Year Started: 1966
Ships in Fleet: 13
Summary: With the recent introduction of new ships the third biggest cruise company in the world. Free-style cruising, elaborate dining options and surprisingly good entertainment.
Regions:Caribbean, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. First-time Cruisers.
Regions:Bahamas, Caribbean, Eastern Seaboard
Good for: Families. Value for Money. Teens.
Good for: Value for Money. Group. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Bahamas, Caribbean
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Good for: Group. Singles. Families.
Good for: Value for Money. Overall Service. Disabled Travelers.
Regions:Bahamas, Bermuda, Caribbean, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Eastern Seaboard, Caribbean, Bermuda
Good for: Value for Money. Children`s Programs. Singles.
Regions:Alaska, Bahamas, Caribbean
Good for: First-time Cruisers. Value for Money. Teens.
Good for: Teens. Seniors. Families.
Regions:Caribbean, Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Western, Mexico
Good for: Value for Money. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean, Inland Waterways, West Coast
Good for: Families. Value for Money. Teens.
Hawaii Trip Review 06/21 â€“ 7/12/11
We were really looking forward to this cruise because it was our first chance to see Hawaii. Plus, as travel agents we've booked this cruise for a lot of our clients, but we were not able to provide them first-hand personal information about it; only that which we had gained via reading reviews and talking to those who have actually done it. We heard many dismal comments, especially about the ship, food, and service, and we felt it was important for us to do it and decide for ourselves whether the many negative reviews were justified or not. After all, this is a very unique cruise that only visits U.S. ports and it was obvious to us many people were comparing it against regular cruises and what they like or don't like instead of critiquing it on its own merits. This being our 41st cruise and the fact we've been to many different places around the world on all of the major cruise lines, we figured we would be able to provide a fair and honest review to our clients based on our past experiences.Hopefully, you'll find this review helpful in deciding whether or not you'd like to try this one-of-a-kind opportunity.
Tuesday, June 21
We were supposed to fly out of Dulles airport on Monday, but there weren't any seats available. Our son works for United Airlines, so while we get to fly for free, we have to fly standby and that can very often create problems; such was the case on this trip. Today, we got up at 3:30am EST and managed to get a flight to Los Angeles, but once we got there, all the flights to Honolulu were overbooked for the rest of the day. We had to purchase a reduced-rate standby ticket on Hawaiian Airlines to Honolulu, but it wasn't scheduled to leave until much later and, after spending 5-1/2 hours flying to LA, we had to sit around the airport for 8 hours awaiting our next flight. Luckily, we were able to get on the 6:00pm flight and got to Honolulu around 8:30pm local time.
There were over 250 people on the plane and Nancy was the only one to get a lei! While we were in LA, I ordered a lei and transfer to our hotel on the internet and they were there to meet us at the gate. After all, if we're flying into Hawaii for the first time, then she should get a nice lei. I couldn't believe she was the only person on the entire flight to have a lei waiting for her when we got off the plane. (Says a lot about her husband, huh?)
Note for future reference: We got there in the evening, and all the vendors were closed, but if you arrive earlier in the day, there are vendors available selling leis, so you don't have to order one. Having someone meet you at the gate with a smile and a lei is the best way to arrive in Hawaii! There are several vendors online where leis and transfers can be ordered.
There was a lovely young lady holding a sign with my wife's name on it and Nancy was very surprised to see it. The lady had a beautiful lei that she placed around Nancy's neck, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and added a warm welcome to Hawaii. (I ordered the deluxe lei with three times the number of flowers as the regular lei.) She escorted us to the baggage claim and then to the shuttle that took us directly to our hotel. While researching on the internet, I found shuttle services are cheaper than taxis and the price was about $28 for the two of us, versus about $35 for a taxi.
We arranged a 4-night stay at the Hilton Waikiki Beach, which is about 3 blocks from the beach. Luckily, our room was high enough (12th floor) that we could see the beach from the balcony. It was beautiful. The hotel was very nice and the bed very comfortable. We had an in-room safe, a big 36 inch flat screen TV, and a nice refrigerator. The bathroom was well-appointed and while there wasn't a bathtub, there was a nice big shower.
After checking in, we took a walk to find some place to eat and happened upon Cheeseburger in Paradise, which we had heard was highly recommended. While the food at this particular place was mediocre, we were tired and really didn't care. After all, it was about 5:30am our body time and we had been up for 26 hours so we were more than ready for sleep.
Wednesday, June 22
We went to bed around 11:30pm Honolulu time and slept for 10 hours, so when we awoke, it was still early in the morning and we were ready to go exploring. We heard the one place to visit on Wednesdays, Saturdays, or Sundays was the famous Honolulu Flea Market that takes place at Aloha Stadium, which is where the NFL All-Star game is held each year. We asked the concierge about taking the public bus over to the stadium and were told it would cost $2.50 per person and take about 45 minutes. Off we went and grabbed the bus to the flea market. The concierge was wrong on his estimate as it took 1-1/2 hours to get there! We didn't have to change buses, but wished we would have done some more research on transportation as riding a public bus for 90 minutes is not my idea of fun in the sun. We later found some shuttle companies providing service for $5 per person each way and taking only 20 minutes.
The flea market is quite amazing and not something to be missed, plus it's not crowded during the week. It goes all the way around the stadium and in some places is two and three rows deep. They have everything imaginable and is the place to go for souvenirs, apparel, and everything Hawaiian. We walked around the entire stadium for a couple of hours and bought several goodies to bring home. We wished we had bought more things there as the prices were very good and we saw items we did not see anywhere else in our travels. So lesson learned; if you see something you want, buy it, as you may not see it again.
After the flea market, we took a shuttle back and, as I said, at $5 per person sure beat taking the public bus.
It was a fairly hot day, so when we got back to the hotel, there was only one thing on our mind â€“ going to Waikiki Beach! It was all it was suppose to be â€“ beautiful water, beautiful scenery, and of course, all the beautiful people! The surf was wonderful â€“ they said on the news it was better than it had been for weeks and all the surfers were taking advantage of the great conditions. Having been a surfer in my teen years, I really wanted to get out there and enjoy the waves, but alas, at 61 the body wasn't what it use to be and I had to live vicariously through those much younger. I did take a picture from our hotel room that showed a set of 8 waves breaking at the same time â€“ something I had never seen before â€“ it was quite amazing and very enticing. I showed this to a long-time surfer who lives on Maui and she couldn't believe the picture saying she had never seen or heard of this.
We spent the evening shopping around in the International Market and found a couple of very nice matching his and hers Hawaiian shirts. (Anyone visiting the islands is obligated to buy Hawaiian shirts! But make sure they are Made in Hawaii!! And shop around because prices definitely vary for the same brand name and style.) The vendor was a local who had lived there all his life and very helpful. He gave us some great information, including a couple of places to eat that he highly recommended.
Thursday, June 23
We rented a car from a local vendor â€“ all the major ones wanted too much money, so we ended up with a rent-a-wreck, it did the job and we were able to spend the next two days seeing what we wanted to see. At about $100 for two days, it was a bit more than we expected to pay, but that's what we got for not pre-planning.
Note for future reference: If you want to rent a car, do so at the airport as the prices are much cheaper. However, taxis to and from the airport are not cheap, so plan accordingly.
Today, we decided to drive around the southern part of the island and found some beautiful beaches. We wanted to climb up to the top of Diamondhead, but chose not to as it was hot and it's quite a climb to the top of the crater, deciding instead to spend our energy seeing the rest of the island.
A few hours into our travels, we eventually made our way to KÄne'ohe, which is on the other side of the island from Honolulu, where we wanted to find one of the hole-in-the-wall joints our local Hawaiian friend at the International Market told us about. It is owned and operated by Dean, who is a formally trained chef. He worked for many years in a 5-star resort and had had enough of working for other people. He decided to open his own small restaurant called Dean's Drive-In. We stopped at a gas station to get something to drink and although I had my GPS, I asked directions and the first thing the lady asked me was, "How do you know about this place? It's just a small place where locals eat and not where tourists go." She was really surprised to see a tourist wanting to go to a restaurant only frequented by locals. We finally found it and it was definitely an out-of-way place that one would easily miss unless they knew exactly where it was. They only had 4 tables, yet we were the only ones sitting down and eating. While we were there, many locals came in to carry out their dinners, but no one stayed to eat except us. Nancy ordered the Ahi cakes and I had teriyaki beef â€“ both of which were absolutely wonderful! I'm not crazy about fish, but the Ahi cakes were out of this world! This is truly a gem in the dessert and not to be missed when in the area.
After touring around for several hours, we finally made our way back to Honolulu and spent some more time on the beach. Parking is at a premium and our hotel wanted $25 for the night, but we found a place that charged $10 and was only about a block from our hotel.
Friday, June 24
We got up fairly early, swung by McDonalds to pick up some quick breakfast and headed over to the USS Arizona Memorial. They open at 7:00am and we got there at 7:45am. While we thought this was early, our tickets were marked for 10:45am. I talked to others who had gotten there at 7:15am and got tickets for 8:45am. So the lesson here is to get there before 7:00am!
In this area, you can pay a fee to tour the USS Bowfin, which is a Word War ll submarine. But having seen one before and having been on a new Dallas-class submarine while in Norfolk with our daughter, we really weren't interested in seeing this one. You can also drive over to Ford Island and see the USS Missouri, which is an amazing battleship that was the stage for the surrender of Japan and also saw duty during the Vietnam war. If you've never seen a battleship, this is one to visit.
The visitor center is completely brand new, having been re-dedicated on the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor after a $58 million rebuild and opened on December 7, 2010. It is impressive and informative.
After waiting 3 hours till our turn, we went into the auditorium to see a 20 minute movie on the attack of Pearl Harbor and the destruction of the Arizona. It was very well done and very interesting, not to mention very moving. Afterwards, we boarded one of two boats provided by the Navy for the short ride to the memorial.
Having served in the Navy for 6 years, including a year fighting in Vietnam on river patrol boats, and having a daughter serving in the Navy and currently on a 6-month deployment, seeing the memorial was very heart-wrenching for me. Truly a very emotional experience. Words cannot describe how I felt during my visit, except to say this is one excursion everyone needs to do once in their lifetime. During our 3-week stay in Hawaii, this was the only 'have to' on our entire trip and it was worth the wait.
After we returned from our 20 minute visit at the memorial, we got in our car and headed around the north side of the island. We stopped at the Dole Pineapple Plantation for the obligatory tour and sampling. Have to admit, I like pineapple, but the ones we had in Hawaii were the sweetest and tastiest I've ever had anywhere. Afterwards we drove to the North Shore of Oahu. As I mentioned earlier, I was a surfer in my teens and had always wanted to visit the Mecca of surfing, but never got the chance. Here it was 40 years later and I finally made it to one of the most renowned surfing spots in the world. Unfortunately, the really big surf hits the North Shore in the Winter and we were there in the Summer, so we didn't get to see what made the North Shore famous. In fact, being Summertime, there were no waves at all! But then again, we also didn't get to witness the incredible traffic jam as well! The North Shore is relatively small with only a two-lane road and VERY few places to park, so the Winter is incredibly overcrowded. But all in all, it was nice to at least see the places I had always dreamed about visiting; Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and the legendary Pipeline.
We stopped at a little roadside place called Fumi's that came highly recommended by one of the locals we met and were told this was the best fresh shrimp on the island. To look at it, you would normally not give it a second thought and drive right by as it looks like a real hole in the wall. But they raise their own shrimp in the huge shrimp ponds behind their restaurant, so when you order a shrimp dinner, they are alive until about 5 minutes before you eat them - they just don't come any fresher than that! Fumi's is one of many places like this in the area and their shrimp dinners are absolutely wonderful! We ordered a combination of coconut shrimp and garlic butter shrimp that came with rice and a small salad. We also got some delicious corn on the cob and diet Pepsi. Everything was fantastic! At about $12 per serving, it was well worth the cost and something I highly recommend. Another place just down the road called Giovanni's is equally as good, but it's popular because it was highlighted on TV and in some magazines, so it's often very crowded.
We continued our journey around the north end of the island, stopping at several places to take pictures and sample their wares, including a macadamia nut factory and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
After we returned to our hotel, we dropped off our car and again visited the beach to enjoy a nice swim in the lovely waters of Waikiki.
