We thought it would be a great idea to take a cruise as soon as my son got out of school for the summer. My family has been on 11 cruises between Carnival and Celebrity and we feel cruising is the best way to travel when we are not at Disney World. We would have loved to sail on our favorite cruise line, Celebrity, but they were not going to the Caribbean in June. I researched an itinerary that would take us to places that we had not been before, in the Caribbean, cost less than our regular cruise adventures and required no airports. We decided on Norwegian because we could drive to New York from Maryland and get right on the boat. I booked the cruise online in February and it was a piece of cake. The price for our cabin went down a bit and I was able to get the price reduction without any issues. The pre-cruise experience with Norwegian was great and left me hoping that the cruise itself would go as smoothly. I was so optimistic about the trip that I asked my sons best friend and mother to come along with us since they had never cruised before.
Once the ship sailed the differences between Norwegian and Celebrity, even Carnival, became obvious.
Embarkation/Disembarkation: we left for New York on Saturday morning June 14th and arrived at the pier around 1:30 pm. We were able to unload the car and get checked in in no time. We were presented with champagne drink options as soon as we walked on the ship which we thought were fantastic. We went to our cabins to drop off our carry on bags and then went up to get lunch. Lunch was an interesting experience. Where are the trays to carry your food? We participated in the standard life boat drill and sailed a little after 4:00 in a very bad thunder storm. Leaving the ship on the final day was uneventful (thank goodness). Based on our luggage tags we were off the ship around 11:30 a.m. and in our car for the drive back to Maryland.
Dining: first Saturday night, we went to the Garden Room for dinner. The food was o.k. but the table staff was not friendly. We were not made to feel welcome and the table attendants really didn't want to chat with us. We thought perhaps it was the first night of the cruise and everyone was getting in sync. We felt rushed in the dining room because other people were waiting to be seated for their freestyle dining experience. The food was "just o.k."on Sunday when we went a specialty restaurant "Le Bistro" for Fathers Day. Once again the table attendants really didn't want to chat with us. The remainder of the week was pretty much the same with a consistent theme about the table attendants. We did go to Windows, Cagney's Steakhouse and Shogan Asian Restaurant. The food in Windows was again "just o.k." with Cagney's and Shogan both coming in with better tasting cuisine. The service at both the specialty restaurants was better and the table attendants in Cagney's met our expectation with personality and service, thank you Horace from Jamaica.
At the Raffles Court we were not pleased with the fact that you had to juggle your plates and bowls because they did not have trays. It was difficult trying to get food for a child and yourself. There was so much spilled food from either it sliding off plates or dropping from the steam tables because the thongs were awkward. We finally just ate in shifts so one of sat with our son while the other went through the line for food. The lines were extremely long for omelet's in the morning unless you got there at 9:00 (come on were on vacation).The juices were removed after breakfast so if you wanted a soft drink during lunch you had iced tea, water or you had to buy a soda. I'm not sure why the cruise line would not make juices available during the day for kids. I was not about to give my 6 year old soda and iced tea for 8 days.
The various service charges for wanting something different for dinner were a bit much. It seemed as though the main dining rooms served the same menu every night (except Lobster night) to drive you to the specialty restaurants. It was a shame to pay extra money for service in restaurants where the food tasted the same as in the main dining rooms or at the buffet and the servers had the same bad personalities. Norwegian needs to revisit this model because we felt hustled.
The Blue Lagoon Cafe was a great alternative and we ate there more than we would have liked because we became turned off by the other options. It seemed to be a popular spot for a lot of cruisers but the service once again was consistently terrible. They ran out of Buffalo wings on Thursday and the cruise ended on Sunday go figure!
Room Service: the room service menu was very limited but when we did order, it arrived on time. We could not order hot breakfast to the room on the days that we had an early shore excursion. We were also surprised that we could not order the dinner menu to our room.
Shore Excursions: the ports of call were Puerto Rico, Tortola, BVI, and Samana Dominican Republic. We did not purchase an excursion for Puerto Rico but we were glad to get off the ship after two days at a sea and just walk around town. On Tortola, we signed up for the Virgin Gorda Highlights excursion. It was great; the kids really enjoyed the adventure through the caves to the beach. Our last island excursion was the Cayo Levantado Escape on Samana Dominican Republic.
Children's Program: my son and his friend enjoyed the Kids Crew 6-9 program. Having the schedule for week allowed us to plan our days and evenings and the staff was courteous and fun. The arcade and pool area for the kids was also a plus on this cruise line. I am glad that there was and area for all kid ages to enjoy the water.
Entertainment: we went to several of the shows but they were definitely B grade. The magic show was the best out of all the theater offerings. The entertainment in Champagne Charlie's was awesome. We really enjoyed Paul Mullen and once we discovered him, we made sure we showed up wherever he was playing. We also enjoyed the pool band but we couldn't hear very well from the Bier Garten (perhaps upgraded speakers are needed).
Service: I have spoken about the table attendant service in the dining section but I think I need to say a little more. We asked ourselves after the third day of the cruise why we had to clear our own plates from the table at breakfast and lunch and hunt down the bar waiters to get a drink by the pools? We consistently had to clear a table (outside at the back of ship) every morning of someone else's dishes in order for our family to sit and eat. We were shocked that once we finished eating our plates did not disappear from in front of us. Even when we got up to get more food, we would arrive back at the table full of dishes. We always cleared our plates off to another area. I guess that was another spoiled moment from being on other cruise lines. We consistently had to get off our lounge chairs to go to the bar for drinks (I really did think I was on vacation!).
Final Comments: Our family loves cruising and we will always love cruising but we will always remember that you get what you pay for. Sometimes things that appear to start off cheaper are not necessarily the best value. The ship was nice but when I go on vacation I expect to relax and be served. I also expect he employees to be eager to please separate from the fact that their service charge was automatically charged. Once I added up the service fees for the dining experiences to my cruise cost, I could have paid the airfare to travel on another cruise line (maybe Royal Caribbean). We met some really nice people who were also first timers on Norwegian and they shared the same comments about the service and the dining fees for equally bad service. They vowed to not return to this cruise line. We were certainly spoiled by Celebrity and we realize the lines should not have been compared to one another but we expected a careless vacation but pretty much served ourselves. I hate to say never but we will not sail on Norwegian again.