Mr. Grumpy, having cruised four times previously, all on Princess Cruise Lines (Alaska 2009, Scandinavia 2010, Mexico 2011, Caribbean 2012), wishes to share his comments about his recent experience cruising for the first time on an NCL ship.
• The quality of food in the NCL Spirit's two "complimentary" dining rooms (excluding Raffles Buffet) was far below Princess' "complimentary" dining rooms. On one occasion, one of our fellow diners sent her Molten Lava Chocolate Cake back to the kitchen three times because the cake was practically hard as a rock. She was literally unable to cut it with a knife! Ultimately the server suggested ordering another dessert after the third was no better than the first. On another occasion, Mr. Grumpy and his lovely wife were served their main course of Mahi-Mahi to find the side dishes consisting of ¼ of a potatoe and 1½ carrots. As the server was putting the plates on the table he sheepishly commented that he could bring more food if we wanted. The menu on another night listed Bean Burritos with BBQ sauce as a vegetarian option! Burritos…and with BBQ Sauce! On yet another night, the "regional speciality" was Spaghetti with Meat Sauce. Entrees like Burritos and Spaghetti are buffet fare and should not appear on a main dining room menu!
• Mr. Grumpy suspects that the NCL "complimentary" dining room food is purposely average to below average simply to encourage passengers to spend extra money on NCL's optional dining rooms. After perusing the menus for the optional dining rooms, Mr. Grumpy and his fellow cruisers were of the opinion that the food found in NCL's optional dining rooms is on the whole what a person would find in Princess' "complimentary" dining rooms.
• As far as the Raffles Court buffet food, it was pretty much on par with Princess' Horizon Court buffet food when comparing variety and quality. It was noticed though, that after breakfast, the juice dispensers were quickly replaced with flavoured water which looks like another cost cutting measure by NCL. Raffle Court tables were chipped and generally needed to be replaced. Salad dressing at the salad bar was in plastic two litre pourable containers with the name of the dressing contained therein scrawled on the container with a black marking pen.
• Mr. Grumpy and his lovely wife, who are coffee enthusiasts, found the coffee on the Spirit to be basically "brown liquid" (as one eastern European character said about the coffee in Alfred Hitchcock's movie "Torn Curtain"). The optional coffees aren't worth the extra money so the twelve day cruise was a good time to cut back on coffee consumption for our group. It was impossible to get a decent cup of tea on the ship as well because of the chlorine taste in the water which leads one to suspect NCL uses heated tap water to make tea.
• In what can only be described as a tacky and aggressive ploy on the part of NCL, staff circulate through the Raffles Court asking diners if they would like to make a reservation in the optional dining rooms. Very low class, indeed!
• Wine package is a good deal.
• NCL's Freestyle dining seemed like just hype to Mr. Grumpy. Princess has Anytime Dining which allows one to dine at (wait for it!) …Anytime!
Ship Amenities and Activities:
• Mr. Grumpy's stateroom was showing signs of wear and much needed light maintenance: drawers not opening easily, shower doors not sliding easily, screws on bathroom door hinges needed tightening thus the door not closing properly. This is unacceptable I feel because the steward is in the room twice daily and should note these items on a maintenance needed list which should be forwarded to the Maintenance Department. Seems like a no-brainer.
• Bathroom lighting was dim.
• At times, the bathroom had a sewer gas kind of odour.
• Beds were fine –no better or worse than Princess.
• Many "activities" are just thinly veiled opportunities on NCL's part to sell products. For example, the activity titled "Back Pain Relief" turned out to be a sales pitch for orthotics. Tacky, indeed!
• Mr. Grumpy did the following excursions: Ultimate Rome, Flavours of Sorrento and Pompei, Florence and Pisa On Your Own, Capital of Two Empires, Magnificent Ephesus, and Walking Tour of Dubrovnik. All excursions were excellent! The guides were extremely knowledgeable and personable. Mr. Grumpy recommends all of these excursions. It is a good idea to bring your own water on these excursions because not all excursions provide bottled water.
• Toulon and Mykonos were "beach days" for Mr. Grumpy and his little entourage simply because there wasn't much to see in either port for them. After one has made one's way through the cattle corral of streets filled with tourist shops and seen the Mykonos windmills, chilling out on the beach is a good idea.
• Kudos to the NCL excursion staff for quickly arranging last minute shore excursions in Dubrovnik after the sail-in to Athens was cancelled due to a two day Greek general strike.
• Sailing from Barcelona to Venice turned out to be a bonus due to the fact that the sail-in to Venice occurs during daylight hours making the sail-in one of the most spectacular in the world. The ship cruised right past St. Marks Square through the Grand Canal providing dramatic views of Venice!
• Both went well and very efficiently at every port. Also, being able to choose one's disembarkation time at the end of the cruise is a great idea on NCL's part.
NCL proved to be a disappointment in many areas and no better than Princess in other areas. Overall, fairly good value for Mr. Grumpy's hard-earned money, if one looks upon the ship as simply transportation and accommodation to get to the fantastic Mediterranean ports.