For a recent cruise of the western Caribbean, I booked Norwegian Cruise Lines’ The Haven on the Norwegian Joy as a last minute substitute for a cancelled European trip. NCL’s upscale “ship within a ship” concept in The Haven aims for a more exclusive cruise experience, with pricing to match. Although I had previously cruised in many NCL ships, including The Joy, I had never before tried The Haven because of the cost. But with fewer people traveling and The Joy being one of NCL’s mid-sized ships, the stateroom price was the lowest I’d seen for The Haven. I jumped on it.
Luxury — and pricing — of The Haven depends highly on the individual ship. The smallest and oldest ships in Norwegian’s fleet don’t offer all the perks while the largest and newest ones go all out. Probably because the Joy fits somewhere in the middle, some aspects of my experience disappointed me while others met, or even exceeded, my expectations.
Because each ship has a different lay-out, décor, and staff, this review refers only to the Norwegian Joy.
Differences Among The Haven Staterooms
Most NCL ships differentiate Haven staterooms by location: The Courtyard Haven, the Spa Haven, and Haven Staterooms. Only staterooms with a “courtyard” designation are located within The Haven itself. The one exception is the Owner’s Villa at the top of the ship. Spa Haven rooms are adjacent to the thermal spa and come with a pass to use it. (Other passengers have to pay extra for a pass.) The regular Haven rooms can be located on multiple decks below The Haven, usually aft or forward, and they tend to be larger than the staterooms inside the Courtyard.
Anyone with a stateroom designated as The Haven can access the Courtyard facilities — restaurant, lounge, sun deck, small pool, and hot tubs — with their key card. We booked a stateroom within the Courtyard for easier access to all the Haven amenities.
Location Can Be Everything
During our trip, my husband and I debated which location would be better, in the Courtyard area or on one of the other decks and locations. I loved staying in The Courtyard because all services, including the dedicated concierge desk and the restaurant, are steps away. I find it much quieter than the rest of the ship. My husband hated the roving band of unsupervised boys in the lounge area (more on that later) and how difficult it was to get a cocktail during dining hours when the bartenders also mixed drinks for the restaurant.
I maintain that having to walk through the main part of the ship to get to these places negates the disadvantages. I don’t think I’d take advantage of all that The Haven has to offer if I had to take an elevator up several decks and walk across the length of the ship.
Courtyard Penthouse With Large Balcony
We booked a Haven Courtyard Penthouse with Large Balcony on Deck 17. It sounds as though it’s the most high-end stateroom on the ship, but it’s not. In fact, the stateroom proved to be my biggest disappointment. Having sailed on the larger, sister ship Norwegian Bliss just a couple of months earlier, our Joy Haven stateroom on Deck 17 was only marginally larger than our Bliss Club Balcony Suite despite the cost difference. The Bliss Club Balcony Suite had a much better shower, a comparably-sized bathroom, and much more storage room.
Initially, we feared that it would be noisy staying in a stateroom next to the pool, but a hallway divides the two areas. Our only issue occurred when the hot tub broke, and they had to run an enormous fan right outside our door. But when I complained that our room began to smell like chlorine, the staff jumped into action.
I loved the Nespresso machine and the cabinet above with assorted glassware. It also contained more than enough espresso and lungo cups with saucers.
The balcony was indeed larger than most we’ve encountered; however, it still had two regular chairs and a small table, which made for wasted space. I would have preferred to have had lounge chairs, although I suspect Haven staterooms elsewhere on the ship do have them. (I could some lounge chairs looking down from my balcony.) The Haven Courtyard staterooms on Deck 18, the have average-size balconies.
Those who follow my hotel reviews know that my pet peeves are not enough seating for two and insufficient outlets for charging devices. My Joy stateroom had a chair-and-a-half, two chairs on either side of a round table, and an ottoman for sitting near the hair dryer/desk. The oversized chair could convert into a single bed. We had plenty of seating, especially once you added in the two balcony chairs.
The outlet situation was more annoying. One side of the bed (my husband’s) had a US outlet, but my side of the bed had a European one. A stateroom at the Haven level should have had both types of outlets on both sides of the bed. Fortunately, because of my pre-cruise research, I knew to bring an international outlet converter. I also brought a multi-port USB adapter and an outlet extender with six foot cord for the desk/counter top so that we could plug in many devices, including laptops, at once.
My husband and I hated the shower/tub combo. On our one rough sea day, the sliding doors opened and closed with the ship’s movement. I did like that we had individual bottles of Bulgari toiletries instead of the wall dispensers of generic shampoo and body wash found in most rooms.
