Norwegian Cruise Line Review: The Prima

A 12-night cruise reveals delights and drawbacks, ending with memories of port excursions, an impressive ship, friendly staff and delicious food.
Tiffani Sherman
By Tiffani Sherman 
Published
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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To celebrate a milestone birthday for me and an anniversary for my parents, the three of us took a cruise on Norwegian Prima, the first in what Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) says will be a “new class of ships designed to elevate every expectation.”

I had cruised NCL three times before and was a silver member of the Latitudes rewards program when I booked.

After 12 nights on the Prima going from London to Barcelona via several stops in France, Portugal and Spain, we discovered there was a lot to like about the ship, but there were also several quirks.

Booking the trip

My family chose this ship and cruise line because of a great itinerary. There were a variety of port stops as well as a day at sea for some relaxing and recharging. As it turns out, one of the port stops we were looking forward to was changed. A few weeks before the cruise, NCL replaced a stop in Porto, Portugal, with one in Vigo, Spain.

Booking can be a bit of a game since cruise lines always seem to have sales and offers they say are for a limited time. On NCL’s site, there’s often a countdown clock showing how long a particular offer will last.

It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy, but it’s important to make sure the deal works for you.

On our booking, we had NCL’s Free at Sea offer, which includes perks such as a “free unlimited open bar” and specialty dining. Here’s the catch: The free open bar isn’t exactly free, and neither is the specialty dining. You have to pay 20% gratuity on what NCL says is the value of the package.

So, for example, an upcoming cruise on the Prima — a seven-day trip from Galveston, Texas, to the Caribbean in February — is about $2,400 per balcony cabin (with two people). Then you add on gratuities for the open bar at $305 and specialty dining of about $40. You’re paying $345 in gratuities for the “free” stuff.

So, if you’re not much of a drinker, you might want to consider declining the free open bar and just ordering and paying for drinks as you want them. That drops that charge for gratuities off your total cruise cost.

I chose to upgrade my package to NCL’s Free at Sea Plus because I needed unlimited Wi-Fi and wanted to have water and Starbucks drinks included as part of my drink package. Those are part of the upgraded package but not part of the basic one. With the upgrade, I also ended up with two more meals in specialty dining restaurants.

After looking at the non-suite cabin types, which include inside cabins, outside cabins with just a window, and balcony cabins, we booked two balcony cabins on deck 12 midship. I need fresh air, and I love the sounds the ocean makes when we’re at sea.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Keep checking on the rates until you make your final payment. If they drop, you can sometimes take advantage of a better deal by modifying the booking.

Online check-in

After booking, it’s time to start planning. Through the NCL website, you can look at and book shore excursions and some specialty dining reservations and entertainment reservations.

Exactly 21 days before sailing, you can check in and will likely receive an email telling you to do so.

To check in online, you’ll need your passport and a credit card to put on file for anything you purchase on board. You’ll also need a photo of your face to upload for security purposes. I had some issues doing this because the photo I tried to use did not meet the parameters, but if the upload doesn’t work, an employee can take a photo at the pier.

During check-in, be ready to pick a time when you want to arrive at the port to get on board. Time slots began as early as about 9:30 a.m. and continued for a few hours.

About a day after filling everything out, you can go in and download the eDocs, which serve as your boarding pass. You’ll need either a printed or mobile copy to show at the embarkation point.

One more thing about check-in: Each piece of luggage you want the porters at the pier to deliver on board to your stateroom needs a luggage tag. If you want personal tags that are pre-populated with your name and stateroom number, you must print them at home.

The button to print them wasn’t obvious, so I had to look for it a bit.

Embarkation

Boarding area/Southampton. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

Our cruise was leaving from Southampton, England, a short ride from London, where we had spent a few days. I always arrive at least one or two days before a cruise leaves to give myself some cushion in case a flight is delayed or there is another travel issue.

When I was checking in, I chose a 12:30 p.m. embarkation time because I didn’t feel the need to arrive super early, and cabins usually aren’t ready until at least 1 p.m. anyway. I hate dragging my hand luggage around a busy ship with me.

When we arrived, there wasn’t much of a line, and what was there moved quickly. We handed off our checked luggage to the porters, who put it in a giant pile to eventually go on the ship.

🤓Nerdy Tip

I always take a photo of my bag before I leave it behind so I know what it looks like and how to describe it in case it gets lost.

After a security check and a brief health questionnaire, we were on board and heading to lunch with our carry-on luggage in tow.

The ship

The Prima’s atrium. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

The Norwegian Prima was built in 2022 and has a capacity of 3,099 guests at double occupancy and 1,506 crew members.

