19 May 2018

Birka Stockholm in Stockholm, 13 April 2018

After the recent concentration on the Norwegian Bliss, we return to more normal programming today and look at the Birka Stockholm, which has again changed livery since it was last featured here.

Birka Stockholm

IMO 9273727
Name history: Birka Paradise, Birka Stockholm
Built 2004, Aker Finnyards Rauma, Finland
Tonnage 34 728 GT
Length 177,00 m
Width 28,00 m
Draugth 6,50 m
1 800 passengers
4 Wärtsilä diesels, combined 23 400 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
1 stern thruster
Speed 21 knots

The history of the Birka Stockholm is covered in this previous entry. Currently, the ship is in her third livery during her time with Birka Cruises (and, of course, second name), and I have to say she is a prime example of the livery steadily getting worse. The original was beautiful and vibrant (not to mention the fact it featured the colours of the flag of the Åland islands, a nice touch), the second was already pale and boring compared to that, and the current one is just bland. See for yourself below.

The photos here were taken on 13 April 2018 from onboard the Mariella, showing the Birka Stockholm arriving in Stockholm. As always, click on the images to see them in larger size.

At this point the spring was still so early there was no foliage. Today looks rather different.
But as for the livery of the ship... so bland. What were they thinking?
Interestingly enough, this is the first time in the company's history they have the company name painted on the side. In the past, they have had either no text there, or the ship's name in large letters.
As the ship is being marketed sinply as the Birka, it wouldn't be a bad idea to revive the practice of painting only the ship's name (or in this case, the marketing name) on the side.
Still, she's certainly photogenic with the Stockholm skyline in the background.
Kships will return

10 May 2018

Norwegian Bliss interiors, decks 5-7

Welcome, everyone, to the grande finale of the Norwegian Bliss interior tour, where we look at the three bottom-most passenger decks: five, six and seven.

For decks 8-14, see this entry.
For decks 15-20, see this entry.

Norwegian Bliss

IMO 9751509
Built 2018, Meyer Werft Papenburg, Germany
Tonnage 168 028 GT
Length 333,46 m
Width 41,50 m
Draugth 9,00 m
4 004 passengers (lower berths)
5 MAN B&W diesels, combined 43 200 kW
2 azipods
3 bow thrusters
Service speed 23,2 knots

Photos taken on 20 and 21 April 2018.

Deck 7 is given over solely to public rooms.

The Bliss Theater extends down to deck 6, but is only accessible from deck 7. To be honest, I thought this venue could have been better - it was difficult to see the stage if there were people sitting in front of you (and I'm a tall guy, so this is rarely a problem for me - but it was here). Furthermore, music from the  Q Texas Smokehouse, located below the theater, could clearly be heard at least in back rows - less than nice when listening to a musical.
The elevator lobbies are impressive - but also big enough for it to be difficult to notice that a lift has arrived if you're standing in one end of the lobby and the lift is in the other.
Next up, we have The Local Bar and Grill, which replaces O'Sheehans on the previous ships (I'm surprised they kept the name of the former CEO in for the venue this long, to be honest).
Futher aft, we have the ridiculously large Casino complex that fills about a third of the deck. Personally, I've never understood the appeal of Las Vegasian casinos (and on all my cruises they've been mostly empty), but maybe I'm just too European to appriciate them.
The Skyline Bar is a continuation of the Casino complex, but has a near Art Deco -inspired looks, tying itself to the next public room...
...which is The Manhattan Room, located right aft. To me, the venue feels like a relic of the traditional main dining room and doesn't perhaps quite fit in with the rest of the ship. Here's the entrance...
...and here's the actual dining area.
Deck 6 is, like the deck above, dedicated solely to public rooms.

The Q Texas Smokehouse is, as the name suggests, a Texan-style smokehouse, but with added live music. It replaces The Supper Club from previous Breakway Plus -class ships.
Going aft, we next have the Atrium, which has also been redesigned from the older members of the class, and now features a dedicated Starbucks Café. Which I didn't photograph, as it was always too busy.
Next on the port side is the Social Comedy & Night Club...
...which, for some reason, has two side rooms in completely different style: this 1970s meets a gothic cathedral -style room...
...and this more refined library-like space.
On the starboard side, meanwhile, we have Coco's café and chocolatier, a new venue added on the Norwegian Bliss. Adjacent to it is the Teppanyaki Japanese restaurant, but the doors to that one were closed whenever i tried to go and photograph it so I can't show it to you.
Finally, we have the twin dining rooms of Taste and Savor aft (or at least as aft as the public rooms go).These are identical except for the colour scheme, but being smart I didn't write down which is which. I think this is Savor, but there is a 50% chance I'm wrong.
But if I am right, then this is Taste.
Deck 5 is the bottom-most passenger accessible deck. It has cabins forward, followed by public rooms for children and teenagers aft. Personally, I was a bit surprised that these were hidden so far down on a ship aimed at least in part at families. It was also odd that none of the public rooms here had windows - at least my son loves to stare at the ocean, so I would think windows in the kid's rooms would be a given.

