We’re a young couple from the UK who have cruised before but not with Norwegian – we chose Norwegian for the itinerary.
Summary of our experience – the majority of staff were rude and non-English speaking, hygiene was awful amongst staff making it inevitable that the majority of guests would get sick (turning the ship into a Zombie apocalypse), the food was tasteless, lacked in variety and was often inedible, dietary requirements were not taken seriously (if you are vegetarian you will be fed meat) and if you complain about anything you’re argued with, treated like a criminal and made to feel very uncomfortable for the rest of your holiday. Needless to say we will not be cruising with Norwegian again.
Now onto the good, the bad and the ugly:
Ship – the ship is a bit dated and the rooms are in need of modernisation. The atmosphere is very casual and relaxed with little dress codes. With a cold itinerary, I would have expected an undercover pool area but there was not, meaning there is little to do when the weather is bad, unless you’re interested in the knitting club… The windows were not cleaned (which I have experienced on past cruises) so guests are unable to see outside clearly. Staff were rude, argumentative and most did not speak good enough English (to the point where they'd take a plate of food away which I told them I had not finished with).
Demographics – most guests are elderly and in retirement, from a mixture of countries. I’d say the majority are from the USA. We were surprised that a lot of guests were rude (barging past, making unnecessary comments) which we have not experienced on past cruises.
Main dining rooms – we thought flexible dining times would be a good idea, but in reality there were long queues and a rushed, poor dining experience. The food was very hit and miss, sometimes very nice but 50% of the time it would be tasteless and we’d end up going to the buffet afterwards! Although when we complained about the food, the maitre’d would let us customise the menu the evening before if there were things we would like different or changed.
Buffet – the food was mostly tasteless, often inedible and had a lack of variety. The only nice thing was the Indian dishes. The traffic light colour signs in the buffet were incorrect every day, even after we informed the chef and maitre'd of this. Their response was the signs are "guidelines" and so those marked vegetarian and vegan could in fact contain meat and dairy. Coleslaw that was marked green (meaning no meat or dairy) in fact had chicken in which I had to spit out. Potato skins that were marked green had mincemeat on top, mixed in with beans. The list goes on. I was also told by the first person I asked that the coloured signs are to be ignored, that they are meant for the staff and mean hot and cold… The staff would use the same tongs to move around the meat dishes and vegetarian dishes – when I confronted one member of staff about it (whilst he was rearranging the vegetarian pizza with the meat pizza tongs) he did not know what the colour signs meant and continued to mix and match. The maitre'd argued with me in the middle of the buffet area, making me feel humiliated and extremely uncomfortable when visiting the buffet again. I felt like a criminal, when all I pointed out was the wrong colour signs and the need to be confident I was not eating meat again. Being vegetarian was not taken seriously so I would avoid Norwegian if you have any dietary requirements.
Premium dining package / restaurants – we paid for a premium dining package for 5 restaurants yet only visited 1, La Cucina. We could not use the package at any of the other restaurants, as they did not cater for vegetarians. Teppanyaki does cater for vegetarians but we were told they would have to cook our food in the kitchen area, removing the “live” dining experience and making it pointless. La Cucina was an awful experience and not edible (much worse than the buffet food). When we spoke to reception we could not change the dining package to something else, as we had already visited La Cucina and the bill had been charged to our room, even though I did not eat anything and complained about the food. I was even told by reception to go to the steakhouse and eat nothing, so that my partner could "enjoy the meats", which we could not believe!!
Hygiene – The hygiene standards were poor, which we were surprised about due to a virus outbreak reported on the cruise ship during April and May. Hygiene was awful amongst staff, making it inevitable that guests would get sick. Staff would not cover their mouths when they coughed and thus spread germs over the buffet areas. Of course you could not bring this to anyone’s attention as they would (pretend?) to not understand you, argue and treat you like a criminal.
