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: First-time Cruisers. Value for Money. Children`s Programs.
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.
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.
Washy Washy does not make you Happy Happy...
Just returned from a 7 day cruise from NYC-Port Canaveral, Fl, Great Stirrup Cay Bahamas, and Nassau Paradise Island, Bahamas. We chose this cruise from NYC because we live here and didn't want to incur the flight charges to leave from Florida. This particular cruise line nickel and dimes you for every little thing, while giving you nothing in return. You pay a flat fee for the cruise and you think you have a great bargain. That's until you step on board. There is a fee on this cruise for anything remotely fun. For example, the food in the buffet on Deck 12 reminded me of school cafeteria food. BAD cafeteria food. (and they have the nerve to serve the SAME crappy food downstairs on Deck 7 at the main dining room, and same food for ROOM SERVICE!). You just get a guaranteed seat there, so the staff may bring the disgusting food to you, instead of you chasing it down in a buffet and then looking in vain for a seat. Powdered eggs for breakfast, hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, EVERYDAY for lunchAND dinner. Each day around lunchtime they would set up a grill/wok station near the pool and make rice and chicken. EVERYDAY. So after day 2 and you're bored of the burger/fry combo, you can have chicken and rice for a few days, get bored, then back to the burgers. The free food wasn't even fast food or Applebees quality. It was gross. Pizza was laughable. Pasta dishes were tasteless and dry. This is where the money starts to add up. You have several "specialty" restaurants onboard that charge you extra to eat there. You MUST eat dinner in these specialty places (and pay extra $$), in order to have something edible on your trip. And these specialty places aren't all great. The best ones were of course, the more expensive places. Le Bistro (French , $25 pp), Cagey's (steakhouse, $25 pp), and Teppenyaki (hibachi, $25 pp). Orchid Garden has Chinese Or sushi, for a $15 pp overcharge, but the food was bland and awful. The sushi was disgusting. Tasted like plastic. I have had better sushi at the supermarket. We also tried the Italian place, La Cucina, ($10 pp), but that was atrocious. The staff had no idea which pasta was which, and no clue how to make any Italian dishes. I ordered spaghetti carbonara, and it was oily and gross without cream or any of the right ingredients in it. My boyfriend had gnocchi that was also greasy and tasteless. Never mind the fried calamari. It looked like onion rings from Burger king. Gross. Never had such bad food ever. Always an up charge for something. Cant even get a seat in the buffet if you are brave enough to try the food. Their only saving grace was their fresh baked goods. We lived on sugar for most of the week. They had great cookies, cakes, cobblers, ice cream, and crepes. If they could get their bakers to cook- the food would have a shot!! We were so disgusted with all of this, that we went to reception and told them we were planning to get off at the first port (Florida) and stay there and get a hotel and pay to fly back. The lovely people at reception smiled and asked me if I knew about the "Jones Act". Its some act from like 1916 where the ship has to bring everyone back from the port they took them from. Otherwise they get a heavy penalty that they happily pass down to you- $350 pp!!! I was fit to be tied!! We paid all the money to book the cruise (which NCL or Travelocity wouldn't refund if we got off), and then would've had had to ADD money to leave!! UNREAL!! We decided to stay and get the cruise over with and make the best of it.
Then there is the "entertainment". They have 2 clubs on board the ship- "Bliss" and the "Spinnaker". Bliss is clubby and has the lights and the whole thing but NEVER a DJ. They had an awesome DJ onboard, but they never let him work in the clubs at night. They would waste him during the DAY to play out by the pool (where it was always too cold to swim). Out by the pool you couldn't even dance- they had to do stupid line dances and electric slide like you were at someone's Sweet 16! In Bliss, they have 10 TVs around the room playing "Time Life" videos from 1990 that you're supposed to get up and dance to. NO ONE dances there. In the Spinnaker, they have hokey game shows (newlywed game) and Karaoke, so the guests have to entertain each other, rather than NCL hiring talent. Then there is a theater where they have the "Norwegian Gem dancers" put on shows. Who cares?? I'm in my mid 30's! How about a comedian? They had one comedian but he was pitiful. Nobody laughed at him at all. A cover band? They had a band called Kinnosis that played very rarely and played very outdated material. A real DJ? A Broadway play? Something!? It s like a trip for the over 65 crowd. Everyone was older than us. There was under 10 couples near our age without kids. We' d run into them walking around the ship at night- all looking for something to do. If they could run the club right, it would've been fun. We could have bought a lot of drinks and danced. They're always trying to push you to buy drinks- but I think if they had the right entertainment, you'd want to drink and buy em. We never wanted to stay anywhere for more than 1 drink- so we may have had 4 or 5 drinks the whole trip. We were never even buzzed. Sad.
