This was our 3rd NCL cruise, but the 1st on a boat with nearly 4,000 passengers.
This is a lengthy and hopefully an informative review.
Executive Summary - It’s in the title of the review, NCL Stayaway or as some other passengers referred to it, Get-in-line vice Getaway. Your money and time can be better spent. Although, some passengers rationalized the inadequacies in service, line ups, etc. as any vacation is a good vacation, my counter is NOT if you are spending it waiting in lines.
Departure port - New Orleans
Cruise dates 7-16 February 2020
Ports - Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Georgetown, Grand Cayman, Roatan, Honduras, Harvest Caye, Belize and Costa Maya, Mexico
Pre-cruise - stayed at the Hyatt Centric, perfectly located, excellent service, facilities and steps away from the French Quarter.
Pre-cruise tours - followed the advice of another Cruise Critic reviewer and booked Foodie and Cocktail walking tours through New Orleans Secrets before we left home and both were awesome and informative.
Getting to the cruise terminal was difficult. Normally a 15 minute ride from the French Quarter took 1 1/2 hours due to construction, road blockages and traffic. Even the NCL new crew bus took over an hour to get to the cruise terminal.
We received a text message from NCL at approximately 11 a.m. day of departure that we were requested to NOT arrive before 1 p.m. due to late arrival of Getaway because of weather. I can’t remember how we found out, but 4 p.m. departure was pushed to 6 p.m., but I think we departed closer to 6:30 p.m. or later.
Upon arrival at the New Orleans cruise terminal it was clear that something was not right. There were multiple lines streaming out of the cruise terminal and unsecured luggage all over the place, even on the roadway.
We spent over an hour in line outside the cruise terminal, so it was fortunate that it was not raining. There were actually two lines on either side of the main roadway leading to door #1 and I estimated that there were approximately 800-1,000 passengers lined up outside. Upon entering the cruise terminal the line up of passengers stretched the entire length of the cruise terminal (door #1 to door #4 and beyond) and back again to go through security. In total we spent approximately 3 1/2 hours in line awaiting security and getting our ship pass before getting on the boat.
A few low-lights. There wasn’t anyone from NCL providing information as to the lengthy delays. Someone in authority could have at least come through the cruise terminal, provided some information and their regrets as to the delay.
There were lots of people in wheel chairs and we saw people pleading with cruise terminal staff to help the people in the wheel chairs, as they did not have adequate access to restroom facilities. Unfortunately, we saw at least one person in a wheel chair that was crying and another that had soiled themselves due to the long time in the line up. Despite the pleas of their significant others or other people, absolutely nothing was done to alleviate their predicaments.
In addition, due to the long line ups, many older people were having a hard time standing for the 3 1/2 hours and were requesting wheels chairs. Again cruise terminal staff did nothing except to wave their arms that wheel chairs were “over there”, when in fact there were none.
There were some chairs for people to sit near door one, so typically, if a couple, one person would sit, while the other person trudged along in the line up. Again, not one person in authority or in charge were to be seen. This was truly a lack of leadership on both the cruise terminal and NCL Getaway and is shameful.
I had the opportunity to meet with NCL Getaway’s Assistant General Manager and the lead for excursions after I submitted a complaint to guest services. The A/GM’s response was basically, we are only concerned with the passenger’s welfare or we are not to blame until the passenger is on the boat. I think that is flawed thinking and that NCL Corporate would likely see the situation differently, but in reality they probably don’t care, as very few passengers complain directly to NCL.
That is not to say they don’t complain, as I heard plenty of complaints by passengers while waiting in the various line ups and venues. Hearing people saying that they are never going to cruise with Norwegian ever again or that they will never take another cruise based on their experience on NCL Getaway should be of concern to NCL Corporate.
There was the opportunity for NCL Getaway leadership to rectify the situation, as they could have either taken a phased approach to the embarkation process, just like the debarkation process and/or installed the aft gangway for embarkation. Instead they did nothing and this showed lack of initiative and leadership on the part of NCL Getaway senior officers.
Security - given the emphasis on “security” it was unbelievable that there was unsecured luggage piled inside, outside and on the roadway. It is not hard to imagine a variety of scenarios that could impact the security of passengers, the cruise terminal and the boat. Accident waiting to happen. On a positive note, plenty of people were able to “smuggle” various types of bottles onboard the boat, whether it was alcohol or soda/pop.