The first kid's room is Guppies, meant or the smallest children. The bubbles are a fun idea, but why are they so high that no toddler can actually see through them? At toddler level, the room is actually a bit boring as far as the decor goes.
Next, we have the Splash Academy, which is actually a huge complex - I was sure I would get lost when walking in. It was also the space that I liked most of all public rooms onboard in terms of decor. Not sure what that says about me (especially as my experience on the Crystal Symphony was similar - except there my fave was the teen's room).
Next aft, we have the video arcade. Unfortunately I didn't have time to sample the games.
And finally, the Entourage teen's lounge.
Which brings this tour of the Norwegian Bliss to an end. The ship can really be summed up as a high-density ship for the mass market (even if NCL are selling it as a premium product due to it being almost all-inclusive). There is so much to see that you definately won't get bored, although keeping track of all the options can be a challenge - this is especially true for the dining rooms, as it's surprising difficult to find out which restaurants are included in the cruise fare and which are not, and which ones require a reservation and which ones do not.

NCL have done great work with reconnecting their guests to the ocean with The Waterfront and the extremely impressive Observation Lounge, but to me these felt a bit like half measures - especially on the lower public rooms decks (particularly the ones covered here) windows were few and far between. You still have to actively go to a venue which gives you a connection to the world outside, rather than it being a constantly present backdrop (as it is on some of my favourite ships). Of course, this is a matter of personal preference and I'm sure that the Norwegian Bliss' passengers will be more than pleased with her.

Kships will return, but with what I can't yet say.

02 May 2018

Norwegian Bliss interiors: decks 8-14

As I'm writing this, the Norwegian Bliss is en-route from Halifax to New York, due to arrive in the latter port tomorrow for the first time. So this is a good time to take a second look at the ships' interiors, covering decks 14 through eight. Admittedly, since we're only covering the public rooms, this means all but one picture is actually from Deck 8 - but that more than makes up for this entry, as there are 14 public rooms plus associated outdoors spaces on that deck alone.

For decks 15-20, see this entry.

Norwegian Bliss

IMO 9751509
Built 2018, Meyer Werft Papenburg, Germany
Tonnage 168 028 GT
Length 333,46 m
Width 41,50 m
Draugth 9,00 m
4 004 passengers (lower berths)
5 MAN B&W diesels, combined 43 200 kW
2 azipods
3 bow thrusters
Service speed 23,2 knots

The data above is hopefully correct, different sources unfortunately give conflicing figures. All photos taken on 20 April 2018.

Deck 14 is given over exclusively to cabins.

Deck 13 is similarly a cabins only deck.

Deck 12 is another cabins deck, featuring both regular cabins and NCL's speciality studio cabins, designed for solo travellers.

Deck 11 has more regular and studio cabins, as well as the Studio Lounge, exclusively for the use of passengers in the studio cabins. (I'm not 100% certain about which deck the studio lounge was on - I didn't mark it down on my notes and it doesn't appear in the deck plans for some reason).

The studio cabins are a fantastic invention from NCL, and one I would love to see on other ships too (with or without the exclusive lounge).

Deck 10 has, surprise surprise, more cabins, both studio and regular.

Deck 9 is another cabin deck, this time only regular cabins.

Deck 8 has some cabins forward, but most of the deck is given over to public rooms. It also features The Waterfront, NCL's contemporary take on an outdoors promenade.

The District Brew House, flanking the forward staircase to the port, serves 24 beers on tap and more than 50 bottled beers.
Mirroring District Brew House on the starboard side is Food Republic, serving different types of foods from all over the world.
Moving towards the stern, we have The Cellars Wine Bar on the port side of the central corridor...
...behind which is La Cucina Italian restaurant...
...which, like all dining venues on the deck, has outdoors seating on The Waterfront.
Across from the above on the starboard side of the ship is The Cavern Club...
...which also has Waterfront seating. The brick walls on a ship look particularly incongruous on the outer deck.
Further aft from The Cavern were have Maltings Whiskey Bar, aft of which is The Humidor Cigar Lounge (which I didn't photograph).
Next on the port side we have the Sugarcane Mojito Bar, just off the three-deck high 678 Ocean Place three-storey atrium.
On the starboard side is the Ocean Blue seafood restaurant...
...which naturally comes with waterfront seating.
Somewhat oddly, large tracts on indoors areas on the deck are given over to the large tex-free shops but, since this is the deck with The Waterfront, these are flanked with outdoors seating not associated with any indoors space.
Further aft, we The Bake Shop and Dolce Gelato ice cream stand are found on the starboard side. These have only outdoors seating as far as I could make out.
Right aft, we have two speciality restaurants: port is Cagney's Steakhouse, where "steak is the standard".
Naturally, Cagney's comes with Waterfront seating.
Mirroring Cagney's on the starboard side is Los Lobos Mexican restaurant, which replaces the Moderno Churrascaria found on the previous Breakaway and Breakaway Plus -class ships built for the western markets. It is not an all-new restaurant, as a Los Lobos already exists on the Norwegian Dawn.
And of course, Los Lobos also has Waterfront seating.
Next time, we will look at the Norwegian Bliss' remaining passenger decks: five, six and seven. Meanwhile, if you want more, go back to last week's entry on decks 15-20.