The excursions...They don't tell you where you need to be, what time- what gangway to take. They also don;'t tell you that some ports don't even take cash and you need to bring your debit card. You also need to bring photo id AND your ship card to get on and off the ship at the ports. I found the excursions very disorganized. Our first excursion was Port Canaveral, Florida. You had the choice of a resort for the day with full run of it, Disney. Universal, etc. We chose the resort because you ll never have enough time at Disney/Universal. On the NCL site, they tell you they are in port from 9am-8pm or so, so you think you have all day at the port. Not so. By the time you get off the ship and to the port, its 10, 11 am and then they tell you, you have to be back on the ship at 5:30pm! The ship doesn't even leave port till 9:30pm! What the hell? Our "resort" in Port Canaveral was a joke. The ocean was rough and too cold to swim. The jacuzzi didn't work, and half the food places near the pool were closed because its off season. The heated pool was fine, but we could've stayed on board for that... The second port- Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas was great. We snorkeled for the first time and loved it. That port is NCL's private island. They brought all the gross cruise food to the island and made it there and served drinks. It was a nice day off the ship, but still the bad food followed us. Then Atlantis, Paradise Island on day 3. It was gorgeous, but over priced and over rated. I was disappointed. The way the commercials look on TV- you think the whole place is amazing with a million things to do. They had about 10 pools, 4 Jacuzzis, 6 water slides, an awesome aquarium, a real expensive mall you cant afford to shop in, and the beach. It was a lot to do- but not for more than a day. We were toying of the idea of booking a week there- which is close to $3,500- and I'm glad we didn't do that trip. We did Atlantis in 1 day. The food there was atrocious also and for half the afternoon, it rained. It may just be that NCL is a crappy cruise line, but I'm not willing to try it again. I am an officially retired cruiser. Looking forward to booking Vegas for June 2011.
There was also a teeny casino onboard that was cute. We paid extra for a spa pass- that was a Godsend. They only sell 85 passes and we were there everyday. They had gorgeous Jacuzzis, steam room, sauna, etc. Super Nice. Def recommend that! It was $99 per person for an unlimited week pass to use the spas amenities. The stateroom was tiny but ok. It was an ocean view. Very nice. Comfy bed. The room was the least of my worries. You also have the mandatory $12 per person per day charge for the room steward and tips for the various bars/restaurants onboard. That's crap. I saw the room steward maybe twice the whole week. He's supposed to clean the room, bring you ice twice a day and turn down the bed at night and leave you towel animals. My room was cleaned daily but I only got it turned down with a towel animal once. Sad. I thought that was a cute touch that they did nightly.
We tried it and that's the bottom line. We ended our "cruise curiosity" and saw Atlantis and we're done with it. We don't have to spend crazy money to stay there now. We're good. We made the best of it. The few good restaurants were very nice. 2 out of 3 excursions were good.
I'll make this brief as this is a review of a Norwegian Cruise.
My girlfriend and I sailed on the Norwegian Jewel out of New York for a 7 day cruise to Florida and Nassau Bahamas. Leaving NY was fine, pretty crowded, but handled ok, once on the ship every one working the ship were extremely nice, always with a pleasant hello, and our cabin stewards Marty and Sheeba always engaged in conversation and were extremely pleasant and helpful. Unfortunately though, this was a ship filled with New Yorkers/New Jerseyans, and thus the attitude comes with them. It wasn't too bad, but you'd frequently see the attitude pop up.
