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Sail Date: April 2012
1. Introduction. 1.1. Background and why we did this. Cruise food -- what a controversial topic! Everyone has an opinion about the food on a cruise. After all, other than the cabin accommodation and actual ship movement, food is just ... Read More
1. Introduction. 1.1. Background and why we did this. Cruise food -- what a controversial topic! Everyone has an opinion about the food on a cruise. After all, other than the cabin accommodation and actual ship movement, food is just about the only thing included in the price. Besides, everyone has individual tastes and likes. Furthermore, everyone has a different level of gustatory experience -- some have dined in the best establishments around the world, while others always cook their own meals. Even the cruise food reviews are quite variable. Some reviews rave about the wonderful food while other reviews seem to indicate that ptomaine poisoning was a daily occurrence. 1.2. What we did. To try to address this controversial subject, four of us decided to do a fairly rigorous joint review of the food on a cruise. We chose the Norwegian Epic on a trans-Atlantic repositioning cruise. We sailed on 2012-Apr-14 from Miami and enjoyed 11 days on the way to Barcelona. We were most fortunate that this large and impressive ship was half-empty, so perhaps we had more than the usual amount of personal attention. Considering that Epic has 21 different food outlets, we had our work cut out for us. Accordingly, we created a disciplined review technique and did our best to visit as many restaurants as possible in 11 days. Each of us had a review sheet for every meal and recorded our findings right at the table. We broke the meal experience into 13 different scored factors as explained in paragraph 3 below. We often photographed the servings. All four of us did our scoring as independently as possible. We did our best to evaluate each meal as a stand-alone, not by means of a comparison to other ship-board meals. In other words, we tried to do our scoring using an absolute scale such that the same scoring technique could be applied to a super fancy formal dinner with the Queen or to a quick sandwich at a street corner barbeque pit. For each meal, the maximum possible total score was 100 points. At the end of the voyage, we summarized the scores, analyzed everything, and reached some conclusions about the food. 1.3. Who we are. The four of us are close friends who have traveled extensively together. We are two couples, all over 60 (but not by a lot), from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. We are all in relatively good health, all things considered, with no dietary restrictions at all. We are all retired now, but our previous occupations include an engineer, a technical writer, a teacher, and a nurse. 1.4. Our qualifications. Why is our review any better than the other dozens of cruise food reviews? First, we enjoy and have experienced dining in anything from very high-end establishments to greasy spoon dives. All of us cook our own meals from time to time, and we have a bit of professional chef training among the group. We have all cruised before. We have experienced five different lines on 16 cruises, not all together. Our review process is disciplined, repeatable, and transparent. It is explained fully in paragraph 3 below -- we tried to avoid qualitative opinion as much as possible in preference for quantitative facts. 2. Results Summary. 2.1. Overall conclusion. We were pleasantly blown away by the food; it greatly exceeded our expectations. We have been on five different cruise lines and enjoyed the NCL "freestyle" form of food service the best. When the opportunity arose, we returned to our favorite outlets. The staff developed a personal relationship with us and treated us like individuals. Some meals were among the best we have ever experienced, but even the worst were significantly better than the average world-wide restaurant. Bravo, NCL and Norwegian Epic, job well done. 2.2. Numeric score summary. The numbers prove our conclusion. Overall, we experienced 124 "person-meals" at 14 different food outlets. The average score for all the restaurants was 88.06 out of a possible 100, a very high score. This shows that the food on board Epic is very good, much better than many land-based restaurants. The table below shows the average score for each of the restaurants we visited. Rankings Placing Outlet Average 1 Le Bistro 98.63 2 La Cucina 98.50 3 Moderno 97.25 4 Cagney's 90.25 4 Shanghai 90.25 6 Manhattan 89.38 7 Teppanyaki 87.75 8 Cirque Dreams 87.00 9 Garden Cafe 86.43 9 Taste 86.43 11 Great Outdoors 85.25 12 Spice H2O 85.00 13 Wasabi 84.75 14 O'Sheehan's 80.67 2.3. Restaurants Visited and Exceptions. Clearly, we visited only 14 of the 21 outlets on board Epic. Even 11 days were not enough to visit all. Some outlets such as the crew's messes were off-limits to us. We looked at but did not eat in the Haven dining room where the Haven suite guests can get away from the unwashed herds. Nonetheless, we made a concerted effort to hit as many outlets as possible, including the Cirque Dreams performance dinner and the Spice H2O outdoor snack bar. We made multiple visits to all the restaurants we reviewed, with 40 person-meals in Garden Cafe, 28 in Taste, eight in Manhattan and Le Bistro, and between six and two in the rest. 2.4. Results Accuracy. Statistically, our analysis shows that the maximum score awarded was 100, the minimum was 68, and the standard deviation was 7.39. In other words, all four of us generally agreed in our scoring. As a validation of our technique, we did the same evaluation at a local mid-range restaurant, with a resulting average score of 80.8. We did find that our scores increased as the cruise progressed, but part of that trend is because our visits to the more preferred restaurants were concentrated at the end of the cruise. We found a potential problem with our results in that some of us misinterpreted the scoring definitions. Accordingly, our conclusions are based only partly on the numbers, and rely for confirmation on the notes and pictures we made during the meals. 2.5. Our Personal Impressions. Numbers tell only part of the story, particularly with something as subjective as food. Accordingly, we have some individual impressions of the food. 2.5.1. AW. In my opinion, Epic has done an extremely good job of providing food for the passengers. Feeding even a couple of thousand people three times a day is no mean feat, but the fact that they feed about five thousand month after month on a ship and aiming at a very high quality level simply amazes me. On this cruise, I had a couple of the very best meals I have ever experienced anywhere. Even the meals I enjoyed the least were still very good. I was disappointed at the extra cost for some of the outlets, but then I am known as a cheapskate at the best of times. To counter that, the restaurants that do not charge extra are perfectly fine in my opinion. I would be very happy to avoid the extra cost places. On the other hand, in most but not all cases, I was glad to pay the extra cost since the dining experience was exceptionally good at the special places. Overall, I would take another cruise on Epic simply because of the food. 2.5.2. EW. The overall gastronomic experience was great -- I enjoyed it all. The enormous variety of food overwhelmed me a bit in the beginning. Everywhere we went, the serving staff were extremely courteous and always smiling. Was that because there weren't very many passengers? I can't understand how anyone can say the food was terrible -- even the lowest rated meal was far from inedible, and we did not get ptomaine poisoning even once! 2.5.3. HF. I found all of the restaurants, including the buffets, to be of very high quality and easily on a par with most land-based restaurants. I feel that some of the extra-cost restaurants did not offer additional value for the money, with respect to special ambience, service, or food choice and quality. I was impressed with the buffet in the Garden Cafe because of the variety of foods offered and because of the myriad healthy choices available. I particularly enjoyed the attentiveness and helpfulness of the serving staff who seemed genuinely interested in us as individuals. 