We’re excited to board the newly refurbished Norwegian Joy cruise ship and we’re going to share everything that has been updated during the January/February 2024 refurbishment and dry dock.

Embarking from Southampton, UK after a few weeks in dry dock in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the ship was ready to receive the first guests sailing an 11-day transatlantic cruise to Miami (with no ports!). Unfortunately, we were informed that some spaces due for refitting and refurbishment weren’t quite finished, but we were able to get access to take some photos and a quick tour of new areas.

Key Points:

  • Norwegian Joy underwent refurbishment in early 2024 with updates like a new Thermal Suite and additional staterooms.
  • Dining options include restaurants like Taste & Savor (no charge), as well as specialty dining venues.
  • The ship offers unique features like the Speedway (go-karts at sea) and a water park, but some activities come at an extra cost.
  • The entertainment on the ship is underwhelming compared to past offerings, with shows like “Elements” receiving mixed reviews.
  • A large variety of stateroom options are available on the ship, and the bathrooms are noted for their spaciousness and amenities.

A few interesting Facts about the Joy

The Norwegian Joy was initially built for the Asian cruising market but only lasted in Asia for a short while. NCL chose to relocate the cruise ship to the Caribbean and do a light cosmetic refresh in 2020 to bring the design more in line with what the American market would expect.

Because of the original intent of the ship, some features are unique such as the pool decks with large swaths of open space meant to accommodate more people (originally on a faux lawn-style setup). So the pools are strange (visually) in their arrangement, but nothing changes the enjoyment.

The capacity of the Norwegian Joy is about 4000 people after the new addition of some cabins on the 15th deck.

The ship is part of the Breakaway Plus class of ships which also includes the Norwegian Encore (Our favorite NCL Ship)

What’s changed on the NCL Joy

Unlike other refits of large ships, most of the ship is going to remain the same. There aren’t going to be any new restaurants or major changes to common areas or existing cabins. However, there are going to be additions and a few updates.

New Thermal Suite on Norwegian Joy

The most notable update is the removal of the Laser Tag pavilion and replacing it with a huge new thermal suite to bring the Joy in line with other newer ships that feature the beautiful thermal suite like Joy’s sister ship, the Norwegian Encore.

Norwegian thermal spa on the NCL Joy
NCL Joy new Thermal Suite by Mandara

Larger Vibe Beach Club

The Joy now features a much larger Vibe adult-only area with added cabanas and more space to relax.

Norwegian Joy Vibe Beach Club

Additional Staterooms

One of the more surprising updates to the Norwegian Joy is the addition of cabins. This comes at the expense of the popular observation lounge. This has many guests talking about whether or not this will affect the feel and atmosphere of the much-beloved lounge.

Deck 15 on the Norwegian Joy before and after the ship refurbishment

You’ll notice on the after photos of the Observation Lounge on the Joy that the entire left side of the lounge was more relaxation space, where now it’s full of cabins.

NCL Joy Before Refurbishment

Norwegian Joy - Refurbished & Reviewed 1
Norwegian Joy Observation Lounge deck plan before renovations

NCL Joy AFTER Refurbishment

Norwegian Joy Deck Plan
Norwegian Joy Observation Lounge deck plan after renovations

Here’s the side of the lounge that’s been modified. You’ll see that most of it has been cut back with just some extra seating left behind.

The transformation of the Observation Lounge was well done visually, but cut back so much space it’s going to be interesting to see how crowded the lounge feels on a full sailing.

Norwegian Joy observation lounge renovation

Other work done to the Joy during the refurbishment included new carpeting, new mattresses in the staterooms, and cleaning of all soft surfaces

The ship looked nearly new when we boarded with everything being freshly cleaned and/or replaced. It was nice to see a ship launched in 2017 maintained and cleaned up to the extent of looking nearly new again.