Our cruise director was Shona Blair, and unfortunately we had her a year prior. She really does nothing for us. We feel she needs SO much improvement in front of a crowd; so many times her response to something a guest would say would be "I don't know what to say" Genius. She fumbled her words constantly thus passing along wrong information. The rest of the cruise director staff needed work as well although the assistant director Megan seemed pretty good. The Main showswere pretty good, particularly Alexis and Massimo, whom we saw numerous times at the Garden Cafe' and didn't realize who they were still we saw them on stage! Great show and for sure a do not miss. The nightlife was fun, some decent opportunities for us to dance together, or sit back and enjoy the music. Many of us got dressed up for the evenings which is always nice, but certainly not required.
The food was ok, nothing to right home about, but adequate. The Garden Cafe' we enjoyed, although they sure could use more seating.
The cruise was sold out so everything was pretty crowded, then throw in some cool temperatures/rain pushing everybody inside, and this was way too crowded.
The ports of call, again, nothing to write home about. It's disappointing the ships port and shopping talk barely didn't even mention Port Canaveral because they don't have any deals with shops in the area. There are free shuttles to nearby shopping that they don't tell you about, they just tell you, nothing is here so do an excursion. Their private island Great Stirrup Cay was a huge disappointment to us. Again way too crowded; they had to tender us in, and it felt like this was the first time they were doing this. It was horrible, we quickly turned around and made our way back to the ship; with both of us in good shape we felt like swimming back to the ship than go through their tendering process. Nassau Bahamas was nice, various opportunities to do things, although the constant harassment of the locals to sell you something can get draining.
We took this cruise as the price was right, and we don't expect much from Norwegian cruises. They're good, a lot of selling and trying to get you to spend, (The Dawn was WAY over the top in that regard) but we weren't expecting much, and this cruise did nothing to overly impress us, just a good decent time at a decent price.
A group of us just returned from our Bahamas cruise on the Jewel. Aside from a few complaints, the cruise was fabulous. My main complaint was Dunn the guitar man, who was scheduled to do Beatle tunes at the Sky Bar at 9pm. We waited till 9:15, still no show, so we left to catch Band on the Run show at the Stardust Theatre. The embarkation process ran smoothly and we were in our room in no time. The first thrill of cruise was passing underneath the Verranzo Bridge, with inches to spare! Was surprised the main dining room, Tsar's Palace, was open for lunch. On most lines, only the buffet is open for the first meal. The food all week was delicious, especially the lobster tail, the prime rib and the escargot. Sinan, our assistant cruise director from Turkey, was a riot. He kept us in stitches, whether he was the EMCEE or BINGO Boy.
Two things will stand out from this cruise...Washy Washy Happy Happy, the phrase uttered by the crew members standing outside of the Garden Cafe with the sanitizer spray. The other were the Yankee/Ranger playoff games thatwere televised on a jumbo screen in the atrium. If only it went to a 7th game...that atrium would have been rocking! Cape Canaveral's main attraction for me was the Warehouse that stored the space shuttle and the Saturn V rocket. We took a land taxi to Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island, Nassau.
Great Stirrup Cay was fun, though we we delayed one hour because one of the passengers had a stroke on one of the tenders. Our group had a grand time using one of the private karaoke rooms by the Fizz bar(must buy $20 worth of drinks). We ended our cruise with a fireboat salute from FDNY, which was a pleasant surprise.
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!!!
Theres A place called Hell on the Grand Cayman Island. But You dont need to go there just cruise with NCL Cruise lines & your there.
I sould be cruising now but I,m writing this from my home. Arrived in Miami DEc-12-2010 3:30 Airline delays, Called NCL Rep . They said fly to Grand Cayman & meet the ship tuesday. $400.00 oneway ticket for 2. Hotel Two nights $500.00. Tuesday came but NO NCL Dawn. NO rep also, Just the port ethority to give use the bad news. $500.00 oneway ticket for 2 to miami. Cruise cost $1192.00 Airline Tickets From Minnepolis to Miami & back $674.00
TOTAL FOR ALL $3266 AMOUNT TRAVELERS INSURANCE COVERED $500.00 OVERALL COST NOT TO TAKE A CRUISE WITH NCL $2766.00
NOT INCLUDING FOOD.
