We were a group of 10 people (8 adults and 2 children) celebrating my parent's 50 Anniversary and thought the cruise would be the perfect holiday for everyone to bond and spend quality time.
We live in Dubai hence we approached Imagine Cruising (The authorised agent for the UAE) for our bookings. We finalized 3 Balcony rooms next to each other and were pretty excited about the arrangements. We paid approx USD 6300 for a family of four for the 9 day full board cruise.
On embarking we realised that there were people who had booked directly from NCL who got great deals on beverages, alcohol, speciality restaurants which we were never made aware of by imagine cruising.
One of the things that really irritated us was the fact that on arrival the cabin had two bottles of water - One still and one sparkling. Being travelers and been to our share of hotels, usually bottles kept out meant complimentary, however we were told later that sparkling bottle costed USD 6 odd and since the bottle was big and didn't fit in the mini bar it was kept out. When we argued with the guest services that there was no mention of the charges, their reply was "well, it doesn't say that it is free either" WOW!! That's when the distrust started with the cruiseliner...Imagine straight off in the first 15 mins of people embarking the cruiseliner makes approx USD 9 per cabin for the water consumed by unassuming people.
Around the fifth day we became aware of a charge called gratuity fee which is USD 15 per person per day. For a family of 4 it came to USD 540 which was never communicated by Imagine cruising to us. We started freaking out coz we had budgets for our trip and this was serious curveball. We are happy to pay gratuity if we are told about these expenses and we raised it with the guest services. It took them 2 days to reverse the fees and we were stressed for 2 days as 3 families were going to get hit with approx USD 1300.
We were charged for mini bar consumption which we debated and was reversed.
People go on holidays to forget stress but we had it in abundance on this cruise. Everyday we didn't know if we would get a seat at any of the complimentary restaurants, wait time was 40 mins. Garden Cafe Buffet is where we ate our Breakfast/lunch and dinner for about 5 days. O'sheehan's would have a special for the day which would be served till 9pm only and then regular food would be served again with no change in the menu.
We didn't understand the concept of having 3 complimentary restaurants with the same menu for 9 days! You basically are finding ways to push people to go for the speciality restaurants out of sheer boredom!
A lot of the arcade games across the ship were money making machines, people playing were getting frustrated losing their money.
Being travelers we understand that you are docking at lesser known countries like Poland, Estonia to increase their tourism and generating revenue but Poland as a port can be missed entirely as the scenic tour wasn't great. Estonia was a pleasant surprise and St Petersburg was bustling.
For some reason when docking at St. Petersburg all gambling activities on the ship ceased leaving us very little to do in the evening time.
Good things on the cruise was the food across the restaurants we ate in. The service was good and staff was friendly and helpful.
Very good layout of the ship allowed people of different age groups to do their own thing.
All in all we could have had a much better and relaxed experience had all the money related problems not been there. I don't think we will sail with NCL again as I don't trust them to be transparent in their dealings, charges and overall approach to customer service.
Overall good use of space.
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