Okay - here goes.
I never actually review cruises on this site. I usually use it for planning group excursions and meeting other critics etc. But, this cruise was so terrible, I felt I had to review it. Let me set the scene by telling you I am a Gold Latitudes Member, cruise critic and exclusive NCL cruiser (with the exception of one cruise). Let's start from the beginning....
Embarkation in Singapore was THE WORST I have ever been through. I am a Gold Latitudes member so I was in the gold/platinum line and what should have been a 20 min procedure took 1 1/2 hours. It was so long standing still that the lady in line in front of me fainted and my husband caught her on the way down! Next to me in the Silver Latitudes line I was told it was a 2 1/2hr wait and in the ordinary line I heard first-hand reports of people waiting 4 HOURS! I honestly did a quick time and it was taking about 20 mins per group in the gold/platinum line. The captain apologised for this in his announcement and said that it was due to "greater than expected number of people wanting Vietnam visas" which was a lie because that part of the process was a 2 second signature on a form.
Once on the ship, a few hours after what should have been our leaving time, the captain announced there was an "issue" with one of the engines and that as long as they could fix it by 2am, we would still get to Koh Samui on time. My husband and I got up to go to the bathroom at about 1am and felt the ship moving (and therefore assumed we were on our way) but then found out all that had happened was they moved us to the Singapore Bay to allow another ship to take its allocated berth. We spent the first 'sea day' in the Bay of Singapore and went back into the port that night. The engine had failed and we were told they were flying in experts from USA and Europe to fix it, so we had some hope we may still get back on track. Little did we know that the experts weren't being flown in to fix the engine, they were being flown in to certify that it was safe to continue the cruise on one engine. We were issued a 'new itinerary' which had a whole 3 ports (one completely new which I had made no plans for) and were offered via announcement from the captain "A full refund plus 50% off your next cruise" which made it a lot easier to take. However, once we investigated the 50% off the next cruise, we soon realised that it was 50% of what we paid on THIS cruise towards another cruise which, while still a generous offer, was not the expectation created by the captain in his announcement. Some people got the cruise for about $800 and so were bitterly disappointed in their $400 towards another cruise! I am not denying that this was still a good offer, but they set expectations in that announcement and when we found out the truth we started to doubt the honesty of NCL.
When we got back into Singapore, NCL told people they were welcome to leave the ship if they desired, but that NCL would not be paying for their flights etc if they did go. We just went into Singapore for the day and had another look, used the wifi at the port to cancel all our tours and got back on that night. What we didn't realise is that apparently approx 10% of the ship disembarked. As a result about 100 people (who I assumed were at the front desk demanding perks) were upgraded to better rooms!! I was told it was for free by people who were speaking to those upgraded. One guy was travelling with his son and got his son his own room! Considering the atrocious room we had (cabin feedback below), I was FURIOUS that being a Gold latitudes member and a cruise critic obviously meant nothing when they were handing out upgrades. We went to the desk to see if there was even another inside state room we could have and the front desk staff were so infuriatingly smug and condescending!!! I couldn't believe the way in which they treated us! I wasn't being rude or angry when I asked! I was perfectly friendly and pleasant.
The rest of the trip basically consisted of us rolling back and forth in the South China Sea for about 7 days straight. Our stop in Nha Trang was cancelled due to weather (devastating but totally understandable give the weather!) so that left only 2 ports. The night before Nha Trang was so rocky that I did not sleep the entire night. Apparently a lot of people were very sick.
We arrived at Chan May (near Hoi An and Hue) in Vietnam late one afternoon. Luckily for us, we honeymooned in Hoi An and had the contact details of a driver who we texted from the ship to come get us. Luckily they turned on the Maritime network so we could text! We paid him $100 USD for a return trip to Hoi An, but because it was an unexpected stop and super expensive wifi on the ship, other people had to either book a ridiculously overpriced ships tour which spent the majority of the time in museums and shops, or take a local taxi which we heard people paid $150 USD ONE WAY! I thought considering it was an unexpected stop, the ship would put on a shuttle in and out of Hoi An, but the Shore Excursion staff smugly told me that wasn't happening (this is before I thought to contact our driver). The people who went on the ships tours were scathing in their comments on how poor they were. I found the shore excursion staff as condescending as the front desk staff. I heard several stories of them lying about situations to get you to book the ships tours.
