Ok, it was the first cruise of my life, but I remain VERY disappointed in NCL. I don't intend to ever give them another chance.
In a word, "ARROGANCE" pervades the cruise line.
We sailed on the Christmas 2011 to New Year's 2012 western carribean cruise out of Miami on the NCL Pearl.
Yes, my focus here are the negatives. Sure there were some good times, but the negatives put such a shadow on the week that I will avoid NCL at all costs in the future.
So you don't think I'm a bad person, first the positives:
-We ate mainly in the specialty restaurants, and they were generally quite good. We enjoyed LeBistro (French). Quite surprisingly the food at the "massive" Summer Palace was very tasty, particularly the lamb shank.
-Our rooms were adjoining balcony rooms on Deck10. Well decorated & maintained. The steward was super nice and very attentive. He earned the extra gratuity I placed in his hand.
- In general, the (mainly Filipino) staff was extraordinarily hard working and very nice. They tried very hard within the limits of the rules that they were bound to execute to.
Ok now the negatives, highlighting the arrogance...
Let me summarize it by saying that the real problem here is that the NCL management is so hung up on providing a consistent product (ie, the staff must only follow the rules to the letter) that they miss every opportunity to "make things right" and really thrill a customer. This is not the fault of the hard working staff. It is the arrogant management that isn't even on the boat. Every excellent hotel chain earns their stars by "doing the extra little things". No such thing happens on NCL.
Case in point:
Teenagers meet in the Teen lounge. They don't hang there, but they make friends on the first 2 days. My son turned 13 during the cruise but was barred from entering the Teen Lounge (minimum age 13). They checked his name and birthdate against the ship manifest! Yes, we took it up with the Youth Director, and then the Cruise Director and finally the Hotel Director. Everyone of them could not change the rules. Finally the Cruise Director contacted Headquarters in Miami (though delayed by xmas holiday) and my son was granted permission to enter the Teen Lounge, though by that time (4 days into the cruise) all the Teens had made their friends and not returned. It was sad because the very nice Hotel Director (a man with probably 35 years in the trade) was not given the authority to make a judgement call on my son's admission. The simple solution would have been "We'll give him a provisional admittance - if he cause one bit of trouble he is gone". Instead I got a bunch of legal about NCL not being able to accept liability for his presence in that teen room. Huh? Whatever liability contract that existed between us during that vacation is what it is...I don't see how being in that room affected it one way or another. I can't believe I wasted my special vacation time on this nonsense. One night I spent almost 2 hours with the hotel director to get this wrong righted.
Now for those of you who might point out that rules are rules and he technically wasn't 13 on the day he attempted admittance, let me say that all the best hotels satisfy their guest by using GOOD JUDGEMENT, not mindless rules.
Next case: My daughter and I were sitting in a nearly empty Japanese restaurant at the sushi bar for a late lunch. My son comes in. The hostess say he has to leave because "she needs the seat" for a reservation. He leaves, pissed off. In the next 30 minutes, the restaurant remains 10% full. Why didn't she just give us a "heads up" that she may need the seat? Why didn't she offer an alternative, like moving to one of the twenty open tables? The hostess didn't know that this was a particularly sensitive situation because my son was already banned from the Teen Lounge, but she had no room to flexibly deal with situation. She kicked him out. How rude.
When I went to leave that same restaurant, I asked for a "to go" container for the extra food (since my son could not stay there was extra). I was told that food from the sushi bar could not leave the restaurant. That made sense to me, you know, raw food should be consumed promptly. Then I looked at my leftovers. All cooked food. I pointed this out. I got confused stares of recognition that the edict was being wrongly applied but "hey, I'm not going to risk my job over this" denial. Again, the NCL staff is not given any authority to use their brains and their judgement. Everyone is too scared of losing their jobs not to follow the letter of the rules set out before them. The management (off the boat) that sets these rules is arrogant and clearly has their heads in places the sun doesn't shine.
I discussed this (and other silly offenses that I won't mention here) constructively with the Hotel Director. He spiffed us 2 cheap bottles of wine and a plate of strawberries. I appreciated the thought and I'm sure he was doing what was allowed in the manual, but it rang pretty superficial. Another "gift" they gave us (to buy our love no doubt) was picking up our New Year's Eve dinner in the Italian restaurant. A nice touch worth $100 or so to our group. At the conclusion of the dinner I was presented with a bill for $6.95 for the single after dinner drink ordered. Now I don't mind paying $7, but it was the wrong punctuation on a meal that they comped for us. Don't they "get it"? Plain rude and arrogant in my mind.
See my point? The cruise line misses all the subtle cues that could have made it a "wow these guys really accommodated us!" but instead resulted in me posting this warning to all who will read it.
The final straw came after the cruise was over... I got a letter (not an email, but a letter in the snail mail several weeks after the cruise) from a customer service rep who gave another hollow apology and a $300 certificate to be used on a future NCL cruise. Well, no way am I going on another one of their cruise for a measly $300 discount! I spent about $10,000 on a week with them which the screwed up for my son and my wife & I who spent lots of time meeting with staff, trying to get things right and only ended up frustrated (ruining our vacation I might add because if you're kid isn't happy it sure is hard to enjoy yourself).
I sent a reply by email a week ago and I have not heard even a peep of acknowledgement. Again, arrogance pervades this cruise line to its core.
To all those that have read this far, I recommend choosing an alternative to NCL....