Travel: New Norwegian Cruise Lines flagship Norwegian Prima is impressive

If anything good came out of the 15-month pandemic-prompted drydock of the cruise industry, it’s that it gave the major lines time to up their game. Even with issues around supply chain, labor and ever-changing health guidelines, the vast majority of the 15 cruises I’ve personally taken since the pause ended have been stellar. A key reason is overall improved hospitality. Proving that absence makes the heart grow fonder and wallet lighter, there’s nothing like 470 days without revenue to rekindle appreciation for paying passengers.

Another factor in the cruise industry having record bookings since the stoppage is the vessels themselves, and here the wow factor is even stronger. Since getting back their sea legs in June 2021, the biggest floating hoteliers have been rolling out ships new and/or improved to the delight of vacationers hungry to get away from it all from a few days to several months. Nearly every ship on hiatus underwent refurbishment over the shutdown. Post-pandemic premieres by premium- and mainstream-class lines have included Mardi Gras (Carnival), Wonder of the Seas (Royal Caribbean), Disney Wish (Disney), Discovery Princess (Princess), Rotterdam (Holland America) and Beyond (Celebrity). Next year’s models await their own christenings.

The latest in the cruise industry’s freshened flotilla just might be the brightest and shiniest. Norwegian Cruise Line’s new flagship, the 3,099-passenger Norwegian Prima, is impressive on many levels — and we’re not just talking about the three exhilarating ones of the grandest go-kart track at sea. Scoring high on service, food and beverage, entertainment, activities and ship design, Norwegian Prima is a nautical rookie sensation worthy of a name that means “first” in Italian.

The multi-deck Penrose Atrium is an airy and elegant place to people watch. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Through late March, the O.G. of six planned Prima-class ships is sailing mostly 7-night roundtrips from Florida before heading up the Atlantic Coast to spend two months making runs to Bermuda out of New York Harbor. Then in May it’s off to Northern Europe for 4 1/2 months making trips of 10 and 11 nights between Iceland and England. Prima bids arrivederci to her European tours of duty with a couple of itineraries in and out of Rome.

Californians who want to experience Prima without schlepping to the East Coast or Europe get their chance from December 2023 through at least April 2024 when she homeports in Galveston, Texas, a new embarkation point for 56-year-old NCL. A hop — of a quick nonstop flight to Houston — a skip — of a short ground transfer to Galveston — and a jump — onto this gorgeous ship — is a relatively easy way to start what promises to be a great vacation if the sneak peek sail out of Galveston the other week is any indication.

Grumbles were delightfully few on the inaugural cruise out of her future Texas home on the Gulf of Mexico. OK, so a dining room went dark for a few seconds at breakfast. An eatery that relies on tablets for ordering had software hiccups during one lunch. At dinner, a writer who asked for one vegetable samosa was brought a full order of three. First-world problems all. A more critical individual might point out cabin noise coming from a coughing neighbor, a nearby show or the buffet from the deck above. Most of those situations can be prevented by choosing a stateroom with only cabins above and below and not near such potential noisemakers as a stage, restaurant, bar, kids’ club or pool. For light-sleeping veteran cruisers, that’s Booking Rule #1.

Speaking of experienced guests, those who have sailed on Norwegian’s fabulous Breakaway-Plus subclass of ships — including Bliss, Encore and Joy that all sail out of Los Angeles in 2023 — will notice elevated versions of some of their favorite features. These include an expanded Waterfront promenade that’s been renamed Ocean Boulevard, and a whole new level (literally) to the Speedway go-kart tracks on the aforementioned three previous ships.

Many of Prima’s coolest features are brand new to Norwegian, if not the industry. Let’s take a closer look at some of these highlights on the high seas:


Indulge brings the world to your table in a novel and tasty way on Prima. (Photo by David Dickstein)

If five to 10 pounds is the average weight gain for passengers on a weeklong cruise, let it be at the appropriately named Indulge Food Hall. This novel concept is a cross between a buffet and a mall food court, and it’s a winner for lunch or dinner … breakfast not so much. Ordering is done via an iPad on each table or counter, and food is promptly delivered by happy humans.

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The menu is so globally eclectic, it’s like visiting Epcot’s World Showcase without having to walk around a lake or max out a credit card. Everything is included with the exception of the fancier desserts at Coco’s (walk-up service only) and the bevs at Starbucks, which, located near the center of this epicurean emporium, raises the number of venues at Indulge to 11.

Best of the best: Chicken tikka masala with actual naan baked in a tandoor oven, a rarity on ships (at Tamara, dinner only); tuna tostada (The Latin Quarter); pad thai (Nudls); roasted tomato soup (The Garden); pulled pork sandwich (Q Texas Smokehouse); beef shish kabob (Seaside Rotisserie); and datiles con almendras (Tapas), which to the uninitiated is a Spanish appetizer made with bacon-wrapped medjool dates and marcona almonds.

