BEWARE ! NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE. After 14 cruises over the last 30 years with Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Disney, Carnival, and Norwegian — including 2 European cruises, an Alaskan Cruise, an Atlantic/Bahama Cruise and multiple Caribbean and Mexican cruises — Norwegian is a cruise line that we suggest you AVOID at all costs !
The reasons are many ... and I will list the major reasons:
We recently celebrated important landmark life events with 21 family members from ages 3 to 70 on a 7-day cruise aboard NCL Joy. From the reservation process with one of their own NCL Corporate "Group" Agents (NOT an independent travel agent) 3 months prior to the cruise until now — nearly 3 months after the cruise — and they have consistently disappointed.
When I first called Norwegian I was connected to their Group Booking Agent (who Cruise Critic will not allow to be identified) who first shared his tragic story that his wife was killed in an auto accident and he became a single father of 2 young sons and subsequently moved to Arizona — and after hearing his life story (and what I believe to be his attempt to engender my sympathy) -- he INSISTED that we could not make a deposit and that 100% of the entire fare had to be paid by 2 pm that same day of our initial inquiry about a cruise, or 6 cabins would not be held. As you can imagine, getting everyone in our group of 12 adults to be able to immediately agree on the dates, itinerary and time off from work within 6 hours was nearly impossible. After several calls Isaac finally said he got his boss to "make an exception" to hold 4 cabins overnight (but only until 10am) so long as we paid 2 cabins in full, immediately !
Imagine our surprise when the reservation receipt arrived a day later and said our full fare was not due until 10 days later (but showing $0 balance due), and in fact we could have paid a deposit while finalizing our plans. We can only surmise that the urgency was that the agent was trying to qualify for a sales bonus and needed our $25,000 paid and attributed to him immediately in order to qualify.
Along with NCL's standard offering of our choice of 3 of the "5 Free At Sea" options, we were promised a credit of $820 as a "group discount". I was told the credit would appear on my credit card once all 6 cabins had been paid (which should have been immediate) and was 3 months prior to sailing, in August 2019. The refund was not processed and it took many phone calls and emails over many weeks and months -- and finally, 5 months later they paid it.
Of the “Free at Sea" options, one that we opted for was the $100 shipboard credit. It is clearly listed in all 6 of our reservation confirmations, and appeared in our official cruise documents required for boarding. It was also shown on the NCL app we downloaded onto our phones once we were onboard the ship. In fact, the ship credit was shown in our account tabs in the app — but 1/2 way through the cruise the $100 credit mysteriously disappeared from all 6 of our accounts. We inquired at the Purser's Desk and were told that we would be reimbursed after the cruise. We explained to the un-named rep (at Cruise Critics request) at the Purser's Desk that with the disappearance of the credit we were reluctant to "spend" further if the credit wasn't applied to our accounts while still onboard and he reassured us the $100 would be applied to our credit cards after the cruise. As of this writing -- and nearly 3 months after the cruise -- we have made numerous inquiries and requests of NCL are still trying to obtain $100 for all 6 cabins ($600). (This was a shipboard credit that should have been applied to each of our accounts at the time we departed, but instead all charges incurred while on board were charged to our visa cards.)
The day before departure we received an email from NCL stating that our departure was going to be delayed by a few hours - and their email read in part "Due to a FULL IMMIGRATION INSPECTION, check-in for Norwegian Joy's sailing on November 24th has been delayed ... "
Please note the stated reason for our delay in boarding reads “FULL IMMIGRATION INSPECTION”.
We were completely shocked to learn -- but only AFTER we were on board and a member of our family became ill -- that the ship had had more than 300 passengers and crew that contracted the Noro Virus who were on this same ship the day we boarded. They departed the ship only hours before we went up the gangway and boarded the same ship.
The "Immigration Inspection" was a deception -- in fact, we were later told by crew members that it was a Center for Disease Control (CDC) inspection related to the Noro Virus and the delay was attributed to additional time the staff needed to "CLEAN" the ship. Beyond the mis-representation that the boarding delay was because of "Immigration" and not the "NORO VIRUS" their lie subjected passengers who are vulnerable with other compromised health conditions to a serious infection and they might have elected not to board. But that option was not provided to them or us.
