I booked this trip nearly a year in advance directly thru NCL. The cruise was selected primarily because of the itinerary - specifically Tortola. Had I read some of the Cruise Critic reviews before booking, I may have done something ... Read More
I booked this trip nearly a year in advance directly thru NCL. The cruise was selected primarily because of the itinerary - specifically Tortola. Had I read some of the Cruise Critic reviews before booking, I may have done something differently, but nonetheless, we sailed.
Our trip began on a Sunday, we left the airport hotel around 11am with a shuttle - I believe it was $20/person, and arrived comfortably at the ship's terminal about 25 mins. later. There was already a line forming outside the doors, so we had our luggage whisked off and we began the snaking of the line thru security, and up to the check-in window. All when relatively quickly, no hitches, and we were on the ship shortly after 12:00pm.
The hallways to all the rooms were sealed off, so we took our overnight bags with us and headed directly to the spa. It's our habit to book the spa pool packages whenever available. We both enjoy the peace and quite; the extra $30/day was worth it to us ($149/person). The passes are limited to 50 male/50 female, so we make sure we've secured a pass. On this particular sailing, I don't think they sold out. There was only one day that we felt a bit of a crowd, and I believe that was our first port day where the spa advertised a $30 port day spa pass. I would say that we never saw more than a dozen people in there at one time after that.
Once we had our passes we headed to lunch in one of the two main dining rooms - The Venetian. We were one of only 3 tables seated when we arrived (not that many more seated by the time we left). Our service was attentive, but not intrusive. We found the waiter to be pleasant, unhurried (as he should have been), and we had a nice relaxing lunch. We ordered the tampande' as a starter, I had the Cobb salad, and I honestly can't remember my husbands entree, but we both were satisfied with the meal.
After lunch, we moved to the pool area while checking out some of the other public rooms. The pool deck was nice enough. We ended up spending a lot of time there over the course of the cruise. The only day that I recall there being a shortage (or so it seemed) of chairs was the last sea day before returning to Miami. That was our best weather sea day, and the last; both my have played a factor. As a matter of fact, the chairs were in so short of supply that a couple next to us had a manager come by and remove article that another couple had laying on their chairs (saving them) since 7:30am - we know, because we had been out there continuously since then, the couple NEVER showed up. About 2 hours later, a woman came by and acted indignant that her belongings had been set to the side. Well, after a short protest with the couple next to us (and we had their back), she realized she had no leg to stand on - picked up their things and left. The was the ONLY time I saw the management act on the "no saving chairs" policy. Usually, after 2:30-3pm, the pool area begins to empty out.
Our room was ready around 2:30 so we headed back. For the first time, we booked an aft balcony. I was a bit unsure after reading some comments on the message boards here about possible noise issues. I can only speak for the two of us, but we did not find any sounds too loud or disruptive. There is no "engine" noise whatsoever, and the sound of the water we found to be comparable to any balcony we've ever occupied. We would totally book another aft room!
As for the room it's self - it's exactly the same size (both room and balcony) to any other standard balcony on the ship. This is not a suite size room. I will also say that on the last day, we were one of the last to leave our room (9am was the deadline), and the doors to the other aft-facing rooms were open. We peeked in and I can tell you that they were not much bigger than ours - these are not penthouse rooms by any stretch! Personally, we were very happy with our choice. The bathroom, while tiny per usual, we found to be nice in that the toilet had its own dividing door, and the shower was a walk-in with a sliding door. There was an adequate amount of storage with a shelf below the sink and a built in waste basket. The ventilation was good as well.
The bedroom consisted of a queen bed, sofa and small square table. There was a built-in desk and shelf area, and a second built-in mirrored "make-up" area. The closet and draw space was plenty for us, and of course your bags get stored under the bed. Room was clean, carpet was clean; it was nice. Now the downside of the room: Our bed was VERY firm. VERY firm. Neither of us is overly picky about our mattresses, but we do sleep with memory foam at home. I asked "Mo" our cabin steward (who, btw, was a doll and we tipped heavily at the end of the cruise for his extra efforts) for an egg-crate type mattress pad, and he brought us one that next day, and it was on the bed for our second night. Made a huge difference! If you like a softer bed, ask for the mattress pad.
Second negative about the room - the lowest drawer would not stay closed, at all. Not just with the boat motion, it rolled right back out as soon as you tried to close it. Needless to say, the first couple of days we had some 'ankle-biting' going on! We asked for a repair that never happened. The last "negative" about the room was our mini-frig. I wasn't cold at all the first day. I thought maybe it had been off for some reason and took a bit to cool down again. By the second day we realized it simply wasn't working. We called for maintance on that and saw a requisition copy in our room the next day. Apparently someone from maintainence came in and worked on it, but it never really got "cold". It was cooler; you could tell it was on, but definitely not a refrigerator.
Those last two items may be minor, but I don't think they should be insurmountable fixes either.
