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: Families. Value for Money. Teens.
Good for: Families. Seniors. Group.
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. Seniors.
Regions:Alaska, Caribbean, Inland Waterways, West Coast
Good for: Families. Value for Money. Teens.
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!
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Lanore Alaska July 31, 2010
This is great for multi-generational family groups. The excursions were guided by knowledgable and enthusiastic leaders. Our favorite was the Prince Rupert Canoe and Rain Forest Walk, hosted by local Native Canadians. The canoe and rain gear were brand new, it was fun and the "snacks" were the freshest crab possible and fry bread! The catamaran to the Sawyer Glacier in the Tracy Arm was great and we saw whales on the way from Juneau.
However, since the ship goes most of the way (just not as close to the glacier) it may not be worth $200 to some people. The White Pass Railroad in Skagway was worth it (we were lucky with great weather) and interesting, even though I favor more active activities and we liked Skagway and had spicy Thai food there.
Where else can you visit a Sarah Palin store? In Juneau we had great weather to the Mendenhall Glacier Float which was also fun. The Tatoosh kayak trip in Ketchikan was peaceful and we saw bald eagles very close up. The ship personnel were friendly and unbelievably patient.
Thefood gave a nice variety and I am a vegetarian. The soups in the Versailles room was surprisingly sophisticated and delicious, as were the desserts.Of course, to serve so many people, many dishes were on the bland side. If you really like coffee, bring your own instant-it is that bad! Same with the Lipton tea. The fitness center had decent equipment and was not too busy. The library had a good selection and easy access. We used the meeting rooms, which were convenient and nice. For the launch party, the volume is pretty high, so for that and the fairly thin cabin walls, ear plugs are helpful. This was my first cruise and I would go again.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by Bruce Pederson Alaska July 24, 2010
Booked early, with suggestions of up grade 4th cruise on NCL, booked 5 staterooms 15 people Put on deck 5, given no up grade, no pepsi, nothing for a $12,000 booking
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.
Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Star by OopsieDaisy Repositioning Cruise October 2, 2010
I pulled another one of my famous last minute cruise bookings and got a six day repositioning cruise from Vancouver to Los Angeles with ports of call (Victoria, BC; Astoria, OR; San Francisco, CA) along the way. I paid $299 pp for a guaranteed ocean view and ended up with a balcony cabin on Deck 8! Score!! They could have pulled me behind the ship in a dinghy and I would have had my money's worth. So I am grateful, really I am.
I DO, however, have some comments to share. I would have been REALLY disappointed if I had paid anywhere near brochure price. Mostly, I am not a fan of the trend towards casual cruising. NCL calls it Freestyle. I do understand the attraction of setting your own meal schedule (although you are still constrained by the operating hours in the full service restaurants), but the freedom comes at a price. You now have to show up and line up, instead of arriving and going to your assigned table. I found the food quality pretty good in therestaurants, but the buffet was awful. Tables so crowded together that you have to ask people to interrupt their meals to let you in and out; school cafeteria quality desserts; food lukewarm; not enough variety. I prefer tipping via the onboard account rather than scrambling on the final day to find each person and hand them an envelope. But the casual concept has arrived at a point where your stateroom attendants are virtually invisible and you never see the same dining room waiter twice. So therefore the outstanding service of yesteryear is gone with the wind. Service aboard the Norwegian Star was adequate and no more than that.
Our stateroom was quite small and had really bad accumulated dust on shelves above the room safe and by the TV set. I didn't want to unpack any clothes in these dirty areas. The bathroom was a decent size and well equipped.
The ship had lost it's contract for any TV sports channel the week before our cruise and staff reported there was no word as to when it would be reinstated. As we are in baseball playoffs, mid-football season and the beginnings of hockey and basketball seasons, there were a lot of unhappy campers about that.
I found some of the staff at the Guest Services and Shore Excursions desks very difficult to understand with their heavily accented English. (And I have lived overseas in 5 different countries for 15 years and am quite an 'active' listener!)
