So first some background info.
This was my 8th cruise. 5 were on-board the UK orientated Carnival subsidiary Ocean Village 1, one on its sister Ocean Village 2 and the last one was on Independence of the Seas in Dec 2010 so they are the ones I reference to a lot.
Also as a UK passenger it was my first real cruise with mainly USA pax as on Indy of the Seas from Southampton most were Brits.
So Solo traveller, mid 30s.. I had done this itinerary many, many times, about 8th time in Palma, 4th in Naples etc.. so this time I stayed on-board from embarkation to disembarkation.. which gives a fairly ship-orientated review..
So as a Solo traveller no surprise I decided to book a solo studio cabin on deck 12. On reading the various reviews I studied the deck plan and chose a non-joining cabin at the end of a row.. The space next to me the other side was a fire locker/storage area..
The cabin in question was 12531.
I booked via a TA but also decided to choose flights with NCL and was offered "direct flights" from Manchester airport.
It was only later after reading reports on another website that NCL terms for direct flights often don't mean direct. I had a lot of correspondence with NCL Flights and asked what my flights were, I was told they were KLM flights VIA Amsterdam.. I wasn't too impressed with this but after consideration I decided to stick with them in-case another Ash cloud type thing occurred.. This booking was made back in August 2010 I must add!! How close I nearly was
Should also just confirm the Sail dates were 29Th May - 5Th June 2011 from Barcelona..
So Filled in all the online check-in details, gasped at some of the shocking NCL shore excursion prices, equivalent to about 400% of what I was used to on OV and nearly double similar length/type tours I took on RCI IoS last year!
And so I waited for the infamous 45 day before window..
So I was a bit unsure about all this pre-booking events.. With all manner of reports from if you don't pre-book Blue Man Group you will not see them as it sells out through to the always spaces reports.
The reservable ents available to me for my cruise were:
Blue Man Group
Cirque Dreams and Dinner
Legends in Concert
Fifth Wheel Marionettes
Maestranza Spanish Ballet
What I had failed to read though was that whilst you could reserve each of the first category you could only reserve "one" of the 2nd category.
Using the planner I was a bit unsure given dates/times what else was on so tended to opt for the earlier performances so booked
Blue Man Group for Day 2 7PM, Marionettes for Day3 7:30, Legends for Day 4 7:30PM, Cirque Dreams (std seat $20 cover charge) for day 5 6:30PM and then tried for Sorrentino for day 6 and *doh* found out the hard way.. So book the one of the three you are most interested in first!!
Also for us Brits to change any reservations required dialling international a number in the states so I left it...
Anyhow all booked, printed this with my edocs which only came available about 2 weeks before sailing.. A lot later in UK than USA apparently.. No idea why..
OK.. thats all the pre-stuff out of the way, on with the cruise...
DAY 1: Flights and Transfer
So this was always going to be a very, very long day...
My first flight was from Manchester Airport at 05:55 to Amsterdam with KLM. I stayed at the Bewleys airport hotel the night before and online checked-in before travelling to the airport. I'd booked the free minibus transport from the hotel at 4AM to give enough time to luggage drop and grab some breakfast before flying, the hotel breakfast didn't start until later..
So arrived at airport around 4:20 only to find no separate baggage drop for KLM so had to join the queue. During the queue I met some others going on a Azamara cruise. I gent in a suit saw the case tags and asked if we were on NCL, I said yes and he ticked me off his list, looked about 30 or so names.. the Azamara lot didn't have a rep there!!
Time for a quick breakfast bap and then calling our flight.. Half asleep for the hr hop to Amsterdam Schiphol (which I now call sh** hole), landed on time but was on furthest runway and took 15mins crossing roads, rivers to get to the terminal building. My 1hr 40 transfer was now a 1hr 20.. OK not a prob...
Well despite transferring we had to pass through Passport control and Security again!! The queues were horrendous, 30-40 people deep and took a good 30-40mins to get through.. OK 40mins to find gate. Got there about 5-10mins before boarded for flight no.2 to Barcelona.
Was now tired and a bit irritable.. Flight time for this leg about 2hrs landing in Barcelona at 12:15PM local Spanish time. Glad I had breakfast back at 5:30 as only a sandwich snack on-board KLM.
