We are just back from a 21 day cruise on the Norwegian Gem. We began our cruise in Venice on Oct 23 with a 7 Day Greek Island Cruise and then on Oct. 30 began a 14 day Spain, Portugal and Transatlantic cruise. Although I booked it as one cruise, we were given credit for two cruises and we became Latitude members after the first week. It was a wonderful trip and we enjoyed it immensely.
We are a newly retired, east coast couple who have cruised quite a bit. We have been on Princess, Celebrity, Princess, HAL, Renaissance, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, as well as, Grand Circle and Uniworld River Cruise. I had fairly low expectations from what I had read and been told about NCL but chose it for the itinerary. We were pleasantly surprised. No, it was not perfect by any means but neither were any of my other cruises. Each line has some things they do best and their strong points, as well as, negatives. We choose to focus on the positive and try to always make the best of a situation.
For most of the trip the weather was pleasant. Except for a rainy day in Corfu, we enjoyed mostly sunny skies and temperatures in 60's to 70's during the day. It was a bit chillier on our day in Venice mid cruise in the morning but did warm up as the day went on. We were able to enjoy our balcony most days at least for a few hours. This all changed when the Nor'easter arrived on Wednesday evening and continued for almost 36 hours! Not only could we not use our balcony, our furniture had to be tied down and all outdoor areas were off limits. Depending on which report you listened to, we had winds up to 70+ mph and waves anywhere from 30-50 feet. It was quite a scary experience and many passengers and crew were injured. However, it wouldn't keep me from another transatlantic ...couldn't be any worse could it? I though the Captain and crew did a wonderful job.
We were in a mini suite, 11150 and the layout is wonderful. The colors are a bit different, orange with purple trim and turquoise carpet, but the walls and wood panel doors made it look less garish. The lay out is great with the bed in front of the sliding doors and a couch in front of desk area with TV. There is a very large closet and so many drawers we had trouble filling them all. The bathroom is the largest we have ever had, with full tub with sliding glass doors and a separate toilet area with sliding glass doors also. We also had a coffee pot ( never had one of those before) as well as small refrigerator, which we had emptied of their products. Bathrobes were hanging in our closet . We like an aft cabin and this one is the last one on the corner so we only have neighbors on one side. The balcony is not deep like on Celebrity but is shielded from the wind and has two chairs and a small table. It might have been a bit rockier than a mid located cabin and yes we could hear them moving the chairs in The Great Outdoors above us each evening for about 5 minutes...but we thought that was a small price to pay for the views. Our cabin stewards - a male and female team were excellent and unobtrusive. We had all our needs met and our cabin was always made up as soon as we left. There is a cute little "gizmo" outside the cabin door that tells the stewards-" Do Not Disturb", "Make Up Cabin" , "Turn Down Cabin" and "Welcome". With Freestyle, they never know when you are leaving. It changes every day, so this system is efficient and much better than hanging something on the door which can be easily lost. For about 36 +hours, our cabin was a terrible location as we encountered a Nor'easter two days before we arrived in NYC. With 30-50 feet waves, there were no perfect locations on the ship but if seasickness is a problem this would not be a good location. Would we book aft again? Probably, as the good outweighs the bad.