My friend and I booked 'Spa Combo' services for an 'at sea' day. 7 x 20 minute services for $109. I got a male hairdresser who, although very kind and earnest, had little skills as an esthetician. He raced through 5 of the advertised services and booted me in 1 hour. My friend got the 'whole enchilada' and came back to the stateroom a full hour after I did. I know, why didn't I say something? I hate to complain when I know someone's job/promotion/salary increase might be affected, that's why. But I was p*ssed, believe me!
So. For $299, I still got a helluva deal. But stacking NCL up against Holland America, Azamara, or even Carnival? Not impressed. Likely will not cruise with them again. Oh! Unless I get a six day cruise, balcony stateroom, for $299 again. That tends to compensate for a lot of shortcomings!! :D
Just returned from a 10 night New England Cruise out of NY. Stops were Newport, Halifax, Quebec and Sydney. Not sure why they go to Sydney - Its a complete waste of time. 4 stops in 10 days = too many days at sea. We ate in the buffet nearly every night as there was alway a wait in the other two non paying restaurants - their menus never looked that good. Yes, you have to pay extra ($15 - $25) to eat in any of the other places, and from what I heard from other passengers, it was not worth it. The food was edible, but not great. Our cabin had stains on the carpet. The entertainment on the other hand is very good. If you want to go on a cruise where you will not gain weight, go on NCL because you will not want to eat the food!
My wife and I sailed on the Norwegian Pride of America. This was our third cruise experience having previously sailed on Carnival and Princess. We choose Norwegian because they were the only cruise line that did a 7 day tour of Hawaii. We wanted to see as many islands as possible. Going on what we had heard and read, we anticipated the cruise experience was going to be inferior to our previous cruise. We decided to make Hawaii the priority and not the cruise. For the most part the cruise was inferior, but there were some surprises. First, we found the entire staff of Pride of America to the equal of the other cruises. They were courteous and all spoke fluent English. The guides on our excursions were extremely knowledgeable and very personable. Excursion tickets had information on pertaining to what we would need to bring for the excursion which was very helpful. The buffet meal presented at breakfast, lunch, and dinner was the most extensive I have ever seen on a cruise ship. Also, we appreciated the fact that NCL did not push alcoholic drinks as much as the othercruises that we were on.
Now for the negatives. NCL promotes itself with "Freestyle Cruising." They offer no more freedom to passengers than any other cruise line. For example, NCL enforces a dress code in their dining rooms. Pride of America allowed embarkment at noon. We got on the ship about 1:00. However, upon entering the ship we attempted to go our stateroom. We were told rooms would not be ready until 2:30. This meant we had to mill around the ship with our carry-ons for about an hour and a half. Fortunately, the lunch buffet was open.
Our biggest disappointment was the food. As I stated previously the buffet was very good. However, we do not go on cruises to eat buffets at every meal. We like fine dining and the cruise ship pampering that goes with it. POA claims 14 dining rooms. 4 of the dining choices are basically burgers and hot dog places, 7 are restaurants with a cover charge, 1 is the buffet, and the last 2 are the fine dining restaurants with no cover that we like. These two are the Liberty and Skyline. Both have the same menu but the Liberty does not allow shorts, jeans, or sneakers. This last fact we had to figure out on our own. We were disappointed in the menu selections in these two restaurants. The food appeared to prepared way ahead of time and often was not hot. The salads were especially bad. The wait staff was good in both the restaurants. We ate at two of the cover charge restaurant. The first was Jefferson's Bistro, a French themed restaurant. The cover charge was $20 per person. A section of the menu included extra good items like lobster for an additional $10. We went for the lobster so the meal cost us $60. The meal and staff were excellent. We also at an American themed restaurant, Lazy J Steak House. Their cover charge was $25 and they also had the $10 extra stuff. Once again we got it all for a total bill of $70. Once again the meal and staff was excellent. I forgot to mention that we had no drinks or the meal would have been more. We would have loved to try a lunch in the Liberty or Skyline but it wasn't offered, leaving the buffet as the best option.
