Why this cruise?
I enjoy sea days more than port days and was excited to take my first Transatlantic Crossing (13 days from NYC to Amsterdam, with 7 sea days) on Norwegian. This would also mark my first cruise with NCL, to whom I was attracted by the many consecutive sea days, ports of call, Free Style Dining, Deal or No Deal Game Show, attractive rate, and that it left from NYC, where I live. I booked via a travel agency and did not qualify for any perks based on my category/rate (Inside Guarantee).
This cruise also marked my introduction to Cruise Critic, where I spent many hours pre-cruise reading forums and tips, as well as interacting with others in my Roll Call. I was delighted to connect with others from the Cruise Critic Roll Call and ended up having lots of fun at the events which were hosted by other CC members: Meet and Greet, Slot Pull, Cabin Crawl, Specialty Dining with a new friend (Thanks, Jo!), and even a fantastic excursion to Mont St. Michel in France which was not offered by NCL (Thanks, Cherie!).
NCL Supplements I added:
* 3-Meal Specialty Dining Package (booked pre-cruise).
Were I to travel with NCL again, I would add this again.
* 250 Internet Minutes (booked pre-cruise).
Were I to travel with NCL again, I would add this again. Next time, however, I would use the wisdom gleaned from a fellow traveler: answer emails in an offline word processing document and then connect to the internet when the response is ready to send...a much better use of the precious internet minutes!
* Thermal Suite Pass (booked on embarkation day)
Based on my experience, were I to travel with NCL again, I would NOT add this again.
I used my 3-Meal Dining Package at Cagney's Steakhouse, Le Bistro, and Teppanyaki; I did not dine in Moderno or La Cucina. I eat a lacto/ovo/pescetarian diet and was able to enjoy a variety of options on-board. Of the three specialty restaurants I dined in, I enjoyed the food at Le Bistro the most, though all three were good and the package price was more affordable than dining purely a la carte.
Incidentally, as a solo traveler, I was able to book dining reservations for 1 person pre-cruise at Cagney's and LeBistro, but not at Teppanyaki. I was able to make a reservation for 1 person for Teppanyaki on Embarkation Day at the Restaurant Reservations Desk immediately after boarding.
I ate one lunch in the Lotus Garden (which was fine, but not exceptional) and all of the other meals in the Garden Cafe (buffet), O'Sheehan's, or the Summer Palace. I did not dine in Indigo, though Summer Palace evidently shares the same kitchen and an identical menu to Indigo’s. Overall, the food everywhere was good, and I was glad I had peppered in some Specialty Dining to add more variety to the dining.
(I have cruised on Celebrity in the past and their cuisine was definitely on a higher par with more subtle seasonings, more "quality" selections etc, but the prices are also higher, so you get what you pay for. :) )
As a vegetarian-ish diner, I found it annoying that veggie burger patties could only be gotten in the Garden Cafe/buffet, instead of also at the Great Outdoors Grill or Topsiders Grill, where burgers were the mainstay, but it ended up being that both of these venues were closed much of the time because of weather and/or the virus which was spreading during this cruise. I know that other vegetarians had issues with the Garden Cafe’s grill simultaneously sharing cooking space for both meat products and veggie burgers, or there not being a large variety of vegetarian options, but for my needs, there was plenty of variety (from fresh fruits and veggies to vegetarian Indian cuisine to roasted vegetables, etc.) and I chose not to focus on the "mixed" aspect of the grill itself.
I really enjoyed the concept of Free Style Dining, which ended up being my favorite aspect of cruising with NCL. A few times when dining solo, I offered to share my table with other diners or was invited to share theirs, and ended up meeting some great folks along the way.
Activities and Issues
The rating-lowering factor for me regarding this cruise was, in a word, communication, or rather the lack thereof.
For example, the ship hosted a Solo Traveler's Dinner each night, but, on the first night of these dinners, there was no manifest printed out (to indicate which rooms housed solo travelers) and subsequently the staff were "surprised" that nearly 50 Solos showed up when they were "expecting 2-5 people." Although only around 30 people ended up dining with the Solos the first night, many others stopped by, witnessed the chaos, and never came back on subsequent nights, even though the ship eventually provided a dedicated host for the dinners, as well as a separate dining area. On this first night, it took over 3 hours for several of us to receive our 3 course dinner. Had the actual number of Solo Travelers been communicated to the hosting department and the restaurant beforehand, this debacle could have been avoided.
