My 83 year old mother and I booked this cruise based on itinerary. It was my 2nd cruise ever, and my mom's 11th or 12th.
My mother has some mobility issues, and while she can walk short distances, she moves pretty slow. She uses a walker or a cane for balance. She has problems with steps and uneven surfaces. We arranged for handicap services for her throughout our journey. This review will show how we were able to have a great time despite some pretty major challenges.
We flew into Marco Polo on our departure day, and arranged our transfer through NCL. There are only two skycaps on duty at Marco Polo, so it was a bit of a wait to get off the plane and to our luggage. Since there were so many people in need, at the baggage claim, we gave up the wheelchair they provided and let the skycap go to pick up the next person. Mom waited on a bench while I waited for our luggage: one large roller bags and two small roller bags.
After baggage claim, it was easy to find a person holding an NCL sign over their head. They told us to go get our names checked off on a list "over there". We headed in the indicated direction, and found about 9 other reps with NCL paddles over their heads. Each time we talked to one, they sent us to another one. The person with the clip board checking off names kept moving through the crowd, so it was a little challenging for me to get my 83-year-old slow-moving mother and 3 bags to plow through the milling crowds to finally get our name checked off the list. When I checked in, I confirmed we had arranged for handicap services, and she nodded and said yes and asked us to wait "over there".
We stood where directed while NCL reps with paddles led groups out of the airport and to the bus. No one grabbed us. Finally, the woman we had checked in with came back and asked us why we had not left yet, and I explained it was because we were waiting for assistance. She said we would get the assistance at the port, there was no assistance available at the airport other than the sky caps we had let go.
So, mom walked with her cane, and I pulled our three roller bags and held on to mom's arm while we walked across the passenger pick-up area and out into the parking lot. Not a long walk by anyone's standards unless you are 83 years old or trying to juggle all that luggage. No one with an NCL paddle offered to help.
Air-conditioned bus took us from airport to port area and let us off where we were to drop off our baggage....a warehouse type building. We dropped off the baggage and explained we had arranged for handicap assistance. After about a 30 minute wait, a NCL Star cruise staff member came with a wheel chair to help us get from the luggage warehouse, through check in and onto the boat. The wheelchair was a MUST. Even if I wasn't with my mother, I would have been a little surprised by just how much walking we had to do between the terminal and the boat. Glad I got rid of all my luggage.
Our cabin was ready by the time we boarded. Our balcony stateroom on the deck 10 was very nice: a very good use of storage and space. You can't pass each other between the foot of the beds and the wall, so there is a little bit of logistics getting from the sofa to the closet area...one person steps into the bathroom while the other person goes to the closet, then the person in the bathroom can go to sofa..that kind of thing. The bathroom is small, and the only toiletries provided are the pumps of soap and shower gel, no individual bottles or bars. There are bottles of water in the room that you will be charged for (8.00) if you tap into. We were hot and tired enough after all our running that we tapped into them right away. The steward fills the ice bucket when he makes up room in morning and when he turns down bed at night. We only drank part of the bottle of water and saved the rest for another day. We kept getting charged for another one each day and kept having to explain to the steward it was still the first bottle.
Lifeboat drill was extremely efficient and well run and did not take much time at all.
We ate a lunch/dinner at the buffet restaurant (tables in restaurant were full, so we ate pool side). Pool side entertainment was....well, not to my taste.
Leaving Venice as the sun set was one of the highlights of the trip. Our balcony was the perfect place to sit and watch as we went through the heart of Venice, right by the Doge's palace and out into sea.
Restaurants: lunch buffet had the best cold soups ever ... nice refreshing fruit based soups. Great breads and meats and cheeses, too. Alizar and Grand Pacific had excellent wait staff, and the food was just fine. Not spectacular, but nothing to complain about either. Our first few nights, we almost always had to wait a bit for our table, but they hand out pagers and there are plenty of areas to sit and wait for a table. The only problem is, almost all of the common areas to sit and wait for a table are the seating areas for bars, and as we didn't want to drink, we felt a bit awkward squatting in a space paying customers could have used. On about our third night, a senior staff member noticed us waiting and got us a table right away. She left her business card with us and told us to call her whenever we wanted to dine, and she would have a table ready in whatever restaurant we wanted. Very classy and very customer focused.
For those travelling with someone who is mobility impaired: before the dinner hour, your options for breakfast or lunch where staff will wait on you are pretty limited. The buffets were fine in terms of food quality and choice...but my mom could not manage her plate and her cane. So, I had to act as a waiter for her. It is not as much fun when you have to go through all the lines once to get food and a beverage for one person and go back and start all over for yourself.
We only did one upgraded dinner: Le Bistro on one of our at-sea days, and it was WONDERFUL. Well worth it. Service and food were divine.
We are early risers, and we had some issues with getting our cabin clean early in the day. We would set our little dial next to our cabin door to the setting that indicated the room should be made up at 7:00 am when we left the cabin, but some days it was 3:00 or 4:00 pm before that happened.
