My wife and I usually take a two-week vacation in May each year to celebrate our wedding anniversary. This year we chose to try for the first time a cruise, figuring that with destinations like Copenhagen, St. Petersburg and Stockholm we couldn't go wrong. With only one exception, the destinations didn't disappoint us. As for the cruise itself, there were certainly some highlights, but a few other things were mediocre and disappointing.
We began our vacation by flying to Copenhagen, arriving two days before sailing. If you're going on one of these Baltic Sea cruises from Copenhagen, I highly recommend the Adina Apartment Hotel. We had stayed in an excellent Adina property two years ago in Berlin and when I found that there is one in Copenhagen near the cruise port, I figured it was a no-brainer. We stayed two nights pre-cruise and one night post-cruise. See my review on TripAdvisor.com for more info about the hotel.
We arrived at the port shortly after noon for a 5PM sailing. Embarkation was fairly well organized and took about thirty minutes. Although our hotel was close enough to walk to the port, we had done some reconnaissance and determined that the route is not luggage-rolling friendly. Although we saw some passengers dragging their luggage to the port, I recommend taking a cab.
Our initial impressions of the ship were pretty positive, as we were able to get lunch pretty readily and found our state room easily. Since we had not been on a cruise before, we decided to join an organized orientation tour of the ship at 2PM. This was our first disappointment. The guide was not very personable and not well-informed regarding details of the ship. Why she was assigned this duty is a mystery to me, as all she was able to do was give a cursory overview of where services were located.
Since our sailing date was also our wedding anniversary, we decided to eat in LeBistro, one of the specialty restaurants with a surcharge. This was definitely one of the highlights, as we had a terrific dining experience, which was made all the more special by the maitre d, who comped us an after-dinner liqueur.
After dinner, we went to the evening show in the Stardust Theater, which is a pretty decent venue. The entertainment for the evening was Steve, a comedian/juggler who was very funny, very unpredictable and very entertaining. This was one of the two best shows of the entire cruise, the other being the Elements show on the last night of the cruise.
However, there were problems with other shows. One show was canceled due to an equipment malfunction, which is understandable. However, a rather big fuss was made over the fact that other performers hastily put together a show in three hours, and it showed. The replacement show was haphazard and disjointed musically. Given that equipment malfunctions are bound to happen occasionally, there should always be a prepared replacement show ready to go. Either this was not planned for (bad management) or the cruise director lied to us by telling the audience at least four times how quickly the show was thrown together and that we should be very appreciative of the effort. Also, during the replacement show, which was supposed to be family-friendly, one of the songs done by two female singers was sexually inappropriate. Another show was advertised as PG-13 (which it was) and that no younger children would be allowed in, yet there were several attending. Yet another show was advertised as having no late seating after the show began, yet people were still being seated up to ten minutes after show time, which was disruptive. Apparently, NCL doesn't enforce its own policies.
During the cruise, I had four sessions in the casino, where I only played poker. The dealers were more competent than I expected them to be. The games usually didn't begin until about 10PM and ended when they threw us out around 2AM.
On board ship, I have to give kudos to three personnel who provided us with excellent service: Rani(sp?) the maitre d at LeBistro; Lillibeth, server in Versailles restaurant; and Dominador, server in Aqua Restaurant. Ask for any of these personnel to serve you and I guarantee you will receive top-notch service.
As you should already know, dining options are plentiful, but the quality is a bit uneven. We thought Versailles is best for breakfast and dinner and the Market cafe is best for lunch.
On-board entertainment in the bars and lounges also is a bit of hit and miss. It seems as if the overall mindset of the staff and entertainment was that we were on a cruise in the Caribbean and that the passengers were mostly young party-goers. This was definitely not the case. NCL needs to reconsider its passenger demographics and tailor its entertainment options accordingly.
Our stateroom was excellent and we received good service. I thought the laundry service was a particularly good bargain.
Embarkation/disembarkation at all ports except for St. Petersburg were easy, quick and convenient. St. Petersburg was just the opposite, slow, confusing and uncomfortable.