What To Expect on the NCL Joy

After spending 11 days on the ship immediately after the drydock and refurbishment, we were left feeling like the ship was just about the perfect size for most itineraries. With an abundant of outdoor space and so many venues for food and drink, the ship didn’t ever feel crowded. However, we were only sailing at about 65% capacity at the time.

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The Food on the Joy

Having spent nearly 60 days on Norwegian Cruise Line ships in the past year across many cruises, it was surprising to find that the food quality on the Joy was better than any in recent memory. It really feels like the food rose to the level of the pre-pandemic quality of NCL. While there were a few “misses” when it came to food, which is to be expected, the majority of the dining experiences were extremely good.

Included Restaurants on the Joy

The dining venues included with your fare are generous and quite good. Included restaurants are:

  • The Manhattan Room (Main Dining Room at Dinner)
  • Taste (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
  • Savor (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
  • The Local (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Late Night)
  • Garden Cafe (Buffet – Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
  • American Diner (which used to be an additional cost and is now included!)
NCL Joy Manhattan Dining Room
NCL Joy Main Diningroom

The Manhattan Dining room is only open for Dinner while Taste & Savor restaurants are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner which helps distribute the crowds during popular dining times. The menu is the same in all 3 restaurants, it’s just a matter of what environment you want to dine in (or which side of the ship!)

During lunch and breakfast, bring your patience when choosing Savor & Taste. It can sometimes take a while to get your food.

Order Cagney’s In The Main Dining Room

You can now order a Cagney’s steak from the main dining room at dinner! So if you’re craving a bit of an elevated experience in the main dining room, for about $25 you can feast on a Filet Mignon.

The Local Bar & Grill on the Breakaway Plus Class ships replace the more pub-themed restaurant on other ships called O’sheehans – but they’re the same concept with bar bites, sandwiches, wings, and a late-night dining menu. The only real letdown of the Local is the chicken wings. They’ve changed the preparation method and they’re just not as good as they once were (I think this is fleet-wide as the same changes were on the Sun & Epic recently)

Many people don’t realize that the Local also serves breakfast making it a great alternative to the buffet.

When it came to the buffet (Garden Cafe), our only real issue was the food temperatures in some locations. Somehow everything was served steaming but was lukewarm, which defies most cooking science! Other than that, the selection was always good and the restaurant along with the serving areas was spotless.

The American Diner used to be an additional charge but starting February 2024, is included and has no extra charge. The menu largely replicates The Local but with outdoor dining space. Some people think the burgers are better, but they’re basically the same preparation in a different location on the ship.

Specialty Dining on the NCL JOY

Passengers who’ve sailed with Norwegian in the past will find the usual and expected up-charge specialty dining restaurants. Nearly all of them were exceptional, but it’s obvious portion sizes have changed, so some people who have visited a specialty dining restaurant on other Norwegian ships in the past may notice this. That said, there was always plenty of food!

The Specialty Dining / Premium Dining on the Norwegian Joy include:

Ocean Blue

The seafood forward menu is relatively simple but with well-prepared seafood options. For non-fish fans, you can also order a variety of steak items. On the Joy, there is a beautiful outdoor dining space that is in high demand during warmer weather cruises. Using a specialty dining package will allow an appetizer, main course, and dessert.

Cagney’s Steakhouse

A staple on all Norwegian ships, the steakhouse continues to deliver, albeit with slightly smaller portions. A specialty dining package will entitle you to An appetizer, main course, two sides and a dessert. See the Cagney’s menu

Le Bistro

This French-inspired restaurant was probably the least inspiring meal on the Joy. It’s also hit-and-miss on other ships as well. While we used to really love this concept, it seems to have suffered the most from cost-cutting. If you have a dining package you can order an appetizer, main, and dessert, but it’s not really worth using that credit if you like the other options on the ship. It’s definitely not worth the ridiculous a la carte pricing! The outdoor dining is beautiful, however. See the Le Bistro menu. It’s worth noting that this is the last place to get Veuve Clicquot by the glass. So if you have the premium plus beverage package, and crave champagne, this is your only option.