Sanya was an absolute debacle! We got Chinese visas and therefore didn't need the ships tour to go ashore (although we heard later that was a lie from Shore Excursions too and apparently as long as you arrived by ship to Sanya and were leaving within 72hrs you didn't need a visa at all! One guy confirmed this with the Chinese immigration staff!). However, in true NCL style, they gave full preference to those on ships tours and told us we could only get our passports back at 9am (docking time!). NCL underestimated the amount of Chinese citizens on the ship and the queue to get our passports was mammoth!!! The floor we were getting the passports on was the same floor as the gangway and as a result there was an enormous crowd of people on that floor squashed together and very unhappy! I took a photo of the crowd but it doesn't do it justice. It took a good 2 hours to get off the ship and through immigration and once we saw what a disappointing place it was, we got back on the ship a few hours later. NCL made every excuse under the sun about the delay (and even called the Chinese government corrupt etc) but everyone said the same, that it was a 2-way street and a 2-part process and NCL handing out passports at docking time was ridiculous! One lady said to me (in line waiting to get out to Sanya) that it should be called "NWL" - "Norwegian Waiting Line" for all the times we queued and waited for them to get their act together.
On the second last day (day before docking) NCL decided they would offer to pay people out their account balances in CASH (USD only) so there were huge lines of people settling bills and trying to get their cash paid. At some stage, they ran out of money and then just offered the usual cheque. What annoyed me was, as with everything else on this cruise, the staff gave inconsistent information and incorrect information. Being from Australia, a payment in USD cash is useless to us and we wanted the amount to be paid in USD onto a special credit card we have which has an excellent exchange rate. We were told by one Italian Manager that this was not possible, that NCL would send us a cheque in USD and if we wanted anything differently we would have to call the Australian NCL office and request it. When we got home, we found the amount was paid onto that credit card already. Not a big deal but it highlights the distinct lack of knowledge of the staff and inconsistencies being told (we discussed with other Australians and they had been told something completely different).
Disembarkation was a breeze.
Here is the crux of what I want to say about this cruise...
The engine failing was a preventable event. I know this because I am a maintenance engineer and I know what a critical piece of plant the engine is for a cruise ship. My husband was a bit more forgiving of this event, but I know this was purely their mistake and for that I am furious because we went on this cruise purely for the itinerary. The cruise refund does not compensate for the $4,000 we spent on flights/transfers/accom either side of the cruise in order to do the cruise, or lost deposits on our private tours. Despite this, the cruise was defined by how this event was handled - and in my opinion it was not handled well at all. We were treated DISGRACEFULLY by all management staff constantly. They spoke condescendingly and smugly with every question or request we had. Information was not consistent or correct. Everyone was told something different and most of the time what we were told was not true. Being a Gold Latitudes member and cruise critic means absolutely nothing to NCL but demanding perks at the front desk obviously gets rewarded. If you are not taking a ships tour, they don't give two hoots about you, and the staff at the shore excursions aren't completely honest in an attempt to scare you into taking a ships tour. I am extremely disappointed in how this cruise was handled. I have cruised exclusively with NCL for 6 cruises in a row now, but it will take an enormous amount to get me to give them my money again after this. Even with a '50%' credit.
Congratulations, NCL in 50 years of sailing and congratulations in delivering the worst holiday of my life.
DO NOT TAKE THIS CABIN!!
We thought we were being clever by taking the 'wild card' booking where you pay for an inside room but can end up on any level of the ship. I have cruised with NCL 6 times (and last year on this exact same ship) and I have never had a smaller, pokier room. My husband and I had to take turns getting dressed while the other sat on the bed because there wasn't enough room for both of us to be standing at the same time! The location of the cabin was excellent - direct access to the pool and buffet (if you like the buffet - we never really ate there) but the room itself was oppressive. To make matters worse, we found out later that NCL offered free room upgrades to about 100 people! we would have been grateful to just move to another inside stateroom where we could both stand up at once!.