Thursday, January 21, 2010

NCL Cruise 2010 Review

I hope everyone has had a chance to check out the videos and pictures from my most recent cruise aboard NCL’s Norwegian Sky. It is a pleasant ship to look at. While some of the common areas are showing its original age, overall it has nice visual appeal, which I will explain more in a moment. My intent with this post is to give my final review of the ship. I want to be completely honest with my assessment and also open minded to the fact that this is just one cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line and should not be taken as a representative of the entire cruise lines ship’s and itineraries…good or bad.

My intent is to list the pros and cons so individuals can make up their own mind whether this is the ship and itinerary for them for their future cruise vacation. I believe every destination, cruise line, hotel chain etc has its share of pros and cons. I get weary of reading critiques where most of the critique is a huge slam and one heavily slanted toward the negative. I have found that those reviews are written most likely by two types of travelers; those who live in the dream world that everyone is at their beck and call so they complain if their caviar is not the brand that they had come to expect and they use a lot of words that require a constant running to a dictionary just to know that they said the weather is less than stellar OR by those travelers who adorn themselves in “wife-beater” T-shirts and who have a hard time keeping their ball caps on straight and their pants pulled up, but for some reason they get on vacation and believe that every hotel, ship, resort employee is an indentured servant to them. The next time you read a horrendous review, keep one of those visuals in your mind and take it with a grain of salt.

With that said…let me start with the cons of this particular ship and its itinerary so I can then end on a positive note. The largest con of all of the Norwegian Sky is the buffet areas of the ship. There were two buffets both in the aft part of the ship and both with basically the same food items for lunch and breakfast. They were VERY small and not laid out well and caused a lot of congestion in and around the food and beverage service areas. I would say that the seating was also limited in these areas, but that was mostly because the weather was not great on this cruise and most guests were trying to crowd themselves in the interior seating areas. I am not certain that this problem can be fixed due to the size of the ship and its fixed footprint, so to speak, but nevertheless it is a negative and made my breakfast and lunch less than satisfying. Food was ok, but again because it was such as small area, not a great selection of items on the buffet.

Second con…overall service in the free dining and food venues (with the exception of their specialty restaurants). I am used to receiving great service on other cruise lines no matter which food area you choose to eat in. I am used to the wait staff coming around to their designated seating area in the buffet restaurants asking you if you need a refill or if they can get you juice or coffee in the mornings while you eat. That was a rarity on this cruise. Since I was traveling by myself, I had to find a seat, make sure I put something in the seat to show it was for sure taken, get into the buffet line, return with my food and then go get in the beverage line. Again, because seating was a premium inside, I did not dare get up and get a refill because someone was hovering over your table like a vulture ready to snag it away and the “wait staff” were also hovering ready to clear a plate so they could keep tables empty and available. You had to keep a fork touching part of your plate or a cruise employee would whisk it away and you would wave bye-bye to your recently buttered pancakes if you dared to turn your head for a moment.

So that pretty much covers the buffet areas. But I also found the service sub-par in the main dining rooms. I ate dinners in each of the 2 free dining rooms and also 1 lunch in one of them as well. I was amazed how I would get basically ignored since I was eating alone. Someone would come and hurry and take my order, rush my food out (which is not normally something to complain about) and then make you feel as if you need to hurry and eat so again the table could be cleaned off and re-seated. If you have sailed at all on some of the major cruise lines, you know that the special attention you receive while dining is one of the things that makes cruises so wonderful and memorable along with the good food. Most of the time I was offered the option of buying bottled water and once I said no…they quickly filled my water glass with tap water and never asked if I wanted tea or soda or anything else. The wine and bar staff would just walk around me while never asking if I wanted anything from the bar at all (regardless of if I drank or not). I became so agitated at one point that I finally pulled out my little pad and pen and started documenting everything right there at the table hoping some would get the hint that “hey…this guy might be a critic or something.”

