This particular cruise checked all of the boxes for length, dates, ports and price. Having cruised over twenty times on Norwegian, Carnival, Princess, and Royal Caribbean, I feel I have a pretty good frame of reference when it comes to ... Read More
This particular cruise checked all of the boxes for length, dates, ports and price. Having cruised over twenty times on Norwegian, Carnival, Princess, and Royal Caribbean, I feel I have a pretty good frame of reference when it comes to making comparisons and following historical trends. That being said, I'll break my review down by topic so readers can skip what they like.
We arrived in Copenhagen early in the a.m. on cruise day. We handed our luggage off to VALIZO after customs so we could explore the city without the burden of suitcases. They were happily waiting for us to arrive and provided outstanding, to-our-stateroom-door, service for a very reasonable price. We purchased a 24-hour pass for the Copenhagen public transport system (good for bus, metro, and train) and hopped on the Metro to the city center for a fun morning of shopping and exploring. After doing some homework, we learned we could catch bus 25 or 27 from Osterport Station directly to the Oceankaj cruise terminal. The bus stop was absolutely slammed with people. Bus after bus came and went - the driver shaking his head that he was full - and more and more people arrived with hopes of a ride. Even though a courteous line had formed early on, new arrivals just went to the front of the line and stood there like they'd been there all along. Many more buses came and went and none of us got on. After about an hour, we decided to grab a taxi for about $22. The cruise terminal was very poorly organized. There were groups of passengers walking every which way and clogging up whatever traffic flow existed. We finally made it to the check in counter. The family of four at the neighboring agent's station all stood across the whole counter with their elbows on it (only one person is actually required to do the check in), so we had to shout over the top of them to our agent and pass paperwork over their heads. This sort of behavior would set the tone for most of the cruise, so I won't dwell on the manners of fellow passengers. Just be prepared that courtesy is not the norm. Finally walked onto the ship. Not a greeter in sight! For each and every past cruise we have been met with a kind, "Welcome aboard!" greeting and a glass of champagne. For this cruise the gangway entrance was lined with little clumps of very grimy balloons. Woo-hoo!! Staterooms weren't quite ready, so we ordered a glass of wine and explored the ship. There were two or three dining area available, but they were full of passengers sitting at the [dining] tables and waiting for their rooms so we didn't have an opportunity to sit and eat.
The ship public areas were clean and well staffed. The overall décor on the ship is rather subdued. Nothing spectacular or opulent. The dining rooms are small and cramped. The theater looked like a second rate high school auditorium, with acoustic ceiling tiles lined in LED light tubes to make squares. The atrium bar, the hub for the daily activities/games/etc. is just a giant, poor resolution, video screen with a good many spelling errors in its announcements.
We had a Spa Balcony in a nice forward location. The room was clean and our room steward, Kepler, was efficient and very friendly. The balcony is smaller than we are used to having in the same category room and the guy in the room next door would just sit outside and sing very loudly a great deal of the time. Storage could have been better. The drawers are next to the carpeted floor and do not slide open and closed very easily. Even with the key card in the slot, the A/C never really got cool and it shuts off after a short while and you have to re-press the snowflake button. Water pressure in the shower just sucked. At full force and with the head at its most open angle, the water would fall down next to the controls. Hugging the pipes was the only way to get a shower. We only got a towel animal after asking for one on the last night. No more chocolates on your pillow, folks.
We were psyched to have complimentary access to the Thermal Spa with our stateroom category. The spa is full of great amenities: Hot and Cold Ceramic loungers, a sauna, a steamroom, showers, padded deck chairs, etc. We went several times, but there was no "relaxation" in the equation. Each time, despite the numerous wall signs that say "QUIET AREA", there were passengers that were having loud conversations (trying to talk over the jets) and kids running and shouting. We passed several other passengers in the access hallway who were leaving because of the noise. Complaining to the staff was of no avail. Prices for treatments were quite high. Kepler came to us on day four with a cool coupon for $50 off of a treatment for port days, so we went right to the spa and tried to book something. There were zero available treatments for the remainder of the cruise. So much for the cool coupon.
The buffet gets a F- from me. Poor selection, cold and stale food, horrible organization and traffic patterns. Not enough seating for the size of the ship. I've been to a myriad of cruise ship buffets and this one is the singular worst.
We ate in two of the complimentary dining rooms: Tropicana and Savor. Both were just "meh". Service was slow and food was never hot. Menus lack any imagination.
We did enjoy our specialty dining experience. Ocean Blue was top-notch in every way. Le Bistro had a great menu and fabulous servers. Moderno has a unique dining experience with traveling servers with meat skewers - you get a red/green card to place on the table and they don't stop serving you until you flip it to red. Everything was delicious. Cagney's was just okay. We were seated in the direct sunlight (even with blinds down) so we could not actually see each other. Lobster bisque tasted burnt.
All that being said, the "specialty dining" quality is what used to be complimentary on cruises for those who chose the main dining room. It is the sad truth that the cruising experience is all about the upcharges for the cruise company.
