This 12 daycruise to the Caribbean was just a way to get away from thewinter weather of the northeast. We are experience cruisers with some 35 cruises prior to this one with Cunard, Holland America and Celebrity and several with NCL. Since NCL was the only line with cruises out of downtown Manhattan we relectantly schose them for our winter get away.
Unfortunately, the manhattan Cruise Terminal was undergoing some modifications and the taxi dropped us across the street from the terminal instead of on the second level right in front of the terminal which is usual.
Embarkation was reasonably orderly and within a 1/2 hour we were on the ship. Lunch was being served and our balcony cabin was ready by 12:30PM which was the fastest of any ship we have sailed on.
The ship itself was in good condition and everything (even the toilets)worked as it was supposed to. The room was spacious enough with plenty of storage room.
Our complaints with the room were that it did More
not have enough light at night to read comfortably and the tiny 14" television set made it impossible to read the crawls and subtitles from any distance away.
Our first nights experience at dinner was not the best. We prefer traditional cruise ship dining at a set time with the same waiters and servers. NCL only offers "free style "dining. You show up at the dining room and take your chances.
Tables for two were at a premium but since we were resonably early at 6:00 PM they were able to accomodate us at a table for four (without companions.) It was a long wait for bread, ordering, appetizers and an excruciatingly long time for the main course to arrive. The servers were polite.
One positive thing I can say about the meals were that they always arrived at the table hot. The choice of appetizers, soups and entrees were limited and were just basic meals. They reminded me of banquet type sustenance and not what you might expect fom a good restaurant. The quality of their beefs were subpar being quite tasteless and tough. Fish was heavy on various forms of Tilapia and Mahi-Mahi, both very cheap to provide. It seems that NCL is trying to discourage use of their free restaurants so people will frequent their extra price venues. They certainly discourages us from rebooking on NCL.
The variety and quality of the foods served in the Garden Cafe was very good.
We ate in the other no charge venue, Blue Lagoon, which is open 24 hours for light meals. The food was so-so and not served hot. The room service menu was limited and a charge of $3.95 was levied for service after midnight.
NCL offers no cultural programs. The daily programs are full of health programs designed to sell spa products, shopping programs designed to sell products available in the onboard shops and NCL's on shore partners several art lectures designed to get attendance at the art auctions. In other words, they relentlessly tout their money making activities(casino, bingo, excursions).
Not one program devoted to the history of the islands or any other intellectual endeavour.
There were noo chocolates for our pillow or any amenities in our cabin. The soap and shampoo came from dispensers without labels so the passenger didn't know if they were using shampoo or soap.
No information on disembarkation was provided. It was not even mentioned at the final show and nothing was delivered to our stateroom. I did find that you were to pick up your own luggage tags at the purser's desk and you could select your own disembarkation time. We opted for the express (carry your own luggage) option.
We went to the 7th deck for disembarkation at 7:45AM 15 minutes in advance of the stated time. The line (based on the length of the ship) was over a 1000 feet long and took us almost an hour to get off the ship. On the pier the NCL Gem was unloading at the next pier but we got through Customs rather quickly.
Then the surprise came. The taxi line was again across the street and was a city block long. We waited an hour for a taxi in 30 degree weather on the shady side of the street.
The best thing I can say about this cruise was that the Caribbean was warm. NCL like our favored cruise lines (Cunard, HAL and Celebrity) are all cutting back on the experience they provide in order to enhance their profits. Perhaps they could charge more for the basic fare and maintain their previous standards. Less