After dark, we walked around the area, visited the International Market once again, and enjoyed a beautiful evening in Honolulu. We had a coupon for Chili's and there happened to be one close by, so we had a nice dinner, albeit basically the same as back home except Nancy said their fresh fish was very good.
Saturday, June 25
We asked for a late check-out and were told we could do so at 1:30pm. We didn't have to be on the ship until 6:00pm for a 7:00pm departure, so we weren't in a hurry. We asked the front desk clerk if we could check our baggage and go to the beach. She said this was not a problem and we could shower when we got back. So, off to the beach we went for another couple of hours of fun and sun.
Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and they gave us a regular room for free where we could use the shower and change. Totally unexpected and very much appreciated. Needless to say, we would definitely recommend this hotel for its service, hospitality, ambiance, and location â€“ the Hilton Waikiki Beach (also known as the Hilton Kuhio by the locals since it's on Kuhio Street and not to be confused with the Hilton Hawaiian Village which is also on Waikiki Beach).
We found a coupon in one of the local guidebooks for a shuttle service to the cruise port for $7 per person, so we called them, made a reservation, and waited while we checked our email, and took care of some business. They arrived about a half hour later and off we went to begin our next adventure.
Since it was relatively late in the day, about 5:00pm, and the ship wasn't scheduled to leave until 7:00pm, there was no line and check-in was relatively quick and painless. They provided a flower lei for the women and a shell lei for the men, adding a nice touch to welcome us onboard.
They hold their lifeboat drill around 4:30pm, so it was a blessing to us that we missed it.
Once we got onboard, we made our way to our balcony cabin on Deck 8 on the port side (#8622).
Note for future reference: Everyone had always said and posted the starboard side was the place to be on this cruise, but I'm here to tell you it really doesn't matter. In fact, often times the port side is better than the starboard side. This was especially true when we departed Honolulu and when we cruised the Napali Coast after departing Kauai'i. When sailing from Hilo to Kona, the ship stops by the volcano and does a 360 degree turn, so both sides of the ship have the same opportunity to see it at night. We didn't get to see the volcano because it was not active, so it really didn't matter during our cruise. Both sides have advantages and disadvantages, but neither is better than the other and I don't care what anybody says about it!
The cabin itself is not much different than most cabins we've been in â€“ smaller than some, bigger than others. We had a balcony, which was really nice to have around the Hawaiian islands. The bathroom was small, as usual, but workable. Storage was adequate. The TV was small and old with very limited channel selection. The bed was comfortable and had plenty of room underneath for storing our 3 suitcases. Our cabin steward provided nice thick bathrobes for us to use. The only negative was that he needed to provide more ice in our bucket of beer, but other than that, he did a nice job. Overall, it was fine â€“ nothing special, but no major complaints. After all, with being in port every day of the cruise, we weren't in our cabin all that much anyway. So if money is an issue, go with an inside cabin and save the money for sightseeing. For the few times it's nice to be outside, you can go on the Lido Deck and enjoy departures, sunsets, and cruising the Napali Coast. But if you can afford a balcony, it really is nice to have on this cruise.
The ship itself was inaugurated in 2005, but feels much older as it's not a good design, especially the main elevators. There are four of them in the middle of the ship, but only two go down to Deck 3, which is the disembarkation point when in port. This creates a problem when everyone is trying to get on and off the ship. It would have made much better sense to have all four elevators go down to Deck 3. The other two stop on Deck 4, so to get these, you have to walk up one flight after boarding the ship. All the elevators are very small â€“ having a maximum capacity of 13 people while in reality only about 8 people can fit in them comfortably. And when you add suitcases, only about 4 people can get in each one, which can make for a long wait when first getting on the ship. There are also only 2 elevators in the aft part of the ship where the dining rooms are â€“ again, not very good planning.
The other poorly designed area was the main pool. It looked as if it came off a ship that was built 50 years ago. The other pool in the back of the ship was nothing more than a square pool about 10 feet wide. Overall, the pool areas were not attractive nor user friendly. But then again, there was only one half day when these areas were really used by the masses and that was on the last day when we left Kauai'i at 2:00pm.
However, with all that said, the ship is very nicely appointed on the inside with a wonderful American dÃ©cor. The main show lounge is large and comfortable. The two-story main dining room is very nice. We liked the Cadillac Diner, which is open 24-hours a day. They had only a few shopping areas onboard, but carried everything you would need. There is a rather large jewelry store that was actually too big, especially considering the small size of the ship. It's a well-known fact there's no casino on this ship, but that's never a problem for us. Although the ship was clean in all areas, there were signs it's due for refurbishment; railings needed sanding and painting, rust noticed in a lot of areas, and it was just showing signs of wear and tear throughout. There were no unwanted odors, the air conditioning worked well, and we did not hear of any problems with the plumbing, so we had no complaints. The few problems I have mentioned were all minor and did not distract from our overall experience.
They were offering a reduced rate at all the specialty restaurants for the first night of the cruise, so we made a reservation at the Lazy J Texas Steakhouse for 8:00pm for $15 per person (normal rate is $25). Everything leading up to the main course was good and we expected the steak to be equally good. I should first say that I love a good steak and as most people know, there are basically three cuts of steaks from which to choose; select, choice, and prime. Prime cuts are what you'll find at upscale restaurants and in the specialty restaurants on most ships. They normally serve choice steaks in the main dinning rooms on ships, but lately, due to the economy, I feel a lot of them have now gone to select steaks to save money. Rarely have we gotten a really good steak in the main dining rooms on most cruises anyway, but some are definitely better than others. On the NCL Pride of America I have always heard that the food was mediocre at best, but I really expected the specialty restaurants to be good based on our experiences with other NCL ships. Needless to say, we were disappointed to find the steaks were not that good in Lazy J. In fact, most main dining rooms serve better steaks than this specialty restaurant. Nancy ordered a filet mignon and I ordered the New York, both cooked medium. And while they were cooked correctly, the quality was just not there â€“ they were dry and we could tell they were previously frozen, plus it was obvious to us these steaks were choice cuts at best. Overall, a disappointing meal given we had to pay extra for it.
Sunday, June 26
The bed was very comfortable and we slept well, but the pillows were terrible â€“ very flat and in desperate need of replacing. Last night we asked for 6 more pillows, which were delivered to us in short order, but they, too, were no better than the rest. We even put two pillows in one pillow case to try and solve the problem, but to no avail. We asked if they had any others from which to choose and were told they were all the same. We were resolved to handle this problem later in the day.
Most people were in a hurry to get off the ship, but we wanted to avoid the rush and took our time, so we went to the main dining room for breakfast. This was our 41st cruise and the one thing I've learned is that no matter what cruise line we're cruising with, no one seems to do a really good breakfast like restaurants back home. This was no exception; while it wasn't bad, it was just average for a cruise.
Today we were in Kahului, Maui. As with every port, we reserved a rental car and these two days would prove this was a wise decision. We rented it through Dollar Car Rental and the price was $17 a day! With taxes, the total for two days was $40 â€“ such a deal considering where we were about to go. Dollar has a free shuttle that took us to the airport where we got a nice Ford Focus â€“ perfect for the drive ahead.
We hooked up our GPS, typed in Hana, and away we went down the famous Road to Hana. It's 52 miles long with over 600 curves and 54 bridges, almost all of them one-lane â€“ definitely not for those who don't like to drive on narrow curvy roads or who get motion sickness, that's for sure. We made several stops along the way to see the scenery, take pictures, visit waterfalls, and enjoy black sand beaches. It really is a beautiful drive.
Since it was a nice day and the weather was good, we drove about 8 miles past Hana and found the gravesite of Charles Lindbergh. (Without a GPS, this is an easy miss as it's off the main road and there are no signs pointing to the site.) We were the only ones there and took the opportunity to show our respects to an amazing American hero. We were glad we made the side trip.
On the way back to Hana, we saw an elderly lady hitchhiking, so we stopped and offered her a ride. This proved to be a good decision as she had lived there for most of her life and was full of wonderful information. She even pointed us to a place where I could buy a cheap, but very nice handmade lei for Nancy â€“ at only $4 it was really beautiful and very fragrant. She also routed us down a road less traveled by tourists that went by several beaches, which were awesome. When we got to Hana, we dropped her off and thanked her for all the great information and insight on what life is like on that part of the island. We went up to the Hana Ranch Restaurant for lunch and had an absolutely fantastic cheeseburger and our first Bikini Blonde Lager, which is a very good local Maui beer.
If you want to take a tour to Hana, they can run from about $75 - $100 per person, so renting a car for $20 a day is a very cheap way to do it. Like others who have done it and survived always say, "Been there, done that, don't need to do it again." My sentiments exactly. The mountains, waterfalls, beaches, and scenery were magnificent, and we're glad we did it. We really enjoyed the experience, but don't need to do it again.
Unfortunately, the only way back to town is via the same road, so getting to Hana is only half the fun! There are now 52 miles and 600 curves yet to drive! (The main road does continue around the other side of the island, but about 10 miles of it is dirt road and car rental agencies don't want you doing it.)
When we got back to town, we found a Costco and made a stop to pick up a few supplies. Next door was a Walmart, where we found a couple of nice pillows and cases to make us more comfortable in our cabin. This turned out to be a very good investment â€“ they were normally $12 each but were on sale for $8 and were not a major investment. (We later bought a vacuum-storage bag in order to bring them back home with us as we had plenty of room in our suitcases.) So lesson learned; we will do like we did in Europe and compress our memory foam pillows into storage bags and take them with us!
I take my laptop with me when I travel so we can still conduct business and stay in contact with our clients while we're gone from the office. We usually find a nice bar that has free wi-fi, get a couple of beers, and take care of the day's business. This sure beats paying the high price for internet service and beers on cruise ships! We've done this everywhere we go, including Europe. Today we found a great little restaurant to meet our purpose and while checking email, we couldn't help but see and smell the wonderful pizza they were serving that was baked in a wood-fired oven. We decided to give it a try and found it to be very good. Needless to say, we weren't hungry for quite a while afterwards and had dinner on the ship in the main dining room late in the evening just before closing. We sat at a table with two other couples and we all agreed that while the service on this ship was very good, the food left a lot to be desired.
And while I'm on the subject of service, I'll say contrary to the many reviews I've read about the lousy service on this ship, we found it to be very good in every area. When NCL first started this new service in Hawaii, they had many problems and the service was rated very poor by everyone. At the time, they were required to have an all-American crew. Later, NCL went to Congress and asked for an exemption, which was granted, so they now have a 75% American crew and 25% foreign crew. This has helped greatly. We thoroughly loved all the crew we dealt with. They were always upbeat, very cordial, and always willing to help. It was also fun meeting staff that came from all different parts of the U.S. instead of the usual cruise where you meet staff from all different parts of the world. While the service in the past may not have been all that good, the current service has improved and we had no problems or complaints, only compliments to the crew.
Monday, June 27
Today was our second day in Maui. We woke up a little later than planned and found the main dining room had already closed for breakfast. Instead, we went up to the buffet to see what was available. I've read reviews where people always said the buffet on this ship was overly crowded. While it was crowded, I did not feel it was more crowded than a lot of ships we've been on and was actually less crowded than others. And while we only ate breakfast in the buffet a few times, the crowd or lack thereof, will depend greatly on when one goes up there, but we never found it to be a problem.
My normal breakfast consists of two eggs over easy, home fries, bacon or sausage, an English muffin, coffee, and orange juice. I usually don't vary much from this as I find it filling, but sometimes will get a bowl of fruit and occasionally a pastry. My vice is a chocolate covered donut, but will hold back to only one or two during a cruise, if they have them. They didn't on this cruise, so I substituted a cinnamon bun, which is another vice I have. While it looked really good, it was like most food on this ship and was just so-so â€“ lacked the flavor I expected. Nancy usually has a bowl of oatmeal, yogurt, fruit â€“ all the good stuff you're suppose to eat. It really irritates her that I eat wrong and don't gain any weight, while she eats right and gains weight. What can I say â€“ I just have a high metabolism.
Okay, so I walked up to one of the three stations where I could get an omelet or eggs made-to-order and asked for two eggs over easy. I kid you not â€“ I watched this guy screw up 7 eggs! He broke every one while trying to cook them in the pan. He never did get it right. (Guess that's why they have him working at the omelet station!) After waiting quite a while, I told him he needed to practice and left to find someone else to cook my eggs. While this time she at least didn't break the eggs, she didn't understand the concept of 'over easy' getting them pretty much over hard instead. We only went to the buffet three times during our cruise and the second time I finally found someone who knew how to cook eggs properly.
