Here are some standouts — 'Prima picks' — so far, from the short Reykjavik, Iceland, to Cobh, Ireland stretch:
Spaciousness — At 143,535gt with double-occupancy capacity for 3,100 passengers, Norwegian Prima is extraordinarily spacious — in the premium realm. (Currently, more than 2,500 are aboard this non-revenue introductory cruise, mostly travel partners, more than 200 media from around the world and VIPs.)
'Traditionally, a contemporary or mass market line would put 4,000, 4,500 people in that space. This ship has only 3,100,' said cruise industry icon Bob Dickinson, former president/CEO of Carnival Cruise Line who competed for many years with NCL and since retiring has sailed on many ships across a variety of lines.
Open spaces and flow
'So a huge amount of space that would be allocated to 500 or more cabins now goes to public spaces, open spaces, flow. It gives the designers of this ship an enormous amount of room to be creative,' Dickinson continued. 'I see not only a wide variety of restaurants and entertainment facilities and bars and shops, but they're executed in a way that is open and flowing.'
Dickinson cited Starbucks as an example. Instead of being squeezed into a 'cubbyhole,' it's in a 'free, open area' in the Penrose Atrium where, on a recent morning with an estimated more than 100 people milling around, 'there was plenty of room to sit and talk.'
Recounting earlier years when marketers had to overcome one of the main objections for people who'd never cruised — the fear of confinement, Dickinson said that's been less of a challenge as ships have gotten bigger. On Prima, though, 'There's no confinement at all. It's just free and open and easy. The colors are light. The lighting is inviting without being glaring.
'What I see here is a quantum leap in quality and low density versus anything else in the contemporary market. [NCL's] charted new ground.
'This step is not evolutionary. This is revolutionary,' Dickinson said.
Penrose Atrium — Original, unusual, beautiful, flowing — a 'sculpted space,' in the words of Yohandel Ruiz of Studio DADO, the design firm.
It's stunning, singled out by many onboard and a favorite space of NCL President and CEO Harry Sommer.
It's ‘a place of discovery,' Ruiz said, 'From every deck, there’s a different view, so every day you’re on the ship is a discovery ... and you navigate by stars,’ he added, pointing to the starlike chandelier by Czech lighting design firm Lasvit.
The atrium's beauty belies its complexity; it was an engineering feat to remove decks and pillars and intregrate a grand sculptural staircase right where the ship needs the greatest structural integrity. Fincantieri and Studio DADO worked together to achieve this.
Eye-catching overall interior design — As the first ship that Frank Del Rio and his team developed for NCL from scratch, he said the aim for Norwegian Prima was to 'create a contemporary category vessel that if I blindfolded you ... you're going to be hard-pressed to know if you're on an Oceania upper premium ship or a Regent ultra-luxury ship, and I think we've succeeded in doing that.'
The Studio DADO team, which first worked for Del Rio on Regent's Seven Seas Explorer in 2012, created many of the spaces, along with the Rockwell Group, SMC Design, Tillberg Design of Sweden, Studio Piero Lissoni and YSA Design.
Design as a brand differentiator
'The design is very important. It's a differentiator of the brand,' Studio DADO's Ruiz said. And that's driven by Del Rio, who's knowledgeable about design, an art collector and involved in all aspects, pushing for something 'no one else has.'
It's a treat to walk around Norwegian Prima and be surprised and delighted at every turn.
Even NCL signature spaces like the French restaurant Le Bistro, as one example, have a novel look. No Eiffel Tower images or French Impressionist paintings here. Instead, Studio DADO sought to elegangly replicate a meal between lovers in a Parisian apartment. The lighting is soft and sultry.
And, inspired by the Palace of Versailles, the design plays off three monumental chandeliers that, in an intriguing twist, stretch from ceiling to floor. Austrian supplier Kalmar engineered them so the crystal pieces don't vibrate at sea. Continuing the Versailles vibe, the walls of Le Bistro’s banquettes are covered in gold leaf.
Indulge — Dining in this food hall with choices from 11 venues has the energy, fun and variety of a lively food court in a city like Singapore. Patrons sit at counters or tables and order from tablets.
This is fast food with flair, flavor and fun.
Here is NCL's first Indian-dedicated spot with two tandoor ovens, the Q Texas Smokehouse, an emporium for noodle dishes from around the world, a tapas spot and a food truck housed in a vintage Airstream trailer, to name a few choices.
Expect it to be busy; it has 220 seats indoors and 120 outside on the lounge-like aft deck. This is a spot for quick turns, not lengthy meals, noted Wes Cort, VP food & beverage operations, who recommended the chicken tikka.
Indulge is a hit. 'People are loving it,' said Mark Kansley, SVP hotel operations, NCL.
From Broadway shows to Studio 54, in one space
Prima Theater — This 752-seat theater has volume and versatility, with retractable seating that can transform the space from a stage for Broadway shows into a Studio 54-style disco into a setting for some of television's most popular game shows.
Designed by Rockwell Group, the Prima Theater spans four levels — one of them rising behind the stage where there are 16 electric rails for scenery.
