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Norwegian Viva Mediterranean Cruise Blog – Day 1 – Boarding in Athens

After two and a half days in Athens, it was finally time to board Norwegian’s newest cruise ship, the Viva. Athens really set the bar high, and the group was looking forward to the next ten days. Also, for three of the people in the group, it was their first time ever on a cruise ship, so I was excited to see what they’d think of the cruise experience. 

Norwegian Viva Mediterranean Cruise Day 1 Overview

Getting to Piraeus Port of Athens 

Getting to the port from the tourist district in Athens was really simple. With Norwegian, you select your arrival time when you check in (21 days before the cruise for standard cabins). I selected noon since we had two days in Athens and already had a good chance to explore the city, but many other passengers picked early afternoon slots to explore more before boarding. 

Our checkout from Downtown Suites in Athens was at 11 AM so at that time, we headed down and checked out at the front desk. We asked the best way to get to the cruise port, and he said to use Uber, which was great since we all had the app on our phones already. The five of us needed two Ubers (primarily because of luggage). Even though it was hectic downtown at that hour, it only took 10 minutes for an Uber to arrive, and the drive took 25 minutes. The cost was 22 euros, so quite affordable when split 2 or 3 ways. 

Tip: Athens uses the Uber app, which ties directly into their local taxi system. It’s an easy way to get around. The metro will also take you to the port, but Piraeus Port is relatively large, and the metro stop isn’t near the cruise ship terminals so be prepared to walk. 

Boarding the Norwegian Viva at Piraeus Port of Athens

We arrived at Piraeus Port around noon. Before we left, Norwegian sent us a text saying our ship was at Cruise Terminal C. As we drove over, I wondered how chaotic the cruise terminal would be. Unlike many Caribbean itineraries, the Viva’s summer Mediterranean sailings aren’t the same week after week. In fact, almost every cruise is different making logistics more difficult. For example, most ships leave out of the same port every week, allowing cruise lines to streamline the experience over many months. Ports like Miami and Fort Lauderdale have been optimized with vast banks of security screening and plenty of sitting areas. For the Viva sailings, though, many cruises start out of smaller ports that don’t have the same facilities. Because of that, I was ready for a long and frustrating boarding process; thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. 

Our taxi pulled up at noon, and we glimpsed the beautiful Viva sitting in the dock waiting for us to board. Like its sister ship, the Prima, the hull is painted with beautiful wavey blue artwork. It’s more subtle and higher-class than Norwegian’s older ships, something that echoed throughout the entire ship. 

The first check-in time was 11 AM, and we arrived at noon. We walked over to a white tent, where it took 5 minutes to drop off our luggage. Because we printed our tags ahead of time, we were able to drop off our bags and walk to the next step rather than wait for porters to write out our information. 

Tip: Print out your luggage tags to save time. You can access them by downloading the PDF of your boarding pass and clicking a link there to get them. I have no idea why Norwegian doesn’t include them in the regular boarding pass like every other cruise line; many guests didn’t see the small print showing they had passes to print. If you don’t want to bring a mini-stapler, you can pick up these sleeves from Amazon to attach them to your luggage. 

Athens doesn’t have a huge cruise terminal building, so once we dropped off our bags, we were ushered into an air-conditioned tent while we waited. The tent was sizeable and could easily hold a few hundred people. The attendants worked hard directing people where to go and keeping things orderly. After about 15 minutes, the attendants asked us to stand up and leave the tent. “Not so bad,” I thought until I rounded the corner and entered the security room to see the line wrapping around the inside of the cavernous building. 

This wait was for the security line, and it went very slow. Security for cruise ships is much like TSA security, where your carry-on bags are screened through an X-ray machine, and you walk through a metal detector. This part had to be the most frustrating. It took 20 minutes, not because the staff was slow, but because many people didn’t seem to know how to go through a metal detector. Someone would walk through the detector, it would beep, and they’d go, “Oh, I have to take my phone out of my pocket?” Then they’d have to put the phone in the x-ray machine and walk through again. 

Once we finished security, we walked up to the desk to get our room keys. Unlike other cruise lines, which have switched to leaving your card at your cabin door to reduce check-in time, Norwegian prints up your card and hands it to you as you board. It didn’t take much longer than the Royal Caribbean or Carnival check-in process. 