2.5.4. PF. This was such a neat adventure. Having the opportunity to taste many different styles of food from different countries was an enlightening experience. It was great just planning where we would go and when, trying to make sure all the different restaurants were covered. Once having tried a particular style, I enjoyed the discussions on whether we should try to get there again. I especially enjoyed visiting a number of the restaurants particularly Garden Cafe and Taste to try other items on their menus. Our theatre meal at Cirque Dreams was unique with the 'show' taking place right in front of us or even directly over our heads. The ambience in some of the restaurants with the ocean just outside our table window, sometimes with waves splashing the window, helped to make the meal even more enjoyable. I found that most of the specialty restaurants had wonderful dedicated staff who would go out of their way to explain the meal, the ingredients and anything special about the preparation. All were most attentive and I always felt welcome and 'special' in their restaurant. It was even special to have the different chefs come to explain why certain things were done in a particular way for a particular restaurant. At times I felt a little uncomfortable about filling in the forms as we were eating but I understood the need to write it down promptly so we did not get confused or forget. I am sensitive to capsaicin (pepper) but I had little difficulty with spices or foods that would irritate my digestive system since I was told ahead of time if something might be too hot for me. I did try a few hot things and knew that if the staff said it was hot or not I could trust their opinions. The ambience for most meals added greatly to the pleasure of eating in a particular place. The staff made me feel important and most of the time if they were seen in a different location they would recognize me, smile and sometimes comment. All in all it was a positive adventure. 3. Methodology Summary. 3.1. Score Sheet and Explanation. The score sheet we used is described below. In essence, we broke each meal experience into thirteen separate factors, as described below. Each scorer rated everything completely independently, without any significant discussion among us. In addition, the maximum score was defined to be the best meal or dining situation ever experienced anywhere. In other words, the scoring was to be an absolute measurement, not a comparison against other restaurants or meals on board Epic, or even on any cruise ship. The scoresheet had space for numeric scores as well as written notes and comments. 3.1.1. Table setting. Maximum score 5. The equipment to consume the meal must be appropriate, ranging from six forks, five spoons, and four knives for a super fancy formal dinner, through to bare hands and paper napkins at a fast food joint. This includes plates, utensils, napkins, glasses and so on. 3.1.2. Seating comfort. Maximum score 5. If the diner is not comfortable, the meal experience suffers significantly. This factor includes things like chairs, table height, and space between tables. 3.1.3. Ambience. Maximum score 5. A pleasant environment definitely enhances the meal enjoyment. Furthermore, the ambience must be appropriate -- an Italian restaurant should look Italian! The surroundings, lighting, sounds, and staff clothing contribute to the ambience. 3.1.4. Presentation. Maximum score 5. If food looks appetizing, the dining experience is better. For this factor, we primarily looked at how the food was displayed on the plates or in a buffet. 3.1.5. Taste. Maximum score 20. This is the most important factor as shown by the high maximum score. Sweet things should be sweet, beef should taste beefy, and so on. This factor captures the scorer's opinion of the flavours of the meal. 3.1.6. Texture. Maximum score 10. Almost as important as taste, the feel of food as it is chewed and swallowed impacts meal enjoyment significantly. This factor assesses mouthfeel, chewability, tenderness, crunchiness, and similar textures. 3.1.7. Smell. Maximum score 10. The odour of food is a major part of taste, so we assigned a separate factor for this assessment. Smell also includes possibly obtrusive odours from the surroundings. 3.1.8. Food temperature. Maximum score 5. Hot things should be hot, but not too hot. Similarly, food should be warm or cold as appropriate. 3.1.9. Service. Maximum score 10. Good service is a significant part of meal enjoyment. The attentiveness and promptness of the wait staff is assessed here. 3.1.10. Cleanliness. Maximum score 5. This factor is sort of obvious, but must be assessed. Food service should always be clean. 3.1.11. Quality. Maximum score 10. Even with impeccable preparation and presentation, poor ingredients will detract from the diner's enjoyment. This factor captured our impression of the food "goodness". 3.1.12. Drinks. Maximum score 5. We deliberately didn't evaluate wines or other alcoholic beverages because they are not included in the meal. On the other hand, beverages like water, coffee, milk, juice and so on are definitely part of the meal. We rated the quality, temperature, quantity and the like. 3.1.13. Overall impression. Maximum score 5. Sometimes the whole is more than the sum of the parts. This factor allowed for that possibility. Here, we captured each person's own opinion of the entire dining experience. 3.2. Analysis techniques. Our analysis procedure had three components. 3.2.1. Statistics. Since the scores are numeric, we could do quite a bit of statistical analysis. Using a spreadsheet we calculated average, maximum, minimum, median, mode, standard deviation, and kurtosis for each meal, each restaurant, each day, each scorer, and for the entire data set. Rather than explain each measure here, you should simply do an Internet search for each measurement if you are curious. We used the various statistical measures to rank the restaurants and meals as well as to validate our scoring process. 3.2.2. Notes and photos review. Having done the number crunching, we then referred to the notes and pictures we made during the actual meals. That data helped us to truly determine what we collectively liked or disliked. After all, numbers tell only part of the story. 3.2.3. Consensus. We discussed the data and findings to reach a consensus. All four of us agree with the conclusions presented here. 4. Results details. 4.1. Breakfast. Since some restaurants were not open for breakfast, our choices were somewhat limited, though definitely not small. On the other hand, the extensive food selections at each facility made every morning an adventure. What different food will I try today? In the Garden Cafe buffet in particular, the chefs seemed to go out of their way to prepare the breakfast just the way we wanted. The large toaster in the Garden Cafe could have been hotter -- passing toast through multiple times was a pain. Probably because of the very small passenger load, we always managed to find a window seat, which definitely added to the ambience. At O'Sheehan's, the bowling alley was being maintained during breakfast, so the ambience was pretty bad! Taste was a very good choice for breakfast because of the attentive table service. We clearly enjoyed breakfast in Taste since we returned there four times! Overall, the average breakfast score was 87.48 points, even higher than lunch. 