We have exclusively sailed Disney Cruise Line. We wanted to sail during Thanksgiving week and DCL was very expensive for the same itinerary and ports (minus Grand Bahama). NCL was for the right price and decided to give it a try. It seems ... Read More
We have exclusively sailed Disney Cruise Line. We wanted to sail during Thanksgiving week and DCL was very expensive for the same itinerary and ports (minus Grand Bahama). NCL was for the right price and decided to give it a try. It seems that NCL's schtick is Free at Sea. We booked a balcony cabin which allowed you to choose all Free at Sea offers. This meant we would receive (for 1st and 2nd guests only) a beverage package, 100 minutes internet (1st guest only), $50 shore excursion credit (1st guest only), and dining package (1 meal for 1st and 2nd guest). We booked early. We didn't realize that prices go down closer to sailing. DCL only goes up. We were following the DCL pricing model. We didn't book excursions ahead of time because if you book online, they have to be pre-paid. That wasn't an issue. Everything we wanted to do was available to book on the ship. We prepaid the service charges before our cruise. The free beverage package isn't truly free because you have to prepay the gratuities for it at the time of booking. Plus, depending on your port, you may pay taxes on the drinks. At that point, we were good. We paid everything and prepared for our trip. One last-minute change was room. I upgraded from a balcony to a mini-suite. When all was said it done, I only paid $60 extra for the upgrade.
Embarkation: As we pull in, we follow the road signs directing us to Terminal 5. The person directing traffic points us to the proper parking deck marking the last occasion we’d get information on how to embark. We park the car, follow some folks towards a terminal. There are no signs welcoming you, no signs informing you where to drop bags off or check in, and no signs even indicating you’re here for an NCL cruise. We make our way to the top floor of the terminal with bags still in tow and are greeted by an NCL agent who sees us and says right this way to pass security and check in. Ok, maybe they take our bags after security, again we only know DCL. Next, we are greeted by another NCL agent prior to security who directs us to the security queue. We pass through security and are greeted by another agent who sees we still have our bags but directs us to check in. We wait in line for a few minutes when we meet our check in agent. She starts checking us in (she was very nice and helpful) and we finally ask “when do you take our bags?” She responds with “oh no, another one? They should have told you to take them to the porters”. Mr. NCL manager made his way over and confirmed that we need to exit through security and take our luggage down the escalators to the porters then come back through security again. Once we had that taken care of, we waited about 20 minutes to board the ship. That process was surprisingly smooth.
Ship: The sun artwork on the hull is very nice. I really like this aspect of Norwegian ships. For the most part, everything was clean. Rust could be seen in a few areas and the windows were always dirty on the outside. There was never a clear window outside except for our stateroom. The tables were not bussed in a timely manner or there was some trash in the common areas. The ship was easy to navigate and we never had any issues getting around.
Dining: All the food bordered on terrible.There are a ton of options, but the quality just wasn't there. The MDR team was slow and we honestly felt the couldn't have cared less. The best item I had was potato salad in Moderno on the first day of the cruise.
Entertainment - NCL wants you in the casino. I believe they purposely have nothing past 8 pm to give you no other choice for entertainment. Dance parties were happening, but I would rather have activities over dancing. The cruise director, Jeimy, just needs to go. I know no one can compare to #tonyfromspain, but she came across as completely fake. She hosted a few of the activities, but was hardly seen. One specific game show, which was being filmed, the audience didn't respond to her introduction the way she preferred. She made them introduce her again. The cruise team staff, however, were pretty good. Paul Newman and Mark from the Philippines and Tina from Argentina did well and tried to really make sure the guests were having a great time.
The pool and pool deck were the general hub of activity during the day. There were games and live music. The techs need to work on the volume. The music of the live bands was so loud that it made it being on deck uncomfortable. A couple of surprising things about the pool were that it was saltwater and there was only one lifeguard. There was absolutely NO WAY he could watch two pools at once. However, each lifeguard (during each shift) would make sure the little kids had adults watching them, and if they didn't, he wouldn't let them in the pool.
Activities - There were a lot of things to do and plenty of activities to keep one busy, but that really ended around 8 pm.
Service - Well, this one is tricky. The MDR dining team wasn't great. Our stateroom host was fine and kept the room clean. The bar team was excellent. The bars were hopping about 90% of time and the bartenders kept the drinks and crowds moving. They are definitely worth the service charge on the drink package. They were as good or better than DCL.
Ports and Shore Excursions - It was easy to reserve shore excursions. We went to the shore excursion desk. The agent was very helpful. We docked at Nassau and did the seahorse snorkel. The catamaran was packed. Probably around 50 people. Imagine that number on two separate catamarans and put all of those guests in one small reef to snorkel. The only fish we really saw was when a guest vomited over the side in the snorkel area. The fish took care of it.
On Great Stirrup Cay, we chose the Swimming with Pigs excursion. Keep in mind, you will not actually swim with pigs, but this was still a great excursion. It was fun and the number of cruisers to pig ratio was low. There were tiny piglets and giant pigs. The guides were great and we had a ton of fun. The island itself was fine. Both the Sun and Sky tendered, so it was a little crowded. The water was nice and it was a fabulous day of weather. Disney's Castaway Cay is better by a long shot. No tendering needed with DCL. If you needed to go back to the ship for something with NCL, it could take you an hour.
We traveled with our 17-year-old. She didn't partake in the kids club for her age. She went to the shows and activities we attended. She said she had a good time. There were not many little children on this cruise. Maybe this is normal. We only know DCL in comparison.
Debarkation - Well, NCL one upped themselves. We happened to be awake as we approached Port Canaveral. It quickly became apparent that we were docking at a different terminal than where we embarked. What’s the big deal you say? Well our parking deck was now at least a quarter mile away across the port with no way to walk to it. We eat breakfast and then head to guest services to inquire about shuttle service. I asked if there would be a shuttle to terminal in which we were directed to park for embarkation. The NCL agent looked at me funny and said “Why did you even park there when we are docking here?” I informed her that we were directed to park there since it was attached to the terminal we left from. She said oh no, you should have parked over here and taken a shuttle over. I reiterate that we were directed by NCL agents to park there and now want to know if they will have a shuttle. She makes a call and learns that they have several shuttles waiting for us to take us back to our parking deck. She ends her conversation with “you will take one of those shuttles like you should have before the cruise.” After all that is sorted out, debarkation was a breeze. You pass through customs on the ship and they use face recognition (DCL does not). Time from exiting the ship to exiting the parking garage was about 40 minutes.
Bottom line: Would we do this again? It would have to be a great deal with the free at sea options. The food was terrible, all of the common areas on the inside smelled of smoke and the service (minus the bar team) just wasn't there. We definitely learned that you get what you pay for when it comes to cruising. There were only a couple of things that NCL did better than DCL. The internet is by minute and not megabyte and the bar service team. Read Less