As the usual disclaimer goes, food as we know is very subjective. We eat out often and enjoy trying many restaurants but also consider ourselves fairly easy to please. If we don't have to plan, shop, cook nor clean up, we usually can find something good on any menu. We really enjoyed having so many options of locations to eat each evening. NCL was the first to offer Specialty restaurants and freestyle dining, to us , they seem to do it right. The specialty restaurants on the Gem are Cagney's, Steakhouse; Le Bistro, French; Orchid Garden, Asian Fusion; Sushi Bar; Teppanyaki, Japanese; Tequila, Tex Mex and La Cucina, Italian. The cost for these varies from $25 to $10 per person. During the transatlantic part of the cruise, they offered half price at these restaurants between 7:30 and 8:30 for Latitude Members. There are also three venues that do not cost extra : The Grand Pacific Dining Room, Magenta Dining Room and The Blue Lagoon. We ate at all the venues except the Sushi Bar and Teppanyaki. ( we have an authentic Japanese restaurant near our home). We had some excellent meals and some so-so meals. Only one afternoon in the Grand Pacific was a meal terrible - short ribs- and we just left and went to the Blue Lagoon for a great hamburger. For eating three meals a day, for 21 days to only have had one bad experience, says a great deal. Some of the highlight were : Cagney's, great T bone steak and the fries are fabulous. Le Bistro had the best Coq au vin and rack of lamb but bouillabaisse was disappointing; La Cucina tender Osso Bucco and thin, rare delicious carpaccio. Grand Pacific had many outstanding items for lunch - Nicoise salad with perfectly done rare tuna in a mustard sauce, baked cod, Greek salad and for dinner fried crawfish, ceviche and escargot were wonderful appetizers. We enjoyed the soups, which were nice and hot and the white bean soup and pumpkin crab soup stand out as favorites. The rack of lamb, sirloin of beef and coq au vin were all excellent entrees served in this venue. Rolls and bread were fresh and tasty The desserts were all very good but heavy on the creme brulee, flan and custard types. We tried to avoid the buffet. First, we feel we overeat when we go there, tasting too many items that all blend together. Secondly, we never felt relaxed at the buffet, one of us minding the table, the other getting food. Most importantly though, I feel it is a place where germs are easily spread which was confirmed by the fact that for 3 days of the cruise it was in "lock down" which meant passengers could not touch anything at the buffet. All items had to be served by staff including drinks. There were no salt and pepper shakers, ketchup, mustard, etc. on table. It made a crowded, frustrating, situation even worse. As we try to avoid buffets anyway, it really did not bother us. As you can imagine it was a great source of complaining among many passengers who were not happy with this situation.
You could make reservations at ALL the restaurants but there was always a line to get in at The Grand Pacific. If you had reservations you just by passed the line and were seated. Not sure why people choose not to make reservations but then they shouldn't complain about waiting in line. We always decided in the afternoon what time we wanted to eat and made our reservations with a quick phone call. Since we prefer eating late , after 8, it was never a problem for us. For dinner, we always chose a table for 2 with no problem. Many times we had were seated totally aft center, next to window and we could watch the wake. Usually, we had a team wait on us - 2 waiters and 2 bus people which was efficient and pleasant. Portions were not huge but just enough to allow you to have all courses. Again, very pleasantly surprised. For breakfast, we ate in our cabin (except for two occasions when we tried MDR) and the selection from continental menu was just what we wanted. There was a fresh fruit platter, yogurt, cereal and a delicious different muffin each day. We also enjoyed the coffee brought in a small carafe and juice. MDR had usual breakfast selections and we tried the Eggs Benedict and hash and eggs which we both enjoyed. We ate lunch in the MDR except when eating in port or on one other occasion. We enjoyed the soups, salad, pasta and fish entrees mainly during lunch. Service was always good and we found all servers we met to be pleasant and efficient.
In the past few years, I have seen dispensers on all other cruises I have been on but never to the extent as this cruise. Not only were there dispensers but people spraying your hands before you entered any eating venue ,the gym and Spa,as well as , getting on the ship. They were almost always smiling and would say, "washy-washy". I heard there were some altercations - passengers refusing to have their hands sprayed. I really don't understand how rude some people can be to the employees and have witnessed it first hand. We appreciated the extent NCL has gone to, to keep everyone healthy and certainly did not mind to have to washy-washy!
One of the biggest complaints I had read was that the service was not up to par on NCL. This was not our experience. Almost everyone we met provided excellent service. Our cabin stewards were unobtrusive, we didn't have long conversations with them, but they did their jobs and were pleasant and friendly. What more can you want? All the waiters, waitresses and bus servers in the dining rooms were friendly and efficient. We had no complaints. We found the very visible maitre D's were always trying to please passengers and help dining room staff. One night when service was very slow at Cagney's, it was very crowded and our appetizers arrived lukewarm. The maitre D asked us how everything was and we told him, we were a bit disappointed. He apologized and gave us our dinners for half price. I think he handled the situation quite well. We also thought the bar service was very good from the servers to the experienced bartenders. Yes, maybe your waiter gets to know your specific wants better with traditional seating, but for us the freestyle situation gave us the flexibility we wanted . Once again the good things about it outweighed the bad.