NCL did not give us any shipboard credit. They gave us a coupon book with coupons that were of no value to us. Also, my wife would have liked to attend a couple of aerobics classes but none were offered. The evening entertainment in the theater was okay but nothing real memorable. The comic magician was pretty good as were the Polynesian dancers. The singers were okay and the comedian wasn't very funny.
Considering that the POA is in port every day getting off the ship is a big part of this cruise. We like to book excursions ahead of time with NCL so we can get what we want. If we went again we would consider doing more of our own thing like renting a car. I thought the excursions were pretty pricey but they were mostly all day affairs and we went with ones that provided lunch because food is very expensive in Hawaii. One thing that I didn't like was that tax was added on our bill for the excursions. This further inflated the price. Following is a rundown of the ship's itinerary and what we did:
Day 1 (Maui ): Maui seems to be the most laid back of the 4 islands that we visited. We went on an excursion called, "Hana Picnic." We traveled in a limo van with a total of seven people. We traveled the famous Hana Road. It was by far the most winding and interesting road that we have ever been on. Our guide, Gary, was just a wealth of knowledge about Hawaiian history, culture, and vegetation. We made numerous stops and a very nice lunch was provided on a black sand beach. We visited a pineapple field, flower shop, local vendors, and many other neat places selling crafts and tasty treats. It lasted about 9 hours but it was a great day.
Day 2 (Maui): Today went on the "Rainforest Hike and Waterfalls." We went to a rainforest and hiked to several waterfalls where we were allowed to swim. Our guide, Ray, was also very knowledgeable. He provided backpacks, water shoes, bug spray, water, and a lunch which we had to carry. We thought that there would be more hiking and we expected to see some crystal clear water pools which we did not. It was very crowded in the rainforest with many tours being conducted. The trip lasted about 5 hours. If we had it to do over, we would have passed on this excursion and rented a car to sightsee on our own.
Day 3 (Hilo on the Big Island): The Big Island was interesting on the Hilo side. We went on the "Gourmet Volcano Adventure." This turned out to be a great day. I accomplished one of my goals of seeing an active volcano. We went to Mt. Kilauea the most active volcano in the world. We got to stand in steam vents and see dried lava fields. My wife loved the rest of our day which included coffee tasting at a coffee plantation; wine tasting at the volcano winery; and candy tasting at Big Island Candy. Our guide, Haley, was great--a very engaging and knowledgeable girl. She took us took to a secluded park with old growth Eucalyptus trees with a pleasant Eucalyptus smell in the air. She fed us lunch made of all Big Island specialties. The excursion lasted about 7 hours and was the best excursion of the week. That night the ship passed the lava flow that meets the ocean. It was quite a sight and we are glad we got to see it.
Day 4 (Kona on the Big Island): We moved to the western side of the Big Island. We figured we needed a day at the beach so we went on the Kona Beach Blast excursion. It was a 45 minute bus ride which we weren't expecting. There were some really neat dried lava fields on the way. Our fee included use of snorkeling equipment, kayaks, water bikes, and a glass bottom boat ride. We thought it was a little expensive for what we got but it was a fun day.
Day 5 (Kauai): We spend much of the day shopping in Kauai. Free shuttles were available to transport us. About 4:30 we left for the Luau Kauai. In the evening went to a luau. It turned out to be the worst excursion by far. The luau was for POA passengers only and it seemed like most of the ship was at it. It was packed. It included the luau meal with a live stage performance depicted the settling of Hawaii. The meal was lousy and we had the worst seats in the house for the show. I could only see the tops of the heads of the performance and my wife couldn't see anything. All this for $103 per person. I complained when we got back to the ship. I was asked to put it in writing for the excursion manager. The next day I got a letter telling me that I could have had better seats if I had paid more. There was a slip of paper in my excursion ticket packet telling us that. I never saw this slip of paper neither did other passengers that I spoke to about it. I called NCL when I got home and the also asked me to submit my complaint in writing. So far I received a letter telling me that they would look into the matter. To date, I have not heard from NCL again. I do not recommend this excursion.