TIP: On the NCL Joy, Le Bistro, and Cagney’s share a space separated by a lovely bar that rarely gets crowded!

Le Bistro Norwegian Joy Outdoors
Outside dining at Le Bistro on Norwegian Joy

Food Republic

The most overlooked specialty dining on the ship was Food Republic. Here you can order a variety of Asian-inspired dishes and a great selection of sushi rolls. What makes the restaurant even better is the view! A covered glass canopy overlooking the ocean makes the experience feel more elevated. What we love about this is while you can use a dining package that gets each person 4 items, the prices a la carte is not bad. So it’s one of those times I’d probably skip using the dining package and just go for a sushi roll or a light snacky type dinner. TIP: You’ll be presented with an ordering tablet / iPad. If you’re using the dining package, you don’t have to order all 8 items at once! Order as you go so your food doesn’t crowd the table and get cold.

La Cucina

This is the Italian specialty restaurant on the Joy and we found it more average than amazing. Having dined there twice on our 11-day voyage, once was great once was ‘meh’ … In general, I’d advise against ordering the pizza. It’s just not worth it for the price and quality, but the other dishes are quite good. It also has outdoor dining on the Joy. See the La Cucina menu

Q Texas Smokehouse

Oddly, this was one of our favorite specialty dining venues on the Joy, but the quantity of food is just TOO MUCH! If you’re a BBQ fan, it’s a must-try. It’s not quite good ole’ Texas BBQ, but it’s a close approximation. If you aren’t a fan of live music, dine earlier in the evening, as they have a stage that hosts music almost every night. See the Q Texas Smokehouse Menu


We usually skip the Teppanyaki restaurant on Norwegian. The price has just gotten ridiculous for what it is and with so many land-based restaurants with the same concept, it’s hard to justify. But it’s good! If you’re craving large portions of teppanyaki-style food and a side of “show cooking” it can be good fun, especially for groups. We skipped this on the Joy so we can’t speak to the quality of the food, but people we talked to who ate at the Teppanyaki restaurant loved it.

Bars on the Norwegian Joy

The NCL Joy has almost too many bars! I never thought I’d say that, but it’s true. Not that it’s bad, but it’s hard to choose where to go for a drink sometimes!

The bars on the Joy include:

  • The Observation Lounge – a great space for relaxing and for viewing out the front of the ship. (even though it’s reduced in size now)
  • Skyline Bar – a great option within the Casino when all of the other bars are busy. It’s almost never full.
  • Mixx Bar – this bar sits between Taste & Savor restaurants and is a good meeting spot pre-dinner.
  • Spice H20- in the rear of the ship with a view over the all adult area & hot tubs
  • Waves – The typical pool bar on the ship
  • Maltings Whiskey Bar – a lovely space with lounge chairs and sofas. It’s also a place where gatherings take place like Friends of Dorothy, etc.
  • Sugarcane Mojito Bar – This bar is of course where you can find mojitos, but also where live music is performed nearly all day long. There’s also a great outdoor seating area.
  • Cavern Club – open only in the evenings and tends to get very crowded. Live music and performances every night.
  • The Cellars wine bar – One of our favorite spots. It sits opposite La Cucina and is a great spot for people-watching while having some good wine. Unfortunately the selection doesn’t seem as good as it does on other ships with the Cellars wine bar.
  • District Brew House – a great beer pub with abundant seating. It’s one of our favorite concepts on the ship with a ton of unique beer on tap and by the bottle. Don’t miss their unique cocktails.
  • The Local – I really want to love this bar, but it’s just not very interesting. It’s more of a service bar for the Local restaurant. On other ships, this space is usually quite fun, but it’s boring on the Joy
  • The Lobby / Atrium Bar – which is hugely popular all day long and gives a front row seat to the ridiculous games they do in the atrium.

