If you’re thinking of booking a Norwegian cruise, an important thing to know is that there is a wide variation in the size and style of the vessels in the line’s fleet.
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Four of Norwegian’s 19 ships — Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Encore — are among the 30 biggest ships in the world. As such, they’re loaded with huge numbers of cabins, restaurants, bars, showrooms and deck-top amusements.
They are, in a nutshell, floating megaresorts.
The line also operates smaller vessels that barely crack the top 100 list of biggest cruise ships. These ships generally have fewer venues and attractions than the bigger ships. However, they still offer a lot for cruisers. Norwegian is a line known for packing oodles of restaurants, bars and entertainment on its vessels — even its smaller ones.
The good news for those of you trying to get a handle on all the options within the Norwegian fleet is that the line’s 19 ships can be bunched into just eight groups of vessels with similar amenities. If you know one member of the group, you know them all.
Each of these groups — known as “classes” in cruise industry lingo — is made up of ships that were constructed around the same time in the same basic design.
An introduction to Norwegian Cruise Line ships
Smaller only than Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line and MSC Cruises, Norwegian has become increasingly known for some of the biggest, most amenity-filled vessels at sea. As mentioned above, though, the line doesn’t just operate giant ships. More than half its fleet comprises vessels that, by today’s standards, are considered almost midsize.
Indeed, Norwegian is essentially two cruise lines in one. The line’s nine newest ships are big, bustling floating megaresorts that can carry upward of 3,000 to 4,000 passengers at double occupancy (even more with every berth filled). At around 144,000 to nearly 170,000 tons, all nine currently rank among the 50 biggest cruise ships in the world (although their rankings will shift downward as more big ships debut).
Norwegian’s 10 older ships, by contrast, are much more modest in size, measuring around 75,000 to 94,000 tons and carrying closer to 2,000 passengers at double occupancy.
Norwegian thus appeals both to cruisers who like a giant resort vibe and those who prefer a resort experience that is more modest. The key, depending on your tastes, is getting on the right ship in the fleet for you.
On the big-ship end of the spectrum, Norwegian’s four new Breakaway Plus vessels — Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Escape — are the line’s premier offerings.
One step down in size from the Breakaway Plus ships are the still-quite-large Breakaway-class ships — Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway — and the one-of-a-kind Norwegian Epic.
The smallest of the line’s big ships are the recently unveiled Norwegian Viva and Norwegian Prima. They are the first two of a new series of six vessels that will transform the brand. Measuring about 143,500 tons a piece, these two new ships are about 17% smaller than Norwegian’s biggest vessels.
Norwegian’s 10 smaller vessels break down into five classes, though many are roughly the same size and offer similar amenities.
Ships in class: Norwegian Prima (2022), Norwegian Viva (2023).
Size: 143,535 tons.
The Prima class of ships is the latest and greatest at Norwegian Cruise Line — the vessels that every NCL fan wants to book.
Only two ships in the series (Norwegian Viva and Norwegian Prima) are currently in operation. Four more sister vessels are on order for delivery by 2027.
Under development since 2017, these ships mark Norwegian’s first new class of vessel in more than a decade. At 143,535 tons, they are notably smaller than the ships the line has been adding in recent years — a factor that will give them access to smaller ports around the world.
That said, Norwegian Viva, Norwegian Prima and their coming sisters still are relatively big ships that pack a lot of over-the-top amenities. Both Norwegian Viva and Norwegian Prima have ridiculously big go-kart tracks spread over three decks (a cruise industry first). The ships also boast The Drop, a 10-story dry slide that the line says provides more G-force than an accelerating Formula One race car.
Additionally, the vessels each are home to a three-deck theater that converts into a Las Vegas-style nightclub, along with a list of interactive, real-life game shows, including at-sea versions of “The Price Is Right,” “Supermarket Sweep,” “Press Your Luck” and “Beat the Clock.”
Still, the new Prima class is about more than flashy entertainment and activities. It marks a more upscale turn for the line. Norwegian Viva and Norwegian Prima offer the largest variety of suite categories (13) for a large ocean ship, the largest three-bedroom suites of any new cruise vessel and the brand’s largest-ever inside, ocean-view and balcony cabins.
The entire back of each of the ships is dedicated to an upscale, “ship-within-a-ship” private suite area called The Haven that rises eight decks high and includes 107 suites, a sprawling private indoor lounge area, private outdoor lounge and pool areas, and a private restaurant. Other vessels feature The Haven areas, but none as big as this one.