THANKS ALOT FOR THE MEMERYS NCL!!!!!!!
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Fred Herman Southern Caribbean December 5, 2010
I should have seen it as an omen. The government goons who keep Our Nation safe from Muslim terrorists by molesting American airline passengers stole a little pocket knife - valued at around 75 cents thirty years ago - at the San Francisco airport. Its two inch blade was dull (never sharp), I used the bottle opener to clean my nails, but it had sentimental value. It was attached, with no problem ever, to my key chain on trips to many lands. An 80-year-old man barely able to hobble was unlikely to force his way into the cockpit with it and demand transport to Havana. They offered to mail it back (two 41-cent stamps?) for eleven bucks. They also took a 99-cent can of shaving cream, presumably because it could become a bomb. Like my shoes?
Well, okay, the facts: In making copies of my passport to assist protectors of our homeland security, Mary forgot my passport in her copy machine. She discovered the error in San Francisco, 90 miles away, and offered to drive back for it. "Naaah,"I replied. "Of 3,000 passengers, a third are likely to overlook passports. This cruise is from Miami to Los Angeles, and if it's a problem. however unlikely, I just won't go ashore in Colombia." No cruise line or federal agency, no matter how spooked by Bush, Rove and 9/11, could be that picky. So assess Mary 5%, me 10% for being as wrong as I've been since suggesting at age 11 that Hitler was unlikely to invade Russia. Combine 15% more between Norwegian Cruise Lines and Kandy's Karefree Kruisin' for not making it crystal clear to even a Neanderthal: No passport, no cruise! No provisional alternatives, no other proof of legitimacy accepted.
Our government gets the remaining 70%. It was indeed that picky. Not that our government was even there. Two cute little things were there inform me that I couldn't come aboard, and there's no appeal. Da gummint made sure that no higher authority was around for an appeal, based on varied defenses: I had photocopies of my passport and IDs up the gazoo, but they wouldn't do. A professor friend noted that Uncle Sam has complete files on everyone so it had to be easy to determine I am - er - legitimate. But it was hopeless. Nobody to help. As our luggage was already in our cabin, we feared the Norwegian Star would sail without us, rendering our enforced Miami stay tougher yet. It took four agonizing hours, full of the stress we came east to avoid, but NCL finally produced our undies minutes before the ship sailed without us.
Victoria, a nice customer relations lady paid to tell us how sorry she was but it was out of her hands, got us two nights in an upscale hotel at "reduced" rates as neighbor Marlene, the cat rescuer with a key to our house to feed our cat, Fed Exed the elusive passport, guaranteed by 8 a.m. Tuesday; it was in the concierge's hands by 7:45 a.m. Within hours we were aloft to Cartagena, Colombia, arriving 12 hours before a Norwegian Star that kept us waiting on the dock two more hours.
The NS sailed Sunday afternoon. We caught it Wednesday morning. Thanks for understanding, said a form letter from the nice PR lady. We don't for a moment understand. I try to estimate what this bureaucratic idiocy cost us: $800+ for two fares to Colombia, $500+ for two hotel nights and meals, $80 for taxis and car rental, a $70 Fed Ex fee for openers. Plus unmeasurable (except by lawyers) mental anguish. For zero reason. It was asinine bureaucracy no reasonable person could forgive. An even partial refund? I used to insert in my talks "pause here for laugh."
But the other ten days? Programs at sea were Las Vegas style. Much glitz, but lounge show talent, folks unlikely to make the varsity. Staff had not mastered the secret of lighting without shining blinding beams into audience eyes. A heavily accented (every Star crew member seemed heavily accented) asked audiences eight times per show to "put your hands together for ..."
