The arrival of a new Norwegian Cruise Line ship is always cause for celebration. These action-packed vessels offer tons of variety, whether your group loves amusement-park-style thrill rides or hot stone massages. The newest ship from Norwegian Cruise Line, however, isn’t exactly new. Norwegian Joy, which made its North American debut in the spring and is sailing in Alaska this season, was built in 2017 and originally sailed itineraries in Asia, and was intended and designed for Asia-based travelers. Now, it’s been refurbished and looks a lot like its sister ship, Norwegian Bliss, which debuted in 2018 and also sailed in Alaska. But these twins aren’t exactly identical. We sailed on both mega-ships and weighed the differences between them. Here’s what we saw.

The Cabins

While standard interior, ocean view, and balcony cabins on both Bliss and Joy have a similar design — clean lines, unfussy and practical furniture, lots of solid colors — the major distinction on Joy is that it offers a whole cabin category that’s exclusive to this ship. The new Concierge category features comfortable, roomier suites designed for groups of three or more. Many have the same plush decor and amenities as you’d find in The Haven, the ship’s exclusive luxury area, and they come with perks like priority boarding, included specialty breakfast and lunch, and a dedicated concierge. Some of the most interesting — and value-packed — cabins in this category are interior, multi-bedroom suites that offer tons of space and a central seating area so families and large groups can gather together.

Instead of these unique cabins, Bliss offers a popular stateroom category that you’ll find on many other Norwegian ships — studio cabins designed for solo travelers. Interior cabins with virtual LED “windows" to add light and perspective to the stateroom, these cabins also offer travelers access to an exclusive studio lounge. For more information, read our guide to the studio staterooms on Norwegian Bliss.   

The Spa

Mandara Spa on Bliss is a showstopper. There are typical treatment rooms and a salon, of course, but you’ll also find a spacious thermal suite with perks like a snow room, a stunning salt therapy alcove where you’re surrounded by therapeutic crystals, sauna and steam rooms, plus rows of plush and heated loungers. The spa on Joy is significantly smaller, does not have a thermal suite, and is focused more on treatments than on lazing the day away in a lounger. It does, however, have a roomy check-in area with lots of seating space, if you’re looking for an uncrowded place to hide from the ship’s busier corridors.   

Pools and Water Features

Both ships have water-park-style amenities like tandem racing slides and a splash park for smaller kids. You may notice, however, that the main pool on Joy, unlike on Bliss, is positioned off-center on the deck and is aligned so that it’s in the shade. This is a holdover from when the ship sailed in Asia, and when this deck was a styled as a meditation garden, a feature that was removed during the recent refurbishment. That leaves a lot of open — and slightly awkward — space on Joy’s main pool deck. The arrangement on Bliss is more typical, with the pool in the center of the deck (in the sun), and loungers arranged around it.

Another interesting but subtle difference between these ships is the treatment of the Spice H20 space on each. A space for nightclub-style performances and parties, the space on Bliss has a tiled, shower-like water feature. On Joy, this has been replaced with one massive hot tub that has room for dozens of people — an unlikely but fun improvement.

The Shows

Big-name entertainment is the trademark of Norwegian’s newest ships, and Bliss and Joy are no exception. On Bliss, you’ll find the musical Jersey Boys, which is performed faithfully to the version that existed on Broadway, and with a similar caliber of performance. There’s also Havana!, an original musical set in 1950s Cuba that makes up for a meandering plot with stunning sets and costumes by artist Reuben Toledo.

On Joy, you’ll find a top-notch and endearingly nostalgic version of the musical Footloose, along with an abstract, music-filled, Cirque du Soleil-like acrobatics and dance show called Elements.

The Food

If you’re a fan of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurants, you’ll want to head to Norwegian Bliss, because you won’t find it on Joy. In its place, however, there’s the fun American Diner restaurant, complete with booths that look like classic cars. Additionally, Bliss has a specialty Mexican restaurant called Los Lobos, along with a truly over-the-top sweet shop called Coco’s where you can order a towering coffee or hot chocolate heaped with whipped cream and other treats. You won’t find either on Norwegian Joy.

The Activities

If you’re interested in those fast-moving go-karts that were a much-touted part of these ships, you can rest easy. They’re on both Bliss and Joy. We did learn, however, when we sailed on Joy that the track on this newer version was retooled to create more space for the karts to pass each other more easily, upping the competitive quotient.

Joy also offers some unique elements in Galaxy Pavilion, a gaming area that focuses on immersive and virtual reality experiences. Look for the racing simulator that’s built into a real Formula One car, and an interactive LED wall where you can watch your own drawings come to life.

The Public Spaces

You’ll be happy to know that one of Bliss’ most attractive and successful spaces, the Observation Lounge, is also on Joy. You’ll notice some subtle differences in color scheme, but these spacious, light-filled areas are equally successful and relaxing on both ships. Kick back solo with a book or a drink, or get together with a group of friends to chat about your day at sea or your on-land adventures.

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