We were booked on the Norwegian Jade for the cruise around the UK on 13th July 2008. We arrived at the port of Southampton at 12.15 and it took over 1½ hours to actually get onto the ship. The boarding procedures need some looking at. We were called from the waiting area by color, we were red. I just assumed that when our color was called, we would be getting onto the ship. Well, it wasn't as simple as that. When our color was called, we went forward and after checking our color, we were allowed up the escalator onto the dockside walkway. It seemed that there were an awful lot of people all queuing to get on and in fact from this point, we would be another 40 minutes or so to actually get on board, the queue moved so slowly, although what didn't help was that there were NCL staff escorting both disabled and suite guest passengers past us and on to the front of the queue. I have never seen anything quite like that before. Once on board we were given a glass of sparkling wine and a very fine welcome. The life boat drill was very well organized and very civilized.
Our cabin number was 8556 and it was an outside cabin with a limited view, well actually the view was of the side of a lifeboat with about an inch of sky above it. The cabin was directly above one of the late night venues, "The Medusa Lounge" and soundproofing was not as good as it could be. On the first night my husband did complain to reception and they did turn the volume down slightly, but I think it's a consideration that we will make in future, to see from deck plans if our cabin in above any public areas. The cabin was compact but with plenty of storage space. The TV was an old portable set with very limited viewing choices.
I have been lucky enough to have enjoyed over 30 cruises and with many different cruise lines but I felt that NCL bar prices must be the most expensive of any ship that I have been on. I drink red wine and often ask for a bottle of house red. On this ship, they do not have a house red for sale by the bottle, which is a little strange (Only more expensive ones) however, they will sell you a bottle for the price of 5 glasses $29.75 then they add the 15% gratuity on, making it $44.63 a bottle. RCCL charges $22 + 15% and P&O charge £11 ($22) with no added tip for a liter of house red. When there are 2 of you that drink wine and you're on board for 2 weeks that extra cost really does add up and on this cruise it did.
NCL add a daily service charge to your account of $10 per person per day, now don't get me wrong, I understand what this is for but I much prefer the cruise lines who simply suggest a daily amount per server or cabin steward etc, then leave it up to you to tip how you feel. Of course with NCL, you could visit reception and ask for this $10 per day to be taken off or reduced if you feel you did not achieve a good level of service, but in my opinion, all that does is cause ill feeling. I prefer to decide my own level of tips and hand them over to the relevant crew member personally. Also as a 15% gratuity is added to you bar bill and 18% on spa treatments, I did not feel the urge to pay out any extra in tips, we actually paid over $600 in tips when we added it all up. However on the last night, the waiters who had become friendly with us during the cruise, seemed to hover around us in quite a spooky way, as if expecting some additional tips? I can assure you that $600 was enough to have been tipping and we weren't about to pay out anymore.
One review I read before I left for this cruise, said NCL ought to change their slogan from "Freestyle Cruising" to "Paystyle Cruising" well I for one agree. We went to the main (free) restaurant twice we found that you had a 30 minute to 40 minute wait for a table and the service was slow and the choices of food could have been better, obviously NCL are hoping that you will pay to dine in the speciality restaurants, which we did for most nights of the cruise. We decided to dine in Cagney's, the steak house one night and this was $20 dollars cover charge each and in our opinion wasn't worth double the charge of the other restaurants, which offered 2 for one between 5.30pm and 6.30pm foolishly we did not read the small print and thought Cagney's was 2 for one as well, guess what - it's not, don't get caught out. The Italian restaurant Papa's was great and we dined there twice $10 per person cover charge. The Teppanyaki restaurant was also very very good with a $25 cover charge but half price for the 5.30 sitting. The French restaurant, Le Bistro, was wonderful and we ate there twice. At the Asian restaurant, Jasmine Garden, the service was very slow and the food quality poor and mis-described. My husband ordered the egg drop soup with sweet corn and found that it contained crabmeat, this isn't mentioned anywhere on the menu - In our opinion this restaurant was not worth the additional charge.
I found it very difficult to watch any of the shows in the main theatre and after 3 attempts did not bother going in again, the main problem is that with the Freestyle dining as opposed to the cruise standard of 2 sittings, it means that people are finishing their meals at all sorts of different times and then deciding to see the show, tend to wander in at all sorts of times throughout the performance, so you actually get to see more of the backs of other people taking their seats than you do of the show. It obviously effected other people because just as many people started leaving as those arriving and this happened all through every show we watched. I think NCL should close the doors 15 mins after a show starts and not allow people in after that. The quality of the shows themselves I thought was poor, there were no dancers and the singers were struggling with most of the songs. About the best entertainment on the ship was Alex McCauley who was the pianist in the bar. We stopped by his show most nights, a very talented guy.
There seemed to be a lot of teenagers on board with nowhere really for them to go, I don't think NCL have thought this out very well, for example, the Ping Pong table is up in the corner, right next to the adults only pool. So you get gangs of teenagers all congregating right next to an adult only area, in fact on several nights they were even in the adult only hot tubs. NCL should enforce these rules a little more vigorously. The teenagers were even running up and down the corridors as late as 12.30 at night. One of the lounges "Spinnakers" became a disco after 11pm and under 18's were not allowed in, announcements were made most evenings and some staff even move out some groups of teenagers, who then started one by one to filter back in. At least on some other ships, they have security outside the disco to stop the youngsters getting in. Perhaps NCL should start doing the same.
I thought that the Bingo was very expensive, NCL have started using the automatic Bingo Machines, with these Bingo machines you could play up to 72 cards at a time and at a cost of $80 but it always seemed that the people with the machines were the ones that always won. We only went to 3 or 4 sessions but that set us back over $300, when you do some rough calculations as to the prize money, which was the lowest I've ever seen, and the number of people playing, I estimate that NCL made around $40,000 off the Bingo during this 13 night cruise. On the last day, we of course had the jackpot game, but that was only worth just over $2000, for the amount of sessions they had and the money they took, that should have been 4 or 5 times higher.
The sanitization is great at every entrance to any of the dining rooms you are encouraged to use the gel and they even have staff posted at the entrance to every eatery to make sure you sanitize your hands.
The food in the Garden restaurant self service cafeteria was great with loads of choice this in my opinion is better than a lot of other ships. One thing that really got me down was the amount of travel agents that NCL had touring the ship at every port, these people get the full tour then get to go eat in the Garden, if you timing is a little off, you can find yourself queuing behind 100 local travel agents for your lunchtime salad, also they all get a free drink voucher, so don't even think of going to get a drink when they get on. When you decide to stay on board, you do so to relax whilst your fellow passengers are off on their overpriced excursions, you don't want to watch 100's of travel agents parading around. This was a great itinerary and would consider doing it again but probably on another ship I thought that the decoration was very garish and tacky it seemed like instead of one interior designer, they had used half a dozen. The décor seems to be fighting with itself with almost nothing matching. One nice touch was the carpets in the corridors this featured Dolphins and if the Dolphins were swimming forward then you would be walking to the front of the ship and if they were swimming backwards this would mean that you were walking towards the back.
Overall, I would give this cruise 6 out of 10, there were enjoyable parts but the over commercialization (our account was 30% higher than normal) and the lack of discipline with the youngsters means that I will not be coming back unless the price is a real giveaway.