Health screening - there was lots of speculation as to the delay being related to Corona Virus screening and pro-active health screening, all of which was totally false. Health screening consisted of filling out forms, self identifying whether you had recently visited China, felt poorly, had a fever, etc. This certainly wasn’t due diligence on the part of the New Orleans cruise terminal authority, nor NCL. Given the length of time that passengers spent waiting in line, a more pro-active health screening would have at least given the passengers a sense of security that both agencies were taking health screening serious, again a clear lack of leadership of the cruise terminal and NCL.
Passenger welfare - basically none on the part of the cruise terminal, nor NCL. Although some lemonade and water was offered to those in the line up, after about 2+ hours of waiting in the line up.
I know at this point, that had we been able to pack the whole cruise in and not lose what we have paid, we would have jumped at the opportunity and returned home. We have cruised many times, on several different cruise lines and we have never seen a Gong Show as we did on the embarkation process of NCL Getaway (aka NCL Stayaway).
Once we had our SeaPass and were onboard the chaos did not get any better. Given that all boarding was via the Forward set of elevators it created a huge backlog of people waiting to get an elevator.
People in wheel chairs had no chance of securing an elevator unless they parked themselves in front of an elevator. Recurring theme here is lack of initiative and leadership to have NCL Getaway staff positioned to direct and take charge of the elevators.
To add to the confusion, were those passengers that had already boarded and were “exploring” the boat and riding the elevators. Simple solution, would have been to ask those inconsiderate people, with plates of food and drinks to use the aft set of elevators, to allow those passengers that had finally made it onto ship to at least get to their state room.
Our stateroom was what we expected. Although the lack of forethought by NCL corporate to have plug-in near the bed for such things as CPAPs and USB plug-ins for electronic showed their lack of knowing what passengers want. If you are a CPAP user, the first thing on your list for housekeeping is to ask for an extension cord.
Complimentary Dining - Garden Cafe (buffet), Savor, Taste and Tropicana Room. Standard dishes, nothing special. We enjoyed the Tropicana Room, as they had music, people could dance or just eat and listen to the music and watch people dancing. If you want to have a conversation with your dining partner(s) or don’t like loud music, make sure you don’t get seated anywhere near the dance floor or turn off your hearing aids. Never had to wait long to be seated.
O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill - not a bad option, decent wings, fish & chip fix, burgers not so great. Serving staff poorly trained, unmotivated or a combination of both. We jokingly referred to it as “the penalty box”, as we imagined that was where they sent the problem servers.
Menu Choices - the menus were lack lustre, in the whole cruise there were only a couple of really difference and flavourful offerings. Although they do try to trick you into thinking that the menu is different, but changing the order of starters, entrees on the menu (e.g. Onion Soup, amongst others), so it was sort of like “Where’s Waldo” looking for where they had moved the previous nights menu items. Maybe they think that all the passengers memories are going, but it’s just smoke & mirrors on NCL’s part.
Gratuities & Service Charges - be forewarned, they are everywhere, even with the “free” perks. You can even rack up a gratuity when serving yourself from the mini-fridge in your stateroom. Of course, it is always “for your convenience” that they nickel and dime you to death.
The days of pre-paid gratuities are over, although it is advertised as “for your convenience”. Let the cruise lines pay their staff adequately, who work very hard, particularly housekeeping, instead of having passengers subsidize their wages. We will alway give our stateroom attendant gratuities directly because they go above and beyond. I have no confidence that all of the gratuities make it to the people that most deserve it. So the key here is to not pre-pay gratuities and/or make sure your go to guest services and have them stop the daily gratuity charge. Give what you can afford to your stateroom attendant and anybody else you think deserves it. We usually give them some pre-paid calling cards and a little sweet or something that we buy in one of the ports (e.g. Roatan Rum Factory Cakes) in addition to the money.
Ocho Rios - why do they even stop here any longer? We booked a tour here, were told to meet in the theatre, sat there over an hour before they announced that the tour operator would be another 15-20 minutes, but offered refunds, which plenty of passengers took them up on their offer. The rational was because the boat was parked in an “industrial area” there was limited room for folks to wait for the buses, and the buses had to be “organized”. We had been here before, and didn’t recall other cruise lines having the same problems.
