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Norwegian Viva Mediterranean Cruise Blog – Day 3 – Kusadasi

On day 3 of our 10-day Mediterranean cruise, the Norwegian Viva arrived in Kusadasi, Turkey. We had a half day to explore the port before returning to explore the ship’s activities and attractions.

Norwegian Viva Mediterranean Cruise Day 3 Overview

Norwegian Viva Freestyle Daily – Day 3

Breakfast in Viva’s Surfside Cafe

Because we had an early start this morning, the only place that was open for breakfast before we left was the Surfside Cafe, the main buffet located on Deck 17. The buffet is another one of the poor design choices Norwegian made when building the ship. Norwegian chose to downsize the space from other ships, so it only has seating for 6% of the guests on board. That’s an astounding 70% fewer people than the Norwegian Encore. Compounding the problem, they made the really poor decision of having a main walkway in the ship go through the buffet, right next to the food. It ends up clogging the walkways and makes getting food harder. 

The space is beautiful, though, with floor-to-ceiling windows, but the lack of seating meant we only ate in there once during our cruise. Luckily, we grabbed our food every other time and walked down the hallway to the nearby Food Republic or Palomar to eat there. It was much quieter and more peaceful. The only downside was it was a pain if you wanted more food, as it was a bit of a walk. 

Tip: Don’t waste time looking for a table in the buffet. For breakfast and lunch, Food Republic and the outside area of Palomar have seating available. 

The food was quite good, with made-to-order omelets, scrambled eggs, pancakes, french toast, and cereal. It was nice to see they offer plenty of bacon every day, something Carnival still refuses to do, but a few things were missing. Norwegian used to have the best crispy, round hashbrowns, but they got rid of them as a cost-cutting measure. The fruit, pastry, and cold cut sections were also lacking compared to cruise lines like Royal Caribbean. It was still a good breakfast, though, and prepared me for the day ahead.

Arriving in Kusadasi, Turkey

The cruise terminal in Kusadasi is conveniently located right next to the city; it’s not a long drive like many other Mediterranean ports. For many guests on board, it was their first time visiting Asia. It was also our shortest port of the cruise, with the Viva only being in port from 6:30 AM to 12:30 PM. The main attraction is the ruins of Ephesus, located a short drive from the port. 

Private Ephesus Tour Experience

While Ephesus is the main attraction, there aren’t any buses or trains that take you there. The best way to see it is to book a tour. For this port, Norwegian didn’t put any excursions up until about three weeks before the cruise. Because we weren’t willing to wait for NCL to figure out what they were doing, we booked a third-party excursion. 

We used Viator to book “SKIP THE LINES: Best Seller Ephesus PRIVATE TOUR For Cruise Guests.” For us, it wasn’t about “skipping the line,” that’s just marketing speak for “we get your tickets.” On our stops, it would have been of little value as there weren’t many lines at the place. Instead, we were focused on a knowledgeable tour guide, comfy transportation, and a private experience. The tour was one of the cheapest on Viator for a private tour, but that’s because they didn’t include the 40 euro per person admission to Ephesus; for that, we’d pay the driver. It was clearly noted in all the documentation though and was still a good deal.

Tip: Third-party excursions aren’t always about saving money. While they can be cheaper, that’s not always the case. Another reason to look at sites like Viator is that they can offer unique or more exclusive experiences. For this tour, it was just the 5 of us, compared to the 50 people on a cruise ship tour. The risk, though, is that you don’t make it back. If you book through a cruise line, you’re guaranteed that the ship won’t leave without you. If you’re on your own, you take the risk, although many companies also offer a guarantee and will reimburse expenses if something goes wrong. 

Our tour guide used WhatsApp to schedule our meeting for 7:00 AM at the end of the port. We walked off the ship and through the small port area filled with shops. At the end, there was a board where they’d put up private tour signs with the people’s name on it, making it easy to find your guide.

Within a few minutes, we found our guide and were on our way. We got in an air-conditioned private van and started driving towards Ephesus, about a 20-minute drive from the port. Since we were off the ship so early and beat the port crowds, we actually had time to fill before Ephesus opened (8 AM). Because of that, our tour guide took us to a carpet-making facility. 

