This letter is written to address several issues that my husband and I encountered while on the above mentioned cruise. We are fairly new to the cruise experience, but having enjoyed our first cruise in February 2011, we have since cruised 3 more times in the last 3 months. We have cruised on Carnival and Princess and we were looking forward to our NCL cruise, however, we were not impressed.
First, some background. We are in our early 50's, semi-retired and we own several small businesses. We are both college educated and well travelled. I have also worked for several years as a "secret shopper" for diverse clients, including Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, The Cheesecake Factory, InSpa, Eddie Bauer and Abercrombie and Fitch... Both my husband and I hold Washington State Food Handlers Certifications. I mention this because I believe it makes us more aware of certain food service related issues,
Our departure date dawned cold and rainy. We arrived at the cruise terminal just after noon for an anticipated 4 o'clock departure. There was one x-ray machine in operation to x-ray all the luggage. Passengers were required to man-handle all their luggage through a small doorway, then push forward to the machine...no clear lines formed anywhere. We were then herded back outside; to wait in the rain as the line slowly snaked forward. We did not actually board the ship until almost 2:30. The entire process was extremely unorganized with people wandering about, cutting lines, no information or help given by any staff at all. We waited in line with a group of elderly Japanese passengers who had just arrived after a 10 hour flight. At no time did anyone approach them and offer them assistance although some of them were clearly finding the standing about very tiring. This was our first indication that we might have made a bad choice. Rather than giving a day by day account of our disappointment, I will address several individual areas.
DINING ROOM STAFF
We ate in the Summer Palace a total of 6 times. 4 dinners, 1 lunch and 1 breakfast. Not once was the table set correctly. On each occasion we were missing assorted silver ware, bread plates or glasses. Even when we asked for the situation to be remedied, it was never quite right. For example, 2 bread plates and 3 butter knives missing...remedied with the arrival of 1 bread plate and 2 butter knives...although we had to ask twice for actual butter....and the bread basket contained 4 rolls, at a table set for 6 people. This may seem petty, but it is a matter of training and attention to detail. Along the same lines...waiters filling water glasses...then reaching across to fill the next diner's glass, dripping water and ice into my meal...this happened several times. At our one breakfast visit I asked for grapefruit juice and another lady seated with us ordered orange juice. The waiter brought two glasses, placed them in front of us and we both took sips. We instantly realized that the glasses were the wrong way around and pointed this out to the waiter...who calmly picked up both glasses...and switched them! He then seemed confused when we suggested that perhaps he could get us fresh juice as neither one of us wished to drink from a stranger's glass. The waiters also seemed incapable of keeping track of orders and so stood at the table...holding dishes until someone claimed them...this was especially bizarre when there were only four people at the table!
The other issue we had was the maitre'd's attitude. We cruise because we like meeting new people and so we always request a "shared table". This seemed to be a major problem for the staff that seemed perplexed at best and mostly just annoyed! Once we were seated at a table for 4 and then our waitress cleared the other 2 settings. We tried to explain that we were under the impression this was a "shared" table but she just kept asking who we were waiting for. She then stormed off, spoke to the maitre'd and we were then marched across the room like naughty children to another table where we were eventually joined by another couple. This became an issue every time we went to the dining room so we eventually just gave up.
Our most unpleasant encounter occurred at the Blue Lagoon Cafe on our first night at sea. We went up to the cafe at about 11:30 pm for a snack. There was a sign at the entrance stating "Please wait for hostess to be seated" and so we stood in the entranceway. The "hostess" was leaning up against the podium, chatting with a waiter when we arrived. We stood there for several minutes while they continued to chat, neither of them acknowledging our presence. There were several empty tables in front of us so my husband leaned over and said "Should we just go ahead and grab a seat?" The hostess turned and said, "Do you see that sign...what does it say?" We were appalled. We also had a snack in the Blue Lagoon on our final night, a meal made classic by the waiter standing at my shoulder and interrupting my conversation by saying "What do you want?"
What is there to say about a buffet that runs out of oatmeal at 9 in the morning on an "at sea" day? It also ran out of grapefruit although my husband managed to convince the "juice man" that perhaps he could let him have one. The coffee machines were constantly breaking down. The iced tea dispensers rarely worked and green tea was almost impossible to come by. On our 3 previous cruises I had never seen an empty platter at the buffet counter but this was a constant occurrence. Things were not replaced in a timely fashion; I stood and waited almost 7 minutes for the empty "bread pudding" container to be replaced with a fresh offering, despite asking twice. Given the extremely limited dessert options, this was unacceptable. It seems that the staff has very little notion of who is responsible for what, with allot of standing around looking perplexed. Trays were messy, counters were not wiped down, food that should have been kept cold was placed next to hot plates and food that should have been kept hot was mostly tepid. On the up-side, almost all the Indian food offerings were very tasty. On the down-side, the "steam ship of beef' (?)" was not rare...it was actually bleeding. The most unpleasant part of dining at the buffet was the lack of service. It is imperative in a buffet dining room that tables are bussed quickly and constantly and this was not happening. On several occasion we saw senior staff members bussing tables while more junior personnel wandered around aimlessly. All this points once again to an extreme lack of training and organization.
