This was our second cruise on NCL and went from New Orleans to Copenhagen, Denmark leaving on April 21, 2013 for a 16-day transatlantic cruise. We decided to upgrade to a Family Suite about 1-½ weeks prior to departure, which was well worth the extra $484.00 above the mini suite we had booked. Within this review I will address, service, cabin and ship cleanliness, dining, entertainment, educational enrichment, cruise activities while at sea, and Butler service,
Wait Staff: Since this is free style cruising you will probably not have the same waiter or waitress during meals. That is a drawback since they are not as friendly and at times just flat forget to bring you what you ordered. We learned very quickly on our first NCL cruise to obtain standing reservations in the main dining room so you can develop a rapport with the wait staff. Once rapport has been established the wait staff takes extra time to learn your expectations and wants and then meets or exceeds your expectations. For example we had standing reservations in the Versailles Main Dining Room every night at 7:00 pm. For non-suite passenger's reservations can only be obtained before 6:00 pm or after 8:00 pm. The waitress learned very quickly that my wife does not like real strong ice tea and always had it watered down to her liking and brought an extra glass of ice so she could keep it fully stocked with ice. She also learned our favorite foods and would have extra placed on the plate so that we did not have to order seconds. I thought that was a really nice touch. Our table was ready every night and we experienced tremendous service since we developed a relationship with the waitress and her assistant. On the other extreme when we ate in one of the specialty restaurants or the Blue Lagoon the wait staff did not know us from Adam and didn't really seem to care. In fact in the Blue Lagoon, which we ate at 2 times, I found the service was very slow, and my order was not taken correctly either time. I received foods that I did not order, and foods that I did order I never received. Refilling our drinks in the Blue Lagoon was about non-existent and my desert I ordered never appeared nor did we ever see the waitress again after delivering our lunch.
I would highly recommend obtaining standing reservations for a specific table and waitperson every night for the main dining room. The lines for the main dining room were long and unless you like to stand for 30 to 45 minutes while you are hungry, get a standing reservation. In fact on our first night aboard the ship we arrived at the Versailles Dining Room at 6:50 pm for our 7:00 pm reservation. The line was up the stairs and along past the elevator bank in the aft part of the ship. The hostess told us we had to wait in the line regardless of having reservations. I found an Assistant Head Waiter and told him we had reservations and could not understand why we still had to wait in the line. The Assistant Head Waiter immediately took us to a table and sat us for dinner. I told the Assistant Head Waiter that we would prefer the waitress we had on our first cruise in January, and learned that she was now in Le Bistro French Restaurant. A few moments latter Christine our waitress from January surprised us as she was in the Versailles that night because it was so busy. She spoke with us for a couple of minutes welcoming us back aboard the Star and then spoke with the Assistant Head Waiter. The next thing we know the Assistant Head Waiter had assigned us a table in Sheila's section and the table was reserved for us every night a 7:00 pm unless we told them otherwise when we had specialty dining. Every night thereafter the Assistant Head Waiter greeted us at our table and discussed the day's events. While he was very busy every night, I was impressed that he took the time to greet us every night to say hello and ask us about our day.
Ship Service: All the ships personnel that we came across were always greeted us friendly and were quick to provide directions if needed. Generally, we had excellent service. I would like to note the bar staff around the pool, does not dog you to death all the time for drinks. They ask occasionally if they can obtain you a drink and then do not pester you as some other ships do when trying to push drinks. I liked this as they allowed me to relax without constantly fending off another question if I wanted another drink. The also provided wet cold towels on hot sunny days, fruit juices they would walk around giving out, frozen ice type treats, and fruit kabobs. I thought all of those were nice touches.
Ship Cleanliness: All the public areas were neat and clean at all times. They constantly would clear the deck by the pool of water so passengers would not slip. The public restrooms were always clean, and it seemed like they had someone in the restroom the entire time keeping it clean. The carpets were clean and not worn throughout the ship. The only determent I saw was some of the caulking used to seal the windows that open around the pool area were leaking through and mold had started to grow on the caulk. I would have thought given the mold is black and the frame and caulk is white that they would have seen this issue and corrected the same. The entire trip the black mold was on the caulk and growing.