The Prima docked in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

The Prima looks a bit different than other NCL ships I had been on in that it is more understated elegance than in-your-face opulence. There were many decorative touches I wouldn’t mind having in my house.

There are two main sets of elevators on the ship, one midship and another forward. A third set is available only to guests who are staying in The Haven, an exclusive area with a private concierge, butler, restaurant, bar, lounge, pool and other perks.

The Haven private area. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

🤓Nerdy Tip

You can look at the triangles on the carpet on the decks with cabins to know which way is forward and which is aft. The triangles face forward.

The triangles on the carpet face forward. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

NCL loyalists know the carpets on other ships have fish, which are always swimming forward. On the Prima, triangles replace the fish to help orient passengers.

Deck 8 with a small pool and seating areas. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

Another big difference on this ship versus others with NCL is the pool deck. It’s near the back of the ship on deck 17, and it’s small compared to other ships, where the pool area takes up the majority of a deck.

Splash park. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

There is an aqua park for kids, a waterslide and a few hot tubs and smaller pools and lounging areas on other decks, but no one large gathering place for water and sun fun.

Infinity pool. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

The cabin

Balcony cabin. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

I had a balcony cabin on deck 12 fairly close to the midship elevators. It was somewhere between 231 and 358 square feet with a balcony between 45 and 69 square feet.

Balcony cabin. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

The cabin seemed very spacious because the bed was by the balcony, which left a big open space in the cabin. While this was nice, anyone sleeping next to the balcony would have a difficult time getting out of bed without hitting the sliding glass door or the bed.

Hooks on the wall. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

There was a ton of storage both in the cabin and in the bathroom and hooks to hang things on.

One problem for me was that the safe was not big enough for my laptop. On a new ship, this surprised me. I also didn’t like the fact the bed didn’t have a bed skirt and I was always looking at my empty luggage I stored under the bed.

One plus, though, is there were several plugs and USB connections throughout the cabin, including in the bedside lamp so I could plug my phone in near my bed.

Lamp with USB charging ports. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

One problem my parents noticed, though, is there was only one electrical plug near the bed, which could be a problem for people with sleeping machines or anyone else vying for power.

Bathroom. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

The bathroom had a lot of space and a walk-in shower.

Balcony. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

The balcony had two comfortable chairs and a small table.

Cabin service is once a day, which means no turndown service or towel animals, but you can call the cabin steward if you need anything. Each evening, the steward delivers the Freestyle Daily, which is a printed copy of the next day’s activities and offers.

An electronic panel near the door allows you to turn on a light outside the door telling the steward to make up the room or “Do not disturb.” The same panel controls the temperature. It was nice to have an AC system that actually responded. When I turned the AC down, it actually got cooler in the cabin.

Food and drinks

Norwegian touts its Freestyle Dining as a way to have freedom and flexibility about where and when you eat. There are no set dining times, and while that sounds great, you can’t just walk up and go wherever you want.

I don’t love the idea of having to think ahead about where and when I want to eat when I am on vacation, but I made a reservation for each night so I had somewhere to go.

You can make reservations for specialty dining venues and the main dining rooms before embarkation and while on board at either a dining desk or on the TV system in the room. The TV system allows you to make a reservation, but not cancel one, so I had to wait in the dining desk line anyway.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Only a small percentage of specialty dining reservations are available before getting on board so it seemed like everything was booked. It wasn’t. Once passengers are on board, the remaining reservations open up.

With a reservation, the dining venue holds your space for 15 minutes and then gives up your table, which we learned the hard way one night when we arrived late. Our table was gone, forcing us to wait about 45 minutes for another one.

The Prima has a combination of complimentary and specialty dining, and I did both.

The two main dining rooms, Hudson’s and The Commodore Room, are the free options. They had the same menu, which changed nightly, and the food was good. The menu was a combination of starters, mains and desserts, and you could order whatever you wanted.

They were open at different times, with one also serving breakfast and lunch in addition to dinner.

The breakfast menu at The Local. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

The Local Bar & Grill was open almost all day and had pub-like food. We went there often for breakfast and lunch.

Outside the Indulge Food Hall. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

My favorite was Indulge Food Hall with its take on a food truck rally.

Food stations in Indulge. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

There were several stations, some even looking like food trucks.

Tablet ordering system (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

Ordering was done on a tablet that had photos of all the items, and a server delivered the food to your table.

The variety was great since there were several stations like Indian, BBQ, Mexican, Asian, Spanish tapas and more. The dates wrapped in bacon with blue cheese and the guacamole were my favorites.

Then there was the buffet, the Surfside Cafe & Grill, which was tremendously undersized, always incredibly busy and without enough seating options. While the food was good, the traffic flow was not, and once you had your food in hand, finding a place to eat it was not easy. For breakfast one morning, I balanced my plate on the waitstaff’s cleaning area and ate there.

