I'm a seasoned traveller and admittedly prefer luxury. I'd never taken a cruise before and had no idea of what to expect in terms of value for money. NCL was suggested by a friend who had taken the 12-day Mediterranean trip two years ago. She and I booked through the same internet agency and each paid slightly over $5K for a mini-suite on the 15-day Mediterranean cruise. We flew independently into Barcelona where I spent several days at the wonderful El Palace hotel.
A taxi to the port was around 12EUR and embarkation was fairly simple. I did not expect to have to surrender my passport but I was given a receipt and a deceptively pink key card. I thought the ship's decor was very plastic and the carpets and upholstery were worn in several public areas.
Day 1 - I was prepared for limited space in the room but the tub in my suite was visibly broken in FIVE different areas. Calls to the Guest Services desk went unanswered, not surprising since this was embarkation day, but it was unnaceptable that it took four visits to the desk before anyone came to verify that the tub was broken. Despite checking in around 2pm it was 10pm before the executive housekeeper agreed that yes, the tub was broken, yes it had been scheduled for repair the previous day, no the repair had not been performed, no another suite was not available. I had to shower in my friend's cabin.
Day 3 - I took a sleepy trip to the bathroom and was surprised to get my feet wet. Turning on the light I found that the commode was leaking onto the floor. Yet another day without use of my facilities.
Things that SAVED the trip for me:
- The service staff at all the restaurants was awesome! Very pleasant and friendly but not intrusive.
- The cruise director and his team were absolute professionals.
- The spa staff were very good. Not invasive and over modest but pleasant and knowledgeable about the products and services they offered.
- The steward captain took a personal interest in my stay and was the only NCL staff member to apologize for the condition of my room.
- Although she didn't show up until day three my room steward was very efficient. Sweet touches, flowers, towel "animals" with turn down service were truly appreciated.
- I enjoyed the sensation of cruising. No seasickness and having the balcony made it possible to sleep with the door open to the sound of the waves.
Things that were unacceptable and would cause me to NEVER cruise with NCL again:
- Elemis toiletries were advertised. Tacky bulk dispensers installed in the suite were filled with ????. No individual toiletries, no lotion, no niceties. The Elemis products are available - for a hefty price - at the spa.
- The bed linens and towels had holes on several occasions. The appearance and disappearance of these holes were the only indicator that the linens were actually changed during the trip.
- General cleanliness was sub-par. Strange hairs were all over my suite. Forgotten socks were under the bed. The balcony furniture was filthy with evidence of past spills and cigarette burns.
- Electrical outlets are limited and there are none near the bed.
- Internet rates are outrageous, with the most economical package on offer at $0.40 cents per MINUTE with slow connection speeds. NCL does disclose the speed but makes no allowance for it within the price.
- Food quality was depressing. There was a horrible plastic cheese that they put in or on everything from omelettes to pizza. The room service menu is limited. The chicken soup is laughable, better they should call it chicken broth. Most specialty restaurant menus were limited. Alcohol and wine were overpriced, bartenders claim 1.5oz per shot, I beg to differ. I'm not a soda drinker but each can is $2.44, the other option is a $100 unlimited pass, a bargain if you can consume 50 cans in 15 days; my friend sprang for it and was umimpressed. 1.5 liter bottles of water ran about $6 each. NCL strictly controls what is brought onto the ship from excursions so it's buy drinks on board or risk sneaking them onboard.
- Surcharges for restaurants were overpriced in terms of value for money and did not include drinks. And there are ADDITIONAL surcharges for house specials!
- Charges for yoga and pilates classes were ridiculous.
- Laundry on board is high seas robbery! $5.95 for a blouse and they don't have self service. Several times during the trip they offered discounts of $24.95 for everything in one bag but pressing is extra.
- Every nicety is extra, from cappucino to lobster. There is NOTHING free about freestyle cruising.
- The number of people saying "this line has really gone downhill", including my friend!
- The fact that at over $10K (including initial cost and onboard charges) it's still considered a "budget cruise".
- Jasmine Garden Asian: Not very good Chinese, oily vegetables, bland fried rice comes topped with your choice of cubed chicken or pork.
- Paniolo's Tapas Bar: No sign of tapas on any occasion. Tasty but limited tex-mex dishes.
- Le Bistro: Some dishes were excellent - cornets, salmon, tarte tatin, some were terrible - onion soup (victim of the horrible cheese), coq au vin, anything featuring french bread
- Teppanyaki: Great experience! Limited seating, uninspired desserts but tasty production meals that are guaranteed fresh.
- Cagney's Steakhouse: Most consistent food quality. The horrible cheese is here as well in all gratin dishes. Steaks and other sides are delicious.
- Garden Cafe: The mothership for the awful cheese product! Good breakfast selection, nothing remarkable, eggs Benedict allowed to sit on buffet line, repetitive menu.
- Alizar Main Dining Room: Prettiest of all the restaurants. Features the horrid cheese and could prepare a soup right on any occasion. Unmemorable meal.
- Grand Pacific Dining Room: Successful eggs Benedict! Lovely atmosphere, and less run down than the other dining rooms.
- Blue Lagoon Cafe: This is the 24-hour "diner". Small menu, good meatloaf, bad chicken fingers and somehow manage to undercook mozzarella sticks. Vanilla pound cake dessert is the best thing I ate onboard.
- Massages were very good
- Facial menu caters to "mature skin", so-so value
- Manicure/Pedicure was NOT worth $150, no way, no time, at no exchange rate
- Acupunture left me in pain for several days after the session and did not provide any noticeable improvement
- Products by Bliss and Elemis with heavy pressure to purchase
- "Unlimited" thermal facility pass costs $199 for the duration of the cruise. Not worth it if you have a balcony because the facilities are no cleaner than the public tubs and the same mystery dispensers are in the showers. No day rate so the pass must be purchased if you intend to use steam/dry sauna. I bought the pass, shame on me.
- I won some money playing Bingo!
- I had just the right amount of fun at the White Hot party.
- The shows were better than expected. Elements was a spectacular production!
As you can see the list of cons far outstrips the list of pros and it is the utter disregard shown by the NCL management that seals the deal. I believe that management sets the performance standard and too much of the final product was haphazard and unrepentant. The itinerary of ports of call was wonderful but the cities will still be there without NCL.