Norwegian Viva Ship Tour: Pluses, Minuses, and Oh-So-Many Upcharges
September 5, 2023
The second installment in Norwegian Cruise Line's Prima class of ships is called Norwegian Viva, but the vessel is so similar to its predecessor the newcomer might just as well be called the Norwegian Repeata.
The cruise line would probably dispute that characterization. At a press event during Viva's first-ever revenue sailing in August 2023 ("revenue sailing" means the passengers were mostly paying customers rather than travel agents, media types, and other guests of the company), Norwegian reps argued that the new ship differs in myriad ways from Prima, which, as you might have guessed from the name, kicked off the Prima class in 2022.
Examples given by Norwegian to demonstrate Viva's novelty: stuff like a slightly bigger weight room in the gym, a more high-tech chandelier in the theater, and reconfigured seating in certain dining venues. We'd call those tweaks. (The four additional Prima class ships expected by 2028 will vary from the first two in at least one respect: They'll be bigger.)
But honestly, do you even care that Prima and Viva are twinsies? We figure you've come to us for an overview of the new ship to help figure out whether a Viva voyage is worth your time and money.
So follow us on a tour of the ship and we'll fill you in along the way about what works, what doesn't, and what to expect on board. (Note that Frommer's attended the ship's first revenue sailing at the invitation of the company. For a tour of Norwegian Prima, see our 2022 review of that ship.)
Norwegian Viva Quick Facts:
- Launched: 2023
- Passengers: 3,099 (double occupancy)
- Crew: 1,506
- Size: 143,535 gross tons, 965 feet long, 133 feet wide
- Booking: NCL.com, 866/234-7350
We'll start with what works. The 3,000-passenger Viva is smaller than many Norwegian ships that came before, such as those in the 4,000-passenger Breakaway Plus class (to say nothing of the 6,000-passenger leviathans regularly churned out by rival Royal Caribbean).
But despite its comparatively manageable size, Viva feels spacious and airy in several key locations, starting with Ocean Boulevard, a wide outdoor loop that wraps around Deck 8. As on Prima, designers have installed numerous features on this deck to impart a sense of expansiveness—from a pair of small infinity pools to patios extending from some dining venues to allow for outdoor seating. (Too bad the pool deck up near the top of the ship couldn't get some of that roominess, but we'll get to that later.)
Stroll the entire outdoor loop on Deck 8 and you'll encounter surprises such as a collection of sculptures (in The Concourse area, pictured above) and a glass-bottom Oceanwalk that shows you the sea under your feet.
Balcony staterooms—the ship's most prevalent accommodation category with 946 units on board—likewise feel remarkably spacious, owing to the cabins' dimensions (231 to 268 square feet, a skosh above the cruise-line norm) and design choices that maximize every centimeter while minimizing clutter. The bed is raised off the floor so you can stash your suitcase under there. A small closet to your left as you enter is hidden behind sliding doors and a mirror; there are hangers and shallow shelves in lieu of drawers.
A sofa (which can convert to a bed in some units) faces a desk where you'll find power outlets of the American, European, and USB variety to allay your fears of having to stare out at the sea and the stars rather than your personal electronic devices. Two more USB ports are built into the bases of the lamps flanking the bed.
Here's the obligatory shot of a Balcony cabin's bathroom (on the right), side-by-side with Norwegian's digital rendering, which we've included so you can get a better look at the shower. Whatever Sims character is using the computer-generated bathroom on the left must have brought those slippers from SimCity, because they were not provided in our ordinary stateroom. Ditto for bathrobes.
Descending in size and price from Viva's Balcony staterooms are Oceanview cabins (186–235 sq. ft., with windows instead of balconies), Inside cabins (160–254 sq. ft. and no views 'cause they're situated in the ship's interior rather than outer shell), and Studios like the one pictured above.
Intended for solo travelers, each Studio measures just 94 square feet and could only be described as spacious by the standards of Tokyo capsule hotels or Manhattan apartments. But Studios do have the bare necessities—a full-size bed, a desk-and-storage unit, and a tiny private bathroom ("water closet" never seemed an apter term).
Best of all, passengers who book a Studio don't have to pay a single supplement fee—the sort of charge that punishes solo travelers for not needing a double occupancy rate.
Plus, passengers staying in Studios get exclusive access via key card to their own private Studio Lounge on Deck 12. Here you can have a drink and a nosh while communing with your fellow solo cruisers.
Also exclusive but at the other end of the price spectrum is The Haven, the ship's luxury aerie found at the back of the upper decks. Accessed via private entrance (such as the elevator pictured above), The Haven encompasses 107 comparatively enormous, ultra-expensive suites as well as a restaurant, lounge, and pool deck, all off-limits for the hoi polloi. Haven passengers get round-the-clock butler and concierge service, too.