So it's nearly 1PM when I grab my case and head out to arrivals. So look for a NCL person, errm none.. Can go right or left, go right, nope no one.. See fellow NCL traveller also looking lost and we search together.. Find a guy holding a MSC Cruise sign so think what the he.. he was nice and pointed me to a group a further way away where a short women with a NCL lanyard was surrounded by lots of people..
She says transfer about 20-30mins and to wait..
... we wait..
... and wait.. Its not like I've been travelling for 7hrs after an early start and just want to get on-board..
30mins later she takes about 150 of us on a walking tour down to the coaches.. This involves negotiating an escalator, there was a lift, but about 5-6 ppl with luggage at a time!!
So originally figuring on getting to the ship around 2PM has now moved to hoping for 3PM. The coach transfer was about 20-25mins and there, yes there it is..
So this was my first time with NCL.. I had watched the videos and it appeared that as per Ocean Village they offload the cases you put on the coach. But a woman NCL agent come on the coach and said in broken English make sure your case is given to the porters and you see it loaded..
So we all gather outside the coach and after a while start taking our cases off the coach, then mass confusion, some saying no, some saying leave them, some saying take them.. Come on NCL Agents make a decision. I eventually find a porter with some cases stacked up and get him to put it on top with the others.. OK so hopefully that will end up on the ship.
Into the terminal building and it's security first, not again! metal detectors/hand luggage x ray for the 3rd time in about 9hrs gets tedious when you have a belt that always seems to set it off..
OK through there and time for check-in, OK there is one for Lattitudes, one for special assistance, one for villas, hello, us poor newbies, ahh at the end..
No queue as its nearly 3PM and guess most are on-board so straight to the desk.. Asked have I filled in a health form, not been given one.. Oh says the agent, well we don't have any English ones left so here is a German one, I just tick the nein ones thinking they are have cold/runs etc. although she did help translate.. Not sure how legal that would be.. but hey..
Swipe of credit card, photo taken and keycard given..
Had to the escalators and see a desk with sign saying whats on.. ahh but no dailies left, all gone..
I read that the entrance was via the Casino. In Barcelona it appears they use two, one via Casino on Deck 6 and the other along a walkway to the Promenade deck 7. So my first impression was of the Promenade deck. There was some musicians and a junior officer and then through there and along the promenade deck towards the aft doors into the lift/stairwall atrium. I'm on-board .. Oh and that's it.. Good job I had studied the deck plans..
Everything appears in place but no info on whats-on. I had packed a quick change of clothes shorts/t shirt in my hand luggage so quickly changed and headed up to the open deck..
Headed to Spice H2O where they were just showing the end of the Monaco GP on the big screen via RTL.
So I knew from prior question to NCL UK that the Muster drill was at 4:30PM oops, that's like half an hour from now.. I didn't look at the back of my cabin door for Muster station.. damn.. On my Card its F3, there is a junior officer stood next to me watching the GP so I ask him, hey saves me a trip, he says oh its deck 7 somewhere.. I figure like RCI need the lifeboats so 10mins before I head down..
No not signs on the Promenade deck.. The tannoy system is cutting off when the Cruise Director Andy Steinhauser is reading out the locations and its then repeated in about 3-4 languages..
So the alarms ring and I wonder through the mass of deck 7 ppl all looking equally lost, see a D3, then a F1, oh then a D2.. and ahh F3, A guy holding a sign in the corridor near the Maltings bar.. OK more by look I find it. Another guy scans the barcode and that's done..
During the next 10mins various ppl pass and ask, one in a wheelchair cant reach her station so someone takes her card to the place and gets it scanned. Others (mainly American) get theirs scanned and then wonder off..
Normally the captain would use this time to say hello, introduce themselves etc.. but no, the Cruise director explains how to put on a lifejacket whilst crew members show, like on a plane most people not watching and chatting away, some taking pics.. then 2mins later the CD announces its done, lots of cheers, yehaas and that's it..
I wander back to my cabin and meet some of the other solos, ask about the muster drill and she confirms the most sloppy one shes ever witnessed and if anything did happen then we'd be in trouble!! oh OK....
So we had agreed an informal meet and greet in O'Sheehans at 5PM so I head down to say hello to those on here I've been chatting to on the roll call..
OK so have met my Steward Alexander who insists on calling me Mr Craig.. So I call him Mr Alexander for the rest of the cruise!!
Oh nearly forgot we have sailed now..