I brought my laptop and found the internet service to be a bit slow at times but not unbearable. If I went online early morning, I usually could get on fairly quickly. I paid the same internet fee using my laptop, as if I went to the computer room. I think it was about $.40 a minute if you bought a plan. There were frequent specials in early morning and bonuses of extra minutes for getting the plan. I loved having my own laptop, as I could compose my letters off line and then just go online to send them. I also downloaded all my pictures and was able to keep a journal everyday on my computer. I also had all my information for each port on my desktop so when we were going to a port, we just read over the info I had saved.
Port of Call
We began our cruise in Venice and arrived two days before the cruise left. We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard and they provided a free shuttle. Make sure if you stay there, you follow the online advise and go to Departures, Lane 2. The shuttle arrived within 20 minutes and we had a few minutes trip to the hotel. It was very convenient to stay so close to the airport and using our Marriott points the hotel was free for two nights. For the first time ever, with a European AM arrival, our hotel room was ready at 11 AM and we were in a wonderful king bed before 11:30AM. We both slept until 4 PM, felt very rested and got ready for trip to Venice.
We got a bus directly across the street from our hotel for 2.30 Euros each, round trip and headed for Venice which was about a 20 minute trip. The front desk even sold us our bus tickets which was very convenient. We got off at the main transportation center Piazzale Roma and just wandered and wandered. Having a map would be useless as there are so many streets. It was a beautiful evening, fall like and after a few hours of wandering found a restaurant which looked crowded with many locals off the beaten path....Trattoria La Rosa. Don't think we could find it again if we tried, but it was a good choice. We had liter of Prosecca, wine of Venice area (14 Euros) and prix fixe dinner for 18 euros each, a delicious pasta dish, chicken or fish, side dish and dessert. Mine was delicious bow ties with brown sauce with cheese and seasoning, chicken with mushrooms, spinach and tiramisu. My husband had the same except instead of chicken tried local fish, cuttlefish with squid ink sauce. It looked disgusting and he didn't like it but I give him credit for trying it and had enough with pasta, side dish and dessert, a chocolate soft biscotti. We got the bus back to hotel ( made mistake and got off a stop too early but it wasn't too far only 500 meters. How far is that??)
We had been to Venice before and knew we had another day mid cruise, so decided that Friday we wanted to go to Padua. We had the buffet breakfast at hotel, scrambled eggs, bacon, yogurt, croissants, pastries, cheese and fruit (if you bought it the night before it was 12 Euros). It was just OK but it was a good idea to eat before we set off for our day. We then began our "adventure". Now for a girl who never takes public transportation I did "good". First we got the # 5 bus across street from hotel to Venice. We now know you buy your ticket ahead of time at hotel and scan the ticket as you get on. We had a nice 25 minute ride into Venice. We had directions to the train station " over the big bridge and down the Grand Canal" which we found just fine. We then found the right train to Padova in Italian, not Padua, and the right track and got on our train with only minutes to spare. Of course, no one told us we should validate the ticket before you board but a nice conductor explained it to us and we didn't get the fine of 50 Euros!! I would have loved to nap for the 50 minute train ride but had to be vigilant so as not to miss the stop!
We arrived and found a tourist office , a must to get directions and headed for The Scrovegni Chapel with world famous frescos by Giotti. You are only allowed inside this temperature controlled chapel for 15 minutes and only 25 people are permitted at a time. Since this was off season, we had no trouble getting tickets right away and enjoyed our visit with only 1 other person. The frescos were impressive especially since they were done in 1300 and the preservation is marvelous. Too bad, The Hermitage and Vatican don't take some lessons from Padua.
