Experiencing a Norwegian Caribbean Cruise

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Advisor - Allen Bartimioli
Curated By

Allen Bartimioli

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Experiencing a Norwegian Caribbean Cruise
Curator’s statement

My wife and I recently embarked on our first Norwegian cruise. We had previously taken many cruises on Carnival and Royal Caribbean. In my new role as a travel advisor, I thought it would be a good idea to give a new cruise line a try.

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We sailed in March 2024 out of Miami, Florida, for seven days with four ports of call: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, and lastly the private Norwegian Cruise Line island of Great Stirrup Cay. We stayed in a balcony stateroom on the Norwegian Encore.

Before the trip, we were communicated with through timely emails. We also downloaded the Norwegian app, which we found to be simple to use and very helpful. Norwegian allows you to choose your excursions through the app upon making your deposit for the trip. Norwegian has a pre-trip voucher program called “Cruise First”. Cruise next is a coupon that is usually set at $150. That coupon can then be applied to the cruise you are booking and Norwegian doubles the value. This is basically a free $150 towards the trip, which, at the time of this review, covers the deposit. There are occasional promotions for the coupon to be $250 and even $350 dollars. I always share this information with my cruise clients and get them a “cruise first” voucher. The cruise must be 120 days out. The voucher is not combinable with “Cruise Next” vouchers, which I will explain later.

On a personal note, this cruise was all about rest for my wife and me. We really had no desire to party or be super active. Admittedly, this affects my review. When I booked the cruise, I really hadn’t considered that it was during Spring Break. My bad. I am sure that has some impact on the things I will share.

From the Miami Airport (MIA) it is a short Lyft/Uber/taxi to the cruise port. Check your apps at the time to compare rates. Our bags were gathered with ease and the embarkation process was by far, the smoothest and fastest of any cruise line we have been on before. We were immediately on the ship. Also, the muster process is a video we watched on the app before sailing. We were told to head to a muster location on the ship where a crew member checked our names. That was it. Our rooms were not quite ready yet, so we went to a restaurant and had lunch. A short time after that, the rooms were released. Near our room was an indoor, glassed area filled with soft loungers, chairs and couches. There was a bar nearby and a simple mini buffet with snacks, fruit and beverages. We hung out in this area a few times. It was a quiet place to chill with a drink and watch the sea.

Norwegian has a program called “Free at Sea”. You can select perk options at no extra cost. However, there are gratuity costs if choosing the beverage package. We chose all four options of $50 off excursions, free wifi (150 minutes), two specialty dining options and the beverage package. The additional gratuities cost us, if I remember correctly, about $180 each. This figures to be about $25 a day, per person. While we are not heavy drinkers, we do like an occasional Mimosa, Pina Colada or a glass of wine at dinner. The effect it had was that it added a layer of, “I don’t have to think about the cost” to our trip. We thoroughly enjoyed this value.

Our balcony stateroom was not much different than the other cruise lines we had been on. It was just configured differently. Once our bags arrived, we emptied them into the ample storage spaces and slipped our soft bags under the bed. The shower was a little larger than our previous cruise lines, which was appreciated. On our first night, we had one of our specialty dining experiences at Ocean Blue, a seafood restaurant. We absolutely loved our meal. Ellen chose to go for the steak and has proclaimed her filet mignon, too. Be the best steak she has ever had. I’m not gonna lie, that hurt a little. Norwegian allows you to reserve your preferred restaurant choices at the point of paying in full, which is 120 days prior to sailing. I found out that there were limited numbers of early reservations allowed, so don’t procrastinate. We wanted our dinners on certain days, and the space and timeslots were also limited.

The next day was our first of three days at sea. Here is where we felt that Norwegian was lacking. On Carnival and RCL, there are adult-only area for free. They are quiet, comfortable and perfect for those adults without kids who really want to simply chill. Norwegian has and adult pool, right next to the family pool. It was hard to find a place to sit. It was loud and pretty much...well...a zoo. Now remember, we were looking to escape. There is an adult-only area on most Norwegian cruises called the vibe. To me, it’s a tough pill to swallow because it has a pretty lofty price tag. Now, to be fair, it was spring break. I haven’t been on any other Norwegian cruises yet. But this was weighty as far as comparing the three lines we have been on.

