The best Norwegian Cruise Line ship for every type of traveler

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What’s the best Norwegian Cruise Line ship? Over the years, I’ve sailed on all but two of Norwegian’s 18 vessels, and my personal favorite is the new Norwegian Prima. I love its stylish design and upscale feel, as well as its wide mix of eateries, bars and entertainment.

However, Norwegian Prima isn’t necessarily the best Norwegian Cruise Line ship for you. Whether you’ll have a better time on one of the other 17 vessels in the Norwegian fleet will depend a lot on the type of traveler you are.

Norwegian has some vessels, such as Norwegian Encore, that are loaded with family-friendly attractions such as waterparks and go-kart tracks that are perfect for families with teens and tweens. To me, Norwegian Encore is an even better choice than Norwegian Prima for families with school-age kids.

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Other Norwegian ships, such as Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Sun, have specific features that might make them better options for solo travelers or retirees. Certain Norwegian ships are best for budget travelers, while others are best for luxury travelers.

In short, the best Norwegian cruise ship for you will depend on a bunch of factors, and which ship is best for a trip with your family might not be your top pick for a couple’s cruise or girlfriends’ getaway.

Here we list our top picks for the best Norwegian cruise ships for five different types of travelers.

Norwegian Encore: Best for families

Norwegian Encore. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

The best Norwegian Cruise Line ships for families, hands down, are the four giant, activity-packed ships of its Breakaway-Plus class: Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Escape. Of these, Norwegian Encore is our top pick.

At 169,145 tons and carrying 3,998 passengers, Norwegian Encore is the largest ship in the Norwegian fleet. That means it has the most space for the many over-the-top family fun zones that are at the core of the four Breakaway-Plus vessels — a series of ships that was specifically designed with families in mind.

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For starters, Norwegian Encore is home to some of the most thrilling waterslides at sea, as well as a kiddie splash zone that will have your little ones squealing with delight. But those are just the appetizers when it comes to family fun on the top deck of the ship.

Norwegian Encore is also the setting for one of the biggest go-kart racing tracks at sea (yes, this is a thing — Norwegian debuted the concept on its Breakaway-Plus-class ships and now has one on four vessels). Two decks high and nearly 1,150 feet long, the Norwegian Encore Speedway includes four sections that extend up to 13 feet over the sides of the vessel. The racecourse also features a middle-of-the-track observation area where your family and friends can cheer you on to victory — and even shoot you with “lasers” that’ll give you a boost of power.

Related: The 5 best cruise lines for families

In addition, Norwegian Encore has a large laser tag area on its top deck (one that I can tell you from personal experience is a blast) and a massive indoor gaming and virtual reality zone called the Galaxy Pavilion. Both are tween and teen favorites.

That’s all on top of dedicated children’s play areas, pools and family-friendly entertainment that will keep your family busy from morning to night.

In short, there are so many family-friendly things to do on Norwegian Encore that you and your kids likely won’t be able to do it all in a single, weeklong cruise.

Norwegian Prima: Best for luxury lovers

Aerial shot of Norwegian Prima. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

Luxury lovers recently got a new top choice in the Norwegian fleet: Norwegian Prima.

Unveiled in 2022, the 3,215-passenger vessel is the first of a new class of Norwegian ship that the line has designed to be more upscale than its earlier vessels. An “elevation” of the brand is how executives describe it.

The upscale turn included loading Norwegian Prima with the largest variety of suites (13 categories in all) of any ship in the NCL fleet, including the largest three-bedroom suites of any new cruise vessel. If it’s swanky digs you’re after (and you have the money to spend), you’ll find plenty of options on this ship.

Extra suite categories are just the start of what makes Norwegian Prima the best Norwegian cruise ship for luxury lovers.

Notably, the entire back of the ship is dedicated to an upscale luxury zone for the fancy set called The Haven. Rising eight decks high, it’s home to 107 of the aforementioned suites, a sprawling private indoor lounge area, private outdoor lounge and pool areas, and a private restaurant — all exclusively for the use of the deep-pocketed biggies who pay up for one of its suites.