Day 6: (Kauai): We decided to just go to the beach because the ship left port at 2:00. We rode the free trolley and had a great day on the nicest beach we had seen in Hawaii. All beaches in Hawaii by law are open to the public which is nice. We did rent two beach chairs and an umbrella which was worth it. About 5:00 the ship slowed at the Napoli coast which is one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. It was really neat to see.
Day 7 (Honolulu): This was disembarkment day. Our flight didn't leave until 6:00 so we went on the Pearl Harbor/Missouri excursion. Our bus driver was kind of goofy but it was an interesting day especially for an American history buff like me. The excursion was a little long at 7 hours. After seeing the Arizona and Missouri we had a drive through Honolulu and saw the Punchbowl monument to the fallen soldiers. It was a good last day.
In closing, I would say that we accomplished our goal of seeing as much of Hawaii in one week as possible. If we had it to do over again, I know we would do the same thing. That said, those who book this cruise should expect a substandard cruise experience. If you are looking for the typical cruising experience this is not for you. However, what you will get is seeing one of the truly unique places in our country and the world. The Hawaiian people were very gracious hosts and they have a great respect for the beauty and splendor of their island paradise. The laid back attitude and pace of the people is really refreshing for those of us from the east coast. The real upside to this cruise vacation is being able to see 4 of the 5 main Hawaiian Islands (no non-Hawaiian are allowed on the 5th island), and not have to worry about motel accommodations or high priced Hawaiian meals. For those with a goal similar to us, I recommend this cruise. That said, I am certain this will be our last cruise on Norweigan.
About us. 57/62 year old semi-retired professionals. Our 36th cruises, 12th on NCL and 4th on the Sun. This was our second cruise to the Baltic, the first being on the NCL Dream in 2004. Not terribly fussy, pretty laid back. We were travelling with 10 friends, some of my review may reference their critique of events we missed.
Embarkation - Port of Dover This was our second sailing from Dover and they have a new terminal since our 2004 sailing. The terminal is modern and well laid out. The staff was very friendly and efficient. From the time we entered the door to key card in hand was about 20 minutes. Boarding began at 11:40 although rooms were not ready. In the past a bag check area was available for dropping your carry ons but it was not available this time. Lunch was served in the buffet and the Seven Seas dining room opened at 12:30, which we chose and had a nice relaxing start to our cruise. About the time we were finishing up our coffee it was announced that rooms were ready.
The Ship The interior is done inNCL's typical understated style and is filled with bronze colored woods, brass and bronzy colored granite. In places the interior seemed somewhat stark but overall it is a sleek and elegant ship no glitz or neon. The atrium area is a bit on the small side and the panoramic elevators are oddly shaped (kind of keyhole shaped, narrow at the entrance, ballooning out toward the rear), which made for difficulty in loading and offloading.There are a lot of elevators on this ship and they seemed to run more quickly than on most. The central staircases are of the typical spiral type, making attractive places for photos. Several bars, the Internet cafe and customer service areas all rim the atrium. Hallways are nearly devoid of artwork; the artworks in the stairways were large florals, with a different flower for each floor (if it's poppies, I must be near the cabin!).
Dining There are two main dining rooms, appointed primarily with two- and four-person tables. They are easily rearranged for larger groups. The Seven Seas dining room is on the stern, so it has windows on three sides allowing for many window tables. There were no booths, just tables (although some tables had unusual center legs, making it difficult to cross your legs). The Four Seasons dining room is also on deck 5 and more central. The menu is the same in each dining room.