A note to anyone from NCL who might be listening: Put a sign up indicating the line for those "WITH RESERVATIONS". Each restaurant hostess seemed to be clueless as to what to do with people. They barked out orders to "just get in line", so if you had a reservation, you still had to wait for those without them to be seated ahead of you. HUH???
We got the Ultimate Drink Package as one of our complimentary amenities. A word of caution, it is not a "free" perk. You have to pay a pretty large gratuity up front to even get the package (same with the Dining Package - 20%?). After the fact, we did the math to figure we really did not get anything for free. We are moderate drinkers, so 2-3 drinks per day each. You are limited to any drink under $15. Anything above you have to pay the difference. There were very few glasses of wine that fell within that free range. There were many familiar selections that cost $14 per glass that I could buy the whole bottle at home for $7.99. I'm not arguing that servers should not get a gratuity. I do question whether they actually receive what I pay up front. I'd rather tip in person for good service.
PORTS OF CALL
All of the ports were great and leaving the ship was well organized.
We did Berlin By Train and Leisure Time. Lots and lots of walking and (as noted in the tour description) the train is NOT air conditioned. Unfortunately, our train broke down. It was 98 degrees F in Germany. We sat for a LONG time in the heat (not allowed to leave the train for safety reasons) and waited for another engine to come and push us into a station and then waited some more for another to tow us to Berlin. The NCL team did extend our time approximately 2 1/2 hours so that we would get the full tour and all of our free time. That meant the ship had to wait for us to get back. When we returned, we were greeted by a line of officers apologizing for the trouble (where were they on Embarkation Day??). I was absolutely SHOCKED when all 600+ of us were then allowed to re-board the ship WITHOUT going through ANY security scanners or having our packages inspected. I'm sure this was done in the sake of expedience, but I really didn't appreciate the captain and crew potentially sacrificing the safety of its passengers for something that saved 30 minutes time. Luckily, nothing happened as a result. Had something terrible occurred because of a passenger bringing something back they should not have, it would have been through sheer negligence.
Best of St. Petersburg and Leisure Time was great. We took it because we were bamboozled by the cruise line that you have to use their excursions to get off the ship in Russia. I should have done more research, because we paid too much through NCL and got less than through private operators. We planned to stay on the ship for Day #2 of Russia because the time of departure was changed from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. I'm sure that messed up some folks who made Day #2 private excursion plans.
We did Best of Gdansk in Poland (great tour), Stockholm On Your Own (basically a bus ticket from the port to town - 45 min. away), and HOHO bus in Helsinki.
A note of warning about the Shore Excursions credits. I learned from previous experience that you have to book them in advance via TELEPHONE, and not using the online reservation system, in order to receive your Latitudes discount and $50 per port credit. I did that for all of my excursions way in advance and the Norwegian rep on the phone quoted me the total price, including Latitudes discount and port credit. However, when I got on board and had participated in two excursions already, I noticed on my account that I had received the $50 credit but not the Latitudes discount. When I went to the SE desk, I was told you have to SHOW your room card to the SE desk to receive the Latitudes discount. I have never had to do that before, as my Latitude status was always built into my account. Anyhoo….I did what they said and they then applied the discount. So, make sure you check yours. I found it all to be weird. I wonder how many people let that slip by their notice? Hmmmmm…..
ON BOARD ENTERTAINMENT
The bars were fun and always full of people. I was excited for the Ice Bar, but we didn't go when we found out it was another pricey upcharge. Burn The Floor was amateurish and boring. Million Dollar Quartet was definitely a highlight. The four guys were oozing talent and the narration was well acted. Could have lived without the chick singing Priscilla's role, tho. LOL Passengers were always actively engaged in the game shows, bingo, trivia, etc. that took place in the Atrium. It's always loud there, which amps up the fun-factor but degrades the experience of those trying to have a conversation at Guest Services or eat a nice meal at Le Bistro outdoors. On a positive note, I won quite a bit at slots in the Casino!! I always test out the machines on cruise ships to find that one machine that's a little loose with the payout. No one anywhere around me was winning squat.
ONE BIG NEGATIVE
What's with the VIBE beach club taking up the ENTIRE forward part of the ship??? This isn't a beach cruise and it's not really even an outdoorsy cruise (weather most evenings was chilly). The VIBE tix were $200 per person. If you didn't purchase, you couldn't even stand on an open deck forward to enjoy the sea. C'mon!!!
Due to a mild medical emergency, I had to use the ship's medical facility. A brief consult with the doc, a blood test, a tube of OTC Cortisol cream, a pack of OTC Allegra = $925. No insurance is accepted. You have to pay up front and then submit with your own insurance.
We had an NCL transfer to the airport. Lots of pushing and shoving by passengers stressed about making flights, but otherwise fine.
We had a good time DESPITE the failures of NCL and the general demeanor of our fellow passengers. Cruising has become another Walt Disney World where you pay for a ticket to get in and then pay a lot more to get a true quality experience. Many of the "little things" that used to be included are a thing of the past. (Remember the waiters dancing and singing, the midnight buffet, the "grand" buffet with all of the carvings, towel animals, flaming Cherries Jubilee??.....SIGH) All of the nickel-and-diming truly degrades the experience. NCL used to be our favorite. Going to jump ship over to Celebrity for the next one. Read Less