Viva's glass-fronted, curvilinear central atrium stretches from Decks 6 through 8 and looks like the interior of a tasteful spaceship. Surrounding this hub are two bars, a Starbucks, the casino, shops, and the desks for guest services and shore excursions.
You'll want to stop by guest services as soon as you board the ship to make any reservations for specialty restaurants (where meals aren't covered by your cruise's base fare), entertainment, spa services, and certain onboard activities such as the go-karts on the top deck. Norwegian's marketing makes much of the line's "Freestyle Cruising," which is supposed to mean your onboard itinerary and mealtimes aren't locked in by systems that manage people flow.
But if that makes you think you can just float about, freely popping into all of the ship's spaces as the spirit leads, think again. Because space is limited, specialty restaurants in particular require advance reservations, so you should schedule those right away or stick to the "complimentary" dining options in the two main dining rooms, two casual restaurants, and at the buffet. Meals at the ship's eight specialty restaurants all come with extra charges on your final bill; you might save by adding a dining package when you book the trip.
With Viva, Norwegian continues its curious commitment, begun in 2017 with Norwegian Joy, to slap a go-kart track on the top of every new cruise ship the company launches. The Prima class blacktops are bigger than those that came before, even though the ships themselves are smaller. Viva's racetrack snakes across three levels (Decks 18 through 20) and 14 turns. Speeds top out around 25 mph and are controlled at all times by crew members, presumably to keep guests from overshooting a turn and launching themselves into the ocean. (We're kidding, kind of. There are guard rails so that would be nearly impossible.)
Driving a go-kart on the high seas generates some incongruous thrills, but you're not likely to leave as obsessed with the experience as Norwegian seems to be. A session lasts eight laps and costs $15, which comes out to almost $2 per lap. A pass entitling you to unlimited spins on the track for a week will set you back $199. Find height, weight, and other requirements here.
Fun comes at a premium on Viva's upper decks. In fact, diversion seekers on Deck 18 may feel they're hemorrhaging money at every turn. Right next to the go-kart track ($15), there's a row of "private dart suites" for playing pub darts with a digital scoring system ($20 per person) and, beyond that, Tee Time (pictured above), Norwegian's nine-hole mini golf course ($10 per person).
One deck down, the games in the Galaxy Pavilion virtual reality arcade go for $8 a pop or $29 for an hour's worth of free rein (day and weekly passes also available). The chance to figure your way out of one of the two adjoining escape rooms comes with a charge of $15 per person.
Sticking with the base fare you paid when booking the cruise would mean forgoing all of those.
There are some free games on Deck 18 in an area called The Stadium, where you can pass the time playing ping-pong, foosball, tabletop shuffleboard, and such. Wire fencing cordons off much of this section, probably to prevent game pieces from going overboard—though the cages also prevent the liberating feeling you might get on the racetrack.
Also free to ride are the ship's slides: a waterslide on the pool deck and a pair of 10-story dry slides, both starting on Deck 18, called The Rush (which has two chutes to accommodate two riders at once) and The Drop (pictured above at right). The latter starts with riders in a standing position before a trapdoor opens beneath, yanking out an involuntary scream in the process.
Having so many spaces on the top of Prima class ships dedicated to upcharging passengers has the effect of squeezing the main pool (Deck 17) into a relative puddle, as you can see in the above aerial image provided by Norwegian. Granted, those seeking a soak have other options on board, including two small infinity hot tubs on either side of the main pool and two more infinity pools lining the sides of the more generous layout on Deck 8. But thanks to that hulking, three-tier go-kart track, the ship devotes the majority of its sunniest real estate up top to asphalt.
The back of Deck 17 has two more places to lounge in the sun, but they both cost extra: Vibe Beach Club ($99 for a day pass, around $200 for the week) and The Haven sundeck (arm and a leg) reserved for passengers staying in Haven suites.
In addition to its two infinity hot tubs, Vibe (pictured above) has a full-service bar and no kids—only guests ages 18 and older may soak up these particular vibes. Passes are limited in availability so if you intend to purchase one do that at the very start of your cruise when you're making your other reservations.
Dining at nine of the restaurants on board won't be covered in your cruise's base fare; the price of your meal will be added to your final bill, or you can spring for a dining package ahead of time that will let you sample anywhere from 2 to 14 specialty meals for an extra charge. Because seating is limited at specialty restaurants, you're advised to make reservations as soon as you board the ship for any specialty dining venues you want to try during your cruise. Note that the Starbucks on Deck 7 counts as a specialty venue, too, so you'll see all those lattes added to your bill come checkout time.
Viva breaks no new culinary ground (excuse the land-based metaphor) for Norwegian, but the specialty restaurants we sampled are strong performers with regard to presentation and quality of ingredients. Your options: classic French at Le Bistro (Deck 7), Mexican at Los Lobos (Deck 8; tableside guacamole prep pictured above at left), Asian-Latin street food fusion at Food Republic (Deck 17), sushi at Nama (Deck 7), Japanese hibachi at Hasuki (Deck 7), steak at Cagney's (Deck 6), Mediterranean seafood at Palomar (Deck 17), and modern Italian at Onda by Scarpetta (Deck 8).
