First of all, we are veteran cruisers, having previously sailed with NCL, Admiral Cruise Lines, Dolphin Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess and others over the past 30 years.
We are not complainers, nor are we very fussy. We do expect fair value for our money spent and we expect to be dealt with in an honest and fair manner. We also expect to be provided with proper sanitary facilities and air conditioning. With great anticipation, we booked our cruise on NCL's Norwegian Sky on May 24th 2008. The idea was to celebrate our daughter's 14th birthday and graduation from middle school as well as my wife and my 16th wedding anniversary. We were going to sail on July 18th, 2008 through July 21st, 2008. My daughter's best friend would accompany us. A party of four, we had two connecting Ocean View Staterooms: 9043 & 9044.
We counted the days with eager anticipation, 55 days, 54 days, 53 days and so on. I had after all, previously sailed on the S.S. Norway many years ago and had a wonderful time. What could go wrong with an NCL cruise we thought? Boy, were we in for a surprise. We were about to experience the cruise from hell!
We arrived at the Port of Miami around 12:30 PM. The embarkation was efficient and expeditious enough, although I did have trouble understanding the NCL representative who checked us in. I must have asked her to repeat herself at least 4 or 5 times as her English was that poor. The temperature in the embarkation area was comfortably cool.
As we went up the gangway and onto the ship, we were greeted with waiting staff offering flutes of domestic champagne, which we availed ourselves of. We were also greeted with signs indicating we could not go to our staterooms as they were not ready.
We immediately noticed that the ship was warm, perhaps 80 degrees Fahrenheit. When we inquired as to the lack of air conditioning, we were told by the staff that it had just been turned on and would take awhile to cool the ship down. An odd answer as the ship had just returned to port from its maiden voyage just hours before.
We proceeded up to the Garden Cafe on deck 11 to have some buffet lunch. After waiting for hamburgers in the warm restaurant, which we thought should have been ready given this was embarkation and 2,000 guests were due to arrive, we came away with a couple of tasty burgers.
We then went to the Mandara Spa to book a little pampering for myself and my wife: Massages for Saturday afternoon and facials for Sunday afternoon... a total of about $500.00 worth of pampering.
After giving the cabin staff what we thought was a reasonable time to get our accommodations ready, we proceeded through the still warm ship to the Fiord Deck, which was on deck 9 to find our Staterooms. When we got there, ¾ of our luggage was already there in front of our Staterooms and obviously impeding the progress of the cabin staff, who were clearly disheveled and not ready for guests at 3:00 PM, 3 hours after arrival time and 2 hours before sailing. The remaining ¼ of our luggage, we found about 100 feet down the hallway in front on another Stateroom. Lucky we noticed it. The staterooms were between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. When I asked the staff there why it was so warm, they replied that it had just been turned on and would take awhile to cool the ship down. This excuse for the lack of adequate air conditioning would be repeated the entire cruise as though it was scripted. At this point, we naively thought it was true.
When we booked this cruise, we specified that the twin beds in my wife and my stateroom, 9044, were to be made up together... anniversary remember? This was not done as there sat two twins. As is my custom, I sought out our cabin steward and bestowed a generous gratuity in advance of the trip to get his attention and let him know to take good care of us. After telling him about the beds, he asked as he pocketed his gratuity, if he could do it later because he was too busy.
We complained to him about the air conditioning and guess what: the canned response again. We also learned that a great many guests did not have properly functioning toilets in their cabins. When we complained to others about the lack of air conditioning, they said: "at least you have a toilet".
We proceeded to unpack in a not-yet-ready stateroom and went up to the pool deck to have a drink in the blistering 90 degree Miami heat, which was cooler with the breeze than our staterooms.
While at the pool bar, we learned that if you do not clearly specify, in advance, that you do not want a souvenir plastic glass, you would get one every time you ordered a drink...for $2.00 extra per drink. How many souvenir glasses does one need anyway? NCL seems to think 40 or 50 at least. This was very tacky nickel dimeing indeed.
We then went down to our staterooms to get ready for dinner and found that we still had no air conditioning. Upon calling reception to report this, we received the now memorized canned excuse. We had to shower and get dressed in sweat for dinner.