In addition, the public areas of Norwegian Viva and Norwegian Prima feel more spacious than many of the other 17 ships in the Norwegian fleet. And, indeed, they are. The Prima-class ships are being built with a higher ratio of space to passengers, which itself is an upscale touch.
Norwegian Cruise Line also says the Prima-class vessels offer the most outdoor deck space of any new cruise ship — including more total pool deck space than any other ships in the brand’s fleet.
Note that the last four ships in the Prima-class series, due to debut between 2025 and 2027, are being redesigned to be bigger than the first two ships in the series.
Breakaway Plus class
Ships in class: Norwegian Encore (2019), Norwegian Bliss (2018), Norwegian Joy (2017), Norwegian Escape (2015).
Size: 164,600 to 169,145 tons.
These are the Norwegian ships you go on if you’re a fan of megaresorts.
While not quite as big as Royal Caribbean’s giant Oasis-class ships, Norwegian’s Breakaway Plus-class vessels are firmly in the pantheon of the world’s cruising giants. They are the Norwegian ships most packed with restaurants, bars, entertainment and over-the-top attractions. There are so many of these things that you won’t be able to do it all in a single, weeklong cruise.
The Breakaway Plus ships are so big, in fact, that they have room for giant go-kart tracks and laser tag areas on their top decks (on all of the vessels in the series except Norwegian Escape). There’s also plenty of room to spare for multiple pools, waterslides and a kiddie splash zone.
Each of the vessels also offers real Broadway shows in big, state-of-the-art theaters, sprawling spas, casinos that fill half a deck, dedicated children’s play zones, and more than 2,000 rooms.
In addition, the two newest ships in this series, Norwegian Encore and Norwegian Joy, have large gaming and virtual reality zones called the Galaxy Pavilion.
For meals, you’ll find at least 20 venues on each of these ships, including multiple main dining rooms and a buffet that come with no extra charge and such extra-charge eateries as a teppanyaki restaurant, a steakhouse, a high-end French restaurant and a Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at Sea.
With lots of family-friendly attractions such as the go-kart tracks and laser tag courses, these ships appeal heavily to families with children, particularly teens, but they draw a lot of couples, too. They are also popular with solo travelers, thanks to their unusually large complexes of cabins for one (something you’ll find on the Breakaway and Epic classes of ships, too).
All four of the Breakaway Plus ships have large, private, two-deck-high suite enclaves called The Haven that come with their own pool areas, restaurants and lounges. They’re some of the most spectacular suite complexes anywhere at sea.
The biggest of these ships, Norwegian Encore, measures 169,116 tons, making it the 18th-biggest cruise ship in the world as of this story’s publishing (it will drop in the rankings over the coming years as additional megaships debut). That’s bigger than all but one Carnival ship and every Princess Cruises ship. Only Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises have a significant number of bigger vessels.
Norwegian Encore can hold more than 5,000 passengers with all berths filled.
Ships in class: Norwegian Getaway (2014), Norwegian Breakaway (2013).
Size: 145,655 tons.
These vessels are similar to the Breakaway Plus-class ships but slightly smaller. Or, put another way, the Breakaway Plus-class ships are a stretched version of the Breakaway-class ships.
You’ll find many of the same eateries, bars, lounges and entertainment venues on the Breakaway-class ships that you’ll find on the Breakaway Plus-class vessels. The slightly smaller size of these vessels means there’s just a tad less “stuff” on board.
The top decks of the Breakaway-class ships have two pool areas and water parks with waterslides, for instance — just like the Breakaway Plus-class ships. However, they don’t have go-kart tracks or laser tag courses. Instead of the latter attractions, you’ll find an adults-only pool area called Spice H2O at the back of the vessels. At night, it transforms into a dance club.
The Breakaway-class ships also boast full-size ropes courses on their top decks. Indeed, they were the first cruise ships ever to have such a feature. Other deck-top features include miniature golf courses on both vessels and basketball courts that double as volleyball courts.
On the entertainment front, both ships offer Broadway shows in their main theaters and have a circuslike show in a secondary theater called “Cirque Dreams.” The latter is a dinner show that comes with an extra charge. They’re also home to “Howl at the Moon” dueling piano shows and a version of the Latin-themed dance show “Burn the Floor.”
Like the Breakaway Plus vessels, the Breakaway ships have large complexes for solo travelers, as well as large, private The Haven suite complexes.
