June 6 - 13, 2012 - departing Civitavecchia. Family of 6 - 2 grandparents, 2 parents, 2 "kids" one aged 21, one aged 17 - 3 cabins. All tips and cover charges paid 4-6 weeks in advance when online reservations opened, to spread out expense and simplify our cruising experience. Our embarkation was fine, no issues, not a long wait, and relatively easy, arrived about 1PM. Mom (me) aged 45 did all planning for entire group. Room was a bit disappointing. Had balcony room, but lower part of balcony solid wall - so unable to see out, if sitting in chairs. Ruined the point of having a balcony, and would not have paid extra for one if I had known. Room too small. Cannot pass each other in room. And we are of average build. Kept having to crawl across the bed. Because bathroom has no privacy, bellhop cannot bring room service in and set it down. You will have to do yourself. We had breakfast delivered several mornings and one of us always managed to be in the shower when they showed up. Probably because they were ALWAYS 20-30 minutes EARLY.
First night had reservations in Italian restaurant (cover)at 5:30 PM. Had wonderful dinner with complimentary wine (a surprise!) Came time to pay and we were charged cover. Explained that this had been paid in advance. Took 10 minutes and several phone calls for them to find it. Had to reverse charges and start over. What a pain. Did not know at that point that this was going to happen ALL WEEK - LITERALLY AT EVERY PLACE. The night of Japanese - not only did they not have our reservation - they WEREN'T EVEN OPEN YET. The stupid system let me make a reservation for 5:30 when they didn't open till six. And yes, I had printed all this out and had taken documentation with me. All staff said it was because we embarked in Civitavecchia. Apparently their computer system only likes you if you begin your cruise in Barcelona. Treated like red-headed step child all week. It SUCKED.
Cirque show - either buy the upgraded seats or don't go. You cannot see the entire show from the cheap seats. Food was OK. Set menu of steak and shrimp. Only alternative for people with seafood allergies is a second steak. REALLY?? Anything else is an additional charge. Complimentary wine is only if you eat early. We had reservations in steak house on last night and were not allowed complimentary wine because we sat down at 7:30. Be prepared to mess around with VAT tax as well. Some of the stores are not part of the ship - they are separate. Never was able to get all paperwork and had to give up on getting our refunds.
Picture booth was a FIASCO. first of all - pictures in our file were not us. Had to go "online" on their system and delete them. Ordered most expensive photo package which included a CD. Went to pick it up the night before and it was only the pictures I had deleted of the people that were not us. They would not let us combine our entire family because we had 3 separate state rooms instead of a suite. They re-did the CD THREE times. I had to pick it up 5 minutes before disembarking and I don't know yet if it's right. I might have to protest the payment. Took SEVERAL trips to the photo booth, and literally HOURS of messing around. WHY you ask? Supposedly because we boarded in Civitavecchia. The day we boarded, all prior passengers had services available all day. When we landed in Barcelona - NO SERVICES all day. WHY? Because we boarded in Civitavecchia. No bars, no restaurants, no spa, no internet, NO NOTHING.
During the cruise we played BINGO and DEAL OR NO DEAL. Bingo is OK if you're hard core Bingo person. Otherwise? AVOID. Just a gimmick to get your money. We only played twice because I complained and they gave me free cards to the next day. And the DEAL OR NO DEAL is a total rip. It's only worth it to the random person that gets picked to go up there. Never play that again. Not even all options for winning are on the cards they sell you. And all cards are numbered and assigned and they know what they are. So they know when they sell you the card if it will be a winner. Seriously. Try it - you'll see.
I went to customer service desk to arrange earlier disembarkation time. They asked me about my cruise and I tell them everything that's wrong, and what do they do? Give me a coupon for a free bottle of wine. Seriously? A coupon good only for use on board at 10PM the night before I get off? And California wine at that - not ITALIAN. Whatever. They also ASSIGN you a time to disembark. This did not work for us, as we needed to get off earlier to meet pre-arranged driver. They said OK - but you will have to carry your own luggage. There was ONE exit open, and was used for both passengers disembarking for final time, and for tours (unlike every other port where they separated them). Some elevators shut down so VERY difficult to get down to gangplank. Finally get down there and they tell us we are not allowed to carry our luggage off. THEY DON'T SEEM TO KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING. So we argue and push past and go anyway since they are only stopping some people and not all. They had my kids in tears because the kids were supposed to be meeting us and they wouldn't let them down - while others were allowed. Mind you, my "kids" are 17 & 21 - hardly too young.
The ship itself is very nice. It is big and there is plenty to do. We didn't even get to try everything we wanted to try. Our cabin steward - Hendry - was outstanding. He earned his tip and we even left him a little extra. Our service all around the ship was good, but Hendry was FABULOUS. The kids had a room steward names Jamie and he was wonderful as well. My daughter LOVED the towel animals, and one the last night, he built her a ZOO! Her bed was COVERED in different animals! My parents - NEVER SAW THEIR STEWARD. Their steward did the minimum and nothing more. The teen club - also orientated to kids getting on in Barcelona. They do an orientation - but only for Barcelona passengers. My son says it was OK - but Barcelona kids got better treatment.
Unfortunately, they were offering a deal on board - if you paid a $250 deposit on a future cruise - anytime in the next 4 years, they would give you $100 back. We did this early on - before we knew we were going to have problems with everything. Given the choice, I probably would not do that again. And while I might sail NCL again, I would make sure I was not getting on in the middle of a favored cruise, I would make sure my room was better - space & balcony, and I would not PRE-PAY anything as this did not simplify our experience as intended, but rather complicated it. Many of our fellow cruisers boarding in Civitavecchia had similar complaints. One last thing, if you check the prices - this same cruise is cheaper if you go round trip out of Barcelona. SAME TRIP, but costs more out of Rome. I will definitely be writing to NCL and I can only say that I would not recommend this itinerary. If what they say is true, that it is because we boarded in Rome, and their computer system can't handle it, then save yourself the money and the hassle and get on in Barcelona. (And BY THE WAY - they are now adding people in Marseilles as well. BEWARE.)