I have cruised on Carnival, Dolphin (went out of business in early 1990s), Celebrity, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean ... Royal Caribbean is SOOOO much better than any of the others. I was not thrilled with my first Norwegian cruise (Norwegian Sun to Mexican Riviera, 2006) and was not any happier on this cruise. Never again for Norwegian. With that said, here are the details of our cruise ...
Spent 2 days in Seattle before cruise departed. Weather was fabulous; had a great time. Stayed at the Seattle Renaissance (downtown); great location; walking distance to everything in downtown area (unlike most Americans, we like to walk!) like Space Needle and Pike Place Market. Ate at Lowells inside Pike Place Market (based on reviews) - don't waste your money - everything was bland. Dinner the second night was at a little dive of an Italian restaurant (Luigi something - corner of 1st and Cherry) - Fantastic!!! Don't let the look of the place fool you. Took tour of Boeing Factory (largest building in the world (considering footprint)); impressive. Went to the top of the Space Needle; nice weather made for nice views. Took the Seattle Underground tour - hysterically funny and interesting.
Cruise Info - the good (some things), the bad (some things) and the average (most things) ...
Weather: Terrible! Pouring rain for 4 ½ of the 7 days; high of 55 degrees; when it wasn't raining, the winds were in excess of 40 mph. We live in Norfolk, VA, and just experienced 35+ days of 100+ degree weather; so all 4 of us were sick (colds / sinus infection) by the 4th day because of the drastic change in weather. I know that isn't Norwegian's fault, but it still left us with some not so great memories of our cruise.
Check-in: Since I am a Latitudes member, we jumped to the head of the line; very quick and efficient. We were on the ship, sitting at the pool, having a drink within 10 minutes of arriving at the cruise terminal.
Room: We had 2 inside cabins. I really wanted a balcony, but could not justify the additional cost (balcony room to Caribbean is cheaper than inside room to Alaska). With the horrible weather, no one was using their balcony; so I made the right choice. The inside room didn't bother 3 of us; however, my husband says no more inside rooms, since it is dark 100% of the time in the room and he had no reference for daytime or night time. Now I have a reason to book a balcony room on future cruises? The bathroom was a surprise; roomy and functional; sliding glass door to roomy shower (last ship I was on, the shower was so small you couldn't lift your arms to wash your hair without your elbows hitting the walls).
Food: We are serious food snobs. I travel all over Europe for business; and let's face it - Europe has better EVERYTHING than the US (coffee, bread, cuisine, etc.). The 4 of us are good friends, and we constantly eat off of each other's plates ... so we all offered feedback at every meal.
- Market Cafe (ongoing buffet). The food was pretty good! The only thing I had that was not great was the Caesar Salad dressing; very bland; needed garlic. A great variety of dishes, including 3-4 different soups at lunch each day, which we inhaled every day trying to keep warm. The Hot & Sour Soup is the best I've ever had. Lots of variety at breakfast. Always 1 of 4 stations opened for late afternoon snacking. Coffee was terrible. Did not eat here for dinner.
- Versailles Dining Room: Had breakfast here the last 3 days; got tired of fighting the masses at the buffet. Food was wonderful; service was great 2 days; terrible the 3rd day; guess it depends on the server. If you don't see what you want on the menu, they offered to cook nearly anything you wanted. I am gluten-free, so I brought my own bread, and they gladly toasted it for me each day. They also provided a large tea pot of steamed milk when I asked for it; got to have my Cafe Latte each morning (and it was free, as opposed to paying at the Java Cafe).
- Aqua Dining Room: did not use.
- Blue Lagoon: open 24/7; free. We ate here once (after Shore Excursions in Juneau). Food was average.
- Endless Summer: $10 charge per person. Ate here for dinner one night; ship was running a special; if you booked a table before 7pm, service charge was half-off. My lobster tacos were missing the lobster, but great otherwise (good filling, sauce, etc). Everyone else got fajitas - fabulous - very spicy. Like the Caesar Salad Dressing, the Guacamole needed garlic!!
- La Cucina: $10 charge per person. Ate here 2 nights. Night 1: 2 ordered penne pasta with marinara sauce and meatballs - bland; again - where is the garlic? And onions? And basil? 1 ordered carbonara - so, so. I ordered the seared salmon with white beans and basil oil - fabulous - highly recommended. Night 2: 3 ordered pizza - just average - again, bland. I ordered the osso buco - absolutely heavenly!!!!! I was very sick at this point (night 6) and the osso buco with creamy polenta was like comfort food; it warmed my soul. I've been to Italy 19 times, and the osso buco on the ship was better than any I've had in Italy - who could they get this so right, and nearly everything else so wrong??
- Cagney's: $25 charge per person. I remembered Cagney's as the highlight of my first Norwegian Cruise ... too bad it wasn't the highlight of this trip. Everything was average; not bad, but certainly not worth the $25 cover charge. Crème Brulee was excellent. As my husband said, 'They didn't do anything I can't do with our grill at home'. We didn't bother to return.
