This was our second time on CB and first sailing north to Canada and New England. We traveled as a family of five. DH and our two youngest daughters stayed with me in the St. Thomas Suite and we got an inside for my 25 yo son. He and the eldest daughter were celebrating birthdays.
The suite definitely had the WOW factor! There was a lot of room and fabulous amenities. The view from our balcony really made the trip that much more special.
We were impressed with the upgrades to the ship since our last cruise, especially the piazza. I used my old coffee card with no problem and even bought a new card just to get the free traveling mug. The dining room coffee was ok but the international cafe was much better and beat NCL Gem's specialty coffee by a long shot. The room service coffee was undrinkable, so the days we had extra early itineraries and had our breakfast delivered, I just ordered green tea instead.
Aside from the coffee, room service was superb and breakfast on the large balcony while sailing into port was a real treat. I'm the only one in my family who dined in Sabotini's for breakfast, and I took advantage of this excellent perk three times. The mimosas were a nice start to the day as well as the complimentary cappuccinos. The Belgian waffles were consistently delicious and elegantly shaped in floral patterns. The muesli and yogurt parfaits were good. The best thing about dining here is that there were only a few other folks dining and the service was top notch.
We never dined in one of the specialty venues because we enjoyed the main dining room. We had the late seating in the Palm and have no complaints with the service. The food was excellent although they were a little salt happy with the fish and lobster. Princess still has the best ice cream afloat though I never had the soft serve and am basing this on the good stuff served at dinner. They even had champaign sorbet and rhubarb ice cream!
NCL's freestyle concept is good in theory but never quite delivers. CB had excellent service down to a science as long as you utilize set dining times. In addition to the fine ice creams, Princess still beats NCL hands down in the dessert department. NCL uses too much gelatin in theirs which makes it bland. Another thing NCL did that irked me was to list maple syrup on the menu but serve a blend instead. Princess was true to their word and served the real stuff.
Two things NCL wins on are entertainment and shore excursions. We went the first night which was a sampling of the week's entertainment and found the singers to be second rate withe the dancers trailing far behind. The comedian was bland except for his Iranian gangsa bit which was quite funny. Other than that we decided not to waste any time on the shows. There was a group from St. Lucia that played in Wheelhouse that were pretty good and had a wide repertoire. The male singer was powerful and the female tore up Patsy Cline! They should have been the main act! Instead they were tucked away in an underutilized bar with no audience.
We were excited to see Bert with an E back, but he seemed toned down. The jazz guitarist and classical group were soothing but we always seemed to catch them at the end of their shifts.
We overheard Rollin Jay Moore in one of the small venues and though he was a scream! We didn't make it to his big show, but he was the only headliner that was worth going to see. NCL had night after night of high quality entertainment and Princess just didn't deliver.
The shore excursions were an arm and a leg. The top 10 Halifax tour was probably worth it and the seafood chowder and rolls provided for lunch were a nice treat. Peggy's Cove was breathtaking! St. Johns was not so nice, although we had the lobster bake and enjoyed eating that. We could get a nice lobster dinner at another port and save a few hundred. Plus they served off brand water and soda that were undrinkable. I'm not that picky and water is water, even if soda has it's differences. There was ozone added to the water, and maybe that was the difference in taste.
Bar Harbor was a gorgeous port and next time we will probably skip St. Johns and Boston and spend more time in Acadia. We had the horse carriage tour. The girls enjoyed it, but I felt bad for the horses who were struggling with all that weight going up the mountain and the tour guide kept berating them and saying they we're lazy. Next time we'll use our own two feet and not be a part of exploiting the horses. I feel ashamed that this did not cross my mind at the time of booking it.
We did the Salem tour in Boston. It was just ok. The girls learned about the witch hysteria but I was turned off by the witch museum's propaganda campaign to normalize modern day wickens. I'm all for First Amendment freedoms but don't like to be preached to when I'm a captive audience.
