Before you read this, please allow me to state a few facts: Unlike some other reviews on this site about this or other ships, our household only employs one sommelier (me). We do not have 3 maids and 2 cooks. We do all that ourselves. I also take care of the garden. I am the chauffeur, the household's majordomo, accountant and coordinator of social events in our house. In conclusion: ordinary guy goes on his 26th cruise while his wife stays behind with an attendant because of a chronic illness. Thankfully, I have the perfect cruise buddy to accompany me on our yearly Guys' cruise.
This cruise was a deliberate attempt on our part to extricate ourselves from the day-to-day rat race and just relax in an undisturbed setting. We did not partake in pool games, did not visit the casino, did not see any of the shows, only went for a walk in the Dominican Republic and St. Kitts, forsaking organized tours and schedules.
We purposefully left our cell phones in the car at Miami harbor. We didn't bring a computer. We didn't use the ship's internet services. The only electronic devices we packed were two digital cameras, a digital camcorder, 2 MP3 players and 2 E-books. During the trip, I renewed acquaintances with Dostoyevski and Tolstoi while my buddy enjoyed lighter, more contemporary fare. We found a quiet spot on deck 12 forward called Quiet Zone, away from the hub-hub and animation around the pool and roaming bar staff. We had a great time.
This was my 12th cruise with NCL and my 26th cruise in total. It was my buddy's first cruise with NCL and his 6th cruise in total. We chose that cruise because of its duration and its itinerary.
Sadly enough, the ship is beginning to show her age badly. The carpets have seen better days. The dEcor is seriously dated. I am a master gardener and was appalled to realize that there are no living plants onboard the ship. Arrangements of synthetic look-alikes are found anywhere a touch of greenery is needed. And worse yet, they are covered in a layer of dust that could easily be cleaned off with a leaf blower, or a pressure washer. I would opt for the pressure washer and I would do it for free if they asked me. Throughout the ship, numerous leaks of dubious liquids were observed, dripping from ceilings into strategically placed buckets. Industrial blowers were also in place in numerous places in an attempt to dry the carpet after a leak had been fixed. I was told by a crew member that the ship was scheduled to dry dock in May. It won't be a frivolous endeavor. That ship needs a lot of work.
The inside cabin we had booked turned out to be great. We had all the space needed to hang our clothes. We had to make do with 3 small drawers, but that wasn't a problem. The beds were comfortable. The safe didn't work, which was remedied immediately. The bathroom was well organized and featured a real shower where a large man can shower without bumping into the walls every time he moves. One day, while I was showering, the shower's sliding door fell on me. I hung it back up and that was the end of that. There was no binder outlining the ship's services, or room service menu. We asked for that binder, were promised one, but it never materialized.
There was just enough space left in the mini refrigerator to cool down a bottle of insulin. There was only one 110V electrical outlet in the cabin itself. I should have brought a power bar. There was another electrical outlet in the bathroom, but that one only accepts electrical razors.
Our 2 cabin attendants were quite personable and very unobtrusive. They were always smiling and they were never anywhere to be found. To our misfortune, they were among the worst I have ever had the pleasure to meet in all my cruises. Somehow, the notion of leaving 2 hand towels, 2 bath towels, 2 face cloths and a terrycloth bath mat in our bathroom at all times escaped them entirely. The ice bucket had the easiest job of all because it held ice maybe twice in 9 days, even though we asked for a refill often. The TV's remote control was never seen during the whole trip although we issued 2 requests to the Purser's desk and at least 3 request to our dynamic cabin duo. As we left the cabin, it was still missing in action. I am not making this up. We never turned the TV on, but I imagine it featured the usual scintillating array of onboard channels: the front of the ship, a map of our itinerary, video or one of the big parties held during the cruise, the debarkation talk, a riveting presentation about the gem of the day, where to spend your money at the next island, shore excursions: Mr. Spock would have said "Fascinating".