Next was a long walk to The Basilica of St. Anthony but a beautiful day for a walk. The Basilica was very beautiful, reminds me a bit of Notre Dame and there are many relics of St. Anthony, as well as his tomb. We also attended a 30 minute multimedia presentation of his life with English translation ( headphones) and then went to the gift shop. As we were buying a few items, we heard people saying responses "and also with you" in English and found out an English Mass had just began. There is something comforting about finding a community of English speakers in a foreign county. There were 3 priests, all English speakers, I would guess Americans and about 75-100 people at Mass. Afterwards we walked a block and found a tram to take us back to the train station.( I think the transit police are probably looking for us as we could not find out how to buy a ticket or pay on this tram..so rode for free.)
Next the "adventure " in reverse but this time we know to validate our ticket and we find the platform and wait only 5 minutes for a train. Next, we have only a few minute wait for the bus (today we know where to find the return bus and more importantly where to get off) and get back to our to hotel a little before 7. The second day in a new country is always so much easier...glad we had two days here in Venice. We ate dinner in the hotel restaurant...terrible service but OK food, just pizza and wine but we had a long day and just wanted to get to sleep.
We got up at 10:15 AM to a slightly overcast day. We packed up and got ready for our 12 shuttle. We went downstairs about 11:45 and it was waiting for us. It was 20 Euros per person and very easy about a 15 min ride. We were happy with our choice of the Marriott and except for terrible service at dinner were quite happy with our accommodations. The shuttle to cruise port was great. We were in the terminal at 12:30 and boarding the ship by 1:30PM. Embarkation was smooth... first we checked in with no line at all. Then we received a number ...we were #19- and waited for the number to be called. It was efficient with no lines nor mob scenes. After we embarked we went directly to the South Pacific Dining Room for a sit down lunch. We were escorted to a table for two and had our first NCL meal. Our expectations were low because we had read NCL was a notch below Celebrity , HAL or Princess but it was wonderful. While eating it was announced that our cabins were ready so after lunch we headed right to Deck 11, Cabin 11105. Next was muster and again a pleasant surprise. We did not have to bring our life jackets; met in a comfortable dining room and took no more than 10 minutes..the least painful of any. ( HAL had us standing outside in cold and rain while leaving NYC for at least 20 minutes!) We then went to make some dinner reservations, to look at some menus and buy some wine specials ( buy 6-8 bottles get 20% off) We enjoyed sail away with Prosecco. Sail away in Venice is just beautiful although there wasn't any music that I could hear. (When we were on Princess they played Andre Boccelli's ,Time to Say GoodBye...a nice touch)
We slept in, until awakened by a call from room service at 9...it's a great alarm clock! The sun was shining and it was in the low 60's. We had a continental type breakfast in our cabin. We got tender tickets at 10:15 AM and had about a half hour wait. I hate tendering in, it's always so much more of a hassle. The seas were incredibly rough and the tender ride was quite scary...worse than Space Mountain! I think the seas were 8 feet, ( DH says 5 feet...but I think he's lying) quite high in a tender. Fortunately, it was a short ride and we got to Split safely. We wandered around, saw the Diocletian Palace. It was Sunday, so most shops were closed but there were many people selling things- flea market type. We strolled through the markets admiring fruits, vegetables, flowers and even meat. We saw several crowded Churches with Mass going on. We stopped for lunch around 1PM at a lovely outdoor cafe type place, Adriana, right on the water. Prices were in Kronas..who knows how to convert that? I ordered shrimp done in scampi sauce and DH a pasta and seafood dish. My shrimp had the heads on them, much different than we would have in NJ. They were delicious as was the pasta. We sampled Croatian wine...very good. When we got the bill we had to laugh about my expensive shrimp costing $5 each, $40 total just for my dish. It was worth it, but of course DH had to tease me as his dish was only$18! We had to wait on a long line for tender back to ship but were back about 2:30. Fortunately, the seas weren't as rough on way back.