Finally, we had our cards in hand, and it was time to board. Overall, it took 52 minutes. It didn’t seem very long because we were constantly moving, but it’s easily two or three times longer than cruises I’ve done out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. 

This moment is the part I love when traveling with new cruisers, watching them first step foot onto a massive cruise ship, having all of their preconceptions about cruising quickly fade away. It was also our last chance to bail before we could see if our vacation styles would mesh or if we’d be ready to kill each other after ten days together. 

Norwegian Viva Freestyle Daily

Exploring the Norwegian Viva 

The Viva is the newest ship in the Norwegian fleet, having sailed for just under a year. It’s the second in the Prima-class and nearly identical to its sister ship, the Prima. This class of ship is highly polarizing among Norwegian cruisers, but I had a chance to sail on the Prima earlier the previous year and really thought this ship would be perfect for this specific group (follow along on that sailing here).

Because Athens doesn’t have bridge walkways, you don’t board the ship at the Atrium like you do at other ports. Instead, you walk on at Deck 4 through a gangway, like is often done when you visit your destinations. Unfortunately, it’s an anti-climatic start to the ship. We entered through the industrial-looking bowels of the ship and waited in line for an elevator. There’s no “wow” moment like you might have when you walk into a vast central atrium and nothing that visually wows you. It’s so odd that cruise lines don’t prioritize making this space more functional and branded.

As we scanned our cards with security, they told us to “go to your muster station.” For the three new cruisers in the group, that meant nothing. The crew didn’t bother explaining how to do that. We walked up the stairs to Deck 6 and the staff said the same thing but provided a bit more assistance, “you three go to Sid Norman’s; you two are on the Penrose Atrium Deck 8.” Those directions were fine for me because I knew the ship’s layout, but to the new cruisers, the staff might as well have been speaking Greek. While it’s good they’re directing people to do it as soon as they get on board, they need to communicate better for new cruisers. 

We took the stairs up to Deck 6 and walked into what was supposed to be the main entrance for the ship, for most ports, the Penrose Atrium. The 3-story space is the heart of the ship with live music, shops, stores, a bar, Starbucks, and casino access. The space’s striking design prepares guests for the elevated experience of the Viva. Smooth curves, lots of cove lighting, and a sparking ceiling covered in unique lights create an otherworldly effect, with the space having an almost organic feeling. It’s different from what you’d see on virtually any other cruise ship (except the Prima, which is nearly identical).   

The whole ship felt elevated, with high-end finishes and art everywhere (including a multi-million dollar sculpture walk on the exterior promenade. Honestly, it was probably much classier than the five of us deserved. It’d definitely set the bar high if my friends think of taking future cruises on other ships. 

Specialty Dining Reservations in the Viva Theater

Right after we checked in at our Muster Stations, we went to the Viva Theater to book our specialty dining. When we booked our cabins, we received the Free at Sea package, which gave us two free dinners at a specialty dining venue. Before our sailing, we also upgraded and purchased two more dinners each for $70 per person, which meant we had four reservations to book. 

Guests can make reservations ahead of time in the NCL app or website. For most guests, these will open 90 days before sailing. Unfortunately, all the good times were taken quickly, and by the time we went to book, only 5:30 and 8:30 were available. Thankfully, Norwegian only opens a small portion of reservations for pre-booking (anecdotally, we’ve heard 20-30% of reservations are available pre-cruise, according to customer service). 

Tip: If you want specialty dining, book when you board. On Prima-class ships, that’s usually in the theater, but any staff member can tell you where it is. It’s reported that only 20-30% of reservations are open to book before you cruise the ship.

We walked into the theater, where a team awaited us to help book dining and entertainment restaurants. We immediately sat down, and a friendly hostess helped us decide where to eat and when. In just a few minutes, we booked three of our dinners. We decided to wait to see how we wanted to use our fourth meal. 

Since we already pre-booked our entertainment (it opened at check-in), everything was now done. We were officially on the cruise and could relax. As we left the theater, everyone in the group commented that they’d have no idea they had to go to the theater to make reservations if I hadn’t told them. We later found out we could use the kiosks in the elevator lobbies to make a reservation as well, but it was not available in the NCL app. 

Lunch at Indulge Food Hall

By the time we were set with our reservations, it was about 1 PM, so of course, it was time for food. While most people run to the buffet, I knew better than that. To me, the buffet on the boarding day of the cruise often resembles one of the nine circles of Hell. People are confused about where to go, bumping into each other constantly. They also carry their backpacks and bags since rooms are unavailable, making navigating difficult. 

