My wife and I love a cruise – 19 in 12 years is testament to this! When the pandemic hit in March 2020, cruising was arguably hit harder than any other sector (a) because all the news coverage we saw in the media concerning the pandemic largely centred around the Diamond Princess stranded in Japan and (b) the feeling was that the [often] confined nature of a cruise ship was the perfect place for a virus to breed and spread. As a result, cruising stopped altogether and when it did return in the Summer of 2021, it brought with it a whole host of COVID restrictions, namely mask wearing, not being allowed ashore, one way systems, social distancing, testing before and after, temp. checks, etc. It’s very pleasing to see many of these early restrictions disappear now – our latest cruise aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line, Bliss, even saw a return to the “help yourself buffet” … something I thought we wouldn’t see on a ship for a long time to come. In fact, with the exception of the mask wearing – something many operators have now done away since the beginning of the month – you got the feeling whilst on board that the pandemic was over and done with.

NCL are all about FREEDOM and they pitch themselves as the “Innovators in cruise travel”.

They were the first cruise company to ditch set dining times, instead allowing guests the chance to eat based on their (not the ship’s) timetable. That can be anything from a light snack in the buffet to a fancy sit down meal in a speciality restaurant … again giving guests that freedom of not only when to eat but also where and what to eat.

There’s been some great innovation in the restaurants themselves – the Bliss has a Waterfront where several of the restaurants have smart outside seating … fantastic views combining with fantastic food!

Innovation also extends to on board entertainment – the Bliss has 2 x water slides, a large theatre (the popular Jersey Boys was one of the performances whilst we were on board), a mini-golf course, a bowling alley, a go-kart track and even an enclosed space on the top deck for laser tag.

Innovation is very much at the forefront of the on-board tech too. Digital screens dotted around the ship showing current reservations for the many different restaurants … employing a traffic light system to give diners FREEDOM to perhaps choose a quieter time to dine. Large touch screens positioned on every habitation deck allow passengers to book seats at shows, restaurants and even on port excursions – with those paid activities charged straight to your on-board account with a simple scan of your room key. Everyone is also encouraged to download the NCL app to basically do everything the touch screens allow you to do but from anywhere on the ship using the excellent wifi service on-board. The app also allows you to keep track of your on-board spending and has a really useful day-by-day view where all of your dining, excursion, activities, etc. are stored in one easy to read place.

Cruising for a lot of people is all about the destinations you visit so NCL make sure they are innovating in this area too. Firstly, with the restrictions around the pandemic being relaxed a little more now, passengers again have the FREEDOM to visit ports their own way – be that as part of an organised tour or simply walking down the gang plank and taking a stroll. In terms of the destinations themselves, NCL are always looking for that next new destination – in fact, the Mexican Riviera cruise we did was a fairly new one in their arsenal.

It was our 7th trip aboard an NCL ship and we both agreed it was the best … and a lot of that was down to this relatively new ship and the “extras” which made this customer’s experience a great one … keep up the innovation NCL!