We are longtime Latitudes Members, and this cruise didn't stack up compared to most of our NCL trips. A lot of that had to do with the Flu Like quarantine measures that affected many aspects of the ship, but it was more then that. The ship seems much more "loved" then the last time we were on board, and it can really use a little TLC in return. Its not falling apart, but the little things begin to add up. Furthermore the staff was mostly new, and the service levels were significantly less then what we have grown accustomed to on NCL. And while we enjoyed the ports, the overall experience left a bit if a sour taste in our mouths.
This was a nightmare. It started with a call the morning of saying the cruise departure was delayed by 2 hours. A nice touch, but it sent off warning bells as we knew the boat was already in port. When we arrived it was a bit chaotic. The lines were literally out the door to go through security as they only had three lanes open. There were no priority lanes, and it took over 90 minutes to get through. Furthermore, we received a note in line stating the cruise before us had a flu like bug pass through the ship and we could opt out of this cruise if we wanted for a credit. Its a nice offer, but since we had already flown in, rented a hotel, taken off of work, and gotten all the way to the cruise terminal, it was a little late. They knew about the virus much earlier in the week. If they truly wanted to offer us an option, they would have contacted us before we left.
Again, it just didn't stack up compared to previous NCL cruises. The flu symptoms seem to really make things difficult. A lot of the staff was stuck in the buffet having to serve each and every guest. It made everything take longer, and you couldn't get the portions you wanted. Additionally many stations weren't open and the variety suffered because of it. Even the sit down restaurants were affected. Most meals in the main dining room took up to 2 hours, and The specialties were just as bad. We ate at Moderno twice and it was difficult. We had to be served at the salad bar by someone. Try having someone make you a salad and having to go through each step. Can I have 4 croutons, a little bit of dressings, maybe a little more, etc. It took 15 minutes to get a salad and everyone behind you was watching and groaning about how long you were taking. It just wasn't an enjoyable experience wen you are paying an extra $25 per person.
Also, by pulling so much staff into the buffet, other areas were not open as the usually would. It was hard to find bartenders, The great Outdoors and Top Siders were almost never open, and on a 9 day cruise we had 1 BBQ. It just felt like there was never enough staff to do things.
We learned through discussions with several crew members that this was a new crew. NCL had pillaged this ship for talent to staff the new Breakaway and Getaway. Combine that with several members who had the flu, and possibly a few who left to deal with the crisis in the Philippines, and you had the worst service we have ever received on any cruise line. It wasn't that the staff was mean or rude, they simply didn't know what they were doing or how to deal with people. From our room steward, to the wait staff, and even the folks at the desk, they just seem a bit clueless. I could cite several examples, but my hope is given a few more cruises, this staff will get better and won't be an issue moving forward.
Cleanliness and Functionality:
This was another area I hadn't really had issues with NCL in the past. The ship seems like it needs some TLC. We have been on the Gem a few times, and this was by far the worst. It wasn't like it was falling apart, but the little things kept piling up. Chairs in the buffet were broken, Lounges on the pool deck had holes in them, tables in the Great Outdoors were cracked, the speakers in the main theater were ripped, one of the two crepe makers was broken, at least 4 soda fountain machines were not operating, several ice cream machines were not working, etc. As for cleanliness, this was a bit tough as well. The crew was so focused on stopping the spread of the virus in the buffet, that they really didn't focus on cleaning the ship. While I agree that clean food needed to be a priority, the virus can easily spread by touch and key areas like the arm rests in the theaters, the railings in the stairways, the slots in the casino, the computers in the internet cafe, the work out machines in the fitness center, and the books in the library were not wiped down on a regular basis. We sat in the upper balcony of the theatre in the same seats for every show. The same set of fingerprints was on the glass for the entire 9 day cruise. Was it life threatening? Of course not, but its little things like that
This has been a bone of contention with me on NCL for awhile. The shows are good, and the talent works hard, but the variety is getting stale. I've seen the same shows on NCL for the last few years. The 70's songs, Bali-wood, second city, graffiti classics, etc. Elements was a nice touch on our last cruise, but it wasn't offered here. Yes the comedians, and the magic shows are offer at least something new, but it would be nice to see them cycle through some different acts every year. The same goes for the Epic. How many times do I really need to see the Blue Men? If anyone from NCL is reading this, please look at changing it up a bit, and start modernizing your entertainment offering.
Will we cruise on NCL again? Of course, but will we go on the Gem again? Probably not until it goes through dry dock and gets overhauled.