Norwegian Joy Ride: A Tour of the Go-Kart-Topped Cruise Ship

Norwegian Joy Norwegian Cruise Line

This is the Norwegian Joy from Norwegian Cruise Line. The ship was originally used for Asian itineraries, but, following a $50 million makeover, it has been reassigned to North America’s west coast—primarily Seattle to Alaska, but also the Mexican Riviera and Baja from Los Angeles. At Norwegian’s invitation, Frommer’s took a short cruise to check out the vessel, from the go-kart racetrack on the top deck to the utility closet in steerage where they stash the cast of the onboard musical. 

Okay, fine, that last part wasn’t on the tour. But we’ll show you all the other noteworthy features of the ship, right after we get these stats out of the way:

Norwegian Joy

  • Passengers: 3,804, double occupancy
  • Staterooms: 1,903
  • Launched: 2017, refurbished 2019
  • Size: 167,725 gross tons, 1,094 feet long, 136 feet wide
  • Decks: 20 (11 with staterooms)
  • Speed: 23.2 knots
  • Booking: 866/234-7350; ncl.com
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Studio stateroom on Norwegian Bliss Norwegian Cruise Line

Actually, let’s start with something that’s not onboard. Though Joy is the sister ship of the Norwegian Bliss, only the latter has studio staterooms (pictured) and a separate studio lounge for solo travelers. Those accommodations weren’t considered necessary for Joy’s routes in Asia, where solo travel is less common than in the West. During the ship’s overhaul, some popular-in-Asia amenities—tearooms and casinos among them—were replaced with bars and expanded space for the spa and observation lounge (though one casino does remain). Studio staterooms were not added, however, which means that Bliss is still more congenial to passengers cruising on their own.

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Norwegian Joy Speedway Zac Thompson

When it first set sail in 2017, Joy boasted several firsts (most of which were reproduced on Bliss). The most startling is the first go-kart track at sea, a twisty, bilevel blacktop course (Deck 19) for electric vehicles that can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. The track has been expanded since its debut, but passing can be a tight squeeze nonetheless, so we hope you don’t get stuck behind a slowpoke, lest you experience the first documented case of road rage at sea. 

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Norwegian Joy's Galaxy Pavilion Zac Thompson

Joy’s other innovations include outdoor laser tag (Deck 20) and a virtual-reality arcade called the Galaxy Pavilion (Deck 16). It’s an eerie space, not so much for the games—which simulate flying, riding roller coasters, driving racecars, and such—as for the experience of walking around in a neon-lit room filled with people who look eyeless because of the headsets that are sending their brains on adventures elsewhere while their bodies remain behind, on a giant tub floating on the churning sea. It all feels a little like the start of a Black Mirror episode. But hey, fill up the long hours between ports however you want.

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The Haven Courtyard on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Norwegian Cruise Line

An exclusive aerie for the one percent is perched on the upper decks of the ship’s forward end (that’s the front for you landlubbers). This VIP complex features enormous suites—the largest is 1,458 square feet—as well as a restaurant, observation lounge, and pool deck under a retractable roof, all of which can be accessed by Haven passengers only. Prices are of the if-you-have-to-ask-you-probably-can’t-afford-it variety, so let’s move right along.  

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Inside stateroom on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Norwegian Cruise Line

At the opposite end of the pricing spectrum from the Haven are the inside staterooms. Because of their location in the ship’s interior rather than lining its hull, these accommodations don’t have balconies or views of the ocean. And at 135 square feet, their dimensions recall college dorm rooms. But how much time were you planning to spend in your cabin anyway? 

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Balcony stateroom on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Norwegian Cruise Line

Balcony staterooms have more breathing space, both inside (sizes range from 213 to 425 sq. ft.) and on their small but restorative balconies. With all the distractions aboard, it can do wonders for your equilibrium to spend a few private minutes contemplating the vast, rippling ocean before returning to the go-kart track or the shrimp station at the buffet.

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Concierge suite on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Norwegian Cruise Line

A stateroom category exclusive to Joy, Concierge suites are a notch below the luxury to be found in the Haven. Cabins are relatively large (338–561 sq. ft.) and well-appointed with balconies, espresso machines, walk-in closets, and bathrooms with tubs. Additionally, Concierge-level guests are entitled to private breakfast and lunch daily in one of the specialty restaurants along with, as you’d guess from the name, certain concierge services such as help with planning entertainment, excursions, and deboarding. To put it in airline terms, if the Haven is first class, Concierge suites are business class. The ship also has mini suites, which would be premium economy.

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Carpet on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Zac Thompson

If you get disoriented, remember that the fish on the carpet in the hallways swim forward—i.e., toward the front of the ship. Facing in that direction, aft is behind you, port is left, and starboard is right. Some cruising aficionados make a big deal of using those terms, so you may as well learn them, too. Draw the line at referring to watergoing vessels with she/her/hers pronouns, though. That’s weird.

Are you hungry? Let’s check out the dining options.

