Norwegian Majesty, Then and Now
One of our favorite cruises was our 1994 vacation to Bermuda on Majesty Cruise Line’s Royal Majesty. Eight years later, we returned to the ship - now Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Majesty - for a two-night cruise to nowhere. The weekend getaway was a charter by a local travel agency, and took place immediately following a dry-docking in preparation for the upcoming Bermuda season.
As this was not a typical cruise, the main focus of my review will be the ship itself, as it still sails today, particularly my impressions of the many changes made over the past few years. I will also share some of my thoughts on Freestyle Cruising and the general practice of stretching a ship.Ship History
The Norwegian Majesty was built in 1992 in Finland’s Kvaerner Masa Shipyards as the mv Royal Majesty for Majesty Cruise Line. As the Royal Majesty, she registered 32,396 gross tons and 568 feet in length. She was sold to Norwegian Cruise Line in 1997 and was renamed the ms Norwegian Majesty.
In early 1999, the Norwegian Majesty underwent an extensive refurbishment at the Lloyd Werft shipyard in Germany, in which she was literally cut in two and then lengthened via the insertion of a new 112-foot midsection. The other major change was the addition of a new deck atop the ship. NCL presently reports her size as 40,876 GRT (some marketing materials indicate 38,000), and she accommodates a passenger complement of 1,460 (double occupancy) and a crew of 620.
Ship Tour: Old and New
As I have a strong interest in the design of ocean liners and cruise ships, I was most curious to see the changes in the ship’s layout due to the stretching in 1999. Armed with deck plans from the Royal Majesty (1994) and Norwegian Majesty (2002), I set out to see - and critique - these modifications.
First, some general comments about the stretching. Most of the new midsection contains cabins, 203 of them, to be exact. Just three public rooms and one swimming pool were added via the insert. For the most part, the original areas of the ship were unchanged structurally. I found it odd that many of the public rooms, particularly the show lounges, were not enlarged despite a 40% increase in passenger capacity.
Still, I was quite pleased with the new layout. The new areas do not impede passenger flow -- no worse than before, at least. In fact, there were several improvements, such as the addition of an amidships stair tower and elevator bank. I also like how the stretching is "seamless" - it is not obvious what is old and what is new. Even the numbered plaques on the cabin doors have a consistent design (and all have the Royal Majesty insignia, a subtle tribute to the ship's history).
The Norwegian Majesty has nine passenger decks, numbered from 3 to 11. Decks 3 and 4 (Caribbean and Biscayne) consist primarily of cabins -- that was the case both pre-stretch and post-stretch. The ship’s infirmary continues to be situated on Deck 4, aft.
Deck 5 (Atlantic Deck) consists entirely of public spaces, both old and new. A large, outdoor observation deck and the Royal Fireworks Lounge (the smaller of the ship's two show lounges) are located on the forward-most section of the deck. This lounge, which seats 200, is the venue for the daily trivia contests and the comedy shows.
Just aft of the Royal Fireworks Lounge is the Rendezvous Lounge, a piano bar that spans the width of the ship. This area is divided into sections, including one reserved for non-smokers. This is a great place to unwind with a drink, especially by the large windows, but can become quite noisy as passengers enter and exit the adjacent show lounge.
Rounding out the forward part of the deck are the Boardroom (gorgeous wood desk, great room for journal-writing) and several gift shops (jewelry, logo shop, liquor store). As I head toward the central part of Deck 5, I notice that the former site of the photo shop now houses a library (small, but good selection) and Internet café (five stations, plus an additional four in the hallway).
Soon I find myself at Crossroads (seriously!), a circular-shaped marble lobby consisting of the Passenger Services desks surrounding a raised seating area. This area looked exactly as it had eight years earlier, with a couple of exceptions. Previously, a portion of the ceiling was open to the casino above, which made the lobby area seem taller and more impressive. During the stretching, the casino was relocated (more on that later) and this opening was covered with a geometric stained glass dome. Also gone was the stairway that connected Decks 5 and 6. These changes give Crossroads a somewhat classier look, but I still prefer the original design. Thankfully, the large windows on both the port and starboard sides have been retained -- a reminder that we are on a ship, and not a "floating hotel."
Continuing aft beyond Crossroads is the new midsection. On the port side is the Four Seasons Dining Room, the smaller of the two main dining rooms. The room seats just 260 and is long and narrow, offering a sea view to most of its occupants. The rich woods add to the intimacy of this room. We dined there one evening and thought it was fine, although perhaps a bit too narrow.
On the starboard side of the new midsection are LeBistro ( for alternative dining, with $10 cover) and a Coffee Bar, connected by a wonderful carpeted indoor promenade. (NCL wisely positioned the new dining room and galley extension on one side of the ship, allowing unimpeded access from bow to stern on the other side.) The indoor promenade quickly became my favorite area on the ship. There were plush chairs and loveseats by the large windows, and there were many cushioned window seats as well. The entire area was designated non-smoking, and I spent hours here enjoying tea and a good book while watching the sea go by. Some of this area existed pre-stretch, but the lengthening of the ship gave NCL the opportunity to extend it and I'm glad they did.