Tip: On boarding day, always look for what food options are open. While the main buffet is always open for lunch on boarding day, many ships also offer alternate, smaller venues with no waits and a much more relaxed experience. The easiest way to know what’s available is to use the app once you connect to the ship’s wifi or ask a crew member. 

I knew exactly where I wanted to go: Indulge Food Hall. This food concept is new to the Prima-class and has proven to be very popular. Personally, I love it. The area has ten different food stations that serve small bites, everything from Indian to BBQ. You use an electronic tablet to place an order, and the food is brought out to you.

Indulge Food Hall Layout

Getting to Indulge Food Hall is a bit confusing. This venue takes up a large portion of the aft of Deck 8, but the only way to get to it from inside the Viva is to walk through The Local Bar. There’s no signage indicating this; you just have to learn that’s where it is. It’s a very poor ship design, and we’d encounter similar issues several other times on the sailing. 

Indulge has two sections: indoors and outdoors. The inside is decorated with large, faux food trucks and fake greenery. You can choose from a variety of seating options, like bar seating, standard tables, and booths. The outside has couches and tables that overlook the water. It’s a beautiful space that encourages you to explore the area and socialize. It proved very popular with our group. 

Indulge Food Hall Food

We found a round, booth-style table outside to enjoy the beautiful weather while waiting. We ordered several plates, including Topotos, my favorite dish from when I was on the Prima. I’ve been waiting for it since that sailing. 

Each dish comes out as soon as it’s ready; the first dish came in about 3 minutes, and the last in 7 minutes. That was the longest we ever waited for food in Indulge the whole cruise. I’ve heard people complain about how long food took, but I used a timer each and every time I ordered and was impressed by how quickly it came. 

It was also delicious. It didn’t taste like it had been sitting under a heat lamp for hours or was just microwaved quickly before serving. You won’t find heavy, fried foods here, but a lot of bright, fresh dishes that are tasty and different from buffet fare. In fact, later on in the cruise, the Caesar salad connoisseur in our group said the Caesar salad here was better than the salad at the extra-fee restaurant Cagney’s and was one of the best on the ship. 

Cocktails at the Soleil Bar

Even though cocktails show up on the Indulge Food Hall tablets, you’re not supposed to order from there; you’re supposed to get it from one of the waiters or the bar itself. We went to the nearby Soleil Bar, which services the outdoor Indulge Area. We were the only guests there at that point, and the friendly bartender was ready to help us out. All of us opted for the Free at Sea Unlimited Open Bar package, so it was time to put that to the test.

Since the Soleil Bar is only meant to service the outside area, it has a smaller selection of hard liquors available. The drink menu there is pretty small, consisting of a few standard cocktails and some they have “on tap” as part of a partnership with Liquid Kitchen. While some people roll their eyes at the thought of a pre-made cocktail, most were actually quite good and saved the bartenders a considerable amount of time. My favorite was the Smoked Peach Margarita. The bar also had a bunch of other taps available, but disappointingly, none of them worked for the entire cruise. Because of that, the beer selection was pretty basic and much less than we expected. 

Infinity Pools on Ocean Boulevard

The Viva has a wrap-around exterior promenade deck on Deck 8 called Ocean Boulevard. It ended up being one of my favorite places on the ship. The deck was filled with comfy seating, a bar, two infinity pools, restaurant seating, and an art walk. Most guests were still up at the buffet and main pool area, so we decided to take a dip in the Infinity Pools while they were still empty. 

Tip: Wear your bathing suit on board or bring it in your carry-on bag. Most people pack their bathing suits in their checked luggage which won’t arrive until later in the day. That means it’s the least crowded you’ll ever find the pools. 

We went to the bathroom, changed into our bathing suits, and got into the infinity pools. The water was cool and refreshing, and the pool felt surprisingly large once inside it. The water was deep, too, although the water level drops when the ship is at sea. A ledge surrounds the pool, allowing people to put their feet in the water. I loved the effect of the water cascading over the edge. 

Checking Out Our Ocean Balcony Cabin on the Norwegian Viva

At 2:06, the cruise director announced that our cabins were available. We got out of the pool and went from Ocean Boulevard to Deck 15. The elevators were slow on day 1, but that was to be expected; the wait time for elevators was much more manageable for the rest of the cruise. 

