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There's really no better way to convey how much Norwegian Cruise Line has raised the bar with its new Norwegian Joy than to actually show the ship in pictures.
Furthermore, a photo tour with embeds from my Popular Cruising Instagram account is a great means to show just how the layout and venues of the ship class have changed since the preceding Norwegian Escape.
While the Joy is dedicated to China, the next ship in the series-Norwegian Bliss-will be for the North American market. While perusing the images, keep in mind that some features are strictly Asian while others will, (or are at least anticipated to), carry over to the Bliss.
Also, the Joy was still under final construction when we previewed the vessel, so some may exhibit incompletion. It officially launches in June 2017, and Norwegian Bliss will follow exactly a year later in June 2018.
Let's start with a biggie: The ship's impressive pair of double-decker observation lounges, exclusive to guests in certain cabin categories. On the very top is The Haven Observation Lounge, which will also be on the Bliss exclusive to ship-within-a-ship guests.
Sitting below is the even larger Concierge Lounge, and this is the one that is notable to the bulk of North Americans as it will be Norwegian Bliss' public observation lounge-perfect for destinations like Alaska.
In order to free up this extra space at the front of the ship, the navigation bridge was shifted down by one deck while the spa was repositioned to the stern. The Garden Cafe buffet now overlooks the Concierge Club with its own forward-facing seating in the area where the thermal suite has resided in the past.
The Mandara Spa sits back where the buffet used to, but in a surprisingly much-abbreviated space. It still features plenty of treatment rooms but no expansive thermal suite.
In fact, the square footage once occupied by a thalassotherapy pool, snow room, salt room, tile loungers and more has been replaced at the stern with the multi-attraction Galaxy Pavilion including its bumper cars.
The Galaxy Pavilion also includes three dark ride simulator rooms with interactive guns to shoot at targets during the experience.
Of course, Star Wars fans will surely appreciate the fact that Norwegian managed to acquire four of the only one hundred Battle Pod video game systems ever made and install them on the Joy.
But even more thrilling is the sprawling go-kart racetrack that has been placed up on deck instead of a ropes course, sports court and mini-golf area. Both the Galaxy Pavilion and outdoor racetrack are not official features on Norwegian Bliss, but, should they prove popular, are expected.
(By the way, as proof that I won the inaugural media race onboard, here's a picture of me being awarded the trophy by Norwegian Cruise Line President and CEO Andy Stuart. Thanks to Anne Kalosh, U.S. Editor for Seatrade Cruise News, for snapping this particular photo.)
Another attraction that could potentially make its way onboard the Bliss is a replacement of a former sun deck: The cool new outdoor Laser Battle laser tag attraction is open during the day and night.
The pair of free-fall waterslides have also been swapped. Now there is just one, but it is a longer, figure-eight variety with two uphill helix turns-all of which are cantilevered over the side of the ship with The Waterfront al fresco boardwalk below.
As for the reminder of the Aqua Park, the kids' section and tandem raft waterslide from the Escape remain. A new mechanical raft conveyor system now even avoids the need for guests to haul their own up the stairs. (The line is looking at retrofitting the solution on the predecessor as well.)
Otherwise, the family slide below and bridge and central bar across the pool deck have been removed to make for a much more open space with great greenery. They now nicely offset the main pool and whirlpools.
It also appears that Spice H2O at the back of the ship is no longer only for adults on the Joy as the former rock grotto has been switched with a family hot tub.
Downstairs, O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill is no longer onboard but rather the handsome casual Joy Tea Room flanking the atrium.
For a more formal experience, the Grand Tea Room is the place to be. It's located where The District Brew House otherwise resides on the Escape.
On the opposite side of the ship, Food Republic is still along for the ride, however.
Menu highlights include fantastic sushi rolls like shrimp tempura.
Also taking on a more Asian influence aboard Joy, the Noodle Bar replaces the video arcade...
…Neptune's seafood restaurant replacing Churrascaria…
…and the family-style Sakura and Hibiscus replacing Headliners Comedy Club. Here, teppanyaki dining carries over, and Korean BBQ is newly introduced.
The 5 O'Clock Somewhere Bar is also gone from the Escape, but certainly not all entertainment venues have been done away with. The Supper Club remains as does the main Joy Theater, which has actually been enhanced with new projection technology that was being tested while we were onboard.
The ship also previewed its "Paradis" electro-swing musical for journalists, and the eclectic show is astounding.
Meanwhile in cultural reverse, American Diner comes aboard the Joy-Ford Mustangs and all-as a replacement of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville at Sea.
Catering to more Asian sensibilities are eight karaoke rooms where the library and conference rooms had previously been. Larger karaoke studios can still service conferences as well.
Lastly, casino venues-public, VIP and The Haven-have greatly expanded to cater to the Chinese culture.
And retail shops have upped their space substantially along the secondary atrium as well.
There's even a new Godiva chocolate shop where the Bake Shop used to be as a final sendoff.
Jason Leppert - Senior Writer, Cruises and Cruise Travel - is a San Diego-based cruising expert with more than 100 sailings...
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