We took a ship sponsored tour here as this was recommended by many others on CC. Our tour Scenic island and Flavors was scheduled to leave at 10:15 so we again used room service as our wake up call with a continental breakfast at 9:00. The tender process with a tour is painful on every cruise ship I have been on...lots of people waiting in a theater for number to be called. This was even more difficult because we first had to get a shuttle to the pier and then get our tour bus. It was an enjoyable tour and we started out with cloudy skies. First we went to Kaum Kouat distillery where they make delicious kumquat liquor. The we visited the monastery of Blessed Virgin Mary with many beautiful icons..lit candle here. tThere were many beautiful views of Paleokastrista during our trip. Arrived at top of hill at Golden Fox for included snack, ouzo, wine and Greek sampler platter of appy, very good with again spectacular views. Next, really treacherous roads in the rain thank goodness we had a wonderful bus driver (he got a good tip) and finally arrived in town. It was now pouring rain so we opted to stay on the bus. Corfu is very mountainous with narrow roads and high hills. It is not at all like other Greek Islands in that it has many olive trees and is very green (it rains a lot there) . Glad we got to the countryside, too bad it turned out to be a less than perfect weather day.
We are here from 4 PM to 11 PM so again we took a NCL excursion today to Charming Oia Village. The last time we were in Santorini ( also known as Thira) we went to the village of Fira, which requires you to take a tender, then cable car up the hill. I had read that it was easy to take an excursion here as you get to avoid the cable car up the hill, which can take quite awhile giving the # of passengers going ashore. We still have to take it back to get tenders back.
The tour was interesting, got to see Oia which involved a half hour bus trip up an enormously steep winding mountain and then a drive to other side of the mountain from Fira to Oia. Our guide was good and we learned a lot about the area . We had some free time in Oia and found a table at a taverna, Sunsets ,which had a wonderful view of possible sunset but with clouds we did not see it :( but we enjoyed a glass of local wine and some delicious feta cheese. Then got bus back to Fira and got cable car down hill and boat back to the ship. Not the easiest port to get to but well worth it. It is so picturesque just what you imagine a Greek island to look like with white washed buildings and blue roofs.
We again used room services for our wake-up call for 9 AM. By the time we left the ship there were no tender tickets required. The sun was shining , mid 70's and we had a calm tender ride to port. Mykonos is mainly a resort town and very popular for its beaches in the summer. The streets are cobblestones and buildings all whitewashed. We walked around found the windmills of Little Venice and explored the narrow streets. It was a nice atmosphere and fun to explore and find a tiny Church on almost every street. We stopped at a taverna for a gyro and some Greek wine..have had better gyros in the states but it was fun and they had wifi so I could at least check my mail.
Crete, Iraklion or Heraklion
We are only here from 7 AM to noon. I had originally signed up for excursion to Knossos, ancient ruins, but we decided we really didn't feel like another organized tour especially one that leaves at 7 AM! We got up at 8 and had our usual continental breakfast. We got the shuttle to town around 9 and explored a bit of the city on our own . It is a large city, the largest in Crete and 4th largest in all of Greece. There were lots of markets and shops and looked like a very nice city but there were many gypsies especially kids begging. Today is some sort of Greek Independence Day with lots of music piped unto the street and parades scheduled. It was a nice day so we walked around for a few hours using a walking tour printed online and saw many things.
Today marks the end of the first week cruise. We were again awakened by our room service call...continental breakfast at 8 and off the ship by 9. It is a beautiful day with bright sun although a bit cool this AM. We took the alliguagina ( public water taxi) to San Marco. It was right next to the ship and very convenient for 12 euros round trip. I had purchased tickets online for the Secret Itineraries Tour at Doges Palace and it was a very enjoyable, interesting tour. One viewed all the secret rooms and prison cells at Doges Palace and lasted about 70 minutes. Our guide spoke English very well and kept everyone quiet and paying attention. After the tour, we again walked through Doges Palace. We then wandered around a bit. We had been to St. Marks last visit for a tour and the line was very long, so we didn't do it again. We wanted to have pizza and wine in Venice for lunch so we walked a few blocks and found a cute outdoor cafe and had a really good mushroom pizza and carafe of wine for 25 Euros...expensive but it is Venice and it was good!! We walked and then got a bit lost as one always does in Venice. We caught the water taxi back and were back on the ship around 3:30.