There are also a couple of bars exclusive to the Haven guests as well.

are some tips & information about the bars on the Norwegian Joy

For more unique drinks and cocktails not on the menu, go to the A-List bar inside of Cagneys & Le Bistro. They’re more than happy to try to make unique cocktails. That bar also has mixers not found anywhere else on the ship (for example Fever Tree tonic).

NCL Joy A-List Bar
The A-List bar on NCL Joy (inside of Cagney’s)

The most social bar on the ship to meet people is either Mixx or the A-List bar. These are the best places for solo travelers to meet up.

The fastest place to get a drink when the restaurants are busy at dinner is the Mixx bar. Tired of waiting a long time for a glass of wine at dinner, just walk up to the bar and order it yourself.

For mid-day snacks, head to the observation lounge for a drink and a quick bite. Many passengers don’t realize that the Observation lounge also does “tea time” where there are sandwiches and pastries to have with your cocktails.

Assuming staff actively restrict the Spice H20 area, it’s a great place for an all-adult vibe while having a drink at the bar.

The Entertainment on the Norwegian Joy

Quite possibly the biggest disappointment of the NCL Joy is the entertainment. By now, most people know that Norwegian Cruise Line has pulled most of the big Broadway-style shows off of their ships. Unfortunately, the replacement entertainment is just underwhelming.

Sure, it’s fine… it’s something to do. But NCL Used to be known for really amazing entertainment at sea.

This is the biggest budget cut the cruise line has implemented and originally I didn’t feel like it was going to be a big deal, but it really does alter the enjoyment or at least the vibe of the cruise. In the past, there was always some excitement among passengers for the big shows, and now it’s nothing but a bunch of grumblings of disappointment.

On the Joy, their premier show is an in-house produced stage performance called “Elements”. Simply put, it’s a bunch of stage dancing around the theme of various elements (Fire, Ice, Water, etc). The performers do their job beautifully but the theme and the purpose of the show just fall flat. Some passengers love it, some don’t. I know for sure though, that it’s no replacement for the large production shows that NCL was always known for.

In addition, there are other performances that are underwhelming as well.

On the upside, live musing throughout the ship is generally really good though repetitive.

The “Social” on the Joy is a universal space where sometimes there is comedy, sometimes it transforms into a nightclub, and sometimes it’s a place for Art Auctions. So there’s usually something going on for entertainment inside of the Social.

Unfortunately, the Norwegian Joy lacks a Bliss Lounge or any other dedicated space as a night venue / club.

NCL Joy Social Club
The Social on Norwegian Joy

The staterooms & cabins on the Norwegian Joy

There’s every type of cabin you’d expect on a modern ship tucked away on the Joy including solo cabins, balcony cabins, suites, interior staterooms, penthouses, oceanview staterooms, and more.

We chose a standard mid-ship balcony stateroom and didn’t regret it a bit! (though we did bid for penthouses and Haven suites without success)

The staterooms on the Norwegian Joy are modern and comfortable without feeling “cold” and without feeling too much like a cruise ship cabin. The rooms feel timeless with the design and colors, so the ship should age well in the longer term and not feel dated.

Everything in the stateroom is as expected with all of the amenities found on NCL ships including a safe, flat screen TV, hair dryer, mini fridge with a few paid items, USB ports on both sides of the bed, and ample storage for a week or more of clothes.

The pleasant surprise is the bathrooms! The bathrooms on the Norwegian Joy are spacious with a glass shower (thank goodness there is no shower curtain!) and plenty of storage for toiletries.

There wasn’t anything in the cabin that was missing which would have made me feel like we should have upgraded to a larger stateroom. The rooms are pleasant, comfortable, and well-designed.

NCL Joy Balcony Cabin
Balcony Cabin on the Norwegian Joy

Things to do on the Norwegian Joy

There are a surprising number of things to do on the NCL Joy, however, be prepared that many activities cost extra, which is a real turn-off for some passengers.

The pools on the NCL Joy

The Joy has an unusual setup on the main pool deck, mostly due to the fact that it was originally designed for the Asian cruising market with less emphasis on pools than other spaces. That’s not to say the pools aren’t usable, they’re just a bit strange in their location.

