This cruise was a replacement of the 12 day Holy Land cruise on Norwegian Jade we booked but was cancelled because of the continuing violence in that region. It was the cruise to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and comes after a wonderful 7 day Baltic cruise we did in July 2011 on RCL Vision of the Seas.
PRE-CRUISE STAY: Airport to Port:
Had been in Miami since Jan 1st and has been doing a self tour of Miami before setting on the cruise. This include going on a Everglade tour at one of the coldest day in florida - at alomst 2degC, where crocodile would not move or surface to show their face even if prodded. We stay at the Holiday Inn, Doral and was driving around Miami on a Thrifty's car. The benefit of renting a Thrifty car is that they provide free bus shuttle from the airport to the cruise port.
BOARDING THE SHIP:
Arrived at the port at about 11am and there were already lots of passengers getting out of cars, vans and bus to offload their baggage to waiting baggage handlers to start their cruise to board the ship. Our shuttle driver helped our luggage and even without any request for tips, we tipped him $6 for his effort. However the baggage handler saw this and before he handle our baggage had brazenly asked for a tip before touching our bags. We have always tip for well deserve service and definately not when asked up front, so we were left to unload our baggage to another cart, remote from the cart where all the baggage handlers were unloading the other passenger bags.
Other than this, boarding the ship was great and went like clockwork. Joined one of the two lines entering the cruise terminal, went thru security and then into the checking desks. In less than 20 minutes, we had cleared all the check in desk, got our cruise room cards and went upstairs in the waiting area to be boarded by calling card numbers. It was another 20 minutes of wait and we were walking into the ship where folks can have buffet lunch at the Garden cafe on the 12th deck level or the Venetian, a sit down-served restaurant on the 6th deck level. We had been on freestyle cruising with Norwegian and love these the freestyle sit-serve first-come first-serve restaurant like Venetian. Being one of the early bird, we had our choice table - table 5 or table 1 where we have a window view for a table of 2. We thoroughly enjoyed the lunch and stayed till they open the cabin at about 2pm.
CABIN 5075 - Inside starboard.
Entering the room, I can say that the size is typical of many inside cabin of most cruise liners but the layout is definately better than most as the washroom is larger with the toilet on one side and a decent size shower on the otherside with the wash basin with a decent standing area in the middle. There was more than ample drawers, shelves and hanging room in the closet for one who came on with almost 1.5 large baggage full of clothes. The hair dryer was strategically located in one sitting area with power supply while the 19 inch flat inch sit on top another sitting desk which did not have any power supply.
This ship was built in 2002 and has some upgrading done in May 2010. Unfortunately in the next 4 days we start to notice small little things that did not stand well for this particular cabin. We start getting concern when my wife set off the inside cabin fire alarm on the 2nd day at sea when she had a hot shower. This cause an immediate phone call to the room and a visit by the safety officer to inspect the stateroom. The front desk and safety officer indicate this might be the steam from the hot shower that somehow have flow out of the washroom and affect the fire alarm 3 feet outside it. We dismiss this incident as an isolated one but 2 days later the fire alarm got set off again and another visit by the safety officer with my wife in the shower and coming out of it to quickly get dress to attend the visit. This set off our own check on what may cause this and it appear the top part of the shower divider is not covered and the cabin exhaust does not seem to keep up with exhaust of the mositure or steam from any hot shower and hence the washroom mirror get fogged up and steam accumulate and get leak out of the washroom. Even then the fire detector should be able to discern smoke or fire from steam but it did not in this two cases. As part of this check, we found that the laundry line and the shower liners was black with mold in many places, probably due to this humidity problem ,which was bit disconcerting.
The first night of sleep reveal that the cabin walls and-or ceilings creaks during sailing and prabably thin or not properly sound proof as we can clearly hear all conversation of the neighbouring cabin folks. Located on the mid-ship starboard mid floor and just below the 6th floor Le-Bistro and piano lounge, we can hear songs and music and sometime thumping noise coming from the 6th floor above us, well into 11pm. However this quiet off after 11pm.
Then for men, the toilet seat will not stand up by itself in this cabin as I have to hold it up by hand to discharge any fluid without messing up the toilet seat for use by my wife.
Another area that need improvement is the satellite TV reception. The 19 inch LCD TV does not do justice when many a time the reception is spotty.
