Fifteen years ago, I embarked upon my first cruise. It was a trip from New York City to Nova Scotia on NCL’s (Norwegian Cruise Line’s) ship, the Dawn.
Friends of mine who are anti-cruisers (who have never cruised before) shouted, “Don’t go! You’ll hate it. You’ll feel claustrophobic! You’ll be bored. It’s full of old people.” In truth, there were some older travelers on board bless their hearts. During one shore excursion in Bar Harbor, Maine, I boarded the ship’s bus to explore Cadillac Mountain and the nightly comic on the ship, Dave Heenan, looked me up and down and said, “You’re too young for this cruise.” For me, it wasn’t claustrophobic, or boring, or too old, I loved it. And just for the record, the elderly crowd was more due to the destination than actually cruising. The Caribbean tends to attract younger partying types.
The Dawn is considered a smaller ship now-a-days, carrying a mere 2,340 passengers. Some vessels hold up to 7000 guests plus the crew. And some lines are constructing even bigger ones. Some think bigger is better, others don’t.
Enter the Prima. “It’s the industry’s spacious new cruise ship,” said Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line. In a class all her own, she’s a big ship with twenty decks, but only carries 3,100 guests. Now known as the Prima Class, there are 5 more vessels in this category to follow. The next to launch will be the Viva.
Once the artisans had finished building and designing the Prima, it set sail from Venice to Reykjavik, Iceland where the ship’s Godmother, Katy Perry, christened the ship.
The Prima has larger cabins, more suites and a higher ratio of staff to guest. As Harry Sommers (President of NCL) stated during a meet and greet on the ship before we sailed, “We wanted to create the feeling of a high-end hotel.” And that they did. The ship is sophisticated yet not intimidating. “It’s been a joy to see our vision come to life. We are so thankful to our team members and partners worldwide who have made Norwegian Prima a stunning reality,” he added.
The Prima was built in Porto Marghera, Venice, Italy. The exterior of the ship is a complete departure for NCL. They commissioned the Italian graffiti artist Manuel Di Rita, who goes by the singular name of Peeta, to design the hull. “Peeta drew inspiration to create an art piece that would be visible from any vantage point, highlighting fluid shapes with unperceivable beginning and ends, like the ocean. On Norwegian Prima, blue swirls are depicted as freely moving over the hull, mimicking the undulating movement of water,” said NCL.
The incredible attention to detail in design and craftsmanship is a compliment to the ship’s Venetian heritage. The architects who contributed with the design of the Norwegian Prima include Italian designer Piero Lissoni and architectural firms Rockwell Group, SMC Design, Tillberg Design of Sweden, YSA DESIGN, and Miami-based Studio DADO, which designed the restaurants, staterooms, and public areas.
They took a risk with the interior design of the ship. There are no broad, expansive, wide-open spaces cruisers are used to. Instead there are multiple smaller venues and pathways with no straight as an arrow thoroughfares. Twists and curves accentuated with artwork surprise you at every turn. Their desire was not to create the feeling of a huge, floating “mall.” And the risk paid off. The public spaces are intimate and elegant.
My 231 square foot balcony cabin was beautiful. The room’s color palette consisted of browns, greys, beiges, and white with pops of color from artwork. This cabin had the largest bathroom I’ve enjoyed on any ship. The small details make a huge difference, like the multiple USB ports located all over the room. Even the lamp on the nightstand had a super-fast charger. On the balcony were the expected two chairs and a table, but not just your ordinary chairs, these had a beautiful wicker design. Great touch!
If you want to up the luxuriousness of your cruise, opt to stay in one of Prima’s 107 Haven suites. Located in the aft of the ship on multiple top decks, you’ll enter into your own private cruising world. Named “A ship within a ship,” the Haven is extremely exclusive. So much so that you have your own private elevators, and your own butler as well as a concierge. You also have private lounge areas inside and out, and an exclusive high-end restaurant and bar. You still have access to everything else the ship has to offer: the restaurants, theatres, and casino. All cabins are suites with 8 different categories from which to choose. They range from penthouses to the Owner’s Suite which accommodates 8 guests. If privacy and tranquility are what the doctor ordered, here’s your solution.
When it comes to dining, Prima has reinvented the NCL culinary experience, while honoring the tried and true favorites. Freestyle is the key word with this cruise line. Dine where you want, when you want. There are of course multiple complimentary restaurants, I counted 5. The two main dining rooms are Hudson’s and The Commodore Room. What’s different on the Prima is that for both establishments, the menu is the same throughout the entire cruise. Traditionally, on NCL ships, the menu changes nightly. The thought is that this opportunity will allow the kitchen’s and chef’s to fine tune their dishes to expected excellence.
Hudson’s is located in the aft of the ship and offers a breathtaking 270-degree view to its guests. Studio DADO design firm helped to create a décor which is simple yet stunning. Candle lit, white linen tables are strategically placed for comfort and beauty with multiple options to handle any size party. Overhead are glittering brass and metal petals, joined to create chandeliers that reminded me of butterflies and gently moved with the sailing of the ship.