We got up at 6:00 AM..that was tough. We had a quick breakfast -and got ready to meet group at 7:10 AM. On Cruise Critic Roll Call, I signed up to do a privately arranged tour with a guide to the Alhambra. There were 38 of us on one bus and then broke into two smaller groups when we arrived there. The trip was approximately 2 hours and we arrived there at 9:45 AM. Our guide, Oscar, was terrific and the grounds and gardens just beautiful. We were so fortunate to have an absolutely beautiful day weather wise with bright shining sun. There is so much interesting history associated with the Alhambra and the architecture and tile work just spectacular. Washington Irving, author of Ichabod Crane, stayed in Alhambra for 6 months and wrote tales about it based on history...would be very interesting to read now that we have see it. This privately arranged tour cost $50 each as opposed to $200 tour ship arranged! We had no problems or snags and were back on ship at 3:30 PM. Cruise Critic again was a wonderful source.
Up around 8:30 AM and it was another beautiful day. We were off the ship before 10 and just walked around. Cadiz is a very nice city....where Christopher Columbus sailed from on two of his voyages. There is a lot of Moorish architecture here and much of tile work was like we saw at the Alhambra. We walked to center of town and walked through the market area. It was like a Redding Station in Philadelphia with just amazing fruits, meats and vegetables. It was so clean and everything looked so fresh. We enjoyed following different marked paths through the town. It is a lovely place to walk around and again the weather was very cooperative.
Up at 7 AM for NCL tour called, Simply Fatima. We had to meet at 8 AM. We took a tour bus for a panoramic tour of Lisbon, which looks like a very nice city ( lots of graffiti though). It was then about 1 1/2 hour trip to countryside to Fatima. It is off season here so fortunately there weren't big crowds. It is a large complex with beautiful Basilica, chapel where Apparitions took place and Modern chapel that seats 9000! 5 million visitors come to Fatima each year. First we bought and lit a candle. Then went to the shrine and then to the Basilica where there was a Mass in Portuguese. We stayed for some of it but had to leave because of time restraints. We went to the modem chapel which was very different but beautiful also. There is a long, marble path from one side of area to another where many people ( pilgrims) come to shrine on their knees. They built this marble path so they would not hurt themselves while on knees. It was quite inspiring to see the faith of others.
We had to meet the group for lunch at 12:15. We had a lovely meal at Lux Fatima a nice hotel. There were about 120 people to serve and it was done efficiently and food was hot. Afterwards, we visited several of the many religious gift stores. None are sanctioned by the shrine as they want to just keep the whole area of Fatima for quiet prayer and reflection. Kind of nice that no one was selling anything right there.
It would have been nice to have a little more time to wander around. There are many other interesting things to see but we had to meet bus at 2PM for our trip back which again took almost an hour and half. We had a long wait to go through security at the pier and again to get on the ship ( although they had three entrances which was nice.) Once back on ship we watched sail away again from our balcony. We went under a bridge much like Golden Gate. There is also an enormous statue of Jesus on the mountain, just like the famous one in Brazil, on one side of the bridge. The scenery was beautiful and it was perfect weather again all day.
Ponta Delgada, Portugal
We went into town to Sao Michael. It was Sunday so much was closed but they recently built a new mall near the pier and it was open with a lot of shops and cafes. It looks like a lovely town with a combo of many old historical buildings as well as high rises. Surrounding the town are mountains that are of volcanic origin. The call themselves Acores. We walked around a bit and found a nice outdoor cafe across from a Church and had a bottle of Portuguese wine and banquette with cheese and ham. Then we found an internet cafe and both went online and cleared our email! We walked around some more and before got on ship sat and again say at a nice cafe.
NCL positive and negatives
Freestyle is the BEST thing NCL has going for it. We loved not having to bring dressy clothes to Europe. We like to dress up and do so often at home but with strict weight restrictions now and cost for extra luggage, it just makes no sense anymore. Last time we were on Celebrity, my husband had to bring a suit and a blazer as there were still formal and semi-formal nights! Princess and HAL too still had formal nights.