..what you say? Yep, no bells/whistles/horns, no announcement from the bridge and she moves so gently you wouldn't think we had left.. Now it's been a long day but pop down to the solos meet which started at 6-7 for the first day.. About 30 or so gathered there, mainly ladies in the 50+ range. We have breakfast and snacks as well as 24hr tea/coffee in the living room, a singles dinner is arranged for the same night as I've booked Legends.. hey ho..
You can check what's on on the TV screens around the ship and so I see whats on that night..
So case has arrived and unpacking.. Loads of space in the Studios to store stuff.. could have done with a few more clothes hangers though..
Decide I really need to eat something as has been long while since breakfast and head to O'Sheehans and get seated at a table for two and go for the Chicken Pot Pie and Apple Pie and Cream...
Whilst sat there I'm watching the Atrium screen which can be seen from O'Sheehans. Its showing a live stream from H2O where the Beatles tribute act are warming up..
Decide to head up there after and watch with a few drinks.. They are really quite good.. I saw them a couple of times..
right its getting late.. and I've been up since like 3AM and all that travelling, stop by the Bliss nightclub and its Karaoke. Very few people so at 10:30 I decide today has been long enough and head back to the cabin.
Alexanders been in, the protective sheet for the case is stashed away and I have a copy of tmrws daily, a week at a glance and a letter explaining that Spanish VAT at 8% will be added to all our bills. My bar bill is going to get big, this is not just when in port but all day/night for the week.. If non-EU citizens spend so much then there is a way the US can claim it back..
On top of the 15% auto-gratuity, the drinks prices are now about double what you would pay on say P&O and slightly higher than last year on RCI.
Still can't feel any ship movement, the Med is calm tonight and we are only doing about 11knts..
Day 2: At Sea
Bed was great and slept lovely, after a bit of a lie-in I decided to pop up one deck to deck 13 to the bridge viewing room, just to see if we did have a captain or if the CD was doing that as well.
And there he was plodding around looking peeved off.. Spoke with a couple of others and said well hes not said anything like welcome on-board. Not sure if they have hidden mics/cameras in the bridge viewing room as 5mins later he bent over the mic at the desk and said a few words in broken English.. This was the one and only time that he said anything...
So decided to go explore the ship a bit. The main sun deck for a ship of this size is quite poor, especially considering no promenade deck to sit at.. For those with walking problems the main sun deck is actually non-reachable by lifts, only stairs at each end, it doesn't even wrap around.. a bit poor design if you ask me.
So I headed up to the hidden deck 18, either via Starboard side glass lift or starboard side main left to deck 17 and then a flight of stairs. A few had found it, but when I walked through the walkway between the fence to stop you looking into the courtyard and the bulkhead to the Port side it was empty. On a sea day with 4200 pax and..
So tonight I had booked Blue Man Group, at the solo gathering also discovered a fellow solo who had booked the same event and we decided to go together and then meet up with a couple of others after the event for dinner at the Manhattan Room..
We turned up about 20mins early to try and get some good seats.. no pics allowed inside. The show as expected was great if a little unnerving when they walk out into the audience to select their victims, I mean volunteers.
Luckily the others had secured a table at 8:15, the show was about 1hr30 in the end so we joined them at 8:30Pm. Any later and there was often a 45min wait for a table if you hadn't reserved one.
So after a lovely dinner of Ceasar Salad, Loin of Pork and Strawberry cheesecake it was up to the open deck of Spice for Fabba, the Abba night where Abba music was played (not sung) and the CD and his team danced along..
A late night in Bliss followed with far too much drinking and dancing!!
Very house/latin dance type music played there..
Stopped by the living room to grab some sobering hot chocolate and cookies before bed!! Tmrws Daily had arrived...
..tmrw is Livorno and we docked at 7AM. I went to bed around 3AM..
Day 3: 7:30AM..
DING DONG - THIS IS YOUR CRUISE DIRECTOR ANDY SPEAKING WE HAVE NOW OBTAINED CLEARANCE AND PASSENGERS MAY GO ASHORE VIA THE GANGWAY ON DECK 4
As loud as day inside the cabin even though it was in the corridor outside and then it was repeated in several languages.. I was NOT impressed...
as this occurred on a daily basis!!
the LOUD PA, did I mention the PA was LOUD mentioned that the shuttle provided by the port authority was 5 Euro and you were not allowed to walk, so either taxi from outside the ship, the 5euro shuttle or a ships tour.