Cabin service is excellent with daily and well timed replenishment of towels and toiletries. The attending steward is always smiling and knows when we were out to change or turn down our room. The toiletries come in separate wash and shampoo containers unlike some which provide a generic single wash-shampoo. We have our own shampoo, soap bar, wash and conditioner as my wife is not used to generic shampoo and bath gel. Our only wish for better room service is that for such long (10 days and over) cruise that they should try to also change our bedsheet and pillow case at least once.
PUBLIC FACILITIES AND SERVICE.
The layout and furnishing of the ship was pretty comparable to the many new cruise ships with nicely decor and functional restaurants, theatres and public walkways. There is 3 banks of elevators and access up and down is pretty fast. We did not participate in much of the activities or use all the facilities but the facilties we use a lot are the 5-6th floor Stardust theatre, the 12th floor fitness room (love the separate entrance to it from the spa center entrance) and the dining area (Aqua, Venetian, Garden cafe and one time Bistro).
On public area service, this is spotty. In the last Norwegian cruise we did in Jan 2010 on Norwegian Jewel, the folks are so friendly, many smiling and most waiters ready to serve and be recognize. This cruise many were just doing their job with the occassional smile and eagerness to serve. Most food order was basically take your order, serve it and bye. In past cruises we have done, many waiters try to discern what clients like and try to recommend certain dishes on the menu. For example, in the July RCL cruise the waiter knowing our interest in authentic Indian food arrange with his supervisor approval got a dish from the crew lunch kitchen and reserve it for us. Same thing occur in the Norwegian Jewel cruise of Jan 2010. Such things make the event a real sparkling and memorable one. The exception here is our experience in the Le-Bistro where the food is great and the service par excellent and they pull off the 30th anniversary celebratory salute on us - This was the only good memorable experience I had on this cruise.
The fitness center was busy in the morning during sea days but otherwise we had no problem enjoying its facilities. It is adequately equipped for similar size of cruise ship.
The first day on board we really enjoyed our lunch at the venetian with Sirlion Steak from the standard menu and the baked fish special of the day. The menu for lunch and dinner has on the right side a standard menu and on the left side the starters, salads and burgers and a line of the special entree of the day. Getting such a menu with only 1-2 change is pretty repetitive and after 6 days into the cruise become pretty boring. The entree special is mainly fish or a pasta dish and do not have any wow factor like those serve in the specialty restaurant. Additionally the portions was small and we see
many passengers who had dined with us in the sit-down restuarants like the Venetian or Aqua heading immediately upstairs at the 12th Garden cafe for further fillup of their lunch or dinner.
In almost all past cruise we do get occassional surprise excellent entree for the general restaurant menu (similar to those provided in the specialty restaurants here) but none was provided in this 11 days of cruise for the general restaurants like Venetian, Aqua or the buffet style Garden cafe.
SHORE EXCURSION DAYS - DAY 3 to DAY 9
One of the best thing of this cruise is the port itineraries as this cruise include stops at Samana-Domician Republic (day 3), Tortola-British Virgin island (day 4), Phillipsburg-St MarteenSt Johns(day 5), St Johns-Antigua (day 6), Roseau-Dominica (Day 7), Bridgetown-Barbados (Day 8) and Basseterre-St-Kitts(Day 9). This islands visited only once each unlike some cruise which may visit certain caribbean stops 2-3 times, has unique characters, prosperity, settings and feel in each shore visit.
We did not take advantage of any of the ship shore excursions as we are used to personal-tour like the one we did in Dominica and Barbados or pre-arrange local group tours of group not exceeding 10 in St Marten, Antigua and St Kitts or just an adhoc hop-on tours in Tortola and Barbados. Having gone on many cruises we like small group and privacy in our shore excursions even though those private tours may cost more than the ship shore excursions. So we cannot comment on the ship shore excursions.
However one thing this cruise does put off many passengers on the first shore visit in Samana is that in the tender process, they give all their passengers with shore excursions to get on the tenders to start the journey first before
allowing the other passengers with private agenda go last. The way they promote this was crafty in that they anounce that their tender will be first to the island of Cayo Levantado which is a free visit to all and then once that is done the tender to Samana will start giving the assumption that Samana tender will start 1 hour later. It also stipulate that all non-ship excursions passengers have to take a tender ticket starting at 8pm for the next day tender. Getting this tender ticket was a real wait taking almost 45 minutes as a long line prevail at 8pm and only one crew member was serving it at the initial 30 minutes. Then the next day we were informed that we have to wait for the signal to use the tender which for some did not come till 2 hours after tender process start and not knowing that the ship has squirrelled off all their ship-excursion passengers to both Samana and Cayo Levantado since the start of tender. This delay almost cost me the cost of my private tour which I arrived over 1 hour late. This was my first experience where the cruise ship differentiate ship-excursion and non ship excursion passengers and actively descriminate their paying passengers. Past cruise discourage passengers from going on non-ship shore excursions but never did discrimate passengers at time of tender or getting off the dock ship. Other than this incident, there was no descrimination on ports exit where the ship dock and all passengers were allowed to walk off the ship once docking is clear by local custom officials for disembarkment.
