We booked our cruise around eight weeks before , and having experienced the P & O style in March, this time we decided to try the NCL Freestyle.
We flew Monarch from Manchester, and let me start by saying that I won't be booking Monarch flights again for a while - it took an hour to get checked in, with a queue longer than the Great Wall of China (or so it seemed- please forgive my poetic licence). The plane journey took just over two hours to get to Venice, and a taxi was waiting in the arrival hall to take us straight to the port.
Once inside the embarcation shed, lo and behold, we were given our numbered ticket and told to await our number being called to go through security. An hour later after experiencing the humidity of an non-air conditioned shed in hot weather, my feelings were starting to turn from positive to negative.How NCL cannot manage this procedure beats me, but maybe it's connected to the strict policy they've adopted of not allowing passengers to take wine or spirits on board without declaring it and paying the tolls involved?
Our restricted view "stateroom" was fine in furnishings, but very tight for space, and if you were a cat, you certainly wouldn't want to be swung in it. Basic shower cubicle (with a constant supply of hot water), basin and wc, old fashioned non-interactive tv, fridge full of cans/miniatures and snacks for sale. The view was, as expected, of a lifeboat, but at least you could see whether it was daylight or not.
The ship is still bearing the bright decor of it's time cruising Hawaii - oranges and blues abound. It travels as smooth as silk though, and most days you hardly felt it was moving.
We found the food to be nice enough, with choices of ten starters, ten mains and eleven sweets at dinner in the Grand Pacific main dining room. It wasn't up to P & O quality, but not too far behind. We experienced issues with the dishes sometimes ariving lukewarm instead of hot, and the waiting staff occasionally seemed disorganised to the effect that it could take well over an hour and ten minutes to get up to the third course.
Sometimes you could wait twenty five minutes just to get into the MDR, and yet the seven restaurants which had cover charges were consistently nowhere near full.
The buffet on deck 12 was really good, and if you couldn't find something to suit, you'd be unluckier than Jonah.You had to time it though in order to get a table. Peak times made it really difficult to find a free table.
The drinks aren't cheap, and as stated in other reviews, are subject to a 15% addition for presumably gratuity purposes. Added to the $12 a day charged to each adult and child, it seems that NCL aren't backwards at coming forwards in making sure passengers are parted with their cash. Passengers are also told that they should feel free to tip service above the norm.
Getting your dosh is a finely practiced technique - They held art auctions, bingo, inch of gold plated chain sales,sold tours like they were going out of business, flogged Colombian Emeralds (the next big thing), and had an enormous shop at the aft end full of high-end stock to thrill the spendaholics.Yet they didn't seem to sell alcohol or cigarettes for some reason. Even Gary, the Entertainments Director, was flogging his book "what he wrote" to quote Ernie Wise.
We visited Corfu - walk to the old town - maybe 3/4 of a mile, it's well worth a half day with a varied selection of old buidings/churches and shops.
Next stop was Santorini and a trip in a cable car to the town at the top of the cliffs (4 Euros each way). We walked down the steps past herds of donkeys, who took umbrage if you got too close, and a girl in front of us narrowly avoided a hefty kick from one particularly ungracious mule.
Mykinos was third stop - beautiful town full of shops and cafes, narrow streets and mad motorbike riders and tiny van drivers intent of making their way through the hordes of tourists scoring as many hits as possible.
Fourth stop - Katakolon where I hired a car (do it before you go to get the best on-line rate - an Avis Punto cost me Â£35 for the day plus petrol. The drive to Olympia took around 25 minutes, and if you stop at a set of traffic lights, you swiftly get approached by what looked like groups of Romanian gypsies wanting your spare change or whatever you wished to part with. Apart from this, the trip to Olympia is really worth it. It costs 6 Euros to get in or 9 if you include the museum. Very quiet place and much larger than I anticipated.
Entertainment was hit and miss. They had excellent pianists, a jazz guitarist, and one night, a fabulous dixieland jazz band. I went to the first theatre show which was billed as a contest to decide the best singer. It turned out to be a "competion" between four singers on the entertainments staff? I left the theatre alone after this until the last night, whe we attended a show called "Elements". This turned out to be dancers and an illusionist performing illusions revealed years ago on the masked magician show. It wasn't my cup of tea, and several passengers left before it finished.
We like karaoke, and it was on several times in the top deck bar. Unfortunately, NCL have a pretty dismal choice of tracks, with lyrics not bearing much resemblance to the originals, and the backing track sounding like someone playing it on a Bontempi organ. I left a comment card suggesting that the system needed to be updated if they want to attract singers - on one night only one singer got up.
Deck entertainment by the pools (acres of exposed flesh in various hues of reds and browns)seemed to go down well, and the entertainments staff worked their socks off. If anything, the etertainment lacked something, maybe a couple of tribute acts/bands, guest speakers or comedians?
Overall, we preferred P & O, because the food was better, the entertainment was better and we didn't feel like we were being targeted to take as much off us as possible. Of course, this is subjective, and we met NCL cruisers who loved it. Unfortunately, it's not for us.