Hudson’s, a new main dining room concept for Norwegian, is unique in several ways. Besides a fetching interior design featuring 270-degree views through floor-to-ceiling windows, the dinner menu doesn’t change nightly as on other large cruise ships. With 18 dining venues on Prima, there’s really no need, as Norwegian President and CEO Harry Sommer pointed out on the inaugural cruise out of Galveston. Plus, Hudson’s menu is extensive even with the line’s historically least-popular dishes getting chopped. Bye-bye breaded flounder fillet and pecan-crusted turkey medallions.

Le Bistro is a tasteful specialty dining option on Norwegian Prima. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Palomar, Norwegian’s first Mediterranean specialty restaurant, failed to impress as the service and selections, boring sea bass included, didn’t merit an upcharge. What did, based on personal experience and word-of-mouth: the elegant Les Bistro (French), Onda by Scarpetta (Italian), Food Republic (global) and Los Lobos (Mexican).


Honduran Carlos V. Garcia, in his new gallery, is part of Cayman’s exciting art scene. (Photo by David Dickstein)

A host of hosted and non-hosted activities is always on Prima’s daily schedule, though the calendar is thinner on port days when most guests are off the ship engaging in myriad adventures. Those staying back can take advantage of shorter wait times for Prima’s fee-based attractions.

There’s Prima Speedway, the first three-level race track at sea and, measuring 1,378 feet, is the longest among the three courses in the fleet. Driving eight laps at up to 35 mph in an electric racecar costs $15. When conditions are good, meaning minimal stops and starts by the sometimes overly cautious ride operators, going fast and furious on a moving ship is a blast. For $20 you get the whole track to yourself for three laps — worth it.

Galaxy Pavilion features wall to wall VR games and simulators. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Galaxy Pavilion is crammed with immersive virtual reality games and simulators that cost $8 a la carte or $29 for a 1-hour unlimited package. Playing nine holes of next-gen mini-golf costs $10 at Tee Time. Up to six people get 50 minutes of fun for $40 at the tech-augmented Bull’s Eye dart lounge. The ship’s escape room costs $15 per puzzle-passionate person.

The Drop, the first free-fall slide at sea, has riders plummeting 10 stories. (Photo by David Dickstein)

There’s a boatload of free fun and games, too, starting with an awesome dry slide. The Drop, the first free-fall slide at sea, has the daring descending 10 stories. Bummer that the recorded voice doing a countdown can’t be muted to add an element of surprise. Another shortcut from deck 18 to deck 8 is The Rush, dual dry slides ripe for racing. The Stadium, outside like all activities mentioned in this paragraph, has tabletop shuffleboard, pickleball, beer pong and nifty twists on ping pong and foosball. Three infinity pools and some hot tubs offer wet relaxation for teens and adults, though the main pool is dinky for a ship this size. Kids’ Aqua Park makes a big splash with small fries. Prima has just one waterslide, but The Wave is a good one. It’s also NCL’s first-ever tidal wave raft waterslide.


The two big stage productions on the Norwegian Prima are flat-out spectacular and included in the fare. “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” is a tightened version of the Tony Award-nominated bio-jukebox musical that came and went too soon on Broadway in 2018. Three talents play the title role at various life stages of “The Queen of Disco,” a label Summer spurned until shortly before her death in 2012 at the age of 63. Headlining through at least February is Kimberley Locke, who has become an accomplished entertainer since her third-place finish in the second season of “American Idol.” Also playing in the Prima Theater is “Noise Boys,” a tap dancing, beat-boxing extravaganza.

Fun and frenetic “Noise Boys” shakes up the Prima Theater. (Photo by David Dickstein)

When the 800-seat Prima Theater isn’t hosting major productions or a live version of “The Price is Right,” engineering magic transforms the three-level venue into Club Prima on certain nights. Think Vegas nightclub, but without the intimidation factor. Techno, disco or rock, Club Prima has the hottest and coolest dance parties afloat.

Stand-up comedy and live music of various genres round out the onboard entertainment.


Let’s not save the best for last. The Haven, NCL’s five-star-grade “ship within a ship” concept, is so exclusive only 107 of Prima’s 1,646 staterooms are within this tony suite community. The Haven life comes with perks galore — upgraded L’Occitane toiletries and private elevators for starters — along with more serenity, pampering and exclusivity inside and outside. Remember those three infinity pools? One of them is just for Havenites. Living in Prima’s high-rent district isn’t cheap; a Haven penthouse balcony stateroom may cost three times that of a standard balcony, for example.

The new Norwegian Prima makes Progresso, Mexico, its first call from future homeport Galveston, Texas. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Among the 35 categories are single-occupancy “Studios” with their own lounge for socializing solo travelers, and plenty of “Family” staterooms, the largest being the fleet’s first three-bedroom suite if you don’t count the two 2,080-square-foot Haven Premier Owner’s Suites that sleep eight.

My standard balcony cabin was just fine with its frill-free 231 square feet. No butler, no fancy-schmancy toiletries — not even a robe. It had a comfortable bed, immaculate bathroom and ample storage space. With so much on Norwegian Prima to see, do and eat outside the cabin, who needs much more inside?

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