The complimentary traditional buffet is replaced with the Surfside Café & Grill with indoor and outdoor seating available. With a clear and easy layout, and offering multiple mouthwatering options from which to choose, the food in the Café raises the bar in regard to “ship buffets.” Unlike past cruises, there was never a problem finding an empty seat with a great view.
Also new to NCL is their Indulge Food Hall. The hall offers indoor as well as outdoor seating and an option of 11 different cuisines. Very similar to those you would find on land, tablets are situated at tables, you just tap in what you desire and voila, it appears. There are so many different items to choose from and just a short list are: Q Texas Smokehouse, Seaside Rotisserie and Nudls (everything noodles from Pad Thai to Mac and Cheese). My favorite was Tamara. Enjoying their Tikka Masala with an Aperol Spritz while sitting in the warm sun outside was superb. Special note about the Indulge Food Hall: you can mix up your cuisines if you like. You could order tacos from the Tapas Truck, and maybe add a cobb salad from the Garden restaurant. All complimentary.
When it comes to specialty restaurants with an added surcharge, you have some of NCL’s standards like Cagney’s Steakhouse, Food Republic (Asian-fusion) and Le Bistro. A stunning addition to Le Bistro is the room’s design. No cliché French artifacts here. With a white coffered ceiling and marble tabletops paired with grey/blue upholstered chairs, the pièce de résistance are the three floor to ceiling crystal chandeliers.
New specialty eateries include Hasuki, which actually is replacing their traditional Teppanyaki restaurant, Nama offering sushi and sashimi, and Palomar their Mediterranean option.
Drum roll please: my absolute favorite dining experience on the Prima was at Los Lobos, their Mexican eatery. To begin with, outside of the restaurant, the walls are covered with cubby holes, one on top of the other. In each box is a Mexican hand-painted wooden folk sculpture, of what appear to be mythical animals. NCL should be offering these creations for sale, they are so gorgeous.
First let me give a nod to my two brilliant servers, Aljin and Eusevio. They both seriously added to the enjoyment of this dining experience. After being seated I ordered a refreshing margarita on the rocks, which appeared in a flash. Wanting to try as many food items as I could, I ordered the Guacamole Fresco en Molcajete, the fresh-made guac. I also wanted to try their Queso Fundido, and for a main I ordered something I have never done in a Mexican restaurant, I requested the Mejillones Borrachos, their mussels.
Eusevio arrived at my table with the guacamole cart and she proceeded to make the most delicious, chunky and fresh guacamole I’ve eaten in a long time. Between sips of the margarita and enjoying the guac, Aljin appeared with the Queso Fundido. He explained to me that it was made with a mix of melted Mexican cheeses sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds and had a drizzle of agave. Served with warm freshly-made corn tortillas, I was beginning to wonder if I’d have room for the mussels.
Then the main arrived. The heaping bowl of mussels were steaming hot in a spicy tomato broth made with chunks of chorizo with the addition of Hoja Santa (Mexican pepperleaf). Both were brilliant additions. But wait, placed before me was a glass of mezcal and Aljin instructed me to pour as much as I like over the mussels. Delicious, and interactive!
Of course, I had to order a dessert. I chose their Churros served with dulce de leche caramel. I was expecting what I often see in New York, maybe 2 or 3 straight piped churros dusted in sugar. Well, I was wrong. I think I counted 7 large donut shaped churros stacked on a wooden dowel served with a mini-pitcher of caramel sauce on the side to drizzle. Aljin offered to wrap it up and guess who had delicious churros the next morning with his coffee? If Los Lobos was in my neighborhood, I’d definitely be a regular.
For bars and libations, Prima has a lot to offer. In particular, I found the Metropolitan Bar to be the most innovative because of its creative commitment to sustainable cocktails. Louis Ortega, director of beverage development and operations, was at the bar the afternoon I dropped by. Mr. Ortega doesn’t just sit in his Miami office and order items to stock NCL’s bars with, he actually travels worldwide to discover the most innovative and effective ways to maintain sustainability within the cruise line.
For example, he had traveled to Nicaragua and researched the Flor de Cana family owned company which creates a rum that is carbon neutral and Fair Trade certified. Their rum has zero sugar, is gluten free, and has no artificial ingredients. What the Metropolitan Bar offers to the line’s Sail & Sustain Initiative is that they save leftover food items and cleverly transform them into reusable products. For example, fresh banana peels are transformed into syrups for making drinks. Five years ago, NCL was the first cruise line to eliminate plastic straws. They are now made up of vegetables and agave syrup. Small and simple changes which make a huge difference.
Two of their sustainable cocktails are the Prima donna, made with Flor de Caña rum, homemade banana peel syrup, walnut bitters, and orange peel, and the fascinating Croissant Mai-Tai, which uses end of the day almond croissants that are soaked in water and sugar for 24 hours then blended, strained, and cooked with cardamom. The liquid is strained again and mixed with Brugal rum, Cointreau. and lime juice, then is garnished with almonds. It’s really tasty.