We didn't have to walk very far as they provide free parking close to the ship for those who rented cars. We loaded up and begin our drive up to the top of the Haleakala crater.
We started at sea level and ended up at 10,000 feet, so it was quite an uphill drive. The road was extremely curvy and very scenic â€“ just had to watch out for all those bicyclists making their way down the mountain. We drove above the clouds and found the crater to be absolutely amazing! When we viewed the pictures later, it looked as if someone had painted the pictures â€“ the color, contrast, and depth was incredible. Definitely a must-see when in Maui.
After we came down the mountain, we drove north of the city quite a ways and enjoyed some truly magnificent scenery.
Since we had already been in Hawaii for a week, we needed to take care of some laundry and found a self-serve laundromat that was right around the corner from the bar we visited the night before. We dropped a load in the machine and drove around to the bar to use their wi-fi and check our email again. Sometimes those GPS units can be very helpful.
We then returned the car and went back to the ship where we had dinner in the main dining room. As usual, the service was good and the food was just okay.
Tuesday, June 28
This morning we chose to try the breakfast in the Cadillac Diner and it was basically the same as the main dining room, but better than the buffet, plus I got my eggs perfectly done over easy as ordered. At least it wasn't crowded and we enjoyed humming to the music from the 50's.
Today we were in Hilo and since we were only in port for the day, we got off the ship early to make sure we saw and did everything on our schedule. We walked off the ship and only had to wait a short time before the shuttle to Dollar was there to take us to the airport. Imagine our surprise when they brought out a brand new Ford Mustang convertible! Things were looking up!! Unfortunately for us, it rained most of the day and we never got to put the top down â€“ go figure! Couldn't have gotten one of these when we were driving all those curves back on Maui, but hey, I got to drive a new Mustang for a day.
We hooked up the GPS and off we went to see Kilauea. Wouldn't you know it, we've always wanted to see one of the most active volcanos in the world and finally get the chance only to find that Pele, the goddess of fire, dance, lightning, and volcanoes, has been sleeping since April!! We kept wondering what we needed to do to wake her up, but figured perhaps it was wise not to do so â€“ never know what she might do to get even with us â€“ wouldn't want her waking up angry!
We drove to the top of the crater and through the mist, we were able to see the steam and smoke arising from the middle. We drove around and wanted to see the lava tube, but the crowds were incredible, so we bypassed this area and headed to the end of the road where the new lava had been flowing. It was all quite amazing to see even if there was no lava currently pouring into the sea, plus the weather was much nicer on this part of the island.
We made our way back to Hilo and stopped at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Company where we bought some of the best chocolate covered macadamia nuts we found during our trip. Unfortunately, they were too good and we ate what we had bought for gifts, requiring us to buy more later on. Those, too, may not make it to the intended recipients!
Wednesday, June 29
Today we were in Kona and again rented a car, only this time we used Budget because they had an office right by the pier. Other car rental places were at the airport and did not provide free shuttle service. We were not about to pay around $60 each way for a taxi and were glad Budget was close by.
This was the only port where we did not have a particular plan in place as to where we wanted to go or what we wanted to see, so we just played it by ear. This was also the only port where we were tendered, which was not a real unpleasant experience as we didn't have to wait very long getting off or on the ship as they used enough tenders to keep people moving.
There are a couple of beaches right near the pier for those wanting to swim and not go too far or do an excursion. There is also plenty of shopping and restaurants around the pier, so there's no need to rent a car unless you want to see the countryside.
We walked one block to the Budget office and off we went to see what Kona had to offer.
We drove about 35 miles north, stopping at a few beaches and seeing the sites. Then turned around and came back to town, where we stopped at the Maui Brewing Company brewery and enjoyed some lunch and a couple of beers while checking our emails. We then drove about 30 miles south of town to see the sites. Thanks to our GPS, we found a small coffee company off the beaten path. We spent about 45 minutes talking to the owner who gave us some wonderful information about coffee in Hawaii. There was no one else there, so she just kept going on and on about the beans, growing, harvesting, roasting, varieties, pests, diseases, weather, etc. She also talked about cocoa beans and chocolate on the island. All quite informing and fascinating. All the while, we enjoyed some of their wonderfully delicious coffee. We purchased a couple of pounds of their best Kona coffee and headed back to town.
We took the back roads until we found the place closest to the Captain Cook memorial across a small bay. In order to get to the memorial, you have to take a boat or have a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you want to approach it from land. We decided to do neither and just saw it from a distance.
Afterwards, we made our way back to town via other back roads where we did some sightseeing and shopping before returning the car and going to the ship.
Tonight we were invited to have dinner with John O'Hara, who is the Hotel Director on the Pride of America. Spending two hours with him was very interesting and we learned a lot while asking him every question you can imagine. Needless to say, I took the opportunity to mention the situation with the pillows and suggested they seriously think of replacing them. Hopefully, that suggestion will make it nicer for those coming in behind us and that NCL won't wait until refurbishment. The next day he sent us a note thanking us for having dinner with him and gave us a complimentary dinner at the Jefferson's Bistro specialty restaurant.
Thursday, June 30
Today we arrived in Kaui'i for 1-1/2 days. Luckily, we had pre-reserved a rental car because several of the companies did not have anymore to rent. We were picked up at the pier by the Dollar shuttle bus and taken to the airport, where we got a brand new Ford Fusion with only 16 miles on it. It was very nice with leather seating and all the latest gizmos.
Waimea Canyon is called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and was one place we had to see. At 10 miles long, 1 mile wide, and over 3,500 feet deep it is quite an amazing site. The colors and waterfalls make this a wonderful place and the drive up was great.
Note for future reference: We were told if you ever want to do a helicopter tour while in Hawaii that Kaui'i is the one island to do it. We looked into doing this but at a minimum of $175 per person, was a little out of our budget. One of the major attractions that can only be seen by helicopter is the Manawaiopuna Falls, which is more famously known as the Jurassic Falls because it was featured in the movie Jurassic Park. But if you have the money and are visiting Kaui'i, this is an excursion you should plan to do as this is one of the most beautiful islands there is in Hawaii. It's easy to understand why more movies were filmed on this island than any other island in Hawaii.
We spent some time driving around, seeing the sites, and doing a little bit of shopping. As usual, we found a nice little local bar, drank a couple of beers, and took care of some business on the laptop before heading back to the ship.
Unfortunately, there is no place to park near the pier in this port, so we were forced to park at a restaurant close by and pay $10 for the night. This was better than where they recommended, which was $15 a night. After parking, we still had to take a complimentary shuttle to the ship, as it was a little too far to walk on a hot day.
Thanks to John O'Hara, we had reservations at Jefferson's Bistro for dinner tonight. We ordered a nice bottle of wine and had what can best be described as a below-par meal for a specialty restaurant. As we had come to expect, the service was very good, but it was obvious to us that the food was previously frozen â€“ not bad, but just lacking in flavor, freshness, and moisture.
Friday, July 1
Since we were only in port for half the day, we chose to drive north to visit some little towns, sightsee a bit, see a couple of waterfalls, do a little shopping at some flea markets, and just tour around Kaui'i for a while. We returned the car around 1:00pm and the ship departed at 2:00pm. When I asked one of the crew why we were leaving so early, he advised we would be sailing by the Napali coast before turning around and heading to Honolulu. We grabbed a quick lunch and headed to our balcony to watch the world go by as we cruised north. Being on the port side of the ship was much better than the starboard on this part of the cruise as we got to see the magnificent coast line in full sunlight from our balcony. While we sat in the shade, the starboard side was in the hot sun. The Napali coast is truly an amazing place, but can only be seen by water or air. When we got to the turnaround point, the sun was starting to set, so while those on the starboard side enjoyed the coastline in fading light, we were treated to a wonderful sunset.
As with a lot of cruise lines, they had a drink special whereby if you buy 4 beers, you get the 5th beer for free. We bought this special a couple of times and enjoyed beer on the balcony. Another good point was they never checked the water bottles we had in our backpacks and we were able to enjoy cocktails on the balcony as well.
Tonight we chose to bypass the main dining room and instead just enjoy a nice meal in the Cadillac Diner. While we had become accustomed to the food just being average and this was no exception, we enjoyed the variety and had a good time.
The entertainment on board was okay â€“ some good, some not so good. But after 41 cruises, we're really not into attending all the entertainment anymore. Pretty much seen it all, so tonight, being our last night, we chose to pack and spend a quiet romantic evening on the balcony watching the stars instead of watching any of the entertainment.
Saturday, July 2 â€“ Friday, July 8
We were hopeful we could get to the airport in time to catch a 9:30am flight on Island Air from Honolulu to Kapalua Airport on the west side of Maui. We were lucky to get off the ship by 8:00am and found shuttles outside waiting to take people to the airport â€“ cost was $5 per person, which really beat the taxis and cruise line shuttles. We had plenty of time to check in and wait for the plane, but we weren't sure we would get on the flight as we were flying standby. Although the flight was sold out, we again got lucky and two people did not show up, so we managed to get on the plane. This is a small twin prop plane that only holds 30 people and does not fly very high. Our faces were glued to the windows as we got an excellent view of the islands during our 30-minute flight.
We had originally made reservations at the Westin Resort Hotel and Spa on Ka'anapali Beach for only a few nights because of the cost. But I was fortunate enough to find a company specializing in selling timeshares people can't use and want to rent out at the last minute. A studio unit at the Westin Resort Villas North on Ka'anapali Beach normally rents for $1200 - $1700 a week, but I managed to find a unit for $499 for a week and couldn't believe our luck â€“ it was for the exact week we needed it. One week there was less than a few days at the resort. Plus, the unit had a full kitchen and we were able to cook our meals and save even more money.
When we arrived at the airport, we found we were going to have to take a taxi. While the Westin Resort has a complimentary shuttle, it does not service the villas, which is strange given the resort is further away. It just so happened, the shuttle was there to take a family to the resort and the driver was kind enough to take us to the villas. Needless to say, I gave him a very nice gratuity.
We got to the villas around 10:30am and found we could not check in until 4:00pm. We checked our bags with the bellmen, walked around the property, took pictures, and then took the free shuttle into Lahaina for some grocery shopping. We found a nice little Mexican restaurant in the mall and while we ate, enjoyed a wonderful hour-long hula show by a local group who was performing in the center of the mall. We shopped around for a while and then picked up groceries for our stay. By the time we got back to the villas, it was 4:00pm and our villa was ready for us. It was really nice with a very comfortable king-size bed, a wonderful large bathroom with a big shower and a large Jacuzzi tub. The full kitchen was stocked with all the utensils we needed, including long-handle grilling tools. There was a large 42" flat screen TV with about 100 channels and a Bose stereo clock radio. It also had a washer & dryer, in-room safe, iron & ironing board, dishwasher, microwave, coffee maker including Kona coffee, stove, and full-size refrigerator with icemaker. The balcony had two chairs and a table that overlooked the pool and a view of the ocean. The beach area was very nice and the snorkeling was outstanding, so we really enjoyed our week there. All-in-all, it was quite wonderful.
I won't go into a day-by-day description of what we did, but we spent a lot of time on the beach just relaxing and enjoying the beautifully clear water. We went into town a couple of times, but only ate out twice during our stay. Instead, we bought some great steaks, awesome shrimp, and local ground beef that we cooked on the outdoor Jenn-air gas grills provided for guests at the villas.
A couple of weeks before our trip, we booked reservations at the Feast at LeLe luau for July 4th, figuring this was a most appropriate time as we could enjoy the fireworks in Lahaina along with our luau. This turned out to be a very good decision because, as usual with most luaus, they were sold out ahead of time.
We took the shuttle downtown and then walked towards the luau. The police had blocked off the main street, which was a good idea given the large crowd of people arriving to see the fireworks. Luaus are a must-do when visiting Hawaii, so this was something we had been anxiously awaiting. Many luaus offer seating that requires you to sit on mats, while others offer mats as well as tables. Some offer buffet style, while others offer full service. This one was relatively small, having only about 100 guests, all of which sat at tables and served each course by waiters. All guests are greeted with a flower lei and a mai tai. Tables are pre-assigned, so imagine our surprise when they sat us front row center by the stage - we had the best table in the entire place. Photographers were onsite, but at $25 for a 4x6 print, we thought this a bit expensive.