The Seven Seas Dining Room, located aft on Deck 5, was part of the ship’s original construction. Although it is large (seats 630), its bright color scheme and three walls of windows give the room an open feel. This is a great improvement over the dark, metallic hues of the Epicurean Restaurant, which occupied this same spot on the Royal Majesty. The Seven Seas does have a noticeable vibration, but I didn’t mind it too much.
Deck 6 (Majesty Deck) has undergone the most radical changes, and not for the better, in my opinion. The former casino has been replaced with cabins and a new casino is situated in the new midsection just aft of this area. Although the new casino is larger than the one it replaced, it lacks the spacious feeling of its predecessor. The original casino had a circular opening overlooking Crossroads (cleverly named The Winners Circle), while the new casino offers nothing out of the ordinary.
In the original aft section of the deck are the Polo Club Bar, the relocated photo shop (in the location formerly occupied by a gift shop), and the Palace Theatre. The Polo Club and Palace Theatre were just as I remembered other than some refurbishing. The Polo Club is a handsomely decorated room done in deep greens and maroons, but is very noisy due to its proximity to the casino. It was also very smoky on our cruise. The Palace Theatre is an "old-style" show lounge, with circular benches rather than theatre-style seating. Sit in the center section for relatively unobstructed views. The original forward part of this deck contains cabins.
Deck 7 (Promenade Deck) is virtually unchanged except for the addition of a dozen cabins in the new midsection. This deck also contains the spa, gym, beauty salon, disco, and more cabins, all in their original locations. Outside is one of my favorite ship features, a wrap-around promenade. However, as this space is also used as a jogging track, the promenade is a blue non-skid material rather than teak, much to my dismay. (At least the non-skid stuff was a light brown on the Royal Majesty.)
Decks 8 and 9 (Viking and Norway) have also seen minimal changes. Deck 8 consists solely of cabins, except for the bridge (forward, obviously) and large sunning area (aft). Deck 9 contains the two owner’s suites and 18 suites, plus many standard cabins. Many of the standard cabins on Decks 8 and 9 have views obstructed by lifeboats. The Royal Observatory Lounge is situated on the forward part Deck 9 and offers wonderful sea views from three sides. This was my favorite room on the Royal Majesty and it did not disappoint on my return visit, even though it is converted to an Italian restaurant in the evenings. At the stern is the children’s playroom, which we did not see, as our son did not come with us on this trip.
The general layout of Deck 10 (Sun Deck) is exactly as we remember, with the Café Royale buffet and indoor seating area forward and the pizzeria aft. The large, central swimming pool and two hot tubs also remain. The new additions on this deck are a second swimming pool and a second pool bar (which also sold cigars). One major - and greatly welcomed - change is the addition of shaded areas over the outer portions of the entire deck, thanks to the modification of Deck 11, described next. Still, one major shortcoming of this deck - then and now - is the lack of sunning areas by the pools. Most of the outdoor space is taken up by tables and chairs for dining, and even these are insufficient for the number of passengers using the buffet.
Deck 11 (Sky Deck) gained far more than just a midsection with the renovation. Pre-stretch, this deck consisted of just a small sunning area surrounding the foremast. Sky Deck was then extended all the way aft with a walkway overlooking the pools. Ideally, I would love to see this deck converted to a jogging track, and the Promenade Deck replaced with teak; however, this would eliminate a good portion of the sunning areas onboard the ship.
We had selected a Category G obstructed view stateroom on Viking Deck 8. (Note: NCL recategorized many staterooms effective with our sailing; this was previously a category HH.) We have chosen obstructed view staterooms on other ships, and have found it to be a great way to save some money while still getting some natural light into the cabin.
As the ship was built back when passengers actually spent little time in their cabins, we knew to expect tight quarters -- and that's exactly what we got. The total area of the cabin was 108 square feet, which included a 72-square-foot living/sleeping area (7½ by 9½), a 20-square-foot bath, and a 16-square-foot entry hall. Furnishings were rather sparse, but functional. Drawer space was limited to a small nightstand plus two additional drawers in the closet, but there was sufficient hanging space in the three-foot long closet. The closet also contained a small safe. The television sat on a shelf several feet above the foot of the bed. The bath was tiny, but again, functional, and included a small shower, hair dryer, and storage shelf. Though the cabin was on the small side, it was certainly fine for the two of us for two nights.
I had ample opportunity to check out other cabins prior to disembarkation. The Norwegian Majesty officially has 22 cabin categories, which essentially fall into six broad categories: standard inside, superior inside, standard oceanview, superior oceanview, suite, and owner's suite. Many cabins on Decks 8 and 9 (including some suites) have views either partially or fully obstructed by lifeboats.
