NCL (Haven suite) vs. Royal Caribbean (Owner’s suite)
This is a comparison of events and accommodations of our most recent cruise on the Royal Caribbean - Allure of the Seas - January 2014 to a previous cruise that we had taken on the NCL – Breakaway - September 2013. The costs of these two cruises were about the same however the experiences were surprisingly different. We had previously stayed in a Haven Suite on the NCL – Breakaway for a seven day cruise for around $8,000 vs. staying in an Owners Suite on the Royal Caribbean - Allure of the Seas for around $7,800. These costs were for only the room accommodations. Airfare, excursions and other room charges were additional. Up until this cruise on the Royal Caribbean we were under the impression that the two cruise lines Royal and NCL were comparable as far as service, amenities and comfort. Read below our daily adventures and see for yourself how the two suites compared.
1/26/2014 – Sunday - Waiting to board the ship
NCL -NCL was much nicer, quieter and they had food and drink in their waiting area.
Royal - You are herded into a large airport-like area under umbrellas that are shielding you from florescent lights? How silly. No water or food. It felt very similar to a Greyhound bus station from my days as a small child. At 12:10 P.M. they finally let you board after an hour and a half wait.
1/26/2014 – Sunday - Getting to your cabin
NCL – We were escorted to meet our concierge and personal butler … very nice! Made you feel like you were a very welcomed passenger on their ship. Never having had someone attend to my ever whim was a luxury we will never forget.
Royal - We all were let in like cattle to board the ship on our own (these were the "Suite holders". I can only imagine what it was like for everyone else. I wanted to go to our room and was told they would not be available for another hour, sometime around 1:00 pm. No escort and no concierge to tell us where to go or what to do. Other than go feed yourselves in the buffet.
1/26/2014 – Sunday - Internet
NCL - They have 250 minutes for $100. They also allow you to use a VPN connection which allows you to download your e-mails and work on them off line, then reconnect to the internet and upload. This is reduces your connection to the ships internet, saving you a lot of connect minutes to the ships internet. This will save you a lot of money.
Royal - They purposely block the ability to use a VPN connection. Instead they want you to just buy more minutes. They know by blocking the VPN you will have to buy more minutes to communicate back home or to the office. For one device it is $229.00 for the week for unlimited internet minutes.
1/26/2014 – Sunday - Casino
NCL – Everyone is very courteous and helpful. You are in international waters and they do issue W-2's for winnings over $1200.
Royal – Three weeks before the cruise I established a line of credit with the casino. At that time, I was told that I was all set and ready to go. When I entered the casino all I had to do was to simply provide a personal check for their files. When I arrived at the casino, they told me that they did not have it ready. However, in about 15 minutes they found the information and got it activated. Royal does not issue any sort of W-2's for video poker, slots or any type of jackpot winnings.
1/26/2014 – Sunday - Chef's Table
NCL – A very quiet and nice separate room. The food was a 10 on a 10 point scale. Wine was paired very nicely. The table was completely full with passengers wanting to buy your spot if you did not attend.
Royal - First of all the setting is just above the Concierge's area where they have free cocktails and such for suite holders. Therefore, the first three courses of the dinner it was so noisy and loud you couldn't hear a thing. You started to raise your voice to have other people hear what you were saying. It was similar to having a metal pot placed over your head and then having someone whack a wooden spoon against it ... 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. Food was good and presentation very nice ... 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. Noticed that out of 16 place settings at the table, only eight of us attended and the other eight spots were empty. No wonder!
1/26/2014 – Sunday – Room
NCL - (Haven) had two separate rooms. It was actually a suite. Nice if one wants to sleep and the other wants to watch TV. Bathroom layout was much nicer. The shower had six shower heads and better water pressure than you would find in most hotels or homes, it also measured 3 feet by 5 feet. Small balcony can only fit 2 sitting chairs, but having the private solarium makes up for the lack of space on the balcony.
