwegian Bliss – is great fun, complete with a top-notch Beatles tribute band (they’re even from Liverpool – how’s that for authenticity?).
Elsewhere on the ship you can shake a tail feather to samba sounds in the Sugarcane Mojito Bar, catch a stand-up at The Social (which turns into a nightclub) or you can forgo alcohol and save the world all over again at the top-deck laser tag course.
All told, Joy’s express makeover is a highly impressive piece of work. The only downside I could spot is the Pool Deck, which used to be a tree-lined haven for Chinese guests to practise tai chi, but now looks like not much of anything. With
the sun shining, it may fill up with deckchairs, but in the colder climes of Alaska it will surely go unused. Which is a shame – although there’s still time for NCL to tweak the layout, so fingers crossed.
The ship will be sailing regular itineraries from Seattle up to Alaska this summer, before she turns tail and heads south from Los Angeles for the Mexican Riviera in winter. The choice is yours – but whichever route you choose, there’s one thing you can be sure of: sail with Joy and you’ll be guaranteed a good time.
Get on Board
7-night ‘Scenic Alaska’ cruise, round trip from Seattle via Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait Point and Victoria, departing 31 August 2019, from £889, ncl.com
7-night ‘Jewels of the Mexican Riviera’ cruise, round trip from Los Angeles via Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, departing 8 December 2019, from £689, ncl.com