Embarkation - we always arrive early to avoid the rush and this cruise was no exception. What WAS the exception was, that even arriving early as we did, we were in a long line. Further, the line was outside in the heat with no water or other means of staying cool. This didn't get us off on the right foot and the experience seemed to go downhill from there.
Cabin - upon checking into our cabin we found a dirty tissue on the bathroom floor, a small candy-cane apparently left over from the previous cruisers and two dirty pool towel on the closet floor. When I looked close to the phone, the little sign said "Cabin Service" dial a particular number. When I dialed that number, I was connected to Room Service. Room service was very kind and connected me to housekeeping who indicated they would resolve the issues immediately. Anxious to check out the ship, we left the cabin immediately. Later when we returned it was clear housekeeping had been there but they had neglected to remove the towels from the closet floor. Once again I dialed the posted number,which I now knew to be incorrect (reception didn't answer) the phone was answered by a man named JOE who was one of the few bright points on this ship. He was extremely apologetic and said that given the problems we were having he would not transfer us but would take care of making the call personally. I hung up grateful for his assistance and we began to stow our clothing. When we opened one of the very few drawers in the stateroom (but that's another issue) I found two empty booze bottles. I called Joe back to update him on our findings and told him the bottles were going outside the door in the hallway. During this time the staff were delivering the suitcases. I heard at least three different sets of staff members walk by the room so out of curiosity I opened the stateroom door - yup! The bottles were still sitting there. This would NOT have happened on any of our previous cruises and was truly representative of the staff's attitude in general. A - "it's not my job.... so I'm not doing it" attitude. Enough about the dirty room. Now let's talk about the lack of storage space. The best way to describe the lack of storage space is like this....
Our stateroom had approximately 157 square feet and we had 9 nights worth of clothing. The smallest stateroom we had used previously was only 137 square feet and it was an 11 night cruise. With pre and post stays we had taken 15 nights of clothing. It was WAY easier to stow 15 nights of clothing in the 137 square foot cabin than 9 nights in this 157 square foot cabin. The design of the stateroom simply did not provide the storage it should have. Example, neither end table had drawers. Few drawers in closet, not enough hangars, etc. We ended up with our shorts and Tees stacked on top of end tables - there was just no where else to go with them.
On top of everything else with the stateroom, I'm not even sure a "Cabin Steward" existed - we sure never met one. On all of our previous cruises, our Cabin Steward stopped by and introduced himself or herself and provided an extension number we could reach him/her at if we needed anything. There were lots of little touches by these Cabin Stewards (such as making animals out of the towels) and I can't help but wonder if the fact that on this ship you're not "tipping" but a Service Charge is auto added to the tune of $10.00 per person per day - which was previously the suggested tip. Now the people taking care of you know their tip isn't directly related to the service and frankly - it shows.
Dining - Do NOT and I really mean DO NOT eat breakfast at the buffet - man was it terrible. The scrambled eggs were cold and were of such a consistency they were like.... cream of wheat eggs - Yuk! Some genius also decided to pre-toast the toast and stick it under a heat lamp. Anyone care to tell me what that does??? Yup! Extremely hard, dry toast. On the other hand - in the FAR back of the ship was another buffet style breakfast that didn't seem quite that bad. In truth, after our initial experience, we ate breakfast in the main dining rooms most of the time. Oh, another thing about the buffet area, the tables were always dirty. If it wasn't bad enough that the seating was limited, the tables that were there were not bussed timely and resulted in many a dirty table (especially on debarkation - which was really bad)and not enough places to sit. A number of times I noticed staff standing around relatively idle and yet there were tables that needed to be cleaned. One guy in particular who was our waiter one night in the main dining room walked around on the pool deck one day in a seemingly endless circuit. My husband and I saw him actually do work (i.e. pick up a dirty dish) maybe once... it got to be a joke - -let's see if he actually does any work today...) One other thought on the buffet, the last day they were out of low-fat milk and raisin bran. I guess I can almost understand running out of one type of cereal but ... please.... running out of low-fat milk?
Main dining - we found the food here to be very good with a relatively good variety. The only "bad" meal served was that the New York Strip I chose one night was tough - no problem though, I just sent it back and got the barbecued ribs which were very Yummy! The service was good - though not great. Once again, I believe the idea that their service level is not directly tied to their tip plays a part. This was our second free-style dining experience and both times the service was not like it is when there are set waiters and stated dining times. Having said that however, the free-style dining is still very nice and the difference in service wasn't that bad.
