The Bliss Theater (Decks 6 & 7) is the spot onboard Norwegian Bliss for big-stage productions, as well as one-off shows by comedians, magicians, hypnotists and other guest performers.
The marquis show onboard is an excellent, full-scale production of the Broadway hit, "Jersey Boys," about the creation and careers of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Parents should note the musical does contain some salty language.
* May require additional fees
Another big-stage musical is Havana, a passion project driven by Norwegian Cruise Line's chairman and CEO Frank del Rio, who is Cuban born. Created for NCL by Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Warren Carlyle, what is supposed to be a celebration of Cuban music and dance, is instead a trite jumble that comes across as fully inauthentic with lyrics in English and music that sounds only slightly Cuban. The costumes and live band, however, are excellent.
During the day, Bliss Theater might be used for movies, seminars and port lectures.
As on all Norwegian Cruise Line ships, there is lots to do during the day on Norwegian Bliss, starting as early as 8:30 a.m. in the atrium with Morning Fitness Fun (essentially an aerobics class). From then on, there is some type of activity in the atrium every 30 to 45 minutes through the early evening. Examples of atrium activities include silly games; towel folding, fruit carving and cooking demonstrations; language lessons (our sailing had Tagalog, Portuguese, Russian and Italian); and circus trick and balloon twisting classes.
Other daily fun includes two to three rounds of trivia (including a progressive trivia), bridge lessons and knitter meet-ups, as well as the 45-minute Escape the Big Top escape room experience, which requires teams of up to 10 to solve several riddles. (Clue: Pay attention to the patterns!) Reservations are required for Escape the Big Top, but it's free to do.
Extra-fee daily activities might include Canvas by U painting classes, bingo and wine tastings. And then there are the daily seminars, which cost nothing to attend but are designed to get you to buy something afterward; those include: camera seminars, art history lessons, spa treatment and acupuncture seminars, and port lectures.
Beyond the shows in the Bliss Theater, nights on Norwegian Bliss are packed with live music and comedy shows. From sing-along piano music in the District Brewhouse to country and western in Q and rock covers from the ship's house band in lounges around the ship, there are plenty of places to listen to music.
A popular spot on the ship is The Cavern Club (Deck 8), a recreation of the famous Liverpool-based club where The Beatles got their start. On nights when the The Beatles tribute band performs, the space is packed to the gills. The band is good, though we did enjoy the "early" Beatles ("Hard Days Night," "Twist and Shout," "Ticket to Ride") better than the "older" Beatles ("Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "With a Little Help from My Friends). Each show (i.e., early Beatles, later Beatles or never-performed-live Beatles) is performed twice on one night, and a third time on the night after.
For those who like to laugh or dance the late night away, the Social Comedy & Night Club on Deck 6 is the spot to hang out. A few times a week, it's a comedy club with a family-friendly show earlier (usually around 7 p.m.) and an adult show later on (about 9 p.m.) Around 10 at night it transforms into the ship's disco with a DJ spinning tunes until midnight or later if the crowd is good. Some nights are themed, for instance the 70s or 80s.
Once or twice per night, the ship offers a silent disco, though on our sailing they had yet to figure out how a silent disco actually works. On our sailing, participants wore headphones with just one channel (so no changing to another style of music as you'll find at other Silent Discos), while the DJ played what sounded like the same dance song over and over again on the loudspeaker -- thus negating the very name of the activity, Silent Disco. Thankfully, the event is complimentary.
Also once or twice per cruise is the adults-only "Prohibition, the Musical," a racy show set in a New Orleans brothel the day before Prohibition is set to kick in. Featuring hits from the 1920s and 30s ("Let's Misbehave," "Makin' Whoopee," "Happy Feet") as well as five included cocktails (Moscow Mule, Old Fashioned, Mint Julep, Whiskey Sour and Sea Captain), the show costs $23.94and isn't a bad way to spend an hour.
The ship's casino stretches the entire middle section of Deck 7, and features a glass-walled smoking section and a small VIP room for high rollers. There are lots of tournaments throughout the cruise, particularly slot pulls.
Mixx (Deck 6): Located in between the Taste and Savor main dining rooms, Mixx is primarily a place to meet someone for pre- and post-dinner drinks. Seating is only available at the barstools surrounding the square-shaped bar.
