Would we consider cruising on NCL Viva again? Absolutely, yes. However, we’re keen to explore other brands and ship styles first, simply for the thrill of experiencing something new.

Overall, the Norwegian Viva delighted us with its elegant decor, spacious and comfortable cabins, exquisite dining options, and exceptional Vibe Beach Club. However, the entertainment options left room for improvement, and the ship’s layout felt somewhat constrained and unconventional. It’s best suited for warm weather; those with itineraries in cooler climates might want to reconsider.

Our perspective diverges from long-time cruisers and the party crowd. We’re not into partying and prefer premium experiences within our budget, steering clear of both budget cruises and the ultra-luxury tier.

This is why the Viva fits the bill for us:

Tips for a better Viva Experience

  • Strategic Dining for Entertainment: Maximize your evening entertainment by dining early. We found that eating between 5:30 and 6:30 pm allowed us ample time to catch most shows. Dining later might mean missing out on the night’s performances.
  • Securing Seats at Syd Norman’s: Aim to join the queue at Syd Norman’s between 60 to 90 minutes before the show starts to guarantee a seat. Contrary to our initial thought, arriving just 30 minutes early often results in standing room only.
  • Main Theater Show Seating: For an optimal viewing experience at the main theater, line up 45 minutes prior to showtime. Doors typically open 30 minutes in advance, ensuring you secure a great seat.
  • Vibe Beach Club Access: The Vibe Beach Club significantly enhances the cruising experience, but it’s essential to book early. Despite claims of onboard availability, our experience and conversations with guest services suggest otherwise. Secure your pass online well in advance to avoid disappointment.
  • Pool Chair Strategy: Arriving at the pool area by 10:00 am usually ensures access to a decent pool chair. While the crew may not actively monitor seat saving, they will intervene if you report a chair being unoccupied for an extended period. NCL has gone as far as to post a “no saving chairs” screen on the large outdoor monitor. That’s relatively new, so we’ll see how that really works.
  • Activity Reservations: Book any desired activities—like go-karts or escape rooms—early on. These popular options tend to sell out within the first few days, so early reservation is key to avoiding missed opportunities.

The food on the NCL Viva

Our dining experiences across the specialty restaurants were nothing short of spectacular, marked by outstanding food and impeccable service.

onda by scarpetta ncl viva
Onda by Scarpetta

The Specialty Restaurants on the Viva that we tried:

  • Onda by Scarpetta – Italian (4.5/5 Stars):
    • The ricotta stuffed crust pizza is fantastic. Everyone around us kept eyeing it and asking how it was.
    • Go for the Bolognese or lobster tagliatelle over the ravioli.
    • Dessert was rich with a decadently fudgy chocolate cake, classic Tiramisu, and pistachio cheesecake.
  • Le Bistro – French (4/5 Stars):
    • Vegetarian’s: skip this restaurant. The only vegetarian entree was disgusting. My wife spat it out.
    • Carnivores can indulge in a sumptuous selection, from scallop and beef tartar starters to a delectable filet with foie gras.
  • Hasuki – Teppanyaki Delight (4/5 Stars):
    • A vibrant atmosphere with chefs performing with old cheesy tunes, and serving up the ship’s best shrimp and delicious vegetarian noodles.

Buffet (Surfside Café)

As everyone says, this buffet is way too small for this size ship. It doesn’t help that you are forced through the buffet if you want to access the pool from the rear elevators. They did open up seats in the Food Republic and Palomar for busy hours, but this still didn’t help much. We suggest taking your meal to an area by the pool or to a pool chair, avoiding the search for a table.

While the selection is diverse, the menu could benefit from more daily variations. The same breakfast and lunch daily got a little bit old

Indulge Food Hall – A Mixed Bag

We were very excited about this concept. While the selection and taste were pretty good, the 30+ minute wait times to find a table made us mostly avoid this area. For lunch, it’s only open during peak hours, and finding a seat was very tough. It doesn’t help that if you’re sitting at a counter seat at a specific station, you can only order food from that station, unlike the seats at a table where you can order from all stations. If you’re fine with only ordering one thing, then counter-seat were usually readily available.

