NCL Cruise in a Wheelchair
On October 21-28, 2016 my wife and I went on the second cruise we have taken on the Norwegian Dawn out of Boston. In August 2015 we sailed with a group of family, 22 of us altogether. This time around, however, it was just the two of us traveling on our own. There was a great deal of press regarding the drydock and renovation of the ship this past June, so we were very anxious to see for ourselves. It turns out the changes we saw were almost entirely a matter of decor, flooring, window and wall treatments, and furniture.
We do not go to bars or clubs, but we did get around seeing a great deal of the ship in general; regarding the new décor, most of the ship was brighter and even more pleasant than it had been the previous year, the changes were definitely for the better. We enjoyed the entertainment, taking in quite a few of the different shows during our cruise. There was a nice variety in the types of shows to see.
The single greatest aspect to be noted about the cruise was the staff and crew, they were fantastic, it cannot be stressed enough. They were friendly and accommodating and wonderfully helpful. We literally have many accounts per day regarding individuals going above and beyond to make our cruise better and more memorable.
At dinner the first night of the cruise things were not looking good to start. The restaurant was extremely busy, we had been shown to our table and after 15 minutes of seeing no one my wife went to the maître d”s station which happened to be just around the corner from our table and complained. She asked to speak to the dining room manager who did not just get us someone to wait on our table immediately, but he himself waited on us for the entire meal. This was the sixth cruise that I have been on and the recommendation that he gave me for the dinner I had was the single best recommendation I’ve ever had. Not only on a cruise but at any restaurant.
I’m in a wheelchair and cannot walk at all. Any time our cabin steward saw us returning to the cabin, however far down the hall he might have been, he would proceed directly to our cabin greeting us and getting the door, assisting us back into our cabin and making sure everything was all set before returning to his work which he did diligently and well.
If these were isolated examples that stood out from normally good service they would certainly have been enough to raise the quality of our vacation on board. The fact was that these were in no way isolated examples, this level of service was the standard on the entire ship.
We dined in La Cucina, Teppenyaki, Le Bistro, they were all great from start to finish, especially the service. Although the duck at Le Bistro was somewhat flat; on the other hand the soup was phenomenal and the desert, the Napoleon was delicious making it one of only 4 individual exceptions to disappointing deserts served throughout the ship.
We also ate at Bamboo, a definite all-star from start to finish; O’Sheehan’s was a surprise previously untried by us, and an excellent venue when not over crowded.
Then there is the Garden Café (the buffet). The buffet was disappointing. The space is attractive and the presentation of the line is very good, but the food itself was only mediocre and it was quite redundant if you went there more than once. Aside from the carving station the meats and meat dishes were dry and sadly overcooked, but if you liked a hamburger with the consistency of pressed sawdust the buffet and Topsiders by the pool are for you. Most of the vegetables were limp and lifeless. There was one small section of the buffet which was an exception, once I found it I stopped bothering with the rest beyond a passing look. If you come across their Indian style cauliflower then feast away, also this station had by far the best noodles on the buffet.
With only four individual exceptions during the cruise every other dessert served was disappointing. An old chef’s adage is, “every meal is eaten twice, first with the eyes and then with the mouth”. While all the desserts were beautiful to look at, they seem to have forgotten that eventually the food has to actually cross the pallet. The most shocking disappointment in regards to the ships desserts was in the form of the pecan pie they were serving on the buffet. It started out as a picture perfect dessert and was absolutely beautiful to look at, sadly its merits ended there. Never in my life had it even occurred to me that it was be possible for the filling of a pecan pie to actually be dry. I took two small bites and simply could not stand to try another.
The cruise was very nice and we did enjoy it. For any able-bodied person I would definitely recommend this cruise so long as you are not a dessert person; no longer having Carlo’s Bakery aboard is a big loss.
Unfortunately, when it comes to looking at the cruise from a wheelchair things begin to change.
Overall the ship was wheelchair friendly and could be easily maneuvered around in the wheelchair. Many of the doors to go from the inside areas to outdoors on the decks are automatic and operate when approached which is great. There are, however, a few doors between the inside and outside that are manual and for some reason these same manual doors have a short steep ramp going up to and down from the door which made them impossible to negotiate without the assistance of a person who could stand holding the door open.