The Notorious Turkish Carpet School in Kusadasi

If you’ve read about Kusadasi, you know this is a notorious part of every excursion in Ephesus, a stop at Turkman Carpet. Here, you learn how they make hand-woven Turkish rugs and give you a Turkish coffee. Really, it was less of an educational experience and more of a sales pitch. Since we were early, the five of us were the only ones there. A gentleman walked us through the process, having the women working there demonstrate the art of making carpets; it was clear those women were not excited to be part of the demonstration. 

Then, after that, we sat on our couch to have our coffee while vendors rolled out carpet after carpet in front of us. There’s no arguing that the carpets were beautiful, some even changing color before our eyes, but who goes on vacation and buys a $700+ carpet without knowing how it’d fit in their room.

“What’s your favorite color?” the man asked a woman in our group, and then he proceeded to show her every carpet in that color. The choices were overwhelming, and the facility had a labyrinth of rooms filled with different options. At one point, someone in our group was shown something in a different room, and we quickly had to go find her before she ended up buying 3 different carpets. Our tour guide told us to tell him when we were done, so we did. He quickly signaled that we were not buying, and then we headed on to Ephesus. It wasn’t overly high-pressure, but I would have preferred to skip this part. 

Touring Historic Ephesus

Our tour guide said he’d typically start at the House of Mary if you wanted to see that. That site had an extra 10 euro admission cost and lines could get to be 40 minutes or more. Thankfully, our group was not interested in seeing it, so we headed right to Ephesus. 

Ephesus is the ruins of an ancient city that dates back to biblical times. Back then, it was a port city, although over thousands of years, the waters have receded, and now it’s a 20-minute drive from the cruise port. It was lost to time, only to be discovered in the late 1800s, and slowly recovered and reconstructed. 

Our guide took us down the streets of Ephesus, explaining what happened at that point in history and how the site was being excavated. Being in a private group, it was nice to be able to ask questions and focus on the stuff that was actually interesting to us. Our guide did a good job of explaining what we’d see in the shade away from the crowds; then we’d go look at it. This way, we weren’t clogging the attractions like other tour guides were doing. 

We entered the site near the baths and State Agora, which had many ruins that resembled rubble, but as we ventured further into the site, the buildings were better preserved and more impressive. It was a unique experience to walk down the actual roads ancient civilizations walked down. It was also amazing how far we’ve come. The old marble roads were slippery and hard to walk down, today’s concrete and asphalt are such a huge improvement. 

Tip: Wear closed-toed shoes when touring ruins. Roads back then were made from basalt, granite, or marble, which has worn down over the years to be very slippery. Be careful; one twisted ankle can ruin your whole vacation.

The highlight of the site was Celsus Library, a massive restored building that towers over you. It’s been meticulously reassembled and strengthened to withstand earthquakes. As you get closer, you can appreciate the intricate carvings on it. You’re actually able to walk up and into the Celsus Library. It’s funny because as tall and grand as it looks from the outside, it is relatively small on the inside. While it could hold up to 12,000 scrolls in ancient days, the facade is much grander in appearance, a smart move by the designers to make this building stand out in a crowded city. 

ancient public toilet in ephesus
An ancient public toilet for those who didn’t have facilities in their homes.

We took Marble Road to the Ephesus Theater. It was an impressive sight to behold. It was hard to comprehend that this massive structure was constructed in 250 BC. Built into the mountainside, this theater could hold 25,000 spectators (in comparison, Madison Square Garden in NYC only holds 19,500). It’s roughly 60 feet tall and divided into 3 levels. It’s incredible how much it resembles a theater we’d build today. 

Of course, there were no microphones and speakers in those days, so this site was built to increase acoustic performance. It’s been said you could hear whispers from the stage in the top rows. I can’t attest to that, but we can attest to the acoustical performance. One woman stood in the middle of the stage and sang “Amazing Grace” as if she were the only person there. You could see her partner in the background, videotaping it for TikTok or Instagram. It was a cringeworthy moment, but I’ll give the Ephesians something; from up in the second tier of seating, I was able to hear every single pitchy note she sang. (I don’t know if she understood the irony of singing Amazing Grace on a stage where Christians were literally fed to lions). 

We then exited the site at Harbor Road, where our van was waiting for us. He gave us more history about the area as we returned to the ship. Even though Kusadasi was a short port for us, it didn’t feel rushed, and it felt the right amount of time to take in the sites. 