The buffet was well laid out and only the beverage area was weird. The ice dispenser was in the center rather than at the beginning near the glassware. The omelet and waffle stations were in a separate location - Pacific Heights which is on the opposite side of the elevators from the buffet. Pacific Heights is a much less crowded area for breakfast but the only serve the above items, along with coffee, tea and o.j. If you want other items for breakfast you can walk over to the buffet and return with them. It is necessary to wear a shirt and shoes in the buffet. An outside buffet area serves nearly identical fare, plus hot dogs and hamburgers. Its seating area was on the stern - a very pleasant spot where you could dine in your bathing suit. You do need to pass through the indoor buffet to get there, but you didn't need to be fully dressed if you were just passing through. There is a complimentary ice cream bar off the pool area which was open most of the time. The ice cream bar, Sprinkles, has soft ice cream in vanilla and chocolate and scoop ice cream in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry as well as a sherbet which varies each day. They only serve cones, so if you want a dish of ice cream grab a cup from the nearby drink station and they will put it in that.
Several specialty restaurants were available such as a tapas bar, sushi bar, Japanese, Italian, and French restaurant and a steak house. All but the tapas bar and Pacific Heights required an additional fee. Pacific Heights is a lighter fare/health conscious restaurant and no additional cost applies. The "pay" restaurants require reservations and the cost is from $15-$30. There was no 50% reduction for early dining on this sailing. On the two final sea days there were specialty lunches. An Indian cuisine and a jazz brunch. Both were $15 and well worth it.
Spa The spa, off the pool area, had a large assortment of exercise equipment. Several exercise classes were available for a fee. The spa is operated by the Mandara company, and thus operates much like those on other lines. The steam room and saunas were small but free, which is a pleasant return as they had been charging for the steam and sauna. The showers in the spa were much more spacious than the cabin showers and had liquid soap and shampoo available. The showers had transparent doors which might give bashful folks a problem. For those who find the cabin showers too confining, go to the spa.
The spa offers the usual spa treatments along with acupuncture and tooth whitening.
Entertainment The theater seats were high-backed, which created a bit of a problem for short people like me who had to crane a bit to see above the back. Seating down front was much more comfortable. There were two levels to the theater, and several poles created partial obstructions.
I thought the music was lacking on this cruise. There was a pianist who played nightly in one of the lounges. In the Observation Lounge there was a rotation of a DJ, a Latin singing group and the Sun Orchestra for dancing at various times. The main band played a wide variety of musical styles but most of it was geared to a much younger crowd than us so we didn't hang around long for them. On previous cruises there was usually a couple who did nice mellow music for dancing or easy conversation and there was no such couple on this cruise.
Lounges There were several lounges, and the Observation Lounge on Deck 12 at the bow provides a beautiful, sweeping view. It is a nice place to hide away during the day and read, as it did not seem to be used much. It is nicely appointed with rattan furniture and a medium size dance floor. Dazzles is more centrally located and has a larger dance floor and many activities e.g. game shows, art auctions were held there. A champagne bar adjoins the atrium as does a coffee bar. The Sports Bar on Deck 12 had many TV screens and served 22 types of beer. It is a great place to view the world and serves complimentary chips and salsa and guacamole each evening. It is open from 5P to 5AM for pizza and pasta.
The pool area has two pools divided by a raised area of four Jacuzzis. The pool water is salt water. Walking decks are the promenade, with 3-1/2 laps per mile and festive murals all the way around; and the sports deck, which has a padded walking surface but requires something like 12 laps to the mile. The promenade deck is the boat deck so it is covered walking while the sports deck is sunny.
Casino The casino is well laid out and has the usual variety of slots, video poker and table games. There are quite a few penny and nickel machines, a goodly number of quarter and the balance are 50 cents through $5. There are video poker machines ranging from penny to $1. Table games are craps, blackjack, roulette, Let it Ride, Caribbean Stud, Baccarat and Texas Hold-em. There is also a separate poker room for Texas Holdem. Service was prompt and courteous. The usual blackjack and slots tournaments were held throughout the cruise and I believe there was a poker tourney too but I'm not positive. The slots now use paper tickets so I found that to be a welcomed change.