- Ginza: $15 charge per person. Outstanding - both food and service (waiter was adorable and very funny). We tried all the appetizers and 4 main dishes (Orange Beef (spicy!), Lemon Shrimp, Crispy Fish, and Beef & Brocolli; we were starved that night). Desserts were so-so; crème brulee trio was interesting / different, tapioca pudding used the huge tapioca beads (never had that before).
- Le Bistro: $20 charge per person. Ate here 2 nights. Night 1: Everything was great; Steak au Poivre, Bouillabaisse, and Grilled Pork; chocolate hazelnut torte was yummy. Service was outstanding (Ask for Jonifa - She rocks!). Night 2: 3 ordered the lobster special ($10 extra); good but not great; lobster was slightly overcooked, and therefore a little tough. Steak au Poivre was just as good the second night. I ordered a chocolate cake for our group because of a birthday; wonderful!! But the waiters CANNOT sing; they were so bad that everyone in the restaurant cringed when they had to listen to the wait staff sing Happy Birthday or Let Me Call You Sweetheart (for anniversaries).
- Chocolate Buffet: My husband is a very quiet man, is happy 99.9% of the time, and rarely makes negative comments, so I will use his words "It sucked!" Yes, it was that bad. Everything LOOKED wonderful, but there was no FLAVOR! I am an excellent cook, and I have been baking since I was old enough to reach the counter tops in my mother's kitchen ... if you ask me, they used just enough cocoa powder to achieve a dark brown color, but not enough to give anything a chocolate flavor. The one exception: the macaroons dipped in chocolate - PERFECTION! I went back to get more (wanted a few extras for the room), and they were gone; bummer?
- Java Cafe: Coffee, hot water & variety of teas were available for free all day (6am-10pm). Specialty coffees cost $. The price was not unreasonable when compared to Starbucks, but to have to pay for coffee on a cruise is ridiculous; the additional 18% gratuity was highway robbery. Cafe Lattes and Cafe Mochas were excellent. The only desserts available here were different flavored slices of pound cake. Really?? The last Norwegian Cruise I took at least had wonderful pastries to go with the overpriced coffee.
Bar Service: There is always a waiter available to keep you liquored up. Don't forget ... there is an additional 18% gratuity added to each alcohol order.
Spa: All services were outrageously priced; however, I had decided that I would treat myself to one spa treatment. They were offering a special for the first at-sea day (Sunday); book a spa appointment before 9am, get 20% off (in essence, this covered the additional 18% gratuity). Since I'm one of those obnoxious early-morning people, I jumped at this. Booked an 8am Ginger & Lime Scrub, followed by a 1 hour deep tissue massage ($195) with Nadia (performed both services) ... I wanted to bring Nadia home with me. I get a deep tissue massage approximately once a month; over the years I've had 16, maybe 17, massage therapists work on me ... Nadia is tied for first place! She even used her elbow to get into my neck (knots most therapists don't know what to do with). Highly recommended. The thing I hated about the spa service on my first Norwegian cruise was that they gave you the hard sell at the end of the service to purchase their products; not true this time - nice to see this change.
Gym: Average. Equipment is old; elliptical machines are of inferior quality; facility is small in comparison with other cruise ships I've been on. The 2 personal trainers are a joke. I am a certified yoga instructor, so I was excited about the yoga classes ... don't waste your money ($12 for 1; $20 for 2 ... and don't forget the freakin' 18% gratuity!!). Both of these guys strutted around the ship bragging about their yoga training with Stella. When I asked, 'So, who is Stella', they looked at me like I'd grown a second head. 'She is Madonna's private yoga teacher!!' ... so I thought, OK, yoga here will be fantastic. WRONG. These 2 guys are full of crap; not once did they use the English or Sanskrit names for any pose, they have no idea how to sequence a proper yoga class, and the class only lasted 40 minutes. I repeat: don't waste your $$$.
Pool: Total of 4 pools; all small. Due to weather, very few people in the pools. Not impressed.
Public Areas: OK, but not great. Nowhere comfortable to just sit and put up your feet, except the chaise lounges by the pool (which no one could use due to the poor weather). The ship is in need of refurbishing; definitely tattered and worn.
Staff: I must admit, 99% of the staff were smiling and friendly 100% of the time. I don't know how he does it week after week, but our Cabin Attendant (Alfie / 11th deck, aft) knew all 4 of our names by the end of the first evening, and always addressed us by the correct name; he was also excellent at keeping our room clean/ bed made up / supplying us with fresh towels. One morning, we went to breakfast - but had to return to the room 7 minutes later for a forgotten item ... and the room was already clean. I ordered a birthday cake 2 days prior to needing it; an easy process at the Guest Services Desk. Three times during the cruise, I wanted to see the details of our on-board account; no problem - just stop by Guest Services and request a print-out; had it in seconds (Hey, Norwegian - if you upgrade to flat screen TVs, the guests can check their on-board accounts whenever they want, and never have to bother a staff member!!!) The guys working at the Java Cafe were a delight; they close at 10pm, but one night I arrived at 10:07 pm; even though the machines were already cleaned and supposed to be 'down' for the night, the barista happily made me a Cafe Mocha.