For passengers on this cruise, one should make an effort to get off the ship and take advantage of seeing the local beauty and variety in the different stops. Each port has a unique characters and life-style ranging from abject poverty in Dominican Republic to more progressive islands like St Kitts, St Marteen and Antigua.
This is a hit and miss also but overall the standard of show is average and comparable to other cruise lines. The first two days of show with the "Welcome Aboard" and "Band on the Run" was lively and interesting. Day 3 was Dave Heenan and trying to put up a 1hr comedian solo show is pretty difficult. Did not like a splashing of some crude inference in a part of his comedy. Day 4 was Siobhan Phillips night a solo singer cum comedian show - back by the Dawn band. Her rendition was pretty good and you can see in the audience who was excited and participate right through the show. Day 4 was a magician show with
Greg Gleason which is an average show with some sparkle of disappearing act. Day 5 was by far the best show on the cruise with Ventriloquist Kenny Bird. The passengers participation part with hand motions and ventriloquist act by Kenny is so hilarous. The hynotist show by TerrenceB on Day 7 was difficult to watch in trying to engage the audience. Day 8th was a variety show which we did not attend. Day 9th again involve the grandfather of NCL comedian Dave and we did not stay thru the presentation once a crude refernce was used. Day 10th involve rock impressionist Greg London but the songs he sing does not sync up with the general audience who are mainly of my age or older (that is 50 and up). It was also an extremely loud session. Then on the last night there was the Bollywood show which also has acrobatics. This show is one of the above average presentation show.
One of the problem of shows is that many of these shows which involved comedy or songs do not dwell more in the golden oldies and goodies as majority of the audience are older folks like us who love to be taken back to the time of their first love .... the late 60s, 70s and early 80s or some of songs in 2000s like those of Celine Dion which are modern repertoire of those days.
DAY 12 and DISEMBARKMENT
This was the day we were all packed up, settled our account the day before and all ready to hop off the ship. This ship offer early diembarkment at 8.15am for all that do not have any checkout luggage - that is they have all the luggages and can carry them by themselves off the ship. This is a great option for folks like us who want to hit the road or catch the early plane out and not be descriminated by stateroom type or lattitude level.
As a result we never bother to get any color-timed luggage tags the day before from the Deck 7 service area and was all prepared to carry off our 1 large luggage and 2 small baggages in tow. The unfortunate thing is that at 8am a queue has formed on Deck 6 snaking its way on portside 1/2 way across the deck and up. I was about 50 odd passenger front the startline in the queue and it was a 35 minute wait and by 8.40 I were out the door.
One pleasant surprise on the day of disembarkment is getting the last account statement at early morning (probably 2-4am) showing a reversal of onboard account credits and rejection of any credit that exceed all expense before service charges of $12/passenger per day. All previous account statement in the past 10 days on request would show the net balance include application of onboard credit to accumulating service charges. As a passenger who did not use ship shore excursions, and one who don't drink (hence no alcohol expense) and have over $350 on board credit to start with, this policy cause over $70 excess credit to be disallowed and the full service charge of $264 to be charge on my credit card. At 6am of disembarkment there was already a line when the account desk open with many passengers with similar complain. This policy was not shown in the website or any document we received from NCL and the account desk was hard pressed to provide written evidence of
such policy. Base on principal, I have to request and deduct this $70 from the service charge which is a discretionary charge to ensure a proper accounting balance. This I fear as what exactly would be credited to the crews who really should earn the full amount of service charges and plus more that I would normally provide for passenger service rendered.
This 30th wedding anniversary cruise would have been a memorable one especially the moment of bliss and enjoyment at the Le Bistro (excellent food and service). The general staff service and shows are average and the ship public facility is comparable to many other cruise ship.
However the 3 unforgettable incidents of being a 2nd class passenger by being held back by more than 1hr in the tender process to Samana and almost missing my private tour, my wife getting the safety officer visit not once but twice due to trigger of the faulty cabin fire alarms while taking her shower and lastly the last minute accounting adjustment did make this trip a cruise a memorable one albeit the worst cruise we want to forget.