Norwegian’s The Haven Makes Cruising Tolerable (Travelogue)

Trip Reports

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.

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10 comments on “Norwegian’s The Haven Makes Cruising Tolerable (Travelogue)

  1. I took a few post covid cruises in the past 18 months. Early on, with limited capacity, cruising was pretty fantastic and the price was also low (and a few Amex offers also helped). However, you do risk getting covid on board and being put in “covid jail” onboard.
    Lately, as covid is behind us, ships are fully packed while cruise companies are cutting service everywhere. My latest trip 2 weeks ago was a bit disappointing. Looking forward to read about your experience in Haven to see if I should opt for these type of room in the future.

  2. The key to embarkation with no wait is to wait and start your check-in until between 30 minutes and an hour before the cut-off time. Everyone always shows up early to try and get right on the ship, but their are lines, even if you have a time. If you wait until the end of the boarding times, there will be very few people trying to get on then. This is how we always board a cruise now. You will lose a few hours of ship time at the beginning, but have five more days, so it isn’t a big deal.

    Also, repositioning cruises aren’t necessarily cheap because they don’t stop anywhere interesting, as a lot of them do, It is more because of the logistics being a pain for the passengers leaving from one place and arriving in another.

    1. Thanks for the tip on boarding late. For us, it was a Sunday and we’d either be sitting around at home or on the ship. Figured we’d try to get our one sunny day.

      As for repositioning cruises being cheap because they don’t start and end in the same place… then why is Alaska so expensive? There are a ton of cruises that go from Seward/Whittier to Vancouver (or vice versa). Those are more complicated logistically than a repositioning cuirse but they are far more expensive.

      1. Not sure that I agree with you on the Alaska cruise part. I just looked for this summer. On Princess, the one-way fares are around 60% of the r/t fares from SEA or Vancouver. Also, on NCL, they are cheaper also. I didn’t check the other lines. Make sure that your one-way fares don’t include a tour while in Alaska. I know that Princess usually promotes their’s as such.

        1. He’s talking about Haven. NCL holds FIRM on their Haven rates – if/when available, Haven is at least $5,000 to $12,000 PER PERSON for Alaska cruises.

  3. My wife and I have taken several cruises on Viking (ocean, not rivers).

    They are expensive and don’t allow kids so it’s not for everyone, but MAN are they nice. The ship is big enough (900 pax) to feel like a real cruise ship and it has lots of nice amenities, but it doesn’t have the crowded feel of these others.

    If you can swing the price, you’ll never go back.

  4. I just took the Discovery Princess out of LA and wanted to echo what Brett saw from other friends: people ignore their times and just show up whenever they feel like. Most people seem to think you can get on the boat at 11AM and go straight to your cabin – sadly that’s not always the case.

    Friends showed up at 11AM and it took them about an hour to get onboard.

    I showed up at 1PM-ish and had NO waits anywhere except for getting in the 1st tent for security – there were some foreigners having language issues with the 1st security guard and was holding up the line for a while. I think it took me only 10 minutes to get onboard.

    I snagged a mini-suite on Discovery and love the fact the room is SSSOOO big compared to other lines. Balcony wasn’t all that, but it was a bit too chilly to be out there. The pools were heated, and we found the Sanctuary to be relaxing (like Haven, put its a pay-as-you-go thing – we got 2 cabanas and spent most of our time there).

    I’d do the repo coastal cruise again, we had fun on Princess – felt more like an unofficial booze cruise now that Princess is following NCL’s lead with the packaging.

  5. Living 20 mins from The Cruise Capital of the World, Port Miami, and sailing on RCL or Celebrity countless times, embarking and disembarking is flat out a breeze. The Parking garage attached to Terminal A might be a little steep $ wise however from your car to the gangway is normally a 15 min process. It helps too when you are using a brand spanking new facility designed for RCL’s behemoths.

  6. We’re staying in the Haven in November 2023 on a Mediterranean cruise. I want to hear the rest of your story. ?

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