Once we became aware of the active Noro Virus, we understood more clearly why there were news helicopters flying over the ship and there were fire trucks at the dock when we arrived at the pier on the day of boarding. Unfortunately, because we had all been traveling that day we had not seen any of the news accounts reporting that “our” ship had been infected with Noro Virus.
Unfortunately, the first full day on board one member of our party (healthy male, age 40) got what he thought was food poisoning which confined him to his cabin for one day. (This was before we learned of the Noro Virus on board.) By the following day he felt much better, the GI symptoms had been alleviated and he re-joined our family activities. After his fairly quick recovery he thought it might have been the 24-hour flu, if not food poisoning, but regardless of its origin, he was feeling better and re-joined the festivities. It wasn't until later that day that we learned (through formal announcements of "a few GI infections contracted by passengers" and private conversations with crew) that many others aboard the ship had also become sick -- and that the cruise that ended the same day we boarded had hundreds of passengers and crew infected by the Noro Virus.
Once we were aware the Noro Virus was alive and well on the ship we thought the responsible thing to do was to report to the ship's doctor that a member of our group had come down with a non-specified GI illness while aboard the ship. That was a BIG mistake. When he reported to the Ship's Doctor that he suspected he contracted "food poisoning" or the "flu" and that he was no longer symptomatic (he felt cured) - the Ship's Doctor quarantined him, AND his wife and 2 children (ages 4 and 7) for a minimum of 48 hours – all while his wife and children had NO SYMPTOMS and were perfectly healthy !!!!! Under threat of being removed from the ship at the next port (with no transportation to get home) the family was ordered to remain in their cabin for 48 hours and not to come out of that cabin under ANY and ALL circumstances - despite his wife and children being completely asymptomatic.
While imposing strict restrictions and confinement for a minimum of 2 days to a 225 square foot space for a family of 4 -- including young children -- the cabin steward came in to "clean" their room without wearing gloves or a mask -- exposing everyone the steward subsequently came in contact with to potential exposure (assuming that the 24 hr illness experienced by our family member was contagious, and specifically the Noro Virus). If the family was such a risk to others and had to be confined to their cabin for a minimum of 2 days why was the steward allowed to enter their cabin WITHOUT ANY PRECAUTIONS i.e., mask, gloves, etc. And since the family was as healthy as the steward why were they not allowed to leave their cabin – and they would have willingly agreed to wear anti-viral masks ? Couldn’t the medical staff have monitored the family, checking temperatures and symptoms periodically rather than restricting them to their tiny cabin for 2+ days ?
We understand that some of their actions were taken to prevent further spread of the virus; however, their handling of the family they placed in quarantine reflected a complete absence of “customer service", especially the so-called bedside manner of the medical staff.
On the day of sailing we were allowed to board the ship but were prevented from going to our cabins and were directed to the restaurants or outdoors deck areas until it was announced the cabins were ready. Once the announcement was made, the family member that later became sick was the first to enter the cabin and found that it in fact was NOT clean. There were soiled linens in their cabin and it was not ready despite the announcement. In retrospect it seems probable that he was exposed to the Noro Virus at that moment.
To the ship's credit, they attempted to prevent further spread of the virus by enforcing strict rules in the Buffet by preventing everyone from touching any and all food, serving implements, plates, cups, etc. at the buffet. Each station was roped off and manned by staff, which slowed service and created congestion, but no doubt did help prevent the spread of the virus.
Group activities like ping pong, the race track, etc., were often closed during the cruise, presumably to prevent the spread of infection.
Before setting sail they called for the usual Muster Drill and it was the most chaotic gathering we have ever experienced. Rather than going to a deck near the life rafts there were hundreds, if not thousands of passengers directed to the showroom and it was completely disorganized and not the least bit informative as it relates to procedures in the event of an emergency. For novice sailors I'm sure they had no clue what was expected of them or what they were supposed to do.