That night we had our first dinner in the main dining hall. Norwegian has free-style dining. It is basically like going out to a restaurant. You go to the host table, they write your name down and you wait to be seated at a table of your group’s size. There are plusses and minuses to this. If you are not a very outgoing person, you don’t have to sit with people you don’t know, and frankly, may not like. However, Ellen and I were a bit torn. We enjoyed meeting others on our cruise. Sitting together with the same people has been a bit of a highlight for us on other cruises. We also missed our wait staff knowing us by name and understanding our preferences. The staff was excellent on Norwegian. The food was good. In fact, overall, we felt that Norwegian’s food was the best we had.

Our ports of call were great. Before our cruise, I had scouted out the beaches that were recommended. We took taxis to each of the three. The cost was about $25–40 Rt per transport, per person. The one that was $40 ($80 for both of us) was in Punta Cana, where our driver remained with us until we were ready to return to the ship. All of the taxi drivers basically hung out together at a restaurant on the beach. When we were ready, we simply told him we were ready to return.

I can’t speak about excursions because we truly had no interest on this trip. We headed straight for the beaches. Grabbing lounge chairs was a matter of paying $25 for a chair and an umbrella. On St. Thomas, the beach was so packed that we had to pay for a covered little cabana-type thing. While it was a bit pricey, it was very comfortable and shaded. The water and beaches at all three of our stops were amazing. Because it was spring break, they were all crowded, but not so much that it felt unpleasant. In fact, I found that if I went out beyond where the water was too deep for kids, I was kinda by myself. Our favorite beach was Cane Garden Bay in Tortola, BVI. It was wonderful and I can imagine that at quieter times of the year, it is paradise-like.

Our time spent on the ship was excellent. The special performances of the Beatles Experience and Choir of Men were fabulous. The comedians were very funny. However, on our other cruise lines, there was a different show each night. While the quality on Norwegian was amazing, there were a few nights where we felt like we didn’t have much to do.

I feel I should take a moment to talk about the casino. One thing I liked was that there was a separate area closed off for smokers. For some reason, smoking and gambling seem to be linked. We don’t smoke, so it has always been a setback for us. This made it very easy to spend some time in the casino. I like blackjack. Ellen likes slots. She did not enjoy the new slot machines. They were confusing and required far too much per “spin”. I don’t believe this is a Norwegian issue. We have found this to be true at most casinos. I guess the days of nickel slots are gone.

Our final stop, Great Stirrup Cay, was rained out. This gave us another day at sea. Norwegian was kind enough to give us a $100 onboard credit for our cruise. This pretty much covered our incidentals. The water was rough, as rough as any cruise we have been on in the past. It was amazing how unaffected the ship was. We sat at the front of the ship in the indoor lounge I mentioned and watched the storm. It was very cool.

While you are on a Norwegian cruise, there is an offer to purchase “Cruise Next” Vouchers. These are only available on the ship and the incentive is that they become future cruise investments while offering you quite a bit of onboard credit for the current cruise. I was informed that as a Travel Advisor, I could purchase up to eight Cruise Next Vouchers. I plan to use them as incentives for my clients because they are transferable. The best part was that I purchased eight at $250 each ($2,000). I received $1,000 in onboard credits, which I applied to the purchase of the vouchers. I then got the Norwegian visa card (Immediate approval), which required $1,000 in spending to get $200 of non-expiring, onboard credit. Which we will use in August of 2025 for our Alaskan Cruise we have already booked. It is also worth noting that the Free at Sea wifi was pretty limiting. I needed to be able to do some work and chose to update to the unlimited package. I believe it was an extra $135 or something like that.

In summary. We loved the food above our previous experiences with RCL and Carnival. The entertainment was fabulous but not as vast as the other lines. We were torn between main dining with others every night and Norwegians freestyle dining. We did not like the lack of outdoor adult-only areas. The embarkation and disembarkation processes were the best we have experienced, by far. The cruise's next and first options are special and useful and free at sea was awesome.

Need to Know

This trip report is part of our ongoing series on cruise travel. In need of further inspiration? Check out my guide, Phoenix, AZ: Not What You May Think.

Advisor - Allen Bartimioli

Travel Advisor

Allen Bartimioli

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