And they're racing... on cruise ship Norwegian Joy's speedway track

I'm no speedy Gonzales but I'm no slowcoach either. However, I do get that  "out for a Sunday drive" feeling when I take a spin on the speedway racetrack on the top decks of cruise ship Norwegian Joy.

Yep, there are racetracks on cruise ships these days; in fact Norwegian Joy, a mighty 167,725 gross tonne, 20-deck ship was the first to introduce this rev-head attraction, to compete with other nautical novelties like rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, surfing machines and zip-lines.  

I thought I'd give it a go, even though in my heart-of-hearts I do prefer to stroll the decks with the salty wind on my face rather than being caught in the slipstream of petrol fumes. I arrive for my speedway allotted time and  climb into the red and black single seater go-kart, pull on the harness and squeeze the helmet down. There's an accelerator, brake, reverse pedal and a couple of buttons on the steering wheel.

I'd like to say I zoom off but the pit jockeys who run the speedway, which loops around decks 18 and 19, have set the controls at "slow" for the first lap so we racers (10 cars are allowed on the track) can get our bearings and sort out the hairpin bends. Once we've conquered lap one, we are free to ramp it up – and many are champing at the bit for this, to give it full throttle and speed around for eight laps and hopefully get the kart up to its  top speed of 48km/h.  

Not so me. I motor along at my medium pace, sticking to the right-hand side of the track as we are officially in US waters. The turns aren't too bad, but the first hairpin bend is a doozy and I slow, turn the wheel hard and am half-way through my manoeuvre when a petrol-head behind me, hell bent on overtaking me even though there's no room, slams into me and then someone slams into him, and another and before you can say "pile-up on the Norwegian Joy" it's a mess. I locate the reverse pedal, tell the guy behind him to back up, prise myself off the rubber wall and head off again. 

The same thing happens on the next lap; another impatient lead-foot tries to overtake me on the exact same hairpin and fails and we're all in a tangle. As I attempt lap three I notice the guys in the pits and think I'll just return to base.

I wave at him – where's my white flag, I ask myself – and he can't believe I'm returning the go-kart less than halfway through my session. "Wow", I say, "Fabulous, but I have another appointment", and off I run to get a drink.  

Trust me, the speedway is huge fun judging by the looks of unbridled delight on the faces of the grown men with their pedal to the metal; I can only imagine how the teenagers react but I'm guessing there's lots of begging their parents for  $US15 each time they want to conquer the eight-lap  outing.    

And I imagine thrill-seekers will also love the laser tag arena on Deck 20, which is set out like an abandoned intergalactic mission station. The queues to get in are pretty sizeable.  

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I do have fun in the Galaxy Pavilion where an entire virtual world awaits. Folks are putting on their Virtual Reality headgear, grabbing automatic weapons and shooting down baddies; I climb into a Jeep and careen through Jurassic Park as pretty frightening dinosaurs try to eat me.  

Make no mistake, Norwegian Joy is nirvana for kids and action types, with most of the adrenalin-pumping experiences costing a small fee. The zippy water slides, which edge over the ship's side with clear panels so you can watch people being shot through the tube at a rapid rate, are free.

There are, however, plenty of calm pursuits and some 29 different places to eat and a slew of good bars. This is what modern big-ship cruising is all about – a plethora of attractions so everyone has something to do and boredom is  not remotely possible. Families and couples feel they've ticked every box and pleased every member.   

I for one get my kicks from scenery and music and am overjoyed (pun intended) to discover the Horizon Lounge with its sensational floor-to-ceiling windows.  

We are sailing down the west coast of the US but I can well imagine just how magnificent this lounge would be in Alaska, where the ship is now, and when transiting the Panama Canal, where is scheduled for later this year.

Norwegian Joy, one of 17 ships in the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) fleet, isn't brand new. It was launched two years ago and based in China.

However, plans changed and after a $US50 million upgrade in March that saw it get rid of the karaoke lounges and add 13 new restaurants and bars and refresh all public areas, its new home is the US West Coast, where the market definitely prefers to imbibe rather than sing in public.

Norwegian Joy's restaurants are a standout. Rather than one multi-tiered main dining room, this traditional dining option is spread over three separate venues – the art decor Manhattan and the contemporary smaller spaces called Taste and Savor, which all serve the same meals.

A first for NCL is the Waterfront, a 200-metre outdoor dining corridor running along both sides of Deck 8, which provides the three restaurants on either side with extra alfresco space. It's a fantastic idea and is attached to the brand new Ocean Blue seafood restaurant, Cagney's Steakhouse, Sugar Cane Bar, La Cucina, the French-styled Le Bistro and the Cavern Club, the latter being the re-imagining of the famous Liverpool club where the Beatles played on some 290 occasions. 
Joy is the fourth ship to feature the club, under an agreement with the original which is co-directed by John Lennon's half-sister, Julia Baird. We meet Julia on our short cruise and she explains that the bar's narrow design packed with too many tables deliberately mimics the original where it was always a tight squeeze when the band was playing. The ship's Cavern Club is always packed too, so get there before the Beatles' tribute act starts. 

NCL is renowned for its big night entertainment and Joy has contracted a Broadway show, this time Footloose, along with a stunning dance and illusionist act called Elements.

There's certainly something for everyone; I love the country band in Q Texas Smokehouse restaurant, the stand-up comedian in the Social Club and the guy who can play any tune on the piano at the District Brewhouse craft beer pub. Yep those boxes are being ticked.

NCL execs say their ships attract a melting pot of travellers, a multi-generational mix, however they admit they now have Millennials in  their sights.

CEO Andy Stuart quips that everyone is onboard. "You can pay $700 per person for a week in Alaska or you can pay $20,000," he says. The latter is for a swanky suite in the luxury enclave, The Haven, a ship-within-a ship where the well-heeled  enjoy private sun decks, their own pool and jacuzzi, restaurant and a mini Horizon Lounge. One look at the place and I can't imagine anyone wanting to leave.

However, if they crave a rev-head experience, then they have to tear themselves away.

TRIP NOTES

FLY
Air Canada flies to Vancouver from Sydney and Melbourne with connections to Seattle. See aircanada.com

Qantas flies to Los Angeles from Sydney and Melbourne See qantas.com

CRUISE
Norwegian Joy operates 7-night Alaskan cruises from Seattle until late September 2019; priced from $1328 a person twin share.

The ship will then operate two 16-night Panama Canal cruises between Los Angeles and Miami in October/November, 2019; fares from $1943 a person twin share.

Seven-night Mexican Riviera cruises operate in November/December, 2019. Fares from $932 a person twin share. See ncl.com

MORE

traveller.com.au/cruises

Caroline Gladstone was a guest of Norwegian Cruise Line.

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