In late April, I was very lucky to join a small group of Wells Gray Tours employees on the 3-day inaugural North American sailing of the newly refurbished Norwegian Joy from Vancouver to Los Angeles.
Built in 2017 for the Chinese market, the Joy recently underwent a $50 million transformation for North American service, with the goal of making her as similar as possible to her successful sister ship, the Norwegian Bliss.
This was my very first time on a cruise and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. My initial thought was “what will we do for THREE WHOLE DAYS at sea?” I packed a new book in hopes that if all else failed, I could read the whole thing. Well, I guess it helps to take your first cruise on one of the largest, most impressive ships in the world, because I only read about ten pages of that book. I was too busy eating, drinking, relaxing, and having a fantastic time to read for more than five minutes!
The cruise kicked off with a sail-away party on the pool deck with a live DJ, cocktails, and lots of cheering as the ship just barely squeezed under the Lions Gate Bridge. At 333m tall, the Joy and her sister ship the Bliss are the tallest ships that have ever entered the Vancouver harbour. The departure was timed to coincide with a seasonal low tide and there were only five feet of clearance under the bridge. It was a major local event with multiple news helicopters hovering around the ship and spectators watching from the bridge and shore.
My lovely roommate Pat and I shared a mid-ship balcony room. It was bright and modern with lots of smart storage solutions to maximize the limited space. The private balcony really brightened up the room and made for the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine. During the cruise we toured several other room categories suited for different types of travellers. They were all well-appointed with creative solutions like video screens to mimic windows in inside cabins. We also had the opportunity to visit The Haven, a private area of the ship that includes the most luxurious, well-appointed accommodations as well as 24-hour butler service, and a private sundeck.
I love a buffet. Don’t get me wrong, I like a-la-carte restaurants too, but I REALLY love a buffet. I have some food sensitivities and buffets always offer so many more options for me. The Garden Café aboard the Joy didn’t disappoint. With a huge range of options all day, from burgers, to seafood, steaks, salads, ice cream, ramen, and a full Indian buffet, I think any diner could find something to love. For me, the dining highlight of the entire cruise was a show-stopping seafood lunch buffet. With at least five different types of fresh crab legs, plus oysters, giant prawns, several types grilled fish, and sushi, it was a seafood lover’s dream come true. The seafood was the high point of almost every meal we ate in all the restaurants on board. It was extremely fresh and prepared perfectly.
There are also a wide range of a-la-carte restaurants on board the ship including three main dining rooms, a pub-style restaurant, and eight specialty restaurants. We had excellent meals in the main dining rooms: The Manhattan Room, Savour, and Taste. The service was very good and the options were plentiful. The menus changed every day and included everything from prime rib and whole lobster to burgers and fries. I didn’t have the opportunity to try any of the specialty restaurants on board, but there are a lot of options including French, Italian, seafood, teppanyaki, steakhouse, global cuisine, and even barbeque.
Cruise tip: always save room for dessert. I learned my lesson at lunch on the first day when I saw the beautiful array of treats that were available after already scarfing down half the buffet. At every meal there were desserts that looked and tasted like something Willy Wonka would dream up. From cheesecakes, to lemon tarts, chocolate truffles, fresh baked cookies, and creative things I can’t even begin to describe, they were all fantastic. One day there was even a crème brûlée buffet…yes, you read that correctly, an entire section of the buffet dedicated to crème brûlée. There must have been ten different flavours to choose from. And I can report, after trying more than I’d care to admit, that they were all delicious.
I didn’t miss my morning coffee on board the ship, thanks to the two Starbucks cafes boasting all their usual beverages and baked treats. One of these cafes is located in the two-story observation deck which has a gorgeous panoramic view from the front of the ship. This was the perfect spot to sit and enjoy that cup of coffee.
During our three nights on board, we saw two excellent live shows. The first was Elements, a show that combines magical illusions, acrobatics, and dance to celebrate the four natural elements of fire, earth, water, wind. The coolest part of the show was the big finale when the entire theatre was turned into a winter wonderland of real swirling ‘snow’. The second show was Footloose, billed as a “sexier” revamp of the Broadway musical based on the classic 1980s movie. I had seen the original Broadway version in New York, but still thought this version was great if a bit long without an intermission.
If live theatre isn’t your thing, you can head to the Cavern Club, a reproduction of the legendary Liverpool club where the Beatles performed. During our cruise, there were live shows every night by the Cavern Club’s resident Beatles cover band. This show was a big hit and it was difficult to get a seat unless you arrived early.
There are enough activities on board to keep even the most energetic group happy. We settled all our work grievances with a showdown on the two-level race track at sea. If that’s not your thing, there is also an outdoor laser tag under the stars, a mini golf course, a casino, a beautiful fitness centre, a spa, and a virtual reality gaming area. There were too many bars and lounges to count, boasting live music, trivia, and other activities all night long. On a warm weather cruise you could definitely take advantage of the pool deck with a kids aqua park and a waterslide that curves out and around the outside of the ship. Unfortunately, it was a bit chilly for water-sliding on our trip, but it looked like fun!
A HUGE thank you to Wells Gray Tours and our friends at Norwegian for showing me a fantastic time on my very first cruise. It won’t be my last!
Norwegian Joy is currently sailing to Alaska from Seattle for the summer season. In the fall she will sail to the Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles and to the Panama Canal from Los Angeles and Miami. For the winter 2020/2021 she will cruise to the Caribbean from Miami and then beginning in April 2021, she will sail from New York for Bermuda and Canada/New England cruises.
Join Wells Gray Tours on a Norwegian Cruise
It’s no secret that we love sailing with Norwegian, and we know you do too. Here are two fantastic Norwegian cruise tours we think you should check out!
Hawaii Cruise – November 6, 2019 – 12 Days
This cruise features five ports in the Hawaiian Islands: Honolulu on Oahu, Kahului on Maui, Hilo and Kona on Hawaii, and Nawiliwili on Kauai. The ship stays overnight in Kahului and Nawiliwili, giving you extra time to explore the area and enjoy services on shore. Shore excursions are included in Honolulu, Kahului, Hilo, and Nawiliwili. Lauched in 2005, The Pride of America was completely refurbished in 2016.
Caribbean Cruise with New Orleans – January 13, 2020 – 15 Days
This tour begins with three nights in New Orleans where we enjoy locally guided tours of multiple neighbourhoods and attractions, a sternwheeler riverboat cruise, live jazz performances, and a cooking class. Then we board the Norwegian Getaway for a 9 day cruise in the Western Caribbean with ports in Costa Maya, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; Georgetown, Cayman Island; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; and Norwegian’s private island, Harvest Caye, off the coast of Belize.
Written by: Pam Jensen