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Norwegian Joy Review

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Editor Rating
4.0
Very Good
Overall
Chris Gray Faust
Executive Editor, U.S.

Call it the workhorse of the Norwegian fleet: Norwegian Joy has become a jack-of-all-trades megaship, a vessel that the company deploys to different homeports, depending on consumer demand. New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle, Port Canaveral – the 3,776-passenger ship (which can reach over 4,400 at maximum capacity) goes where it’s needed most.

Lido during sea day on Norwegian Joy (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

And that’s somewhat ironic, since Norwegian Joy is an outlier in the line’s Breakaway-Plus fleet. Originally built for the Chinese market in 2017, the line brought Joy back to North America just two years later, after a renovation that undid many of the Asian-specific touches, like a tea garden and a karaoke bar to make the ship look more like its sister Norwegian Bliss. Yet despite that refurb and another one in 2024, the ship’s original roots are reflected in Joy’s smaller-than-normal pools and a go-kart track that’s tighter and twistier than you see on other NCL ships.

Still, a cruise on Norwegian Joy delivers almost you expect on an NCL cruise. A wide choice of specialty restaurants appeal to different tastes. The NCL Free at Sea package means that almost everyone onboard has some kind of drink package, so the crowd is happy. Theme parties like the Glow Party and 80s Night are genuinely lit. The casino keeps going until late into the night.

And if you want a more specialized experience, you can pay extra for it.

The Norwegian Joy Deck Plan Gained More Adult For-Fee Spaces During 2024 Refurbishment

Vibe Beach Club on Norwegian Joy (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

The 2024 refurbishment gave Norwegian Joy several upgrades, including another deck to the Vibe Beach Club and the largest Thermal Suite in the NCL fleet. We tried both on our Bermuda sailing, and found them excellent; in fact, we would probably never sail a Breakaway or Breakaway-Plus ship without getting trying to get a Vibe pass (even if it is an extra cost).

The Thermal Suite is the best one that we’ve seen at sea, better even than those on Norwegian’s newer ships Prima and Viva. It takes up a good portion of real estate, with nearly 50 heated ceramic loungers, cushioned round beds and four “four senses” chairs meant for meditation. The suite itself has everything you need for a true spa day: a salt room, an aromatic steam room, special showers, a traditional sauna, a snow room and a cold plunge pool, as well as a round thalassotherapy pool.

Salt room in Thermal Suite on Norwegian Joy (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

What we really loved about the entire space was that nothing ever felt crowded – each room was big enough so you never felt cramped (which can be very awkward when everyone is in robes). If you are a spa girlie (or dude), this is a worth-it splurge.

This cruise also made us lifelong fans of the Vibe Beach Club. On a sunny Sea Day, deck loungers can be at a premium – we saw people lined up waiting for more to be put out. (And we’ve never seen more aggressive chair hogs than we did at the 18+ Spice H2O deck).

Vibe Beach Club bar on Norwegian Joy (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

We loved being able to go up to Vibe any time of the day and not only get a chair, but have a dedicated bar and really outstanding waiters; we experienced consistently excellent service here. We also trusted the hot tubs here more than on other places on the ship. Note that Vibe passes are limited – you can buy them either before your trip or go to Guest Services as soon as you board to snag one.

When something gets added, though, something gets taken away. Both the Thermal Suite and Vibe are meant for adults 18+. On Norwegian Joy, two venues for older kids and families were lost – the Galaxy VR Pavilion and the Laser Tag area. On a practical level, these are good decisions, as the technology behind the VR Pavilion already seemed out of date and Laser Tag is a one-and-done attraction, as opposed to Vibe, which you can use all week. It does mean that there is less for kids to do, particularly since the ship does not have a sports court.

Norwegian Joy Has Lots of Room Choice; Closet Placement Isn’t the Best

Balcony cabin on Norwegian Joy (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

There are many room choices on Norwegian Joy for all budgets: inside, oceanview, a variety of balconies and lots of suites. Solo cabins have also been added to the ship, including solo balcony cabins -- a boon for people traveling alone or who simply want their own cabin.

In our standard balcony cabin on Deck 11, we felt a little cramped, compared to comparable cabins on other ships. The closet in our room was tucked right next to the bed, as opposed to being in the hallway, which made it difficult for one of us to get to. We did appreciate the long sofa, which can be converted into an extra bed. Similar to other ships in the Breakaway-Plus class, balconies in general on Norwegian Joy are smaller than you find on similar ships, but still big enough for two chairs and a table.

When choosing your cabin on Norwegian Joy, look at the deck plan to make sure that your room isn’t directly under any dining areas, as noise from kitchens can carry through. We would also note that while the extended balcony cabins that are forward on Deck 8 have lots of space and loungers outdoors, they have no privacy as people can look directly into them from above.

Norwegian Joy’s Food Shines in Specialty Restaurants; Ho Hum in MDRs

Lobster at Ocean Blue in Norwegian Joy (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Most people who book on Norwegian Joy have the Free at Sea package bundled into their fare, which gives them dinner at two specialty restaurants, an open bar package and a limited number of WiFi minutes. The ship has seven specialty restaurants, but keep in mind that for the most popular – Cagney’s steakhouse, Ocean Blue seafood and La Cucina – you’ll want to make reservations as soon as they open up.

