Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Sailing Date: May 19th, 2002
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
Actualdepart Miami Sunday 4:00pm at sea Monday at sea Tuesday St. John Wednesday 10:30am - 6:00pm St. Thomas Thursday 9:00am - 5:30pm at sea Friday Great Stirrup Cay Saturday 1:00pm - 6:00pm arrive Miami Sunday 7:00am
I was traveling in a group of four adults between the ages of 33 and 41. Three of us are very interested in classic ocean liners-two could be considered fanatics, but they prefer the word enthusiasts instead. This was my second cruise. I previously sailed on the NCL Sea in June '00. My roommate previously sailed on the QE2 in August '97 and the NCL Sea in June '00. The other two in our group sailed on the QE2 in August '97 and a RCCL cruise to Alaska in '01. By trade, I am a technical supervisor and the others are all in church vocations. We all prefer traditional cruising to freestyle and we all think that dress codes should be appreciated and followed on cruise ships/liners. We chose the Norway more for her history than for the ports of call or amenities.
My roommate and I booked our entire trip through a travel agent that we have used many times in the past. We purchased NCL's air/sea package and a 2-day pre-cruise package at Loews Miami Beach Hotel in South Beach. The others booked their cruise and air separately online and flew into Ft. Lauderdale on the morning of the cruise. Overall, booking everything through NCL simplified our arrangements. Even though we could have saved a little money by booking each part separately, we appreciated not having all the headaches that it could have caused.
In this review I will include some information about the pre-cruise package because we purchased it through NCL. I will also talk about some of my observations on the ship. My traveling companions would echo most of the observations, but their opinions may vary slightly from mine.
We flew into Miami on Friday, May 17 and arrived on time despite rainy conditions at San Antonio, Houston, and Miami. Once we gathered our luggage, we went outside to catch the Super Shuttle as we had been directed in our cruise documents. I found it interesting that Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity each had representatives at Miami International Airport to greet passengers, but the NCL representative was nowhere to be found. Super Shuttle was total chaos, but after a 20-minute wait our van arrived and we were off to Loews Hotel. We arrived at the hotel and checked in by 2:00pm and decided to have lunch.
Loews Miami Beach is a beautiful hotel with a wonderful pool area, private beach, and very nice rooms. We were on the 10th floor. Our room had a balcony, with incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Miami skyline. The food at the hotel was very good, but also very expensive. The same could be said for the sidewalk cafés along Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road. One thing we noticed in Miami/South Beach was that gratuities are always automatically added when you receive your check at meals. They even left a blank for you to add additional gratuities on your credit card receipt if you so desired. I thought that was very kind. Also, the mini bar in the hotel room was extremely expensive. A can of soda was approximately $3 plus 8.5% sales tax and an 18% restocking fee. If you wanted them to empty the mini bar for you, they would be happy to for a $30 surcharge. We found an Eckerd Drug across the street and bought some sodas there to take on the ship.
The concierge at the hotel was not able to answer any questions about how the cruise line handles transportation to the ship on the day of embarkation. The bellmen, on the other hand, told us that the bus would be outside at 1:30pm and that the driver would come inside the lobby with an NCL sign and pick up all passengers for the cruise. We were in the lobby by 1:00pm waiting. I noticed a Cruiseline Express bus outside at 1:15pm and we asked the bellman if that was our bus. He said that it was and helped us get our luggage out to the bus. The driver said that he had been waiting since 1:00pm and he was angry that people would wait until the last minute to come out to the bus. The other two passengers he was picking up at Loews did not come out until 1:25pm. The driver had certainly not made an effort to come in and see where the passengers were. After he picked us up, he had four more stops. Apparently all of the passengers at every stop were told to be ready at 1:30pm. Once again, the driver was angry because he could not be in five places, up to 10 miles apart, at the same time. He also mentioned that NCL tells him how many passengers he will be picking up, but he is not given any names. He has no way to know whether passengers are running late or whether they gave up and took a taxi to the pier.
We arrived at the pier at 2:45pm and were on the ship by just after 3:00pm - a pretty simple embarkation. Since we are Latitudes members, we saved time by going through the Latitudes line. There was a little confusion at the pier. When we first entered the building, there was a line of about 10 people just to the right. I asked the NCL representative if we needed to be in that line. Her reply was that we could if we wanted to, but that it was not necessary. I don't want to wait in lines any more than anyone else, so we bypassed it and moved on. I still don't know what that line was for.