On the Freestyle Daily, it said Tex-Mex bowls and sandwiches were an option, neither of which were available. I talked to the head chef of Indulge at breakfast and he said they hadn’t offered that in over four months, but said he’d look into it and get back to me. Later that evening, he found us at dinner in Onda and thanked me for pointing out the mistake. He said he had the freestyle daily team update the description and even sent up a couple of sweet treats to our room as a thank you. It was little things like this that made up for less than steallar service experiences in other areas of the ship.

A minor annoyance: the beverage function of the menu wasn’t working so you couldn’t order any drinks and had to head to the bar yourself.

Main Dining Rooms – Hudson’s & Commodore

  • The dining experience here met our expectations, totally fine, but nothing special.
  • The smaller portions of appetizers and entrees were on the smaller side, which we loved since that meant we could order more variation and try more things.
Commodore NCL viva
Commodore Dining Room

The Local

The Local is constantly busy, this bar was the only source for late-night cravings, serving consistently good wings.

NOTE: People are milling about the boat in search of food ALL the time, frustrated with CLOSED options. The closure of restaurants between 2 and 5 coincides with the massive influx of returning passengers from the excursions, most of whom haven’t been given a lunch. So again you have angry passengers milling around looking for food. The only options are Local and Surfside Cafe, both small venues and they’ve had 30-minute waits each day we return.

Bars & Lounges on the Viva:

Our overall experience with the bars on board was good, without any particular highs or lows. However, it’s noteworthy that Harvest Caye, NCL’s private island, does not extend the drink package benefits, with tropical drinks priced at around $15 including taxes and service charges. This policy seemed a bit ridiculous compared to the inclusivity of other cruise lines’ private islands.

Soleil Bar – our favorite bar

  • Located on deck 8 aft, stood out for its charming ambiance and cozy decor, offering ample comfortable seating. However, the service could be hampered by the presence of only one bartender, challenging during busier times. A minor inconvenience was the persistent soot in the area; we recommend using an extra napkin to cover your drink to avoid this nuisance.

The Whiskey Bar – A Connoisseur’s Perspective

  • As an enthusiast with a significant whiskey collection, I found The Whiskey Bar’s pricing to be exorbitantly high. Rare whiskies, typically priced between $15-$70 on land, were marked up to $100-$400 on board, which was quite staggering. For instance, a pour of George T Stagg, valued at $50-$70 ashore, astonishingly climbs to $275 on the ship.
  • A noteworthy tip for fellow whiskey lovers: 1792 Full Proof is available for a surcharge over the drink package at The Whiskey Bar, yet The Improv offers it without the extra cost.

The Observation Lounge

This is a popular bar / lounge space with massive forward facing windows and is incredibly popular during sea days. The menus are the typical bar menus found throughout the ship, nothing special. It’s worth noting that they do afternoon snacks most days, so if you’re part of the contingent of irritated hungry passengers during the closing of the buffet, you can often find a snack here!

While the bars aboard the Viva offer pleasant environments and a wide selection of drinks, certain aspects such as pricing and service efficiency could be improved for a more enjoyable experience.

NCL Viva Observation Lounge
Observation Lounge

Entertainment on the Viva

Syd Norman’s:

This venue was by far our favorite for its great music and talented band & singers. However, it’s way too small for this size ship, accommodating only about 65 seated guests, which means arriving 60-90 minutes early is essential for snagging a seat—far earlier than the commonly suggested 30 minutes. For those preferring not to wait, push through the standing-only folks and head to the front sides offers more space.

Donna Summer Tribute Show:

The portrayal of Donna Summer by three talented actresses was commendable, delivering powerful performances. However, the narrative—charting the rise from obscurity to stardom—was predictable, lacking the spark to elevate it beyond a standard biographical show.

The Improv Comedy Club:

Opting to catch the comedians in the main theater rather than at The Improv was a strategic move, given the similar seating constraints faced by Syd Norman’s. Notably, The Improv hosted entertaining karaoke sessions nightly, offering a lot of fun from 10:30 pm to midnight.