The RI cliff walk and Breakers tour was nice, but wouldn't want to do it as a ship tour again. Our guide was boring as hell and for the money we paid, they should have included a bottle of water as the walk was long and very hot.
NCL has a better variety of excursions which are priced right for every budget.
Princess is getting better about the chair hogs. However on our last day there were three ladies fighting over two loungers at the Lotus pool. Up until that time my son and I were the only one of handful using that pool. We figured people must have thought you had to pay extra. We definitely would pay extra for this pool because it was the best one, never crowded, adults only, always warm, and had a wave current machine and two hot tubs.
I would use the pool in conjunction with the thermal spa. This was another excellent suite perk, although I do have some complaints about it. The design of the thermal spa is exquisite and reminded me of what Pompeii must have been like. It beat HAL's thermal room by a long shot. I've never booked this on NCL so can't compare. Had I paid money to use this I would have been mad because the heated lounge chairs were never warm enough. After I complained the first day when they were not warm at all, they sent in someone who was able to make two of them lukewarm. This never improved and I got tired of complaining about it. The second time I went in there was a wretched sewage smell and I couldn't use it. The spa manager was not responsive to my complaint about this and told me of course there's going to be sewage seeping into the vents whenever the ship rocks a lot. If they knew this already I do not understand why they would not close it until the smell passed. A small gripe I had was that the mint fog shower was no different from the rain shower. There was no fog or mint. But this was small compared to the sewage and chair warmers, and did not bother to complain.
Even though I've complained on the boards before about the spa using fluff techniques and hard sells, I actually booked the lady's night out special which included a salt and lime scrub, back, scalp, and foot massage and mini facial for $99. Although the therapist used too light strokes, it was relaxing and I saw a vast improvement of my skin. This time I decided to buy some products although she kept trying to push me to buy even more. I had to firmly say no more even as I was walking out the spa and she was following me. Another thing that annoyed me is that 18% gratuity was already included but she was standing right over me to beg for more while I was signing the slip. I gave her $10 more. Between that and the commission she received on the products you'd think she would have been content.
Our room steward was mediocre. He didn't go out of is way to make us feel we were in a suite. My son got better service in his inside. The last evening he presented himself for his tip, but we chose to leave it on the bed the next morning before departing. We gave him $20 which was more than he deserved. We usually tip $100 when we are in a mini suite. This is the first cruise ever that we didn't get a single towel animal!
One last complaint that I made was that club fusion listed a disco for all ages nightly from 11pm until late. However, DJ Alex didn't get the memo and played only one or two dance hits before kicking us out around 11:15. He wasn't even nice about it. He abruptly turned off the lights and music. I keep talking about complaints. I'm not one of those incessant complainers who say their whole cruise was ruined for some small thing. We actually had a great cruise but point out certain things that need improvement.
The lady running the tournaments in the casino was great getting everyone excited and involved. She would always greet us every time she saw us. My son and I made the slot finals an got nice t-shirts.
We enjoyed the wine flights at Vines along with the sushi, cheese plates and tapas. It wasn't crowded and the wines were subperb. There were good specials on drinks in the bar early evening. One night the casino comped me a free piña colada. We bought a nice wine for dinner one night and they corked the remainder for us on the following evening. We had a nice selection on our mini-bar setup even though I didn't try any. I only drank the Perrier in the room.
The tea service was really good. I met some nice people and the waiters were very attentive. The scones were delicious and I generally don't like them.
There were more TV channels than with NCL. I was happy to have CNN, HLN and Fox to keep abreast of Libya, the earthquake and of course Irene. We only had rough waters twice, but it didn't bother us. I was nervous about disembarking on the same day the hurricane was expected in NY but we got home safe and sound and had no damage that night. I'm happy to hear that the people leaving right after us are also ok.
We have already booked with NCL for President's Week to the Bahamas but will book this trip to Canada again in a year or two. We are looking to book something to Alaska in 2012. Maybe Princess or HAL. Happy sailing!