I originally booked an interior cabin because of the high cost of the cruise and airfare. About three months before sailing, the prices dropped considerably, so I called Norwegian and could upgrade to a “guaranteed balcony” cabin for $750, less than half of what it would have cost if I did it at the original booking. A month before the cruise, we were assigned cabin 15704; at that time, I thought it wasn’t a bad location (that story will change when you read by Day 2 blog). 

Our cabin was near the end of the corridor, so we got to appreciate the size and decor of the hallways. Even with some luggage out, it was easy to walk down the hall and I loved the arrows which indicated which way was forward on the ship. 

I held my Norwegian card up to the reader and opened the door. The lights blinked on, washing the contemporary room with bright white light. The cabin had a modern feel. If you’ve been on a Norwegian cruise ship before, you’ll find the cabins on the Viva to be much larger than before. The Viva balcony cabins are 20 – 35% larger than those on the Breakaway, and the balcony is 50% larger. The new cabins are also larger than the standard balcony cabins on Norwegian’s competitors’ latest ships. They’re 28% larger than the Wonder of the Seas and 15% larger than Mardi Gras.

You can tell the ship is new by the sheer amount of ports and outlets available. Each desk lamp on the side of the bed had USB-C and standard USB connections. In addition, we had outlets under the mirror by the vanity and another set on the side.

The bathroom was equally impressive. The showers here rivaled the size of a stall shower at home, much bigger than most standard cabins on other ships. 

You can see the thought they put into everything in the cabin, from the hair dryer holster on the vanity to the closets that lit up from the inside. I did miss one touch from newer ships: the “always on” light in the bathroom that helps in the middle of the night. Luckily, my handy magnetic motion-activated night light would serve the same purpose. 

Pre-dinner Cocktails at Metropolitan Bar

After some time on our own to unpack and relax, we decided to meet at 7:30 at the Metropolitan Bar for pre-dinner drinks. Located on Deck 7, this bar is used for trivia and meetups during the day and live music and pre-dinner drinks at night. 

The Metropolitan Bar wasn’t my favorite onboard the Viva. The bar is basically in a corridor between two parts of the ship, with no walls or borders from the main walkway. During the day, it resembled an airport lounge, with everything washed in bland white light. They’d turn down the lights at night to give it a more intimate feel, but it still doesn’t fit in with the rest of Viva. That’s because the venue wasn’t designed by the same company that worked on the rest of the ship, Studio Dado, which explains the fragmented feeling. 

The Metropolitan Bar’s main concept is its menu, which offers sustainable cocktails. For example, they offered a croissant mai tai with syrups made from discarded fruit and pastries. While the menu was supposed to be unique, at least half of the drinks on the menu can be found at other bars around the ship.

For some reason, the menu here is an electronic tablet/iPad, but you can’t use it to order. You can flip through the offerings but you order from the bartender or waiter. The electronic menus would make sense if the menu changed often, but it was literally the exact same menu I saw on the Prima a year and a half earlier. 

While we sipped on our cocktails, we listened to a husband and wife musician duo, David and Stephanie, who were performing in the middle of a set of circular couches.  When they built the Metropolitan Bar, they didn’t put in any stage or performance area, so the musicians stand awkwardly between furniture and right off the main concourse. It’s really poor planning and disrespectful to the talented performers. It’s one of the design oversights that any veteran cruiser would have spotted during the early planning stages. I don’t know who headed up the Prima and Viva’s development at Norwegian Headquarters, but they should be fired for many of the choices made on this ship. 

Dinner in Hudson’s Dining Room

The Viva has two included main dining rooms, Hudson’s and the Commodore Room. Both venues have identical menus, with half of the offerings rotating each night of the sailing. The main difference is the ambiance; Hudson’s has vast, floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows offering stunning views from the aft of the ship, while the Commodore Room is a more traditional cruise ship dining room with port holes providing some natural lighting. 

On my previous sailing on the Prima, we could enter a virtual queue to get onto the wait for either main dining room. They discontinued that practice; instead, every party would check in at the front. If there were a wait, they would get a pager to notify them when their table was ready, much like a restaurant at home. Reservations for the main dining rooms were only available for parties of 10 or more.  