Live Music Across the Ship:

Live music was a nightly highlight, with performances in the Penrose Atrium and the Metropolitan bar. The quality of the bands and singers was consistently high, adding to the ship’s vibrant atmosphere.

Prima Theater Late-Night Entertainment:

The late-night offerings in the Prima theater, starting at 10:30 pm, varied from club-style entertainment to themed nights with music and dance.

While the participation in theme nights was modest, the Ocean Music Fest stood out as a week’s highlight, featuring a collaborative performance that was truly unmissable.

Game Shows: Deal or No Deal & The Price is Right:

  • While Deal or No Deal provided light entertainment, it seemed more like a revenue-generating activity for NCL than a fully engaging show.
  • In contrast, The Price is Right was a hit, drawing enthusiastic participation from the audience and creating a lively and enjoyable atmosphere.

Staterooms on the Norwegian Viva

NCL Viva Balcony Stateroom
Balcony Stateroom

Stateroom Experience:

  • Our balcony stateroom exceeded expectations with its thoughtful design, ample space, and efficient storage solutions—easily the best balcony room I’ve experienced. As a taller individual at 6’1”, I found the shower size generous and accommodating.
  • The room featured an abundance of outlets, however, we noted the lamp outlets by the nightstand near the balcony (one USB-C and one USB-A) were non-functional; a quick word with our steward might have resolved this by swapping out the lamp.
  • The balcony itself boasted exceptionally comfortable and cushioned chairs, adding to the overall enjoyment of our private outdoor space.
  • A notable mention must go to the air conditioning, which was remarkably effective—a rarity on many ships where temperature control can be hit or miss.

The Ship, Decor, and Ambiance

Viva Lobby NCL

The Viva captivated us with its stunning interior decor, which played a significant role in our initial choice of this ship. It feels like a boutique hotel with modern, clean, and well-lit environments throughout the ship which creates an inviting atmosphere.

Unlike other ships where seating can be hit or miss in terms of comfort, the Prima ensured there was always a comfortable chair within reach, enhancing the leisure and relaxation aspects of our cruise.

The Layout of the NCL Viva

  • The layout of the Viva (and Prima) is the number one complaint among passengers, a sentiment echoed by over twenty couples we conversed with, all of whom are veteran cruisers. The ship’s design necessitates traversing through active venues to reach various destinations onboard. For instance, accessing the dining areas often means navigating through bustling bars, attending a show requires a walk through retail spaces, and reaching the pool deck from the rear elevators involves passing through the crowded buffet area. This doesn’t at all feel like a mall – unlike most RCL or other ships, which was appealing to us, but negative to others.
  • Despite these challenges, our personal experience as new cruisers with the ship’s layout was more forgiving. We noted that the arrangement, while unique, did result in areas feeling more compact compared to other vessels of similar size. This observation, however, hasn’t deterred our interest in cruising with the Prima again.

Pools, Hot Tubs, & Vibe Beach Club

NCL Viva Hot Tubs

Main Pool Area on Deck 17:

The main pool area is notably small on the Norwegian Viva, especially for a ship of this size, often resulting in a crowded space where securing a lounge chair can be a challenge. Despite the constant activity at the pool bar and the packed hot tubs offering splendid views, the congestion wasn’t markedly worse than what we’ve observed on ships from Carnival and RCL, which host larger crowds.

By comparison, the MSC Seascape, which was docked adjacent to us, has a pool deck twice as large yet faced similar issues of accessibility and space.

NCL Viva Pool

Infinity Pools on Deck 8:

My favorite feature of the entire ship was the infinity pools located on deck 8. Despite their smaller size, they never felt overly crowded. These pools offer a closer connection to the ocean, delivering a unique swimming experience absent from the main pool area. However, it’s notable that there are no hot tubs available on this deck.

