When Norwegian Joy debuted in 2017, it was the first cruise ship to have a race track onboard. It also was placed in China by Norwegian Cruise Line, meaning that U.S. cruisers would have to wait until Norwegian Bliss joined the fleet to get their very own ship with a fun go-kart track, too.
Now, Norwegian Joy is joining its sister Bliss, sailing from a homeport in Seattle. After just two years in China, the ship has been given an extensive overhaul — in excess of $50 million — to make it fresh and ready for its new role sailing cruises in Alaska, the Mexican Riviera and the Panama Canal.
I joined a media group on Norwegian Joy’s inaugural U.S. cruise, sailing for three days from Vancouver to Los Angeles, to see what’s new on the ship. Norwegian Cruise Line needed to switch over several elements of the layout, design and amenities to appeal to North American passengers instead of the Chinese cruisers it had initially courted.
The 3,900-passenger vessel got new carpets throughout. The lido deck was renovated to remove a large lawn of faux grass and trees that had served as a “serenity” park for tai chi and yoga practice between the two small pools. This section is now a wide-open deck space for loungers and otherwise quite a bland choice.
The renovation also replaced tea rooms with the clubs and bars with which Norwegian Cruise Line aficionados will be familiar. A noodle bar was removed to install a large, full-service fitness center.
Besides these cosmetic updates and practical changes, we discovered six things on the ship that make Norwegian Joy stand out for your cruise.
This virtual-reality playground is the first of its kind on a cruise ship. More than 20 rides and arcade games – even skeeball – are set up throughout the massive facility on Deck 16. You can try hang gliding, walk a plank, shoot zombies, join drone races, ride roller-coasters and more. The room even has an interactive 3D Wonder Wall for which cruisers provide drawings that are animated.
For $29 a day (or $200 for a weeklong cruise), passengers can play and ride as much as they want. An F1 driving simulator is an additional $10 per day.
This is Norwegian Joy’s ship-within-a-ship area, and those who book a Haven-class stateroom get a host of fantastic perks during their cruise.
The all-suite special section of the ship comes at a premium price, of course. But it’s also a serene experience filled with special amenities for Haven passengers. Cabins feature butler service, upscale toiletries and coffee products, fee-free room service and priority embarkation and disembarkation.
The Haven includes a private lounge and pool, The Haven Restaurant, The Haven Courtyard and Sundeck with bar, loungers and hot tubs, and a large Haven Observation Lounge that is a perfect place for breakfast, brunch and watching the scenery of Alaska.
Laser Tag Arena
At the top of the ship sits a large facility that simulates a futuristic space station. This is the place for passengers to take on one another in laser tag battles, as teams or individuals. There is a fee to play the games.
You can reserve a spot during 30-minute sessions that cost $10 each. Teens registered at Entourage get one night of free play during a special session.
Norwegian Joy Speedway
Norwegian Joy was the first cruise ship with a race track, and this electric go-kart course is a fun activity. The cars resemble Formula 1 racers and even have an impressive engine sound coming from the vehicles as they whirl around the course for about eight laps, reaching almost 30 mph. The price is $10 a ride, with weeklong cruise passes available for $200 or all-day passes for $30.
Like many of the newer cruise ships, this one features water slide attractions. The Aqua Racer is a tube ride, and Ocean Loops sends cruisers screaming at high speeds after a free fall drop at the top. Ocean Loops has a clear tube that loops out over the side of the ship.
An Aqua Park on the pool deck sits below the water slides and is ideal for kids and families, offering a small slide and splash zones.
The main production show on Norwegian Joy is “Footloose” a Broadway-style tribute to the 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon. It’s a well-done and energetic musical performance that lasts 90 minutes. Reservations are needed to attend. The ship also has plenty of other entertainment to make its night life attractive to cruisers.
The Social Comedy & Night Club is the ship’s comedy club, and The Cave is jam-packed for shows that are put on by an outstanding tribute band that highlights the career of The Beatles.
John Roberts is a freelance writer and operator of InTheLoopTravel.com. He writes about cruising and active travel, highlighting how people can connect with the world and other cultures through rewarding travel experiences.