Norwegian Prima's headliner is 'The Donna Summer Musical' and on Monday night, the show got multiple ovations before the remarkable transformation into a disco.
Here's how it went: After the curtain, theater-goers on the sides were invited to the stage as disco hits cranked up. Meanwhile, stage hands retracted the seats, creating a giant dance floor. It took about half an hour, but all the while people were flowing on stage to dance or watching, mesmerized.
VIP lounge seating was rolled in along the sides and a 60-ton chandelier dubbed 'the spaceship' was lowered and came to life with its four concentric rings creating dazzling effects.
The Prima Theater also hosts audience-participation shows like ‘The Price Is Right,' with all the iconic games and some big, big prizes.
'No disrepect to other lines. We do the real thing here,' said Richard Ambrose, SVP entertainment, with full sets and staging 'like in LA.' For another audience-participation show, the theater even tranforms into a full-scale grocery for ‘Supermarket Sweep.’
Prima Speedway — This triple-deck thriller has more than quarter-mile track that runs through the ship's funnel. Drivers can floor it at more than 50 kph/30 mph, but the current speed limit in this early testing phase is 40 kph/25 mph.
It's exhilaratingly fast and fun, and NCL's going to give drivers three turns on their own with unlimited speed to track who's really the fastest, according to Simon Murray, VP guest experiences and innovation. (Because weight figures in, drivers will be weighed to handicap the competition.)
There's an added 'Press Area' with cars for selfies. And the Prima Speedway Bar is a hidden gem, high atop the ship with vasr views.
Family fun — Along with the pools and water slides, two 10-story free-fall drop dry slides are thrilling and new, and the indoor virtual gaming complex Galaxy Pavilion has new elements like a Topgolf Swing Suite, with a variety of games. There are two escape rooms, one more intellectual and suited to adults, the other for families.
At the outdoor mini-golf, the balls have technology inside that ties them to each player and enables extras like juke box trivia; an adult may get a Beatles-era question while a child will get something age appropriate to them.
Among the 14 attractions of the indoor virtual gaming complex, Galaxy Pavilion, is a Topgolf Swing Suite, with a variety of games. There are two escape rooms, one more intellectual and suited to adults, the other for families.
If a player scores a hole in one, there's a chance to win prizes like a free cruise.
Up on Deck 18, a favorite of Simon Murray's is The Bullseye, which takes darts to a new level with a sophisticated video tracking system that automatically calculates each player's score and even offers instant game replays and reaction shots.
Murray noted how many aspects throughout Prima are geared toward multigeneratonal fun. At the Prima Speedway, six cars have two seats for parents with small children (their little steering wheel is disengaged), There's a viewing platform at the edge of the track so grandparents can watch the kids, and children watching can get laser tag guns; if they can hit the top of a car, a light turns green and the driver gets a turbo charge.
NCL's first pickleball court, courtesy of Frank Del Rio, is aboard.
The Haven — For the first time, all the 107 suites, private restaurant, lounge and other facilities of NCL's luxurious 'ship within a ship' concept are together, comprising the upper decks of the aft superstructure, with colossal views.
An infinity pool overlooks the wake and has an outdoor spa with a glass-walled sauna and cold room.
Designed by the preeminent Italian architect Piero Lissoni, The Haven is also dynamic. For example, the restaurant may be ‘sun splashed’ at breakfast then an elegant dinner venue.
'A Regent ship on top of an NCL ship ...'
As Bob Dickinson described it, 'The Haven concept is sort of a Regent ship on top of an NCL ship. But the NCL ship is now sort of a large Oceania ship, with NCL goodies.
'So if I'm on with my kids and grandkids, I'm going to be in The Haven,' he said. 'The kids and the grandkids will be in the NCL part of the ship with all the activities they want. I can go in and out of those activities, but if I want to be secluded, in the pool area for quiet reading, [we have that] all to ourselves. If we want our own dining room, we have that.'
And The Haven's concierge desk 'looks like the Dorchester in London. It's spectacular,' Dickinson said.
The art — Norwegian Prima's dripping in $7m of it, curated by Sarah Hall Smith, art director, NCL. And while art is found everywhere — even the stateroom bathrooms have art — The Concourse commands special attention.
This outdoor sculpture garden on Ocean Boulevard, the wide promenade on Deck 8 with its infinity pools and indoor-outdoor dining spots, features intriguing installations by Alexander Krivosheiw that have special lighting and interactive elements and are fun to explore at different times.
Mandara Spa — More jaw-dropping beauty. Beyond the entrance, a circular onyx staircase, itself a work of art, overlooks a long hall with two pools, reminiscent of the indoor swimming pools of glamorous classic ocean liners, but really Zen-like here.
Water shimmers down multicolored, double-deck-high walls on one side, adding to the tranquility.
Frank Del Rio tapped Rockwell Group to design the spa and was heavily involved in its conception. One hint: the luscious marbles and artworks.
Look for Norweegian Prima on the cover of Seatrade Cruise Review's September issue, the official publication of Seatrade Cruise Med