Atrium Bar (Deck 6): A central location to grab a drink on the way to somewhere else or for those hanging in the Atrium for all the daytime activities.
Social Comedy & Nightclub Bar: Used mostly by the drink waiters circulating through the ship's comedy and nightclub fetching drinks for people.
Skyline Bar (Deck 7): This is where casino players go when they want something to drink, or for anyone who wants to watch a sports match on the wall-sized screen. (On our sailing, it was always a soccer match.) It's also not far from the Manhattan Room, making it a good place to pick up a pre-dinner drink.
The Local Bar and Grill (Deck 7): While primarily a restaurant, half of the eatery is situated near the bar making it great place to grab a drink and hang with friends. To the back of this side, you'll find two lanes of mini-bowling ($5 a game)as well as a handful of arcade games. There are no pub games.
The A-List Bar (Deck 8): Located in between Cagney's and Los Lobos, The A-List Bar is named after Norwegian Cruise Line's president and CEO, Andy Stuart. The new-to-Norwegian bar features a variety of cocktails. The bar's signature drinks, The Boss V & T (Grey Goose, Fever Tree tonic, orange bitter and mint) and Gunners G & T (Tanqueray gin, cranberry juice, Fever Tree tonic, fresh lime juice, lemon and juniper seeds), were designed by Stuart. The square-shaped bar is only open during dinner hours and has limited seating.
Sugarcane Mojito Bar (Deck 8): With indoor and outdoor seating on The Waterfront, this bar is the place to grab a flight of six sweet and savory mojitos ($19.95), or just pick your favorite (each is $10.95) of six flavors. Other Latin America-inspired drinks on offer include pisco sour, Saturn landing and wiki rum punch.
Humidor Cigar Lounge (Deck 8): The only place onboard to relax with a cigar, it's hidden at the back of Maltings Whiskey Bar.
Maltings Whiskey Bar (Deck 8): For those who like something a little stronger, the Maltings Whiskey Bar has a large selection available, with dozens of scotch, whiskeys and bourbons on offer. Whiskey flights cost $19.95 and feature three or four brands, depending on the flight. Whiskey- , scotch- and bourbon-based cocktails are also on the menu. Indoor and outdoor space along The Waterfront is available.
The Cavern (Deck 8): Situated next to Maltings and across from The Cellars is The Cavern, a replica of the Liverpool-based club where The Beatles got their start. One nights when The Beatles tribute band isn't playing, you'll often find one of the ship's house bands playing a gig. The bar offers the typical range of drinks.
The Cellars Wine Bar (Deck 8): Wine lovers will want to stop by The Cellars Wine Bar for a glass of their favorite Michael Mondavi vintage, plus many other vintners. Daily interactive educational wine seminars and tastings are offered here for a fee ($21.95) twice a day and include such topics as "Old World versus New World," "Wine and Cheese Perfect Pairings" and "Riedel Journey of Sense Workshop." When seminars are not happening, wine is available by the glass, bottle and in three-glass flights ($19.95). Four flights are offered, including "The Jet-Setter," which features one French and one Californian cabernet sauvignon and one Italian red blend. Three tapas-sized bites are available during dinner time: an antipasti plate ($5.99), calamari fritti ($5.50) and a mixed green salad with pear ($4.99).
The District Brew House (Deck 8): Beer lovers will find 24 beers on tap and 50 bottled beers to choose from, including craft beers from Redhook Brewery and Elysian Brewery in Seattle, as well as from Wynwood Brewing Company and M.I.A. Beer Company in Miami. The choice of beer covers all types, from lagers and pale ales to IPAs and stouts. The District is also the spot for funtastic piano entertainment. (If Jim Badger is the piano entertainer on your sailing, we promise you, you don't want to miss it.) Disappointingly, the spot which has lots of charm and plentiful seating, including barside, high tops, couches and at tables is not the place to catch a sports game. In the back is a photo machine and a wall to put a pic of yourself up on for perpetuity.
Haven Lounge (Deck 17): This lounge is only for use by cruisers staying in one of the suites located within the ship-within-a-ship Haven enclave. It carries the usual array of wine, beer and cocktails.