4.2. Lunch. Most of our lunches were taken in the Garden Cafe buffet; other locations were Taste, Wasabi, Spice H2O, and Great Outdoors. The buffet choices are numerous and each of us ate our fill. One feature particularly enjoyed was the ph? bar where one could select from a wide choice of food ingredients and herbs and have the soup served fresh and hot. In general, one can have as healthy, or unhealthy, a meal as one wants. The score of 86.43 for Garden Cafe, highest of all our lunch venues, is testament to the high quality of its offerings. Taste was a nice elegant change on some days when we just wanted to be served instead of serving ourselves. Our very first impression of the ship's restaurant food and service was obtained at Taste on boarding day and we were not disappointed. A polka band at Great Outdoors enhanced our German dining experience on day 10. Our final lunch was at Wasabi, the sushi bar where we noshed through several types of raw fish and other denizens of the deep. The average score for all 10 lunches (we had one lunch on shore in Ponta del Gada) was 84.68. 4.3. Dinner. As might be expected, the dinners we had were generally the highlights of the cruise food. The average score for all 11 dinners was 91.66, a very good score compared to all the world's restaurants. One recurring theme across all dinners was the quality of the breads. Without fail, we found that the various different types of bread were excellent. The freshness contributed to the quality significantly, on top of the large variety of breads. We commended the on-board bakers, another of those unseen but vital components of a cruise ship crew. The detractor for the dinners at most places was the extra cost. At a couple of dinners, we gladly paid the extra charge. Unfortunately, at a couple of others, we were inclined to ask for our money back. Clearly, the ship offers a very wide variety of dinner experiences, ranging from a self-service buffet through an extremely high-end formal dinner. We appreciated the casual Epic dress code and did not see anyone abusing the very relaxed rules. On the other hand, we did not see anyone exceeding the dress code -- we saw not one tuxedo other than on some of the wait staff! Finally, we quite enjoyed the attention given to us by the crew. The service was very good, even at the worst. In some cases, the wait staff knew us by name very quickly. That may have been a reflection of the ship being only half full, but we sincerely hope it was not because they realized we were doing a food review. 4.4. Taste. We enjoyed our first meal on the ship in Taste, and it was quite good considering the turmoil of the change-over day. Overall, Taste scored 86.43 and placed ninth of the 14 places we tried. Taste is the only restaurant where we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We enjoyed the ambience in Taste, depending on where we sat. The open center area was like being in an echoing bowl. The noise from around and above was very obtrusive, especially when the casino was open. The window seats were much quieter and definitely had a better view. Generally, the food was good and the service improved somewhat as the days went by. As a "mass market" outlet, Taste probably ranked just where it should. 4.5. Manhattan. This upscale main dining room looked very appealing, with many window seats and a band playing nearby. As we discovered, the band was a bit too nearby and loud for our enjoyment. When we requested seating somewhat farther away, the ambience became much better for us. At times, the service left something to be desired. We sometimes had a long wait for dishes to arrive, and sometimes they were not warm enough. Manhattan scored 89.38, a very good score in comparison with the rest of the world, but it ranked sixth overall on Epic. In general, we are of the opinion that Manhattan could have been better, though it was definitely not a bad place to dine. 4.6. Garden Cafe. We visited this restaurant the most of any on board. The score for Garden Cafe was 86.43 in a tie for ninth place. We had many meals here - five breakfasts and five lunches, totalling 40 person-meals. Overall, breakfast here was a pleasant way to start the day. Each meal had a large variety of food choices with the most popular being an omelet of various sorts, often with fried tomato on the side. We also enjoyed smoked salmon and shrimp as often as possible. All our choices were nicely done with no exception. The eggs were hot and runny (when wanted) and spice was seldom needed to enhance the flavour. We even tried the spinach benedict which was runny and delicious. Coffee started each breakfast and servers were usually quick to clear away used cups. Servers also brought around various juices (orange, cranberry, grapefruit and so on) during the meals. If one had any difficulty carrying a tray, a server was generally on hand to help before one really noticed needing any help. We generally sat at the bow overlooking the staff hot tub and the ocean ahead -- this clearly added to the ambience. A couple of times we did sit aft and port and once in La Cucina, which gave us a quieter dining place and a different ambience. Breakfast also included yogurt of various varieties and fresh fruit. Apples, bananas, pineapple, and oranges were among the many fruit varieties always available. The buffet setting allowed for great variety and an opportunity to speak to many of the staff. On entering the restaurant we were always greeted by smiling staff members, some of whom had worked in the different speciality restaurants the evenings before. They usually recognized us and gave especially welcoming smiles. The ocean view was fantastic and the table setting was comfortable. The tables were always appropriately set and equipped. We went to the Garden Cafe for 20 person-meals at lunch, our most popular lunch spot. Once again we had plenty of choices for food and the setting was quite pleasing. We enjoyed pork ribs, salad with feta cheese, meatloaf, beef stir fried vegetables and grilled fish. Various salads and soups were also part of a lunch time meal. We also tried the veal wellington, lamb stew and buttered chicken. All were generally done to a desirable degree. The beverage of choice was usually water or juice but iced tea was also enjoyed. Desserts included pecan pie and excellent ice creams: rum raisin, raspberry sherbet, vanilla, and chocolate to name but a few flavours. A variety of sauces were also available. Lunch was generally enjoyed and the view was wonderful even on one very rough day. Surprisingly, considering the number of meals we ate here, we took very few pictures of the food. In addition, we did not try the evening meal service in Garden Cafe -- we had simply too many other choices. Overall, as our most popular restaurant, the Garden Cafe was a resounding success, even considering the buffet nature of the place. 4.7. Le Bistro. This restaurant was simply spectacular. As a French-themed high end place, one would expect the dining experience to be absolutely top-notch, and it was. This restaurant was our definite favorite. We returned for a second evening here, and by then, the wait staff and ma'tre d's knew us by name! Three out of eight scores were 100, implying that this is the best restaurant ever experienced. Even the average score of 98.63 out of 100 is superb. The fantastic mushroom soup elicited much praise, as did the excellent breads. The roast pork had a fine earthy smell, and the cote de boeuf was delicately tender and beautifully presented. Similarly, the bouillabaisse was served piece by piece with an explanation. The only detractors were some noise from the bowling alley directly overhead and the artwork with advertisements. Still, those were very minor details that barely marred a beautiful experience, twice! We took lots of photos! 