The meal at this particular luau is four courses, each representing different parts of the Polynesian culture that make up the Hawaii islands (Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, & Samoa). Plus, they have an open bar and we took advantage of the many local beers and liquor. After each course, there are dances representing each of the four cultures. During the second course, the fireworks started, so they stopped the show to allow us to watch. We got up and walked about 30 feet to the beach where we watched the display reflecting off the calm sea. Overall, a wonderful and very romantic evening, albeit a bit expensive. Luaus run about $100 or so per person, so this one night cost us around $250 with gratuities â€“ not something one wants to do too often. The food was pretty good and each course offered three different dishes from which to choose consisting of such things as chicken, pork, beef, fish, and vegetables.
Our stay in Maui was awesome â€“ we just wish we could have stayed there for another week. If we ever decide to go back to Hawaii, we know of some places we would want to stay for a couple of weeks and not worry about seeing other islands. I now understand why those on the West coast like to go to Hawaii, while those on the East coast prefer the Caribbean. Given the length of time to get there and the costs involved, I also would prefer the Caribbean since we're on the East coast. But if time and money were not a big issue, there's no doubt I would go back to Hawaii in a minute.
Saturday, July 9
We got a shuttle from the Westin Villas to the Kahului Airport for $25 per person that took about 45 minutes. There are two airports on Maui and this one is on the east side of the island and serves the major airlines. The other airport, Kapulua, is on the west side of the island near Lahaina, but is very small and only serves the inter-island prop aircraft. (There's only one runway, which is fairly short, no taxiway, and no real baggage claim. After flying into and out of large airports, this one is a real hoot!)
Once again, we were lucky there were a couple of seats remaining for standby passengers and we got to LAX without any problems. But when we got to LA, our luck ran out. The flight to Dulles was overbooked and we could not get on it, but our luggage did. (Another bad thing about flying standby.) Since it was about 10:00pm, there were not a lot of flights to choose from and we did not want to spend the night in LA. The flight to BWI was overbooked, which left flights to Chicago or Orlando as the only ones available that night heading towards the east coast. We checked for flights from Chicago to Dulles on Sunday and they did not look promising, so we decided to chance it and fly to Orlando.
Sunday, July 10
We arrived in Orlando only to find all the flights to Dulles were overbooked for both Sunday and Monday. We could have rented a car and driven to Tampa as there was a possibility of a flight out Sunday night, but we decided to just rent a car and drive to Jacksonville to visit our son-in-law and our 2-1/2 year old grandson for a couple of days. Our daughter is in the Navy and currently on a 6-month deployment, so we figured they would love to have the company while she's away serving her country. Too bad our luggage was in Dulles! But having been there many times, we leave a suitcase at their house with extra shoes, shirts, shorts, and toiletries, and in that way we don't have to carry everything back and forth all the time. It wasn't a big deal we didn't have our suitcases with us and asked our son to pick them up for us during his shift at Dulles.
Tuesday, July 12
All the flights from Jacksonville to Dulles were booked until today, so our choice to fly to Orlando and drive to Jacksonville turned out to a good decision. During this entire trip, we did what you should not do when flying standby and that's travel during the Summer and on the weekends. It's the worse time, but it was the only thing we could do in this particular case. So lesson learned â€“ do not fly standby in the Summer or on the weekends, especially to Hawaii!!
We got home about 9:30pm, went to bed about midnight, and then slept for 14-1/2 hours!! Traveling at our age with major time differences definitely take their toll on one's body, that's for sure. Besides, we really missed our nice big comfortable waterbed!
We had a great time and are so glad we finally got to check this off our bucket-list. Hawaii was better than we thought and is definitely some place we'd like to visit again. The Hawaiian people are very special and they are the ones who make a visit to the islands a very special experience.
With everything we did, we can now discuss Hawaii with our clients from a first-hand experience and let them know what to do, what not to do, what to expect, and where to go. This is very important to us as we always want to provide personal insight and information to our clients, which is what separates us from those online sites and large travel agencies who are only interested in 'selling' cruises and not in providing personal service.
The cruise was the main purpose for our trip and we're glad we did it, but it's not something we would want to do again. As we've told our clients when doing this particular cruise, this is not the normal cruise you get when cruising to other places on other ships. This is a unique one-of-a-kind experience that should not and cannot be compared with regular cruises. If you look at this as a 2-star hotel taking you around to the islands, you'll enjoy your trip. If you try to compare this to a regular cruise, you'll liable to be disappointed. I would definitely recommend this to those who have never been to Hawaii and would like to visit 4 of the islands. It gives you the opportunity to see more than just one island without having to worry about flying to each of the islands and going through all the hassles of airports, taxis, hotels, and restaurants. It's also the only one doing a 7-night cruise around the islands â€“ all the rest do either a one-way to or from the West coast, or do a roundtrip from the West coast â€“ both have many days at sea and don't spend as much time in the islands.
I would also recommend reserving a rental car ahead of time in each port. This is one cruise where doing organized shore excursions are not really necessary. We checked to see what was available and felt we did more and saw more by doing our own thing â€“ we definitely saved a great deal of money by renting cars.
While the ship was okay, it's not one of our favorites. The food left a lot to be desired and, quite frankly, was mediocre at best. I know those who love NCL will disagree with me and I'm sure I've irritated some of them with my comments. It simply does not compare to other cruise lines that pay more attention to quality and flavor. We heard many comments by passengers about the food; most were negative, only a few were positive, so it was obvious this was not just our opinion. And it wasn't just the passengers who were not happy with the food. On many occasions, we saw crew members carrying boxes full of food onto the ship. In all our cruises, I've never seen crew bringing this much food onboard. When I asked a couple of them, they were polite enough about it, but hinted the food on the ship was not that good.
In fact, we met one of the chefs at a bar one day while both of us were checking emails on our computers. We carried on a conversation for over an hour and I told him in all honesty we thought the food was just adequate. He was a formally trained chef who has worked at some fancy restaurants, but wanted to try something different, so he thought cruising around Hawaii on a ship sounded interesting and exciting. I thought he might take offense to my comments, but he laughed saying he had to agree with me. He said most of the food was received frozen and the chefs were not allowed to stray from the very strict corporate ingredients or recipes, even in the specialty restaurants. He said it was unfortunate that NCL hires well-trained chefs and yet won't let them do what they have been trained to do. (This was very obvious to us.) They do try very hard to make it look good, which they succeed in doing, but throughout the cruise, the food simply lacked flavor, freshness, and originality. Don't get me wrong, it was not bad and I have no real complaints about the food because quite frankly, it's what we had expected. I just feel they should listen to the chefs and let them put more of their creativity in the dishes and provide fresher non-frozen products. Even this chef told me the food would be much better if it weren't all frozen. Of course, one might believe this is only unique to this ship due to where it's located, but we've found the exact same thing on all 4 of our NCL cruises. However, it's not just NCL, so please don't think I'm only picking on them â€“ after all, this is a review of this one cruise, but we've found the same thing on other cruise lines and we've been a little disappointed in them as well. While we were not totally disappointed in the food in the main dining room because we got what we expected and there were no real surprises, I do have to admit, in my opinion, the specialty restaurants on the Pride of America were disappointing. While they were better than the main dining room, we did expect better from them given the extra charge.
But with that said, and I know I'm repeating myself, the one thing we were very happy with was the service. Contrary to what we've read and heard from others, we thought the American crew did a wonderful job. We gave our compliments to the Hotel Director when we had dinner with him and he was happy to receive our comments because he said they have been trying very hard to improve in that area.
However, I still heard people complaining. I listened to one lady on the phone while we were standing outside the ship waiting for a shuttle in Kaui'i and she was remarking how terrible the cruise was, how horrible the food was, and how bad the service was. Nancy and I looked at each other and said, "Wonder what ship she's on!"
We were on the Celebrity Eclipse in May and it was one of the most wonderful cruises we've ever been on. Everything was great. Out of 41 cruises, it now ranks #2 on our all-time favorite list. Yet even then, I heard people complaining about something or other. As the saying goes, "You can't please everybody no matter how hard you try."
As a Matre'd once told me on a cruise a couple of years ago, "Some people complain because the water's too wet!"
My credo has been, "You will always find what you're looking for, so why not look for the best in everything." In other words, if you want to be miserable, you will be if all you do is look for the negative things. Nancy and I always truly want to enjoy our cruise, so we don't go looking for discouraging things and we don't let the few negative things we do find bother us all that much. Even with the food, we were fine with it, albeit a little disappointing at times, but we had no complaints.
Cruising is definitely one of those things where you can have a great time or a miserable time - it depends on how much you let the small stuff affect you. And, as the book says, "Don't sweat the small stuff - and it's all small stuff." Some people are very detailed oriented when it comes to cruising â€“ they are constantly looking at the little things and judge accordingly. We try not to look at the little things, preferring instead to judge based on the overall experience.
There's something out there for everybody and the fun is finding the best one for you. We, on the other hand, obviously have to try them all so we can tell our clients about them. We can honestly say we've never had a bad cruise. Yes, some have been better than others, but none of them have been to the point we've had to complain about everything or caused us to have a miserable time.
Our worst cruise was still very good in some areas, so like all cruises we've taken, we concentrated on those good things in order not to let the negative things impact on the overall experience. And while there were a few areas on this cruise that could use improvement, we did not let them dictate whether we were going to enjoy the cruise or not. For us, this particular cruise was a positive experience, while I know others on the same cruise had a negative experience. It all depends on one's ability to really relax and enjoy themselves while on vacation. The bottom line is had we listened to all the negative reviews, we may have had second thoughts about doing this cruise in the first place. Lesson learned, opinions are like bellybuttons, everyone has one. Don't listen too hard to reviews as your experience may be completely different than theirs because we're all different people and what one loves, another will hate and vice versa.
Sorry, didn't mean to get off the subject, but this particular cruise tends to elicit more comments (good and bad) from passengers than any other cruise we've ever taken. I just think it's very important for prospective cruisers to understand this cruise is really more about what you do with the opportunity to visit Hawaii than it is about what you expect to get out of the cruise itself. In other words, it's about the itinerary and not about the cruise. Hope that makes sense, but as I said in the beginning, this is not your usual cruise â€“ it is what you make it.
In closing, I would highly suggest to anyone considering this cruise that they plan to spend at least a few days in Honolulu before the cruise. This not only gives you time to get use to the time change, but also an opportunity to see the sights, visit the beach, try some local foods, and appreciate the Hawaiian lifestyle. While the cruise affords one the time to visit 4 islands, it would be a shame to fly in the day the cruise started and fly out the day the cruise ended. Keep in mind that Honolulu is a big city, so if you can, plan to spend some time either outside the city or at one of the other islands. It's truly a magical place with wonderful people and should be visited at least once in everyone's lifetime.
Pete & Nancy Peterson Cruise Planners, Inc. www.storybookcruises.com
My youngest daughter turned 21 this month and wanted to see Bourbon St in New Orleans as a 21 year old. We decided to take her and three friends from college to New Orleans for an afternoon and evening there, and sail out of New Orleans on the Norwegian Spirit for 7 days to Costa Maya, Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel. I have booked lots of customers on this ship for this year and wanted to see it firsthand. I recalled that it was originally Superstar Leo sailing in Asia for Star Cruises, NCL's parent company. It was renamed and moved to NCL about 6 years ago and renamed Norwegian Spirit. It began in Alaska, and later was doing alternating 5 and 9 day Caribbean cruises, and I had looked forward to sailing on it.
We have sailed on Norwegian Dream, Star, Jewel, Pearl, Sky (twice), Epic, and Pride of America out of 64 total cruises. I can honestly say I have enjoyed every one of them. While my wife is a traditional cruiser, we like Freestyle Cruising, dining whenever we like. My wife dresses for dinner no matter what line weare on, and we enjoy music for listening and dancing, especially ballroom style.
After the necessary stops in New Orleans at Acme Oyster House, Bourbon St in the afternoon and evening, dinner on Decatur Street, and morning coffee and bengiettes as Café DuMonde Sunday morning, we arrived at the cruise terminal about 12:30pm. The ship had been a bit later arriving due to the high water in the Mississippi. By arriving then, and thanks to a Latitudes embarkation desk, we were promptly processed and aboard before 1pm. The cabins were to be ready by 2pm, but they began calling them by decks about 1:45pm. We did the customary tour of the ship and taking photos before the bulk of passengers arrived in order to get good photos of all the venues.