We aren't sun worshippers and it was just as well, because on the at sea days, I don't think there was a deck chair to be had.
Our cabin's balcony, while small, was wonderful except: you can't smoke in
your cabin, but you can smoke on your balcony. As non smokers, we had a lot of smoke smell on our balcony as the guests on either side of us smoked on their balconies. It would be nice if they set up a block of non smoking balcony rooms adjacent to each other as my asthma sometimes kicked in from the smoke smell.
We arranged for NCL tours on all our ports of call.
Dubrovnik we did the Croatian Riviera and Dubrovnik. All of the stops were well thought out, and our guide was excellent. The Riviera town was really left for us to explore at our own pace, which, with my mother's pace being slower than everyone else's was excellent. The stop for a light lunch involved steps, but there was an excellent railing and the staff and locale were excellent. The historic city tour was a walking tour, so I left my mom on bench in a park like area while I did the walking tour of the walled city, which was wonderful. After the organized tour, we had quite a bit of free time, so I did a bit of shopping and then went back and go my mom and took her just a little ways into the walled city. The pavement, worn down by 100s of years of foot traffic, is very slippery and not the best for those with mobility issues.
Greece we did the museum and views of the Acropolis. This was definitely the right choice for my mom considering her mobility issues, and the museum was lovely. The drive to the museum by bus gives you a quick tour of a lot of the Athens landmarks. Coming back to port to depart presents a challenge as it is a long long way from where you go through the port terminal to where the ship is docked. While the tour busses pick you up ship side, they drop you off at the port terminal to clear security. They do provide people movers to get you to the ship, but the driver of the people mover didn't look in the mirrors before he tried to close the doors and he closed the door on my mother as she was trying to navigate the step up onto the people mover. Fellow passengers shouted, he opened the door back up, fellow passengers tried to help my mom up, and the driver did the same thing AGAIN. Finally we got my mom on and made it back to the ship. She had a couple of Greek bruises on her arms as souvenirs of the experience.
Ephesus we arranged for a private tour. This was well worth the money as the ruins are extremely crowded and it would have been impossible for my mother to keep up with a large group. We had the most patient and wonderful guide through the ruins, and then escaped the crowds for a wonderful lunch in Sirince. We had time for a quick stop at the ruins of the Basilica of St. John and then headed back to port. Here too, it is a long way from the terminal to the ship, and there are buses to take you to the ship...you just need to keep walking until you find the right bus.
Split was a tender port, and mom didn't feel up to navigating the tenders and the trip, so I did the Scenic Dalmatia and Village life tour on my own and loved it. The tenders were the ships life boats, and in less than calm seas, they are a bit tricky to walk down to and get in. Probably not the best choice for a mobility impaired person to try.
We signed up for the Venice tour on our day of disembarkation, so we got off the ship early and motor boated to down town. We again had a bit of a hike to get from the ship to where our tour would start, so we were very glad to use the NCL staff and their wheel chair to allow us to move quickly. Once we started our tour, we found out that the same motorboat is used for the tours that are guided as well as the people who just want to have free time in Venice. We decided that we didn't want to hold up the guided tour, so we just asked for our tickets to the doge's palace and wandered around on our own. Mom made it up and down all stairs to cross the four cannels between where the motor launch lets you off and the palace, but we decided the crowds were too formidable so we had a wonderful breakfast on the square and watched tourists feed the pigeons. We motor boated back to the basin and got our luggage and were taken to the airport just as promised.
All in all, NCL did a very good job with the shore excursions. They were well run and well organized, and delivered exactly what they had promised.
We only had two bad experiences on the ship. One was when we tried to eat in the 24 hour restaurant on the balcony in the atrium. We had to wait and wait for a hostess to show up to the stand to seat us, and when they seated us, they chose a table right at the railing overlooking the atrium below. The musical entertainment down there was so loud, we couldn't hear each other or our waiter, and our waiter could not hear us. There were tables open by the windows, so we asked if we could move there. Our waiter said we could, and we moved to the much more quiet area. And waited, and waited, and waited. We never did get served ... so I complained to the saff and we left and went to wait for a table at Alizar. Later, as we were dining in the Alizar, a hostess from Alizar came to our table to again apologize and offer us a free glass of wine as apology. We didn't take them up on it but we appreciated their customer service.
The other was when the toilet backed up on the day I took the shore excursion and left my mother in the cabin. My mother was horribly embarrassed by it, and did not respond well to the teasing our steward gave her. She wasn't comfortable being asked if the toilet was ok as we walked through the hall on our way to dinner or breakfast each day after that, either. I am sure the steward was just trying to be funny, but my mom felt a bit humiliated.
Despite the few hiccups, we enjoyed ourselves a lot. Most of the staff was excellent, and it was surprising how many of them get to know you given the size of the ship. I was always asked where my mom was if I ventured off on my own: whether it was by other stewards on our deck, the staff in the restaurants, etc. It is a nice personal touch that I appreciated.
We enjoyed it enough so that we signed on for another NCL cruise (Star in March).