4.8. Cagney's. This high-end steakhouse was a good experience for us. The score of 90.25 was a tie for fourth place overall. We visited once for our final dinner on board. A flood in the Manhattan dining room meant that Manhattan and Cagney's and Moderno were disrupted for several days, but we managed to get a booking on the final day of the cruise. By then, our scores were being inflated a bit, and one of us had a slight cold, so our scores might be somewhat inaccurate. Nonetheless, our comments and pictures help allow for any possible inaccuracy. We were very pleased with the soups and appetizers, particularly the lobster bisque and Portobello mushrooms. At first, we thought the steaks were more tough than they should have been in an establishment at this level, but we eventually determined that the problem was actually the knives. Fairly dull steak knives gave a definite impression of meat toughness. All four of our knives were dull, to the point that we raised the problem to the head chef for Cagney's and Moderno. He agreed that it was time to replace the knives because they had been in use since the ship was commissioned. The ambience and seating comfort drew raves from us; the chairs were the most comfortable we encountered anywhere on board! Dessert was good all around. Overall, we found the dining experience in Cagney's to be worth the extra $25 per person, but barely. If Epic sharpens the knives, perhaps the score would be better. 4.9. Moderno. In this Brazilian churrascaria, the salad bar was a joy to use. Unusual items combined with beautiful presentation really enhanced our enjoyment. The meat presentation directly off the skewer was an entertaining addition to the very good food. Moderno ranked third and scored 97.25 points out of 100, an extremely good score. We did find that the meat delivery came too fast, but that means we should have showed our red cards to slow things down. We did find that the chicken was a little dry, but otherwise, the meats were top-notch. In all, this was an excellent experience well worth the extra cost, and enhanced by a visit at our table from all three chefs! 4.10. La Cucina. We had one dinner in this Italian restaurant. The ambiance was enhanced by the pillars, fake library, and nice music; the ocean view seating sure did not hurt! Unfortunately, the table was small and crowded for four. We enjoyed the Cucina salad and various antipasti including figs in a salad. Everyone enjoyed the many courses, from carpachia and ossobuco to the pizza Margherita with a nice thin crust. Our salads were colourful with various forms of lettuce and grains. The greens were crisp and colourful. String band music added to the Italian atmosphere. Our main courses included chicken parmesan, seafood fettuccine with tomato and mozzarella, and spaghetti carbonara. All of us agreed that the pasta was delightfully al dente, and that the various sauces were tasty and perfectly spiced. Most enjoyed the tiramisu for dessert. La Cucina scored an extremely high 98.50 out of 100, giving a ranking of second, just a fraction of a point out of first. This was a delightful dining experience for all of us. 4.11. Teppanyaki. There's nothing like a teppan grill for an exciting dining experience. Your chef stands at a large stainless steel grill and prepares your food right before your eyes and with great flair. Typically, the chef juggles his implements and the food with the greatest of ease then serves each diner individually. Teppanyaki puts this performance over the top. Our chef had great rapport with the diners, speaking to us as if we were old friends, all the while cracking jokes, flipping his tools, the salt and pepper shakers, and anything else that would make a noise. His overall performance was worth half the price of admission. This was a great fun meal but detractors included being seated with four other diners who didn't mingle well, noise and smells from the other grills operating (there were eight grills with three in use), and generally too much clatter. There was a good selection of foods including edamame beans and miso soup appetizer, lobster, shrimp, scallops, steak, seaweed salad, and so on. It is amazing that the chef can cook for eight people all at once and get all the orders correct but he did. The only downside was having to watch the beautiful scallops being overcooked. Teppanyaki would be great value at half the $25.00 per person we paid. The score was 87.75 for a ranking of seventh. 4.12. Shanghai. We finally got our Chinese food fix at Shanghai's for a $15.00 surcharge. It struck us as too expensive for what amounts to dining in a large family-style Chinese restaurant not unlike those to be found in any city with a large Asian population. The decor was Asian appropriate -- lots of reds and blacks, decorations, pictures, etc. We didn't care for the "last supper" knockoff painting featuring a collection of young Asian girls in that famous setting -- just a bit too weird for us. Service was attentive, maybe overly so, but since the restaurant had hardly anyone in it they were probably just happy to serve us. We were going to order "combo number 4 plus all 4 desserts" but we ended up with six mains under staff urging. The items included Kung Pau chicken, beef broccoli, mahi-mahi, pork, stir-fried rice, and some noodle dishes. Overall, we found the items to be well prepared, hot, tasty, but nothing better than what one can find in the aforementioned family Chinese restaurants. For the price, one would expect to have items like dim-sum, whole fish floating in sauce, 5-jewel something, and so on -- specialty items in addition to the standard fare -- and a little less 5-spice powder. Plus some typical Chinese fruits (Lychee, Longan, and so on) for dessert. Oh, and the green tea was too weak and the crème br'lee too runny. Overall, we judged Shanghai to be as good as most Chinese restaurants we've eaten in. The score of 90.25 surprisingly gave a ranking of tied for fourth. In this case, our opinion clearly contradicts the scoring, so we lean toward the opinion side. 4.13. O'Sheehan's. This is NCL's attempt to provide a pub-like atmosphere. The place is large but separated into two areas on each side of the center aisle. Seating varies from sit-down tables to a bar to high tables and chairs. There's a bowling alley on one side. The morning we went for breakfast the pin-setter was going through some sort of maintenance cycle. Noisy, but only a few minutes duration, thankfully. Pub-style foods are served in napkin-lined open-weave baskets but why NCL would want to imitate low-end fare we can't fathom. There are lots of comfortable pubs that have better presentation of food than O'Sheehan's. The photo below shows how they serve fish and chips. The green stuff is supposed to be mushy peas but they're nothing like the real thing. For breakfast, one choice was some croissants and a turnover; the croissants could have been flakier and the turnover was skimpy on the filling. Not a great start to our day. Our other diners found problems too like over-buttered toast, greasy hash-browns, over-crisp bacon, powdery eggs. Coffee was excellent (Yay!!!). We scored O'Sheehan's as 80.67 which ranked the place 14th, or last. 4.14. Cirque Dreams. Since this restaurant is actually a circus performance, our experience here was a wonderful adventure. Although we all found it very crowded with hardly room to breathe, being very close to the performance floor was most advantageous for us. By the nature of the restaurant, the menu is fixed, and the meal is really secondary to the circus performance. Our meal started with prosciutto, cheese, and a delicate sauce. The presentation was appealing and all enjoyed the taste and texture. Our surf and turf main course was served efficiently. The shrimp was a bit chewy but the steak was medium rare and juicy. The dessert was three small sweets, beautifully plated and very delicious. The circus atmosphere was wonderful and the show left nothing to be desired. We were particularly impressed with the servers who maneuvered their way through the cramped areas, not interfering with the circus performance at all. This restaurant scored 87.00 and actually placed