I need to start this review by explaining that we have used Royal Caribbean 5 times in the last 6 years and always stayed in an owners suite - trips included allure and oasis, prices arnging from 12500USD to 15000USD for the week. We have always been delighted with the service and food on Royal Caribbean, hence the repeat business.I am only explaining this to show that we have a pretty thorough and recent knowledge of the RCL owners suite product on offer.
Anyway when we booked the NCL cruise of the Adriatic in August after reading reviews we booked with some trepidation. We had read some pretty scary stuff about the "italian guest influence" and disrespect on board and we were a little concerned over the size and lack of facilities on the Jade.
But to put you in the picture this was the last week of a four week trip - the relaxing week after a two week adventure in Tanzania, Africa... which technacally was the main part of the holiday... the cruise was the rest week and also next year Hawaii is the trip so we wished to try out NCL so that we could rate them for the Pride of America.
Anyway when we compared RCL to NCl both the owners suites the price was almost 30% cheaper for NCL....the cabin looked the same size etc so we decided to give it a try. At the last minute we upgraded to the haven, which added to the price but there was still a considerable cost saving against the RCL trip also leaving from Venice.
The day of emabarkation we laughed as I warned my husband and son that this was not the main part of our month trip and not to expect much, as it was a much cheaper option and that we should just all "go with the flow" and remember the cost saving!!
Boy was I wrong!!!! from the moment that we joined the priorority check in (RCL has same) and we were whisked away to the Executive lounge.... we realised that this was going to be a whole different experience. We were treated to canapes and a small buffet and then personally escorted to the ship, we were escorted past the lines of secirity (excuse me VIP s coming through.....embarrassing and over the top but quite incredible) and then escorted to the concierge room via a priority lift i.e: turn of the switch and it didn't stop for anyone else!, from there on to our room. It all took a matter of minutes and was conducted very pleasantly and effortlessly.
The room itself was 10504 and was heaven.....the balcony at the front of the ship was large and square and housed sun loungers and coffee table and we ended spending many hours on this balcony watching sunrises, sunsets and coastline in awe. I have read many reports about balconys at the front of the ship not being used due to a sign...about wind etc... our steward explained it was fine and we enjoyed this area to the max. Spoilt us now for future cruises because it really was a treat. Imagine sailing into Venice, passed the Douges Palace, at sunrise at the front of the ship on an open terrace.....a "pinch me" moment!
The layout of the suite itself was similar to RCL owners with the whole wall down one side being glass doors (why we always like owners suites rather than loft suites with RCL as maximum view and light) but there was a dressing room which we loved so all the daily mess could be tucked away and unlike RCL this suite had two exterior windows in the bathroom......just lovely.
We were greeted by a chilled bottle of moet champagne and then our butler who asked us to order our three bottles of spirits (or wine) and then advise what we would like placed in our fridge, this would be topped up every day, as needed. Do you know on RCL we've paid almost 15,000USD for a week and only received two free bottles of water and the rest was charged for......How wonderful to sit on one of beautiful balcony's at sunset with a Gin and Tonic... ice and slice and every night enjoy comliments of NCL!
Anyway suffice it to say the cruise just kept getting better... we ate breakfast every morning in cagneys (suite guests only) which was bright and the staff charming... we ate lunch in a variety of places and we enjoyed the haven to the maximum on sea days.
The restaurants too surprised us... we did enjoy the speciality restaurants.... why not, we had saved all this money! but even the main dining room food was tasty hot and more than adequate. We often bought a bottle of wine - whatever was left was tagged and we were given a slip and whenever we represented our slip the wine reappeared in minutes from a central store - speed was fabulous. RCL never get this right and we always waited forever for our wine... so much so we ended up often drinking the whole bottle just to use it up - proably their ploy!
The kids club and circus training etc had our son enchanted... so much so, for the first time ever, we went ashore on two days and left him on board. At night he even missed shows (the only negative aspect in the comparison... RCL V NCL quality of the shows - but no big deal for us)
Now I won't pretend our experience was not soley based on the suite perks....The rest of the ship was full to the max and we saw lots of sunbed fights, crammed dining rooms at lunch time and hungry grumpy people waiting an hour for a table for dinner....but I cannot comment on that - only our experience, which to be fair is based on "you get what you pay for".
The reason for this review was to show that despite the 30% saving the suite life on NCL far exceeds RCL and the staff attitude and service made it our best cruise ever.It made all the difference in the world and I will list the key differences now for you to understand.
1/ Private space - full ship. The haven was an amazing place of quiet and relaxation, which was key access coded. No fighting for beds or guests being annoyed because non suite guests were using the space. with RCL you have reserved deck chairs for suite guests but we have repeatedly seen barmen take a reasonable tip with a drinks order from a non suite guest (you tell by the colour of the key card - suite is a very distinctive gold!)and allow the guests to stay in this very small area for the tip.....trust me annoying if you have paid all that money for aroom and cannot get a sunbed. Haven was worth every penny.....it is just that!! Don't even hesitate!
2/ Restaurant reservations - via concierge suite guest can book a table for main dining room at ANY time, all other guests have to queue to get a buzzer to wait for a table. Big plus!!
3/ Constant top up of fridge and spirits..... no biggy but just a much appreciated touch.
4/ Priority embarkation - this was exactly what it meant - every time we wanted to get off the ship - we went to the concierge lounge we were taken in the staff lift behind the bar - turn of a switch and i.e: no one else could stop the lift and we were down.....escorted to the door. Quite unbelievable.
Day of departure which with RCL is always a NIGHTMARE because as suite guests you are just given a time to get off and you join the rest of the ship fighting to get off. NCL we met in the lounge were again taken in a staff lift and ended up on the other side of the exit gate (a ket exit just for us) and within five minutes we were out and in a taxi. Unbelievable!! To be honest we always just accepted it as part of departure with RCL but NCL showed how it can be done....amazing.
5/ Alternative dining locations for breakfast and lunch cagneys and haven were both light and bright. RCL locations feel like a dinner venue gone wrong ie: dark and dingy on a morning, so we never used.
I could go on but I think you get the idea - if you have the resources and are considering a suite do not discount NCL. In our minds they have got it very right.
Three years ago when on the RCL Oasis we were placed on a table right in the middle of a thoroughfare, by the kitchen door and adjacent to 4 service stations pushed together. When we asked to move we were told they were full and there was no where for us to go. We got to know a family of four.... who by chance were on a table overlooking the sea every night and in the end we joined them BUT on discovering what they paid for their week, our suite represented 19, yes 19 guests at their price!! and they were by the window and we were by the kitchen door. We did write and complain and every cruise since we have been given a sea window but you know what - the difference is after one cruise NCL wouldn't even think of doing that to their suite guests. RCL suite perks are an after thought and have little value placed on them..... lets be frank 15000usd for a week is not a cheap otion.......whereas the 10,000USD NCL suite is a new product an identified market that they wish to keep "sweet". Well NCL you have us convinced and we met numerous first time suiters like us (4 families all RCL customers) that felt the way we did. PLease just keep it up and you will have our continued business.