Cabin Cleanliness: I was a little disappointed with our cabin steward, as he seemed to miss fruit loops on the floor of our cabin when we arrived, and there was an uneaten apple under the cushion chair from a prior cruise. In addition the plate glass windows had handprints from a child on them about knee height that were never cleaned by the steward. Instead of replacing used drinking glasses he replaced the dirty glass in the holder in the bathroom or on the tray in the room and then placed the white NCL paper lid back on the glass. I crumbled up the paper lid and threw it away in the trash and left a dirty glass on the sink in the bathroom. To my surprise he did not replace the white paper lid for 3 days, and put the dirty glass right back in the holder. I even left it with grime around the rim from something I was eating, and dirty fingerprints and he still did not replace the glass. Our cabin steward seemed to be bipolar very nice, pleasant and friendly at one moment, and frowning and unpleasant the next. He was so bold that he told us how miserable he was on the ship and that he was going to leave NCL and find another cruise line. All I can say is good luck buddy. Normally, I would have tipped the cabin steward $10 a day or $160 for the cruise in cash, but as a result of his lack of performance and temperamental attitude he only received $80 for the trip.
Dining: They have a set rotation of menus they use and after two weeks they began to serve the same dinners. The breakfast and lunch menus are the same every day regardless if you are a suite passenger and eat in Cagney's or the main dining room. While the Cagney's menu is a better selection of food items, I would have liked it if they would have changed the food selection after a week for variety. There were only so many mornings that I could eat crab eggs Benedict before I became tired. While the variety was lacking the taste, quality and presentation of the food was very good and we enjoyed it very much. The specialties restaurants help provide variety at least for dinner, and we particularly enjoyed Le Bistro French Restaurant and Moderno Churrascaria. I regret that we did not try the Teppanyaki Room as I heard it was very good. There was not a night for dinner that I didn't find something I liked on the menu's as the nightly dinner variety is good, just wish they would not start serving it again after 14 days so I could have tried other dishes.
Entertainment: On whole the nightly entertainment was average, I was disappointed with the Second City Comedy routine as it wasn't funny and was very bland and dull. All but one of the dance routine nights was pretty good, and Bud Anderson was ok, at times he was funny and other times he was just boring me to sleep. The hypnotist was standard and nothing unusual as was the magician. I did like the John Barry (or something like that) act, but the Russian guy was terrible. The Cirque du Soleil act was very good and we enjoyed it very much. It was by far the best act of the cruise with all the balancing and the way they moved to each other and the music. I wasn't terribly happy with the passengers that tried to tape the shows, or the big guy from the Ann Arbor, Michigan that sat in the balcony and took phone calls on his cell phone during the show. Both were very disrupting while trying to enjoy the show.
The best entertainment by far on the trip was on the first Monday afternoon of the cruise when a man and woman had a foul mouth loud fight down by the library over whom was the leader of the pack of the clicks that were on board for the trip. They were so loud during their fight we heard them over the hair dyer my wife was using to dry her hair and we were six rooms down from where the action was taking place. The accusations were flying fast and furious from these two about special treatment that one was getting and the other was not. Then the woman would spew out a string of profanity in retort to something the gentleman would say. It was splendid to see two mature adults reduce themselves down to children and who was the king of the sand box.
I should add they had a number of game shows they did in the Spinnaker Lounge at 8:30 pm and several such as the newlywed not so newlywed game were pretty good. The Match Game show was only the really poor one and we left after about 10 minutes, it was hosted and basically paneled by the Second City folks and that is why it was probably so poor. I was also very disappointed with the Deal No Deal Show. They advertised a $5,000 prize one night, only to cancel the show and game because of lack of participation. When we were receiving our refund I inquired why they cancelled the show and was told, "Well do you want us to lose money?" Now come on lets get real here if you are going to do a show that basically you are gambling then you take a risk that you might lose money. I asked the gentleman that gave us a refund, if the passengers had over subscribed to the game and they were making too much money would they cancel the game? Of course not, and when you gamble you might lose, so put on your big boy panties NCL and play straight and fair. The next night they advertised another $5,000 Deal or No Deal and had about the same participation, so they continued the game but lowered the prize down to $1,000 from $5,000. A good lawyer should have gone after them for false advertising.