NOTE - shore excursions happen rain or shine; if you did not want to participate in the pouring rain (which we had in Ketchikan and Juneau), you DID NOT get a refund.
- Ketchikan: Men did the zipline; loved it. Women kayaked in pouring rain for 3 hours; not fun. After your shore excursion, stop for lunch at Burger Queen (right across from cruise pier); the best french fries EVER (even better than in Belgium, and they invented the french fry!!). Skip the town; nothing but tacky jewelry stores (owned by the cruise lines, no less)
- Juneau: Men took the helicopter to Mendenhall Glacier; loved it. Women took walking tour of Juneau and trek around top of mountain that overlooks Juneau (get to top by tram); pouring rain and thick fog pretty much ruined this excursion. After spending 2 days in the pouring rain, it's no wonder all 4 of us were sick. Walking around town was OK, once you passed the gauntlet of tacky jewelry stores (owned by the cruise lines).
- Skagway: All of us took the train ride; nice. Beautiful scenery once the fog lifted. Once the rain stopped, the sun came out and the wind picked up - big time! The men did the Glass Blowing Experience at Jewel Gardens in the afternoon - RIP OFF. The description says you get to make your own glass ornament ... the guys said you got to blow into the pipe once and that was it, the rest of the time you watched someone else make your ornament. Total rip off at $205 pp. By the way, Skagway shouldn't even qualify as a town; 4 blocks long by 1 block wide, and 85% of the businesses are guess what????
- Prince Rupert: All of us took a Seaplane ride over the Canadian wilderness. The highlight of our trip; TOTALLY WORTH the $239 per person!!!! Stunning. Prince Rupert is a charming little town (don't know why there is so much criticism about it by other reviewers - maybe they like to jewelry shop). The town didn't have a single jewelry store - just unique locally-owned businesses. Norwegian attempted to open jewelry stores there this year, but the town said NO (good for them), so Norwegian is pulling Prince Rupert from their itineraries for next year (bad for them).
Entertainment: All the Cheese You Need! Attending the nightly shows in the Stardust Theater was like watching a rerun of the Solid Gold Dancers (hope you're old enough to get this reference); it was just that cheesy/awful. However, the 'Angels' show (2 french acrobats) was one of the most impressive demonstrations of athletic prowess I have ever witness ... DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW.
- Many employees were from non-English speaking countries and had VERY thick accents. I have worked for NATO for 24 years, with 1,000 staff in my office from 28 countries, so I can understand just about anyone ... I had to translate for the other 3 in my party all week. There were even some people that I couldn't understand. Don't know how the average American is able to understand their waiters, cabin attendant, barista, entertainment staff, etc.
- Stop the hawking / hard selling of jewelry. Why does the cruise industry think that is all we are interested in when on vacation???? It was NON-STOP, both on the ship and in port. Found out the cruise lines own nearly every jewelry store in each port. Charming little Prince Rupert (Canada) said no to Norwegian opening jewelry stores in their town, so Norwegian has removed this beautiful little town from its itineraries for next year. What a shame ... but another reason I will not cruise with Norwegian again.
- Need more activities to keep you busy during at-sea days. I have the same complaint about both Norwegian cruises I've taken ... the only activities were Trivia Contests. The Cruise Director and her staff need to be fired, if this is the only activity they can think of. My 10 year old niece has a better imagination.
- During my first cruise, you got access to the other areas of the spa (relaxing chaise lounges overlooking the wake of the ship, steam rooms, etc) the same day as your spa appointment. This is no longer true (changed policy on Jan 01, 2011); now you have to pay an additional $30 (and don't forget the - yep, you guessed it - 18% gratuity) for that little luxury. Another reason I won't cruise with Norwegian again.
- The hairdryer and TV in the room are from circa 1972!!! The hairdryer weighs at least 9 lbs. Can't remember the last time I saw a 9" CRT TV ... come on Norwegian - join us here in the 2010s. With all the money you take from us, you should spend some of it on flat screens like every other cruise line.
- There is only one electrical outlet in the room. Luckily I read this in several other critiques, so we took a triple outlet with us (three outlets connected to one plug - $4 at your local True Value Hardware store). This allowed us to keep all of our techo-gadgets charged (2 cameras, 2 cell phones, 2 iPads, 1 iPod Touch).
- There were zero events held for the Latitudes members. When I was on Royal Caribbean, they held DAILY events for the Crown & Anchor members.
For me, Norwegian is just a so-so cruise line. I really resent the way they are constantly looking for ways to nickel & dime you to death. Even though Royal Caribbean has a formal dining room with assigned seating and dining times, the food was 10 times better than anything I ate on Norwegian (which we had to pay extra for!!). I would love to try the following experiment: pay for a cabin and then attempt to spend ZERO dollars during a 7-day cruise; I know it can be done, but it would be extremely difficult. For the money, Royal Caribbean is the way to go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!