Food was adequate, especially in eating sites with no additional charges. The default cafeteria had admirable selections of everything, staff picking up plates and utensils the nanosecond the last forkful of food was chewed, Noisy dining rooms for folks who like to be served well prepared food were excruciatingly slow even with huge staffs. You didn't go there if trying to catch another show. Doubling up, four or six to a table, was always fun. It's what cruises are about. One cafe advertised "open 24 hours a day - closed from 4 to 5 a.m."
French, Italian, Japanese, "Tex-Mex", steak house and other "cover charge" eateries featured their cultures at extra cost. Bi-i-i-i-ig extra cost. Twenty-five bucks in the French place. But ... ten bucks more for the sea food entree. Ten more for a glass of nothing-special wine. Service charge/gratuities added to bills without proof these "tips" actually went to the help. (We found the same dare-I-call-it-scam in Florida; California still relies on over-pricing.) NCL advertises "free-style cruising." That means you can eat when you like, instead of at assigned times at assigned tables. But damlittle is free with NCL.
The nickel-and-diming transcended normal bounds, giving the word c-h-e-a-p new meaning. A buck for soda that in minimal fast food joints comes from a machine - all you can drink. Mary bought an Irish coffee and asked for a bit more plain coffee in her glass; the water brought a bill for $1.75. There was laundry service - forty bucks for a $2 laundromat machine load. Internet was $1 a minute. (It was 50 cents for a half hour in Cartagena.) "Toll-free" 800 calls were $5.95 a minute. I enjoyed (with some guilt) being pushed around airports in a wheelchair; I heard late that wheelchair rentals were available on the Star. For $900!
One more example of Norwegian Cruise Lines relentlessly pursuing any spare change left in passenger pockets: A single afternoon's "pizzazz" infomercials and money traps included indoor and outdoor casinos (to my knowledge not subject to gaming commissions), an auction of art that didn't come from crew or passengers, a $20 wine tasting, a jewelry sales presentation, a "Cabo San Lucas shopping talk," a talk on future cruises and "rewards," "Pathways to Pilates" for $12, a mojito tasting for $15, an "ultimate skin clinic" seminar, a "lose weight with hypnosis" seminar and "body sculpture camp."
Ports we encountered: Cartagena, which Mary and I did on our own, rich condos amid poor people. The contrast was startling. We ate native foods outdoors as monotonous Latin beats emanated from speakers. Every now and then I'd recognize the word "navidad," reminding us it was the Santa season. Puntarenas, Costa Rica; I adored that little country, not only because of the pride our guide displayed in it, but because it abolished its army years ago and survives as independently as ever. The World Health Organization ranks Costa Rica's medical system 36th compared to the United States' 37th. Its people pay 9 percent of their income for health care - which covers all tests, all medicine no matter how expensive, and even dental care. Huatalco, Mexico, described to us as a tourist trap; I didn't go ashore. Mary bought a few items from hawkers on the dock and beach. Acapulco, Mexico; what seemed important to our guide was the hotel at which John Wayne, Johnny Weissmuller and other Hollywood notables stayed a half century ago. He did take us to the famed cliff divers, but from our vantage points we couldn't quite see their entries into the Pacific. And, of course, shopping. T-shirt and basket shops galore. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, We were by a sleepy little fishing resort of a few thousand which we saw quarter century ago grown tenfold into a development of gringo homes with all the big city pluses and minuses. A dozen K's is surely as much as anyone wants to read of my-two-weeks-at-sea, but I'd be remiss if I omitted the ordeal of leaving the ship in Los Angeles. Of 2,400 passengers served by a crew if more than a thousand, about 90 percent seemed to prefer the "easy off" option. Two thousand stood in a line stretching longer than the ship's three football fields, first to tell overworked customs guys we were not planning to blow up the Pentagon (something like that) and then others that the baggage we schlepped contained nothing to alter reality.
It seemed as if every passenger wanted off the ship now, but when I asked a woman in line ahead of me if she'd do this again, she grinned "sure."
