I mentioned in my recent WestJet trip report that we went with a strange spring break choice this year. After looking around at options, we settled on a cold weather West Coast cruise from LA up to Vancouver. I don’t love cruising, but the family liked this plan, and I do love Vancouver, so I was up for it. I’ve now been on four cruises in my life, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that taking this last trip in The Haven on Norwegian made for a completely different experience… I almost liked it.
I’ll be splitting this up into three different posts, and I’ll sprinkle them in over the next month or so.
- Norwegian’s The Haven Makes Cruising Tolerable
- Breaking Down What Norwegian’s The Haven is Like
- Getting Underway On Our Cruise and Visiting Canada
Cruising trends have gone in two ways over the years. On the one hand, there’s the small ship experience which is something I’ve yet to try. Companies like Hurtigruten and Lindblad (among many, many others) create these excursions which are low on amenities and high on experience outside the ship, but they tend to be expensive. I think this is the kind of cruising I’d really like.
At the opposite end are the mega-ships which seem to get bigger and bigger all the time with upwards of 6,000 people at the high end. These are floating cities which have an increasingly ridiculous list of attractions to keep people entertained. If you’ve ever seen WALL-E, consider these the missing link to the future Buy-n-Large starship Axiom.
Though Royal Caribbean is the king of massive ships, Norwegian has its own slightly smaller versions, including the Bliss which can hold a mere 4,000. It has 20 decks with amenities ranging from the usual pools, casinos, and bars all the way to broadway shows, a go-kart race track, mini-golf, water slides, and laser tag.
We actually took the Bliss back in 2018 on an Alaska cruise, and I found it overwhelming. Being in a cold-weather environment means that all the outdoor space is virtually abandoned. It pushes more people into the already bustling indoor spaces, and the end result is a cacophony of noise, lights, and people.
The cruise we were eyeing is what they call a repositioning cruise. The Bliss was doing Mexico sailings through the winter, and it was set to move up to Alaska for the summer season. Instead of just ferrying the ship empty, they create a cruise to bridge LA and the Pacific Northwest and squeeze a little more money out in the meantime. The best part about a repositioning cruise is that they’re pretty cheap since the itineraries are not usually very interesting.
The itinerary was very strange. It was billed as a 5-night cruise, but really it should have been far less than that. We would leave on a Sunday afternoon and then push north for two full days and three nights, arriving in Victoria on Wednesday morning. After 12 hours in Victoria, we would then take 24 hours to sail the short distance to Vancouver where we’d spend the night on the ship in port before disembarking the following morning.
With that background, it may seem strange that I even suggested taking another cruise over spring break, and on the Bliss at that. But we would do it differently this time, and I’ll admit I was curious, even if not entirely sold on the idea.
Norwegian realizes that these huge ships can be overwhelming, so they created something called The Haven which is effectively a “ship-within-a-ship” plan. The Haven is made up of suites that cost more but come with amenities that nobody else on the ship can access. On this cruise, it averaged out to $1,500 a person which was a bargain compared to what you’d pay on an Alaska cruise. It turns out that it was worth every penny and more.
We started embarkation day by heading to the Port of LA in San Pedro, only about 15 minutes from my home. If you’ve ever watched The Love Boat, this is where the Pacific Princess departed from back then, and it doesn’t look much different. That’s a problem, because these ships are much bigger than the Pacific Princess, and the security procedure… well, it now exists. Think of the worst airport experience, and then imagine this a step below that.
There are big tents set up out front with snaking lines leading into metal detectors. Being in The Haven, we figured there was probably a priority line but nothing was marked. After giving our bags to the equivalent of a skycap (who made a point of telling us tips were optional, meaning… give me a tip), we went to ask someone where to go. The person looked at us and barked “Haven?” We said yes, and she escorted us to a different line inside the tent… where we waited for probably another 20 minutes.
Eventually our documents were checked and we went through the security screening. On the other side we found a woman standing there looking for Haven guests. She told us to stand to the side while she hunted down others and then she’d escort us.
The terminal was teeming with people strewn all over. There were dozens of lines for people depending upon where you were on the ship and if you were affiliated with any groups. (Keep in mind, they assign you a boarding time over a several hour period before you get to the ship, so this should be more manageable.)
We were eventually taken to a queue lined with velvet ropes, so we knew we were cool. The agent took us right away and got us checked in after some effort. We were handed our keycards and then introduced to our onboard concierge, Gian. He was looking a little bent out of shape. Apparently the Coast Guard had surprised them with an inspection, so we weren’t able to board. He told us to take a seat with other Haven guests, but there was no place to sit.
We found a place to stand quietly and that’s when I saw the name of this place.
So this must be where JFK sent all of the rats when they knocked down their own Worldport. It was a grim scene.
Norwegian did its best by putting out some appetizers and tea and coffee, but everyone was just stuck. My daughter was tired of standing, so she took things into her own hands.
Eventually the ship was cleared, and they began escorting us in small groups up the gangway and into the ship. I’ll get to that next time.