Cruise Review NCL Sun - 2/28/10-3/14/10 Embarkation- We arrived at the Buenos Aires pier approximately 1:30. It took our driver some time to find the correct drop off point. Costa and Celebrity also had drop-offs at the same pier and only Celebrity had signs on the road directing you to the right building. Costa and NCL were sharing a terminal and again we had to do detective work to find the right line. Once we did, the NCL line moved very rapidly. They took our luggage and did the preliminary ticket review on shore. You also had to sign that you had not been sick as they were very focused on norovirus. Then you were put on busses to the ship and completed the process in the Four Seasons dining room where you arranged your credit terms and received your room cards. Those in suites, not us, had a separate line but no special courtesy was shown to latitudes members at any point in the embarkation process.
Cabin - we had a forward ocean view cabin on deck 7 which was fine. We had sailed on the Sky in 2000 and it seemed this cabin was smaller but it is hard to really judge. The sofa was of very limited use since it faced the bed and there was barely enough room to walk between the sofa and the bed and you had to navigate around a table that was also placed in the corner. We had plenty of room for our clothes in the closet and drawers and the suitcases fit under the bed.
Food - Our first meal was at the buffet. For the first week or so the food in the buffet was served to avoid the spread of the virus which was fine with us. However, the staff in man y cases did not seem happy performing this function. The buffet area tends to be very crowded but for lunch or breakfast you can take the food from the buffet to the Pacific Heights restaurant and eat there. It was nice and quiet and at lunch they make Pizza and Pasta for you. We did not sample any of the specialty restaurants and ate lunch and breakfast primarily in the Seven Seas restaurant and dinner at the Four Seasons. We limit ourselves to fish and vegetarian selections which were generally plentiful and creative and very good. My suggestion would be to have more choices at the buffet beyond Indian cuisine in the vegetarian section. Also the quality of the coffee was inconsistent - I don't know if it is left in too long at times or what the issue is but It varied from good to undrinkable.
Freestyle Service - This was our 5th NCL cruise but the first in about 4 years. We are itinerary driven and this was the first time in that period that NCL had an itinerary that matched our calendar and needs. They have clearly improved their ability to meet their commitment to let you eat anytime at a table size of your choice in the dining room. There seemed to be almost an unlimited supply of tables for 2 as well as the option to share. I highly recommend sharing on occasion as we made some very good friends that way. This flexibility comes at a cost. The service in the dining room has become very impersonal. Less than half the time the server introduced herself or himself and it was rare to have the same Jr. Waiter throughout the meal. I did express these concerns to the hotel director Calvin on board as well as to the maitre'D and noticed some improvement. Ted Lawrence, an assistant maitre D, w as always very helpful to us and I highly recommend Bang Bang as a waiter. I remember that on all our prior cruises with NCL there was a card on the table with the name of your servers which doubled as an evaluation form. These were no longer present and in fact NCL seems to have gone out of its way to eliminate opportunities for feed back. There are no evaluation forms at all and we were told that guests are randomly selected to provide an evaluation via e-mail. One of the reasons I am writing this review is because I know NCL will read it as they carefully monitor these boards.
Entertainment - Overall very good. The Jean Ann Ryan shows were well done but the singers/dancers are somewhat inconsistent. To our surprise "Hilby the skinny juggling German boy "was one of the highlights. Not only was his juggling good but his comedy was excellent. There was very little comedy on this cruise as the crowd was very linguistically and culturally diverse which makes it hard for a comedian to reach the audience. On Sea days, a 3:00PM show was added and these were excellent. The best show was Alberto's opera performance. He received a standing ovation and was the only entertainer called back for an encore. If I were in charge, I would have brought him back for another performance. Elvy Rose also deserves to be mentioned - she is a fabulous entertainer with a sparkling personality that can fill any showroom. We generally sat up in the balcony of the Stardust Lounge as the sight lines are better. Pedro the cruise director has an engaging personality and he and his staff worked hard and late into the night to keep the party going at the Dazzles disco. This was challenging since the crowd was not a partying one on this cruise. It was mostly retirees from the US, Canada, Australia, Germany and France. There were some Spanish speaking guests but since the summer had officially ended on March 1, they didn't seem to be a large presence. Late in the cruise they held a carnival and white night party and had they done this earlier it might have helped get people used to going to Dazzles at night.
Enrichment - The cruise lacked professors or other professionals to do presentations on South America. There were 3 lectures provided by the assistance cruise director Tzolt who was excellent but was the first to admit that since he is not a subject matter expert, he can't answer questions. I missed one of his lectures as that day the ship was hit by a severe storm and we stayed in our cabin but I did learn a great deal from him. There were also some films shown. I would recommend bringing on some experts.
Excursions - despite being in a cruise critic group that arranged many alternatives, we chose to do all our excursions with NCL. Our feeling is that we want NCL responsible to get us back on the ship if there is an issue on the excursion - such as a broken down bus and also to perform the quality control function. There is a cost for this - excursions have become quite expensive. Our experience was excellent over all and even though we booked in advance I did speak with the excursion desk and made some changes while on board. I realize it is the luck of the draw but all of our guides were excellent - spoke English well and had vast knowledge of their territory. Even the guide taking us to the airport, Luis, on the transfer gave a running narration on the Chilean wine industry as we drove through the vineyards. Other people we met said their guide on the transfer refused any commentary so again luck plays a role.
Disembarkation - went very smoothly. The Santiago airport has very limited facilities due to earthquake damage but it worked out fine.
Chile is very strict at all ports with its rules on what can be brought off the ship and uses x ray scanners and dogs to search for contraband such as fruit. Overall Suggestions- I highly recommend that you join a roll call for your cruise. We had a very large group and it was great to get on board and already "know" a lot of people . We had a sailaway party on deck 12 and then a meet and greet on the first sea day which all the senior staff, including the captain, attended. It was great to put faces to screen names. On the practical side, the group organized a number of excursions and meals which were all very successful. From NCL's perspective, they need to be more responsive and flexible to the needs of the specific cruise. For example, on a day they know that large numbers will be off the boat by 6:30, a bar should open at 6, not 7, for those who want soda in the morning especially since many of us pay in advance through the soda card. Similarly, the timing on the dining rooms can be adjusted - closing the Seven Seas at 1:30 for lunch when all aboard that day is 1:30 and you know that NCL excursions are dropping people at the ship at 1:30 defies logic. Employees seem to lack a sense of ownership - our stateroom attendant was fine but never introduced himself or asked if we needed anything. In prior cruises, that individual always received an extra tip but not this time since I never met him. We had an issue with our departure tags and again the employee didn't take responsibility. I had to convince her to check the computer and once she did and agreed I need other tags she refused to give them to me until I went back and retrieved the wrong ones - That seems the opposite of what should have happened. NCL made a mistake (which didn't bother me since I make mistakes too), but I had to take all steps to correct it. It should have been an employee's responsibility to fix the problem I identified. I would certainly travel with NCL again and applaud them for the ability to address so many demands for small tables in the dining room but think they need to re-commit to the kind of personalized attention I remember from my first 4 NCL cruises and also to bring back DIET COKE!