Would I fly again? With the degrading, humiliating, abasement of passengers in effect, not if I can help it. But would I fly the "bare bones" US Airways that took us from S.F. to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Miami, without food or amusements and broke Mary's luggage to boot? Never. Will I "cruise" again? I'd offer a positive no, but Ms. M is ready. Probably not on Norwegian Cruise Lines, however. Someone should have told me saving a buck isn't everything.
We had booked the Epic's maiden voyage across the Atlantic for last June, but the old adage "God willing" popped up and we had to cancel for health reasons. So to finally sail aboard this magnificent ship was a distinct pleasure. As soon as we saw that Captain Hakan Svedung was at the helm (our third cruise with him) we were content. Also on board was our old friend Hotel Director Denis Prguda, who made our cruise a wonderful one. This trip we made a new friend Staff Captain Martin Tobias Akesson whose courtesy was outstanding. He saw a need and he filled it (more on this later).
EMBARKATION Saturday Oct. 10, 2010, I-95 was not congested --- Boca Raton to Miami was a 55 minute ride. Baggage drop off was easy, and we were in line for check-in only10 minutes at 1:00pm. After 15 minutes, we had assistance to Deck 12, but the rooms were not ready until 2:00pm; however, our Steward Richard took our walker and placed it in our room for us.
THE SHIP The Epic is a truly magnificent ship of epic proportions and deserves a back toback booking in order to fully enjoy it all. She was started in 2007 at STX Europe Shipyard in St. Nazaire, France, and sea trials began in Feb. 2010 and were completed in June just before delivery. This ship has 19 passenger decks, many with balconied cabins. Her gross tonnage is 153,000; overall length is 1,080 ft. and beam is 133 ft. Draft is only 28.5 ft. She is powered by Diesel Electric engines and cruises at 22 knots. Her guest capacity is 4,100 double occupancy; her crew numbers 1,730 --- a very nice crew to passenger ratio. The Epic has a series of Studios, inside cabins for one passenger, on Decks 11 and Deck 12, a very innovative idea which allows solo passengers to book at convenient prices. At boarding, we were given a compact pocket guide to the Epic which came in very handy. The major drawback to getting around was the exceptionally high thresholds. They created a problem for the wheelchair and the scooter. The crew was already at work correcting the situation.
Decks 1 through 4 are for crew only.
Deck 5 forward has the Epic Theater with wheelchair access and reserved seating. There is an excellent view of the stage from every seat --- not a pole in the house. Midship is the Photo Gallery and Internet Cafe` starboard. Port side is Le Bistro French cuisine, excellent ($20 fee). Also here are the Guest Service, Shore Excursion and Cruise Consultant Desks. At aft is Taste Restaurant with fine dining, where even shorts are allowed at dinner.
Deck 6 forward is the balcony of the Epic theater. Midship is the Headliners Comedy Show Bar and Spiegel Tent featuring "Cirque Dreams" ($20/30 fee) a dinner show that is very popular --- book it as soon as possible, even before you get on board, or you'll miss it! All the servers and the Maitre D' have entertainment skills and contribute to the fun.
Mid ship is also O'Sheehan's Pub with great food and informal dining (Fish and Chips, Shepherd's pie, pretzel rolls, etc...). This is the largest Pub afloat and there is a great view of the super size screen visible from Decks 5, 6 and 7. Football fans covet the specific barstools where they can watch the games, drink beer and eat the terrific pub food, simultaneously. The atmosphere was FANtastic.
Midship is also the huge Casino. Toward aft is Shanghai's Chinese Restaurant and Noodle Bar with lots of stools. Next, is the "Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club", one of the many entertainment venues, smooth. All the way aft is the main dining room Manhattan with a small live combo with a great singer and dancing every night.
Deck 7 forward is Bliss Lounge with plush seating and the Bowling Alleys. The Library is also located here with very limited hours and books. This ship is very new and we are sure that some of the odd placement of areas will be corrected swiftly. Getting around in a wheelchair sometimes means going to one floor and then going down by elevator and then going back again; i.e. La cucina is accessible by going to Deck 15 and taking an elevator back to Deck 14. Awkward, but we made it. Then, there is also an escalator midship between Decks 5 & 6, which, for wheelchairs means going the length of the ship and back again to get to Passenger Services. There are only forward and rear elevators, but no central ones. All of these logistics take a bit of time to get use to, not to mention patience.