Vibe Beach Club on the Viva:

  • The Vibe Beach Club truly transformed our vacation into a luxurious escape. Offering an exclusive, less crowded environment with ample cushioned lounging options, it served as a peaceful haven away from the busier areas of the ship.
  • The value of the $259 per person weekly pass was a “no-brainer” for us, providing access to excellent service, an uncrowded bar, and a convenient location near the main buffet. This allowed us to easily enjoy meals in a more serene setting.
  • The absence of music within the club contributed to its tranquil atmosphere, though the presence of soot from the smokestacks was a minor drawback. This issue was easily managed with a simple towel over the chair to protect our clothing, proving to be a minor inconvenience in an otherwise idyllic setting.
Viva Vibe - NCL
Vibe Beach Club

Onboard Activities

Go-Kart Experience:

  • The go-kart track offered a thrilling ride, albeit with pricing that varied from $15-$20 based on the time of day. The group sessions, with capped speeds, made true racing impossible since everyone hit the speed cap making it difficult to overtake others.
  • For those seeking the full intensity of the experience, “You and the Track” individual sessions allowed for maximum speed racing at $20 for three laps—a steep price but a hit for speed enthusiasts as this sold out early in the cruise.

I still wonder why Norwegian Cruise Line puts go-kart tracks on their ships these days. It seemed like a novel idea for ships like the Joy and Encore, but new ships like Prima and Viva seem like they could benefit from something “higher end” or more unique.

Galaxy Pavilion:

  • The Galaxy Pavilion, while an intriguing concept, fell short of expectations. The cost of $8 per game, $29 per hour, or $49 for a day pass seemed steep given that only a handful of the available games were halfway decent, with the racing simulator standing out.
  • Although we didn’t participate in the escape rooms, their popularity was evident, suggesting they might offer more satisfaction than the Pavilion’s other offerings.

Water and Dry Slides:

  • The Wave Water Slide: A quick but fun ride that fortunately never had a wait of more than one minute. Its brevity was offset by the ease of repeat enjoyment.
  • Dueling Dry Slides: These provided an enjoyable diversion without any significant wait times. Their design ensured a smooth experience for all riders.
  • Single Dry Slide: This attraction was less successful, with design flaws leading to all riders, regardless of size or age, getting stuck.

Mini Golf and Darts

  • Mini golf, priced at $10-$15 per person for a brief 9-hole game, was enjoyable yet not convincingly priced for the experience offered.
  • Darts, conversely, offered a more reasonable $5 rate for up to six players, presenting a fun group activity, though we never saw anyone use them.

Sports Courts

The sports courts, including areas for ping-pong, foosball, and pickleball, saw little use. Restrictions on food and drink in these areas may have diminished their appeal, even rendering the beer-pong table somewhat superfluous. The pickleball court, while adequately maintained, similarly lacked participant engagement.

Crew & Service

Overall impression, the service quality on board was generally in line with our expectations for a ship accommodating 3,099 passengers. However, an apparent lack of spatial awareness among the crew (a trait shared by many passengers) occasionally led to minor inconveniences, such as unintended collisions or cutting us off mid-stride. It was quite odd.

Customer Service Desk

Our initial interaction with the customer service desk was less than ideal, encountering a representative who was notably unhelpful and dismissive. We approached a different staff member shortly thereafter, who proved to be accommodating and informative, significantly improving our experience.

Bar Staff

Observations of the bar staff elicited sympathy from us, as it was evident they were operating under considerable strain. Typically, bars were staffed with only one or two bartenders, even in high-traffic areas like the main pool, resulting in slower service. An additional bartender in these areas could alleviate some of the pressure and enhance service efficiency.


The waiters on the Norwegian Viva were commendable for their promptness and willingness to assist, though there were occasional delays in taking drink orders during dinner service. Overall, their performance did not detract from or add to our dining experience.

Room Stewards

Interaction with our room steward was minimal, limited to a single encounter mid-voyage. While our room was maintained well, the absence of more frequent interactions and services such as nightly turn-down was noted, albeit understandingly in line with current trends in the industry.

Final Thought on the NCL Viva

We had a great time on this ship but would pick another new cruise ship from a different cruise line to try something different. We have booked the newest Princess Cruises ship, the Sun Princess for our next cruise so we’ll see!

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