So the reservation for tonight was for 5th wheel Marionettes at 7:30, the band who did the Beatles tribute were doing a 60s tribute in Spice so that would follow and then for those who hadn't been able to reserve Stephen Sorrentino he was doing a first come, first served late night at the Epic theatre at 11:30.
So had an early dinner, decided to eat at the Garden Cafe buffet about 6 before it got busy, a decent enough Shepherds pie, not much choice in veg mind.. Popped up at 7PM for a sailaway.. we were alongside Liberty of the Seas..
7PM came and the shipped moved and that was it. No tannoy from anyone to say we were going, no sailaway ents, no horn battles, no.. so disappointing as we past Liberty just a few whistles and cat calls..
Not sure if was a Brit thing.. but we like sailaways and rivals.
So down to Headliners and as I'd been on deck for the "sailaway" at 7PM and not queuing for the best seats I was near the back.
OK so the sight lines in Headliners are poor at best of times but seriously for a show which had puppets 2feet off the ground.
The back 6-7 rows had all left mid performance. Felt sorry for the puppeteers.
Its really a kids thing but if you go, get there early. During my many conversations with the CD over the days it came up and he agreed it was the wrong venue for it!! But guess its only like 2nd week of the Med season..
Up onto top deck h2o to see the 60s tribute and the heavens had opened and all the events moved into the Bliss lounge.. 60s tribute was good.
Then 11:30 it was time for the Epic theatre and Stephen Sorrentino.. who was billed as being some kinda of Comedian..
Being a Brit I had never heard of him..
The theatre was about a 3rd full as it was 11:30PM before the Rome day!! der scheduling, maybe a late night one before a sea day!! Anyhow he was dreadful, wasn't funny and most of his jokes were so Americanised I hadn't a clue and nor had most of the non-American audience (the Europeans most having already been to Rome etc..)
Should add that according to the CD there was 2000 USA on-board, 1000 from UK, 500 from Spain as the three main groups but there was all European nationalities on-board, some South American as well..
Most of the kids on-board were British as it was school holidays in most of the UK.
Day 4: Rome
7:30 AM BING BONG - THIS IS YOUR CRUISE DIRECTOR SPEAKING!!
arghh!!!! right that's definitely one star lost I had decided with that and all the other minor bits like the transfer, flights, and a few others things I'll explain later... it will not be a 5/5 cruise rating..
In the pursuit of a proper cooked breakfast I went to O'Sheehans. Not surprisingly 90% of fellow breakfast diners were Brits.
You can get a country platter which is the nearest thing to a cooked breakfast, toast, pot of tea, all waitered and all free.. You just have to remember the phrases for eggs, how would you like yours done? you can't say fried, poached.. it's like over easy or whatever..
So port for Rome and by 8AM the Ship was deserted again.. The only ents I had booked for today was Legends in Concert at 7:30PM.
Once again we were in port with Liberty but they had as in Livorno kept us on different quaysides to avoid coach/taxi congestion. Behind Liberty was an Italian Aircraft Carrier where they were training/drilling navy guys which whiled the day away.. Should add there is next to nothing ents wise during the day!!
Legends was OK. I wouldn't class Shakira with her one/two hits (at least over here) as a Legend. Almost to prove the point she sang those two songs then waffled for a bit and sang a song in Spanish.. Each of the three had about 15-20mins, Elton was by far the best, Whitney the worst..
Dinner was had in my fave place on the ship O'Sheehans. But remember if you are ordering anything and they ask with chips (they bring you crisps) you have to use fries!!!
Met up with some of the others and headed to the Fat Cats club to see Slam Allen, he had lost his voice 2 days earlier and so was only just coming back..
He was good and really worked the crowd.. Also offered a signed CD (for $15 mind).
Day 5: Naples
So 7:30, DING DONG... OK you know the rest by now..
So tonight it was my reservation for Cirque Dream and Dinner. I went for the early 6:30 show as I figured 9:30 you'd be eating dessert at 11!
The port was busy with Liberty again as well as Star Princess and a cpl smaller ones..
Now there are not many places on the ship where you can get an views forward (unless in the courtyard suites) or aft (due to the screen) but if you pop up to the Sports deck on one of the stairs there is a good vantage point
So I wanted to do the sail-away but couldn't as it was at 7.. They recommended that we queue in our groups half hour before.. and when I got down there at 6 the line was massive as people who wanted to sit together or not with back to the performance.