There was a priest passenger on board for this sailing and we were appreciative that NCL provided him a venue to say Mass. It was well attended on three occasions with several hundred people. It was a nice extra provided that we hadn't counted on with NCL ( HAL had daily Mass and Princess guarantees Easter and Christmas)
This was one of the highlights for me on sea days! One woman was able to have a MahJongg meeting published in the Freestyle Cruise Daily on our first sea day...thanks Barbara! After that, we met every sea day and played afternoons. NCL was nice enough to open up the Magenta Dining Room while at sea so there was plenty of room for all the card, game and MahJongg players. NCL even had three MahJongg sets on board and several women brought their cards and extra cards to play with. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon ...especially as we did have 9 days at sea. What a nice group of women of varying backgrounds, ages and geographical locations.
We had a fairly active Roll Call and a web site started by one member, Dee called The G Force. We attended the two Meet and Greets one for Week 1 and the other for Transatlantic part of the cruise. The Captain was even in attendance and heads of all services, hotel, housekeeping, bar, restaurant, etc. They made it very clear that if there is a problem let them know NOW. They seem to take CC very seriously! We got lanyards with our names; coffee, tea, water and danishes were available. I met the woman who arranged the Private Tour to Alhambra. There are 39 of us going in two mini buses and we are saving approximately $150 per person. Other tours were arranged for some places also. The second meeting gave information about the cabin crawl, slot pull and Last Supper. It was nice to see familiar faces as we walked around ship and say hello to other CC members. I went to the Slot Pull and found it to be enjoyable. There were 65 people, who met through Cruise Critic. We met at the casino and each put $15 into the pot. The organizer then loaded $975 into the slot machine and we each had 5 pulls and it took over an hour! It was a lot of fun with people cheering for each other. When all was over the group had lost $5 each so we walked away with $10 ...a lot of fun for only $5...I have my suspicions though as the slot machine was picked by the casino not us. Would have been more fun to win but still a good way to spend a morning at sea. We also went to dinner with Cruise Critic group . There were suppose to be 100+ there plus Captain and officers. We had a special area reserved in the Grand Pacific, Main Dining Room and it was fun to talk to others and eat dinner with some new people. Our organizer, Dee, did a great job and came around to talk to everyone. Because of bad weather the Captain was not able to attend which was very understandable. Once again, as on all other cruises, CC was a valuable resource and provided such useful information.
Alcohol and Bars
Before our trip I had read that drinks were expensive on NCL but perhaps because we are use to NY/NJ prices did not find $7.75 for a nice size martini to be high. House wine was $5.50 a glass and there were several bottles of wine available for a fair rate for a restaurant. By buying several bottles for each cruise, they also gave us a 10% discount which was well worth it. If you did not finish the whole bottle with dinner, you could either take it back to your cabin or put it away in the dining room for the next night. We thought the cost of the martini and wine tastings seemed high $15 per person. We enjoyed the martini tasting and Lindsay the bartender was great and very informative but we felt $30 was an excessive cost. We only went to three tastings and had it been a bit less expensive or reduced prices for "package deal", we might have attended more.
We thought there were many good choices and that the quality of the entertainment was very good. Some evenings we chose to just listen to music in the bar and eat a late dinner. Other evenings we went to a show. These are the shows that we saw:
The Fourever- They are 4 very talented men who were originally formed as a tribute to El Divo. They had wonderful voices and preformed Spanish, Italian and English songs too. The theater is beautiful and show was very enjoyable. We saw them twice for two different shows.
The comedian on board was Paul Adams. We laughed quite a bit and enjoyed his shows the first week of the cruise . We were disappointed that for he transatlantic part of the cruise, he did the exact same show! I think there were 700+ cruisers on board from last week which warranted a different show and some new jokes!
Richard Gauntlet put on a"vaudeville" type show which was pretty funny and entertaining.
World Beat was a musical voyage through the world, Spain, USA, Africa, Ireland, etc.and was an enjoyable production show. The performers were talented and energetic. This show was the same for both cruise segments.
Tracey Shield "An Evening with Celine Dion". She was really very good and sounded exactly like Celine..looked like her too. We would have liked to hear her sing a few songs in her own persona not just Celine
After there was a strings show called Spring Fever, which was very entertaining and played electrical string instruments. They were very talented and played classical and pop music...much better than I thought.