We arrived back at port with an hour left before all-board time. The port had a cute variety of shops with an Arabian theme, but we decided to head back on board since we’d spend the next day in Istanbul and visiting the Grand Bazaar. 

As we walked up to the ship, Norwegian staff were there to hand us cups of water and cold towels to refresh ourselves before boarding, it was a nice little touch that the other mainstream cruise lines don’t do (Premium lines like Celebrity and Holland America also offer this). 

Lunch at The Local

We got on board and headed straight to The Local, Norwegian’s “all-hours” dinner/pub (which, since COVID, is really 5 AM to 3:30 AM). I always thought Norwegian was so smart to offer restaurant food for such extended hours. On other lines, you pretty much just get pizza at 9 PM, and if it’s in between meals, you’re out of luck. 

The Local on the Viva has an odd setup. On the port side of the ship is the actual restaurant with waiter service. On the starboard side is the bar section you must walk through to get to Indulge Food Hall. You could order food here and sit at the bar or the comfy seats along the window. It felt like two different spaces with no connection. I spoke with one woman who didn’t realize there was an actual restaurant just behind the wall of the bar.

We had no wait. A hostess immediately showed us to a table, probably because most guests weren’t back on board yet. The Local has all the essential pub food you can want. We started with a few appetizers, ordering buffalo wings, nachos, and pretzel bites for the table. I’ve heard talk of the wings being subpar since Norwegian stopped frying them and baking them, but everyone at the table thought they were decent. I got the Ruben, my go-to diner food, and it was delicious and absolutely packed with meat. Although I was pretty full, I had to try the Hot Fudge Sundae everyone talks about, and it was worth it. 

Since we had the rest of the afternoon free, we decided to explore the activities on the ship. 

Bullseye Dart Lounge

Norwegian Viva and its sister ship, the Prima, both have a Bullseye Dart Lounge. There, you can rent a bay where up to 6 people can play a game of darts. It has standard darts and dart boards but also uses cameras to track and score you, similar to what Top Golf does for golf. Using a tablet, you could choose various games, from really difficult, to relatively easy. 

Bullseye Dart Lounge is an additional fee, but it’s surprisingly reasonable for Norwegian. It’s only $5 per bay for 50 minutes of play for up to six players. For our group, that meant $1 per person. It was totally worth that price.

They do take reservations in advance, but we didn’t need to book ahead. We just walked to the activities desk on Deck 18 and booked the upcoming 1 PM slot. 

Tip: If you’re playing darts, get your drinks before you arrive so you don’t waste any time. The Waves Pool Bar is the closest full bar, but at the end of the Surfside Cafe is a small counter with a makeshift bar. It’s easy to miss, but you can get basic beers and cocktails here as well. 

Overall, it was a lot of fun. The lush brown leather couches and wood paneling give it an old-school feel. It’s outside, so you can enjoy the ocean views, but the race track is the level above, so you’re not in direct sun, and when the ship is moving, you get a beautiful breeze as you play. 

Tee Time Mini Golf

In the same area of the ship was Tee Time Mini Golf. It’s an elevated “Vegas-style” mini golf, with electronics that track your ball, and blinking lights and sounds. In the end, you even had a chance to win a prize.

Unfortunately, it also has a steep price tag. They charge $10 per person for mini-golf, which is ridiculous. We did not even consider playing at that price. The course was mostly empty compared to other cruise lines, where it’d be packed on a day like today. Still, during our hour at the Dart Lounge, we saw 11 people play, so they made $110 in an hour. 

The Stadium Activity Area

norwegian viva stadium

Next, we went to The Stadium area on the other side of the ship. It’s a game area with free activities like foosball, ping pong, pickleball, and tabletop shuffleboard. Like the dart lounge, the race track covered the area, keeping it out of the direct sun and making it a nice place to be on a hot, sunny day.

The place was popular, with teenagers and adults trying their hand at the games. It was a nice use of space by Norwegian and an innovative area I haven’t really seen on other ships. 

The Rush and The Drop Dry Slides

Next up was the thrill slides. When many people first see the Viva, they assume the huge slides on both sides of the ship are waterslides. In reality, they’re dry slides that go from Deck 18 to Deck 8. (The ship does, in fact, have one water slide that we try later on in the cruise). 