When we got on the ship, we were immediately directed to take the elevator up to our cabin on Sky deck. The elevator was very tiny and stopped at almost every floor, whether it needed to or not. You had to keep pressing your floor after every stop or the elevator would forget and might not stop there. It seemed to take forever to get to our deck because the elevator was hot and slow and I was probably a little antsy. From that point on, we took the stairs everywhere.
Our cabin was very nice. It was a Category AE suite, K018 on the Sky deck. It is a relatively new cabin. The Sky and Sun decks were added to the Norway during a major refit in 1990. Normally we would not have gotten a suite, but the prices were so reasonable that it was impossible to say, "no". Category AE suites come standard with floor to ceiling windows, an in-room refrigerator, an in-room safe, complimentary bathrobes, available concierge service, a never ending fruit basket, a much larger selection of soaps, shampoos, and lotions than one could ever want and a full sized tub with a marble surround. Our cabin stewardess, Glenda, did an outstanding job of keeping our cabin clean, our ice fresh, and our fruit basket full. We could eat all of the grapes and bananas an when we came back from breakfast, it would seem like more had magically appeared in the basket. We are sure that Glenda was refilling it, though, because there was no magician on the cruise. We only had two minor problems with our cabin. The toilet refused to flush each of the first three mornings we were on the ship. On the first two mornings, a plumber was sent to look at it and thought it was fixed. On the third morning, it seemed to miraculously heal itself. We never had a problem after that. OK, maybe there was a magician on board. The other problem was that the lights on the mirror on our dressing table did not work most of the time. There seemed to be a short in the switch. Once or twice it would mysteriously come on. OK, maybe the room was haunted. That would explain everything.
Our traveling companions were in an inside stateroom V203 on the Viking deck. This is an original stateroom on the Norway and still has many of its original furnishings from the Norway's previous life as the France. Their room was cozy and small, but had an ambiance that our cabin did not have.
By the time we got settled it was time for the mandatory lifeboat drill. We endured that and decided that it was time for a drink afterwards. We met our traveling companions at Club Internationale on the International deck. This room was the original first class smoking lounge on the France. It is a beautiful room that looks very similar today as it did in 1962.
After drinks, we went to our respective cabins and changed clothes for dinner. By the way, our luggage had been delivered to the cabin within a couple of hours of boarding-very impressive. Our assigned table was a table for 6 in the Windward dining room. The dining room is very much the same as it was when it was the first class dining room on the France. It is very noisy, though. Our waiter, Owen, and busboy, Louis Celon, served us a wonderful meal. The food throughout the cruise was pretty good, although not exceptional. Some meals were better than others. We found the Italian, Caribbean, and the Chef's Special dinners to be less desirable than the others. Breakfasts in the Leeward dining room were very good, but the service at breakfast was painfully slow. We only ate 2 lunches in the Leeward dining room, both of which were pretty good. The Leeward Restaurant seemed to be much quieter than the Windward Restaurant, especially upstairs. We had one breakfast and one lunch in the Great Outdoors Restaurant. We all found the selection to be minimal and the quality to be fair to poor. The exception in the Great Outdoors Restaurant was the dessert, especially the afternoon cookies. The chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies were some of the highlights of our days. Drink selection in the Great Outdoors Restaurant was poor. They only offered Iced Tea, Milk, Coffee and Water. At breakfast, there were two juices. The juices disappeared by lunchtime. On the Norwegian Sea two years ago, juices were available around the clock in the Lido restaurant.
Formal nights were Monday and Friday. Most people dressed appropriately, but there were quite a few that thought khaki pants and a button down shirt were formal. I can't count the number of people who thought t-shirts and jeans were dressy casual. If the cruise line is going to define a dress code, I think they need to enforce it. Otherwise, they should just make it "come as you are". Oh wait, that is called "freestyle cruising!"
The only midnight buffet we attended was the Chocoholic Buffet. This one is better than its counterpart on the Norwegian Sea, but one or two morsels of chocolate satisfied the cravings. We were lucky to get in and out quickly. Our traveling companions waited in line until almost 1:00am to get in the door. By that time, we were fast asleep in our stateroom.
Our other table companions were two very nice 22-year old girls that just graduated from college in California. We had a little bit of a difficult time relating to them because they were just there for a cheap cruise, a graduation present, and were really not interested in the Norway herself. Despite that, they seemed to have a great time on the cruise and everyone was always cordial. Their only complaint about the trip was that a cocktail waiter from Indonesia that works in the North Cape Lounge pursued them incessantly, almost to the point of stalking. I doubt that they ever reported this because they found it too humorous.
