What a fabulous itinerary, but what a disappointment with the whole NCL cruise experience. Embarkation went quite smoothly, and the glass of bubbly when we arrived on board was a nice touch, but that was one of the best things about this cruise!
Seeing some really superb sights (sailing into Venice will stay with me forever) barely makes up for 12 days of feeling that we were being ripped off, and constantly hassled to spend even more money.
First the good things about the cruise. We had opted for an outside cabin with balcony, and this was quite roomy with plenty of storage. The cabin staff were always friendly, and the little animals folded from the towels they left us occasionally were a nice touch. The sailing was always smooth - even when the weather was a bit rougher, and the beds were comfortable. The time of year we had chosen meant that there were few children on board, so we didn't have the same problems with youngsters that other reviewers appear to have had. The food, on the whole, was good, but that is where the good things end.
The Public Areas - it was impossible to find any public area on the boat which did not have loud, thumping music blaring out. Even the Star Bar which was supposed to be the 'Quiet Bar' had loud music which if you wanted to talk, you had to ask for it to be turned down. And if you did ask for it to be turned down, it very much depended on how amenable the bar staff were feeling as to whether it was turned down. One evening we were given an excuse for not turning it down which was a downright lie. On past cruises, we have always ended the cruise feeling that we could have been perfectly happy in an inside cabin, as there was so much to do during the day, and such great entertainment that we were never in our cabin, but on this cruise we were exceedingly grateful that we'd opted for a balcony.
Dining - 'freestyle dining' actually means that EVERYONE wants to eat at the same time. The fare served in the main restaurants was good quality, but varied little, so if you wanted some variety, you had to pay an extra cover charge, and this was not cheap. However, it was always an adventure - you could never tell from the menu exactly what you would end up with on your plate, and if you asked the waiters, they just read the menu back to you again. e.g. 'Jumbo prawns in a Jim Beam cocktail sauce' = almost frozen jumbo prawns with tomato ketchup, 'Chicken Stew' = 4 one-inch cubes of chicken in a black bean, hot spicy stew, 'sizzling chicken fajitas' = 1 small, lukewarm fajita. It was always possible to ask for your food to be changed if you didn't like what you had been given, or ask for more, but when you are dining with 5 other people, you don't always wish to delay them by ordering something else. And in the end, you get fed up of complaining!
Drinks - vastly overpriced. They are supposed to be duty free, but at $5.50 for a beer, ,plus 15% automatic tip, it's hardly profit-free! There is always 15% added to any of your drinks bills 'for your convenience', so a nice bottle of wine was costing in the regions of $44. This 15% was supposed to be to tip the bar staff, but it was always the waiting staff who served the wine, not the bar staff (if you asked the bar staff for a bottle of wine, they always told you to ask your waiter), so since the waiters benefited from the $10 a day service charge, they were in effect being tipped twice (do you think the waiters actually saw any of this 15%?).
Water - the water from the taps is drinkable, but this didn't stop NCL selling bottles of water at an over-inflated price. When we were gathering for excursions, there was always a member of bar staff selling bottles of water - $5.50 for a half liter (plus 15%, no doubt). I advise anyone taking one of these cruises to make sure they have a supply of water bottles, and fill up before you go on excursions from the tap.
Entertainment - abominable! We only ventured to the first night show, and if you like second-rate circus acts, audience participation and humiliation, and singers who cannot hold a note, or sing in tune, then this is the cruise-line for you, but it's definitely not my scene. There was very little to do during the day, unless you wanted to play bingo (haven't quite got my bingo wings yet!), gamble, or keep fit. The one lecture series was 'How to take better digital photos' - we went to the first one, but walked out after 10 minutes because the guy (a cruise guest rather than a paid lecturer) didn't know the difference between a pixel and a megapixel. The only good entertainer was a South American guitarist.
Shore Excursions - overpriced, and in some cases mis-described. They wanted $110 for a bus-ride to Rome - we went on the train for 9 Euros, and probably arrived at about the same time. The 'Bosphorous Cruise' excursion which was supposed to last 4 hours, consisted of a quick visit to Aghia Sophia, 2 further one-hour stops for shopping, and just one hour on the Bosphorous Cruise - a total of 6 hours by the time we got back to the boat, and too late for us to go on the 'Turkish Night' excursion. Fortunately, we were able to cancel this, but only after some argument.
Disembarkation - supposed to be 'Freestyle', but unless you were one of the privileged few, if you were staying in Istanbul, as we were, and you wanted help with your bags, you had a choice of 08.15 (lilac colour-coded tags) or 08.30 (purple tags). When I went to pick up some purple tags, there were none there, and was told that there were only a certain number of each color, and they had all gone. However, when another member of our party went down some time later, there were purple tags available. This wasn't the only instance of a member of staff telling a lie in order that they could avoid making an effort on our behalf. In the end, we opted to carry out own bags, as this meant that we could stay until 09:00!
Going on this cruise enabled us to experience some wonderful places, and I for one will certainly be going back to some of them, but I shall NEVER be going on an NCL cruise again.