Royal Caribbean launched the idea of having a dry slide at sea with their Ultimate Abyss, first installed on Harmony of the Seas. Now, MSC and Norwegian have added these slides to their ships. Each one is a little different, but all involve getting into a carpet-textured bag to slide down in the dark. 

The Drop

The first slide we tried was “The Drop.” For this slide, you step into a chamber and get suited up in a bag. Then the hatch closes, a countdown begins, and the floor drops out from under you. You slide down, going through a clear part of the tube that hangs out over the side of the ship before plunging into darkness again and twisting your way down to Ocean Boulevard. 

The lines at the slides were pretty minimal; it only took us about 5 minutes before our turn. Many people in line were scared to go on. In reality, most of the fear is in the unknown of what’s beneath you and when you’ll drop. The slide itself has fewer g-forces from the turns than Royal Caribbean’s, and the drop of the floor is gentler than a trap door water slide. It’s still a neat ride though. 

The Rush Dueling Slides

We took the elevators back up and tried The Rush, which is a racing slide. For these slides, you sit and a mat and launch yourself down. The tube turns much more tightly, giving it a more intense feeling; Norwegian said the slides have the highest G-forces at sea. Actual speed can vary depending on the weather though. When I went on the slide on the Prima, it was so slow I barely made it out; they shut it down for the day after that. 

Recently Reworked Galaxy Pavilion on the Viva

We headed over to the front of the ship to explore the Galaxy Pavilion, a virtual reality arcade. The entrance is well done, using video screens and lights to make it seem like you’re entering a warp tunnel. The inside is filled with a variety of VR games you can play for $9 each (they also offer a unlimited pass for $199 for the VR games, and $299 for all VR games and arcade games).

When I first tried the Galaxy Pavilion on the Prima, I was disappointed. Many of the games were very basic, with graphics that felt like something from 2004. A few games were much more mind-blowing, but it was just a small portion. 

Norwegian revamped the Galaxy Pavilion on the Prima two weeks before we boarded. They took out some under performing games and a Top Golf Swing Simulator and put in some traditional arcade games. It was odd that the ship never had a regular arcade, so it was a good move. Walking around, the regular games had much more kids at them than the VR ones. This changeover made a mess, though. The arcade is open most of the time, while the VR rides need an attendant and are only open during certain hours. Because of that, they had barricades and ropes to keep people out of certain parts at certain times. 

Norwegian Viva’s Escape Room

Earlier in the week, we made reservations for the Escape Room. The Viva has two Escape Rooms you can pre-book. An escape room is an interactive game where you and up to 5 other people try to solve puzzles to escape from a room within an hour. 

The two Escape Rooms on the Viva can each accommodate up to 6-guests. If there are fewer in your party, others may join your group. The cost is $24 per person, which is on par with the prices you’d see on land. 

Our job was to free a magician from a trap he was stuck in. The theming was well done, with props, lighting, and sound effects that created an immersive experience. Overall, though, the Escape Room wasn’t pretty middling compared to the ones I’ve done on land. The gameplay was very linear; you had to do one puzzle, then the next, then the next. I’ve never had that before. 

Also, with escape rooms, you usually get an assistant to watch you on camera, and you can ask him if you get stuck. In land-based ones I’ve done, they’d have a monitor to give you clues and messages. In this one, the assistant would just pop in and tell us something. We’d be looking at one clue, and he’d walk in and say, “No, put this knife here,” without explaining why we should have done that. We eventually had to ask him to stop giving us clues. We escaped with about 10 minutes left on the clock, but overall, it was anti-climatic. 

Unimpressive Activity Staff

By the end of our day of activities on the ship, I realized how unimpressed I was by any of the activity staff on board. By activity staff, I mean the people running the slides, dart lounge, Escape Room, and Galaxy Pavilion. They constantly looked bored, barely tried to connect with the guests, and were not communicative about how things worked or the rules. It was very different from lines like Royal Caribbean, which have very energetic and personable staff on their attractions. 

Belvedere Bar for Pre-dinner Drinks

After the Escape Room, we had time to kill before dinner, so we headed to the Belvedere Bar for pre-dinner drinks. The bar is tucked away at the rear of Deck 6. In fact, it was day 3 on the ship, and most of my group had no idea it even existed. The only way to get to Belvedere Bar is to take the aft elevators to that level or to wind your way through the casino. 