The Haven has upscale bed linens and oversized towels, although the towels were somewhat rough.
Families (And Children)
Don’t book The Haven thinking that you’ll get an adult-only experience. Since many of the staterooms have two (or in some ships, three) bedrooms, people find The Haven an attractive way to cruise with their children and extended families. If your vacation corresponds with school breaks, then you’ll likely encounter a number of kids in The Haven’s public spaces. On my cruise, most kids behaved well and stayed with their parents; however, one band of five pre-teen boys ran, sometimes literally, free. Especially on sea days, kids of all ages streamed through the various Haven spaces. The sun deck, however, is limited to 16-and-older guests.
Some parents may feel that they don’t need to supervise their children. For those of us not traveling with kids, it can seem inconsiderate. A lot depends on your expectations and tolerance of sometimes rambunctious kids.
Butler, Concierge, and Steward Service
The real luxury of The Haven comes with the service. Only the best stewards, concierges, bartenders, servers, and butlers work here — and it shows. The staff quickly learned our names and greeted us using them. You should tip your butler and concierge separately (more on that below), as they don’t draw from the main pre-paid gratuity pool.
If you stay in The Haven, you will have a butler assigned to your stateroom. Don’t be intimidated. Your butler is not like Alfred in Batman — he or she is assigned to multiple rooms. A cruise ship butler handles all the food and snacks delivered to your room and can facilitate communication with appropriate staff members. Our butler, Melody, checked on us whenever we saw her and made sure we didn’t need anything.
She brought in daily snacks that included chocolate-covered strawberries, canapés, and a cheese plate. If we had wanted to dine in our room, she would have set up our stateroom table and would have served our meal. In-room dining, whether breakfast, lunch, or dinner, needs to be arranged with your butler in advance.
The dedicated concierge desk handles all dining, entertainment, and excursion reservations. You don’t have to go down to Deck 6 and stand in line for those. Guests from The Haven have priority for all specialty restaurants and shows, although you need to book those either online before you board or on the first day. The concierge will also escort you directly via service elevator to the exit on port days.
You will be assigned to one concierge, although all will assist you. We had a team of excellent staff members at our concierge desk, especially Efren and Lyster. As with your butler, your concierge should be tipped separately, though usually not as generously, near the end of your cruise.
Your steward handles the cleaning and restocking of your room. I was never quite sure whether our butler or steward did it, but our Nespresso pods and used glassware were miraculously restocked, even when the room hadn’t yet been made up. If you avail yourself of the ship’s laundry service, your steward will pick up and deliver that.
Not all ships have a Haven Restaurant — Haven passengers eat breakfast and lunch in a reserved dining room, but they dine on their own for dinner. Since eating dinner at the restaurant is one of the best perks of The Haven, I would hesitate paying for The Haven on a ship without one. (I do have a future cruise in The Haven without a restaurant, but only because Norwegian cancelled another cruise for the same dates.) On the Joy, the restaurant has both inside and covered outside seating, although the outside can get noisy because it overlooks the ship’s main pool area and its blaring speakers.
The menus in The Haven restaurants stay the same throughout the cruise, day to day. Breakfast has more limited choices than what you can get in the main complimentary restaurant, but the staff better accommodate special requests. Instead of breakfast being coursed out, you help yourself to a buffet with fruit, yogurt, pastries, smoked fish, and cheese while you await your main course.
We enjoyed lunch in The Haven Restaurant, but the real wow factor came at dinner. My husband ordered the surf-and-turf — filet mignon with a lobster tail — every night we ate there. When I didn’t feel like eating beef, I asked for two lobster tails. No problem. And on my last dinner in the restaurant, I asked for one lump crab cake and one lobster tail. Again, no problem. Those items incur a surcharge even in the specialty restaurants, but not in The Haven. In the gallery below, you’ll see a sampling of lunch and dinner options.
You can order cocktails at The Haven Lounge that you cannot get elsewhere on the ship, although these drinks aren’t necessarily listed. If you want both a show and an excellent cocktail, order the smoked Old-Fashioned — stay at the bar to watch the whole process. The bar has an array of specialty bitters, infused alcohols, and vermouths. If you upgrade to the Premium Plus package, you can get a Whistle Pig Manhattan (better than the Whistle Pig Manhattan in the A-List Bar by Cagney’s) or a glass of Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label. But even if you haven’t shelled out the bucks for Premium Plus, the Haven bartenders still make the best cocktails on the ship.