Our cabin was a category BA balcony on deck 11. Storage drawers were at a premium, and there was only one bedside table, but there proved to be adequate storage in the closet, on shelves in there, and in some drawers below the coffee/ice counter. TV did not have interactive account monitoring. There was the usual coffee maker, but no refrigerator. I especially like the way most NCL bathrooms are set up, with the toilet in one side of the bathroom with a door closing it off, the sink in the center, and a shower stall to the right with a sliding door. The condition of everything was fine. There was a little marking in some of the shower tiling, but generally everything was very attractive.
The four girls were in an inside cabin on deck 10, and it had two twins, a Pullman, and a rollaway. Interestingly, they didn't have the partitioned bathroom, and the bathroom seemed roomier therefore.
The fact that the ship was designed for the Asian market originally is only really noticeable on the deck where the Steakhouse, and Asian/teppanyaki restaurant is located, as even the steakhouse has an oriental décor. The teppanyaki table only seats 40 per night, and must be reserved starting at 8am the day before. It fills up fast. They were offering discounted pricing at all the specialty restaurants during May and June, and although we had originally thought we might use one or two, we all found the food in the main dining rooms excellent, with good variety, and ate there every night. Sometimes my wife and I ate by ourselves and sometimes with the girls. They ate in the Windows dining room every night and loved the food and service. We ate in the Garden dining room one night and while the atmosphere was more subdued, the service was not as good and the glare of the entry to and from the pantry/galley by the staff caused repeated distractions and lighting. That was not the case in the Windows dining room, where the service was outstanding. The Maitre De', Louis P, stopped by every night to talk with my wife and me and even gave me his card with his phone number. He even arranged a surprise birthday cake for my daughter and on another night a cake for the girls who had just graduated. The girls enjoyed a water nicknamed “Naughty, Naughty” and managed to request and get him assigned every night. To give you an idea of the food, my wife eats seafood every night and loved the selection. It started with lobster and shrimp the first night, and she never had to repeat the fish choice once. My daughter, a bit picky, loved the salmon on the always available menu and had it three times. I enjoyed lamb twice, osso bucco, English loin, turkey, and a sirloin from the always available menu that was excellent. They even had gravlox and escargot as appetizers.
The Garden Café, the buffet area on deck 12, had at least 4 different stations preparing eggs to order in the morning, as well as all the normal stations. Seating on the starboard side on the rear was below the basketball court, and I don't recommend seating there. There was amply staff and supervision, the tables were promptly cleared, and we never experienced any difficulty finding seating. At night a portion of one side of the Garden Café is closed off and becomes the Italian Trattoria, with appropriate décor and lighting.
There were three excellent production shows, one with a touch of the Circe' style, an illusionist/magician who did several shows, and some comedians. I was very pleased with the quality of the shows. There were so many activities during the day that we were interested in that we couldn't do them all. A wonderful couple, Arvin and Emily, entertain in Champagne Charlie's most evenings, and even participated in one the afternoon shows. The orchestra throughout the week did sessions in the Galaxy club on deck 13 and in Champagne Charlie's. That is our kind of dance music, and we loved it. There was the customary “White Night” one evening in the Galaxy Lounge, plenty of late night activity in Maharaja's Night Club, and even a toga party on the pool deck one night. The ship is easy to get around, and the only confusion I had was that the theatre is all the way aft, instead of forward like on most ships. I'm not a fan of lots of announcements, and thought there were a lot on this ship.
Debarkation on NCL ships is my favorite: you don't have to vacate the cabins until about 10, you don't have to drag carryon's to breakfast, and everything goes very smoothly. They did have colored tag announcements, but everyone is off between 9 and 9:45, or earlier if they can carry their own luggage off.
A word on ports. In Costa Maya my wife and I decided to skip the cruiseline developed port, but walk outside and observe the new shops set up out there, even a Senor Frog's, and then took a taxi for $2 per person into Mahahual, the nearby local town that was devastated by a hurricane in 2007. It has recovered and we walked the entire boardwalk to check it out. We found that you could get an hour massage for $20, or go snorkeling for an hour including gear for $20. Price for 2 margaritas, 3 beers, and plate of nachos on the beach in free tables and lounge chairs was $21. Check out http://www.sandalsandskis.com/Tropicante.html You can even reserve space in advance there. We were fortunate that there was only one ship in port.
In Roatan we chose to try Bananarama Resort. For $30 per person they pick you up in a van, take you to the resort on the beach on the West Bay were the other resorts are, and include a drink and a chair all day. For $5 more they include snorkel gear. There is an excellent snorkeling site and reef that you can walk into the water and swim out to, nearby. The best snorkeling I've found in Roatan. Lunch for 6 and a few beverages was only $73.
In Costa Maya, instead of reef snorkeling….my favorite….we did ca ve tubing. There are many companies offering it, including the cruise lines. We had been referred to one that offered a private van transfer (about 1 hour each way), a guide and after 30 minute hike to the cave, the tubing, followed by good buffet lunch, and the ride back. There is a place to change to dry clothes.
In Cozumel, the girls wanted to see Chankanaab National Park. I found a coupon online for $2 per person discount. They now require all swimmers to use life vests, which they will provide free. Snorkel gear is $10 per person. We did observe the free sea lion show up close and observe the dolphin encounters that are now included in the entrance fee. The NCL ships berth at Punta Langusta pier, right downtown, across the street from Carlos & Charlie's (downstairs) and Senor Frogs (upstairs).
In summary, we had great food, outstanding service and entertainment, more activities than we could participate in, excellent weather, and one of our best seven day cruises in quite some time. The Norwegian Spirit is a GREAT value. The ship is even scheduled for a refurbishment later this year and is scheduled to sail in Europe next year.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Tina Mexico April 29, 2011
I booked 8 rooms for my wedding party. To keep it simple here's what went wrong!
My husband got food poisoning from chicken ordered to room service he threw up for a whole day!!! bugs in two of the rooms in the beds medical service unclean (nurse dropped gauze on the floor then used it on us also removed cap of a syringe with her mouth and used it on us) a crew came to paint a moldy ceiling in one of the cabins of the wedding party even though we asked them not to and the girls had to sleep with fresh paint smell in their room! on booking all 8 rooms we had room credits which once on board they did not want to give to us. since we were a group they had promised something in the room every night for the group and for myself and my husband (the newlyweds) and we got nothing but bugs and paint smell and so much more!
Service and food were the worst I've had on a cruise ever! (i've beenon 4 cruises and ha people with us who had cruised 8 times with other lines who were in disbelief at this terrible cruise!!!)
STAY AWAY FROM THE STAR!!! we had a terrible experience and would never step foot in a Norwegian cruise again!!!
I've been a some other cruises between 2001-2006, like on Royal Caribbean and NCL Norwegian Dawn (ND), both ships, smaller than Norwegian Gem (NG), but much, much nicer, like palaces, like opulent hotels, mirrors and nice entrances, elevators in glass, open space 5 or 6 floors high, magnificent. On Gem the reception area, it is like 3rd class hotel, in the beginning, I asked the reception person where is the Atrium, the Centrum. This is it, she said. wow bummer. Compare NG atrium with ND: see the links
Comparing with our previous experiences, the main difference is that the economic recession affected the cruise industry visibly. They are passing the buck as much as possible, charging as much as possible for anything possible.
For example, there were no trays to carry your food in the buffet lines (imagine if you had a stormy sea and have to walk to a empty table), the bottled water over $5, beer a bit under $5, no free movie channels on TV, $9.99 per movie. The food variety lower than a few years back.
Starting from the begging…it was a big plus, the embarkation was much, muchbetter organized than other times. Almost no wait to get on the ship, went through all the checks in probably 10 minutes. The embarkation started at midday, they would call numbers, very nicely organized. We waited much longer, lol, almost half an hour to make some specialty restaurants reservations (they hand only two persons and only one computer working). When we got on the boat, in the Atrium, the guys from the Caffe bar greeted us with nice cocktails, joyfully welcoming on board, and asking for our key card to pay for the colorful cocktails (9 bucks if I remember correctly)…warning… they are not free. Not long after that we went to our staterooms. I am a map person, so the first think was to look for the daily boat pamphlets, and the boat layout map. I found the schedule for the day, but maps? Noap, no such a thing. Even on the daily schedule, the way the info was put, the restaurants location, hours etc, were not very easy to digest.
Regarding the food, I will be more specific in the dining category below, the food was ok, not too much variety, very crowed, lines to get omelets, lines to get “orange” juice, if you could find it.
Regarding boat stops activities.
In Orlando, we went to Cocoa Beach. Nice weather, the water a bit cold. Some taxi buses had arrangements with the cruise lines to transport passengers to/from boats to the beach. In the same day it was also a Royal Caribbean boat there. At around 5 PM was the last pick up shuttle. We went at about 4 PM at the pick up spot, where it was a sign “for Norwegian Gem” and were a group of people waiting. After a while some other people came from RC ship and they formed another line, 15 feet before NG. Nobody knew if those Taxi buses will carry both parties or they were separate for NG and RC. The fact is that when the bus came at 5, the driver, (Ronald Sterling was id in the bus), stopped where the RC group was and which came there after us. Imagine the frustration when that big crowed starting pushing, trying to get on the bus, and some of the people that were among the first in line, couldn’t get on the bus. We had to travel back, standing in bus crowed like sardines and he drove us to the Royal Caribbean ship first. Very poor organization and service.
In Great Stirrup Cay, they made a lot of new improvements, be aware that the lounge chairs are free but those covers $30. The food was better, more variety. The drinks ok, except beer, I am an European beer drinker, so from 5 spots/bars, only one had Heineken and of course long line.
In Nassau was ok, you can do so many things. We went to see the aquarium in Atlantis Hotel, but now is $39 bucks and even to access parts of the outside hotel (with great water views) is not allowed anymore.
The voyage back was ok, normal.
Ship Quality Average
As I said before, the ship is bigger than what I experienced before but the Atrium is UGLY, it doesn't exist. The main eating area-Garden Caffe (Buffet) it has such an inefficient layout, it is smaller or seems smaller than Norwegian Dawn (ND). It seems that even if the ship is bigger, the extra space was used for cabins but the public areas weren't increased proportionally I guess, they are smaller, that's way it was crowded at dining, at pool, at the bowling/karaoke/disco lounge (Bliss Ultra Lounge). Good thing that they are clean, a very clean ship, EXCEPT, even if "washy washy" was the motto in the dining areas, I found to issues: 1-the close napkins that had wrapped the fork and knife were that clean at all 2-more dangerous, how the staff would clean the table after somebody else was disgusting, with some cheap blue cloth, no detergent.
Quality food for the restaurants that we went:--Buffet areas: Garden Caffe, ok, shortage of paper napkins, tea spoons, very crowed.
Difficult to find seats, many times we will find seats all the way at the aft open area where they did not have as much food as in the middle buffet, the bar was closed at breakfast, you were lucky to find one of the the 2 or 3 Orange Juice dispenser (by the clock, they were available only during the breakfast)
Great Outdoors, ok, same like GC but much less variety. If it was not windy, it was very crowded.
The Pool Grill; I am wondering why it is called Grill, very poor offer of BBQ and grill; some chicken and ribs. The worse cruise regarding BBQ.
On most of the Buffet areas, if don’t hold on your food, the waiters will take your plate even if you did not finish, very annoying.
Summer Palace Main Restaurant; almost OK; we had steak, it was like the cow was a bodybuilder, it was medium done as requested but, the meat was so hard.Indigo Main (Magenta on the ship); better than Palace, good food, very good service, drinks Le Bistro; very good, the Fillet Mignon was a delish, wine good, nice variety from $20-30 something to $120. The service a bit slow. Cagney Steakhouse; excellent food, drinks and service. Best Margaritas from Star Bar. La Cucina; ok, the pizza not that ok for an “Italian” restaurant, but pretty good for a cruise --Bars: Good and cheap (bet $2-$5) coffees and lattés from Java Cafe
Stateroom Quality: Good We had a balcony room 10th deck. The toilette very small, but the rest was nice, very good insulation, you barely can here the outside public announcements. Not too many times we found the towel animals; on Royal C. almost every day we will have another animal, sometimes twice a day. TV program very poor, no free movies, not even 1 channel; it was something like the preferred programs that was mostly for kids or nothing.