Most of the standard inside and standard oceanview cabins were similar to our own cabin in terms of size and layout. The superior inside and superior oceanview cabins are much larger (approximately 145 square feet) and offer two small dressers instead of a single nightstand. Some of the superior oceanview cabins also have refrigerators. Next time, we will opt for a superior inside cabin rather than a standard oceanview. The extra space is well worth it.
The suites are actually extra-large cabins with a curtain separating the sleeping and sitting areas. These measure 235 square feet and come in two varieties. Most of the suites are on Deck 9 and feature a queen bed, sofabed, and a floor-to-ceiling bay window. Two additional suites are located on Deck 6 forward and have a larger sitting area and angled windows over the bow. Each of the suites has a marble bathroom and tub. I did not see either of the two owner's suites, but the NCL web site lists them at 374 square feet. As is typical of ships built in the early 1990s, the Norwegian Majesty does not offer cabins with private balconies.
I am a traditionalist when it comes to cruising, so I automatically dismissed Freestyle Dining as something I would not enjoy. Out of fairness, I decided to give it a shot, but I was reluctant to invest in a 7-night or longer cruise as part of this experiment. So, this two-night cruise seemed like the perfect opportunity.
To my surprise, there were many things I liked about Freestyle Dining. I enjoyed being able to try each of the main dining rooms for dinner. If time had permitted, we would have also tried the Italian restaurant in the Royal Observatory Lounge, which had no surcharge. I also enjoyed the fact that we didn't have to miss the sailaway in order to have dinner in the dining room, as we've had to do on other cruises. We were not on board long enough to make a fair assessment of dining room service, but we had a wonderful waiter (Luis) in the Seven Seas Dining Room our second evening, and could have requested to sit in his section for the remainder of the cruise had it been longer.
That said, I discovered two main drawbacks to Freestyle Dining. The first is that it is not always possible to "dine wherever, whenever, and with whomever you choose," as described in the NCL brochure. If you arrive at the dining room early (5:30 - 5:45), as we did the first evening, there seemed to be no problem. The second evening, we requested a table for two in the Four Seasons dining room at 6:00, and could not be accommodated. Fortunately, it was still early enough to get a private table in the Seven Seas dining room, but it wasn't our first choice. When we left the Four Seasons dining room at about 7:15 that evening, there was a long line of people waiting to get in, and many had been waiting for some time for any table.
The second drawback is that it is necessary to keep an eye on the clock if you do not want to miss the evening entertainment. With traditional dining, everything is spaced for you -- have dinner, go to the show, no worries. Under the Freestyle system, dinner can be any time, so you need to do some planning. And, as mentioned above, dinner may be delayed, throwing off the entire evening. The key is to remain flexible.
Freestyle Cruising is not limited to dining. Freestyle also means automatic gratuities and "resort casual" attire on formal nights, and I am not a fan of either. However, this will not make or break a cruise for me. Although my preference remains strongly toward the traditional, I would certainly not rule out a Freestyle cruise in the future.
Stretching A Ship
The Norwegian Majesty is far from being the first cruise ship to be stretched to accommodate a growing number of passengers. (Most ship historians attribute that honor to Royal Caribbean's Song of Norway in 1978.) She isn't even the first ship to be lengthened by NCL. (The Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Wind were stretched in 1998.) The main reason for stretching a ship is simple -- it is far more cost effective for a cruise line to surgically lengthen an existing ship than to build a brand new one.The truth is that when I heard that the Norwegian Majesty was to be stretched, I was less than pleased. I have an overwhelming preference for smaller ships, and there were already too few of these that were in my price range that also catered to families. Also, the stretching of the Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Wind created some very awkward areas and eliminated some of the more interesting spots, and I was fearful that the same fate awaited the Majesty.
What Do I Think?
While I do not agree with all the changes that were made, I do believe the Norwegian Majesty is a better ship now than previously. The outdoor decks, while not perfect, are greatly improved with the extension of Sky Deck. The expanded sitting area on Deck 5 is absolutely magnificent. She even rides better, if that can be judged from the windy sea day we experienced. And she is still small enough so that passengers can get to know the crew and other passengers, yet large enough to offer a variety of public spaces and activities.
Most importantly, in my opinion, is that she still feels like a ship and not a crowded hotel at sea. NCL seems to be taking good care of her, and I hope we have many more opportunities to return to the Norwegian Majesty.
Lisa Plotnick, a writer who lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Neil, and young son, has written many SeaLetter Cruise Magazine articles, cruise ship reviews and book reviews. Lisa is a fan of the classic liners, unfortunately a dying breed in the early 21st century. The Plotnicks have cruised once or twice a year for the past twelve years and have been on most of the major cruise lines as well as several lesser-known lines.
Lisa is a SeaLetter Columnist and also assists in the management of the SeaLetter Cruise Forum. She may be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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