Entertainment – the theatre performances were excellent, I loved each one. The majority of performers were external and brought onto the ship for the night. The Russian folklore show was great. We’re glad we didn’t plan to see a folklore show in St Petersburg!
Ports – the terminal locations specified on the NCL website were incorrect, and customer services kept providing us with different terminal locations throughout the booking process. Docking at different locations ruined our planned itinerary (Poland, Lithuania and Finland were all wrong). We were not informed of the Visa requirements for Russia when making the booking, even though we specified we were on a tight budget and called to find out all possible costs. This was a huge unexpected expense we were unhappy about. Make sure you check Visa requirements prior to booking, as Visas for Russia cost us hundreds of pounds!
Good location - close to one of the main dining rooms & O'Sheehans
We stayed in the Movenpick hotel as it was next to the cruise terminal.
The terminal is walking distance from Centraal station (15 mins, easy flat walk) and the city (just past the station).
We chose to get Ubers to save walking between the terminal and station with suitcases, being half the price of local taxis.
We would of course recommend the Anne Frank museum, trying Stroopwaffels and crepes/pancakes, and hiring your own boat rather than doing a boat tour (which isn't too much more money).
We took the ferry across to Neringa and the bus down to Nida. Although we would recommend booking a private tour to stop off at various locations along the way. The route was very beautiful and it was nice seeing the different towns and sights along the way. Due to the bad bus timetable we booked a cab back to the ferry terminal, which cost 50 euros. Although the price was worth it as we ended up having a mini tour and various stops along the way :) As it was out of season it was very hard finding a cab so make sure you have your return transport planned in advance if the bus timetables are not suitable. Also make sure you check whether you're at the Old or New ferry terminal as our cruise line told us the wrong one!
We took the bus to the Little Mermaid (approx. 10 minute walk from the cruise terminal) and from there planned a circular walk around the city, with a return bus to the cruise terminal. The bus station near to the cruise terminal had a machine where you could purchase tickets in advance, but for the return bus there was no machine so we had to pay using local currency onboard. Buses cost about £2.50 per person each way, so much cheaper than the hop on hop off buses which cost 25 euros each.
There are many cruise terminals in Helsinki - we were provided with the wrong one which ended up being very far away and a long walk to the city centre, although it was a pleasant walk past the marina.
We took Ubers from the cruise terminal to Gdansk, which cost between 15-25 euros each way. It's a small city so easy to walk around in the timeframe, and very picturesque.
When we found out about the Russia Visa requirements, which cost a fortune, we decided to book our own tour through Trip Advisor/Viator (2-day tour with Tickets and Tours) rather than the ridiculously expensive cruise excursions. We loved the tour, the guide was excellent and we saw so many sights, including a ride on the metro. We didn't bother seeing a theatre show during the evening, and luckily enough our cruise ship laid on a local Russian folklore show which was great. Be careful of pick-pocketers, they follow you around inside the museums and whilst queueing for tourist attractions (I stopped a group of 3 men stealing a tourist's wallet!).
We hired bikes in the town centre for 10 euros for the day and firstly cycled around the small town, to see the lighthouses etc., and then an approximate 12 mile round trip to Nienhagen, all along safe cycling/walking paths through the countryside, woodland parks and beaches. There were many restaurants and cafes along the way but we chose to grab a bite to eat at the end of the round trip in Nienhagen.
We chose not to travel the long distance to Berlin or Hamburg, as we would see so many cities/town centres on our itinerary and thought seeing the countryside and seaside towns would be more enjoyable.
The cruise terminal was an approx. 15 minute walk to the town. We enjoyed the viewing points looking out over the city. It's a small town so easy to walk around in the timeframe. Don't forget to check out the place where the Devil had a wedding :)
We took the hop on hop off boat which was right next to the cruise terminal. We had enough time to see all of the sights in the timeframe. We'd recommend walking down the street Vasterlamggatan in Gamla Stan which had lots of cafes, souvenir shops etc. and trying waffles :)