Amongst the other fair to poor items on the NCL Jade (poor / cold / improperly cooked food, lousy restaurant service), the port call at Split, Croatia was awful.
Why awful? On a sunny day, with 1-foot sea chop, NCL Jade had to drop anchor and tender in all 2,400 passengers. 4 tenders were put into service, with the first tender leading the Jade at 1100 am, and the last from Split to the Jade at 500 pm. At 900 am, NCL handed out "disembarkation" numbers to the 2,200 people who wanted to go ashore. Naturally, the 200 people who signed up for 100% overpriced shore excursions, were on the first group of tenders. Then, the remaining 2000 people waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, to get ashore. People in "group 19" waited 4 hours. I was in group 11, and at 1230 (90 minutes after the first tender), NCL was up to group 5.
During this whole time, NCL made announcements over the ship PA system, that "boarding was a few minutes slow due to rough seas" (1 foot seas). At no time does NCL ever tell its customers (in writing in the daily log, or by PA announcement), to expect 3-4 hours to get off the boat.
In Dubrovnik, where the boat was at dock, our paid-for excursion bus driver managed to get himself pulled over by the local police (I could have walked the 2 miles from the dock to old town faster than this bus). On return from Dubrovnik, it was raining, and the bus boarding outside the old town was an absolute nightmare, with no Jade bus for 25 minutes (they apparently all turned back form the boat, once it started to rain), and when finally the first Jade bus appears... about 300 people rushing the bus, and then the bus driver stops, opens the bus door, and then yells at the Jade customers.
Money. I saw the 1-hour special on CNBC about NCL, and how they must make 25% to 50% of the passenger base fare, with regards to "extras" bought on board, in order to "break even". While this is no surprise, what I experienced during each and every day on board, was at least 1 request to spend money, by the PA system, or by the Cruise Director, every hour (say 15 times per day). Selling a 6-pack of bottled water on board for $25. The push for extra money is so pervasive, that it becomes distasteful.
Internet. NCL sells internet minutes on board for about $0.60 to $0.75 per minute. NCL does NOT tell you that at several ports of call, the port provides FREE internet service (wifi).
Transport to/from Boat. Nor will NCL staff tell you basic things, like a map to get from/to the boat using the 6 Euro bus plus 1 Euro "sky train" from Venice Marco Polo airport to the Venice cruise boat terminal (NCL will hawk you a $30 bus ride, slower to boot). In Athens, NCL will not tell you you can take a 2 Euro metro to the Acroplis, rather than the $80 tour. At Venice, we checked into the boat at 12 noon, got into the room at 2 pm to drop our small luggage, and then went ashore - we asked NCL staff if the local water bus stops nearby - the NCL cruise check-in staff were instructed to tell us "there is no easy way to get to Venice". This is so ignorant and unhelpful. A simple piece of paper with the easy-to-take and low cost Sky Train and water bus, would be so helpful!
Food. This cruise had "standard" NCL food - all types of cooked meats were either cold, undercooked or overcooked, but never "right" cooked in their formal dining rooms. If you ask for "medium rare", you will most likely get "well done" (this happened 3 times to us). Fish? forget it... that requires real timing, and NCL is simply unable to get this right. Think "second tier hospital" mass prepared food, in a nice dining room, served by smiling filipinas, whose goal is to get you out of the room as quickly as NCL's stop watches think is acceptable.... deserts must be ordered at the same time as your main courses (this is NCLs way to speed up the dining experience, so they can lower costs for waiters, and pack 3 and 4 people into a 2-person state room on a medium-big boat like the Jade). The food service at the 2 "extra cost" dining rooms we went to on the first two nights (Cagneys and Bistro), was nothing special.... and the food at the Bistro was awful... so we abandoned the "extra cost" dining rooms and went to the Alizar and Grant Pacific main dining rooms thereafter. Service and food was so bad in the main dining rooms, that by the end of the cruise, I ended up eating dinner in the self-serve Garden buffet (fair food, about one can expect from a buffet). The buffet area as a serious inadequate number of tables, so after getting your plate of food, you will have to walk up and down 600 feet of boat length a couple of times to find an open table. Everywhere on the ship, the coffee was disgustingly bad - so I ended up sticking with Lipton tea (these NCL guys really splurge and buy Lipton tea bags at about 1/4 the price of better quality teas!) Wine menu was not bad, but wine service was appalling... one evening in the main dining room, our waiter told us that we must order our meal first, before he would provide us the wine menu (I think he was from a country where wine is never served, and NCL had not trained him properly). I ordered 3 bottles in 3 nights, and then single-glasses the other nights. If you order a single glass of wine, the serving size is small (about 3 oz) , the cost high (about $16 = $13.50 + mandatory 18% tip) for a glass of very so-so Robert Mondavi cabernet red) and they do not present the bottle, leaving you wondering exactly what your ordered and what you got. What do I mean by mandatory tip? the 18% is computer added and printed to the bill before it is presented to you, with the request on the bill for "additional gratuity". If you go on these cruises, just mark out the mandatory tip, and decide, on your own terms, what you think is right. My suggestion: cross out all tips, and then decide on the last day what is the right gratuity for your whole trip.
NCL management reports that all tips go to the staff (by what formula, I do not know). I wonder if there really is this direct linkage. My suggestion: tip the staff who you want to, directly... that way you know they get the money.
Tender Operations. The large boat side (2,400 passengers) makes tender operations extremely problematic and time consuming.. so if you intend to get off the boat and enjoy a day in Split, you MUST MAKE SURE you are in boarding group 1 (get in line on the boat to get this number, at least 45 minutes before the "official" time of 900 am... otherwise, you will wait, wait, wait, wait, get frustrated, get more frustrated, etc.
When I met with Jean-Michel, the Hotel Director (big boss on board), he reported that it is NCL's policy to disembark all "shore excursion" paid customers 200 in this case), before the 90% (2000 in this case) who were not. Further, NCL's policy is "safety", and he self-congratulated NCL in not killing any of the customers or NCL staff on this 1-foot sea day (Apparently, NCL has killed its own crew in the past). He further stated that even with dead flat calm seas, it is typical to have 3 hours to tender in the customers. When asked if perhaps NCL should report this in the daily log (i.e.., one can expect a 3 hour delay in getting off the boat), the NCL Hotel Director refused.... this would make customers unhappy.
CABIN. OK, but our balcony was "blessed" with bird droppings on day 1, and no one at NCL bothered to clean this over the entire week. Splattered paint is prevalent in some places.
RECOMMENDATION. I suppose you get what you pay for. With NCL on this cruise, we paid $1350 per person for a balcony stateroom, about 6 months in advance. A week before we departed, we could have bought the same class stateroom ("mini-suite with balcony) from the NCL web site, for $900. WE accumulated about $600 in on-board charges, so I suppose NCL did about break event ($3300 for two of us). Did I enjoy the week? Well, for nearly $500 per day, we did not get poisoned, and 2 of the 4 ports of call went okay... I do not expect perfection at this price. But, waiting up to 4 hours to get off the boat in SPLIT, when the entire post time is 6 hours, is crazy-bad, and NCL refuses to tell its customers that only people in the first few tender groups can expect to get off the boat within 2 hours.... this is unforgivable, but is consistent with the underlying NCL philosophy to keep the clients in the dark.