Chose this cruise to return from a coach tour of New Zealand to go to Singapore where we would fly home to the UK so using it as a final opportunity to visit key places on the east coast of Australia as it is unlikely (with increasing age) that we will ever revisit this part of the world again. Key places we wanted to see were : Sydney, to revisit places we saw on our last trip to Australia; Brisbane, an iconic city with the GABBA as an attraction to two cricket lovers; Cairns for the Great Barrier Reef. NCL offered a catamaran trip to the Barrier Reef from Airlie Beach and we booked this but as they did not offer anything from Cairns and we wanted to maximise our only chances to visit and snorkel on this feature we booked a helicopter flight to the reef from Cairns. We were also lookinf forward to visitng Bali and seeing some of their temples.
On our coach tour round New Zealand we got an email from NCL telling us of major changes in the itinerary, but with no explanation. Brisbane was to be missed out even though it featured heavily in their brochure advertising the cruise and was to be replaced by Port Kembla (no, me neither), Bali was dropped and Cairns would be called at on the day after it was due there in the original itinerary. So with very little spare time on the coach tour we had to cancel our independent trip arranged for Bali and rearrange our helicopter flight in Cairns for the following day. Then only two days before the cruise we got another email this time telling us that Bali was reinstated and that we would be going to Cairns on the original date. We managed to re-book the trip in Bali but it was too late to rearrange the helicopter flight as they were now fully booked on that day. So two of the main reason for this cruise had been knocked on the head. What we found difficult to understand in all this was that the captain etc knew there was a problem with the engines but instead of putting into port and getting them fixed (which they were forced to do when the engines gave up outside Melbourne and the ship had to be tugged back to port) they seemed to think that they could limp on with faulty engines for the rest of the trip and just cut out destinations from the itinerary. Did not make sense.
Embarkation was a nightmare - over one and a half hours queuing in hot and humid conditions in a long snake of a line with water and seats only available at the start of the queue. Seems as though they were surprised at over 2000 people turning up to get on the ship as there were nowhere near enough staff and computers to cope.
Then there was the tendering. We were supposed to dock at Sydney so we thought we would have a full day to revisit some of the places we enjoyed last time. Instead we anchored and had to be tendered. We eventually got ashore at 11.10 and then found we had to walk 20 minutes to get to the main transport links at Circular Quay. Given that we would have to queue for tenders on the way back we only had 4 hours ashore instead of the expected 8 so drastically cutting back on what we could do. It was the same at Cairns where we anchored at Yorky's Knob, not Cairns. It took and hour to get onto a tender, half an hour to get to shore then another half hour on a bus (for which we had to pay) to get to Cairns. As we had already lost our helicopter trip to the Great Barrier Reef this did not improve our view of the management of the ship. Similar at Bali where the tender took 30 minutes to get to shore. We anticipated problems getting back to the ship so decided to cut out one of the temples we wanted to see in order to arrive back in time. Just as well we did as we got back before the main NCL trips but still had to queue in full sun, hot and humid for nearly 30 minutes without any cool drinks or towels being offered before we got on a tender to return to the ship. At Port Klang ( for Kuala Lumpur) we found on board that the ship was now departing at 4.30 and not 5.00 as originally advertised so we again had to contact our independent tour operator to pick us up a bit earlier to get us back on time.
The final piece of poor organisation came at the end. We had been promised an onboard credit of $500 per cabin for all of the disruption caused by the engine problems and changes in itinerary. The money would be refunded if not spent. We were just about to leave when we got a phone call in the cabin asking us to go down to Guest Relations to collect our refund. even though the credit was per cabin we both had to go to collect the money individually. And we now have to change the dollars we were given into sterling - no idea why they couldn't put it back into the account we used to pay for the cruise.
The shame about the abysmal organisation and management of the cruise is that (as usual) the staff were excellent - the chefs, waiters, barmen, cabin stewards. The entertainment was among the best we have seen on a cruise line, varied, high quality throughout 19 days cruise which took some doing. They would deserve 5 stars.
Typical NCL BB grade cabin, possibly with a smaller balcony than on other ships