eighth, a surprisingly good finish for a restaurant that is mostly about the show. 4.15. Wasabi. Either you love sushi (cold rice and possibly seaweed wrapped around other ingredients) and sashimi (sliced raw seafood) or you don't. Wasabi shares space with the noodle bar and Teppanyaki. Seating is on stools at a long bar where one can look at the raw ingredients used and also at the chef who prepares everything. One sour note: there was some very nice flute music being played at the bar but louder music from the deck below took away from an otherwise enjoyable environment. The menu lists a number of individual items but, mercifully, lists combination plates having selections of different items that go well together. There are also some fully cooked items for those who are squeamish about raw fish. Our selections were prepared in front of us but, unfortunately, one cannot directly view preparation as the work table is blocked from view by the chef. Nevertheless, the final placement of food on the plates was right before our eyes. There is a very modern, clean, even sleek appearance to Wasabi that complements the neat, orderly presentation of the food. Overall we rated Wasabi as 84.75, but individual scores from 70 through 96 have much to do with one's appreciation for this type of food. Here is the Ruby combo: tuna, octopus, eel, cucumber, tuna. 4.16. Great Outdoors. This restaurant is primarily a fast food outlet for the pool area. We enjoyed a German-themed special lunch, with schnitzels, bratwurst, sauerbraten, spaetzle, and other German specialties. The score of 85.25 out of 100 places it 12th of 14 food outlets. The majority of our comments indicated that the meal was fairly ordinary compared to other German dining establishments. The buffet environment detracted from the ambience though the good band helped somewhat. We found the pork schnitzel to be delicate, and the Sacher torte awesome, but the sauerbraten was nowhere near "sauer". We did not take any photos at this meal. Unfortunately, this special meal might not be representative of the usual burgers and pizza at Great Outdoors. As shown by the score, this was not among our favorite restaurants, though a score of 85 is pretty good in comparison to all the world's restaurants. 4.17. Spice H2O. This outdoor cafe has a minimal variety of food, but that may be because we visited it late in the meal period. In addition, we had only two person-meals here, so this might be a somewhat inaccurate evaluation. Nonetheless, the sunshine and hot tubs added to the ambience. We can see that this would be a very nice place to escape from the hordes of kids on a normal cruise -- on ours, there were only 40 children out of 2000 guests. Spice H2O scored 85.00 points and ranked 12th overall, not particularly high. Even though the curry was tasty, a larger choice would have enhanced our enjoyment. The service here was very good from the attentive waiters. We have no pictures of the food at Spice H2O. 5. If We Were to Do This Food Critique Again. We enjoyed doing this review. Between the planning well before the cruise and the post-cruise analysis and report writing, we stretched the experience into a period of several months. We are convinced that the 13 meal factors are valid, though we would probably rearrange the scoring form somewhat. Similarly, we would separate the numerical scores from the narrative comments, simply for ease of manipulation and analysis. We might also implement the scoring on a smartphone or tablet, but good old pencil and paper worked satisfactorily for us. On the other hand, it appears that not all of us understood the previously defined scoring technique. In essence, each of us used somewhat different ways to establish how points were awarded or deducted. Consequently, we have had to lean on opinion rather than fact more than we desired for this report. For a number of reasons, we were unable to complete the report until a couple of months after the cruise. That meant our memories of the experience had faded a bit. If we were to do this again, we would concentrate on completing the review within a month of the end of the cruise and we would make absolutely certain that everyone agreed with and fully understood how the scores were to be assigned. By doing so, the review would become much more rigorous and scientific. Nonetheless, this whole experience was fun and educational. We learned that restaurant reviews are hard to do, particularly among a group. We will always look at any meal very critically now, mentally reaching for the scoresheet! Read Less
Sail Date: March 2012
We had a marvelous time the Ventura transtlantic- would have liked a few more warm days but thats just the luck of the draw. enjoyed the hassle free flight and journey to join the ship. CABIN- It was smaller than on RCI and beds seemed ... Read More
We had a marvelous time the Ventura transtlantic- would have liked a few more warm days but thats just the luck of the draw. enjoyed the hassle free flight and journey to join the ship. CABIN- It was smaller than on RCI and beds seemed smaller too but as you don't spend too much time in there it didn't matter. i enjoy sea days and sitting on the balcony listening to the waves and reading is most important to me, so as long as i can put my feet up and relax, then I'm happy! wardrobe area good size and toilet fine but wish p and o would get rid of the shower curtain. FOOD- You would have to be very picky not to find something you like to eat on this ship. we were on freedom dining and most days we would pop down and look at the menu for that evening and if nothing whetted our appetite we either had a buffet or went to the section of The Beach House that was converted in the evenings to waiter service. our meals also varied depending on what shows/entertainment we wanted to see.Also being on freedom dining as we had already paid our tips on our on board account we didn't feel the waiters/maitre de would worry if we didn't eat there as they knew their tips were safe. when we did eat in cinnamon they were always attentive and nice. ENTERTAINMENT- We enjoyed all the entertainment. we only saw the Headliners Theatre Co a few times but liked what we saw. The comedians and singers were all really good Rob Linacre we thought shone but CLEM CURTIS was simply brilliant. A mention too for The Ventura Orchestra, these were very good and certainly complimented the singers. TOURS- cant comment on here as did our own, will post review on port of call board. A lot of the crew were quiet, but that's not a complaint, rather that than 'over the top'!they were friendly and always said hello. LAUNDERETTE- this was really useful as I'm one of those who hates lots of dirty clothes around. its just a shame about some of the people who use them, a bit like the sun bed savers! A few occasions witnessed people being totally self centred. like the lady who put her washing in one machine and saw the next machine empty, so took one item out and put it in the empty machine to 'save' it while she went back to her cabin to get another load but in the meantime there were other people who came in to use the facility and couldn't. now my only gripe is the medical services- don't get me wrong i expect they do a good service for those in real need, but there should be a way to buy 'over the counter' medicines on board. i had a troublesome rash/prickly heat which started on 3rd day of holiday. i managed to get some calamine lotion in the shop which didn't do much good but as i thought it was the heat i thought i would have to grin and bear it. i only realised after we left the azures and it got cooler that my rash didn't change and as we were then constantly at sea i had to go and ask at medical centre about it and nurse told me to get anti histamine cream from on board shop but they said they don't sell it, went back to medical s]centre and was told is wanted any cream would have to pay £50 to see doc. needless to say i didn't bother. i was also annoyed as i feel it is either the air con or strong detergent being used on laundry as rash disappeared once home even though its been very warm here. ignoring my gripe with the medical centre i still had a great holiday if i could find out what caused the rash i would be back on board in no time. the ship and crew are great so get on board! Read Less