Waves Pool Bar & Surf Bar (Deck 16): These two poolside bars are located on opposite ends of the pool deck.
Chill Bar (Deck 16): Order your favorite margarita to go at this bar that's part of Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville at Sea.
Observation Lounge (Deck 15): A highlight of Norwegian Bliss is this massive, 20,000-square-foot lounge with 180-degree views spanning the entire forward section of the ship on Deck 15. It's an all-day quiet zone, though there's always the hum of conversation. It's one of the most beautiful lounges we've seen at sea -- especially on a mainstream ship -- with gray, blue and cream marbled carpets; and furniture upholstered in lush materials of dark gray, cream, tan and blue.
There are couches, upholstered loungers facing the windows, tables and chairs and comfy armchairs for sitting and reading, playing quiet board games or just napping. It's wonderfully comfortable and with free drink dispensers located in several places you never have to go far for a glass of water, lemonade or iced tea. There's also a bar at the front of the lounge for any other drink need.
The only drawback to the space is how popular it is. While chair hogging has always been a problem on big cruise ships on the pool deck, it was rampant in the Observation Lounge as well, with people showing up at 8 a.m. or earlier to start claiming spots (particularly the loungers). There are no posted signs asking people not to save chairs and no crew watching for unused chairs with towels and books on them, so nothing prevents one person from claiming several spots.
Spice H2O Bar (Deck 17): Adults sunning themselves or relaxing in the Spice H2O area need go no farther than this bar for a selection of refreshing libations.
Vibe Beach Club Bar (Deck 19): Serves cruisers relaxing in the extra fee Vibe Beach Club.
Norwegian Bliss has two pools on the main pool deck (Deck 16), one shallower than the other and meant for kids, plus there are four hot tubs (two on each side) one deck up and cantilevered out over the edge of the ship.
Though there's no pool in the adults-only Spice H20 area, there are two hot tubs, as well as a waterfall and water jet feature with a ledge for sitting beneath or amid the spraying water. The extra-fee Vibe Beach Club has one hot tub.
All of Norwegian Bliss' attractions for thrill-seekers are located on its outdoor decks.
Borrowing directly from the China-based Norwegian Joy, Bliss features a two-level, nearly 1,000-foot-long (40 percent larger than on Joy) electric go-kart racetrack. Ten people can be on the track at once and, for $9.95, you get to zip around eight times. It's not a bumper car attraction as crew will repeatedly tell you and bumping other drivers is prohibited (though it does happen). Instead, it's meant to be a race-style experience though there's no actual race and no winner or loser. The go-karts can go up to 30 miles per hour but you can take it slow if you like (though you're more likely to get bumped if going slow as someone tries to speed their way around you). We think a slow-session or two would be a great idea for anyone who wants to give it a try but isn't comfortable being on the track at the same time as a bunch of speed demons.
The electric cars run silently so as not to disturb other passengers, but speakers near the driver's headrest pipe in the sounds of a race car engine so drivers get the full experience. The racetrack can be used in damp conditions (we tried them out during a drizzle), so even when the ship is in Alaska (where it rains a lot), cruisers can try their luck behind the wheel. Reservations are highly recommended. However, we found that most people opted to give the go-kart a go earlier in the cruise and it was less crowded toward the end. There is no age limit, but drivers can be no shorter than f4 feet and weigh no more than 300 pounds. Kids shorter than 4 feet who want to go on the go-kart can go as a passenger in a two-seater with a parent.
Also straight off Norwegian Joy is an open-air laser tag course (Deck 20). On Bliss, the course is themed as an abandoned space station and is open during the day and into the evening, when cool lighting gives the space a more out of this world feel. There are plenty of places to hide behind and the laser guns have settings that allow you to shield yourself for four seconds or build up power so that one shot will take out another player -- usually it takes several shots to fully eliminate a player. All players have unlimited lives, you just have to go back to "home base" to recharge if you've been eliminated. Teams accrue points for every successful shot and every elimination. There are no prizes, just bragging rights.
