I have been on many cruises, but had not been on NCL in many years before deciding to give them another try because I liked the itinerary. I wasn’t crazy about the ship, which was very smoky, and the food wasn’t very good. They also confiscate all liquids every time you get back on the ship. I won’t be coming back to NCL anytime soon.
Our flight arrived in Copenhagen early in the morning, and we were met by NCL reps before we even had our bags. We had the NCL transfer, but one person in our group was not on the manifest. We were told that our transfer would include a 2 ½ hour tour of the city on the way to the pier, which was a very pleasant surprise. We got to the pier around 10:30. Our luggage was taken off the bus for us and delivered to the cabins around 3:00. Check in was very quick, although the rep did not know how to register a credit card. We then had to wait in chairs for about an hour before we could get on the ship around 11:30. The cabins were not ready until 1:00. The middle elevators were not stopping on all floors, which created some frustration for passengers in wheelchairs. Boat drill was the shortest one I’ve ever been to.
The cabin had probably the least amount of useable storage space I’ve ever seen on a ship (we were in a balcony – I visited an outside cabin that had much better storage). There was only one tiny nightstand, with a little shelf and no drawers. The 3 drawers in the cabinets were smaller than normal. There were 4 shelves but the top 2 were too high to use unless you are tall. The majority of the storage space consisted of shelves INSIDE the closet. Yes, you will eventually discover that there is a light in the closet but even with it on you pretty much have to crawl into the closet, pushing the hanging clothes and shoes aside, to get at anything. By turning the shelves 90 degrees, they could easily have designed the shelves to open into the hall inside the cabin instead of inside the closet – just a really stupid design flaw.
Our cabin was smoky for most of the trip, despite smoking not being allowed in the cabins. We could not figure out where it was coming from, and neither could our steward. This was very annoying.
The shower was fine, with a glass door, although I didn’t like the shampoo, which did not foam up. Our cabin steward didn’t give us any bar soap until day 9 of the cruise. There is very little storage space in the bathroom and the electric socket did not work. Dividing the toilet from the sink with a glass door didn’t seem to accomplish much apart from taking up space and the door rattled with the ship’s movement. There were no amenities apart from a tube of runny lotion. The glasses in the bathroom were dirty.
As for the rest of the cabin, the tiny loveseat was really well worn and hard as a brick. The TV was smaller than usual and was not interactive. The peephole in the door was so high that most women would not be able to use it. There was an odd little kitchen-type table with a hardback chair that we didn’t use much, and a light by the mirror that was too dim to be of any use. The cabin was pretty quiet, we had no trouble putting our luggage under the bed, and the bed itself was excellent. Disappointingly, the chairs on the balcony did not have backs that recline.
Our cabin steward was a mixed bag. At first I was really impressed that she had noticed on embarkation day that the minibar was missing items that we shouldn’t be charged for, but then we never got a second beach towel, the glasses in the bathroom were filthy, and sometimes we got a bathmat and sometimes we didn’t. She also came very late on sea days – sometimes mid-afternoon. It was disappointing to come back to our cabin after lunch and find it still hadn’t been serviced even though we put the sign out.
I didn’t love the ship. There were fewer lounges than normal, and there is really no place to sit and quietly read a book or do a puzzle apart from the library. There is no lounge up top with panoramic views like on many ships. We quickly stopped going to Gatsby’s lounge because smoke poured in from the casino next door. The coffee lounge was popular but it was usually completely full and definitely not quiet. It could also be cold and smoky due to the doors out onto prom deck. The 5 O’Clock lounge had good natural light along the windows but the chairs are hard. The main lounge had trivia or other activities going nonstop on sea days. The only other option was the window seats lining the busy hallways, which weren’t quiet or comfortable. I think all the other space that many ships have for public areas was taken up by the pay restaurants. On this ship we spent a lot more time in our cabin than normal. There was always a TV blaring in one elevator bank. One thing I really liked were the visual clues to help you navigate your way around the ship – the carpet in most of the corridors had fish all swimming towards the front of the ship (except for the red herring, of course!). The carpet on the stairs is color-coded to tell you whether you are at the front, middle, or back of the ship. There is a nice library with honor system checkouts and a swap. There were a lot of German books in the swap.
This is the only ship I have been on that confiscates ALL liquids every time you get back on the ship. Even though the captain had announced at one point that the desalination equipment on the ship was malfunctioning and therefore the tap water was not great, you could not bring your water bottle back on board without emptying it first, and you can forget about buying a few sodas in port to drink in your cabin. They even confiscated sealed bottles of water that they had sold to you a few hours earlier. This alone would keep me from coming on NCL again. There are better ways to spend my vacation than trying to remember to empty my water bottle every time I get back on the ship.
The captain (Matthias Andersson) was fantastic. He kept us well informed and gave a little talk every time we came into a new port with information and history of the area, which I really enjoyed. He also gave a talk on the Vikings on the last sea day.
The lounge singers and bands were good to excellent, and most of the shows were good, including the production shows. Steve Rawlings and Yuri & Nato were pretty bad. Unlike most ships, you get a real show on the first and last nights instead of some awful variety show. The game shows were painfully slow and sometimes the volume was painfully loud. Be aware that the Perfect Couple show is pretty risqué -- on most ships that would be a late-night, R rated show.