Cabin Ours was an interior II cabin on Deck 9. Storage was more than ample. The desk area had one electrical outlet which was the only one in the cabin. A refrigerator, TV, were standard. The bathroom has a circular shower with a curtain held snugly in place by vertical rods in the curtain. Six storage shelves were provided. There is a real toilet paper holder (so the tissue does not fly off the holder with use), a wall mounted hair dryer, and an outlet for electric razors. The shower has normal single handle controls and an adjustable-height shower head. Liquid soap and shampoo dispensers were in the shower. The bedding is the typical NCL duvet and quality cotton. Robes and coffee makers have been removed from interior cabins but as we were gold members I had requested them prior to cruising and they were there on arrival.
Our cabin was 9311, an interior due to budget limitations on this sailing, plus the itinerary did not make it seem as though a balcony would be money well spent. The white nights also bother my husband a bit, so a nice dark inside cabin was perfect for those 10 PM sunsets and 5 AM sunrises. Our cabin was next to an A/C Room which meant we had no neighbors on one side and it was very quiet.
Entertainment We did not take in any shows other than the Celtic flutist who was fabulous and one of the production shows, Cirque something, which was not to our liking and we left before it was over. We had seen a Cirque production on another ship but this one lacked any true acrobatics and the music and costuming seemed very thrown together. Our travelling companions went to quite a few of the shows and found them okay, but nothing to rave about. Being such a long cruise, many of the evenings were filled with cruiser participation shows such as talent, dancing with the stars and an employee talent show.
The usual game shows, bingo and poolside activities were offered. The ship also has a mesh enclosed basketball court, ping-pong area, and golf driving range and shuffleboard.
In the library the usual board games were available for checkout, and bridge gatherings were held. Friends of Bill and Friends of Dorothy had regurlarly posted meetings. A Veterans meeting was scheduled this time which my husband always enjoys.
Food The quality was a bit better than most other ships, but that is such a matter of personal taste that it is hard to judge. The menus seem to have been revamped along with the new "Whatever" advertising program. In the past I've thought menu descriptions a bit confusing and this time they were a bit abbreviated but the food quality had improved considerably since our trip last October on the Star. We had dinner at the buffet one evening when we were too pooped to read a menu. I always enjoy the chilled soups and only one disappointed me.
Aside from the jazz brunch we did not eat in any of the specialty restaurants that required additional costs. We enjoyed tapas in Las Ramblas, and the menu changed each night. Pacific Heights has the same menu each night and does require reservations even though it is free. An Indian meal was offered for lunch on one of the sea days for $15. One of our friends went and said it was very good.
Wine service was handled by the waiters and went smoothly. There was no wine program available unless you are a Latitudes member; then you could buy five and get one free.
Thankfully, there was no nightly entertainment by dancing waiters, and the dress code was enforced. The Sun now allows nice jeans in the dining room but I saw a few people turned away for shorts and no ball caps were visible either. Buffet food was the usual fare, of good quality and available from about 6 am to midnight. Food was also available at times in the casino. Room service is available 24 hours and is free but you should tip the waiter.
Cleanliness The ship was the cleanest I've ever been on. Hand sanitizing was strictly enforced at embarkations and at all buffet lines and restaurant entrances. They've even added one to the glass elevators, which seemed ridiculous, especially since the kids who "lived" in the elevators had a good time triggering the dispenser and making a puddle on the floor.
Although this ship is due for dry dock in January, it does not look as though it's been years since refurbishment. With very few exceptions the ship is in excellent shape.
Staff One of the friendliest staff I've encountered. They all seemed particularly adept at remembering names throughout the week - a nice touch. I cannot say I encountered a single rude or indifferent staff member.