Royal - (Owners Suite) the shower was 2.5 ft. by 2.5 ft. -- could mot bend over without smacking your head against the shower wall. Tried to sit in the Jacuzzi tub … I would not have fit … I am 6' 4" tall weight 285 lbs. The tub maybe was 20 inches wide. Remember this is supposed to be an owner’s suite. Living room area was very large. Basically it is three regular size rooms that have been connected together and laid out accordingly. Balcony was very large. Two lounge chairs and a 4 person dining table and chairs.
1/27/2014 – Monday - Casino
NCL - Someone was always available.
Royal - Won a jackpot, and was told that there was no one available to pay me my money so I had to wait until the assistant manager arrived. I asked where is he, they told me he was taking a shower and would get there at 2:30 pm. Then at 6:30 pm I hit another jackpot and was told that the casino manager was in the shower. The employees that work in the casino sure do stay clean.
1/28/2014 – Tuesday - Private breakfast area
NCL - The haven was outstanding. There is a separate dining area for breakfast, lunch and dinner for only their Haven guests. The privacy makes you feel like you are really special. On a scale of 1 to 10 it is definitely a "10".
Royal - The area was right below the chef's table that we ate at on our first night. This is their "special area" for suite guests. Nothing very special here ... one thing that I have never experienced anywhere … and I hope I never do again … are pre-made omelets (ham & cheese only) laying in a warming pan like pancakes. Not very appetizing, so we set off to the dining room where I found the same pre-made omelets (ham & cheese only) in the buffet dining area. The food was for the most part was mediocre at best. On a scale of 1 to 10 … I give it a "3".
1/28/2014 – Tuesday - Labadee Island
Royal – I remember going to their "private" island 10-15 years ago. Back then ... it was totally a dump and a waste of time. Today … it is very nice, clean and well taken care of. Suite holders have a special beach area reserved just for them. They also had served lunch at the beach. This private area (VIP) is set aside from the rest of the passengers on the ship.
1/29/2014 – Wednesday -Breakfast - Main Dining Area
NCL - Dining in the main area on the NCL Getaway or any other NCL ship is better than most of the “specialty restaurants” on the Allure of the Seas.
Royal - Wanted to enjoy breakfast in the main dining room. What a joke. Stood in line with the rest of the ship's passengers and was told that there were other places on the ship to eat. Are you serious? It would be like going to Denny's for breakfast and having them saying to you should consider eating at IHOP! Never the less, we waited approximately 15 minutes in line and got seated because we were willing to sit with four other people for a table for 6. If we wanted to sit alone we would have to wait much longer. We ended up waiting a very long time just to get our breakfast. My eggs benedict were not very good … I would give it a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. At this point of the cruise I started thinking that it sure was a lot nicer being on any of my previous NCL ships and dining in their private area that served outstanding breakfasts with a terrific and attentive staff. But, let’s not go there because we are on the Royal Caribbean ... the conversation with the other four people was a lot better than the food and it helped me to forget how poor the meal was.
1/29/2014 – Wednesday - Balcony - Sail Away - 6:30 pm
NCL - Frig was ALWAYS full of beer, wine, liquor, soda, etc.
Royal - Wanted to enjoy some wine on our balcony as we sailed away from Jamaica. I called our cabin steward who explained to me that there is no alcohol in our suite. Are you kidding me! So I personally had to run down to their Wine shop that sells wine, cheese and small plates to the public. Bought a bottle and ran back upstairs and missed the sail away. Oh well ... drank the wine and then got ready for the upscale dinner at Chops. This is where we wanted to dine on our first night but it was sold out due to a wedding.
