Occupation:Manager of Corporate Strategy
Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Sailing Date: January 4th, 2003
Itinerary: Miami-St. Martin/St Maarten-St. Thomas-Stirup Key
Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line
Sailing Date: January 4th, 2003
This was my wife and my first cruising experience. We thoroughly enjoyed it, to the point where we booked another NCL cruise for January of 2004!
Our package: We selected this 7 day package based on price. Originally I was planning to take my wife on a 3 or 4 day cruise, but when we saw this 7 day cruise starting at $399 per person, I had to investigate. We selected the cheapest room we could get with a porthole, which cost us $449 per person. Going into this we figured that at the very worst we would still be having a Caribbean vacation at a great price, and be sitting under that same sun as those people spending $5000 on another cruise ship. It turned out to be terrific fun, very relaxing, and all together pleasant, even with the few quirks that we encountered.
Our transatlantic liner, one of the last great ocean liners, and bought and refurbished by NCL in the 80's. Further updated in the 90's and in better shape than I am at the same age. I understand that it's size makes it more stable than many more modern ships, though we had nothing to compare it to. I understand that the decor is not up to modern standards, but we found it clean, and well maintained, and enjoyed most those areas that retained the elegance of its French origins, including the terrific "Club International" bar/lounge/dance floor area. The ships has two dining rooms, and passengers are assigned to a specific table, and chooses early seating (~6:00pm) or late (8:30). Our table mates were great fun, though I can see that if you were stuck with a bunch of duds it might be less so. Alternately there is buffet on the aft deck that seemed to serve food almost all the time, or room service 24/7 (we had coffee and rolls delivered early and then would have later breakfast). There are two pools, one aft that tended to be the hang out for the "MTV Spring Break" age crowd, and a second on the top deck and forward, which was smaller, but really nice, with two hot tubs and a bar right at poolside.
Our Cabin: V001: The very front starboard cabin on the 5th from bottom deck. Only 6.5 ft. by about 12, but everything we needed. Bunk beds (but we knew this going in, and my wife and I decided to spend our money ashore instead of upgrading) which were VERY comfortable, nice shower with plenty of pressure and hot water, adequate storage space, all made the more comfortable by our steward who not only kept our cabin clean, but also folded and tidied our stuff. It was very quiet, except for the mornings when they were letting out the anchor or lowering the tender boats to ferry people to shore. Apparently our cabin was immediately on the other side of the wall from those activities. We might have been upset, but instead just laughed at the situation and took it as just part of the onboard experience.
Activities: This is may be true of all cruises, but we found there was way more than we had time or inclination to do. We lay in the sun, read, drank and danced in the "Club International" and listened to a good piano player in the "Windjammer" bar. The health club was a nice size, never too crowded, but always being used. I took morning yoga classes, which were great, and led by capable instructors. There was a theatre with evening shows, a disco, the casino, none of which we ever managed to get to, though we heard they were fun. What amazed me was than on a ship with 2000+ passengers, we could find uncrowned bars for a drink, or walk on the top deck after dinner and be the only people up there. These were real pluses for us.
Food: We had great meals. I was impressed at the quality of the food and service, particularly given the fact that they prepare 10,000 meals a day. Food arrived hot, nicely presented and well served by attentive, polite and nice staff. There were always at least two or three entrées per meal that tempted me, two vegetarian selections, and the menu changed daily. The wine list was pretty good, and fairly priced, and they would save an unfinished bottle for your next meal if you wanted (never a problem for us) and also offered a "buy four bottles over the course of the cruise and your fifth bottle is free" deal, which we took advantage of. The wine staff were helpful, though perhaps not as knowledgeable as they might have been. There was a large buffet area on the aft deck (popular with the pool crowd) but we ate virtually all onboard meals in the dining rooms, dinners at our assigned table (breakfasts and lunches were open seating), and 2 in "The Bistro", with a $15/person surcharge and a slightly different menu. The "Windward" and Leeward" dining rooms are on the lower decks with no windows (it didn't feel in the least claustrophobic though), while "The Bistro," which seats about 75-100, looks out over the sea.
Summary: This is a ship out of history, and was a treat to sail on. There were two formal nights, and to be dressed up in a dinner jacket, my wife in her gown, walking the same decks that Grace Kelly, Maurice Chevalier, Salvador Dali and other famous people had tread was a real treat. The Norway doesn't have 4 story atriums, ice rinks or water slides, but if I had wanted that I would have gone to a Hyatt Hotel or a Six Flags theme park. Virtually everybody that we ate with, talked to and spent time with had good things to day about their cruise. The one complaint we heard was from a fellow who had a cabin on the top level of the ship and had been sea sick (hardly something that NCL can control).
The two quirks that one could view as negative were very slow elevators and the fact that the Norway is so large that one has to take ship tenders (450 passenger boats that the Norway carries with her onboard) to get from the ship to the islands. However, given all the food I ate, I was happy to get any exercise I could, so the stair climbing felt good; and the tenders brought us right to the foot of the main street in both St. Martin and St. Thomas, as opposed to people on other cruise ships who needed to get transportation from the ship docks to the center of town.
Finally, a word about the staff. To a person, they were polite, responsive, hard working and friendly. We were ALWAYS greeted by room stewards we passed in the hallway (even if they weren’t ours). They smiled, acknowledged you, looked you in the eye, and were always asking if they could be of any help. What a marked contrast to the typical shore-side experience in hotels, restaurants and stores, where one often gets the feeling that customers are just an annoying nuisance and distraction. We felt very well treated, and NCL must go out of its way to hire engaging people from all over the world.