Related: The 8 best cruise lines for elegance and exclusivity

We’ve seen these private The Haven suite areas on Norwegian ships before but never on this scale. If it’s living large on a Norwegian ship that’s your goal, you’re not going to find anything better than this.

Outside of The Haven, the entire ship has a more elegant feel of the sort you find in the fleets of Norwegian’s higher-end sister brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises — albeit on a bigger scale.

The entryway to the ship, for instance, deposits you at the three-story-high Penrose Atrium, which may be the most beautiful atrium of any big ship at sea. It has a curvy, sculptural feel as if the entire space were an art piece.

It’s a look that carries over to a bevy of high-end eateries, including Nama, a new-for-Norwegian sushi restaurant with a design that is as sophisticated as the sushi it serves. Also striking is Norwegian Prima’s version of Le Bistro, Norwegian’s signature French eatery. It’s built around three massive crystal chandeliers costing nearly $100,000 that hang down to the floor — a showstopper of a design element. Gold-leaf wallpaper lines its booth seating.

Notably, the public areas that include these restaurants feel more spacious than many of the other ships in the Norwegian fleet. Indeed, they are. Norwegian Prima was built with a higher ratio of space to passengers, which itself is an upscale touch. The ship also has a higher crew-to-passenger ratio than many Norwegian ships, leading to better service.

In short, this is the Norwegian ship to book when you want to take things up a notch.

Norwegian Sky: Best for budget travelers

Norwegian Sky. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

Norwegian Sky is the Norwegian ship to pick when you’re looking for a low-cost, easy-to-do getaway — at least in the summer months.

Based in Miami for much of the year, the 24-year-old vessel operates a mix of short three- to five-night voyages to the Bahamas and longer trips to the Caribbean from spring to fall that have one thing in common: They’re unusually affordable on a per-night basis.

In many cases, Norwegian Sky sailings out of Miami will start under $100 a day per person, though it depends on the week. We sometimes see the ship’s shorter sailings starting as low as $249 per person for the entire cruise.

Indeed, the ship often is at the top of the list when you sort cruises by lowest price on Norwegian’s website.

For would-be Norwegian cruisers, Norwegian Sky’s shorter sailings out of Miami serve as a sort of “test the line” opportunity. Their short time frame and low pricing mean you’re not out a lot in time or money if you don’t love it as much as you hoped. These shorter sailings cater heavily to first-time cruisers and Florida locals who can book on short notice and drive into the port for a quick escape.

One of two ships in the line’s Sun class that date to the turn of the millennium, Norwegian Sky is far from the snazziest ship in the Norwegian fleet. This is both because of its age but also its size. At 77,104 tons and carrying 2,002 passengers, it’s just half the size of Norwegian’s biggest ships and has far fewer venues, from bars and restaurants to entertainment spaces. There is no giant water park on its top deck or a go-kart track to keep the kids busy all day, so it’s not the best Norwegian Cruise Line ship for families.

Related: The 8 classes of Norwegian Cruise Line ships, explained

That said, Norwegian Sky has its allures, one of which is that it has a much more intimate feel than the line’s bigger vessels. It’s a great choice for adults on a budget who are satisfied with the basics.

Norwegian Epic: Best for solo travelers

Norwegian Epic. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

When it comes to the best Norwegian cruise ship for solo travelers, one ship stands out above all the others: Norwegian Epic.

Unveiled in 2010, Norwegian Epic caters to solo travelers like no other large cruise ship at sea — from any line, not just Norwegian — with an unusually large private zone for solo travelers that has its own two-story lounge for solo mixers as well as special solo cabins.

Tucked away in the middle of the ship, this “studio” zone is essentially a private escape for solos, with more solo cabins — 128 — than you’ll find on any other ship at sea.

The cabins measure just 100 square feet but are superbly designed to maximize storage space. They’re also clustered around the exclusive Studio Lounge, which has its own private bar and a television area where solo travelers can mingle at daily hosted happy hour gatherings.

Only solos staying in the solo cabins (via keycards) can access the Studio Lounge, meaning that you and your new solo friends will have the place to yourselves.

