The 8 classes of Norwegian Cruise Line ships, explained
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Some cruise lines — Viking, for instance — have fleets where many of the ships have the same basic design. Norwegian Cruise Line is not one of them.
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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Five of Norwegian’s 17 ships — Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Joy, Norwegian Encore and Norwegian Epic — are among the 25 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.
But the line also operates a lot of smaller vessels that barely crack the Top 100 list of biggest cruise ships. In general, these ships have fewer venues and attractions than the bigger ships. But they still offer a lot for cruisers. Norwegian is a line known for packing many 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 17 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 to 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. But as mentioned above, 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 essentially is two cruise lines in one. The line’s seven newest ships are big, bustling floating megaresorts that can carry upwards of 4,000 passengers at double occupancy (even more with every berth filled). At around 145,000 to nearly 170,000 tons, all seven currently rank among the 30 biggest cruise ships in the world (although their rankings will shift downward as more big ships debut).
But Norwegian’s 10 older ships 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 appeals both to cruisers who like a giant resort vibe and those who prefer something more modest. The key, depending on your tastes, is getting on the right ship in the fleet.
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 premiere 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.
Norwegian’s 10 smaller vessels break down among five classes. But many are roughly the same size and offer similar amenities.
For those looking ahead, Norwegian has ordered six new ships for delivery between 2022 and 2027 that will measure an estimated 140,000 tons — about 17% smaller than its biggest ships today. The ships are being designed as an entirely new class of vessels under the code name Project Leonardo. Few details have been released.
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 giant 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 is so much of all these things that you won’t be able to do it all in a single week-long cruise.
The Breakaway Plus ships are ships 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). And there’s 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 theatres; sprawling spas; casinos that fills 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 Buffet’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. And they also are popular with solo travellers, 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 Plys 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 14th 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. But 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 waterparks with waterslides, for instance — just like the Breakaway Plus Class ships. But they don’t have go-kart tracks or laser tag courses. Instead of the latter attractions, you’ll find an adult-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 course 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 theatres and have a circus-like show in a secondary theatre called Cirque Dreams. The latter is a dinner show that comes with an extra charge. They’re also home to Howl at the Moon duelling 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 travellers, and they also have large, private The Haven suite complexes.
In general, as with the Breakaway Plus ships, these are vessels that 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 originally was supposed to be the first of a series of up to three similar vessels. But after disagreements with the shipyard that built it, Norwegian eventually cancelled 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 located in the main living space (for all to see), separate from a closed-off toilet area. Meanwhile, the toilet area is behind a translucent door that some cruisers find less private than they had hoped.
Norwegian Epic also is home to the only tube-and-bowl water slide at sea and has such rare-for-cruise-ships attractions as a rappelling wall and a three-lane bowling alley. It also has 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 waterpark 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 Broadway show “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” in its main theatre and a circus-like dinner show called Cirque Dreams in a secondary theatre.
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 25th biggest cruise vessel in the world — notably, it was the third-largest ship in the world when it debuted in 2010). It 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-serving 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, whirlpools, basketball courts and golf driving nets. Each of the ships also has a theatre, 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 waterpark 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. But you’ll also find some of Norwegian’s signature offerings, including a Cagney’s steakhouse 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 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 theatre, 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 waterparks found on bigger Norwegian vessels. There also 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 theatres 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 what 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 a sizeable number of) 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 steak house 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 theatre.
Of note, Norwegian Spirit originally was built for Asia-based Star Cruises (where it was called SuperStar Leo) and is a sister ship to a vessel currently operated by Asia-based Dream Cruises. Originally called SuperStar Virgo, that sister ship now sails under the name Explorer Dream.
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Featured image courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
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