We enjoyed dinner in Le Bistro on Wednesday night. We were pleased to find out, well after making our reservations, that Wednesday is the only night that Le Bistro serves lobster as an option. Two of us indulged in lobster, one had steak and the other had salmon. I have to say that the lobster, served with a creamy Cajun spiced sauce, was perhaps the best I have ever had. The escargot was also tasty, as were the deserts. The four of us each had at least one desert (some had two) and then we all split a chocolate fondue. The fondue is practically heaven on a skewer.
After dinner on Sunday, there was a comedy show. Carl Strong was funny, but did too many ethnic jokes for my taste. He also did two midnight shows later in the week. Our traveling companions attended both shows and said that there was a lot of duplication of jokes. The Jean Ann Ryan Company did three shows. I went to two of those. "Sing Sing Sing" was pretty good, but "Sea Legs Goes Hollywood" was exceptional. Latin singer, Elvy Rose's show was very good at first, but deteriorated rapidly. By the end she was singing about a "One Ton Tomato". The juggler/comedian, Barry John, was very funny. I laughed heartily at his antics.
The first two sea days were very enjoyable. The staff and crew, along with the Norway herself, seemed to run on autopilot. It seemed obvious that the people on the ship really like what they do...or maybe they are just working for tips. Either way, they made the passengers feel quite comfortable. The only complaint I had was the constant commercials. Everywhere you went on the ship, you heard a constant series of commercials for every other event-bingo, art auction, horse races, shows, bar specials, inch of gold, Crack Its and more. I felt comfortable enough reading the Cruise News. I really did not need the constant sales pitch.
Devon, the ship's historian, did a historical presentation at 1:00pm each sea day. Getting through lunch in time to attend was difficult, but we did not want to miss the presentations. They focused on the building of the France, life on the France, the conversion to the Norway and the future of the ship. NCL is fortunate to have someone who cares so much for the Norway as its historian. He is working toward finding ways to save her. He has a web site, www.ss-norway.com, that serves to keep fans of the Norway informed about the efforts of the Norway Preservation Society.
We played bingo twice during the week. While Bingo was crowded, the energy that we saw on the Norwegian Sea was not there. I played several hands of blackjack in the casino one evening. I quickly lost the money I had allocated for blackjack and left empty-handed.
The pools are very nice on the Norway. Both pools are a depth of 7'. It would have been nicer if there were a shallower end, but I am not complaining. There is a lot of deck space. Deck chairs were sometimes hard to come by. Many of the deck chairs were broken.
Each sea day at 4:00pm, we had elegant tea. This was a little disappointing to those who had been on the QE2 and enjoyed high tea. They said that the scones and snacks were not quite as nice as on the QE2. I though it was fine, though. Most of the time at tea, there were less than 20 people participating. That was a little disappointing to me.
Our traveling companions attended the vegetable carving demonstration, which was standing room only, and "The Liar's Club", which was supposedly hilarious. I wish I had attended both events.
As a rule on the Norway, there are lots of events scheduled throughout the day. In many cases, though, there were times of some days that it seemed like there was nothing going on except Bingo, art auctions, jewelry sales, and ship olympics. We took advantage of those times and admired different areas of the ship, imagining how she would have been on her first transatlantic crossing 40 years ago.
We signed up for two shore excursions-the Sea and See in St. Maarten and the St. John/St. Thomas highlights combination tour. We planned to just enjoy some time on the beach at Great Stirrup Cay.
On Wednesday morning, we were instructed to meet in the North Cape Lounge for our St. Maarten tour. Upon arrival, passengers were saying that we would not be going to St. Maarten after all. One person from the cruise director's staff was there, answering individual questions, but she did not have a microphone to make global announcements. The staff and crew could have made this announcement more simple by setting up a microphone and making an announcement to all of the people in the lounge instead of letting the rumor mill churn and letting passengers get upset for no reason. We decided to leave and go to the shore excursion desk to get more information. We were told that St. Maarten was cancelled because of high winds and rough seas. We were told that officials in St. Maarten had closed the port because it was not safe to tender there and that we would be spending a full day in St. John instead. We were also told that, because of the change in schedules, our combination tour for St. John and St. Thomas had also been cancelled and that the captain would be making an announcement in 15-20 minutes to clear things up.
The captain did make an announcement and explained the situation. He confirmed all of the things we had already been told.
Because of the short notice, no shore excursions were scheduled for St. John. Everyone was on his/her own. We decided to sign up for the historic walking tour of St. Thomas for the following day.