Two lines, one for premium and one for standard. Being a cheap skate I went for the $20 standard and actually think I get the better of the deal.
I was on my own but got seated on the Balcony which is basically a plate wide ledge around the rim and seats about 40 or so people.
I was sceptical before this but I really did enjoy it, was well timed, starter was straight away, usual bar service and water top-ups during the performance, they hold you card and give you the bill just after dessert.
For mine main course was served around 7:15 and then 7:45 for Dessert so for the 9:30 showing add 3hrs to the above..
The premium below did get asked for volunteers a lot of times in the audience participation bits. Again we weren't allowed to use cameras so i can't show you my pics..
The other good thing was that it meant I had time to get quickly changed into my white costume for the NCLs signature white hot party..
Day 6: At Sea
7:30 and ... I WAS STILL FAST ASLEEP...
Looking at the activities I'd ticked off Blue Man, Legends, Sorrentino, Marionettes, Cirque Dream, Slam Allen I decided tonight would have to be Howl at the Moon.
Again wasn't too sure on this, it needs a good crowd but again we had some culture clashes, the American's requested American songs, the Brits who many had not heard the tracks couldnt really sing along, the Brits requested some basic songs and the piano players said oh havent heard of that one!!
I should point out for those who like me never heard of howl at the moon, basically you get a piece of paper and write down a song, take it up and drop it on the pianos and they look at them and play/improvise.. three players who rotate to give continous playing..
and then after that...
It was the Shippendales in the Bliss lounge. The cruise director and various members of the crew did a full-monty type production.. I think enough said but for those who are interested further..
It was of course all done in the best possible taste and you saw worse on the pool deck, especially the Germans in their budgie smugglers!!!
As it was the last sea day I tried to do some duty-free shopping but the Tobacco shop only seemed to stock Malboro and some American brands, on enquiring on the Lambert and Butler, Bensons and Hedges etc,, apparently they only stock limited and sold out on first day.. hmm guess no one told them 1000 Brits would be onboard!!! Mind you for 5 Euro more I got some at Barcelona Airport.
Also today we received info on departure and luggage tags for transfers or to pick up if you wanted your bags to be transferred off. the times were from 5:30 self-disembark until 9AM last self-disembarking time..
Day 7: Palma
No announcement this time, probably got the hint, well and that we were docked from 6AM, although I wasn't up to be sure..
Was it really the last day? I know now why I hate 7 day cruises. Too short. The first day is wasted getting onboard and unpacking the 2nd day you are orientating and finding the places and then by the 7th you are packing your case again and preparing for an early night as early start in the morning!
Having done most of the major events it was relatively quiet, popped into Howl at the moon again.. When looking at the ents monitors on events full/nearly full. The showing of the Blue Man Group was green which meant nearly half empty!!
Cases had to be out between 5-10PM, the sailaway.. sorry the leaving port was quiet as normal. Indy of the Seas was alongside us, fresh from their brush with that Oil tank in Gib..
The weather was stormy.. The sun decks empty..
To be honest I did feel a bit bored today...
The solos all met and ate in Manhattan Room and I had a nice steak whilst listening to the live band..
Nothing else to do after so watched the singers in the atrium a bit and then had an early night..
Day 8: Disembarkation
Should have added there was no farewell show, some people left and joined the previous day in Palma which felt a bit weird.
No comments card although as I type it appears I have been selected at one the random people they will send a questionnaire out to provided on the edocs you provided an email address so will do that later this week.
Disembarking was painless if early. For those with flights from 11-1 it was 7AM!! so walked off down the ramp and escalator, went to the colour coded luggage belt and my case appeared in minutes.. Wandered outside into the pouring rain and was directed to one of the coaches. 25mins to the terminals. Some confusion as to which terminal, my ticket said 1, they said KLM at 2.. In fact it was 1 but we checked in at a different part whilst they rebuild 2 or something and walked back through to 1s departure lounge.
The NCL flights had a dedicated check-in area which meant only a few people in front of me and a quick check-in. Then a long 3hr wait, 2hr flight, 1hr30 transfer at sh** hole airport involving delays at security and passport control again, then a 1hr flight back to Manchester then a ~2hr drive back as the M6 was a nightmare..
So one very very long day, left ship at 6AM UK time, pulled onto drive 6PM.