We then learned that the safe in the girl's stateroom was broken and we called reception to have this corrected. No one came and we called at least twice more before a very rude security officer came up and not only could not fix it, he caused it to beep repeatedly and constantly reset itself with a motorized whirring noise that the girls had to endure the entire cruise. We obtained limited relief by smothering it with a pillow, but you could still hear it all through the night while you laid awake dripping in sweat because of the lack of air conditioning. All the while, during the entire voyage, our girls were denied the opportunity for proper security of their valuables in their stateroom as represented by NCL.
On Saturday morning, I sought out someone with some authority because by now, I was very upset and not at all looking forward to the remaining 3 days and 2 nights in this sweatbox called the Norwegian Sky.
Free Style Cruising had, at this point, decidedly turned into Style Free Cruising.
I sought out and found Jenny Lem, the office manager, who assured me things were temporary and would improve. They were flying in a team to Nassau to fix the ships' A/C. This was a new chapter in their obviously canned previous response to the lack of A/C. She also promised she would comp us a discounted future cruise, dinner in one of their ala carte restaurants, casino credit, and free wine with dinner, and move us to another stateroom if they could not fix our air conditioning, absolutely none of which ever materialized.
Trying to not think about it, we went up to the Garden Cafe for the Saturday buffet breakfast. We stood in line for at least 45 minutes waiting for scrambled eggs. Not made to order omelets, crepes or waffles or anything special like that, but plain old scrambled eggs. The line backed up out the door of the Cafe and onto the pool deck waiting for the eggs. Uncomplimentary complaints rang out at the staff, which looked as though it was their very first day in a kitchen. Finally, a cook comes toward the serving area slowly carrying what we hoped would be the eggs. He was moving slowly because he did not want to spill them. They were sloshing back and forth in the tray like soup... totally raw! Had not a chorus of complaints rang out at him, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have served those raw eggs to the guests. Additionally, the bacon was undercooked, the drink dispensers holding juice and iced tea were empty and the whole experience was terrible.
Between high temperatures due to lack of air conditioning, lack of basic sanitary toilet facilities and a crew trying to serve us raw eggs and raw pork, it was as if they were doing their best to make us all sick! This is the same ship, formerly the Pride of Aloha, which failed health inspections while in Hawaii. Not much of a surprise at all given all that we saw. We ate carefully and swam in sanitizer the whole cruise.
We then decided to go into Nassau to shop and hope the air conditioning would be somewhat operational when we came back for our massages. When we came back late in the afternoon, guess what? We still had no air conditioning. To add insult to injury, we had to endure the total dismantling of the two bathrooms in both of our cabins because the air conditioning units are housed in the sink vanity compartment effectively denying us the use of our bathrooms and showers for most of the day Saturday. What were they doing? A complete cleaning of the coils and air handlers in both staterooms during our cruise! We lost the use of the girls' stateroom the morning of the 19th and the loss of ours the afternoon of the 19th. During this fiasco, the air conditioning mechanic left the door to our stateroom open while he went below to clean the A/C coils effectively leaving us vulnerable to easy theft of our possessions. I have photographs of the dismantled bathrooms.
Massage time was approaching. Now who wants to get a massage in 80 degree heat? Not us! We called Jenny Lem to ask her to cancel our appointments for us without the stated 50% sort notice cancellation penalty. She assured me she would, but never did. Ms. Lem was proving to be clearly untrustworthy and not a woman of her word. Just to be sure, I called the Mandara Spa and cancelled myself. While I was at it, I cancelled the facials we had booked for Sunday. This cruise from hell was costing NCL money as well as a small fortune in good will.
Speaking of money, my wife and I are gamblers of sorts. I play Blackjack and she plays dollar slots. We had brought a gaming allowance of $2,000.00 just for the casino. Since it was so hot and smoky in the casino because there was virtually no air conditioning and smoke removal therein and smelled of human sweat, we spent exactly nothing in the casino during this cruise. In fact, we were so upset the entire cruise that we spent a small fraction of what we normally spend. We normally spend much more when we are comfortable and having a good time, but this was the Style Free 2.0 cruise from hell, remember? Who could be happy?
On Saturday we got dressed, again in the heat of non air conditioned staterooms while dodging the disassembled vanities and stepping over the A/C technician, and then had to sweat during what would have otherwise been a wonderful dinner in the ship's French restaurant Le Bistro.