Midship are the Trade Winds Shops on board. Also located here are "Teppanyaki" and the Sushi Bar "Wasabi." Next are two more bars "Shakers," a martini bar, and "Maltings," a whiskey bar. There are over twenty bars on board so "bar hopping" can be very possible. There is a Barber Shop and the Humidor for fine cigars. Aft are two more alternative restaurants: Cagney's Steakhouse ($25 fee) and Moderno, a South American Churrascaria ($18 fee). Both are excellent dining options among more than 20 venues.
Deck 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, & 13 are mostly staterooms and studios.
Deck 14 has La Cucina Italian Restaurant ($10 fee); midship is "Recess" for kids and toward aft is "Pulse," the fitness center, and all the way aft is "Mandara," the spa and salon.
Deck 15 forward has the Garden Cafe` with buffet dining, then the kids "Aqua Park" with the "Epic Plunge" water slide --- HUGE. Aft are the "Video Arcade" and "Spice H2O" with a small pool, bar and two whirlpools.
Deck 16 forward has the Suites, "Epic Club and Courtyard Grill" for fine dining, the "Courtyards Pool and Spa." Midship there is the "Climbing Wall." Toward aft is "Entourage," the teen club, and all the way aft are the Spice H2O "Pool Grill" and "Pool Bar."
Deck 17 forward are more suites and aft is the sports complex.
Deck 18 has the Courtyard Sundeck, "Posh Beach Club," and the "Public Sundeck."
Deck 19 has the upper levels of the Posh and Freestyle Sundecks.
This is a huge beautiful ship with a sparkling central atrium chandelier three decks high in the configuration of six rings of various sizes of lighted crystals. Very unique and lovely.
FOOD & SERVICE The food is much improved over our last Norwegian cruise, and there are so many more venues to choose from in Freestyle. First night on we went to "Taste" on Deck 5: Vincent didn't even have to change out of his shorts in order to have a sit down meal! Although the menu is sparse, there are enough selections and variety to have a good meal.
We ate at Le Bistro and thoroughly enjoyed the escargot, the pate` fois gras terrine with apples and the frisee salad with duck breast confit. Mary had a delicious coq au vin and Vincent a perfectly broiled filet mignon. French roast coffee, made at the table in a French press percolator, was excellent with the profiteroles. The Bistro is decorated with millions of dollars of 20th century artwork by famous artists.
Our first day on board we discovered that getting around the Epic was difficult. Mary's foot rest on the wheelchair was jammed and bent at the exit to the Garden Cafe`. Maitre D' Boris Kojic was very concerned and he and his staff were extremely helpful as were all the crew members we encountered. We met Staff Captain Akesson and he sent ship's mechanic Herme Tenestrante to our cabin; he took the wheel chair overnight, fixed the foot pedal and returned it the next morning at 9:00am. He and his assistant Bernardo Bautista were a Godsend. Many thanks to Staff Captain Akesson, who made our cruise most enjoyable.
We also met Captain Hakan Svedung and know why service is so great: it is common knowledge that excellent service filters down from the top. He and H.D. Denis Prguda met with us and assured us the the door jambs are a high priority with NCL, since they are already being replaced as fast as possible. Denis' assistant Rashida Faustino took us on a private tour of the "Ice Bar". It was fantastic, like being in an igloo (-17 degrees Fahrenheit)! We met Chief Engineer Tore Johansson who showed us the compressed ice blocks, made in the U.S.A. The pressurized ice is so crystal clear that the designs inside are perfectly visible. There are two larger than life sculptures: a polar bear and a Viking warrior with a horned helmet. We now know why people don't freeze stuck to the seats; they are covered with woolly sheepskin pelts! Very Cool! There is a $20 fee for about a twenty minute stay and two Vodka shots are included.