Sail Date: November 2011
This was a bargain opportunity trip, that was booked with no prior preference for doing another TranAtlantic. Saw the deal- booked it. :) This was cruise #72, and 4th TranAtlantic. This itinerery is not my preference, but my husband ... Read More
This was a bargain opportunity trip, that was booked with no prior preference for doing another TranAtlantic. Saw the deal- booked it. :) This was cruise #72, and 4th TranAtlantic. This itinerery is not my preference, but my husband prefers it. We spent 4 days prior in Rome, which is always a wonderful touring city. We took a CC arranged bus transfer, since my husband has some mobility issues which worked out excellent. In the past I have taken the cheap train. Embarkment was with a short wait and very organized. I had a large on board credit- that I was able to use, by getting the "My Time" dining on the ship. IF you want this at booking, you have to prepay the tips. This feature is not as well run as other lines. We were "tracked" into a time, at the same table for the most part. It certainly is not "freestyle. They keep you with the same wait staff, and hence the continued policy of individual tipping. It doesn't work well, in my opinion. But, food was good and survice was excellent, despite the appearance of being short staffed and looking overworked, which is another issue, I was conflicted about. I went to only a few shows, which were all good. We are Diamond, and with this status pretty ordinary- it was always over crowded at the events. In my opinion, it should be only open to those members and not extra "guests" that is sometimes complained about. The booking agent, included a very nice cocktail party and dinner for two, which we used in Chops. The wasted food, due to the too large portions, should be addressed perhaps? The ports were good and I toured independently in each. Livorno, I had a rental car, which I did require dock assistance getting back to the ship. :) The port area is NOT well marked. In Toulon, I went with a CC organized tour, which was excellent. In Barcelona- taking the city bus was superior to the ship bus. It dropped off right at the Christopher Columbus statue for half the price. :) The Hop on Hop off bus gives a great overview, which I've done before. I have never made the Azores due to weather/route cancellations. I have two more TranAtlantics booked next year- maybe. :) The 8 sea days, had me pretty bored, but the cruise overall certainly was very enjoyable anyway. The value of this sailing was excellent, but I would not have considered it, if it had not been. Disembarkment also went very smoothly. I had no problem getting a cab and making my 11:15am flight. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2011
Well, after all the worry after reading some of the reviews on this Cruise Line, we did actually go with an open mind. We where not dissappointed the ship was beautiful. After a very long flight we actually boarded just after 1pm plenty of ... Read More
Well, after all the worry after reading some of the reviews on this Cruise Line, we did actually go with an open mind. We where not dissappointed the ship was beautiful. After a very long flight we actually boarded just after 1pm plenty of time to unpack have lunch and a good look around. Everything on this ship is very expensively done the furnishings, decor etc are magnificent. Our cabin on Deck 12 was very clean and spacious and our cabin steward extremely good. We opted for the late seating for dinner as the early one was 6.30 a little soon for us, this was perfect as MSC did a show at 7.30pm for late diners so we saw the show before our meal. Every show was exeptional, we loved them all most could compare with a West End show they where so good. The Covent Garden Theatre is beautiful the nicest I have seen on any ship. We found the meals to be very good, plenty of choice and the Express Breakfast in the Main Dining Room was really nice. We have no cause to complain, yes the food on other ships is possibly better but for the price we paid the choice was very good and we enjoyed all. Our waiter Salvador was excellent. The Animation team worked really hard especially when we celebrated Crossing the Equator meaning that the pool had to be emptied and refilled and cleaned there was so much mess as people where Christened with Champagne, flour, milk, raw egg and last but not least Coco powder it really was quite a celebation!the ports of call where all good especially Rio and the Statue of Christ the Redeemer was magnificent. We thoroughly enjoyed this cruise and would have no hesitation in sailing with MSC again. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2011
We booked with NCL and this re-location transatlantic cruise primarily because it was the itinerary that we wanted. It was our first time trying the "free-style" sailing and for the most part was a good experience. We found the ... Read More
We booked with NCL and this re-location transatlantic cruise primarily because it was the itinerary that we wanted. It was our first time trying the "free-style" sailing and for the most part was a good experience. We found the crew to be friendly and doing what they could to make our cruise a good experience. We had most of our evening meals in the Seven Seas dining room. Service was good, however a little different not having the same waiters every night like one has on other cruises. The biggest disappointment came near the end of the cruise docking in Nynaeshamn, Sweden instead of Stockholm. We were mislead by our travel agent that the ship was docking in Stockholm. Nynaesham was an hour away and since we had to take a tender into port it made for a very short day. Anyone with NCL tours were given priority and were the first off the ship. Although Nynaeshamn was a quaint little town it was not Stockholm and we were not able to make it to our reservations that we had previously made. It seems Princess was docked right in the port of Stockholm where we thought we were to dockThe second downer was that a number of people got very sick the last evening on the ship. It seems everyone that had eaten their mixed seafood cocktail got a bad case of montezuma's revenge. I tried to find some pepto or even tums with no avail and was told they could not do anything without seeing their doctor. Not easy to do in the middle of the night. And not a good condition to be in with long flights the next day. There were several on our flight that were very sick... I had gone to the Garden Cafe early in the morning and asked for a banana for my wife but was ignored. Finally after some persistence a kind staff person found one for me.A big plus for NCL was their ice cream bar. We enjoyed that. The Cruise Critic group on the cruise was wonderful and we so enjoyed that. Big thanks to MickyAlthough we enjoyed our cruise as the ports of call were marvelous it is doubtful we would choose NCL again... Happy Cruising to you and yours Read Less
Sail Date: March 2011
We have just returned from a wonderful caribbean / transatlantic cruise on the beautiful P & O Ventura.We had read all the criticisms but it was a trip that we wanted to do and the price was right!!What a lovely ship - it is vast with ... Read More
