Our cruise left New York on July 7 for an 8 day cruise to the eastern Caribbean with stops in Bermuda, Tortola and St. Thomas. Our overall experience with the cruise was very negative, however to be fair, we would like to point out what we consider the good and bad aspects of the cruise. First the few positive aspects of the cruise.
Food The food aboard the ship was delicious. The quality was excellent. The sushi was some of the best we ever had. Our steak at Cagney's was as good as some of the best steakhouses we have eaten. Even the food at the Raffles, the food court, was enjoyable.
Entertainment Our family enjoyed the quality of the entertainment on board tremendously. Jeff Trachta & SharkBait were great shows for the kids.
Unfortunately that ends the positive aspects of our cruise. The negative aspects by far outweigh the positive.
Dining Experience Somewhere along the way we assumed "Freestyle" cruising meant we dined when, where and with whom we wanted too. We were not informed we should plan an entire week of meals the minute we boarded the ship. It was impossible to get reservations at any restaurants. We finally settled for a late reservation at Cagney's. We never got to experience all the restaurants on the ship. The "Freestyle" concept is a good idea but poorly implemented. Also requiring men wear slacks after 5:00 is ridiculous. I understand the need for some level of appropriate dress, but it's "Freestyle" remember!!!! The need for reservations and all restaurants requiring slacks after 5:00 pm was not in the cruise documentation we read.
Child Care The quality of child care of the ship was very good. Our issue is the hours of operation. We were amazed we had to pay extra after 10:00 pm. It makes no sense to offer adult only shows beginning at 10:45 pm when child care ends at 10:00 pm. Also because we couldn't get dinner reservations until late we never got to enjoy a quiet sit down meal due to the fact kids had to be picked up by 10:00 pm. We have never experienced this on any other vacation that offered child care services.
Staff We were continuously amazed at how unfriendly the staff on board was. We were expecting staff to go above and beyond to make guests feel welcome. We found ourselves speaking to staff first, just to be polite. We feel part of this is due to your policy of requiring auto gratuities, see next section. Now we would like to single out several employees that did a great job. Lee and Devon the dive instructors were excellent guides. They were friendly and knowledgeable. Our son was stung by fire coral and Devon was very attentive. Elena, from Romania, a waitress in the main dining room was very friendly and a pleasure to get to know. These employees were the exception and not the rule.
Service Charges As a continuum to the above issue, we were very surprised at the auto gratuity. We already paid a daily service charge that was our understanding to cover all staff services except child care. We would like to know, how is this an incentive for employees to provide superior service when the gratuity is guaranteed? We even tried tipping extra, with no improvement in service. We strongly feel this policy needs to be reviewed.
Costs First of all let me say, we expect to pay more for items on vacation. However the prices on board were excessive. Four dollars for a beer and nine dollars for a mixed drink, including the souvenir glass, was too much. Pictures were also priced excessively. Every time we turned around a camera was in our face. If you are going to take that many pictures, you will sell more by pricing them reasonably. We priced all the pictures of us during the cruise and the cost would have been over $600. What could you possibly do with all those pictures? Also the restaurant surcharges were unacceptable. The only restaurant that could justify an additional service charge was the sushi bar, due to the manual labor involved. We're still trying to figure out the reason for the service charge at Cagney's.
Pools How can anyone think one adult pool is enough for that many passengers? By the second day of the cruise passengers were furious over the lack of chairs and seating areas. We had to get up at 6:00 am to reserve chairs for our family. We saw several confrontations that almost turned physical over chairs. Several passengers also reserved two sets of chairs, some in the sun and some in the shade. There definitely must be more pool area for a ship that size.
Shore Excursions We were happy with the shore excursions offered and the ones we selected. We were not happy with the amount of time spent on the excursions. The best excursion for us was Tortola, however by the time you move that many people by ferry, then bus, that left no time at the Baths National Park. Also the Cokie Beach snorkel trip was very short, but somehow we found time to make it back to allow some shopping time. If we wanted to shop we would have booked a shopping excursion. You should allow more time in port to enjoy the excursions which are not cheap for a family of four.
In summary we want to emphasize how disappointed we are in our cruise experience with NCL. There is nothing relaxing or "free" about Freestyle Cruising. This was our first cruise, and based on what we have heard from others our expectations were very high. When we consider how much we spent on this vacation, we get a serious case of buyer's remorse. We have taken MUCH nicer vacations for a lot less money. At least now we can say we have taken two cruises, our first and our last.