Our server at Le Bistro, a $15.00 cover charge venue, on Saturday evening was Londa. She was one of the very, very few shining points of this cruise. The Maitre' De, Ms. Grace was also very accommodating and gracious. This was our anniversary dinner and they made us feel special. We almost thought, for a moment, that all was well until we came back to reality and realized that we still did not have air conditioning in our staterooms. The restaurant was also too warm and Ms. Grace apologized profusely for this.
Regarding the air conditioning, there was a very small improvement in the public rooms and hallways, but our rooms were still warm and unbearable. Again we slept in sweat. The girls' stateroom was actually partially cooling before the A/C technician dismantled it, but never blew a puff of cool air again for the remainder of the cruise after he finished his handiwork. We slept with the adjoining door open to share what little air we had coming out of our vent between us. Nice anniversary evening for my wife and I without adequate air conditioning or privacy.
Sunday brought more of the same miseries as Friday and Saturday: more poor service, but now it was in the Palace Main Dining room. We were "invited" by way of written invitation left in our now sauna-like staterooms to breakfast. We went down to breakfast before heading out to the ships island for a snorkeling excursion. We waited for at least 30 minutes to be seated although the entire center portion of the dining room was empty. They were only using the outside areas of the dining room. Upon being seated, we waited an astonishing 1 ½ hours to be served. This is NOT a typo. When the food finally did come, the order was incorrect, but we ate it anyway because we wanted to get onto the island. We had already missed 2 hours of our excursion.
On the island, there were no functioning sanitizers in the bathroom facilities. The tender service was timely and efficient. The BBQ lunch seemed adequate. However, thirsty cruisers were once again provided with mandatory additions to their souvenir glass collection without any choice.
Back on board the Sky, we went up to the pool deck because our girls had raved about the pizza. They were right. This was perhaps the best pizza I have ever eaten anywhere.
The air conditioning had improved slightly in stateroom 9044, but never ever returned to 9043, forcing us to share our A/C through the open adjoining door with the girls and also share their beeping, whirring safe noise with all night as we were able to sweat less, but still sweat as we tried to sleep. Beep beep drip drip.
Sunday evening, we went to Cagney's Steakhouse for my daughter's birthday dinner. This restaurant commanded a $20.00 per person cover charge. I thought I had wandered into a comedy show. These people did not begin to resemble proper upscale wait staff. After ordering Pellegrino at $4.00 per bottle and a bottle of $42.00 wine, the waiter proceeded to pour my serving of wine into my Pellegrino! He remedied this by bringing me a glass of wine. The steaks were mediocre and ordinary and lacked flavor. The side orders of sautEed mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes were all ice cold. They remedied this by microwaving them until the mushrooms were so hot they burned our tongues and the mashed garlic potatoes were dried up and tasteless. Where is Chef Ramsey when you need him. In fairness, the desserts, Bananas Foster and Crème Brule' were wonderful. Not to be allowed a moment of enjoyment over the desserts on this Style Free cruise, the Cappuccino's and milks ordered with the desserts arrived after we had long finished them. Keep in mind this restaurant only has a seating capacity of 84 diners. The restaurant, while cooler than the rest of the ship, was still too warm.
Last night onboard, we could not wait to get off the ship the next morning. This is a feeling I have never had on a cruise, usually regretting our departure.
They provide you with two plush pool towels per cabin under threat of adding a $25.00 per towel charge to your account, should they go missing. We took the best care of these towels to avoid this charge. The last evening of the cruise, the cabin steward removed three of the four towels from the staterooms and I had to get into a heated discussion with the head of housekeeping to get them back.
This is Style Free 2.0 cruising at it's most meaningful however and it seems that NCL works very hard to alienate and disenfranchise everyone onboard with their lack of even the most basic civil comforts and services. NCL seems oblivious to the fact that their actions threaten your health, security of your belongings, insult your intelligence, waste your time dealing with unneeded minutia and a host of other offenses. This document is approaching 3,000 words in length and I have but touched on what happened to us and most of our fellow cruisers.
NCL is a poor excuse for a cruise line and you should avoid it at all costs. I would have paid them to leave me behind given what I now know.
At least in a Hotel, you can leave and go elsewhere, but we were trapped like sweating rats and the staff seemed to act as though they knew this.
I may not ever cruise again, having nightmares of not being able to get off the ship. If I do cruise again, it will certainly not be on any ships operated by NCL. In closure, we noticed on our way out the door Monday morning, that the safe finally did stop beeping and whirring due to a dead battery. Wonderful.