If you only have room in your budget for one specialty restaurant, we'd opt for the elegant Onda, where even simple pasta dishes such as spaghetti with tomato and basil (pictured above at right) exemplify a beautiful, buoyant balance of sauce and carbs.
Of the five onboard restaurants where you can eat without getting charged extra, Indulge Food Hall (pictured above) on Deck 8 is the most satisfying. A Prima innovation, Indulge is a kind of food court with a bunch of different stations serving barbecue, tapas, noodles, Indian food, desserts, and more. Seated indoors or at outdoor tables on Ocean Boulevard, patrons place orders using touch-screen tablets, whereupon the food arrives with almost disconcerting speed. More than just a glorified buffet, Indulge stands out in large part due to the variety of dishes on offer—this is just about the only spot on the ship, for instance, where Indian flavors will cross your lips.
Beyond Indulge, the ship's so-called "complimentary" restaurants (though you paid for them when you bought the cruise) are The Local Bar & Grill, which serves pub fare on Deck 8; Surfside Café, a buffet on Deck 17; and the two main dining rooms, Hudson's (Deck 7) and The Commodore Room (Deck 6), where you can have the traditional cruise experience of eating middle-of-the-road American fare while surrounded by scores of other passengers.
Water, tea, and coffee (but not Starbucks coffee!) are just about the only beverages covered when you book your cruise with Norwegian. You're on the hook for any cocktails, soft drinks, and even some juices, unless you purchase a beverage package ahead of time (just make sure the price of the package doesn't surpass what you'd pay à la carte; for help with your figuring, keep in mind that non-premium cocktails on board cost less than $15).
There are a whopping 19 bars and lounges scattered across Viva's decks: next to the go-kart track, in the Observation Lounge, off the atrium, abutting the pool—you can't miss 'em. Pictured above is the Whiskey Bar on Deck 8.
Deck 7's Metropolitan bar serves what's billed as a menu of "sustainable cocktails" incorporating "zero-waste" syrups made with surplus ingredients from the kitchen, such as fruit and even leftover croissants (not ones that sat out on the buffet line—we asked). Viva's signature El Padrino, for instance, involves vodka, Aperol, lime juice, ginger beer, and syrup derived from pineapple skins sourced from the ship's kitchen.
We're not sure whether the resulting cocktail earns the earth-saving status Norwegian's publicity seems to ascribe it, but the drink is deliciously tangy and not oversweet. The Croissant Mai Tai, meanwhile, tastes like a mai tai with bread crumbs sprinkled on top.
Metropolitan also displays a striking original digital artwork, Every Wing Has a Silver Lining (pictured above) by Dominic Harris. Running your hand along the screen's surface sets rows of silver-winged butterflies in motion.
Neither of Viva's two main-stage shows, a 90-minute adaptation of Broadway's Beetlejuice musical and a live version of the Press Your Luck game show (of "big money, no Whammys" fame), was ready for viewing at the time of our sailing. Both productions will dispense their '80s-derived antics from the ship's theater (Decks 6–8), which can transform into several different configurations, including that of a dance club with live DJs and pulsing light shows after Beetlejuice and co. have cleared out for the evening.
Musicians and stand-up comics handle the crowd-pleasing duties at smaller venues such as Syd Norman's Pour House and The Improv at Sea, both on Deck 7. When we were on board, a show featuring four singers and a band performing all of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours album paid admirable tribute to that 1977 classic, even if the players' interpretation felt more musical theater than rock. Who knew "Go Your Own Way" could call to mind Jean Valjean of Les Miz?
Note that attending the ship's live entertainment offerings requires no additional charges.
Quiet areas are hard to come by on contemporary cruise ships, but one of your best bets on Viva is the Observation Lounge, where huge windows look out from the front of Deck 17. There are comfortable chairs, playing cards, and Scrabble boards you can borrow, light snacks, and the inevitable full-service bar. Things only get crowded here if the ship floats past a piece of world-famous scenery. Isn't it kind of nice to know the Rock of Gibraltar still has the power to compel people to put down their virtual reality headsets for a second?
As a close copy of its predecessor, Norwegian Viva was bound to repeat the successes of Prima as well as the drawbacks. Along with a stylish design, an intriguing food court concept, and a notable amount of space in certain areas—most importantly the staterooms—Viva clearly reflects, at the same time, Norwegian's fleetwide tendency toward devoting ever more public sections of ships to stuff that costs extra to access.
Eschewing upcharges for dining, drinks, and activities may not be impossible aboard Viva, but it would curtail things considerably. The full onboard experience lies beyond a paywall.