It was 7:30, and after about a 5-minute wait for a party of 5, the hostess called our name and showed us to our table in the middle of the dining room. The gold chandeliers sparkled in the sunlight, and the panoramic windows gave us impressive views of the ship’s aft. The ship wasn’t scheduled to leave until 8 PM that night, so we had a view of the port as dinner started. 

The food was good, on par, if not better, than other mainstream cruise lines’ main dining options. Portions were quite a bit larger than Carnival and Royal Caribbean’s, but not so much that you were overly full (they save that for the specialty restaurants). The first day was such a whirlwind that I didn’t make a note of what I had or take a picture of the menu, but everyone was generally impressed with the quality of the food. 

Service, on the other hand, was lacking. It was below what I’ve come to expect from a main dining room experience, especially on Norwegian. The waiters didn’t seem to know who was handling which table or what was happening. Several in our group ordered specific wines for dinner only to have other wines delivered to the table. I ordered a Diet Coke twice and it never arrived. Food service was slow and the meal took two hours. At the end, we had to ask to get our cards back. 

Oddly, at dinner, our waiter put a comment card in front of everyone. They said they needed feedback because they’re the newest ship. It was odd because it wasn’t a “guest feedback” card where guests rated the service. Instead, they were cards for exemplary service. On recent investor calls, CEO Harry Sommer kept claiming that despite service cutbacks, guest satisfaction is high; perhaps this is how they’re doing it, inflating scores. 

“I’m going to freak out when the ship starts moving”

As I mentioned, our group had three people who had never cruised. Two of the people in our group were concerned with how they would feel when the ship started moving. They were apprehensive about the rocking and the feeling of losing land as the ship sailed into the gorgeous Mediterranean waters. 

As we were at dinner, three of us at the table noticed we started moving. We kept quiet, and two in our group talked about their fears. “I’m going to freak out when the ship starts moving,” one exclaimed. We kept looking at each other as the Viva sailed further out to sea, wondering when they would notice and trying to contain our laughter.

After more than five minutes, they finally looked out the window and realized that the ship was indeed moving, and thankfully, they didn’t freak out. Motion sickness is a widespread fear among new cruisers. Luckily, modern cruise ships provide an incredibly smooth sailing experience in most weather. Throughout the 10-day cruise, we rarely felt the rock of the seas.

Games in Viva’s Observation Lounge

None of the onboard entertainment appealed to us on the first night, so after dinner, we decided to play some board games in the Observation Lounge. Located at the front of Deck 17, the Observation Lounge offers stunning panoramic views from the front of the ship. Unlike the Breakaway Plus-class ships, this Observation Lounge is just one deck tall, so it feels a bit more cozy than its predecessors’ lounges. 

The Observation Lounge has the same sophisticated, upscale feeling we experience in other parts of the Viva. It’s filled with dark woods and neutral tones. The inner walls are lined with knick-knacks to evoke an upscale living room. A variety of seating options are arranged throughout the space, from couches and chaise loungers to comfy chairs and cafe tables. 

On a previous sailing on the Prima, I loved the Observation Lounge, but I had never been there at night. It takes on a much different vibe, being more intimate and subdued. Only a handful of other guests were in the area. It was odd that there was no piano or live music in this space, making it mostly wasted at night while everyone else was crammed in the lower decks in venues that were too small.

After a few rounds of a card game, we headed to bed to prepare for our next day in Santorini. Overall, though, it was a very successful start to our adventure.

Follow along on our Mediterranean Adventure

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Pre-cruise – Athens

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 1 – Athens

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 2 – Santorini

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 3 – Kusadasi

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 4 – Istanbul

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 5 – Mykonos

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 6 – Sea Day (coming soon)

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 7 – Messina (coming soon)

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 8 – Naples (coming soon)

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 9 – Florence (coming soon)

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 10 – Nice (coming soon)

Norwegian Viva – Cruise Blog - Day 11 – Rome (coming soon)

5 Hits and Misses on Norwegian Viva (coming soon)

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Randy Young

Randy Young is the founder and editor-in-chief at Cruise Spotlight. He has been in marketing for 20 years and has been cruising for just as long. Over the years, he's worked with products like TVs, copiers, light bulbs, and EV chargers, but cruising has always been his passion. There's nothing Randy likes more than the first couple of hours on a ship, exploring every nook and cranny and seeing how it's different from everything else out there. He's known for providing detailed and analytical coverage of cruising to help cruisers get a comprehensive picture of a ship's offerings.