So we walked off the boat into town. The aspect that we hate about Ocho Rios and Jamaica as a whole is the aggressive vendors and tour operators shouting and actually placing bracelets on your wrists and badgering you. Do they think this actually works and a good approach. Perhaps the local business improvement group can get this toned down a lot, as it reflects poorly on Ocho Rios. Oh, and after saying NO, it’s probably in poor taste to them offer to sell drugs, “smoke”, etc. to cruise passengers.
Shopping - barter. A Jamaican coffee cup (made in China) was advertised as $24.99, but they said it was 50% off today, so $12, I offered $5 and we settled on $7. I imagine it is the same for pretty much everything
Grand Cayman - tendered. This was a gong show, over an hour to get off the boat and into Georgetown. Whoever is responsible for organizing tendering, either failed that part of the job description or thinks that passengers want to wait in lines.
Grand Cayman - very nice, tours offered politely and you don’t feel the same aggressiveness as Ocho Rios. Plenty of alternatives to NCL provide tours and less pricey. Don’t buy the excuse that NCL excursions guarantee to get you back to the boat on time. All tours are local tour operators, priced better than NCL and Cruise Critic is an excellent source for potential tours, based on other cruiser’s experiences.
Roatan - best port of the cruise. Searching through Cruise Critic, we followed the recommendations of previous cruisers and booked online, before we left home a personal/private tour with Victor Bodden Tours. Our tour guide Worthy was excellent and made sure we say what we wanted. Namely, holding a sloth, monkeys, parrots/macaws on our heads, plus a variety of other stops, Roatan is a unique place and we would like to visit it again.
Outside of the main complex in Roatan there are booths with tour operators that are as aggressive as those in Jamaica, but they are confined to their allotted booth space, but they are all shouting at you and it feels like you are walking a gauntlet or a prison corridor and everybody is shouting at you. The local tourist authority might want to see if they can do something about the situation, because it reflects poorly on them.
Harvest Caye - NCL’s “private” island, was a waste of time. Lots of reviews related to Harvest Caye on Cruise Critic, and it’s accurate.
Note to NCL Corporate, if you are going to build ships or have a “private” island, you might want to be able to dock the boat vice tender. Poorly planned and poorly executed concept. We already paid for the cruise, we shouldn’t have to pay to get fed.
Costa Maya - we were pleasantly surprised by this port, thought it was going to be another Cozumel. Swim with dolphins, some decent shops, etc.
Long walk along the pier, but nice to stretch the legs. They do have a people mover for those that need it, but it seemed to be primarily the lazy riding it. It was very funny that the “engine” had run low on gas or something, have disconnected from the “wagon” and had gone to refuel. When we walked by the “wagon” we heard people complaining that they had been on the “wagon” for over 30 minutes, yet they were only about 50 feet from the shopping village. Might want to consider walking the last few steps if able and leave the people mover for those that truly need it.
Mississippi River - it’s a shame that transiting the Mississippi is done in the dark both ways. It’s a long way from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico, but if you turn your TV to the bridge channel and wait for some lights to show up, then go to your balcony. It’s amazing to see tankers and other cruise ships passing so close to one another.
Debarkation - Airport transfer well worth it, otherwise lots of cabs available right at door #1, plus Uber & Lyft.
If you can carry your own bags off the boat, do it. Time slot for doing so is 7:15 - 9 a.m. Although we had to endure one last Get-in-line on the Getaway. This line-up stretched from the forward elevators, through the Casino and back again to the forward exit. We were on one of the first buses to the airport.
Once at the airport, if you have a couple of hours before your flight and don’t have access to the Sky Lounge or similar clubs, there is a lounge called “The Club” near gate A1. The cost was ~$78 for two people and you have Internet access, food, bar, comfortable seating and even a shower. Well worth it and NO service charge “for your convenience”
So that’s it, that’s all. Won’t sail on a large capacity boat again, regardless of the cruise line, and most certainly not NCL.
Overall Stayaway from NCL Getaway. NCL certainly won’t go out of business from the loss of our business, but we will feel a whole lot better spending our money on a cruise line that provides better service, has more interesting ports, unique menus (without charging you extra), even if it costs us more per cruise. Read Less