Now, for the specialty dining options, the Prima has eight where the food and presentation are elevated.

For this 12-night cruise, the Free at Sea package included three meals at specialty dining venues. Additional meals were available as an upgrade — $99 for two more, $139 for three more, and $30 more for each additional meal you wanted after that. The upgrades are per person, so you cannot buy a two-meal package and share it with another person, giving each of you one additional meal.

At most of the venues, the package included a starter, a soup or salad, a main dish and a dessert. If you choose to dine at a specialty restaurant without a package, the pricing is à la carte, with entrees about $40 and appetizers about $20. So if you know you want to dine at many specialty restaurants, the package upgrades are a good deal.

Outside a specialty restaurant. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

I ate at Cagney's Steakhouse, Hasuki for teppanyaki, Le Bistro for French cuisine and Palomar for seafood. The food at all of the specialty restaurants was wonderful, and I was definitely stuffed afterward.

Room service is available 24 hours a day but has an extra cost.

Bar. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

The Prima has several bars and lounges scattered throughout the ship. Each had a slightly different feel, from The Local Bar & Grill with its huge TVs, beers on tap and bar food to the aft-facing outdoor Soleil Bar and Indulge Outdoor Lounge with comfy chairs, hammocks and cabanas.

The Starbucks on deck 7 in the main atrium. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

There are even two Starbucks locations that serve up all of the favorites you can find on land.

The Starbucks inside Indulge Food Hall. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

Starbucks was part of my upgraded drinks package, so I ordered a lot of the things I had been wanting to try but hadn’t wanted to spend the money on in case I didn’t like them.

Entertainment

You may be used to lots of entertainment in the form of singing and dancing on cruise ships, but the Prima doesn’t have a lot of it. If you like game shows and smaller venues for comedy and music, as well as thrills like go-karts, slides and escape rooms, this ship is for you.

“Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” was the only musical production show on the ship and was offered on two nights of the cruise. It was in the main theater, a venue that transformed into a dance club and other things throughout the cruise. Reservations were required, and people started lining up about a half-hour before the show began, since the theater is relatively small for the size of the ship.

A house band often performed in the main atrium area, but there wasn’t much room for large groups to gather and enjoy it. There was also a DJ who rotated between a few locations.

“The Price is Right” in the Prima Theater. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

The theater also had game shows like “Deal or No Deal” and “The Price is Right,” which had high production value and audience participation.

The exterior of Syd Norman’s. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

Smaller venues like Syd Norman’s Pour House were often packed and rocking.

The upper decks had lots of mostly daytime entertainment options, especially deck 18.

Taking up part of decks 18, 19 and 20 was the Prima Speedway, a racetrack where, for $15, you can zoom around and race others. Sometimes, you could hear the sound of the cars from other decks.

The slides. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

Deck 18 also has high-tech mini-golf and darts, as well as the starting points for the two slides, The Drop and The Rush.

Because this cruise was so port-intensive, I didn’t take part in any of the entertainment because all I wanted to do after a day of touring was eat dinner and go to sleep. My parents went to see “The Donna Summer Musical” and “The Price is Right” and thought both were entertaining.

Spa and gym

The entrance of the spa. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

A highlight of the Prima is the Mandara Spa & Salon. It’s huge and beautiful.

Therapy pools with a two-story waterfall. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

To access most of what it offers, including the saunas, pools, salt room, steam rooms and heated loungers in relaxation rooms, you need to buy a pass either for a day or a full voyage.

Salt room. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

The number of available passes varies based on the length of the cruise. For this cruise, the pass cost $399 for the full voyage or $99 for a day.

Relaxation room. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

Having a spa treatment like a massage does not allow you access to the thermal suite. I had a nice treatment that included a body brush and massage.

Relaxation room. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

🤓Nerdy Tip

If you’re not picky about the treatment you want or when you want it, keep an eye on the Freestyle Daily. During my cruise, the price of specially curated 75-minute treatments went from about $199 down to $139 toward the end of the cruise.

Cardio equipment. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

The Pulse Fitness Center is also large with lots of weights and machines, as well as cardio equipment that faces the bow, giving exercisers a great view while working out. Access is free. Let’s just say I went in only to take a few photos.

Wi-Fi

The Norwegian app is available to download on mobile devices and is the place to keep track of things like dining times, activities and expenses. To use it on board, you don't have to pay for Wi-Fi, but you do have to be on the ship’s Wi-Fi network.