We dined in "La Cucina" and the Italian food was much improved, but alas the pizza dough tasted like cardboard. The pastas were excellent and so was the osso buco. Dessert was a creamy ricotta cheese pie and panna cotta. We recommend it, the décor is lovely, and the view at the prow of the ship is wonderful.
We found the food much improved, and the service to be excellent.
CABIN Cabin #12267 has a unique design. When entering, on the left is a single sink with wheel chair access, a quadruple armoire with two wardrobes with hangers (one which can be lowered easily with a pull pole) and two with shelves and a personal safe. Next there is a refrigerator, a TV and a long shelf with four large drawers.
When entering on the right, there is a circular bathroom with a 4'x4' shower with a fold away seat and the commode to which our excellent steward Richard Espino added a riser. There were several hooks for clothes appropriately placed, both high and low.
After, there is a desk/vanity with lighted mirror and six drawers. Next, there is a high king sized, very firm bed, with a beige leather roll and tuck head board, flanked by reading lamps and a phone in easy reach. The carpeting simulates sand dunes; the woodwork is dark mahogany. The draperies and coverlet are teal blue. The walls have a series of three plexiglas rectangles with sketched elm leaves, very interesting.
Our steward Richard was terrific, he added a table to the oversized balcony (about 150 sq. ft.), so we could have breakfast and lunch outside, overlooking the ocean. We ordered breakfast from room service where Christopher always handled our order promptly. Our steward's assistant was the excellent Sheran Stewart-Bent. Everyone treated us wonderfully.
ENTERTAINMENT We were truly amazed at the many venues and entertainment possibilities; sports, exercise programs, swimming, trivia (with the bright Aisha from Boston), Casino games and contests and finally the terrific Vegas style shows. We saw the "Blue Men" and laughed ourselves silly. "Legends in Concert" was amazing; the Michael Jackson impersonator was so spot on that the girls next to us were screaming "Michael Lives!" He wowed the crowd with his dancing and costumes. Rod Stewart's "Legs" was a well choreographed production which brought the audience to its feet. The Second City Improvisation Group was on board, and we heard good things about them. All in all we say 4 Stars for entertainment. The children's Nickelodeon at sea program is well organized and popular.
DEBARKATION Considering that over 4,000 passengers were disembarking, it was a very orderly and speedy process. We had assistance with the wheelchair off the ship, to baggage pickup and through passport and customs and were outside on the curb awaiting our son Marcello in less than twenty minutes. Excellent!
CONCLUSION This was our seventh cruise on a NCL ship, but our 87th cruise overall. There have been a lot of changes in cruising since Vincent's first transatlantic sailing in 1956 on the Greek Line's Olympia, a 22,000 gross tons liner carrying 1300 passengers. And changes have occurred not only in the size of the ships, but mainly in the activities and entertainments available to the passengers. The Epic, at 153,000 tons, is about seven times bigger than the Olympia and she offers so many types of activities, dining and entertainment that makes the comparison to the old ship mind-boggling. On the Olympia and other ships of that time, we can recall how the days were spent: Morning walk on the promenade; breakfast, lunch and dinner in the same dining room; during the day, skeet shooting in the rear of the ship, shuffle board and ping-pong on the promenade; sunning, reading a book, or relaxing on a chase lounge on the sun deck; and ending the day listening and dancing to the music and songs by a combo group. By now-a-day standards that might seem boring, but in those days we were happy to enjoy the worry-free life of relaxation and the pleasure of being pampered, as we say in Italian the joy of "dolce far niente" (sweet do nothing)! We can still do this on the Epic and much more: Freestyle Cruising gives the cruisers many choices of activities, entertainments, shore excursions and dining. There is so much to do on this ship that a one week cruise is not enough to do all of the available alternatives, especially in dining (15 or more dining options). Perhaps, a two-week back-to-back cruise will be sufficient to experience all of what this ship offers.
We have already booked a future cruise while aboard the Epic (yet to be selected). Our next cruises will be on the Crown Princess, Nov. 6-13, Western Caribbean, Allure of the Seas, Nov. 23-26, cruise-to-nowhere and Jan. 23-30, Eastern Caribbean. Happy Cruising!