Ship Staff Quality: Very Good
Entertainment & Activities Good
Sinan is funny funny funny. But as I read, his nickname was the Bingo boy. Not that I am such a bingo fun, but damn it if I heard more than two times that they have Bingo games...and when I heard it, they were at not a very good time. The shows were also funny and entertaining, except much acclaimed Second City; I cannot digest at all this type of fun.
They have a casino also, which was ok.
Bottom line, I would think twice before taking a trip on this ship.
First let me say that I have been on over 20 cruises with various lines. I read the Cruisemates reviews and wonder how people can write negative things about cruise ships we have really enjoyed. Bottom line, I'm very positive. But while cruising on NCL's Spirit I had to work very hard to remain positive. Embarkation started out terribly. The ship was three hours late getting in because of a medical emergency and so debarkation was late making embarkation really behind schedule. The lines were understandably very, very long and NCL didn't have the people to process as quickly as needed. It took over two hours and a half of standing in line to finally get on the ship. It was the worst I'd ever seen, but still, understandable. What surprised me is the only recognition of this mess was a brief apology by the Captain at one of the shows. I think one free drink would have been a nice gesture or at least something to acknowledge how miserable the experience was. Very poor public relations!
Our cabin was on the 9th deck with a veranda. The veranda was the smallestwe have ever seen and the cabin at 170 square feet was really small when we folded out the hide-a-bed for my daughter. The room became wall-to-wall bed. Storage and drawer space was at a minimum so we had to live partially out of our suit cases. They need more drawers and cubby's, but the room was so small, it isn't a real possibility. When compared to Carnival, Holland American, RCL, or Princess the rooms were significantly smaller and more crowded.
The ship itself felt small. The public spaces were small for the size of the passenger size of the ship. The buffet area was always jammed and tables scarce. We often had to eat outside, which was OK because we were in the Western Caribbean. The Lounge Show area, Galaxy of the Stars, was really small and over-used. When they had a lounge show (Second City) the place was jammed and sight lines were really bad. Seating was extremely limited.
Anytime dining worked much better than we would have expected as we only had to wait in line one night. We had avoided NCL since they started the "Free-Style" approach but for getting a table, it worked. The food was at best uninspired and mediocre. They had a fixed menu with about five items they served all week. I think this made them feel they could limit the nightly menu to only 5 or six choices. I won't say that every meal was awful, I did have a couple good items, but the selection was just not exciting. One night I had the 8 ounce New York that was on the every-night menu because there was nothing I wanted on the menu. Eight ounces may be an exaggeration. It was more like a small steak you'd get on a steak sandwich at the local diner. If they pushed it to 12 ounces it might have been better.
One night we went Cagney's, the specialty steak house with a $25 extra charge ($35 if you wanted the lobster). We were on RCL's Mariner of the Sea's in March so we compared the two steak houses. No, comparison! The one on Mariner of the Sea's was a 10 while Carney's was a 5. I had to send my steak back twice as I ordered it rare and it came out medium to medium-well.
In several reviews I read people say that the passengers were a little lower class than experienced on other ships. I know that sound s snobbish, but I have to agree. I think the Free Style concept must appeal to people who have little sense of taste. On the one "Formal or Not Night"(Remember, in "Free Style" cruising you do whatever you want) I saw a few people dressing nicely but I observed only one other man wearing a tux. We sat next to people in shorts and a t-shirt while we were dressed in formal attire.
Several reviews talk about how cruise ships are constantly trying to sell things. NCL takes this to a whole new level. They have so many extra activities that are available for a fee, you begin you wonder if anything is included in your fare. I expect this on every cruise ship, but NCL really makes it really annoying.
On a positive note, the entertainment was the best we have ever experienced. The shows were all wonderful and the dancers are the hardest working group I've ever seen. This alone could almost make me consider going on NCL again. Note, I said almost! But seriously, the shows were the best at sea.
The crew was also extremely good. They were extremely friendly and warm and seemed to be enjoying themselves. The joked with the passengers and laughed a lot. The group leaders on the ship and the people in HR for NCL should be recognized for assembling a great crew. I wish we had assigned dining times and tables as I would have loved to really get to know the servers better but with "Free Style" we had different servers every night.
We had a great cruise despite the shortcomings of the ship (Spirit) and the mediocre food. We enjoyed Mahogany Bay (Roatan) because we just walked down to the beach and relaxed. How can you not have a good time when it is December and you are sitting on a beach in 80 degree weather when it is 25 degrees at home.
One last positive comment. The shopping consultant, Riishi, comes off kind of arrogant during his presentations. But, we met him in Diamonds International (Cozumel) as we were looking for a new diamond and he was an incredible help. He really knows diamonds and if you are considering a new diamond you must talk to him and enlist his help. Or, maybe not, as our cruise ended up being very expensive.
Bottom line, I want to recommend NCL because I liked the people and the shows, but there are so many better options out there. I believe that NCL really needs to enlist a group of experienced cruisers to form a focus group and give them feedback on what they can do to improve.
It has long been my dream to see Hawaii. My husband and I are in our upper 60s and finally decided that it was now or never. NCL's Hawaiian cruise included the 4 largest islands and seemed our best bet. For me it was more about the destination than the cruise. We let NCL make all the arrangements including the flight to and from Massachusetts to Honolulu. We also booked an excursion on every island through them. Doing things this way was worry-free. From the moment we were met at the airport by an NCL representative to the time we left Honolulu after a 2 day post-cruise stay, everything was taken care of. The trip exceeded my expectations in all areas.
I had read some negative reviews about the Pride of America, but we found the captain and crew to be extremely friendly and helpful at all times. Our balcony stateroom was small (as expected) but with plenty of room for us to unpack everything. My house should be so organized! The ship seemed very clean to me. Although our stateroom showed some signs of wear (a chip in the woodworkand a crack in the vanity) it was very clean and the queen-size bed was really comfortable. That was a huge relief as it is a big deal for me to get a good night's sleep. On past cruises we have always used the dining rooms, but on this cruise we fell in love with the ease of the Aloha Café and ended up eating there for every meal. The food was simply great and by using the cafeteria, we could make any combinations we wanted.
We chose to have NCL take care of all our excursions because we were unsure how to manage it otherwise. The ports in Hawaii are all very simple to deal with, however, and I now know that I could have booked tours independently. Tour buses for other than NCL-booked tours were always lined up right next to the NCL ones and there were no crowds such as you might find in the Caribbean. For peace of mind use NCL, but if you're more adventurous and/or want to save some money you can book the same (or other) tours on your own on-line. Since you cruise each night, you have more time than usual in the ports giving you plenty of time for a long excursion or individual travel to get a good look at each island. The only hard part of the whole trip was the long flights. My advice is to bring plenty to do, such as puzzles, electronic games and/or readers, earphones, etc.
"No booze in the stateroom"
We've travelled over ten cruises before this one with Norwegian Cruise Lines, so we're well aware of the restrictions that are in place regarding the bringing on board of liquor. All the previous cruise lines we have travelled with have, however, turned a blind eye to liquor packed in checked luggage.
Not NCL. On boarding, I waited for five hours for my checked baggage to arrive; eventually, I got a note telling me that I had restricted contents in my bag and that I would have to go to a certain location to have my bag searched. Proceeding to that location, I found a queue of about two to three hundred angry passengers in the same situation. After a long wait and a humiliating search, my checked two litre bottles were confiscated for the duration of the cruise.
During the lineup, I had plenty of opportunity to commiserate with fellow passengers about this appalling lack of consideration for customers on the part of NCL. One guy had brought along a bottle of his favorite Kentucky whisky which he knew would not be available on just about any cruiseship, but it was taken anyway. Without exception, all were vowing that this would be their last cruise with NCL.
So, why do they do it? Well, it must be partly because of the liquor prices. NCl charged consistently charged a couple of dollars or so more per drink than on the cruise we took with a competitor immediately following theirs. I even asked for a bar menu and the standard drinks were listed, but no prices! Clearly, NCL is aware of their predatory pricing and can't bring themselves to admit it, and do all they can to maximise their liquor profit.
Another problem is with the "free style dining." Firstly, you don't get the opportunity to get to know dinner companions in the same way that traditional cruise dining gives you. Although we were prepared to accept that, what we were not prepared for was the 20 to 30 minute wait for an available table at dinner. It was possible to make an advance reservation (at least several hours in advance), but even then you had to wait 10 minutes or so. Furthermore, if you got into the restaurant after 8.30 pm or so, in the hope of avoiding the crowds, the waiters were clearly agitated at having to serve so late, bringing on courses before you had finished the previous one.
The food itself was generally poor. At dinner, I did get excellent roast pork loin once, other times not so good. For instance, once I ordered "rack of lamb," only to be served with a couple of extremely tough regular individual lamb chops, not the delicate small juicy ones you normally associate as a rack.
There are numerous premium-priced "specialty" restaurants on board, which again tells you something about NCL's eagerness to extract yet more money from its customers. For instance, there is "Le Bistro," a restaurant offering French cuisine for an extra $25 per person. But what most diners don't realise is that once inside, to order any item you wish from the extensive menu may cost you $10 more. Check the menus carefully prior to using these establishments.
What can I say to be positive? Well, the standard of entertainment is very high and presented in a beautiful theater. There is lots to do daytime with plenty of interesting and fun activities. We had a very spacious penthouse suite with the services of a butler and a concierge fresh flowers and a welcome bottle of champagne, etc. The concierge was particularly helpful. The balcony was huge, but being forward (just below the bridge) was almost always unuseable when the ship was in motion due to the high wind.
Beware of some of the shore excursions. We went on a snorkelling trip at our Belize stop and the boat we were taken on was totally unequipped for this; no rear platform for easy access to the water and the rental snorkel gear was defective. "Lunch" consisted of dried-up roast chicken with rice and beans, worth all of $3. In fairness to NCL, after we complained about this to NCL our money ($109 per person) was completely refunded.
In summary, although NCL offers some very attractively-priced cruises, they more than make up for it once you're on board. And, because of the outrageous liquor seizure, We will never sail with NCL again.
My husband and i have been cruising every year for the last 20 years or so. NCL is the only cruise line i would not go on ever again. The only good thing was the room was ok. This new alternative dining was terrible. Everyone wanted to eat at the same time pretty much any ways and it was always a bottle-neck to get a table with every one waiting to be seated to a table. Normally you have your own table and casually go to that table at your scheduled dining time. The food was terrible and very repetitive at every meal. That's because you no longer could get certain foods unless you went to there restaurants and paid for your meal. The service was bad because they were going to get paid if they gave you good service or not. Next item..if an attorney is reading this i would like to know if our rights were violated. Caution cruisers...i was woke up by 3 police officers and a huge dog. They said they were doing a random cabin search and we were one of the lucky ones.We were not singled out, as i did see them search randomly other cabins. That's my domain for the week just like it is my home, and i don't feel they have the right without a search warrant to come in. Have further details but won't elaborate unless someone wants to e-mail me..
Let me begin by stating that I have been a loyal NCL client for several years traveling in older ships like the Sun and the Sky as well as some of their new ones such as the Pearl the Dawn and the Pride of America, and always enjoyed the entire experience from start to finish. I especially enjoyed the freestyle approach to traditional cruising and their casual and friendly atmosphere. It was with great anticipation that I waited for the chance to sail in their newest and much publicized ship; the Epic. Unfortunately my schedule did not allow me any free time during the year except for the holidays so I decided that a Christmas/New Year cruise would be a great way to spend the holidays, yes it was almost double the price of regular sailing but I thought from previous experience that it would be a special trip.
From the very beginning it seemed that everything went wrong, the check in process was horrendous although we queued behind the line that was marked as "Latitudes Express Check-in" we quickly noticed that the other two lines for regular check in weremoving quite speedier than ours. It then became obvious what the issue was, there were three sets of desks with four agents each; the express line with four agents was handling twice as many number of guests than the regular lines because there seemed to be more latitude members than not, so the express check in became the wait forever check-in. After the hour and a half wait to check in (double the regular line) my wife and I finally were able to board, we could hardly contain our excitement as we almost sprinted to the gang way and onboard. It was as if someone had deflated the tires out of our brand new car, to our surprise and disappointment when we entered the ship there was no great entrance, no beautiful atrium or lavish lobby, whereas most ships would give you the best possible best impression upon first boarding; this ship decided that entering through the Casino was the best possible impression. The air was thick with the stench of cigarettes and it was dark and uninviting. Rows and Rows of Slot Machines and card tables was what we saw for as far as we could see. There was no one welcoming us aboard, in previous trips there was always crew members that with warm smiles welcomed us aboard, offered us a complimentary drink and directed us where to go.