Related: The best cruise lines for solo travelers

Norwegian Epic was the first Norwegian ship with an exclusive solos zone, and it was such a hit the line later added them to six more vessels. But none of the latter zones are as big as the one on Norwegian Epic.

A solo cabin on Norwegian Epic. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

The bigger Norwegian Encore, Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Bliss all have an 82-cabin solo complex, while two older ships — Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway — have solo areas with 59 cabins. The line’s newest vessel, Norwegian Prima, has a 72-cabin solo complex spread over two decks.

Norwegian also offers four solo cabins on its Hawaii-based Pride of America.

Having sailed in one of Norwegian Epic’s cabins for one, I can confidently declare them among the coolest solo digs at sea. I particularly love the “Jetsons” futuristic-style design and the multicolored mood lighting.

One big caveat: They’re all inside cabins without an ocean view, although most have a window that looks out onto a corridor.

Related: Why a windowless inside cabin isn’t so bad

A bigger caveat, perhaps, is that these solo cabins have become so popular they often sell out far in advance and at prices that aren’t much better than booking a cabin for two.

Norwegian Sun: Best for retirees

Norwegian Sun. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

For older travelers looking for a Norwegian ship that isn’t filled to the gills with children, Norwegian Sun is the perfect option.

Dating to 2001, Norwegian Sun is one of Norwegian’s oldest and smallest vessels, and it lacks many of the family-focused onboard attractions that are typical for the line’s newer and bigger vessels. You won’t find big waterparks, go-kart racing tracks or laser tag zones on this ship.

Norwegian Sun’s top deck mostly comprises sunning areas, with a single pool and whirlpools, as is typical for ships built more than two decades ago.

As a result, it draws far fewer families than most of the vessels mentioned above and caters more to an older crowd of mostly couples.

Norwegian Sun also is the ship that Norwegian deploys on some of its longest and most destination-focused itineraries, the type that particularly appeals to retirees looking to see more of the world.

Related: The 7 best cruises for seniors who love to travel

Over the next two years, for instance, Norwegian Sun is sailing lots of long voyages out of such less-common home ports as Tokyo; Seoul, Korea; Laem Chabang, Thailand; Lisbon, Portugal; and Haifa, Israel.

The sailings out of Tokyo, Seoul and Laem Chabang will offer the chance to visit such Asian countries as Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand in-depth, with most departures ranging from 11 to 15 nights and packed with port stops — the sort of cruise that appeals more to older couples than families.

The sailings out of Lisbon and Haifa, both on the longer side, will offer in-depth explorations of Northern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, respectively.

Norwegian Sun is also one of the smallest and least kid-focused of the five ships the line deploys to Alaska in summer, making it a good choice for retirees wanting to visit that destination. Families with kids naturally gravitate to the two giant, activity-packed vessels Norwegian sends to Alaska each summer — Norwegian Encore and Norwegian Bliss.

Related: The 5 best destinations you can visit on a Norwegian ship

At 78,309 tons, Norwegian Sun is less than half the size of the biggest Norwegian ships, and it holds just 1,976 passengers at double occupancy. (Compare that to more than 4,000 for Norwegian’s biggest vessels.) Expect a far more intimate experience than what you’ll find on most of the ships mentioned above.

Note that due to the ship’s small size, some of Norwegian’s signature features, including a private The Haven suite complex and solo cabins, aren’t found on the ship. Still, you’ll find more than half a dozen eateries, including several main dining rooms, a casual buffet, a diner-style pub, a steak house, an Italian trattoria and a French bistro as well as a showroom with nightly shows, a casino, a multipurpose basketball/volleyball court, golf driving nets and a jogging track.

Bottom line

Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleet consists of 18 ships that come in a wide range of sizes and feature differing mixes of venues and activities. Some are jampacked with fun zones that make them perfect for families, while others are geared toward couples and retirees. Some ships have attributes that make them stand out for luxury, solo or budget travelers.

If you’re considering a Norwegian cruise, it pays to study not just the itineraries that are available from the line but the specific ships that are operating the itineraries. You want to make sure you end up on the best Norwegian Cruise Line ship for you.

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