Let me jump to entertainment: We saw all but two shows onboard. We thoroughly enjoyed all of them. My husband was brought onstage during the magician's act, and I was hypnotized on stage the next night! The last show, "Bollywood" was excellent! Much better entertainment than we've experienced on previous cruises. The two comedy acts were the weakest of the bunch, but even those were entertaining. The band by the pool was good, if not repetitive (same song, different day). We were never awake late enough to catch the DJ in Spinnaker, but everyone who did seemed to enjoy. Overall, I would give the entertainment a "THUMBS UP". The cruise director John Salley was a hoot, and his comedy show (second to last night) was a good one to catch.
Now for the food: I'm not going to give you a meal by meal run-down. Let's just say that the main dining room experience was completely under-whelming. The cover charge restaurant meals on the other hand were all tasty - La Mondero, and Le Bistro being worth the cover, La Cucina not so much.
We're not gourmets, nor are we picky eaters, but honestly, this was the worst cruise ship food we've had in a long, long time. We had breakfast every morning in the 'cafeteria'. It was fine, no complaints there - what you saw was what you got. Lunches were varied. We had two of the pool-side barbeques that were fine; good burgers and grilled chicken. The salads were ok, uninventive, under seasoned, but ok - same as what you found in the cafeteria. We had 2 lunches in Venetian, the rest were either in the cafeteria or in port. Dinner is where they fall flat. My advice, skip dessert altogether - with the exception of the flan in La Mondero the first night, there was not a single dessert that we tried for the rest of the 10 days that was worth the calories. The meals in Venetian, Aqua (where we ate twice), and Blue Lagoon I would equate to sitting down at your local chain lunch/dinner restaurant. Passable, but barely. TGIFriday's served on white tablecloths. We traveled the menu searching for something tasty, but were disappointed over and over. The food experience left us with a sour taste (no pun) for this cruise line altogether - so much so that we have informally decided it was probably our last NCL cruise. It's not that they CAN'T produce a good meal, they do in the specialty restaurants, they just want to charge you (AGAIN) for it. We didn't feel that this cruise warranted an additional $40-50/night for a good dining experience. Why should we $400-500 for the food we should be served in the first place?
Ports of Call: There again, good and bad. Let me start by saying we did not book any excursions thru NCL.
OK, Samana- BAD. I don't want to take the space here to go into all the gossip about the day, but let's just say that NCL will divert their passengers to Cayo Laventado - a small island off the coast of Samana - for a free beach day. Don't pay for this excursion, you'll be offered it for free. We both enjoyed our beach day there, but we didn't try to get to Samana as some others had (and were denied). We LOVED Tortola because we had booked an excursion outside the ship with BVI 360. Sam Henry is the operator - pleasant guy. He drove us over to the West End, where we boarded a small boat to whisk us over to Jost Van Dyke. IF you are beach people, DO NOT MISS this trip. Jost was the best beach we experienced on this trip. Also, don't be put off by the note that you need to "swim to shore". Neither of us are swimmers (does dog-paddling count?), but the distance was probably 50 feet tops. After 5 or 6 strokes you can touch bottom - no worries there; AND they summoned a dingy to carry our belongings over to shore, so if need be, you could ride in that. Our least favorite port was Antigua, but we never ventured past the shopping district, and the vendors and street people there were obnoxious. We did here good things about the beaches there! My husband loved St. Kitts. I enjoyed it as well, but Jost was still my favorite. On St. Kitts we got a cab outside the terminal gates with "Sam the Man". He was a hoot. If you want/need a safe ride in St. Kitts, look for Sam. Anyway, he drove us to Shipwreck Bar & Grill on Friar's Beach. Lovely "cast-away" sort of feel. Rustic, but comfortable, relaxing - a perfect last port of call for us. We really enjoy our beach time. Other friends we made on board did a lot of the cultural tours and most I think were happy with those. Being from the far north, we knew our days of sun and sand were very limited, so we took full advantage!
One of our routines on board was a night-cap in the Star Bar up on Deck 13, opposite Cagney's. It was always quite, with a piano playing until 9:30 or so. Rayshelle was a delightful waitress; and the bartender mixed up a mean martini. That was one of the most pleasant memories of the ship.
Now, a word about the "service charge" that NCL dictates. I mentioned that we tipped our cabin steward as we left the ship. When I handed him the tip, I explained that I wasn't sure how much of our $25/day he would see, so I wanted to make sure he got what he deserved. He told me that even he wasn't sure how much he got because it was simply part of his salary. Hmmmm. So, basically, these employees don't receive a "tip". How do we as passengers even know that they receive anything? I mean, are their wages that much higher than other cruise lines? Maybe, I don't know. But our take on that policy is that the employees basically have no financial motivation to go 'above and beyond'.
All and all it was a good cruise. With some extra effort in the dining rooms it could have been a great cruise. But, I think we'll be back with Celebrity on our next sailing. Read Less