1/29/2014 – Wednesday - Dinner at Chops
Royal - This was an evening I will not soon forget. First of all we arrived 15 minutes late at 7:45 pm. (remember how I had to run down and get my own wine because they did not have any in an Owners Suite … really?). We were seated at one of those long benches with 6 tables that could be pushed together to seat a large party broken apart so that you can have 6 tables with two people each. The problem was that the table was so long between my wife and I, that the person whom I have never met sitting right next to me was actually closer than my wife. Personally, I do not like sharing my dinner conversation with strangers. The waiter asked us if we would like a drink ... I said I would like to see the wine list which he provided immediately. We ordered a bottle of 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon - Paul Hobbs ... $250 a bottle. The waiter brings the bottle of wine that was warm enough to serve to a baby infant. I asked the waiter if this is the way you keep your all your wines. He said he would run over to their other restaurant, 150 Central, and see if they had a cooler bottle. In five minutes he returns with an identical bottle that was properly stored and significantly cooler that the warm bottle he had presented earlier. I tasted the wine and it was acceptable. So, he poured us each a glass and left at 8:05 pm. Served us a shrimp cocktail at 8:10 pm and then he did a disappearing act until 8:35 pm. My wife had waited so long that she actually asked me where her food was. I told her that she hadn't given an order to anyone yet. I was a little upset, but we finally had a chance to order our main entree. Two medium rare NY strips 12 oz. At this point the waiter kept asking me if I would not prefer the 16 oz. ($18.00 upcharge) NY strip. He asked me three times ... I didn't initially catch on why he kept pushing the 16oz steak. When the 12 oz. steak arrived it was something you would get at a street side diner ... not the premier steak house -- Chops! The aisle ways behind me were too narrow, so I was hit twice in the back of my chair by other servers racing around the restaurant serving people. The steak that I ordered (12 NY Strip) was awful but we had waited so long I ate half of it anyway. The waiter felt bad and told me that was why he had tried to push me in the direction of the 16 oz. NY strip with the $18.00 upcharge. Then the restaurant manager came over and asked if she could do something for us due to the meal not meeting our expectations. My wife told her she should send a bottle of wine to our room. She immediately said that there was nothing wrong with the wine; it was the steak that was the problem. I told her just send any bottle of wine to the room. She continued to argue with me that the wine was not the problem! I told her that we couldn't take a new steak back to the room and that is why my wife asked for a bottle of wine. The manager then proceeded to make a seen in the restaurant and told me there was nothing she could do. Needless to say, I was quite perturbed and tried to calmly explain that we were not going to cook a new steak in our room. Just give us any kind of bottle of wine. Much like one would get a free desert in any restaurant when the restaurant makes a mistake. Again she asked me what else she could do and that she was not going to give us any bottle of wine because the wine was not the problem. What an idiot! So I told her to simply bring me the bill and I will pay any charges and leave. We were charged for the wine but we had pre-paid the $30 cover per person so she did not give it back nor give us a credit. Nor did we ever get any wine sent to the room. The entire experience will most certainly live in my memory for a long time.
1/30/2014 – Thursday - Lunch at Giovani's
Royal - Very nice compared to last night’s dinner at CHOPS (stay away!). We were seated at a very nice table and the two of us enjoyed the family style meal of veal meatballs, lasagna, pasta with pancetta, tiramisu dessert. Service and attitude by Cecila was the best we had on the ship.
1/30/2014 – Thursday - Casino
NCL - Someone was always available.
Royal - Won another jackpot … you guessed it ... no one was available to pay me the money so I had to wait for 25 minutes. This time at least they offered me a drink while I waited.
1/30/2014 – Thursday - Dinner at Iszumi (Specialty Restaurant)
Royal - Everyone was at the main dining room because it was lobster and prime rib night. Therefore the specialty restaurant was nearly empty. It was very peaceful and quiet. Had a very nice meal consisting of Sushi for an appetizer and sliced beef on a hot rock (you cook your own food at your table on a 600 degree hot rock).
1-31-2014 – Friday – In Conclusion
In the past, whenever we have been on a cruise and we start approach the end of that cruise we would get a feeling of sadness that the cruise is about to end. Well, this was the first time that when the Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas docked, I was more than happy to leave the ship. What I have learned … is that one cannot expect a ship like the Royal Caribbean – Allure of the Seas - with 6,000 passengers and 2,200 crew to be capable of providing the first class service that one expects when booking a luxury suite. However, it does make me wonder, how the NCL – Breakaway – with 4,000 passengers and a crew of 1,700 manage to make me feel like I was the most important and only passenger on their ship.