Travel - August 13, 2017

Go-karts, laser tag and barbecue highlight new Norwegian Cruise Line Bliss offerings

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]acing at sea isn’t just for the Chinese anymore. Norwegian Cruise Line revealed that its new Florida-bound Norwegian Bliss will include a go-kart race track, and while its sister ship China-based Norwegian Joy may have been the first, this one will be bigger.

It was among several features on the ship due in 2018 that were revealed by the line at an event in Las Vegas on Sunday including a laser-tag course, a high-end barbecue venue, a water slide that sends riders out over the ocean and more.

The centerpiece, though, is the top-deck track that lets riders scoot along at up to 30 mph on electric vehicles around 15 turns on two levels on nearly 1,000 feet of track.

“It’s 40 percent longer than the track on Joy, and we just had the opportunity to refine it a little bit,” said Norwegian Cruise Line President and CEO Andy Stuart.

“With these electric cars that are very fast but run silent, it’s been a great combination… you can crank it up and make them really fast and competitive.”

The 167,800-ton, 4,000-guest vessel is the line’s 16th ship currently under construction at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany.

The ship, which is the third Breakaway-Plus class ship, is set to debut spring 2018 and make its way to Seattle for seven-night Alaska summer sailings and then make its way to begin Caribbean sailings from Miami starting Nov. 17.

Stuart got to ride on the Joy’s track this year and said the cars have various settings for different driver-experience levels, but expects most of the North American cruisers will be going at its fastest level.

In that mode, drivers still get to push a button that gives them a burst of speed much in the same way the characters in “Fast and the Furious” get a boost from nitrous oxide.

“It’s noticeable when you hit that button. You really feel it,” Stuart said. “Your head goes back to the head rest.”

The feature is an extra-cost item on the ship, as it is on Joy, as will be Norwegian Bliss’ other marquee top-deck feature, an open-air laser-tag course, although price points have yet to be determined.

The laser-tag course, which is themed like an abandoned space station will have players feeling like they’re in the middle of a movie like “Aliens,” Stuart said.

“It’s a fun experience for people on the ship,” Stuart said. “You have a wide demographic, and I think a lot of people will have fun with it – multigenerational families will get out and play. We like things with broader appeal.”

Not an extra cost, and sure to raise cruisers adrenaline level are the ship’s water slide offerings.

On the surface, the slides seems like similar offerings to Norwegian Escape, which was the first Breakaway-Plus class ship that currently sails out of Miami and debuted in 2015.

There are two slides including the 360-foot tandem tube slide called the Aqua Racer just like Escape, but the Ocean Loops slide is a drop slide that will send riders out over the side of the ship in a more extreme manner than ever before on a Norwegian ship.

“The difference on the Ocean Loops is we’ve really extended it, and when you head out over the side of the ship it’s clear plastic, so you’re really going to see it,” Stuart said. “I think it’s going to be quite exciting.”

Renderings show riders will drop down through bomb-bay doors and immediately shoot through a tube that is mostly transparent over the side of the ship, actually shoot up around a bend back over the ship’s hull before swinging back around out over the side of the ship again before making their slippery way back onto the ride’s conclusion. It’s sort of like a super-charged figure 8.

Also revealed were many of the ship’s dining venues including a first for line: the Q-Texas Smokehouse, which will serve barbecue in a high-end setting set to contemporary pop country music.

“We wanted to do something different,” Stuart said. “Bringing unexpected experiences to the sea is something we’ve always tried hard to do, really from the beginning. We like to have people say, ‘I wouldn’t have expected that on a ship.’”

He explained that barbecue, though, has been a very popular dining experience when the ship is in port, but Norwegian is giving it some polish as a dining venue on board.

The menu will include brisket, ribs, chicken and sausage smoked over hickory, oak and pecan woods, appetizers like deviled eggs, pickled jalapenos, cheddar- and breadcrumb-crusted mac-n-cheese and baked sweet potatoes with pecan honey butter and cinnamon.

Desserts like fresh banana pudding or bread pudding in whiskey sauce will be served in mason jars.

“We’re going a little upscale,” Stuart said. “It’s not this sort of rough barbecue experience.”

It will be an added-cost venue, but the line is providing a new complimentary dining venue called The Local that will serve pub fare in a relaxed neighborhood atmosphere 24 hours a day.

Another venue relatively new to the cruise line that will be on the ship will be Los Lobos, an elevated Mexican cuisine option that first debuted in 2016 aboard Norwegian Dawn.

The menu will include fresh guacamole prepared tableside, al pastor tacos, enchiladas de mole and handcrafted margaritas with the cruise line’s own tequila blend featuring private-label Patron Barrel Select.