On our voyage, we dined at Q Texas Smokehouse, Ocean Blue, Le Bistro (French food) and Food Republic (sushi and international tapas). Of these, Ocean Blue definitely stood out, not only for the lobster (which we paid an extra premium for), but for the service – the best we had on the ship. You do get a lot of food at your specialty restaurant meals – twice we had to turn down dessert because we were too full (you can take it to go).

Manhattan Room on Norwegian Joy (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Norwegian Joy has three main dining rooms, all of which serve the same rotating menu. Taste and Savor are contemporary and smaller spaces that focus on getting you in and out – our meal here took just over an hour. The Manhattan Room has a grander atmosphere and more leisurely service. The food at the main dining rooms and in the Garden Buffet was OK, with nothing particularly memorable.

Some of the best complimentary places to eat onboard are The Local, a pub on the upper levels of the atrium that serves breakfast, lunch and casual dinner (think burgers, fish and chips and snacks). One of our go-to areas to eat was the Observation Lounge, where a small buffet station with rotating items is put out every day. In the morning, we enjoyed muffins, while afternoons had fantastic little focaccia pizzas and sandwiches, as well as scones, whipped cream and berries.

Norwegian Joy Haven Has New Spacious Suites; Great Perks (Although Another Bar Would Help)

Courtyard pool in the Haven on Norwegian Joy (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

The Haven is Norwegian’s ship-within-a-ship suite complex that comes with a variety of perks. It’s been said that once you go Haven, you never go back – and after having Haven access for a week onboard, we can definitely see the appeal.

While the Haven has its own separate pool and hot tub, as well as sundeck, this isn’t the main draw, at least not on Norwegian Joy. The Haven draws quite a few families, especially to its suites, which are true one and two bedroom suites (a massive three-bedroom suite was added in the 2024 refurb). As such, children and teens tend to take over – especially since the main pool available to kids elsewhere is so small.

Special theater seating for The Haven passengers on Norwegian Joy (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

The true value of the Haven is the priority access that you get throughout your trip (especially when you’re on such a large ship). With our Haven card, we were able to board NCL’s complimentary ferry to St. George’s, Bermuda, ahead of everyone else (and get the comfy seats inside). We could get on and off the ship in Manhattan, take a special elevator back to the Haven after an excursion, and waltz right down to a special seating area in the theater without reservations. The hard-working concierge staff were also diligent in getting Haven guests into specialty restaurants.

The Haven also has its own very spacious observation lounge, with a breakfast buffet, lunch and snack bar. We were curious as to why this comfy area didn’t have a bar; it would definitely get more use if it did. (While the Haven on Joy has a bar – and outstanding bar tenders, we’ll add – it’s small and in the area’s concierge lounge). We also didn’t understand why the Haven sundeck lacked drink service. The entire complex could use a second bar.

A final Haven perk worth mentioning is the special restaurant, just for suite guests. While the menu doesn’t change during the trip, it’s a calmer venue than others onboard, and some items from specialty restaurants appear here for free (we were able to have the Cagney’s OMG caramel cheesecake, for example). There’s an outdoor area where suite guests can have a leisurely breakfast. It’s a calm dining oasis within the storm of a megaship – and we can see why some people won’t cruise without going Haven.

Pros

Great for-fee spaces, such as Vibe Beach Club and Thermal Suite; gorgeous Observation Lounge; fun theme parties; specialty restaurant choices

Cons

Most dining venues and activities cost extra; small pools; ship can feel very crowded outdoors during sea days

Bottom Line

A mega-ship with some oddities that nonetheless works well in many different homeports.

Inclusions

Included with your cruise fare:

  • Three main dining rooms, the buffet and The Local Bar & Grill

  • All mainstage theater shows and comedy in the Social

  • Use of the pool, hot tubs and water slides

  • Daily activities, unless noted below

  • Use of the gym, but not most classes

  • Themed deck parties

  • Adults-only Spice H2O sun deck

Not included with your cruise fare:

  • Gratuities

  • Automatic beverage and spa tips (20 percent for both)

  • All drinks beyond water, tea (including iced tea), coffee and select juices in the buffet

  • Spa treatments and Thermal Suite

  • Shore excursions

  • Wi-Fi

  • Special activities such as wine tastings; the go kart track.

  • Vibe Beach Club sun deck

  • Photos and artwork

Fellow Passengers

Adult pool during sea day on Norwegian Joy (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Norwegian Joy draws all types of people, with demographics that will shift, depending on its homeport. You’ll see families, couples, solo travelers, family reunions, groups of friends and much more.

Norwegian holds a variety of daily meetups, including ones for solo travelers, LGBTQ guests, sober cruisers and a special gathering for cruisers ages 18 to 25 (this is one of the first lines we’ve seen do this).

Norwegian caters to people with accessibility issues, including 47 staterooms with wider doors, roll-in showers, grab bars and turning spaces.

Norwegian Joy Dress Code

Daytime: Casual, with jeans, shorts and tees most common inside the ship and bathing suits and cover-ups on the pool deck.

Evening: The dress code at night is the same as during the day: casual. Norwegian Cruise Line doesn't have any official formal nights. If you want to be prepared for any theme nights, bring along a few glow party, cowboy and 60s/70s/80s regalia along with you; that way you've got your bases covered.

Not permitted: Bathing suits are not permitted in any of the dining venues, but beyond that pretty much anything goes. Le Bistro, Cagney's and Ocean Blue do maintain a dress code, with long pants required for men.

For more information, visit Cruise Line Dress Codes: Norwegian Cruise Line.

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