We are Platinum Plus (30+ cruises) and consider ourselves "loyalists." Unfortunately, our experience on the Bliss in September pushed us to look elsewhere. We'd also had a not so great experience on the Bliss in April but explained it away by the newness of the ship, etc. This time, we couldn't explain away the below average experience. It really makes us sad b/c we've loved NCL for so many reasons. Unfortunately, the changes in NCL (growing too big too fast) are impacting customer service, the cruise experience, and food quality. No longer is there a "family" feel...we felt like just another number (I know we are no matter what but there was not even a pretense to care). On top of that, we brought along our 2 cousins and our travel agent (who'd never sailed NCL) and she brought along 7 others. We had been ranting and raving about NCL to her so she wanted to try it to share her good experiences with her customers.
First, we were not allowed to board until 10p. It was chaos (as other reviews have indicated). We ate in the MDR - the most mediocre food (at best) ever. Then the muster drill at 11p. Really? Most everyone was asleep listening to the drill...elderly folk were exhausted, parents were drained, kids were irritable, and everyone else (including myself) were dumbfounded at the sheer stupidity of keeping us at the drill so long (longer than usual).
When we get to our room, there is a letter indicating we will not be stopping at Seattle as planned but would stay in Victoria for 2 days. There was no explanation and no one knew anything. Later we'd find out that supposedly Seattle port did not have enough Customs agents to allow us to pass through. We found this incredibly hard to believe. There was never an apology or explanation from the Captain or Hotel Director. In fact, the Senior Officers were nowhere to be found. Gone are the days where Senior Officers socialized a bit during the morning/afternoon in the Atrium.
Guest Services was a joke. I loved sailing NCL b/c it felt like EVERYONE knew their jobs so well and I could depend/trust the information I was provided. This was not true of Guest Services - all of whom barely looked up from their computers when speaking to us. Shore Excursions Desk gave us wrong information indicating we should follow immigration process when we stopped in San Francisco ("listen for announcement"). Thank goodness I didn't trust this (mis)information and asked around and found that if you had an excursion, you could get off the ship at the excursion time.
Food - the worst MDR experiences we've ever had. The food was tepid with poor presentation (it really seemed that the chefs just threw food on the plates). Orders were continually wrong, waiters didn't know answers to simple questions regarding the food, and service was horrendous. Several times waiters brought us our soup and appetizer at the same time. So we had all of our plates prior to the main meal at one time. I actually muttered "well this is new" and the waiter asked if I'd rather they hold it for me until I was ready. I declined since I knew all that meant was for it to go sit in a cold room and who knew how long it'd be for him to come around again to bring it to me. One of the Officers told me that about 30% of the staff were entirely new employees. It showed.
On this trip (and the one in April on the Bliss) there were no smiling faces, "good mornings," or anyone who seemed to care that we were paying guests on a cruise ship. Everything was done with what seemed like a great deal of effort, from the hostess swiping our key cards when we checked in for dinner to handing us menus (vs tossing them to us). No more pulling out chairs for us and forget about a napkin on your lap.
Platinum members? Didn't matter...there was nothing special for us. In fact, the Lattitudes party was in the Observation lounge and EVERYONE stopped by to get a drink at the bar, regardless of status. Cruise Critic Meet and Greet was pathetic - some of the Senior Officers were there and they were hurriedly introduced and they quickly ran off to somewhere else after their names were called.
I often felt like saying "sorry to bother you." Not what you want when you've spent a nice chunk of change on a cruise. I wasn't sad when it was time to leave and it was hard for me to give a standing ovation at the farewell party. When I got home, I felt like I'd never even been on a vacation.
I also started getting on Cruise Critic and looking at reviews of HAL, obtained other members' opinions, and called HAL for information. Did you know that a person at HAL actually answers the phone without waiting on hold for 30+ minutes?!
So not only did NCL give my travel agent nothing to encourage her customers to try, her companions saying they'll go back to their usual smaller/more expensive cruises, and my cousins got driven back to Disney, but they also helped me decide to spread my wings and try HAL. Maybe I'll get back some of that feeling of being valued. While I feel a bit disloyal, I really felt the need to speak with my money and go elsewhere at least for now.