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8 things I wish I knew before cruising with NCL

If you’re taking your first cruise with NCL below are 8 things that I think you should know. I love NCL have been cruising with them since I was 11 when I was lucky enough to cruise around Alaska on the Norwegian Spirit. NCL’s cruising style is all about relaxation and being able to do things on your own schedule. Knowing the following 7 tips will help you get the most out of your cruise (don’t forget to book those theatre shows!)

NCL Dress code dinner formal night

Me onboard the Norwegian Epic


1. Freestyle dining – no table sharing.

No set meal times or dress codes!

On NCL there are no set meal times and no dress code (hooray!) I love the flexibility of freestyle dining which means that you can eat whenever you are hungry. You also never have to share a table which is brilliant, you just show up whenever you want and get seated, much like a normal restaurant on land. I usually cruise in a group of 2 and 4 and I don’t recall ever having to wait for a table. I do dine pretty early though. When the restaurant is busy you will be given one of those pager things that vibrate so you can go and get a drink.

norwegain cruise line NCL main dining room tropicana

Tropicana Room

Main dining rooms

NCL usually have the option of 2 or 3 main dining rooms which are large and offer the more traditional cruise dining experience (minus the dress code). They usually all have the same menu which changes each day. The restaurant on the Norwegian Spirit has HUGE windows which span the length of the restaurant which I really loved.


There is also a buffet on all ships and a pub type restaurant, usually called O’Sheehans or the blue lagoon. O’Sheehans has the best buffalo wings in the world, on my last 7 night NCL cruise I had them 6 times.

norwegian cruise line dining o'sheehans


Speciality Restaurants

There are also a number of speciality restaurants which cost extra, these can get quite busy and you do have to book to dine in these. Speciality dining is often offered as part of a booking perk. Teppanyaki is one of the most popular speciality restaurants.

Flying shrimp. Onion volcanoes. Twirling knives. The sizzles and surprises never cease at our authentic Japanese Hibachi restaurant. Sit around a lively shared table as a skillful chef slices, chops and grills steak, seafood and chicken on a large steel grill right before your eyes. Our chilled, sake-infused Wasabi Cocktail will have you flipping too.

Teppanyaki norwegian cruise line NCL dining


I have always found the food on NCL to be brilliant, it is not as ‘posh’ as on some other cruise lines but I much prefer this as it means you get larger portions. You’ll never go hungry on an NCL cruise, there are so many options that there is something to suit everybody. To read more about NCLs freestyle dining check out this post: Freestyle dining explained.

2. Book the shows on newer ships.

They have some brilliant shows on NCL. There is a variety of performances in the theatre and have something on every night. They always have dancers and singers, usually have a magician or comedian too. Each cruise they have a Broadway style theatre production and they’re normally really good. It blows my mind how they can perform and dance as they do on a rocking ship! The best show that I have seen by a mile was Priscilla Queen of the Desert, I loved it so much that I went back the next night.

priscilla queen of the desert norwegian cruise line NCL

Booking the shows

NOTE: You only have to book shows on the newer ships, of Epic class or higher. (Epic, Getaway, Breakaway, Escape, Bliss, Escape, etc)

When cruising with NCL you must pre-book the shows. In the past I have arrived onboard to find that some of the best shows are already sold out. Ideally, book the shows before you cruise, you can do this on the NCL website. If not try to book them on your first day onboard. You can do this through your stateroom TV or through the phone app. (It doesn’t matter if you don’t go, they just give away your space to somebody else).

When you get to the theatre your room keycard is scanned to check that you have booked, you can go into the theatre around 30 minutes prior to show time. If you haven’t booked you are made to wait outside until ten minutes before the show when they give away the remaining seats. You more than likely will still get a seat like this but they’re likely to be the worst seats in the theatre.

3. Get ready to be busy! (If you want to be)

NCL are one of these cruise lines that fills every inch of the ship with stuff to do. If you like waterslides/rock climbing/ropes courses/bowling etc then NCL is ideal for you. They even have a go-karting track on the Norwegian Bliss!

norwegian cruise line NCL go karts norwegian bliss website

Freestyle daily

Every night a ‘freestyle daily’ will be placed your bed letting you know what is happening the following day. The freestyle daily is basically a schedule of where and when events are taking place around the ship. There are events going on from way before I get up until way after I go to bed. One of the things which I particularly enjoy about NCL is that you can just go for a wander and you are sure to find something going on somewhere. The ships are always filled with live music and there are a number of gameshows/presentations every day.
norwegian cruise line NCL bowling

4. There is a corkage charge

On other cruise lines you are able to bring on alcohol without a corkage charge providing that you don’t take it into the restaurants. However this isn’t the case on NCL. You can bring onboard corked wine but that is subject to a corkage fee which is $15.00 for a 750ml bottle. This has never seemed worth it to me so I haven’t ever brought wine onboard. You cannot bring on any non alcoholic drinks, beers or liquors. (They do make brilliant drinks onboard though, I’d whole heartedly recommend the ultimate beverage package). More about that here: NCL’s Ultimate Beverage Package.

norwegian cruise line NCL drinks beverage package

5. No free room service or laundry

I have been on other cruise lines which provide free room service. However this isn’t free on NCL ($7.95 per order). There also is no free room where you can do laundry. When you reach the higher tiers of latitudes you do get a free bag of laundry though which is brilliant.