We have just returned from a wonderful caribbean / transatlantic cruise on the beautiful P & O Ventura.We had read all the criticisms but it was a trip that we wanted to do and the price was right!!What a lovely ship - it is vast with so many facilities - we particularly enjoyed the cocktails in the superb Metropolis bar, the sangria and tapas in the Ramblas and the choice of restaurants. We were second sitting in Saffron and the food and service were both excellent. We also loved the steaks in the Beach House and thought East was super and the buffet in the Waterside offered so many choices. Yes, the buffet can be busy, but you choose to book on a ship with 3,000+ passengers, and we never failed to find a table or ever thought the shortage of teaspoons a problem (they disappear in our house too).Despite numerous complaints, there was absolutely no shortage of sun loungers.Of course there is limited space around pools but there are so many areas which are so much quieter and we sunbathed and read all the way across the Atlantic. We loved all the sea days and the relaxation they offered. We bought spa passes for £40 each and loved the thermal suite. We have come home rested and feel as if we have really had a holiday. If you like being on the go everyday, this is not the type of cruise for you.There are loads of activities - dance classes, the gym, talks, films etc and the evening entertainment offered something for everyone from top west end singers to "club" acts.The value for money is excellent, far better than a land based holiday.There was a wide cross section of passengers and all age groups. I would not go on a family ship on or around school holidays, so those who moaned about the type of passengers and the few children that were on board should use adult only ships.Altogether a fantastic relaxing holiday on a lovely ship. Now looking forward to a trip on Adonia in October. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2011
This was our sixth time with Cunard and perhaps the most enjoyable.There were far more pluses than minus this time. The new class of Cunard ships is far ahead of the competition. The size is just about right and the layout is the most ... Read More
This was our sixth time with Cunard and perhaps the most enjoyable.There were far more pluses than minus this time. The new class of Cunard ships is far ahead of the competition. The size is just about right and the layout is the most convenient of any other ship that we have been. I never got turned around in the wrong direction as I have on other ships. The main theater and entertainment was of a better quality than any other ship we have been on in 25+ years of cruising. Drinks were only served in the private balconies so waiters were pestering people to buy a drink. There was no place to rest a drink in the auditorium if you brought one in with you. A big minus was the fact that there were no hand rails in the theater so it was hard getting up and down the stairs. I saw several people fall during rough weather.The lectures and lecturers were top notch as well as other entertainment. None of the venues were too crowded that you would have to come extra early to get a seat The cabin was about average in size and didn't have as large a TV screen as some other newer ships. There was adequate storage space but the closet door interfered with the bathroom door. The bathroom was way to small with a tiny sink that constantly spewed water all over. They shower was almost too small to use without getting water out in the bathroom and the shower head was fixed in place so you could not direct it around your body.There was no night light in the bathroom and nowhere to plug one in. We missed having a bath tub like Holland America and a few of the upscale cruise lines.The refrigerator was of an adequate size and not a lot on mini bar stuff jamming it up. The door to the balcony was on hinges instead of an inconvenient sliding door. Launderettes on each deck were small but very convenient. The ports of call were nice and it was easy to disembark and return. The main dining room was laid out good and had more room between tables that some of the other new ships. The food was good as well as the wait staff. the cafeteria was laid out well and the food was of a better quality than other ships specially the coffee and tea. Eating in the Pub was nice and it was not surcharged like some other venues. All in all it was a very pleasant trip and I am hesitant to back on other cruise lines when comparing the bottom line. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2010
We were very pleased, my wife and I with the great ports visited, the Greek Islands plus Split and back to back return to New York, it was very convenient. We experience waves on deck 8 in the Tequila bar that came up as high as the ... Read More
We were very pleased, my wife and I with the great ports visited, the Greek Islands plus Split and back to back return to New York, it was very convenient. We experience waves on deck 8 in the Tequila bar that came up as high as the middle of our window. This was an exciting event to say the least. On three occasions plates and furniture hit the floor and some passengers were hurt. It was worst on the 12th floor and it had to be closed down. This event although a bit dramatic, was a memorable experience and a first for us. It also brought a significant number of passengers to the main dining rooms. Freestyle works when all of the dining areas are open. An event like this one brings utter chaos because sitting procedures and choosing a table are much more time consuming than fixed table seatings. Thus for myself I just went to the Blue Lagons instead of waiting for hours. We ate tomato soup and hamburgers and this continued next day. One can say that Freestyle dining contributes to occasional chaotic table service but is pleasant when it works (70 to 90% of the time depending on the dining area. By the way the cafeteria style of the Garden Cafe would also require cafeteria style trays. Getting up every time to fetch food is a pain and requires constant attention because staff very rapidly remove your empty plate and others can very easyly take your table... Although pleased with the personel and the ship the smoking policy permitting smoking in the cabins was a very important draw back. On the very first day of the second leg of my back to back cruise, I was surrounded by a pack of smokers. We complained about the smell and very prompty, the staff cleaned the room sprayed the carped with perfumed stuff and made our day or so we thought. We unfortunately stayed in the room to read and after an hour plus we became lightheaded and nauseated (excuse my English my French is better). We were feeling ill enough to tell personel at the front desk that we would get off at the next port. It was impossible to change rooms (sold out cruise) and we tried an electronic air purifier. The smell of cigarette was replace for the next 14 days by a strong smell of ozone but we accepted this. We were pleased with the cruise but felt ill in this envirement. Runny nose, smokers cough, red eyes...WE WILL MAKE SMOKE FREE PERSONAL LIVING SPACE A MUST FOR OUR NEXT CRUISES. NCL SHOULD STOP EXPOSING THEIR NON SMOKING CUSTOMERS TO SECOND HAND SMOKE. Their courageous personel would surely benefit from smoke free corridors and cabins. I know that selling tax free cigarettes is a big motivating factor for them but is also very bad for those who smoke in a rapid fire fashion in their smoky cabins. Non smokers be ware! Good and healthy cruising. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
SUMMARY: All the elements came together on this cruise: great itinerary, good ship, good food, nice table mates, good entertainment. We couldn't have asked for any better. This was our 4th -- and best -- transatlantic. BACKGROUND: ... Read More
