My boyfriend introduced me to cruise vacations. We've taken 4 cruises in the past 2 years--3 to the Caribbean (twice aboard Carnival and once on Holland America) the most recent trip was my 40th birthday gift from my last month to Alaska on NCL's Star...I know, I'm a lucky girl. I love the experience of putting the cellphone away for a week, having date nights every night for a week, exploring new ports each day, people watching and laying out on the Lido deck.
We've had a charmed experience on the past three cruise, finding insanely reasonably-priced fares, perfect weather, zero travel issues I started to think we had things down to a science. Let me tell you about the 40th Birthday cruise that almost didn't happen!
I was flying out of Chicago, took the elevated train from the city to the airport which experienced some unforseen delays. What usually takes 45 minutes took an hour and 15 minutes. That loss of 15 minutes made all the difference. I arrived with just under an hour to check-in. Southwest Airlines check-in was 8 lanes deep. Security was equally packed for a Saturday a.m. At the gate I was told my seat had been given up and the plane...with my boyfriend aboard, taxied the runway. Southwest immediately put me on the next flight to Seattle and apologized for the long delays. New flight was due to arrive at 2:50pm...an hour and 10 minutes before the 4pm departure time! I should have allowed more time to arrive at the airport clearly but I really appreciated the airlines' quick response to get me to Seattle.
I sat down and immediately called NCL to alert them to my situation. I've never missed a flight before. Customer service quickly told me "if you aren't at the Port of Seattle by 3pm which is the check-in cut off, you aren't likely to be allowed onboard". Trying to reason with the Rep, I said "My flight arrives at 2:50pm--at best, I could be at the Port by 3:30pm. What I'd like to know is that if I am there a half hour before the ship leaves that I'll be allowed to board?" I went on to reason with them,"My boyfriend made the flight, already preboarded us online, will likely have my luggage and can check us in at the dock...the only thing missing will be me...I'm not asking for special treatment i.e. holding the ship (which I know they would not do). At which point the Rep (now a supervisor as I was placed on hold for 40 minutes)asked "Well do you have travel insurance?". "No" "Well, if I were you I'd just start making plans to meet your party at the first port of call on Monday, I'm 99 percent sure they will not allow you to board". I was numb, absolutely devastated that I'd ruined the trip for not only myself, but my boyfriend and the other couple we were cruising with. Basically-since I had not paid for insurance, the NCL customer service department could care less what happened to me. Anyone that has cruised knows how much $$ you've already spent on the rooms, shore excursions etc.
So...I got creative...this is IMPORTANT in case it ever happens to you!
I googled the Port of Seattle from my Blackberry and called the cruise terminal there. Spoke calmly to a very nice woman and explained that I needed to get word to the check-in area of the Norwegian Star that my flight was delayed. She got me in touch with them--the wonderful (contracted employee) Sam immediately asked for my flight information, offered to call the airport in Seattle to alert them of my arrival and sent a Rep to the airport to meet me at the gate! I was floored...at his willingness to (find a solution) to the problem...especially after the experience I had with NCL. It's important to note that Sam was a contracted employee of the cruise terminal, doing check-in for all the cruise lines. He went above and beyond to help me make the trip.
I arrived at the port at 3:30pm. Was checked in quickly, found and hugged Sam my new BFF, thanked him for everything and made my way up the gangway. The safety drill was happening so my boyfriend, and our friends were standing there watching me arrive! Thank goodness my boyfriend had the good sense to get on the plane in Chicago because he was able to get our luggage and check-in at the port--and also alert them to my late arrival.
After a few tense minutes...my boyfriend still decompressing from the whole experience, the worry that he'd have to coordinate getting me a flight to Alaska, how much $$ would that cost plus hotel etc...but relieved that I made the ship...we began a very fun, amazing trip to Alaska. The scenery is tough to describe because it was so beautiful. Stewards great, the employees on the boat work hard. No problems there. Liked the English Pub on board, entertainment was same as other boats (I find it terribly cheesy on all the boats but part of the cruising experience).
Criticisms of the ship--older boat, needed updating, kind of "sad", smelly elevators, rooms were fine but the tv was small and bad reception, there was constant running water in the walls of the bathroom.
Biggest criticism was the food quality!!! We expected NCL to be better and more impressive than Carnival and Holland America. Really surprised us! Many of the "freestyle dining" options you pay extra for and if we weren't with another couple (who wanted to stay in the free dining rooms), we would have probably experienced at least one but I have to say that much like my feelings after hearing the comment "Do you have travel insurance"...as if, had I paid more $$, NCL would have cared about my situation, I feel like on NCL why should you have to "pay more for better service/food quality?" My boyfriend and I figured out by day two that the food was just not up to par and kind of shrugged our shoulders and just enjoyed the experience of being together on vacation.
Ports of call--all great choices but Prince Rupert??! Not a tourist destination at all. I saw other reviews that said the same. I've never been to a port that had nothing to offer. No traditional Also-the times at port were very short. like 7am-1pm in Juneau. Other ships have allowed for more time. We figured it out when we saw another NCL boat follow us at each port. NCL saved $$ on docking fees by having two ships at port each day.
Because of the customer service situation and the lackluster feelings about the boat, mostly the really poor food quality we won't be cruising NCL again.
Carnival and Holland America were both wonderful to travel on and we look forward to cruise one of them again or another cruise line...Costa maybe? We are thinking about going next year maybe a cruise to Greece or Italy. I'll be at the airport hours before my flight...I can promise you that! : )