In general, as with the Breakaway Plus ships, these vessels are best for vacationers who like a megaresort-type experience, and they appeal heavily to families with children who love all their deck-top attractions. Each of the two ships in this series — Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway — holds about 4,000 passengers at double occupancy.
Ships in class: Norwegian Epic (2010).
Size: 155,873 tons.
Norwegian Epic is an outlier in the Norwegian fleet. Unveiled in 2010, it was originally supposed to be the first of a series of up to three similar vessels. However, after disagreements with the shipyard that built it, Norwegian eventually canceled an order for a second ship in the series and an option for a third ship in the series, leaving Norwegian Epic in a class of one.
While roughly comparable in size to the Breakaway Plus- and Breakaway-class ships (it’s a bit smaller than the former vessels and a bit bigger than the latter vessels), Norwegian Epic has a notably different design that includes some unique features.
Perhaps most notably, balcony cabins on the ship have an unusual design that includes curved walls, rounded bed corners, and a sink and vanity area that is in the main living space (for all to see), separate from a closed-off toilet area. The toilet area is behind a translucent door that some cruisers find less private than they had hoped.
Norwegian Epic is also home to the only tube-and-bowl waterslide at sea and has such rare-for-cruise-ships attractions as a rappelling wall and a three-lane bowling alley. It also features an ice bar where customers wear parkas while sipping drinks.
Still, Norwegian Epic also offers a lot that will be familiar to Norwegian fans, including many of the line’s signature restaurants, bars and entertainment.
Standout features on Norwegian Epic include a water park with some of the most over-the-top waterslides at sea (including the aforementioned tube-and-bowl slide). It also offers a version of the Burn the Floor dance show that played on Broadway and on the West End in London, as well as a Howl at the Moon piano bar and a recreation of the Cavern Club nightspot in Liverpool, England, where The Beatles got their start (complete with a The Beatles cover band).
In addition, Norwegian Epic has the line’s biggest solo cabin complex (with 128 rooms for one) and a giant The Haven private suite complex.
At 155,873 tons, Norwegian Epic currently ranks as the 34th biggest cruise vessel in the world. Notably, it was the world’s third-largest ship when it debuted in 2010. That tells you just how much the cruise industry has grown in recent years.
Norwegian Epic carries 4,100 passengers at double occupancy.
Ships in class: Norwegian Gem (2007), Norwegian Jade (2006), Norwegian Pearl (2006), Norwegian Jewel (2005).
Size: About 93,500 tons.
Are you unsure if you want to sail on a megaship with 4,000 or more people but still want a vessel with a good amount of features and activities? The Jewel-class ships may be the perfect solution.
At 93,500 tons, the four vessels in the series are nearly 50% smaller than the line’s Breakaway Plus-class ships but still big enough that they have a lot to offer.
Each of the vessels has more than a dozen food venues, including three main restaurants, a casual buffet, a steakhouse, a French restaurant and a teppanyaki eatery.
You’ll also find multiple pools on each of the ships, along with whirlpools, basketball courts and golf driving nets. Each of the ships also has a theater, spa, casino, and multiple bars and lounges.
What you won’t find on the ships, because of their smaller size, are all the gee-whiz attractions such as go-kart tracks, laser tag courses and large water-park areas that Norwegian has put on its bigger vessels. If you can’t live without those sorts of features on a cruise ship, then the Jewel class probably isn’t for you.
Note that Norwegian Gem does have a climbing wall and a single waterslide. Norwegian Pearl has a climbing wall but no waterslide. Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Jade have neither of the attractions.
Each of the Jewel-class ships holds around 2,400 passengers at double occupancy (plus a few hundred more with every berth filled). That’s about 40% fewer passengers than you’ll find on the biggest Norwegian ships.
That makes them perfect for cruisers who want to get away from the sort of crowds that are on the biggest megaships without giving up many of the amenities that big ships have to offer.
Pride of America class
Ships in class: Pride of America (2005).
Size: 80,439 tons.
Like Norwegian Epic, Pride of America is an outlier in the Norwegian fleet. In fact, it’s perhaps an even bigger outlier than the former vessel.
Sporting a patriotic U.S. theme (you’ll find venues named after Thomas Jefferson and John Adams) and a distinct array of lounges and entertainment, it’s a ship specifically designed to sail year-round in Hawaii — the only one of its kind at any line.
Pride of America notably flies a U.S. flag and operates with a mostly U.S. crew, in keeping with regulations governing cruise itineraries that only include U.S. ports. That’s a big difference from any other big cruise vessel in the world.