6. Perfect for kids/teenagers

I have been cruising on NCL since I was 11. Below is a photo of me as a kid in my NCL club hat!

When I was a child I attended the kids clubs and spent time in the teen lounges when I was a teenager. From personal experience would say that NCL are one of the better cruise lines when it comes to kids, they have a lot of events going on for them everyday and most ships have a teen lounge where teenagers can hang out away from parents. When I would go to the teen lounge with my friends we would play the playstation or pool. I met many people in the kids/teen clubs onboard, many of whom I still are friends with to this day! (Well Facebook friends.. that counts right?). If you have kids or teenagers I would definitely recommend NCL as a cruise line to consider.

norwegian cruise line NCL kids clubs teen clubs 7 – The waterfront

One of my favourite things about NCL is the waterfront. Most other cruise ships have a promenade deck but NCL take this idea to the next level with restaurants and bars where you can sit out and watch the world go by. I often cruise in inside cabins so like to treat the waterfront as my own giant balcony. We often would grab a drink, find a comfy chair and read a book. If you are cruising with NCL make sure you take advantage of this! I really miss it when I cruise on other cruise lines.


The freestyle atmosphere and busy schedule make NCL one of my favourite cruise lines. I would definitely recommend a cruise on NCL if you are considering it.

Have you ever cruised on NCL? Got anything I should add to the list? Please let me know in the comments.

If you’ve booked an NCL cruise and want to carry on reading about them please check out the NCL section of my blog where I provide tons of hints and tips! NCL

Carol Anderson

Tuesday 2nd of August 2022

My current experience booking the New England / Canada cruise coming up has been totally disappointing. No follow up on any requirements like the Covid-19 test 72 hours prior to boarding. Nothing about dining in the two fine dining restaurants. Nothing about booking a play reservation ahead of trip. Nothing about being met at our arrival airport by ship personnel. Nothing about the Arrive Can requirements that we must present upon arriving in Canada. Could keep going but what’s the point????


Saturday 7th of October 2017

Hi really enjoyed your blog and all the comments. We have been on 2 cruises this year (our first times) both with NCL - first one was in May on the Epic in the Haven and second was in Sept on the Star. Prior to these trips we never really fancied cruising but my partner and I are now totally hooked.

Loved NCL, perfect holidays, very few children (although we did go when they were in school) and found a mixture of ages - I don’t agree that NCL is more for youngsters as we are both in our 60s - I would highly recommend them, had a fabulous time and no complaints whatsoever - well apart from the fact they weren’t long enough and we had to go home lol !!

Emma Le Teace

Sunday 5th of November 2017

Doesn't take much to get you hooked! So glad you've got the cruising bug.

I don't think NCL are aiming solely at youngsters, but they are more for youngsters than some other cruise lines. Having to go home is always a problem.. but I don't think they'd let us stay on forever :(

Victoria Hughes

Sunday 5th of March 2017

I'm with you on the whole dining thing! NCL's style just suits me ☺️ plus the blue lagoon/o'sheeans provides comfort food but still offers waiter service which is the dream ? A personal NCL fave of mine that was not mentioned is white hot ✨ Always my fav night on board


Friday 10th of March 2017

I don't think there was a white hot party on my last cruise? Think that's why I didn't include it...

I do love the ncl food though, I sheerans buffalo wings are amazzzing!!!!!

*o sheehans!! (Been listening to Ed sheerans too much my phone corrected it ha ha)


Tuesday 10th of January 2017

Ha ha! I don't even know what pre booled would be :').

Normally to book the shows you log onto NCL and select your cruise then it'll let you book BUT... if I'm correct here, you don't have to book the Jewel's shows. It's only the larger ships you have to book on, there's normally more variety on the smaller ships so that's good! You should still be able to see what shows are on on there though (the main ones anyway). If not head over to the forum cruise critic, they'll have tons of reviews of the cruise I'm sure :)

Thank you for commenting!

Richard Pontone

Friday 6th of January 2017

I have been on 8 Norwegian cruises and it is not definitely just for young people except for the 10:30 pm dance parties. As a 65 year old man, i have noticed a lot of older people on these cruises although I have not cruised on Spring Break or when the young (younger than 18) children are out of school--usually cruise prices are higher and I do not need 500 children running around a ship. As for the pre booking the nightly shows, I have been exclusively on the Jewel class Norwegian ships like the Jade, and the Gem, and there is no pre-booking but I have been in Oceanview and Inside cabins. If you show up fifteen minutes before the nightly show, you can get your choice of seats, first come, first served. What I love about Norwegian, is that although it is a budget cruise line, the ship's staff and crew are highly motivated to please you, and the ships, some of them over 12 years old, are always clean and well maintained. If you are a foodie, you will not get haute cuisine here. You go to the high priced cruise lines and pay twice as much for that quality type of food.


Sunday 8th of January 2017

Hey! Thanks for commenting.

Completely agree about the 500 kids running around, I have been on some of those cruises and they can get so loud. I can't moan though as I was once one of those cruising children. In regards to the food I suppose it is just what you like, I much prefer the NCL food to the food that I had on Cunard recently, but I guess I have simply tastes and prefer bigger portions! Always a lot of variety on a cruise so food definitely is one of my favourite parts about the whole thing.