Also of note will be the cruise line’s first full-size Starbucks, the return of the microbrew-centric District Brew House, which will once again feature food offerings from the neighboring Food Republic.

Among the 24 on-tap and 50 bottled-beer offerings will be beer from Seattle’s Red Hook Brewery and Elysian Brewery and Miami’s Wynwood Brewery and M.I.A. Beer Company.

The Food Republic, a concept that was originally conceived of by the cruise line along with the Miami-based Pubbelly Group and was first featured aboard Norwegian Escape.

While Pubbelly isn’t involved with Bliss’ version of the restaurant, it will still feature fast food, small plates, a shared dining experience and modern touches, like ordering on an iPad.

On Escape, there’s a bacon-wrapped chorizo date that when consumed with the Wynwood group’s Pop’s Porter is a dynamite combo worth a try.

“It’s a fast-paced restaurant,” said Jose Mendin when Escape debuted. “You sit down, you share with your friends. It’s the way we like to eat.

It’s an amazing experience for us to present to you. … I like to eat from my friends, take a little bit from here, a little bit from there and that’s what we want you to do.

We want you to pass the dishes around the table, have fun and just enjoy the flavors we have to provide to you.”

Other extra-cost restaurant offerings include Norwegian mainstays Cagney’s Steakhouse, French offering Le Bistro, Italian restaurant La Cucina, seafood at Ocean Blue, Japanese hibachi steakhouse Teppanyaki, another Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville and at least one new drinking venue named after the cruise line’s president himself, who will be celebrating 30 years of service with the line 2018.

Stuart said the cruise line’s parent company CEO Frank del Rio suggested the eponymous drink venue.

“He kept pushing me so I said to the team can you come up with something that isn’t really in everybody’s face,” Stuart said.

The end result: The A-list bar, which Stuart said works well since he married his wife Allison, and all of their children’s names begin with the letter A. He’s still a little uncomfortable about having a venue named for him.

“We’re now going to work on a signature drink, as the only drink I drink is red wine, so it probably won’t be something I wouldn’t drink,” he said.

Also on board will be six infinity hot tubs as part of the two-pool sundeck, a kids’ aqua park, spaces for teens, pre-teens and children, a new dessert venue called Coco’s with a decorative oversized chocolate fountain, The Cellars wine bar from the Mondavi family, the Mandara Spa with 24 treatment rooms including the snow room, a fitness center and casino.

Since the ship is designed for both Alaska and Caribbean, the cruise line has tried to give it touches of Seattle and Miami, including a beverage program that features local craft cocktails developed by Seattle-based celebrity mixologist and chef Kathy Casey and Miami-based Gabe Orta, known for the Magic City’s BarLab concepts.

“What we’ve really tried to do is work hard to make this ship a mix of exclusive firsts we haven’t done before as well as Norwegian favorites,” Stuart said.

“We sort of think about that every time we launch a ship, how do we bring new things, and which are the things our guests will be irritated enough if we don’t bring them back. I think we’ve done a good job here with a mix of new and favorites.”

Previous announcement about the ship revealed Broadway hit “Jersey Boys” will headline entertainment offerings along with a Cuban-inspired Broadway-style musical comedy, a new comedy club and nightclub venue called Alibi as well as its own version of a venue that recently debuted on Norwegian Epic — The Cavern Club, which is inspired by the Liverpool club where The Beatles played in the 1960s.

Also coming is a theatrical production called “Happy Hour Prohibition — The Musical,” a one-hour performance set in 1919 on the eve of Prohibition that will be put on as a happy hour pre-dinner show and late night adults-only show in the Alibi Comedy and Nightclub.

The ship’s hull artwork will be by artist Wyland and feature humpback whales. Among the ship’s signature features will be a 180-degree observation lounge for everyone as well as a second observation lounge dedicated to those sailing in The Haven, the line’s ship-within-a-ship concept.

That 80-suite exclusive area also has its own restaurant, outdoor terrace, private lounge and courtyard with pool, whirlpools, sauna, spa and sunbathing deck.

The highest end suites will be in The Haven including the deluxe owner’s suites, two-bedroom family villa, courtyard penthouse,deluxe spa suite, forward and aft-facing penthouses and The Haven Suite that can connect with a balcony stateroom.

The rest of the ship features 308 mini suites, 1,088 balcony staterooms, 374 inside staterooms and 82 studio staterooms designed for solo travelers that feature virtual ocean views and its own private lounge.

The line has allotted for more connecting staterooms across all of its categories with larger family groups in mind.

To book a cruise on Norwegian Bliss or visit for details.

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