Belvedere Bar is dark, with no windows or natural light but the bar itself has reflective gold tiles around it that glisten in the spotlights. Overall, this gives the space a very intimate and high-end feel. 

The bar was crowded this evening, most likely because it’s directly between the Commodore Room main dining room and Cagneys Steakhouse. Many people were here getting pre-dinner drinks, the same thing we were doing. 

While it has a full bar available, many of the menu cocktails here were pre-made batch cocktails. Unlike the cocktails on tap, bartenders made these in the morning and individually bottled each one. This preparation saved a significant amount of time when the bar was busy.

Trying Viva’s Food Republic Specialty Dining

For dinner tonight, we used one of our specialty dining credits to go to Food Republic. Food Republic serves “global cuisine” with elements of Latin and Asian foods. The tapas-style menu had a wide variety of options. We chose this restaurant because there was something for everyone, from sushi rolls to Korean fried chicken to ramen.

The restaurant was about half full when we arrived and we were shown to our table in the back of the restaurant. The restaurant had a lot of bar seating, like a sushi bar, but none was in use that night. Our waitress explained that we’d order our food using a tablet and then they’d bring out the dishes when they’re ready. With our specialty dining plan, we each got four dishes (that would include dessert if we wanted it). 

We started browsing and ordered some dishes. The food quickly arrived, and the portions were huge. So we could try everything, we shared all our dishes with the whole table. We were already getting full by the time we ordered our third round of dishes.

The food was top-notch; I don’t think there was a single dish we didn’t like. My favorite was the calamari, which was fresh and had a light, crispy batter. Another favorite of mine was the tuna pizza.

Food Republic also had some unique alcohol selections. I tried the sake which was included in the Unlimited Open Bar package we had. (You can learn more about Norwegian’s drink packages here.)

While we enjoyed dining here, the tablet system started to feel like a gimmick. At one point, one person’s tablet started ordering dishes by itself. We’d watch as a dish got added to the cart and then sent to the kitchen with no one ever touching it. We called the waitress over twice to tell her, and they didn’t seem to understand what we were saying. Eventually, they straightened it out on our bill, but they ended up making several dishes we didn’t order because they didn’t figure it out. Now that Indulge has the same tablet ordering system, they might do better switching to regular service at Food Republic to make the place more appealing to those who don’t like technology (it won’t be returning on the upcoming successor, the Aqua). 

Post-dinner Entertainment

Since we didn’t order dessert at the restaurant, I wanted to see if there was somewhere to get something sweet. Unfortunately, it was 9:30 PM, and the buffet and Indulge Food Hall were already closed. The Local offered three desserts on its late-night menu: carrot and walnut cake, apple pie, and brownie-raspberry swirl cheesecake, but I wasn’t in the mood to sit down and wait for service.

On Royal Caribbean, I’d usually grab a cookie or snack from Cafe Promenade, but Norwegian doesn’t have anything like that. Then I realized that at no point did I even see any cookies on the ship. They had some mousse cakes and tarts, but no cookies you can grab and eat somewhere. Perhaps I missed them, but I never had one cookie in the ten days on board. It could be the result of cost-cutting; I’m sure cookies fly off the shelf much more than cakes because you have to sit down to eat them and can’t grab and go. 

I gave up on dessert and went to see what else there was to do. In the main theater was the Icons show again, so the main theater was off the agenda for the night (if we had known it was playing two nights in a row, we would have gone the second night, but unlike other cruise lines, they don’t give you an overall rundown of entertainment for the whole week on Day 1). 

We checked out Syd Norman’s for a rock band-style show, but the small venue was absolutely packed. A comedian had two comedy shows scheduled this evening, but it was in the Improv Comedy Club, which only held around 75 people and was completely full. (It’s a regular comedy show. While they call the venue Improv Comedy Club, there is no actual improv-style comedy.)

Then we went to the Atrium, where they have a singer. Here were saw another example of Norwegian’s poor design. The musician has a makeshift area to play, which is behind a bunch of wooden shelves with ceramics on them. These shelves don’t seem to be structural looking at them. I have no idea why they would cut off the performer from the vast majority of the Atrium. It really dampens the experience when trying to listen to live music. 

After finishing a long day, and not finding anything exciting that evening, we decided to turn in and prepare for our next day in Istanbul. 

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 19 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.