We always cruise based on the itinerary, so the idea of cruising to new locations had a large appeal to us. This was our tenth cruise with NCL, and thus our first at the Gold Level.
We started out leaving Boston to Barcelona on Iberia. Good flight, no problems with Iberia on any leg. We had a bad experience in November with the flights on another carrier going to/from Barcelona. So, I am happy to recommend Iberia.
Arrived two days early in Barcelona. We stayed at the Wilson Boutique Hotel on Diagonal. I had stayed there in November, and highly recommend it. It is away from the noise, and "pickpocket central" of Las Ramblas. They stored our bags, and when the room was ready, brought them up to our room. The area around the hotel is a commercial shopping area, yet is quiet, and has many cafes, and a inexpensive resturant called El Mussol a few blocks from the hotel. Ask at the hotel for directions. Well worth it, and inexpensive. Also, it is a five minute walk in one direction to the Metro, and a five minute walk in the other direction to the Hop On Hop Off tourist bus. Ask at the hotel for discount tickets. You pay part of the fare at the hotel, and the other on the bus. You save about 5 euros with this discount. We spent the time before the cruise taking the tourist bus one day, making several stops. A full day. The next day, we went to Park Guell, and the Predara, amoung other sights. It is around 32 euro cab fare from the airport.
On the day the cruise started, we took a cab to the pier. Once again, the fare was around 32 euros. Being Gold Members, embarkation was breeze. Waiting in our room was a welcome basket. We had been on the Jade about 18 months earlier on a trip to Egypt, so we knew our way around.
The first port was Casablanca. We had booked an overnight to Marrakech using a NCL tour. I can't recommend it enough. The guide we had was named Lazrak, and of all the guides we have had, he was easily the best. Knowledgeable, friendly, easily understood, and full of information and pride over his country. We made a stop along the way for a drink/comfort break. The hotel lunch was good. Then, off for sightseeing. Palaces, markets, and the famous square, where there are snake charmers, monkey trainers, henna tatoo artists, etc. What made this trip extra special was meeting a great group of women who get together every two years for a trip. The tour guide started calling me "Ali-baba", and my wife "Ali-mama". The group was referred to as my harem. We hope to travel with them again. At night, we were taken to a folk show, which featured horsemen,music, and a meal under tents.The hotel that NCL booked was very good. The next day, more sightseeing, and a stop at a herb store, which was educational. Some time for shopping before lunch, and the trip back to the ship. Highly recommend this tour.
The next port was Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. We took an NCL tour called Las Palmas and Bandama.This was disappointing. The guide was not informative, and stops were rushed. This port you can do very well on your own, using either the HOHO bus, or hiring a taxi.
Next up was Medeira. Didn't know what to expect, as there had been mudslides several weeks earlier. It was the unexpected surprise of the trip. We took a tour with Daniel Madeira taxi. Many thanks go to Mary, a fellow CC member, who arranged this tour. There were about 24 of us, and the cost was about 19 euros each. It ended up being almost five hours. Went to see the high sea cliffs, Nun's Valley, a winery (where we picked some of the famous Madeira wine), and took the toboggan ride down to Funchal. Such a beautiful island, which makes us want to return. Again, thanks to Mary for all her hard work in organizing this tour for all the CC members.
Next up was Malaga. We took the NCL tour to Granada and the Alhambra. Once again, very good. This trip was a full day,lasting 10 hours, with much walking. Lunch was provided, and was good. The Alhambra is a world UNESCO sight, and we were very happy to have seen it.
When we arrived back to Barcelona, we caught a cab ride back to Hotel Wilson for one night. We quickly went to the train station, and went to Montserrat. Takes about an hour to get there, and then either a cable car or funicular up to the monastery. It was Palm Sunday, which I had forgotten about, so there was a large crowd. But, it was worth it to hear the Boy's Choir, and see everything there is to see there. The next morning, we returned home on Iberia, with no problems. We were surprised that we didn't have to go through security a second time in Madrid, going from the domestic flight from Barcelona to the international flight back to Boston. There was spot checks however.
Now, on the ship, I can comment on food, entertainment, and service. Many kudos to our hard working room stewards, Victor and Rene. We had a couple of requests, which they met, and also checked back with us several times to be sure we were happy. We made sure the last night to show them our thanks, even though there is the NCL service charge. Also, the day we were leaving from home, I called our personal NCL cruise consultant to see if I could book the romance package. My wife at first wasn't sure if she would like the French restaurant on board, but then at the last minute changed her mind. Anyway, it was too late to book the romance package, but Gale, our consultant, did arrange to have a surprise anniversary cake for us at Cagney's. I didn't even know about it. Great service. Last, but least, Mr. Armondo Da Silva, who is the hotel manager on board is a real gem with NCL. He remembered us from an earlier cruise on the Jade, and our long talk with him at a meet and greet for Latitudes members. He arranged for a much appreciated basket being sent to our room. We also experienced a great server at Cagney's named Genesis. So, in short, the service was great.
The entertainment was good. I do think, however, the production numbers have slipped a little since there is no more Jean Ann Ryan company groups, and it appears NCL has gone in house for production groups. The shows are fine, but there is small drop off from Jean Ann Ryan. The Gypsy Kings tribute band was fine, as was Uber Rossi, an acrobat. The comedy act was Paul Adams, whom we had seen on the Jade before. But, his act was fresh, and we find him very funny.
On the food side, we ate, for the first time, the majority of the nights at the speciality restaurants. The main dining rooms we good, but we have noticed the menus getting a bit bland. You can get the favorites, but not every night is it special. We found the steaks at Cagneys to be superb. We ate there twice. We also at at Teppanyaki's. I am not a big Asian food eater, but found the show, and food there to be very good. We also tried Paniolo's the first night. I love Tex-Mex, and enjoyed it, as did the wife. Lastly, we also had dinner at Le Bistro the last night. Great food, great presentation, and lovely atmosphere. Two mornings we had a sit down breakfast at the Grand Pacific. Otherwise, it was the buffet. I had noticed a gradually cutback at the buffet on past cruises, but to me, it has stabilized, and while the choices were not as varied as when we first starting taking NCL, it is fine. I do wish the chocolate buffet was not so late at night. But, while the main restaurant menus have slipped, the speciality restaurants are great, and well worth the extra charge.
So, this was great cruise, that has an itinerary I recommend. We met some great new friends, whom I hope to see again, not only my "harem" who offered us a chance to join them again, but Mary from CC, and a great guide in Lazrak. Lazrak made us want to return quickly to Morocco.
Take this cruise and NCL for a great experience.