The other con is associated with the ports of call and not really related to the cruise line. I am not a fan of the Bahamian cruises. Nassau and Freeport are really not what they used to be. Freeport is recovering still from the hurricane that devastated the area 5 or 6 years ago and really is mainly a shopping venue and not that many shops at that. I feel NCL should really skip that port all together and just have a nice relaxing first day at sea like that of Disney and even some of Royal Caribbean’s 4 day Bahamian cruises. I did find a bright spot while in Freeport (see day 2 review), but that is not enough of a bright spot to make me want to take the same cruise again.

The last con I will mention is that of the ship’s layout. With the size of the ship, there is not a lot of room to make things flow any better, but NCL could improve upon the way it directs you in and around the ship. If you wanted to know where you were or where to find a certain place while on board, you had to find an elevator and squint to see where you were and where everything else was. It was not good for those who were in wheel chairs or who have any difficulty seeing at all. It also seemed like some of the specialty restaurants were made to be hard to find. I accidentally stumbled upon Le Bistro and never ran upon it again the rest of the cruise. Never seen anything like that on previous cruises. On deck 7, if you wanted to get from one end of the ship to the other, you had to walk directly through the smoke-filled casino. Just not a good layout.

Ok…now let’s end on a positive. I heard some of the best music that I have ever heard at sea on this cruise. Bruce Crichton and Ariel Jacobe were two of the best musicians/singers that you will ever hear while on board a ship. They happened to also perform in two of my favorite areas on the ship; The Plantation Club and the Outrigger Lounge. I loved the décor of both of these venues and also how they were designed and laid out. There were lots of areas in these lounges where friends could gather to cap off a night or you could visit them during the day and they were 2 of the most peaceful places to catch up on some reading or do some writing, as I did. High marks go out to the musicians and these 2 lounges.

Another pro of this ship is the specialty restaurant, Cagney’s. The service here did not disappoint. I was greeted warmly and was given special attention (as were all the guests). The food was incredible and some of the best so far even compared to previous cruises with other cruise lines.

Pro #3 would be the ship’s library. I have been in some on previous ships that were called a library, but had little in the way of books to read or check out. There were quite a few books at your disposal and frankly I was quite impressed. If you are thinking…“he liked the library??” You will understand once you cruise enough and encounter less than perfect weather during your cruise.

Pro #4 has to be the ship’s officer staff. I was greeted warmly several times by the officers of the ship and even helped once I came aboard with understanding how the specialty restaurants work by a very cordial officer (I wish I would have written her name down).

The last pro I will mention is NCL’s embarkation and debarkation process. This was the smoothest so far. I was on board quickly once it was my turn to check in. The staff was excited for you and did their best to get your cruise off to a great start. The disembarking process was also the same. The officers were there to say goodbye as you exited and the lines moved very quickly. I liked how they gave you the option of when YOU wanted to depart the ship versus other lines that TELL you when you will depart.

Overall…had the weather been better, the cruise overall would have been better. It was only in the 60°F range the entire time we were in the Bahamas which did not make for happy passengers who pick the Bahamas for warmth and sunshine. Is this a cruise that I would take again? Probably not. Does that mean it is not a cruise for you? Not necessarily. I would say that this cruise is ideal for the budget conscience vacationer and for mainly those classified as adults. I did see some young children onboard, but honestly they looked bored so I would not recommend this for families and their children.

If you have specific questions about this cruise or any comment related to my critique, please post it hear or contact me via e-mail. I hope this has been helpful and please again realize that this is based on my experience. I did hear others onboard say they were having the time of their lives so it is based on my perspective as are all reviews and critiques.


Anonymous said...

Thank You! I am cruising for the first time and your write up did help me with a lot of information and expectations!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing about the NCL debarkation process! I have never cruised with them before and will be going soon. I found it very difficult to get any information from them regarding the debarkation procedure. They just keep telling me that I will need to check with the ship for the procedure when I am onboard, however, that does not help me plan ahead a whole lot. Thanks for letting me know that it seems to go fairly quick!