General appearance of ship - Old and in need of updating. Specific examples: There was a very large carpet snag on the main stairway, right where a lot of the pictures get taken. You'd think the main stairway (of all places) would be kept in good repair. The edges of mirrors in stateroom and public bathrooms showed signs of the back peeling, items left by cruisers on tables in lounges, the odd area and, in some cases, right outside of their staterooms were left there for unacceptably long periods of time. (Way longer than on other ships we've traveled)The center atrium has many hanging decorations, all of which were covered in dust. Every area of the ship was desperately in need of a deep cleaning.
Water - the only place to purchase bottled water on the ship was either when you were disembarking or at a bar yet twice when we attempted to get water at a bar - they were out. Hello - Norwegian..... cruise ship on salt-water during hot weather and you can't get water easily? What are you thinking?
Shore Excursions Desk - One of the few bright spots. They were helpful, informative and easy to work with when one of our excursions was cancelled. The excursions we took were all very good and the guides were extremely knowledgeable. Most were even degreed naturalists, marine biologists, etc. I'd have to say these excursions were the best we've taken so far with the possible exception of the ones in Alaska which were also very well-done. The only down-side is there needs to be a better mechanism for informing cruisers when their shore excursions are cancelled. We had an early morning excursion one day so we got up really early, dressed, had breakfast, etc. only to find the excursion had been cancelled due to inclement weather. It would have been nice to get ready at a more leisurely pace - which we would have done if we'd know the excursion was cancelled. Plus, we would have had more time to consider taking a different excursion. By the time we found ours had been cancelled, it was too late.
Tipping - there was a great deal of confusion on the tipping issue. On other cruises we've been on, there was the suggested tip of $10.00/person/day in total for the cabin steward, waiter, assistant waiter, etc. Then, when beverages are ordered elsewhere, a 15% tip was added. On this ship, the 15% tip was not added to the drinks and I had one employee tell me they didn't share in the $10/person/day so we were cash tipping. One the second to last day another employee told me they'd been lying to me and they DID share in that tip - so beware!
Cost of beverages - outrageous - one domestic beer was $4.50 - however, this was Hawaii and Hawaii itself tends to be very expensive so that may have been why.
Room charges - There is no way to check your ship-board account using the TV so you need to get a printout. I usually do this at least once during the cruise and then very specifically stop the night before we disembark to make sure I don't have to stand in line on the morning of debarkation. Everything looked fine Saturday night and we returned to our room. We ordered a few things through room service which amounted to a $3.75 charge to our room. When the account showed up the next morning, the same charge had been posted three times. Consequently, I had to head down to the front desk to have the charges removed. Ok - that's a bit irritating but it could happen on any ship. Here's where it get's crazy though. Around 2,000 people to check out, 5 people working the reception desk but only 2 of them could do any account investigation and/or adjustment. So, here are these other three people and all they can do is give you a printout of your account (which was already delivered to your stateroom anyway) Only two of the five could actually work with you to resolve your issues. Needless to say this was a major irritant and the line was very long.
On-Board activities - lacking during the day - probably due to the fact that we were in port every day. However, the activities we not "beefed up" when excursions where cancelled; leaving cruisers with nothing to do. On a previous NCL cruise, when excursions were cancelled, the Cruise Director quickly added a few things to the day's agenda and put out an updated flyer to the cabins with the added activities.
Oh - that brings me to the daily news flyer. NCL has moved from an hour-by-hour presentation (where you could easily see if anything you wanted to do was in conflict with something else) to a sectioned daily news. So, for example, if I wanted to see the main show but also wanted to see the comedian, I had to look to two different sections to see if the times conflicted. This is just not as easy to follow.
We spoke with a large number of guests who had never cruised NCL before and said, based upon this cruise, they would never cruise NCL again. One group in particular was a group of 28 people who had previously cruised Princess and said they would NEVER cruise NCL again. If this had been our first experience with NCL we too would never cruise NCL again. Lucky for them, it was our third NCL so we'll give them one more chance. However, I must admit, while they were previously a tie (in our mind) with Royal Caribbean, they are now way down on the list. All things being equal - we're back to Royal Caribbean. An Royal - if your listening -- see you in September 07!