Open sessions are held every half-hour during which everyone who's signed up for that session is divided into two groups to square off against each other. The cost is $5 and you get two five-minute sessions during that time. Reservations are recommended. There are no age or height restrictions, participants simply need to be able to hold their own laser gun.
Also on the upper decks are two water slides (both Deck 17) and a kids' splash area (Deck 16). Not for the faint of heart, the high-speed Ocean Loops free-fall water slide drops riders into two heart-pounding loops: both extend over the side of the ship and have sections of see-through tubing. Riders must be taller than 48 inches, and must remove all jewelry to go on. Swim skirts and shirts can slow you down or even stop your progress in the slide, so are not recommended.
The second water slide, the Aqua Racer, is not actually a racing slide, but instead requires participants to get into an inner tube to ride down the water slide in. Inner tubes are built for one or two people, who each must be at least 40 inches tall. One person going alone, or two people going together combined can weigh no more than 300 pounds. Special lighting effects change colors and patterns as you zip down the looping water slide tubing.
The splash zone features a tipping water bucket, water cannons, climbing structures and spray jets.
You'll find plenty of loungers for tanning and napping around the pool on Deck 16, as well as one deck up.
Two other sun decks are for adults only. The free adults-only Spice H20 is located on Deck 17 and features two hot tubs and a bar, while the extra-fee adults-only Vibe Beach Club is on Deck 19, and features one hot tub and a bar. Passes to Vibe are $99 per person for the full weeklong cruise or $25 per person, per day. At Vibe, you'll find extra comfy loungers and clamshells.
All of Norwegian Bliss' main service desks (reception, excursion, loyalty and Next Cruise) are located on Deck 6 in the atrium. There's even a desk specifically to deal with onboard credit questions or to apply Norwegian Cruise Line gift cards to your account.
You can also make dinner reservations at a table placed in the atrium or use one of six internet terminals in the ship's nominal Internet Cafe. (That spot is also where you go for any help with your Wi-Fi or internet package.) Internet can be purchased in several types of packages: $125 plus a $3.95 activation fee for 250 minutes (audio and video streaming not supported); $14.99 per day for the unlimited social media plan (view, post and upload pictures and videos to common social media sites); $29.99 per day for unlimited standard service (social media plus the ability to check e-mail and check out most websites); and $34.99 per day for unlimited premium Wi-Fi (all the above plus the ability to do video and audio streaming, as well as use VPN).
Most of the ship's retail is located on Deck 8, including shops that sell fine jewelry, clothing, duty-free alcohol and tobacco, souvenirs, Norwegian Cruise Line-branded items and sundries. There's also a Margaritaville with branded merchandise and funky margarita glasses for sale. The photo gallery is up here as well and has lots of cameras and equipment as well as photo accessories for sale. The Park West art gallery is on Deck 6, between 678 Ocean Place and the Taste and Savor dining rooms. It's got the usual mix of Peter Max, Thomas Kinkade and other unknown artists the auctioneer will try to convince you is worth the investment.
There are no self-service launderettes on the ship, but you can send your laundry out to be cleaned and pressed for you. A special promotion is available all cruise long -- fill up a bag and get everything cleaned for $20.
Hidden away in a small corridor between the atrium and Q are two meeting rooms and the ship's small library with a decent selection of books organized by category (biography, romance, poetry, mystery, etc.). There are also children's books and a selection of board games.
Mandara Spa (Deck 16) has 24 treatment rooms, a full-service salon and barber shop. You'll find all the usual treatments here, including a variety of massages and facials. Prices are high, especially on sea days; a 50-minute deep tissue massage is $159 ($143 on a port day), a 75-minute Thai herbal poultice massage is $195 ($176 on port days) and a range of Elemis facials cost $122 to $184 ($110 to $166 on port days).
Other services include salt scrubs, Ionithermie treatments, acupuncture, Botox or Dysport wrinkle treatments, tooth whitening, haircuts and styling, manicures and pedicures, and men's grooming.
Also inside the spa is the extra-cost Thermal Suite, which has a vitality pool with heated whirlpool, special experience showers, steam room and saunas, as well as 17 heated stone loungers. A weeklong pass costs $327 per person.
