We chose this cruise because of its itinerary (China & Japan were top of our list). Unfortunately, the itinerary changed several times before our departure, which took some of the shine off it (particularly the loss of an overnight stop at Beijing, which left us with very little time in between travelling from and to the port where the ship was docked), and the removal of a stop in South Korea (although this one was down to Chinese legislation)
Embarkation was a bit of a nightmare, previous cruises we have been on, after checking in we have moved into a seperate 'holding area' waiting to board, but on this occasion everybody seemed to be hanging around together, making things rather confusing, blocking routes, etc.
Once onboard things did improve, with the good points being as follows:-
The public areas were always clean, the entertainment was very good compared to other cruises we have been on, and the bars and restaurants were plentiful and well stocked. One huge plus was the freedom dining, which allowed us to eat at whatever time we desired, with quite a few options to choose from (we were a group of 4 and we only had to wait once for a table, and that was for less than 10 minutes at one of the smaller complimentary restaurants).
However, there were some negatives, as follows:-
We had pre-booked some speciality restaurants prior to the cruise, but when we attended our first booking we were told that ALL online reservations had been lost (somewhere in cyber space no doubt). They did accommodate us on that first date, but only after a 40 minute wait and a gentle reminder from me that we were still waiting for a table. This first visit to was 3 days into the cruise, surely they would have known by that time that there was a problem with online reservations, and surely they could have made some sort of announcement...?? (our other reservations were re-booked, and all 4 restaurants we ate in were excellent, so no complaints after that initial problem)
Some of the bar staff were a little rude, especially when my wife went to the bar (we have never come accross this on previous cruises, where 99.9% of bar staff have been brilliant) and a few of the customer service staff were even worse (not very helpful at all, in fact)
The cabin, although adequate, was difficult to manouevre around, and the overhead bunk was a nightmare for me as I banged my shoulder on it many times when getting out of bed, despite it being 'stowed away'.
The cruise ship's policy for passing through customs in Japan left a lot to be desired. It was explained through a flyer that every passenger required a 'face to face' inspection with a customs officer (pretty standard stuff at most ports, airports etc, you'd think). but the ship decided it was so complicated, we were to disembark at our first stop at pre-determined intervals, starting with the upper decks and working down to the lower decks. Great if your cabin was on deck 13 or 14, not so great if your cabin was on deck 5, like ours. If we had stuck to the ships plan, we would have been doing our 'face to face' (i.e. going through customs) over 2 and a half hours after the first passengers were allowed off. As we had pre-booked a private tour (costing a lot of money) I visited customer services to inform them that our party WOULD be leaving the boat at the time we had agreed to meet our tour guide (i.e. the time which NCL had said we would be docking at the port and allowing people off). After declining a 'free phonecall' to our guide to say we would be over 2 hours late, followed by several visits to the desk, and a refusal to give in (hence the comment earlier about the unhelpful staff) it was agreed to let us off earlier than our 'scheduled' time (but we were asked not to advertise the fact, so as not to upset other passengers on lower decks I presume!).
One other thing, which didn't affect us but needs mentioning, was the lack of information provided by NCL prior to the cruise with regards visas. Fortunately we had done some research beforehand, and knew we needed visas, but there were several people onboard who could not leave the boat whilst in China because they didn't. One couple, we heard, were in their 80's and it had been their lifelong ambition to visit China but, because they were unaware that a visa was required, they had to stay on the boat. We also heard that another couple had even been turned away at the airport, so they didn't even get to go on the cruise. Can't say for certain if these stories are true, but I do know there were an awful lot of people stuck onboard while we were in China. Now it could be said that it was the passengers fault for not doing their research (and I agree to a certain extent), but we did a cruise last year to Thailand and Vietnam (similar countries to China and Japan in my opinion) and all the visas for that trip were sorted by the cruise ship (we just had to deposit our passports, and our cruise card effectively became our visa and passport). To be truthfully honest, I thought it would be exactly the same on this cruise, and it was only through a stroke of luck that we discovered a visa for China was required, otherwise we would have also been trapped onboard. So I can fully understand why some people may have not known they needed a visa. Surely an email from NCL a month or two before the cruise would easily have solved this problem, or at least made everybody aware?
I've rambled on about the negatives but to be honest, we still had a fabulous time, and the cruise ship was generally great. Nothing is ever perfect, but most of the issues above could have been avoided, which would have made this cruise almost ...
needs to be designed better, and why does every cabin need an additional bunk bed??
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