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Manhattan Dining Room on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Norwegian Cruise Line

Joy has 18 food venues—nine that offer "complimentary" dining (meals there are covered in the price of your cruise) and nine “specialty” restaurants where you have to pay extra. The complimentary spots include three traditional dining rooms (the Manhattan room on Deck 7 is pictured) serving what we’ll call typical wedding-reception fare; a buffet (Deck 16) with a wide range of breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes; and a 24-hour pub (Deck 7) dispensing comfort food around an open space overlooking the central Atrium. As on any megaship like this, the more interesting food is saved for the specialty restaurants. 

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Cagney's Steakhouse on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Norwegian Cruise Line

Several specialty restaurants have outdoor seating along the Waterfront promenade on Deck 8, creating the illusion that you’re dining along a city boardwalk even though you’re far from shore. Along the Waterfront, you can try Cagney’s (pictured) for steaks, La Cucina for Italian, Ocean Blue for seafood, and Le Bistro for French cuisine. The remaining specialty venues range from the barbecue joint Q Texas Smokehouse (Deck 6) to an Asian-fusion emporium called Food Republic (Deck 8).

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Drinks at Sugarcane Mojito Bar on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Zac Thompson

Joy may have been light on bars when it debuted, but the refurbishment remedied that. Public spaces are now well stocked with booze. Along with the full bars near the main dining rooms, on the pool deck, and in the nightclubs, there are several bars and lounges dedicated to a specific type of alcohol for those who like to pick their poison and stick with it. Sugarcane Mojito Bar (Deck 8) is for sweet, rum-centric concoctions like the ones pictured. The Cellars (Deck 8) pours wines from Washington State and California. And Maltings Whiskey Bar (Deck 6) mixes premium cocktails made with its namesake liquor. 

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District Brew House on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Norwegian Cruise Line

Beer drinkers, meanwhile, will want to make their way to the District Brew House (Deck 8; pictured), where two dozen draft beers and more than 50 bottled varieties constitute the largest collection of craft brews at sea, according to Norwegian. Reflecting Joy’s itineraries, many beers come from breweries in Seattle and Alaska. Also on tap throughout the ship: a selection of premade cocktails developed by celebrity mixologist Kathy Casey.

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Elements show on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Norwegian Cruise Line

For live entertainment, Joy has two large-scale productions. One is Elements (pictured), an earth-, wind-, water-, and fire-themed spectacle combining dance, magic, and aerial acrobatics. The other is Footloose, a staging of the Broadway musical based on the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie pitting small-town repression against the pleasures of dancing in unflattering formalwear.

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Cavern Club on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Norwegian Cruise Line

Though they weren’t being performed when we were onboard, Joy’s smaller shows supply entertainment at close range. A Beatles tribute band takes the stage at the Cavern Club (Deck 8; pictured), modeled on the famed Liverpool nightspot where the Fab Four played early in their careers. Elsewhere, standup comics extract yuks at Social Comedy and Night Club (Deck 6). And Wine Lovers the Musical balances romantic comedy with vino samples included in the price of admission (all the other shows are free with your cruise). 

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Observation Lounge on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Zac Thompson

To see what shows nature is capable of producing, snag a seat in Deck 15’s forward-facing Observation Lounge—the largest in Norwegian’s fleet—where huge floor-to-ceiling windows reveal what lies ahead. This is where you’ll want to be when the ship is slicing through Alaska’s Glacier Bay.

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Sun decks on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Norwegian Cruise Line

Outdoor and aquatic baubles adorn Decks 16, 17, and 19. Those in search of liquid-based entertainment have the main pool deck, waterslides, hot tubs, and, of course, poolside bars to choose from. There are two areas reserved for adults only: Spice H2O (Deck 17), which has a dance floor and extra-large hot tub; and Vibe Beach Club (Deck 19; extra fees apply), where grownups can relax on daybeds between trips to yet another bar and yet another hot tub.

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Ocean Loop water slide on the Norwegian Joy cruise ship Norwegian Cruise Line

For kid-friendly thrills, families can zoom down the Ocean Loop water slide (pictured), which curves out over the side of the ship, or, for younger cruisers, splash around in the aquatic playground (both attractions are on Deck 16). In addition to the previously mentioned go-karts, laser tag, and virtual-reality games, kids also have mini golf (Deck 19), a supervised children’s club (Deck 5), and a teen hangout (Deck 16) to keep them occupied. 

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Norwegian Joy cruise ship Norwegian Cruise Line

Under a huge chandelier that gradually changes colors, the central staircase spirals up to the casino (Deck 7), duty-free shops (Deck 8), and dining venues. The gold doors on the left lead to the comedy club (Deck 6), and that’s a little art gallery at the end of the hall. This probably isn't the best place to linger if you're worried about sensory overload. 

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Norwegian Joy cruise ship Zac Thompson

The area adjacent to the chandelier and staircase is Joy’s equivalent to a hotel lobby. There’s a bar, a two-story projection screen for announcements or social-media picture sharing, and a guest services desk where you can make reservations for meals and shows (using the touch-screen consoles located throughout the ship is faster, however). There’s a separate desk for Internet service, where you can beg to no avail for faster Wi-Fi.

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