Norwegian has also just come out with their own gin, named ’66, after the year NCL was launched. This is a smooth gin with fresh botanicals. Very distinct for me was the taste of lemon and a hint of seaweed. In other words, it’s bizarrely delicious. Especially in a Negroni.
This being a rather short cruise (4 nights), we traveled up the Eastern coast of the US to Nova Scotia. Our one stop was in Halifax. That first cruise I took fifteen years ago made a stop here, and at that time I explored everything the city proper had to offer, including: the citadel, the city gardens, and unused wharf piers which had been transformed into craft stalls, similar to Christmas Markets, but open year-round. So, this trip I was going to head to Peggy’s Cove and Lighthouse.
This quintessential seaside village hugging the shores of Margaret’s Bay offers plenty for everyone. There’s sailing and kayaking as well as eclectic gift shops, not to mention fishing. Birders can spot bald eagles as well as the very rare Eskimo Curlew, if they are lucky. The biggest reward, when making the venture out to the cove, is soaking up the beauty of the Lighthouse. Viewing it is like stepping into one master landscape artist, J. Charles’ exquisite paintings of East Coast Lighthouses.
After exploring the village, which reminded me of a more spread-out version of Rockport, Massachusetts, or Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine, I treated myself to a classic lobster roll and enjoyed it while sitting in one of the Cove’s iconic and brightly painted Adirondack chairs.
Back on the ship it was time to start enjoying some of the fun and entertainment options the Prima has to offer. Cruisers were enjoying miniature golf, the Bull’s Eye, which is a game of darts where the scores are electronically calculated, plus an extensive gaming complex called The Galaxy Pavilion. It consists of 14 attractions including 4 simulator experiences where you put on virtual reality headsets and you can fly through the air as if in a Star Wars like space ship, or drive a racecar along a challenging race track. They also offer two escape rooms which have become wildly popular, and then outdoors you have The Drop which has a G-force faster than an accelerating F1 race car. Even if I did have the time, I’m certain I would have passed on this contraption. It’s a “dry” slide where you drop ten decks. To add competition to the concept, The Rush offers dueling spiraling drops where you can compete with another guest to see who hits the bottom first. Hopefully, there’s a chiropractor on board.
The Prima also offers the Prima Speedway Go-Karts, with over a quarter mile of racecar track. With twists and turns through 15 curves and over 3 decks of track, at first glance it looks a bit risky, but the embankments are high enough to prevent you from flying overboard and the cart’s speeds hover just over 30 miles per hour.
Daily I made my way to the Prima’s Pulse Fitness Center, which was decked out with the latest in gym equipment and exercise machines. And then there’s the ship’s casino for those who are eager to gamble on Lady Luck.
Keeping in theme with the smaller is better, the main stage theatre, The Prima Theatre, only seats 752 guests, allowing for a more intimate experience with the performances, but you do have to make reservations. Fresh off of its Tony nominated run on Broadway is Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. What NCL has done is bring in the original director and co-writer of the show, Des McAnuff, to direct this production. Meeting with Richard Ambrose, Senior Vice President of Entertainment and Cruise Programming, you feel his love and enthusiasm for his job. “The new Prima Theater allows for a truly exciting show, and we know guests will find themselves enthralled with Donna Summer’s moving life story and timeless music.”
Headlining in the show is none other than beloved Kimberly Locke, American Idol season two finalist. There’s one word to best describe her voice: powerhouse. What’s super cool is that the seats in the theatre can disappear, like how the bleacher’s do in a high school gymnasium. They push up against the back wall and disappear revealing a dance floor so when the show is over the party continues as a nightclub with guests dancing to Donna Summer’s biggest hits.
The second mainstage show is Noise Boys, a creative combination of beatboxers and tap dancers. I was lucky enough to be seated on stage and I have to say this was a phenomenally talented and energetic group of male and female performers originally discovered at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in Scotland.
One of the most hilarious nights I spent on the ship was attending a very raucous version of the game show, The Price Is Right. The set looked exactly like the television show, right down to their iconic Big Wheel. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be randomly picked to “come on down” and play, but the audience was electrified by the show as well as the chance to win everything from state-of-the-art headsets to cold cash to a car! On other voyages NCL offers Supermarket Sweep as well as Press Your Luck and Beat The Clock.
Every ship needs an official launch, and the Prima was no exception. Once the artisans had finished building and designing the ship, it set sail from Venice to Reykjavik, Iceland where the Prima’s Godmother, Katy Perry, christened the ship, and then offered those who attended an awesome show.
There’s something very exciting, being the first to travel on such a pristine and ground-breaking ship. The night before disembarking back in New York City, I made sure to toast to the stunning Prima, wishing her good luck and safe travels. Maybe 15 years from now I can cruise back up to Nova Scotia again, on whatever Norwegian’s newest class of ship will be then.