On Deck 17, on the other side of a glass wall from the lounge, The Courtyard Pool and hot tub, with limited seating around them, offer a usually quiet place to cool off. The area is air conditioned, even when the retractable roof is deployed on port days. Unlike on the sun deck, seating can be difficult to find during at-sea days or if all-aboard times are early enough.
A shallow-water seating area gives passengers a place to read while dipping their barefeet in the water.
The Sun Deck and Interior Sun Deck
Both sun decks, inside and out, are located at the top of the ship. The interior space is air-conditioned and overlooks the pool area of The Courtyard. Hardly anyone used it, even during at-sea days. You get the brightness of sunshine without the heat and UV rays. My husband and I started preferring this area for reading and work.
Even during at-sea days, you can usually find a lounge chair on exterior sun deck, no matter the time of day, although choices of seating can be limited. Unlike at the Joy’s main pool area where people violate ship’s rules by “reserving” their spots with towels at dawn, few Haven guests do that — or need to do that, except for the few shaded cabana seats. I got annoyed that some guests felt that they had to right to claim those cabana chairs even though they weren’t using them.
The outside deck has two hot tubs, one on each side, padded lounge chairs for one or two, a roaming server to take drink and food orders, towels —and no children. Located at the forward top deck of the ship, you have unobstructed sun unless you want to position yourself under an umbrella or in a cabana.
The Haven Observation Lounge
Located one deck up from the main Observation Lounge, The Haven Observation Lounge is small and usually quiet, although the seating isn’t as comfortable and as versatile I would have liked. They have a small buffet stocked all day (the main Observation Lounge buffet has specific hours) and an espresso/cappuccino machine. The windows aren’t as high or as impressive as the lounge down a deck, but they do offer nice views.
Because my husband had to work during our cruise, he often planted himself in the usually quiet (and somewhat dark) library. The space has some fantastic art books as well as board games. During at-sea days, teenagers and pre-teens often played board games, making the room too noisy for my husband to work and for me to read.
Special Requests and Snacks
As a guest of The Haven, you get a dedicated pre-cruise phone number and email to make special requests. I had made a mistake when reserving restaurants online — you can’t undo those choices until you are onboard — and requested changes from the pre-cruise concierge. Those changes had been made by the time I boarded. You can also request M&Ms and/or gummy bears in your stateroom. I also asked to have the refrigerator emptied of for-pay items and for a pitcher of water. We ended up not needing the water since we upgraded to the Premium Plus beverage package and could get Panna Aqua or San Pellegrino to take to our stateroom.
Our butler delivered snacks daily to our stateroom. Honestly, we had more food than we could eat and sometimes left those snacks.
Norwegian calculates more-or-less mandatory gratuities that can be pre-paid. In addition, guests of The Haven have an additional $18.95 per person, per day gratuity added to their bills. Given the level of their service, the staff deserves at least this amount. Even if you do pre-pay, however, you will need cash for additional gratuities.
Because your butler and concierge do not receive tips from the pool, they should be tipped separately. As a general rule, the butler should receive $10-30 per day. Because we didn’t ask for extras, such as room service, and were only a couple, we tipped $20/day. Likewise, the concierge should receive a gratuity, the amount also depending on how much service he/she provided, $5-15 per day.
We also gave our room steward an extra tip even though he got a share from the larger pool. And we tipped bartenders and the best food servers.
I overheard several people saying near the end of the cruise that they hadn’t entered the facilities before or eaten at the restaurant. If you book a Haven stateroom elsewhere on the ship, don’t make that mistake. You should at least see what The Haven Courtyard has to offer. At dinner, the restaurant is comparable to the ship’s specialty dining venues. Yes, you may not want that more quiet retreat, but you should make that a decision early in your cruise by touring the facilities.
People say that once you’ve cruised in The Haven, you’ll never want to cruise any other way. That’s true for me but not for my husband. Although I wished for a more luxurious stateroom, I appreciated both the excellent service and the restaurant as well as what I perceived as a much quieter cruise. My husband disagreed that it was quiet. He objected to the noise levels at times and called it a “daycare for kids”— but also loved the restaurant and the drinks we could get in the lounge. We agreed that the service was exemplary, even for a cruise line that had treated us well in the past.
When you book, remember that your experience will vary from ship to ship, with some more well-appointed than others. The Joy offers a solid Haven experience, probably not the best but also not the worst.