As previously mentioned, our family cruise included 21 people -- 12 adults and 11 children from ages 3 to 13. We had confirmed reservations for dinner at 5:30 (earliest available) to accommodate the young ones and to allow us an opportunity to get to the shows: “Footloose” and “Elements” are Broadway style shows for which we also had confirmed reservations for the 7:00 and 7:30 shows. These reservations were made through NCL "customer service" in August just after we booked the cruise -- to be assured that we would be able to eat together as a group and attend the "shows" that have limited showings throughout the week of the cruise. However, the night of our Footloose reservation our dinner entrees were not served before the time we had to leave for show time, so we had to leave the dining room before our dinner was served (despite being seated at 5:30 promptly). To the credit of the maître 'd, once notified of our situation she went out of her way to accommodate us for the remaining nights in her dining room. The service and attention provided by her was exemplary.
However, despite her efforts, on the evening of the Elements reservation, we arrived at the dining room promptly for our 5:30 reservation and our entrees arrived slowly but earlier than the prior evening. We departed the dining room at 6:45 to make the 7:00 show (show time had been changed to 7:00 from 7:30) and when we got to the theater there were no seats available because they allowed those without reservations to take seats 15 minutes before show time. This was the last night Elements was being presented -- therefore, we were unable to see the show because their staff failed to hold a sufficient number of seats for our group.
Our cabin steward was very attentive. Some of the bar service staff were friendly -- but many were not (likely the consequence of tips being paid upfront rather than at the time of service). The dining room staff were nondescript. The medical doctor, said to be the Chief Physician for all of NCL, presented the most unsympathetic and bullying persona. As family members inquired of him about the quarantine of the other family members he was rude and impolite, and his demeanor engendered distrust and anger. He had no understanding of the disappointment our entire group felt - not to mention what the quarantined family experienced - not being allowed to celebrate with the family the milestones we were celebrating and the Thanksgiving Holiday that were the impetus for our journey. In fact, the expiration of the 48-hour quarantine was 6:30 pm on Thanksgiving night, 1 hour after our dinner reservation. When the quarantined family asked to be released 1 hour early -- the doctor said absolutely not -- and if they attempted to go to the dining room at 5:30 instead of 6:30 he would have them escorted back to their cabins. (This demonstrates the respect with which the family accepted the demands of the Ship Doctor and his complete lack of respect for them -- ONE HOUR would not have made a bit of difference in the contagion on board the ship -- his actions appeared spiteful and to be actions of a person impressed by their own power!!
Typical for cruises of the recent past. The food served in the 3 Specialty Restaurants (another of our "Free at Sea" options) was superior to the main dining room and more reflective of the typical menus served in main dining rooms in a by-gone era. The Main dining rooms no longer offer choices such as escargot or lobster, but that seems to be typical in today's market for the large cruise lines.
Room service for the quarantined family took up to 1 1/2 hours to get, including water and food for the children (note: they could not go anywhere to get food for themselves) -- and what they were served was limited to what persons suffering from gastro-intestinal symptoms are served -- despite no one in the family was exhibiting symptoms !!!! They would not deliver ice cream or other tasty items to the children, nor anything other than bland items as pictured below. Room service ordered by others in our group was only for breakfast and it took 20 minutes to 1+ hour to be delivered and each morning un-ripe fruit was delivered.
The cabin staff worked diligently to wash walls and doors in the corridors, but it was somewhat un-nerving to be on board a ship where some of the staff was wearing hazmat-type outfits to protect themselves from becoming infected and others entering rooms known to be infected had no protection (as in the steward who attended to the quarantined family).
NCL appears to have a corporate culture of not providing the financial incentives such as group discounts and $100 shipboard credits that they promise to their customers. They appear to be mismanaged as relates to being able to serve dinner entrees in less than 90 minutes. NCL clearly concealed the fact that Noro Virus had infected their ship -- putting all at risk -- but especially health-compromised passengers. NCL made no attempt to accommodate guests that made reservations 3 months in advance for a "floor show" (that has limited showings during the cruise) to make sure that all 21 are "no-shows" -- 15 minutes before a show begins. The Medical Staff should never deal with the public as their personalities are not suitable for that line of work. And, no one -- not medical staff at the infirmary, or any other crew member ever offered the quarantined family any empathy, sympathy, encouragement and certainly no apology, for restricting (or having to restrict) their activities, etc. And, we will continue to contact the cruise line until we are paid the $600 ($100 for each cabin) from Norwegian Cruise Lines --- and we shall NEVER be passengers on this line again. Beware if you should decide to do so !!