Another performer who we really liked was Claire Maidin. She was a pianist who sang and preformed Dolly Parton, Dusty Springfield, Alicia Keys and Liberace... to name a few. she was pretty, young and talented and we enjoyed the show.
Radim Zenkl, a mandolin and flute player, also put on a wonderful show with music from around the world. He had two different shows for the two different cruise segments. We really enjoyed him.
Other entertainment available:
There were Movies in the Stardust lounge not the Crystal Atrium. NCL did move its location and this was a much better venue to watch a movie. Most were a few years old - Angels and Demons, Blindside, etc. as well as The Twilight Saga-Eclipse and Bedtime Stories (We never went so I do not know if they were well attended or not.)
Dance Parties were held almost every evening in the Spinnaker Lounge. The music ranged from 70's to 50's and 60's Sock Hop to Country and Western Hoe Down. There was a White Hot Party where you "could dance the night away in a wonderful world of white" and a Halloween Party . There was also karaoke, Folkloric shows, Ballroom Dancing, Newlywed and Not-so-Newlywed Game, Liar's Club Game Show and International Crew Talent show.
There was a lot of "hawking" going on (but I have noticed that on many cruise lines.) This was done in a different way. As you entered the ship everyone had to walk through the Magenta Dining Room. Here was the "opportunity" to buy your soda card, reduced wine package, spa info, dinner info for Specialty restaurants, Murder Mystery Dinner, etc. No one asked us to buy anything but we did have to walk by these "vendors". It didn't bother us, in fact I liked it better than being bothered at lunch several times to buy wine for dinner and a soda card ( which happened to us on last Princess cruise) I did hear several people complain though and they did not like this at all. Our "hawking" complaints were:
• being asked to pay money to eat with the Captain... $150 per person!
• being asked to pay extra to eat with Officers
• $40 for bingo..I don't even like Bingo but many others complained that this was excessive
• selling raffle tickets during shows..never have heard of this on any cruise
• asked to pay for Back Scenes tour of the ship... this was free on other ships
• TV channels in room were very limited especially for a transatlantic cruise
• cost of $10 for PPV to watch movie in cabin...never heard of this on any other ship either
• worse Latitudes "party" for repeat cruisers- no officers present, no food & just another opportunity to sell things
One of our biggest complaints is that you could not bring local wines on board except if you paid a $15 corkage fee. We know several people were able to circumvent this rule, but we didn't even try. We enjoy buying and tasting local wines when we travel and would have enjoyed bringing a bottle aboard for sail aways. This is just a ploy by NCL to keep your bar bill up! On every other cruise that we have taken, we were allowed to openly bring wine aboard. I think especially when in Europe this should be allowed. ( We were told at a Cruise Critic meeting that changes are often made because of complaints. I hope you are listening NCL ) .
Smoking is big a problem on most ships we have been on, except years ago on Renaissance ( total none smoking ship). We could smell it in our hall, deck 11 starboard aft, whenever we walked to the elevator. The only time I went to the casino, for the cruise critic slot pull, the smoke was overpowering. I could occasionally smell it on our balcony too depending on how the wind was blowing. Wish more cruise lines would prohibit smoking in cabins and balconies and wherever others are subjected to secondhand smoke...maybe some day?
We heard lots of people complaining. They were of all ages and from different parts of the world, but there was complaining everywhere. I am not sure why one would choose a Freestyle cruise and then complain about having to wait for dinner or not make reservations if you don't want to wait. I heard one couple complaining that they never got the same waiter. didn't they know what Freestyle cruising meant? Even on these boards you will find people complaining about the food and service while a Nor'easter was going on! I just don't understand it. I think it is impossible to please some people and nothing makes them happy. I also think that some people just enjoy complaining...it just becomes a bad habit. As I said before, I have never been on the perfect cruise, there are always some things that could have been better. We would definitely cruise NCL again with the right itinerary and price. Nor'easter and all, it was an adventure that was truly wonderful, enjoyable and memorable and I am glad we had the opportunity to experience it.