The Free at Sea package included 300 minutes of Wi-Fi for this entire 12-night cruise, meaning I had to remember to log off to keep from using minutes. My father quickly learned logging off was not the same as just turning off the Wi-Fi on his device after a bunch of his allotted minutes went away fairly quickly when he wasn’t doing anything.

As part of my upgraded Free at Sea Plus package, I had unlimited Wi-Fi, which wasn’t exactly speedy but allowed me to do what I needed, like check and send emails, upload photos and look at social media.

Off the ship

For me, European or other destination cruises are different from Caribbean cruises in that I spend most of my time off the ship. The ship is basically for eating and sleeping.

The ship had a small shore excursion desk where the staff mostly sold ship-sponsored excursions and offered limited information about the ports themselves.

On this trip, I did one ship-sponsored shore excursion to Normandy and the D-Day beaches, which was on the first day. My Latitudes status gave me a 10% discount on the tour itself, and the Free at Sea perk gave me $50 in onboard credit after completing the excursion.

My shore excursion ticket was in my room when I first got into my cabin, and it told me when to meet in the theater. At the specified time, someone called the number of the tour, and I went to the front of the theater to get a sticker with a group number on it and got off the ship.

Soon I was on my way for a daylong tour on a large and full bus. I returned to the ship in plenty of time to shower and get ready for dinner.

For two tours in Granada and Seville, Spain, I joined a small group using a private tour company. I liked the smaller tours and saved some money because they were a bit cheaper than the ship’s tours.

My slight disappointment came in the ports where I had nothing planned. The shore excursion desk didn’t have much information about the ports themselves or what was available.

In Ibiza, I decided to take the $20 ship-sponsored shuttle bus into the center of town. But instead of a drop-off in the city center, the bus stopped in the middle of a road about a 15-minute walk from anything.

In Valencia, several passengers were looking for the hop-on-hop-off bus stop, but nobody could help us find it. Overall, I would have liked a bit more information about the ports from the shore excursion desk.

In all ports, the disembarkation process was smooth and simple. I just had to tap my ship’s card to sign out, and when I returned, I had to go through security like in an airport and tap my card again.

Disembarkation

A couple of days before the cruise ended, I had to choose a disembarkation time and collect appropriate luggage tags from the guest services area.

The earliest time was for people who wanted to take all of their luggage off the ship themselves.

The other times were based on flight time and whether people had a ship-sponsored tour of the city.

I selected 8:45 a.m. because I was staying in Barcelona for a few days and had nowhere to be and no time I had to be there.

Each time had a corresponding color-coded luggage tag. I put the purple tag on my suitcase and left the bag outside my cabin door for the stewards to gather and take off the ship. Again, take a photo of your bag sitting in front of your cabin in case it goes missing.

The Prima was scheduled to dock in Barcelona at 5 a.m., and disembarkation was set to begin as soon as local authorities cleared the ship.

Announcements began at about 5:45 a.m. and continued about every 15 minutes after that.

After a breakfast in the crazy-crowded buffet and one final check of the cabin (which I evidently didn’t do well enough because I left a pair of my good compression socks in one of the drawers), I dragged my carry-on luggage through the hallways and off the ship.

Large crowd in the disembarkation area in Barcelona. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

Claiming our checked bags was a disaster. The 8:45 a.m. time slot was last call, so everyone who was still on the ship had to get off. This led to hundreds of people filing down escalators and into a small area where luggage was coming by on a moving belt one suitcase at a time.

This seemed to be more of a port facility issue and not something the ship’s staff could have done anything about except to maybe hold people on the ship for a bit instead of having them disembark into an already crowded area.

Lots of people in a small space got really hot and disorganized, but soon my parents and I had our luggage and were out the door and into a taxi.

People were already lined up to board the Prima for the next cruise. They were ready to get their vacation started.

Overall observations

Ocean Boulevard on deck 8. (Photo by Tiffani Sherman)

Overall, I had a great time on the Norwegian Prima. It had tons of outdoor spaces, but not many large spaces for people to gather. I thought the decor was beautiful and slightly upscale.

The crew was amazing, and after just a few days, the ladies at Starbucks were calling me by my first name when I approached the counter. Most crew members usually had a smile on their face and were willing to help.

I enjoyed too much good food in the free and specialty restaurants and did not spend nearly enough time in the gym or spa.

I didn’t miss the lack of entertainment options because I was spending most of my time either in port, eating or sleeping.

Speaking of sleeping, the beds were amazingly comfortable and the cabin was nicely furnished with plenty of room and storage.

The best part was spending time with my parents and making memories. Cruising is a great way to do that because there are a variety of activities and options available, and everyone does not need to be together all the time.

I’d definitely sail again on the Prima and her almost identical twin, Viva, which debuted in 2023.

(Top photo courtesy of Tiffani Sherman)


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