Absolutely no one even acknowledge us, the few crew members we could see were nowhere near the entrance and seemed pre-occupied with other duties. This was a Christmas/New Year's trip, I had paid premium for this because the same cabin at any other date was 40% cheaper than what I paid; and there was nothing to signify that this was in any way special. Because no one directed us where to go we tried to go to our cabin, it was already past 2:00pm and assumed that the cabin was ready but the doors leading to the state rooms were locked so we instinctively went to the pool deck were we knew from experience to congregate until the rooms were ready. A novice passenger would have no idea where to go as there was no directions given upon boarding. At bout 4:00pm the overhead announcement was heard advising that there was going to be a drill in 30 minutes, there was no announcement that the cabins were ready.
Upon entering our balcony stateroom we were pleased, the room was bright, sleek and modern looking. It wasn't until we were all the way in that we noticed how narrow the cabin was, there was very little floor space and noticed we could both barely move about the cabin at the same time; it felt very cramped. The cabin was curved like an S I assume to give it a modern look but it made for a weird bend on the couch that made it very uncomfortable to sit and it added to the feeling of being tightly packed. Later that night we concluded that this stateroom was considerably smaller than any of the other balcony staterooms we had ever been in, it was about the same size as an inside cabin that we had stayed in at an earlier cruise with a smaller ship, on that occasion we paid $299 for it and thus expected to be small and cramped and therefore met our expectations. This definitely did not feel like a $1750.00 per person cabin, when we went to bed that night another discovery was abound when my 5'4' wife laid in bed and found out that her feet dangled over the bed when she laid flat, mine dangled considerably more since I measure 5'10"; we had to curl up in fetus position to fit in the bed. The bathroom was a major problem for us, at first although it was a little different than what we were accustomed to, it looked innovative and we thought it would be a good idea that we could use the shower independent of the toilet. This fact then became embarrassingly painful later on when it was time to use the facilities and we realized that it is basically a very thin plastic see-through door and wall. The feeling was unmistakably uncomfortable even with your wife of more than 16 years. There are things that are just private, going to the bathroom is one of them, it is not glamorous, it is not pleasant but it is natural and as natural as it is it is also the most private act a human should be able to do and to feel that someone can not only tell what is going on, but also hear and forgive me for my bluntness but also smell was disgusting. The worst part was that when the Cabin's door opens the first thing everyone sees is the toilet, we made every effort to make sure we were not in there whenever the other opened the door. As we walked through the hallways I cannot tell you how many times we walked by an open cabin and had to look away in order to avoid uncomfortable situations.
After the mandatory drill which is something we normally dread as it is usually chaotic, but I must admit was very well handled in an organized and expeditious way, we returned to the cabin to freshen up only to discover that the TV was not working. I tried to use the phone and call guest services but the phone touchscreen was also not working, I dialed 0 but it gave an error and would not dial. I checked the room for any type of directory or information on how to contact the guest services but there was nothing other than to use the phone's touchscreen. I went down to the guest services desk where I waited in line for over 30 minutes because there were only Two service representatives actively attending to the guests, there were others but they were so engrossed in their computers that they rarely even looked up or acknowledge the growing line in front of them. I reported the problem and asked for an extension I could call in the future, I was told to dial 00. After dinner we returned to the cabin, the TV and phone still were not working, I called 00 and again reported the problem, they said someone would check it and call me back. We left our Cabin again and came back about an hour later, still no change in the state of the phone or TV. I dialed 00 again and this time the person who answered was able to fix the problem on the spot while I held with them on the phone for a few minutes. The phone took a while longer to get fixed but it was obvious that this was a minor problem that could be fixed remotely and easily yet it took me several hours and three attempts before I reached someone who knew how to fix the problem.
We decided to explore the ship's amenities, this was not very difficult or time consuming as all of them were concentrated in the middle of the ship on floors 6 and 7 directly off the casino. It was definitely crowded; it was hard to get through the mass of bodies to get from the back to the front. Who in the right mind would put most of the public areas right smack in the middle of a ship that holds 6,000 guest and 1800 crew members? Next was the overwhelming cigarette smell; it was always present because as you must very well know most of the guests that frequent the casino are also heavy smokers. In other ships this had never been an issue as the Casino was situated separate from the other public areas and enclosed on its own. Again, why in the world would you put the casino right smack in the middle of everything? It was so bad that we noticed that there were portable air purifiers on the floor every couple of feet on each side of the halls; we tripped on them several times. This was appalling, how can you have a brand new state of the art ship with portable air filters on the floor, how more ghetto can you get? It was a clear sign that the ship had not been designed for the guests it was designed for the profits. In the next few days we began to dread having to go down to the restaurants or bars because we knew we would pass through the cloud as we came to refer to it, of smoke. Our clothes reeked of smoke within a few minutes and no matter where we ate with the exception of the Garden Café upstairs we could at least have the faint aroma of it.
As soon as the ship left port we began to feel the swaying of the waves, it was surprising to us that we were able to feel the strong waves as we did, We had been on smaller ships with rougher seas and not felt it so bad; It was very hard to walk about without holding on to the railings. For the first Two days the boat rocked and swayed uncontrollably and it was causing guest to get sick, we decide to stay in our cabin as much as possible to avoid getting sick ourselves. I would never think of blaming a cruise line or a ship for bad weather, it happens, we understand that and we rolled with it, however the following days the seas were calmer and the weather was clear and mild but to our dismay the ship continued to sway from side to side. When we inquired to the crew as to why the ship was swaying so hard, we were told that it was normal for a ship this size to sway a little. I am not an engineer by any means, but it was clear even to me why this ship swayed this way, it is by all accounts the tallest ship in the sea however it has a relatively narrow base for its height thus causing a pendulum effect when confronted with moderate wind speeds. We also discovered that the thrust engines on the sides of the vessel vibrate violently, we compared it to being on a plane undergoing turbulence. The worst part is that when the ship is docking it is these engines that do the bulk of the work and the vibration was so hard that our cabin rattled and shook feverishly. The noise was deafening as the flimsy shower and bathroom doors hit their respective frames; the first morning it was so startling and scary that we thought there was something wrong happening. We jumped out of bed half asleep and went out to our balcony to see what the whole ruckus was about. It was soon evident what it was and we were relieved when we realized that the ship was attempting to dock. The feeling of relief quickly turned to anger as we now realized that our $1750.00 per person stateroom was louder than a construction site downtown in the middle of rush hour. The docking process took 30 to 40 minutes and thus the shaking continued for that long. I have a recording of this, I knew it would be hard to believe by our friends and family and so I have had to play it numerous times. Since the ship docks very early in the morning we had to endure this on every port of call and consequently had our very own wakeup call complete with special effects.
On the second day of our vacation we had reservations for the Cirque dreams show, which was cancelled due to the weather. We were disappointed but understood why it had to be cancelled, what I do not understand is why when I tried calling the ticket desk to see if I could re-schedule no one answered. I stayed on the line for over 45 minutes being very patient and no one picked up. I decided to go to the box office personally to inquire only to be told that there were no more available shows. Like I said I do understand that unforeseen circumstances arise and it was prudent to cancel the show for safety reasons, however I cannot understand why it could not have been re-scheduled for another day. Certainly all of the evenings were already booked but how about adding a matinée performance or two, again we were met with disappointment it was becoming a pattern. Since we are now speaking of entertainment lets continue, our experiences before had always been that there was always a show or production available every evening, what we discovered was that there were about 4 shows available for free and they had to be reserved way ahead of time, but no longer were shows available if you wanted to see them again or if you missed the reservation. Was it not the concept of freestyle cruising to do whatever whenever you wanted? Now everything has to be reserved and scheduled and if for whatever reason you can't make the reservation then you are out of luck. There are 4 free shows, the Blue Man Group which we saw on the first night, it was very loud and we were not particularly impressed with the show; basically it is Three guys painted in blue paint spitting paint at each other and the audience. The big highlight of the show was when from the back of the theater Toilet paper begins to roll down and the audience must push this paper to the front of the theater until at the end the entire theater is covered in toilet paper. This was to say the least not a very sophisticated production that I would have imagined was worthy of what was called a luxury liner. The only Theater on board was the Epic Theater which was all the way on the front of the ship, it was very small compared to the size of the rest of the ship and it probably only held 600 to 700 people, it was shabby and not very visually appealing, again not what I had imagined a brand new ship would offer. Other shows included a Legends in concert which were Three artist impersonating Rod Stewart, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. The Michael Jackson impersonator was pretty good but the others especially Britney Spears were amateurish and not very good. There was also the Second City Comedy group that did improve comedy sketches; it was just OK, nothing special. There was also a Comic Magician, this show did not need reservations so anyone could come provided you got there early enough to get a seat. With such a small theater we realized that we probably needed to be there early to get a seat , however there was a performance by the Blue Man Group right before this scheduled performance and although the daily cruise newsletter instructed you to go to deck 6 the actual entrance to this show was on deck 5. Of course no one knew this including the crew members standing outside the door not letting anyone in. When the previous performance let out there was a large crowd waiting to get in and as you can imagine there was a big commotion. By the time we got in the theater it was completely full, apparently some people knew to go to the 5th floor and wait to enter the theater when the previous performance ended. We were not able to attend this show so we had to wait for the next day he was only performing Twice on a seven day cruise so if you miss them, too bad. The next day we aited in the 5th floor but again no one really knew where to go, finally I went to the Guest services and someone came over to guide everyone through a hidden corridor that led to the back of the theater where the performers enter and exit. We waited there for 45 minutes for the other show to end, it was very hot and very uncomfortable. By the time we entered the theater everyone around us including us were very aggravated, I really can't tell you if the show was any good because I was in such a bad mood that it would not have mattered how good the show was the whole experience had left a bad taste in my mouth, my conclusion was that this theater was not designed for the guests comfort. Aside from that there was the Circus dinner show which we did not see but that will cost you an additional $25 per person and the Murder Mystery Lunch which is performed by the Second City Comedy Group, it is just another improve performance that will also cost you $20 per person. There were a few performers playing the piano or the guitar from time to time at different bars or restaurants but again none that I would consider great performers.
The other thing that became painfully obvious was that if you wanted to take advantages of the amenities they will cost you extra. If you wanted to bowl, there was a fee, if you wanted the circus show there was a fee, if you wanted to go to the Ice bar there was a fee. This was such a big hype during previous cruises; this would be the only Ice bar at sea and pictures of a very cool and sophisticated place had been shown and frankly it was something we were dying to see. Well it cost us $20 each to don a furry poncho and walk into a walk-in freezer with a bar on the side. It was not lined with large Ice blocks and ice sculptures as we were led to believe. It was lined with acrylic blocks and acrylic statues made to look like Ice but far from it. This was just another way to get you to spend money and a photographer was there the entire time taking pictures by the statues of everyone in the bar. In other words we paid to get our picture taken and then we would have to pay more if we wanted the picture. Even the specialty restaurants which we were used to paying a little extra for better quality food had an extra fee if you wanted the lobster or the filet mignon. One night we were charged for a hot chocolate, I never felt so nickelled and dimed in my life. Worse yet I never felt so robbed in my life!
One of our favorite things of course is the food, who doesn't gain a few pounds after sampling so many delectable options as you have on a cruise? Normally I would rave, but the truth is that although the food was fine when we went to the specialty restaurants we would often encounter the same appetizer or dessert choices as the regular restaurants. On one occasion I specifically asked for a fried Calamari appetizer at La Cuccina, it was the exact same one I had had the night before at Taste; in fact it was the same chewy and rubbery consistency as the one I had sent back the night before. How can they consciously charge extra for something that is included free to begin with? There were plenty of restaurant choices however most of them were specialty and needed to be reserved well in advance and like I mention earlier the truly specialty dishes will cost more on top of the cover charge. And also at Cagney's Steak House we were told we could only have two sides, pardon me but hasn't it always been that you could eat whatever you wanted even at the specialty restaurants. The Free restaurants were OK, Taste, Manhattan Club, The Garden Café on the pool deck level and an Irish pub style restaurant on level 6. This one was always very crowded and reeked of smoke.