It’s also the only Norwegian vessel without a casino, in keeping with local Hawaii regulations.
If you sail on Pride of America, you’ll find such one-of-a-kind eateries as the classic American car-themed Cadillac Diner. You’ll also find some of Norwegian’s signature offerings, including a Cagney’s steak house and Italian eatery La Cucina. The ship’s other onboard attractions include a showroom, lounges, bars and a top deck with extensive open-air pool and sun lounging areas.
Thanks to its ownership of Pride of America, Norwegian is the undisputed leader in Hawaii cruises. Most cruise lines that offer sailings to Hawaii only offer a limited number of such trips during a few months each year. Norwegian, by contrast, offers sailings around the Hawaiian Islands every week of the year — the only cruise line in the world to do so.
An iconic presence in Hawaii, Pride of America has been permanently dedicated to the archipelago since its debut in 2005. It offers a repeating seven-night itinerary that begins each Saturday in Honolulu and brings the chance to visit four different Hawaiian islands on a single, seven-night trip.
Beginning and ending on the island of Oahu, the itinerary includes two days each on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii. The two-day visit to Maui involves an overnight stay at the port of Kahului. The two-day visit to Kauai involves an overnight stay at the port of Nawiliwili. The two-day visit to Hawaii is split between a call at Hilo and a call at Kona.
Ships in class: Norwegian Dawn (2002), Norwegian Star (2001).
Size: 92,250 and 91,740 tons.
The Dawn-class ships are similar to the Jewel-class ships in size and amenities, with a few differences.
Like the former vessels, the Dawn-class ships have around a dozen food-serving venues, including three main restaurants, a casual buffet, a Brazilian churrascaria (barbecue) restaurant, a French restaurant and a teppanyaki eatery.
You’ll also find multiple pools on each of the ships, whirlpools, basketball courts and golf driving nets. Each of the ships also has a theater, spa, casino, and multiple bars and lounges.
Like the Jewel-class ships, the Dawn-class vessels lack the sort of big attractions such as go-kart tracks and large water parks found on bigger Norwegian vessels. In addition, there are no Broadway musicals on Dawn-class ships, and they don’t have a private The Haven suite area (though they do have several giant suites called Garden Villas that measure more than 6,000 square feet).
If you can’t live without those sorts of features on a cruise ship, then the Dawn class probably isn’t for you.
Ships in class: Norwegian Sun (2001), Norwegian Sky (1999).
Size: 78,309 and 77,104 tons.
Dating to 2001 and 1999, respectively, Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Sky are among the smallest ships at Norwegian. They offer fewer onboard attractions and amenities than is typical for the line’s vessels.
In general, they appeal to cruisers looking for a more intimate experience on a cruise ship than what you’ll find on the big Norwegian ships. They also draw cruisers who care more about the destinations that they visit on a cruise than onboard attractions.
On each of the vessels, you’ll find more than half a dozen eateries, including several main dining rooms, a casual buffet, a diner-style pub, a steakhouse, an Italian trattoria and a French bistro.
On their top decks, the ships have pools (one on Sun, two on Sky), whirlpools, a basketball court that doubles as a volleyball court, golf driving nets and a jogging track. The ships also have casinos and theaters with nightly shows.
Unlike most bigger Norwegian ships, neither of the vessels has a private The Haven suite complex or solo cabins.
Ships in class: Norwegian Spirit (1998).
Size: 75,904 tons.
Dating to 1998, Norwegian Spirit is Norwegian’s smallest and oldest ship, and — like the line’s Sun-class ships — it generally appeals to cruisers looking for a more intimate experience than you’ll find on the big Norwegian ships.
At 75,904 tons, Norwegian Spirit is less than half the size of Norwegian’s biggest ships, and it carries just 1,966 passengers — more than 2,000 fewer than the Norwegian biggies.
It also offers fewer (but still quite a few) venues and attractions. In all, you’ll find 13 food outlets on board, including two main restaurants, a casual buffet eatery, and versions of the line’s signature Cagney’s steakhouse and French eatery Le Bistro. There are more than half a dozen bars and cafes.
Deck-top attractions include several pools, whirlpools, waterslides, a basketball court and a jogging track. The ship also has a casino, spa, nightclub and theater.
Of note, Norwegian Spirit originally was built for Asia-based Star Cruises (where it was called SuperStar Leo).
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