Educational Enrichment: I attended the seminar on Vikings and found the slides to be crammed with too much information, a disjointed presentation, and he skipped slides as he had discussed the content on prior slides. It was supposed to be a 45-minute lecture and I found that I knew more about the Vikings then the person presenting. The presentation was flat and boring, given in a monotone and on several occasions he would make a statement and that would raise a question and then say, "I don't know why". Why make a statement that will raise a question that you don't have the answer to? I found this to be very annoying as it occurred several times during the presentation and soured me on attending any additional educational enrichment. There appeared to be several interesting topics, but again given the presentation style and flat presentation I just could not put myself through that nap preparation exercise again.
Cruise Activities: My biggest disappointment was the Cruise Director was never around. Kyle the Cruise Director made an appearance out and about on the ship on the night we disembarked from New Orleans, and then no one ever saw him again except sometimes to MC a show or the Newlywed Not So Newlywed show. Normally, on other lines you see the Cruise Director mingling with guests during the day, and especially during the evening. Not so with Kyle, I think they must have had a cage they locked him up in, and only let him out sparingly. I was also disappointed with the games at the pool or lack thereof. The cruise directors' staff was rarely seen at the pool and only once tried to organize any games at the pool. I can say that of the three cruise lines we have taken, NCL had the poorest cruise director staff with little events for anyone to look forward to or attend during the at sea days. The other issue I had with Kyle the Cruise Director is every time you did see him he was cocky. For example, I saw him in the afternoon of Sunday the day of embarkation in New Orleans, and said hello from a distance down the hall. The response I received was he pointing both his hands at me like a gun and winking. What kind of response is that from a senior member of the ships staff? On the other hand the young British gentlemen that hosted Deal or No Deal, Bingo and a couple of other things (I think his name is Ian) was very professional, warm and friendly. Ian was probably the only member of the Cruise Directors staff that I saw on a regular basis around the ship, and always made it a point to make you feel welcome. Finally, my last bitch about the Cruise Director. The pool had been closed for repairs for a couple of days and as we headed further north it was becoming cold and using the pool would be out of the question. The pool had finally been filled with water, and Kyle decided to have a stunt out by the pool. It was the half waypoint of the trip; the point of no return and he wanted to celebrate. He dressed up a couple of his staff as pirates and then brought them up on charges for dereliction of duty and such (actually it would have been appropriate that he be brought up on those charges). When convicted he smeared them with food from the ship and tossed them into the pool. Now remember it is getting cooler and using the pool will be non-existent as well as it had been drained and repaired during the sunny days. The ship had to drain the pool again and it was not available for use. Come on Kyle what were you thinking, or because you hadn't been around you didn't know the pool had been closed and now you closed it again. Maybe if you made more effort to get out and see what is going on with the ship and the passengers you would not have done a hair brained stunt like that.
Butler Service: Since this is the first suite we have ever had on a ship, it was our first Butler and it is difficult to critique him compared to other services. Romell was attentive, friendly and always seeking to please. If we ordered room service he would answer the call, obtain what we ordered and delivered it to the room. He kept our coffee machine fully stocked and cleaned, and even prepared the cabin's table for our one time we ate in our room with a white tablecloth, silverware and the works. He severed us as we sat down at the table and it was very nice. Romell was always at our beckon call and when we would over sleep in the morning was quite as a mouse in delivering my wife's ice tea and sweet rolls. We probably could have used his services more and not been as self sufficient or independent.
Overall we had a very nice experience on the cruise. It was restful, peaceful and pleasant trip that allowed me to relax and enjoy myself. I met some really nice folks on the ship and enjoyed their company over coffee by the pool early in the morning, or during breakfast and lunch in Cagney's.