26 April 2018

Norwegian Bliss interiors: decks 15-20

This is starting to a bit old news, as the Norwegian Bliss was delivered a week ago now, and I returned from my trip on her last Saturday... but even though I plan to share with just photos of the public rooms, and limit myself to just one photo per space (with one or to exception) there are still a whopping 56 images - which is why this entry will be split to an unprecedented three parts: this first one covers decks 20 though 15 (as you know, I like to start from the top), part two will show decks 14 though 8 and part three will be decks 7 though 5. If we stick to tradition, these will be out at one-week intervals.

Norwegian Bliss

IMO 9751509
Built 2018, Meyer Werft Papenburg, Germany
Tonnage 168 028 GT
Length 333,46 m
Width 41,50 m
Draugth 9,00 m
4 004 passengers (lower berths)
5 MAN B&W diesels, combined 43 200 kW
2 azipods
3 bow thrusters
Service speed 23,2 knots

The data above is hopefully correct, different sources unfortunately give conflicing figures. All photos taken between 19 and 21 April 2018.

Deck 20 hosts the Laser Tag course and the top of the Aqua Racer waterslide.

Overlooking the main sun deck from behind the Laser Tag complex. Note the just-lengthened, not-yet-in-service TT-Line ferry Peter Pan in the background.
The Laser Tag course is, essentially, a real-life of a FPS (first-person shooter) computer game. When you consider the fact that first-generation gamers are now 40-somethings with kids, NCL are right on top of their game with this one.
Deck 19 has extra-cost sun decks (The Haven class and Vibe Beach Club) forward, alongside some deck space for your regular passengers, and the upper level of the onboard race track aft.

The Haven -class passengers have the nicest and softest deck chairs onboard.
Those on the extra-cost Vibe Beach Club are not as nice, but still pretty good when you compare to the regular versions seen in the first photo.
The Racetrack is a featre previously found on the Norwegian Joy, but the one on the Norwegian Bliss is longer and overtaking has been made easier. I wouldn't know from experience, I don't even know how to drive a car do I gave it a pass.
Deck 18: the interior spaces here are given over exclusively to The Haven -class: suites, the upper levels of their Horizon observation lounge and The Haven Lounge, as well as The Haven Restaurant.

The Haven Restaurant is undoubtedly the most exclusive space onboard, and probably has the nicest food. The decor is a bit bland to my tastes, to be honest (then again, I'm probably a ten-year-old at heart as my favourite spaces onboard were the kid's rooms).
Deck 17 has more The Haven areas forward, public sun decks amidships, Le Bistro and Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurants aft (the former I didn't photographed as it was one of the few public spaces onboard with locked doors every time I tried to visit), with the Spice H2O sun deck area/night club right aft.

Horizon Lounge is The Haven's own neat obsservation lounge, spanning decks 17 and 18.
Similarly, the impressive The Haven Courtyard pool area spans the entire height of The Haven class areas (decks 17 through 19).
The Haven Lounge is another Haven only -space.
Further down the ship, there are hot tubs cantilevered off the sides on the ship on both sides...
...but those are not nearly as impressive as the Ocean Loops waterslide, which extends much further away from the ship.
Deck 16 returns us to the realm of regular, mortal passengers. What I really like about this deck is the way it reverses the traditional layout: forward is the Garden Café buffet restaurant, with pretty amazing forward views to boot, followed by the pools, Kids' Aqua Park, and the Beauty Salon, Barber Shop, Fitness Canter and Mandara Spa aft.

The buffet restaurants has varying types of seating, and different areas are decorated with different colours; in addition to the yellow here, there are red and green subdivisions (with the hexagonal pattern on the sofas, the green bits look amazingly similar to the Fast Lane cafeterias onboard Tallink and Silja Line ships).
In the middle of the buffet there is also this area for quick eaters.
The main sun deck has two pools, and the two impressive water slides are also a part of this complex...
...as is the Kids' Aqua Park, located adjacent to the pool seen above.
The Beauty Salon and Barber Shop combo was an interesting foray into (needlessly) gendered design: compare the colours and forms of the Beauty Salon seen here...
...with much more masculine colours and forms of the Barber Shop seen here.

The Mandara Spa aft features the most amusing thing I have ever seen onboard a cruise ship: in addition to a sauna, it has a "sanarium", a slightly cooler version of a sauna that "adds humidity to the heat of a regular sauna". I have news for you: the whole point of a proper sauna is heat and humidity. Your sanarium isn't hot enough to be a real sauna, while your sauna isn't humid enough to be a real sauna.
Deck 15 features what is one of, if not the, largest Observation Lounge afloat forward, covering over a third of the entire deck, with the rest given over to cabins.

The Observation Lounge quickly became my absolute favourite space oboard. While not mentioned in the cruise programme, it also served breakfast (a limited version of what was offered in the buffet above), so there's actually no reason to leave this place except for lunch, dinner and sleep.

If all goes to plan, Kships will return next week with more photos from the Norwegian Bliss.