Our days were spent reading and relaxing, sometimes falling asleep in the shade. For us, it was late breakfast in the Garden Cafe's buffet. We always skipped lunch altogether. Our evenings were simple enough: before-dinner drinks and a cigar at the cigar lounge, dinner in the dining room of our choice and after-dinner drinks and cigars at the cigar lounge. One thing that never failed: most nights, someone would walk into the cigar lounge and complain that it smelled of cigars in there. Well HELLOOOO, Sherlock: this is the cigar lounge, not a flower shop. Be gone, already. I don't suffer idiots gladly.
For some reason, that sailing seemed to attract a very high number of seniors. Seniors on a cruise ship are great: they have manners (a dying art), life experiences, conversation and great stories to tell. We met quite a few of them in the cigar lounge and enjoyed interacting with them very much. Among our favorites were a delightful couple that were celebrating 70 years marriage.
We visited Le Bistro twice and had a great time there. If you go, be sure to have the foie gras: among the best I have ever eaten. The rack of lamb melted in your mouth and the rib steak for 2 was quite simply superb. We ate in the Azura and Venitian rooms the rest of the time and the food was consistently very good. The Venitian, being much larger than Azura, is a bit noisier than Azura but not inordinately so. One night, we decided to try the buffet for dinner. Everything was delicious, specially the Indian food section. I also had the all you can eat sushi lunch special on the first sea day. My all-time favorite (smoked eel) was to die for.
I was surprised to discover that you can smoke in your stateroom. It said so right there on the daily program, every day. Interestingly, there are no ash trays in the staterooms. Regardless, considering how dangerous fire is on a cruise ship, I didn't think that was a good idea. No smoking took place in our room.
One day, exhausted from all that reading and relaxation, we decided to go to the sauna. Imagine our surprise when an attendant asked $119.00 each for a gym and sauna membership for the duration of the cruise. We were not seeking a frou-frou spa treatment: we just wanted a good sweat in the steam room. Those services were always free on other ships. What gives? We suspect a nasty case of nickel-and-diming is in force there. We declined to pay and quickly left. Other passengers have told us the same story: unbelievable.
One bothersome fact: announcements on the public address loudspeakers are numerous. The cruise staff is always quasi-hysterical about those events. I imagine someone must use a broom to get them off the chandelier once in a while.
Cruise staff: Bingo is starting: hurry in.
Me: Who cares?
Cruise staff: The Art auction with free champagne starts soon and space is limited.
Me: I bid 25 cents. Start without me.
Cruise staff: There's a gigantic jewelry sale in the atrium and they might run out of bling.
Me: Maybe in another life.
Cruise staff: Take advantage of our teeth whitening special at the spa.
Me: Done that last month at half the price.
Cruise staff: T-shirt extravaganza is starting in 5 minutes; WooHoo
Me: Bite me!
And then, the captain comes on a couple times a day to give you the ship's longitude and latitude in a voice that can only be described as bored beyond belief. I hate all those announcements and there were altogether too many on that cruise.
Ports of call will not be discussed here because what happens onshore is not under NCL's jurisdiction. We tendered ashore in the Dominical Republic and we went for a walk in St.Kitts. Everything was efficient and run expertly. We had a good time on both islands. We did not go ashore in Antigua, or Barbados. We had been there and we just decided we weren't going. Plus, the ship is so quiet when everyone is out on the islands. We loved it.
We got an invitation to the Latitude member's party: we didn't go. We got an invitation to some other sort of event, I forget what it was: we didn't go. Like I said, we were there to relax, not keep appointments.
We chose express debarkation. This entails keeping your luggage with you and getting off the ship as soon as the authorities have cleared the ship to drop off passengers. The process is always straightforward. I had one large suitcase and a small suitcase riding piggyback on top of the big one. We made our way off the ship and into the terminal. There were no lines to meet the officials. We met a nice U.S. Customs and Immigration officer who welcomed us home. We crossed the street, loaded the luggage into the car and we were out of Miami harbor at 8:04AM. Tradition dictates that upon returning from a cruise, I stop at McDonald's and bring my wife breakfast. We honored that tradition and we arrived home at 8:45AM.
I'll sum it all up now. We had a great time on the cruise because we met our objective to cut ourselves off from the world and just relax for 9 days. This was by no means an extraordinary cruise. This is not the stuff dreams are made of. But, it wasn't a terrible cruise, either. It was just an average cruise for 2 average Joes and it did us a world of good.