Embarkation, Port transfers and Disembarkation.
As we had never been to Barcelona before we took a taxi from the airport to the port terminal which cost â‚¬30 (Â£25.64), including tip. The embarkation process was very smooth and the NCL ticket processing staff were very friendly and helpful. The port tranfers and disembarkation process was just as smooth and efficient.
On a positive note, the double bed in our balcony stateroom was huge [bigger than our king size at home] and comfortable. We enjoyed sitting out and reading on the balcony when the sun was out but, as we were able to make use of the balcony on only two days of our 9 days cruise because of the weather, we did wonder if we should have just booked an oceanview stateroom instead.
On a negative note, the lavatory in the bathroom is a tight squeeze to get in and out. And when you are sitting down, your knees are in toching distance with the wall - and we are not big people! There is only a 14 inch CRT TV which is adequate if you just want to watch the BBC World news whilst sitting on the sofa but not if you want to watch a film whilst in bed. Anyway, in this day and age, you would have thought NCL would have larger flat screen tvs. Also, although there is a coffee maker with sachets of coffee for coffee drinkers, there is no kettle for tea drinkers, although tea bags were provided. Obviously, you would not want to make tea in a coffee maker.
Restaurants, Food, Drinks
We had intended to try the Speciality restaurants but were told by some fellow passengers that the extra cost was not really worth it so we had breakfast and dinner mostly in the main restaurant, the Grand Pacific, which shares the same kitchen as the smaller Alizar which we tried on two occasions but reverted back to the Grand Pacific because, as my husband remarked, in the Alizar you are sitting packed in "cheek by jowl". Whichever you choose, be advised that if you want to dine at, say, 7:30-8:00, you will almost certainly have to join a queue and wait to be paged when a table is free - a 20 minute wait is normal. We also noticed that the waiters in the Grand Pacific seemed to more trained-up than those in the Alizar but they probably alternate between the two restaurants. Why we thought there was a difference in waiter service is because we were served a bottle of warm white wine [part of the wine package we bought on the first day - $162.84 (Â£108.56) for three bottles of red and three of white] in the Alizar and, after the wine was poured, the waiter ran off with it and we had to ask for it to be returned when starting our main courses. The wine did return when we were finishing our main courses, only for the waiter to fill our glasses up twice to empty the bottle, once during the dessert course when we specifically asked him not to since, other than dessert wine, we do not, of course, drink wine with desserts. The waiters in the Grand Pacific, by contrast, asked us to taste the wine and would, from time to time, ask if we wanted more and would not try to serve us wine with the dessert course. We also had lunch at the Blue Lagoon and breakfast there when we had an early start for the ship's excursions and the Grand Pacific was not open. We also tried the Garden Cafe, the Jade's buffet eatery, on two occasions for sandwiches after we had come back from being ashore and had missed lunch and once when we tried to have a buffet lunch - a lamb curry, which was very salty so we quickly left it to go to the Blue Lagoon. Although on each occasion, we were in the Garden Cafe after the peak eating times, it was still very crowded and it was difficult to get a table. We suspect its popularity was down to the fact that you can fill your plates as high as you want with the many food items available in a more relaxing, informal environment. Certainly seemed a favourite with families.
Overall the quality of the food was good considering the number of people to be catered for at any given time. There were only a few "never agains". In addition to the lamb curry, we had a truly awful Louisiana gumbo which was very salty, an eggs benedict in which the poached eggs were like hard boiled eggs with solid yolks and the Canadian bacon was very fatty and tasted off to me. I sent the eggs benedict back and re-ordered and, in subsequent conversation with the executive chef, Hans Peter Heines, at the "meet and mingle" he said I had done the right thing in sending it back because it lets them know where they are going wrong and helps them to maintain standards. A few days later I ordered soft yolked poached eggs with american stlye crispy bacon and the waitress personally stayed in the kitchen to ensure that the yolks were soft and asked me to cut the eggs to see if they were soft. The same thing would happen when I ordered medium rare steak. If you are tired of the usual eggs, bacon, etc, I suggest you try the Scottish kippers. We had quite a wait (suspect they are rarely ordered) but it was worth the wait.
One consistent grumble was tea. Like tea ordered abroad, including the USA, the water in the teapot was hot but not boiling hot so the tea tasted like coloured water. There were occasions when I was served a teapot of hot water soon after sitting down with the tea bags arriving half way through breakfast by which time the hot water had cooled down. Sometimes I had to have the "fresh" milk changed because it smelled off and had ruined my tea and my husband's coffee.
In addition to the wine package, we bought beer and cocktails in the various bars on the ship. Another grumble. We tried to buy a beer package from the bar located in the atrium (the package is six beers for the price of five to drink at anytime and anywhere) and were offered the usual american makes, eg. coors, bud, etc, but were refused German brands on the grounds that this bar did not stock German beer even though it was sold at other bars on the ship. We never did buy a beer package. Following the american custom, we added a tip on each order and, with the 15% service charge, the cost soon mounted up.
We missed quite a few shows through dining late (because of the queues!). Of the shows we saw we would highly recommend 4Evers - the Spanish equivalent to il divo. Would also recommend the show Elements - cirque du soleil with magic. The only disappointing show we saw was Shout - a show set in 60s London - it was awful, not only our opinion but others who were on the ship.
We enjoyed the 50s/60s and 70s discos and, although we try to keep up to date on the music [we are not that old], we did not know any of the songs played at the White Hot party so we did not get up to dance. Pity because I was wearing all white and was in desperate need of some exercise!! So, Gary [the rightly, highly praised, Mr "Entertainment"], please note a party should have music from all decades not just the most recent hits.
Dress Up or Not
We agonized on what to pack for the cruise and decided on smart casual with a few items of formal wear. On board it was very informal. Some passengers wore jeans and t shirts for dinner whilst others wore day dresses, chinos, other smart trousers, shirts, polo shirts and jackets. On Dress Up nights only a very few wore gowns and dinner suits. My husband's tip is to pack more tops/shirts and less underwear on the basis that you can "ring the changes" throughout the day and you (me) can always wash underwear in your stateroom bathroom and hang them up to dry on the laundry cords hanging in the shower. Tip: Carry pegs to hang clothes up on the line.
The fixed charge of $12 per person, per day was a source of much discontent with our fellow passengers. We paid up in full - $908.86 (Â£605.90) - and also tipped one of our stateroom stewards, Mel.
Area of concern
We think NCL should introduce and enforce a ban on very young children being taken to discos. We were very concerned to see young children crawling on the dance floor near the loud speakers which were on the floor. The children no doubt thought they were toys and placed their ears on or very close to the loud speakers. We saw one dim-witted father hold his very young child up to the disco strobe lights, encouraging the child to reach out and touch the lights!!
We went on two NCL excursions - "Best of Tenerife" and "Best of Lazarote" and did our own thing in Madeira, Malaga and Barcelona (Please see my review).