Following this initial Solos Dinner (before there was a plan for an ample reservation or separate dining space for the Solos), I went to Guest Services to talk about the experience. The response from Guest Services was not one of empathy, but literally, "Who told you to come here? This is not our issue." When I asked to whom I should be speaking instead, I was told, "Cruise Staff." When I asked if the Cruise Staff had a desk to go talk to someone, I was told, "No. This is the only Service Desk." So, I asked if there was someone from Cruise Staff with whom I could talk. I was told, "No one is available because of the game show, but someone will contact you from the Cruise Staff by 9 AM tomorrow." No one contacted me the next morning, nor ever throughout the duration of the cruise, despite several written followup requests left at Guest Services in the GM's comment box. This was Day 2 of the trip and a perfect example of the old adage: "You don't get a second chance to make a good first impression."
I attended all four days of Deal or No Deal (the 5th Day was cancelled because they were "not selling enough game cards to justify the expense of the license for the game show") and had a great time each day. For $25, you got to play two separate games in conjunction with the person who was selected to be on stage, with a chance at winning from $.01 to $1,000 (if selected to be onstage) or from an "Instant Win" Pull Tab all the way up to $5,000 or a Caribbean Cruise for 2 (if playing along in the audience with your game card). Although I only ended up winning $3 on $100 in spent over the 4 days, I definitely had $97 worth of fun along the way! Also, for what it's worth, most Bingo games carried costs of $39 for the least expensive card packet with a possible win of $150 versus the $25 Deal or No Deal cards, with their much higher prize payouts.
Although I attended a couple of the other game shows on-board, I found the sense of humor of some of the hosting Cruise Staff or Guest Judges to be "mean," making fun of the guests who were participating instead of having fun, but not at a guest's expense. After I observed this a few times, I stopped going to the other contests and game shows, with the exception of Bingo on the final Sea Day. Even being told by the hosting Cruise Staff to "boo" a fellow contestant who is getting close to a Bingo seemed somewhat mean-spirited and off-putting to me. Everyone is there to have fun and that fun doesn’t need to come at another’s expense.
I attended the violinist’s show, as well as both the "regular" and "adult" versions of the comedian's show. Both of these acts were fun and entertaining. Having watched snippets of the other acts on the ship's TV channel, I opted to skip those, in favor of the movies in the Atrium or in my room instead. The selection of movies in the Atrium (and also available complimentary on the stateroom TV) was great, though there were never enough chairs available, and Guest Services was often talking too loudly in the background to make the experience wholly enjoyable. I did write a comment card suggesting more chairs be added based on attendance, and though some chairs were added a few nights, there were still less seats than viewers in the Atrium throughout the cruise.
As has been mentioned in other reviews, this was the cruise where the A.G.E. Virus (a variety of Norovirus) was spreading after only a day or two at sea. I commend NCL and their hard working staff for taking the measures that they did to contain the virus, including eliminating self service in the buffet, providing paper menus and cutlery only after being seated, propping open restroom doors in public areas, continually washing the hallway walls and handrails, constantly reminding passengers about hand washing, and quarantining sick passengers as necessary.
However, I was disappointed and frustrated by other containment measures which lacked communication and empathy from the staff and management. For example, supposedly only 100 passengers (most of whom are represented by couples in the same cabin) are sold the Thermal Suite Pass. Purportedly, in an effort to contain the virus, the cold plunge pool, hot tubs, and large pool in the Spa were closed and/or emptied of water on several days (not including the rough sea days when they could not keep water in the pools because of the ship's rocking), the steam room would be intermittently closed, and even the dry sauna was closed periodically too, leaving only the 7 heated lounge chairs available to enjoy (as well as non-heated, regular lounge chairs). While I sincerely appreciated the efforts to contain the virus and maintain guest and staff health, these measures could have easily been communicated to the 100 guests who had purchased the Pass (again, most of whom were in the same cabin thereby representing even less than 100 explanations). Instead, the Spa Manager was never available for a conversation or explanation, nor did she respond to a written request for the same. In fact, though I went to Guest Relations and also completed the Dear Cary (GM of Hotel Operations) comment card asking for some communication several times, I never received a response from anyone on the ship during the 13 day cruise.