Like I mentioned earlier, most public areas were directly off the Casino on levels 6 and 7, there were several bars but they never felt separate it felt like just one large contiguous space so it was very difficult to feel like you were is a different environment. If music was playing in one of the bars it could be heard from the others and if it was a live performer it was obviously louder but you still heard the ambient music from another location. The main Atrium had a very large Projector screen TV where sports or movies would play from time to time, except they could not be heard over the massive loudness of the people traffic, music from all the bars or the overhead speakers. We tried to watch a movie once because we were so bored but could not hear a single syllable. The entertainment in the room was not better, there were only 5 available channels, 3 were news channels, 1 was the e! network and 1 is a continuous loop of all TV shows. Not to mention that the satellite feed was down most of the time so it was hit or miss.
The Pool area was something else; aside from the water slides which I am sure a big hit with the Children there are only three main pools and 6 hot tubs not including the private Villas which are private. Remember there are over 6000 guests, these pools look and feel miniscule. One of the pools is located on the back of the ship along with 2 hot tubs and a Gigantic TV Screen. This are is called the H20 Spice club and it is advertised as an adult's only section. Since my wife and I are childless we assumed this would be a good place to hang out and take some sun or read; however as we found out adults only is merely a suggestion. When we tried to lay on a deck chair we saw and heard a large number of kids running around. When I asked the bartender, who quickly came to see if I wanted a drink, why there were so many children in this are he gave me a vague response and walked off. The wait staff for the most part was polite and friendly unless for the bar staff and waiters. We had purchased the unlimited soda package as we have done on all of our other trips because we are not big alcohol drinkers; but every time we asked for a soda and shown our card we were met with a frown and at times hostile attitude. Of course they would not be getting the extra tip they would normally get from a premium drink so they were not shy about showing their disappointment. We would end up waiting 20 or 30 minutes for our drinks because they would make it a point not to go to the bar and get our order until they had another order for a premium drink. The service at from the Cabin Stuarts was not much better, our room was not made up until very late in the morning, one day it was 2:00pm and it was still not made up. Turn down hardly ever happened; it was done twice in our entire stay.
Since we had already been to these ports we did not book any excursions thinking that there would be enough activities during the day to keep us busy; that was not the case. During the days at port the ship was basically a ghost town, there was nothing at all to do. The first Two ports we stayed onboard but by the third port at Roatan we were stir crazy and needed to get off even if to just be on firm ground. When we returned later in the day we sat in the atrium on the 5th floor to rest and suddenly the lights went out, we were suddenly sitting in pitch black conditions. We stayed put where we were and the lights came back up within a few minutes but by then there were a great deal of confusion going on as to what happened. There was no explanation offered by any of the crew members nearby or the overhead speaker, it was as this had not happened or it was such a common occurrence that they were not fazed by it; they continued with what they were doing prior to the power outage. After about fifteen minutes the captain came on the overhead speaker to let us know that the elevators were non-operational and they were working on it. The elevators were down for about one hour and a half, it was very difficult to get around. After the elevators were restored there was still not an explanation for what happened, this made the rest of the trip a little uneasy as the question certainly remained as to what would happen if this occurred while at sea?
Given the way the week had gone we were cautiously optimistic about new year's eve, it was one of the main reasons we had booked this trip to be at sea at a great party for New Year's, we were told there would be several parties going on during the night. On New Year's Eve we found out there were Two, one on the Pool at H20 Spice and the other at the atrium. The festivities began at 10:00pm and at that time we went upstairs only to discover that a rock band was setting up to play, we remained optimistic that the music would be enjoyable. The longer we were there the more young adolescent and teenage kids we say gathering and by the time the band began to play it was obvious that this party was not geared to adults so we decided to go to the party being held at the atrium. When we arrived it was actually the other way around the band was playing a very nice selection of old classic standards and the crowd was considerably older. It seemed that the cruise director decided to cater to only two age groups and since we did not fit either we decided to spend the new year in our cabin. I never felt worse than that very moment, I felt robbed not just monetarily but I felt I was robbed emotionally. Instead of enjoying a great vacation I was dreading it, instead of relaxing I was aggravated and that was when I decided I had to write a review and let everyone know what a poor designed ship this is. I only wish someone would have warned me. This is not a ship designed to make guests feel comfortable and happy and relaxed, it was designed to bilk as much money as possible from their captive audience, it was designed as a pretty art project with it's over decorated restaurants and lounges but not for how people would feel or get about or enjoy it. If I was running this company I would seriously consider whether this ship held true to the fundamental concept of free style cruising and therefore belong on this fleet. If it was up to me, I would sell this ship to a budget cruise line, it would suit that style; it belongs with that trashy, tacky and ghetto clientele I would have never thought it belonged to NCL. I don't think I will be cruising NCL again, certainly no time soon but definitely never on this ship again.
To begin, I should say that of all the cruise lines currently operating on the seven seas, NCL would have been the last choice. It seemed to be too gaudy, too nickel and diming, too 'inyourface' for my 'casual elegance' preferred style of cruising.
I am here to tell you that I was so wrong!!!
My 22 yr old son and I have cruised together off and on through the years, lately almost exclusively on Christmas vacation cruises. He attends college plus plays hockey both of which force me to be on a rather limited budget for cruises. That said, although I won't ever choose an inside cabin again, I still try to get as much bang for my buck as possible. As I was trying to find a cruise that went somewhere sunny, I was limited in the port of departure options so I - reluctantly - "settled" for NCL's Jewel. I chose the Jewel over the Gem simply because the Jewel allowed us to have Christmas Day on board, whereas the Gem returned to home port on Christmas Day. I will always be thankful that I made thatdecision.
I had originally booked a Mini Suite at an extremely affordable rate I might add, but thanks to comments I had read on this site, I kept checking the NCL website to see if the rates went down as we grew closer. So glad I did! When I noticed they had gone down by $50 per person, I contacted my TA and he got me upgraded to a Penthouse Suite at no additional cost. They also gave me an on board ship credit which proved to be invaluable! Therefore we were set to sail in a considerably upgraded suite that included a butler and a concierge!
The embarkation and disembarkation were quick and seamless. One of the main reasons I started booking suites was the VIP embarkation process as I cannot stand for any length of time. They ushered us to the VIP check in and we were whisked onboard with barely enough time to catch our breath. Ditto the disembarkation.
The 'PH suite' (8130) wasn't really a suite, per se, but it was roomy enough for both of us to live in for the week. There was a fresh flower arrangement, a complimentary bottle of wine (from the TA) and a large bowl of fresh fruit waiting for us in the suite. There was plenty of cupboard and drawer space for the two of us, two wall safes, a loveseat and a small table with four chairs. It also had a small vanity I could sit at to do my makeup along with a roomy bathroom and tub/shower. However the veranda was very small by anyone's standards as one could just barely fit two chairs and a small table on it, and one of the chairs could only face sideways as the verandas curve precluded it from facing aft. Still we were content. I had brought along a short extension cord with extra outlets which proved to be very handy.
I should point out that these suites only have Queen beds, which cannot be separated, so my son had a roll-away bed while I got the entire luxurious bed to myself. And I have to say this was one of the most comfortable beds I have EVER slept in... It was heaven! I ended up spending a lot more time on it than I had planned, simply because it was so heavenly! My son's roll-away was also extremely comfortable, albeit very narrow.
I took the suggestion of adjusting my "automatic service charge added daily of $12 per person" by going to reception and asking them to adjust it. We cut it in half as we hadn't dined in the MDR and I wanted to particularly single out the people who had been so good. One note: I had read a suggestion by another Cruise Critic member to offer International Calling Cards as part of a tip. That might have been a good idea at one point, but now, with Skype and internet cafes, that is outdated. I wasted $60 buying them and ended up bringing them home with me. As they are non-refundable, I don't know what I will do with them. Bottom line... Cash money is best.
When we first arrived in the cabin, I thought we were in the wrong cabin as there was no 'corner' view.... I had purposely picked an Aft cabin because I had read that one got the best view as the corner suites had a side and aft view. Unfortunately the Jewel is not configured for that. The aft cabins face aft... Period. I think they missed the boat (no pun intended) in their design of the aft corner cabins because at the very least they could have put a window on the side portion, instead of a blank wall. Nonetheless we were very comfortable there and I grew to appreciate the fact that there was a considerable walk from almost anywhere on the ship to our cabin... I didn't feel so guilty when I had those scrumptious desserts as I was going to walk them off!
The cabin stewards were friendly, polite and very helpful.... They remembered us by name as we passed them in the hall and quickly determined the best time to come in and service the cabin so as not to disturb us. The butler was pleasant and accommodated our requests, however the star of this whole cruise was our amazing concierge, Adrian. He was magical. There was nothing that he couldn't do, our wish was his command. I freely admit that he spoiled us rotten, so much so that we have both vowed that the only cruises we do from hereon will be with him. He MADE this cruise the best cruise we have done - ever! The PH Suites (and above) come with their own type of cell phone with which we could call our butler, our concierge (both pre-programmed into the phone) and any cabin. It was a boon to have and saved many steps. Wonderful idea!
The only negative in the suite was the water in the bathroom sink. If you wanted hot water, you had to turn it on full force and go away for five minutes (at least), by the time you came back, it would be tepid, and eventually get to warm. Then, the next time you used the sink, if you wanted warm water you were in luck, but if you needed cold water, you had to go through the same process all over again. I mentioned it to the cabin attendants and they sent an engineer but he wasn't able to make it any better so we just planned accordingly. For some reason the bathtub water faucet was not half as bad but it was difficult to reach if just wanted to wash your hands or get a glass of water as it had sliding glass panels as a shower curtain.
As to the food, we only went to the Specialty Restaurants, never one of the Main Dining Rooms so I can only comment on them.
Cagney's - the steakhouse ($25 pp surcharge): this was the one I was most looking forward to as on a Carnival cruise we had gone to their specialty steakhouse and had the best steak we had ever had in our lives. Unfortunately
Cagney's must buy their meat somewhere else. My rib eye was thin (half an inch?), gristly and lacklustre. Very disappointing.
Le Bistro - European cuisine ($20 pp surcharge): This restaurant quickly became our favourite. The Rack of Lamb was superb and they tried very hard to create a mint sauce for me, rather than the plain mint jelly. The waiters were exceptional, remembering our names and preferences immediately upon seeing us. I highly recommend this venue.
Chin Chin ($10 pp): we had both Japanese food and sushi here... Very nice, but not very memorable.
Tango's Tapas ($10 pp): excellent lobster tacos!
Tapanyaki ($25 pp): where you sit around the chef who performs admirably with his knives but whose food was just adequate.
Another bonus for having a suite is that for breakfast we could dine at Cagney's with other suite members. Thus we were dining with only 20 or 30 people max and with nice views and excellent service. We also learned near the end of the cruise that we could have ordered breakfast from Cagney's menu and have it delivered to our suite, rather than order from the regular room service menu. Cagney's offered more choices (than the room service menu) and - since it came from Cagney's kitchen rather than the MDR kitchens, it was nice and hot!
The Chocolate Lovers Buffet featured a large variety of chocolate items, cookies, cakes, pies, cheesecakes, sundaes, fondues, ice creams etc. etc. It was mobbed and not really worth the time, I thought.
Embarkation and Disembarkation was a dream for us. What I neglected to mention was that my son had left a bag with his shoes hanging from my wheelchair handles when we got in the cab to go to our hotel. We realized our mistake our when we got to the hotel. I promptly called the line and after a number of "overseas" calls (the ship is registered in Panama I believe), the Captain (yes I was given the number to the bridge accidentally!) patched me through to our indefatiguable concierge. After learning of the loss, he said he would find them and would email me. I really didn't expect much, what with the 3000 people getting off the ship and the 3000 people getting on, but within hours Adrian - that amazing concierge - emailed me that he had indeed found the shoes and would be sending them off to my son.
Bottom line.... I can't say enough about the ship and especially its crew. I would give Adrian a good 65% of the accolades, the beds another 20% and Le Bistro (specialty dining room) the remaining 15%.
It reminded me of how splendid cruises of yesteryear were - and could still be - with all the pampering and lavish attention to detail we experienced on this ship. I HIGHLY recommend her - as long as you travel in a suite and as long as Adrian is her concierge.
Bravo NCL! Bravo Jewel! Double Bravo Adrian!!!