Let me start by saying that we both work in the hotel industry and I have dealt with my fair share of unhappy guests and complaints. Because of this, I have never once complained anywhere I have been as I realize that no one is perfect and mistakes happen. This will be the first poor review that I have ever written, but I feel that anyone who is thinking of cruising with NCL needs to hear our experience. This was our 5th cruise, first time with NCL and our last. We booked directly through their website and were excited about all the different dining options offered in conjunction with the "freestyle cruising" they advertise so heavily. Eat whenever, however and whatever you want! This is true if you want to pay anywhere from $10 to $25 per person to do so. They had 2 main dining rooms, your standard all-day-everyday buffet and 6 specialty restaurants (all with a cover charge). But, oh by the way, one of the main dining rooms has a dress code so they won't let you in if you have jeans on, even if they are paired with a dress shirt and shoes. So, "freestyle dining" is really limited to one dining room and a buffet. Consequently, what this creates is lines and wait times to eat dinner. Nothing like being on vacation and being put on a wait list for dinner and standing in the stairwell until they called your name. Not to mention, the food wasn't anything to write home about. I had asked 3 different staff members if there was somewhere you could get iced tea or juice and they said 1)you had to pay for the tea at the bars and 2)they only served complementary fresh squeezed juice in the morning for breakfast. So, they have a soda program that you can purchase for $50 that is supposed to get you free soda for the week. This is true except that they still charge you for drinking a soda from your own room. And you also have to deal with the bar staff and waitresses rolling their eyes everytime you ask for a Coke and they see that you have the soda sticker on your ship card because they won't be getting a tip off of it.
The first full day of the cruise was also our day at sea. We find out on this day that they cancelled our shore excursion for the next day because not enough people signed up. They give you no time to plan or research what you could do in its place, so you are forced to choose another shore excursion that you aren't really that interested in. The only apology made was "well we aren't going to charge you for the one that was cancelled." Well of course you aren't, we didn't get to go! So, in trying to figure out what we are going to do, I go to the reception desk to vent my frustrations and the girl there, smirking at me the whole time I was talking, gives me comment card to fill out, assuring me that it would get the the managers (and no, she never offered for me to speak with a supervisor or manager at that time). She also informs me that there is a place to get iced tea for free after all! (Side note: the complementary "fresh squeezed" juice in the morning is concentrate and the actual fresh squeezed juice costs extra depending on what size you want.) And, if you do have to go to the reception desk at any time, fully expect to be cut in line by at least 3 different people and do not expect the staff to stop this from happening. So, I take this comment card and the one they left in my room and filled them both out front and back and turned them back in to the reception. I get a phone call that they had received it and we would hear something back. The next day, I get a voicemail message that I don't understand from someone I barely understand to call them back. I do so and, after about 4 minutes of me saying "I'm sorry but I don't understand what you are saying," I finally figure out that I am talking to the bar manager who is asking if I have a problem with my soda package. One sentence in my two comment cards mentioned that I was not happy about purchasing the package and not being able to drink the soda in my room. So, he sends me 6 cans of Sprite and tells me that will make me happy. This is the only thing I ever heard from my comment card. Talk about insulting!
The entertainment on the ship was mediocre. The cruise director was boring and dull. The magician was decent and Second City was very funny (but don't get your hopes up because last week was their final week with the Gem). We went to Bliss, their night club, following the "Hot White" party towards the beginning of the week. We noticed that the employees were there drinking and dancing, so we thought that this was their one night they were allowed out. Not the case. As the week progressed, we realized that the employees are allowed to go out, drink and dance every night of the week. They are clearly marked by nametag and clique and are not mingling with the guests at all. They dominate the dance floor and take up all the seating around it, leaving the seats in the back for the paying guests. Now, we are in our mid-20's mind you, and even we found this extremely inappropriate. Here's one of my favorite parts...in this lounge, there are 4 bowling lanes. We saw this and thought "how cool is that!" So, when we went to go play a game, (I'm sure you see where this is going) its $10 per person per game to play! At this point, we're laughing it off because we are on vacation and trying not to let this cruise line ruin it for us. As on every cruise line, you have to check any alcohol you bring on from a port. So, we buy a bottle of Chianti from Florence and they make us check it as we get back on the ship. They take it and tell us that we have to pick it up ourselves on Saturday night between 5pm and 8pm somewhere on deck 6 aft. They don't even deliver it to your room for you! Needless to say, we had to plan our last night on the cruise around when we had to pick up our wine and then got lost with everyone else trying to figure out where it was. As was mentioned in other reviews, the TV options in the room are awful. Three channel in English, 2 of which are news and the other is TCM. Movies are only offered via pay-per-view and cost anywhere from $6 - $12 depending on how new the movie is.
Overall, the ports were fabulous, the staff (aside from the room steward who was very good) was indifferent and you felt like you spent a week getting nickled and dimed everytime you turned around. My advise...definitely go to the Mediterranean but don't ever go anywhere on NCL. There are plenty of other cruise lines out there who will provide stellar customer service, fabulous food and the time of your life!