Disembarking NCL has an express system whereby if you carry all your luggage off yourself, you can be in the first group off the ship. Quite a few people seemed to opt for this. We were off the ship by 6:05 a.m. Unlike the US, there is no immigration or customs at the pier - just walk off and you're done. Those guests with luggage were assigned a color by their flight times. You could wait in your cabin until your color was called, although they did ask that you vacate your cabin by 9:00 a.m.
This and That Tips are added to your account automatically unless you request otherwise.
Security was very good. They seem to have gotten absolutely rabid about liquor smuggling as well as irons, so attempt it at your own risk.
You can request an iron and ironing board from the reception desk. You are allowed to keep it 3 hours.
Photographers: Almost invisible! The photography staff was available for formal photos and as always at the pier, but they were not in your face every time you turned around.
Announcements were kept to a minimum.
There was no captain's party for everyone. Just a Latitude's party which was at 1 pm on a sea day. There was a separate captain's party for silver, gold and platinum members. There were only 12 people in attendance so we had a senior officer per person! It was held in Las Ramblas and billed as wine and cheese but you could order whatever beverage you liked.
Drinks were of good quality and volume but the prices are that of a high end hotel/restaurant.
Passengers were a middle aged crowd with quite a few younger folks. There were 900 children on board, according to one of the officers, but it did not seem as though there were that many since they were pretty well behaved. I did notice that the TechStyles room (near the internet cafe) had a sign on it for families with children 2 and under. There was an assortment of toys for younger children in a nice indoor play area. It was hard to judge the ethnic mix of the cruisers but I'd say 50% of the cruisers were anglo. There were quite a few Spaniards and Romanians Announcements were made in English, German, Spanish and French. During the muster drill another language was used but I cannot remember what it was.
It is no longer necessary to bring your life vest to the muster drill.
Movies on the TV were available in multiple languages. Several entertainment and cultural programs were done in Spanish as well as English.
Money exchange is available but the rates are not good, so you are better off even at the airport! A local ATM is actually your bet bet. We found that Euros and US dollars worked everywhere.
As for Internet access, the ship has about 10 stations available.. Per-minute use was 75 cents and packages were available including wireless. Phone service is available from your cabin for $7.95/minute.
The jewelry shop onboard is a Columbian Emeralds shop.
There is no longer creamer on the tables in the dining rooms - it is milk. If you want cream, ask for it and they will bring you a pile of single serving creamer. This is a pet peeve of mine since I use a lot of cream and it looks so tacky, not to mention they were difficult to open.
You can buy a future cruise certificate which is a good deal if you plan to cruise in the next 4 years. You pay $250 for a certificate which will act as your deposit for the entire cabin (unless you are in suites or above)when you book a cruise within 4 years. As an incentive you are given an immediate $100 OBC.
Ports of Call We arranged our own tours for all but one port, but I will provide what information I have based on others reports. Copenhagen - we docked in Free Port, which is the further port from downtown. It is about a 20 minute walk to the other pier. Both Hoho lines pick up at the pier. We used City Sightseeing and found that contrary to reports on CM, the buses do not accept credit cards, only euros. I have forgotten how much it was, but you can find that information on their website. We got off downtown, walked around and did a canal tour with Nette (?) tours for $3/person. He took US, euros, pounds - whatever you had. The tour was an hour and very informative. A great deal in our opinion. Be sure to have a few small denomination dollars or euros in case you need to use a public restroom. The attendant will give you change if you have small denominations.
To return to the ship you need to transfer to a line not shown on the internet map - the blue line. The main lines of the Hoho's drop you at the area near the mermaid statue (who is currently vacationing in China) and then the blue bus takes you back to the ship. The blue bus is not marked and does not look like the standard hoho, which picked you up at the pier so you will need to ask various bus drivers if they are the blue line driver. Two of our group did a segway tour and had a blast. They highly recommend it. You can find them on the internet.