A highlight of the Thermal Suite is the salt room, designed to mimic the natural salt caves found in Eastern Europe. Folklore holds that salt is naturally relaxing and can improve respiratory and skin ailments. Nearby is the snow room, an ice-cold space that supposedly stimulates blood circulation throughout the body. We're not sure of that, but it certainly wakes you up.
Pulse fitness center (Deck 16) has plenty of TechnoGym equipment, especially treadmills and ellipticals, though there are also rowing machines and bikes. Fitness staff offer personal training and group fitness classes. Some, such as morning stretch and fab abs, are free while others cost extra, including TRX ($20/session), Norwegian Fight Club ($25/session), RYDE Cycling ($20/session), yoga ($12/session), Pilates ($12/class) and boot camp ($20/session). Class packages are available. Pulse is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
A jogging track on Deck 17 is technically open before 9 a.m. and then again after 6 p.m., but we saw people using it during the day. Be warned, the jogging track overlaps with deck space surrounding popular spots like the water slides and Margaritaville and non-joggers have right of way during the daytime. Eight laps equals 1 mile.
Norwegian Bliss does have plenty of spots and activities for children, but compared to other Norwegian Cruise Line ships is not the most family-friendly. Many of the public spaces are not appropriate for children, including the massive 20,000-square-foot Observation Lounge; and the nighttime entertainment will not appeal to most kids or teens (except, maybe, The Beatles tribute band). Havana is not appropriate for smaller children with some suggestive dancing many parents might object to.
With that said, Norwegian Bliss does have the cruise line's excellent kids' club, Splash Academy, which is divided into three groups by age; a third club is for teens. All are located on Deck 5, one deck beneath the atrium and well out of the way of any spaces the rest of the passengers would typically be found.
Also, on that same deck is an extra-fee arcade targeted at the kids.
And family-friendly activities are called out each day in the Freestyle Daily activity schedule on the bottom left corner of the second page.
As for that lack of nighttime entertainment, kids will most likely want to spend most of their evenings in the kids club, where they'll find lots of age-appropriate activities and entertainment and it's all free from 7 to 10:30 p.m.
Norwegian Bliss also has the largest Guppies playroom in the Norwegian fleet, where Early Years Coordinators host sensory-play activities (up to two hours a day) for parents and their babies (ages 6 months to just under 3 years). Parents must accompany all children to these sessions and cruise staff will not change diapers.
There is no in-cabin babysitting, but the "Late Night Fun Zone" is offered every night from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. for a fee of $6 for the first child in a family, per hour, plus $4 per hour for each additional sibling. Children are not segregated by age during these times.
Kids in Splash Academy are divided into three groups: 3- to 5-year-olds are in the Turtles; 6- to 9-year-olds are Seals and 10- to 12-year-olds are Dolphins. All children must be signed in by their parents or a guardian except for 10- to 12-years-olds, who may get permission from their parents or guardian to sign themselves out. Even with permission, kids in this age group may only sign themselves out when the ship is at sea and no less than two hours after being signed in (unless the club is closing before then).
Most days are themed (Hollywood at Sea, Superheroes, Cowboys, Pirate Plunder, etc.) with activities designed around these themes. Other activities might include kids versus counselor or girls versus boys competitions, carnival games and circus classes.
One aspect of Splash Academy we liked are the Freestyle Free Play sessions when friends and siblings from different age groups are permitted to interact and play together. These are usually held twice per day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Sea day hours for both groups may vary but are typically 9 a.m. to noon, 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 10:30 p.m. Port days are similar and parents may drop their kids off at the club before heading out on a shore excursion; if they plan to be out all day, they'll need to sign up for breakfast and/or lunch service.
Meal escort service is provided every day for a fee of $6 per child, per meal. Kids need to be signed up for breakfast service the day before as crew will need to arrive early to be able to take kids to breakfast. Lunch and dinner require same-day signup.
Teens (ages 13 to 17) have their own space on Deck 5 as well, the Entourage Teen Club, from which they can come and go as they like. It's located all the way at the end of the hall (aft), about half a deck away from where the smaller kids are located. It's decked out as a plush lounge with sleek leather or microfiber furniture, gaming stations, large TVs and a dance floor; activities offered here might include movies, art classes, video game competitions, dance parties and more.