CD Mark was average (he tends to talk too long after the show) and his assistant Adriano was really annoying – he was always SCREAMING into the microphone about Bingo. Overall, I thought the staff on this ship had a little less English than on most ships. We also found it hard sometimes to figure out from the newsletter descriptions exactly what the entertainment was and whether it was a production show. Sometimes the crossword puzzles were photocopied so poorly it was almost impossible to read them. In one port, the staff had clearly re-used an old newsletter without updating it because the sunrise and sunset times and the weather for that port were all wrong.
O’Sheehan’s has 4 TVs in the bar but don’t expect to watch anything other than soccer. Friends of ours went in one night when there were only a couple of people in the bar. They asked the staff to turn one of the TVs to American football and the staff refused.
Food & Drink
Neither the food nor the dining experience were very good. Maybe the quality of the food declined when they decided not to have a dress code for dinner (even shorts are allowed in one of the dining rooms).
We had reservations for one of the two main dining rooms most nights. Sometimes we still had to wait because our table was not ready. I thought giving people black napkins when they are wearing dark pants was a great idea, but it only happened once or twice – most nights nobody offered. The hostesses in all the DR’s we ate at seemed stressed out and overworked. We never got a warm greeting or a smile.
The food itself ranged from pretty good to pretty bad, and it wasn’t always hot. My husband ordered the escargot but most of them were actually mushrooms they were trying to pass off as snails. The desserts were probably the worst we’ve had on a ship. The kitchen over baked all the cakes and brownies and seemed incapable of preparing anything that is supposed to be creamy, especially on the buffet. Gnocchi or tortellini that should have been in a creamy sauce were dry in the pan. The cheesecake was not creamy. The pecan pie had none of the sweet gooey stuff that makes the pie so good. The meats in all of the curries and stir fries were overcooked. You could also predict that once something new appeared on the menu (green beans and sausages come to mind), you were going to see it on every lunch menu and every dinner menu for days until they use it all up. The best meal at the buffet was breakfast, where the selection was pretty good and they had sweet rolls and pecan rolls under a heat lamp every day. However, the seating at the buffet left a lot to be desired. Square and rectangular tables are lined up end to end, which makes the place seem very institutional. Worse, the tables are close together, so once all the seats are full the chairs are back to back – you can’t walk between them – so if you sit at the windows, you can’t get out without making everyone else in the row get up. At peak times there are not enough seats. There is soft serve ice cream. The beverage selection in the buffet was good, and they don’t come around and hound you to buy drinks like on so many ships. We also liked the caddies on the tables to hold the condiments and the napkins and silverware. The sangria at the buffet was pretty good, too.
Some of the restaurants can’t seem to decide what they want to be. Ginza dining room serves sushi and sake and has a tepanyaki room, but the waitresses wear Mandarin collar dresses and the bulk of the menu is Chinese. At Ginza, I thought the staff was just OK but the food on the regular menu was very good. O’Sheehan’s was set up as a pub, but the food arrives in a metal basket reminiscent of a clam shack. The basket is hard to work with if you need to cut your food. The portions are on the small side but the food was pretty good. It was really nice to have a sit down alternative to the zoo at the buffet, but the service at O’Sheehan’s was not great. You get greeted with a demand to see your card (even though there is no charge), instead of a smile. After you sit down, the service turns into chaos, especially if it is busy. After your waiter takes your order, you may never see him again. You may not get your beverage until the end of the meal. Someone other than your server brings your food, and if you have any questions or problems that person just tells you to talk to your server. I had one server misunderstand me when I said one more person might join us later. She announced that she wasn’t coming back until the other person arrived even though we wanted to order. I tried in vain to flag her down every time she walked by our table but she refused to look my way so I eventually had to get the manager’s attention. He just passed us off to a different waitress. The servers seem to assume that you will eat your entrée and leave. If you want refills or dessert or anything, you will have to hunt them down. O’Sheehan’s really needs to take their service up a notch.
Aqua dining room is much smaller (or therefore much less noisy) than Versailles, although the menus are the same. Aqua was sometimes so dark it was hard to read the menu. They close the blinds so you can’t see out, which sort of makes it feel like you are below ground. Versailles has a back wall of windows over the ocean but it is very large and can be very noisy. It would be nice if the menus grouped together the “always available” selections instead of lumping them in with the changing selections. The appetizers and entrees ranged from pretty good to pretty bad. Some of the entrees looked good but turned out to not have much food – I had a Cornish hen one night that literally had only a couple bites of meat on it. Sometimes the food was OK but just looked unappetizing – a piece of white fish with white rice and cauliflower.
We don’t normally get a beverage package but one was included in our booking and we thought it was more generous than what we have heard about beverage packages on other lines. There was no dollar limit on it. We were told that top-shelf spirits were excluded, but we never ordered anything that wasn’t covered. This ship serves Pepsi, not Coke.
The excursions were well run and the descriptions were pretty accurate, although some of the buses were too full. The shorex staff was good and they were well organized in getting everyone off the ship. The tendering operation was also well run. A major pain is that if you pre-book excursions online before the cruise you have to call them to cancel – they really need to fix their system so that you can easily cancel shorex online, like all the other cruise companies I’ve used.
The disembarkation process was easier than on most ships. They don’t deliver stuff to your cabin – just check the screen by the desk and take whatever color luggage tags you need. However, the cabin steward was knocking on our door before 7 even though we did not have to be out of our cabins until 8. We walked off with our own luggage and there was a long window in which we could do that, which was convenient. What was incredibly inconvenient was that they limited one set of elevators to only certain floors. That meant the central elevators were so jammed you couldn’t get on them if you weren’t on the top floor. If you are not able to carry your own suitcase down several flights of stairs, this was a problem. We got our own taxi to the airport.