Warnemunde. We took the train to Rostock and had a fabulous day walking about. We lucked in to a choral presentation at the huge church with the astronomical clock and it was indeed a treat. We dined at the market on sausage and apple streudel and had a grand meal on the cheap. We took the ferry back to Rostock and since there was a huge boat festival that day we sailed amidst tall sailing ships, pirate ships, Chinese junks, and boats of all flavors. What a treat. Half our group did a tour to Berlin and found the 12 hour day long but enjoyed their trip. The 3 hour each way drive did not seem like fun to me.
Tallin. There is no need to do a tour here. The walk from the ship to old town is about 15 minutes. The reception desk will give you maps of town if you need them (this was true of Rostock too). We used Rick Steve's book and walking guide, which has always served us well. The streets here are very rocky and steep so if you have mobility issues it could be a problem. Second to St. Petersburg, Tallin was everyone's favorite port.St. Petersburg. We arranged for a private tour with Anastasia Tours and had a spectacular time. There was no comparison to our previous visit when we used ship excursions. An articulate, educated guide, nice quick dining, complete flexibility and topped off the first day with a canal tour, champagne and chocolate. The tour per person for both days total came to $5 less than one day on a ship's tour. I cannot recommend this option highly enough to you.
The weather was very warm, the news said it was the highest temps in 1,000 years, and since none of the buildings are air conditioned it got pretty warm. But even on our previous trip I would remind people about the a/c and advise you to leave your heavier clothes on the bus. The palaces and Hermitage get very warm with all those people in them. You are not allowed to bring back packs or water into the palaces or museums. You can take photos but in the Hermitage you cannot use a flash. Local merchants would take USDs except in gift shops in the churches. Our guide had rubles she would swap for our purchases there.
Helsinki. The only place we did a ship's tour to PourVoo (pronounced PourVoe) It was a nice ride in the countryside to a cute little town, with a cute little church and then to see a few of the more popular sites in town but not worth $160. Although, lunch was very, very nice.
Stockholm. We anchored at Nynsham and as we had been to Stockholm before and were tired we decided to stay onboard. A delightfully, relaxing day. They use the life boats for tenders and it takes 10 minutes to reach shore. The drive into Stockholm is one hour if you have an excursion. I got mixed answers on why NCL has chosen to dock this far out and finally got the bottom line from one of the officers who said, they really don't know. It is a corporate office decision and they do not tell them why - just where. Everyone I talked to enjoyed their visit to Stockholm but felt they were terribly rushed and quite frustrated with the experience since some of them had only 45 minutes at the Vasa and 30 minutes to shop or eat or whatever.
Next year NCL is doing this sailing out of Copenhagen rather than Dover and maybe it will allow more time in Stockholm.
London. We arrived three days early to tour London. One of our group is a Brit and gave us the insiders tour. Fortunately we were there on a Sunday which allowed us to go to the Chelsey Street Flower Market, which was absolutely fabulous. Then off to Curry Lane (I think it was called) - block after block of Indian food vendors and restaurants. We had a grand Indian meal. We got to take in choral evensong at Westminster, which was breath taking. On the way to Dover, our private bus stopped at Canterbury Cathedral so we could go to 8 am mass and tour the church. Spectacular.
We had arranged for First Choice Minibus to pick us up at LHR, take us to the Holiday Inn Express Victoria. On Tuesday he transferred us to the port via Canterbury then fetched us at disembarking at whisked us off to LHR. Very curteous and much cheaper than the NCL transfers. Not the cheapest way to travel, by far, but with a group it made it quite affordable. With 12 people all transportation came to $94/per person.
Overall: I would gladly recommend this cruise and ship to anyone.
rooms very tiny compared to other ships but more costly, they made an error in billing and want make a refund this happened to three other couples that i know about. there is no personal contact, you can't get intouch with a person only letters and e-mails then they don't respond, it want be a company that we take our next cruise with in fact i would never use them in the future.