The Java Café located on deck 7 opposite the Guest Services desk was also a large disappointment. The Café itself was on a raised level up three steps with no ramp to make it accessible. There were some tables off of the raised area and there was wait staff, but their instructions seem to be to only serve these tables if you had first gone up into the café area and placed your order. You could sit at a table for hours without receiving service. Also there were demonstrations held here that took place on the raised platform of the café not only making it impossible for those of us in wheelchairs to get anywhere near but also making it impossible for us to even see what was going on.
Our handicapped balcony state room was the most disappointing part of the ship.
Upon arriving in the room the bed was set up as a single king size bed with the telephone in the corner of the room between the bed and the wall. This space was perhaps 12 inches making it physically impossible to even get to the phone so no contact with other state rooms, no ordering room service, and no contacting Guest Services to report the problem.
There was a 4 inch step from the room up to the balcony making it impossible to get onto the balcony in a wheelchair. Also with the bed set up as it was, it extended part of the way in front of the balcony door so even if the temporary ramp which is available were in place it would be physically impossible to get out the door.
We spoke to the cabin steward about the arrangement of the bed and he happily split it into two twin beds on opposite sides of the room and moved the phone to where it was accessible.
When a handicapped person books a room with NCL they are contacted by the NCL Access Desk who is supposed to make sure any special accommodations the person might require are taken care of.
When we sailed on the Dawn in 2015 we had seen a video posted online of the handicapped state room on the opposite side of the ship from ours which had a pole coming down in the entryway of the room which limited access. When we contacted the Access Desk directly they assured us that no such poll existed, of course when we arrived at the room the pole was most definitely there.
Also there is a form the access desk emails handicapped passengers outlining available standard accessibility arrangements you might need in place and asking about any special requests that you have. They ask you to have it back to them 60 days before sailing to make sure they can have all your requests in for you when you arrive, which I did fill out and email back to the representative I had been contacted by. When we sailed in 2015 on the Norwegian Dawn the access desk failed to take care of two of the four things I had requested. This time they failed completely and nothing I had requested was there.
The only value this process with the Access Desk had at all was that I printed a copy of this form and brought it with me and went to Guest Services with it. They were extremely helpful and were able to get some of the things I had requested, although not all.
The bathroom in the handicapped state room was also very disappointing. First of all it was small and cramped with barely enough room to pivot the wheelchair around in place. The sink in the bathroom was at a height for a person standing; to a person in a wheelchair it just below shoulder height. Apparently when brushing your teeth they are under the impression that a person in a wheelchair wishes to rest his or her chin on the edge of the sink. The grab bars in the bathroom were chromed and their surfaces polished, I am sure it looks quite lovely in pictures, but is a bad choice for safety.
The single worst feature of the handicapped state room was the bed. The bed sits at a height of 28+ inches. Next to a standard wheelchair this puts it even with the top of the armrest. To provide a perspective for people not in wheelchairs the standard height of a kitchen or dining room table is 30 inches. So apparently, if you are in a wheelchair, by being in an NCL handicapped state room when you need to get into or out of bed you can miraculously stand, or have temporarily developed a rather extraordinary ability to climb.
As I had previously mentioned I had sailed on the Norwegian Dawn in August 2015 after which and I had written to them making them aware of most of these issues, the steps up to the Java Café, the failure to provide items requested through the Access Desk, the step up to the balcony, and the bed height. Sadly no accessibility deficiencies were addressed during the drydock of which they are so proud.
For people who are fully wheelchair-bound and cannot stand or walk a couple of steps I suggest you avoid NCL. While it is a lovely ship and the crew is so superlative the state room is extremely tiring to manage and even somewhat dangerous in a couple of respects.
This is a handicapped stateroom and is very badly set up.
Phone at the head of the bed, only 12 inch space to get to. Impossible to reach in a wheelchair. 4 inch step up to get out on the balcony, impossible in a wheelchair. Bed height approximately 29 inches, very difficult and somewhat dangerous to get in and out of from a wheelchair.
Bathroom: polished chrome grab bars, very slippery if hands are wet. Sink approximately 36 inches. At chest height in a wheelchair when brushing teeth. barely enough space to rotate a wheelchair in place, frequently banging hands and knees.