Apparently due to the virus, eventually the gym, library, game room, etc. were closed, as well as several scheduled events. Unfortunately, instead of closures like this being clearly communicated over the intercom system or via a letter left in the stateroom, it was often indicated by a note posted on the door of the facility. Then, when the hot tubs and pool in the Spa were closed "because of the virus" (with no notification to the 100 guests who had Passes), strangely the hot tubs available to the entire ship on Deck 12 were open and available. Furthermore, the Casino, where you can’t not touch a machine in order to play, remained open throughout the cruise. Contradictions like this, with no explanation, made it feel like "the virus" became a convenient way to avoid communication with the guests. And, again, if ANYONE had been communicating or showing empathy for the guest experience, this would not have been an issue and would have created a much better overall experience.
I did eventually hear from Guest Relations, about a month after writing a complaint, six weeks after the cruise ended. NCL’s form tells you that you can expect a response within 15 Business Days. Thankfully, another traveler reported that they had inquired post cruise about the delayed response from NCL Guest Relations, and evidently, they were backlogged with issues from this cruise and would not be responding until closer to 30 days. BUT EVEN THAT illustrates my point: the delay and its reasons could have been COMMUNICATED by NCL to any pending claimants, but was not. Had it not been for that other cruiser sharing the information in our Roll Call, many might still be wondering what is/was going on.
Hospitality is about making guests feel acknowledged (at the least) and appreciated (when done well). And a cruise is supposedly about hospitality, not just transportation from Point A to Point B. Unfortunately, my experience was soured enough by the lack of communication that I ended up returning the Cruise Next Deposits I had purchased, 30 days after purchase, at which point I had still not heard from Guest Relations following my post-cruise written comments.
At the end of the day, though there were certainly aspects of the cruise I enjoyed, NCL's lack of ANY direct communication until six weeks after the cruise left me feeling like they are unconcerned with genuine customer care...and that experience is definitely below “Average” or, using the CC rating system, “Poor.” For these reasons, it is unlikely that I will recommend NCL, nor am I likely to spend my money to travel with NCL again.
I took the local train from Cobh to Cork where I had reservations for a Free Walking Tour. The suggested tip amount was roughly $10/person/hour so I paid 20 Euros for what ended up being an excellent, informative, 2-hour walking tour.
Dublin, Ireland (Port of Dun Laoghaire)
Particularly in Dun Laoghaire where tenders were used to reach shore, many people missed their non-NCL excursions. I met a local friend here; no excursion. I had a tender pass for Group 8 and was able to join the tender around 10:30am, arriving into Dun Laoghaire around 11am.
Le Havre, France
Based on what happened to travelers in Dun Laoghaire who did not have excursions booked via NCL and ended up missing their excursions, I was grateful that the excursion I had planned via some CC organizers for Mont St. Michel was not pre-paid in case we were delayed. This excursion was not offered by NCL and was a highlight of the trip for me. The travel time to/from the Mont in Normandy was about 2.5 hours each way, and the climb up to the Abbey atop the island and the ensuing tour was fascinating. Following the tour, there was time for a quick lunch/short shop in the village below. This full day excursion was well worth the trip and as promised, our guide had us back to the ship in time for departure. Many thanks again to Cherie from our CC Roll Call for arranging this wonderful trip!
Tilbury (London), England
Having been to London on another visit to the UK, I decided to explore nearby Gravesend, just across the river from where we were docked, and accessible via a water shuttle for a nominal fee. Highlights of the visit included antique shopping, seeing the Pocahontas Statue, having authentic fish and chips at one establishment, followed by classic afternoon tea at another.
I ended up taking public transportation (tram first, then train) from Zeebrugge to Bruges. The round trip cost for both was slightly less than the 20 Euro shuttle which was available near the port. Highlights of the trip included taking photos of the quaint medieval city itself and feasting on chocolates at Chocolatier Dumon, The Chocolate Story, and other chocolatiers.
I stayed for 2 nights following the cruise at the Doubletree Hotel by Hilton. I selected this location because I could book via Hilton Honors Points and because it was walkable from the cruise ship terminal and also to the main train station (to get to the airport for the return flight home). While in Amsterdam, highlights included the Free Walking Tour: Classic version, the Anne Frank House Tour, and the Houseboat Tour. Purchase tickets to the Anne Frank House before the cruise, as this self guided tour sells out quickly. Read Less