There are the two main Lido deck pools and that’s about it unless you have access to the Haven.

On other ships where Spice H20 usually has a pool, it’s absent on the Joy and Spice H20 only has a large (very large) and fun hot tub (if you can wrap your brain around being in a hot tub with 20+ strangers)

For people who love the pool scene on cruise ships, the Joy is a bit of a bust.

Norwegian Joy Hot Tubs

Unlike other ships of its size, the Joy has very few hot tubs. There are only 2 on the main pool deck, one in the Vibe beach club, a huge 20+ person hot tub in Spice H20, and a very small hot tub in the newly added Thermal Suite. The Haven guests have access to their own wet area with a separate hot tub as well.

The water slide and water park on the Joy

The huge water slide, as I affectionately call the “toilet” – is one of the first giant slides at sea for Norwegian. Climbing up several flights of stairs, you’re greeted by an attendant that promptly instructs you what not to do and throws you down the chute. It’s good fun and surprisingly it’s one of the free activities on the ship!

At the end of the slide, you’ll find the water park which is a nice little splash area for kids. It’s not large, but big enough to give little ones something to do for a while.

Norwegian Joy Water slide
Water Park on Norwegian Joy

The Speedway (go karts at sea)

This feature on the ship is quite puzzling. A race track at sea. The concept started on the NCL Joy and has since been adopted across the Breakaway Plus class ships including the Joy, Bliss and Encore as well as the Prima & Viva. I never quite understood this concept but some people love it. It seems enough people love the speedway on Norwegian that they keep putting them on their ships!

I just find it odd, because I rarely see it being used on the itineraries I’ve sailed with Norwegian Cruise Line. Maybe it’s the cost? Maybe it’s the demographics of the particular ship at the time.

How much is the Norwegian Speedway?

Like many things on Norwegian ships, the race track isn’t included in the cruise fare. Rides are $15 each. For an extra $5, you can have the track to yourself for three laps and drive at faster speeds. For $199, you can buy unlimited rides for your cruise.

NCL Joy Speedway
Speedway Car on NCL Joy

The Gym

For the overachievers on a cruise, the Norwegian Joy has a gym that, for the size of the ship, is surprisingly small. However, the facility is clean and well equipped but does get crowded. So if you’re inclined to work off those endless desserts and cocktails, the gym on the Joy is sufficient.

NCL Joy Gym
Gym on the Norwegian Joy

Starlink Internet installed on the Norwegian Joy

The Joy recently had Starlink added and while I’ve been on plenty of ships with Starlink, the speed results on the Joy were pretty bad. I’m hoping it’s because they were working out the kinks of a newly installed system. Since the basic browsing was almost unusable, I chose not to opt for the streaming version of the service to avoid disappointment 🙂 – Though I did get unlimited for 11 days.

Tip: If you’re considering unlimited internet on Norwegian Cruise Line, wait a few days into your cruise and the price drops drastically. If you have the Free at Sea minutes you can use to get by for a couple of days, upgrade on the 3rd day (of a longer cruise) and you’ll save quite a bit.

The Norwegian Joy: Final Verdict

The NCL Joy is a meticulously clean ship and benefits from several refreshes over the past couple of years. The ship feels almost brand new in all areas and the cabins are really comfortable. But would we choose the Joy again?

It depends.

The ship is fine, and the food is good, but if I had a choice of nearly any other ship doing the same itinerary, I’d probably pass on the Joy. I much prefer the Encore, the Joy’s prettier sister and the other ships in the NCL Fleet just feel a bit more refined.

I can’t put my finger on what it is with the Joy that just feels off. I keep going back to the fact it was built for a different market in Asia which perhaps shows in some of the layout and design choices. Not that it’s bad, it’s just weird in some ways.

You can’t really go wrong on the Norwegian Joy for the right price. But I certainly wouldn’t pay a premium for an itinerary with other options on this ship.

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