ONBOARD THE NORWEGIAN BLISS — Summarizing the features of a ship as chock full of activities as this one is a little daunting. Where to start?
There are more bars and alternative restaurants on the ship than ever. The water slide that hangs 12 feet out over the side of the ship looks like 10 seconds of sheer terror — or amazing fun, depending on your perspective. There's a new dispensary of chocolate sweets called Coco's that can probably fill your daily calorie requirements in one visit. And there are the features familiar to Norwegian Cruise Line cruisers, such as the Haven and Margaritaville at Sea.
But what everyone will be curious about, and rightly so, is the racetrack for electric go-karts, 1,000 feet of asphalt-like surface spread over two decks, with nearly two dozen tight turns for drivers to navigate.
Simply put, it's a blast. I had a chance to fly around the track in the impossibly low-to-the-ground carts, and it was so absorbing that I lost track of time. I felt like Paul Newman behind the wheel, which true to form, is more like a yoke.
Accelerating to a top speed of 30 mph, taking tight turns without braking and emerging from the darkness of the bottom level of the track into the light on the top deck of the circuit are thrilling.
While not for all ages, there will be high demand for this crazy concept, the second racetrack at sea and the first on a ship sailing in North America. My 21-year-old daughter's verdict after a 10-minute turn in the driver's seat says a lot: "I would stand in line to do this."
Norwegian senior director of guest experience and innovation Simon Murray said the plan is to charge $7 for an eight-lap ride to manage wait times.
The Bliss will be christened in Seattle later this month and will spend summers in Alaska. The front of the ship sports a panoramic, two-level window on Decks 15 and 16 that will offer tremendous views. There's more glass above it, where the Haven guests have their own forward-looking lounge.
The space devoted to a dinner theater on previous Breakaway-class ships has become the Q, a Texas-style barbecue restaurant. There's still a stage, and Norwegian promises live country music during dinner and for late-night dancing.
In its interior design, the Bliss is more sophisticated than previous Breakaway-class ships. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio's interest in modern art is well known, and abstract paintings have been substituted on the Bliss for the more poster-like decor onboard ships such as the Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway.
Del Rio's team has also borrowed a trick from Regent Seven Seas Cruises, the luxury line in the Norwegian stable: hiding all the structural steel on the pool deck and elsewhere, giving the Bliss a more refined feel.
The two-story Observation Lounge in particular reminds me of similar spaces on premium lines such as Celebrity Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises. For my money, it is the most elegant room I've seen on a Norwegian ship outside of in the Haven luxury enclaves.