While neither of us are big drinkers we did visit Bliss and The Spinnaker Lounge several times. The waiters were persistent...very persistent...but seem to have had no training at all. They were unfamiliar with the drinks on the bar menu, at one point asking me the name of the drink being served to a fellow guest, even though they had taken the order! On the last evening one of our companions ordered "a cranberry and Grey Goose" and the waiter asked "What is Grey Goose?" Surely the waiters should at least have some knowledge of different drinks and liquors. One problem remarked upon by several of our fellow cruisers was that while the waiters were constantly asking if you would like a drink from the bar, they were not nearly as attentive when you asked for a mere glass of ice water. Typically waiters have assigned areas of service although this system did not appear to be in practice in the lounges. It was not unusual to be approached by 3 waiters in rapid succession, all asking if you wanted to order a drink.
Without a doubt the most uninspired Cruise Staff we have encountered. Very little effort was made to engage guests at any of the "events". Everything seemed thrown together at the last minute. The White Hot Party was a major flop...a nightmare high school dance where the Cruise Staff flirted and danced with each other and the dancers from the shows, making no attempt to involve the passengers. We left after 20 minutes.
In general the ship was well maintained although it would make sense to order more frequent restroom servicing when the ship is "cruising" in Glacier Bay. Large numbers of guests spend much of the day in the Spinnaker Lounge and the restrooms adjacent to this lounge are heavily used and not serviced adequately.
The decision to repaint the kid's pool during the cruise was ill-advised. It meant that for several days anyone attempting to use the hot tubs was overcome with paint/thinner fumes.
We attended several early morning stretch and "fab abs" classes. First of all...the mats used for these classes need to be burnt. They are disgusting. Spraying them with Lysol causes them to break down very quickly and they should be replaced every few cruises. Our first class was taught by Sarah and was adequate but in no way geared to the passengers in attendance. Subsequent classes were taught by a very aggressive young man with an extremely unpleasant manner. This was not supposed to be boot camp...and I don't believe insulting people is the way to motivate them. It quickly became apparent that the real purpose of the "fab abs" class was to convince participants that they were never going to get in shape by just exercising and that they should all attend one of the practically non-stop seminars designed to sell weight loss programs. In fact, when a few members of the class were able to keep up with the instructor's commands, he taunted us...although it should be noted that he was not doing the exercises himself. All in all a very unpleasant experience and we stopped going after the 4th day.
We never met our steward! Our cabin was well tended in an unobtrusive and professional manner. There was a problem with a non-functioning toilet on our first full day at sea but this was quickly dealt with. Our "beach" towels were not replaced but this was not really an issue. We called housekeeping on our first night and asked for robes so that we could visit the hot tub and they were delivered to our cabin within 10 minutes. We had "towel animals" on 3 nights and enjoyed them very much. The beds are wonderful!!!! Very comfortable and we enjoyed having duvets as opposed to blankets. Lots of nice pillows as well.
The entertainment provided on board was a cut above what we have seen on other cruise lines. In particular Romano Frediani, whose shows were skillful and very entertaining. We also participated in the Quest game show that he hosted and that was one of the high points of our cruise. The Second City Troupe was also very good and we wished more information had been made available about the Murder Luncheon that they hosted. They did a fine job of making their show accessible to all ages; something that I am sure is not always easy.
We met a very personable young man named Bernard, who hailed from Goa and was working at the climbing wall. He went out of his way to be friendly...a quality lacking in so many of the other crew members. He actually remembered our names and stopped to say hello whenever we saw him. He also did a fine job at Dancing with the Stars.
Jillian Weinstein is, I believe, the youngest member of the Pearl Dance Troupe. She had a smile on her face whenever we saw her, be it on stage or just moving about the ship. There was a young man on this cruise with Down syndrome and at the White Hot Party Jillian danced with him...several times...while the cruise staff was busy flirting and showing off to each other. She did this in such an unaffected and natural way and the young man was just beaming. We spoke to her several times over the course of our trip and every time we were impressed with her composure and exceptionally pleasant manner.
In conclusion, it was not all bad. However, it has made us fairly sure that we would not cruise with NCL again. We were part of a Cruise Critic group and the ship staff did provide a nice venue for our Meet and Greet, along with a visit by Senior Officers but this really did just seem to be window dressing. We were disappointed with so many aspects of our cruise experience. On the final day we stopped at the Customer Service desk and had the automatic gratuity removed from our bill. The young lady at the desk was not very interested in why this was happening, merely giving us a form to fill out. The form stated that a NCL representative might be in touch to discuss our concerns but there has been no contact.
This is not so much a letter of complaint as it is a letter of information. As a business owner myself I always appreciate feedback and as a "secret shopper" I know that most businesses take this sort of information very much to heart. I had intended to post this directly to the Cruise Critic message board but decided to wait and share it with NCL as my intent is not to "slam" the cruise but rather to raise awareness.
NOTE: NCL's response to this letter was that they would pass on our complaints to the appropriate people, but that we should have brought these issues to their attention on the cruise.