SUMMARY: All the elements came together on this cruise: great itinerary, good ship, good food, nice table mates, good entertainment. We couldn't have asked for any better. This was our 4th -- and best -- transatlantic. BACKGROUND: We are a married couple ages 58 & 68, experienced cruisers (20+), Platinum level with Princess, though this was our first cruise with Princess in 10 years. Most recently cruising Celebrity & Royal Caribbean. PRE-CRUISE: Really bad! We booked with a warehouse club -- never again! A major problem came up with Princess Air: Princess tried to keep the hefty $450 air deviation fee, but shoveled us onto any old flights on the wrong carrier, wrong date, to the wrong airport, wouldn't relay our passport #'s, frequent flyer #'s or seat preferences to the airline. It was a nightmare that took hours of phone calls to correct. I had to call the airline directly to resolve. We booked the Hampton Ft. Lauderdale City Center on points -- another problem: between the time we booked and the time of our arrival, the hotel changed to totally non-smoking, but didn't advise us. I have some background in the hotel industry and exerted polite & firm pressure (also begged a little), and insisted they honor the reservation or move us at their expense. Once this Fri. 8pm crisis was resolved, the hotel was fine and we enjoyed the free breakfast and shuttle to the cruise dock the next day. There was even time for a dip in the hotel pool before check-out. EMBARCATION: Less of a hassle than I expected, and the Platinum status sped us through. Although embarcation was due to start at 1pm, we were on board by then. SHIP - PUBLIC ROOMS: Very satisfactory, but no "wow" factor. Everthing appeared well-maintained. Although the ship was full, I thought the Star handled the crowds well with the exception of inadequate seating capacity at the evening shows. (The worst long lines to re-board the ship in port were under foreign government control, not the ship.) A hostess at the Horizon Buffet and Portofino dining room made it easy to approach people about sharing a table at breakfast & lu nch. The ceiling in the dining room seems really low after the multi-story dining rooms we've seen on other ships; the low ceiling affects the noise level, too -- difficult to converse at the dinner table. CABIN: The upgrade fairy graced us with a visit, so our good price mini-suite booked on a guarantee turned into a full suite! The suite was twice the width of the balcony cabins on the deck below. My favorite feature about the extra space was the divider curtain between the bed and sitting area, making it possible for one of us to be up reading while the other was sleeping -- wonderful! The special treats at this level are amazing: fresh floral bouquet, chocolate covered strawberries, mini-bar setup, free laundry service (a REAL vacation!), high tea in the cabin, a boutenniere & corsage for the 1st formal night. We stopped the canapes after the first delivery -- who needs more food? Surprisingly the "walk-in closet" was really small, more of a stand-in closet for 1 person. Decent blackout curtains for the early sunrise on this itinerary. POOLS/SPAS/GYM - didn't use ACTIVITIES: I've never seen so many and varied activities offered for sea days. I only attended one enrichment lecture, 500 years of Art History, which was good. There were plenty of scheduled times for games and cards. The Cruise Director was very accommodating about scheduling 3 Cruise Critic get-togethers, as well as a meet-the-captain & meet-the-entertainers Q&A. There were plenty of demos, I really liked the veggie & fruit creations. SHORE EXCURSIONS: I'm not a fan of hurry up and wait, so we try to avoid the ship excursions whenever possible. We booked 0. I did a lot of research on my own, and found the posts on the Cruise Critic message board very helpful in planning my own excursions. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
My wife and I renewed acquaintences with Noordam this April, taking the repo cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona with a couple of ports along the way. We remembered the Noordam as being a very good ship and quite comfortable. However, ... Read More
My wife and I renewed acquaintences with Noordam this April, taking the repo cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona with a couple of ports along the way. We remembered the Noordam as being a very good ship and quite comfortable. However, along the way, there has been some serious upgrading. The ship is now exceptional! The Good: Staff of all levels were unfailingly helpful and uniformly friendly - not the "I have to say good morning to you" friendliness that we've seen on some other lines, but a genuine smile that brightens your whole day. This was true even for the young officers manning the Front Office desk, whose job seems to be principally hearing complaints. Boarding was absolutely painless and the new (at least to us) HAL policy of not requiring life jackets to be worn at boat drill made that part of the program a lot easier. Food in the main dining room was terrific. The first formal night (of 3) featured a surf and turf that would rival many 4 star restaurants. And the variety of offerings was such that we never got bored. The restaurant staff were friendly, professional and very good at what they do. The Lido cafe seemed to be a little off this time around - the selections were not very inspiring and they all seemed to be a little tired. However, for grabbing lunch when you're not in the mood for the full Dining Room deal it's fine - you certainly will never starve to death on HAL! The bars continue the wonderful HAL tradition of trotting our hot appetizers around 6:30 at no change, and it's hard to beat a pre-dinner cocktail (or two) in the Crow's Nest. The not so good: On the negative side, I have the distinct impression that they're cutting corners with the size of the shot. I tried several mixed drinks and in none of the could you taste the liquor at all. I think the might be able to do a little better for $6.00 plus/drink. Movies - HAL (at least on the Noordam) has the strangest schedule for showing movies - it changes from day to day, and never seems to make much sense. One day the feature will be at 1:00, 5:00, 7:00, etc., while the next the only showing may be at 10:00PM. Perhaps the most irritating was the showing of Shutter Island (which I really wanted to see) which was only offered for one showing starting at 5:30PM. Not available for those at first sitting for dinner at all, and since this was on a formal night, didn't leave enough time to get ready for the second sitting either. This is just a strange use of resources which seems to follow no rhyme or reason. Also - personal complaint - the free popcorn is horrible. It tastes like is was made in 1952 (although it is obviously freshly made). Either there's a problem with the corn itself or it's the fact that they use no butter, oil, salt, or anything else. Finally, another personal complaint. I know the days of the wonderful HAL packet containing tickets, luggage tags, etc. are long gone, but the idea of the paper luggage tags you get to print out on your own computer and then attach by whatever means you can think up is a bad one. We did it and of course the tags got lost in the transfer from shore to ship, necessitating the running around looking at 'unidentified luggage' that evening. Fortunately the bags made it aboard OK but this is a cost-savings that really works to the detriment of the passenger. Hopefully HAL will re-think this policy. Shore excursions in Spain - While the ship's tours mechanically are fine, the quality of the guides was abysmal. Out of four tours, only one spoke decent English - the other three had such a poor command of English as to be almost entirely unintelligible to all the passengers on the tour. I don't know what the problem is with getting decent bilingual guides in Spain, but HAL obviously has one. Be prepared for this if you sign up for one of the ship's tours. Bottom line - the Noordam is a remarkable ship, and HAL has it running at a standard of excellence which is pretty unusual in this day and age. We have been fans of HAL for a number of years, and this latest cruise only reaffirms that. Read Less

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