We arrived at St. John at about 10:30am. Those of us who had scheduled St. Maarten excursions were given priority tenders to St. John. Upon arrival we were greeted by a slew of air-conditioned (pronounced "open-air") bus drivers. Some were bound for beaches, others offered sightseeing tours. We decided to do the sightseeing tour. We toured the island for about 2 hours ($14/person) stopping at several scenic spots for photo taking. We also stopped at an abandoned sugar cane plantation for an optional tour ($4/person). Charlie, our driver and guide, was very nice and informative. At the end, he dropped several people off at Trunk Bay beach and took the rest of us to a shopping area about two blocks from the pier where we ate lunch at the Mongoose restaurant-a very good choice for lunch. After lunch, we took the tender back to the ship in time to catch the bridge tour.
The bridge tour was amazing, mostly because Captain Juliussen decided to stay out on the bridge and talk to us throughout the tour. He was funny, informative, and could not have been more welcoming to those of us on the tour. I understand that it is very rare for a captain to actually make an appearance during a bridge tour. Every passenger that was there seemed to really appreciate the time he took to make us feel welcome.
Our walking tour in St. Thomas began after another "air-conditioned" bus ride up to Blackbeard's Castle. We walked from that point down to the center of town looking at some of the historic buildings in town. Doug, our tour leader, recently moved to St. Thomas after growing up in Boston and living briefly in Florida. He was a great tour guide. During the tour, we had a chance to stop and have a complimentary rum punch-very heavy on the rum. After the tour we headed into town for some shopping and lunch. Lunch was at a bar and grill in a shopping center. It was good, but definitely not air-conditioned. We also visited the Frederick Lutheran Church, founded in 1666, which is the second oldest congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This was important to us because everyone in our group is Lutheran.
In the evening, after we left port, the captain made an announcement over the intercom system. He explained that it was not weather that caused us to miss the port in St. Maarten. There was actually a terrorist threat against U.S. interests in St. Maarten. A letter had been sent that indicated that jet skis would be driven into the sides of U.S. ships on the morning that we were scheduled to be in port. The FBI and local authorities had asked the captain not to take the ship into port and not to say anything to the passengers until their investigation was complete. The same request was made of two other ships, one Carnival and one Celebrity. By the time he made this announcement, a suspect had been apprehended. He apologized for the confusion and reiterated that he had to keep the safety of the passengers and crew as his first priority. I don't think that there was a single person on the ship who was upset about missing St. Maarten under the circumstances.
The beach in Great Stirrup Cay is wonderful. I can't recall seeing clearer water and sandier beaches. The fish seemed to just swim right up to me. Maybe they were just hungry. The lunch in Great Stirrup Cay was standard barbecue fare-hamburgers, hot dogs, spare ribs, etc. It was good and the lines were relatively short. The only regret about this port is that it is a very short call. By the time we tendered in, we only had a few hours to enjoy it before it was time to turn around and head back to the ship.
Back on the ship, there were several other events that we really enjoyed. The captain's champagne reception was very nice. I wish the captain could have been there. I think he was busy having his picture made with passengers while the reception was going on.
The Latitudes Mimosa Party was also enjoyable. Complimentary mimosas, screw drivers and bloody marys were plentiful, as were the snacks. The staff captain, who probably delivers jokes better in his native Swedish than he does in English, provided the "entertainment" for this affair.
The formal "On the France" gala was held on the second formal night. A video shot during the initial transatlantic crossing of the France was shown and the Two Tones provided the music for the event. It was held in the Club Internationale.
There are a few things that you just have to see on the Norway. First, the mural in the kid's area "Troll Land" was originally painted in 1960 for the France. The daughter of the original artist refurbished it several years ago. That one piece of art is worth in excess of $1 million today. Second, before 1990 the Fjord deck was the top deck on the ship. At that time, there was a courtyard surrounded by eight original staterooms-two on each side. These staterooms were very highly sought after. When the Sun and Sky decks were added in 1990, a pool was placed over the top of the courtyard. The rooms and the courtyard were basically left intact. The doors to the rooms have been welded shut on the courtyard side, but the original bars are still on the windows and the original floor is still under the pool. There is a non-descript entry into this area, between stairwells 2 and 3, where you can look through portholes into the swimming pool. You have to see it to appreciate it. Dazzles disco also has portholes that look into the aft pool. One night, the aft pool was mostly drained and the wave motion created quite a show in those portholes according to our traveling companions. The Library has some of the original furnishings from the France and the Concierge Office, which was formerly the first class children's area, has some incredible murals on the walls.
Overall, we were extremely pleased with the cruise and I, for one, would not hesitate to sail on the Norway again. I have read reviews where people criticized the Norway for looking "old". I only hope I look as good as she does when I am 40. I did not see any tattered carpets or worn spots. I did not see any chipped or peeling paint. I did see crewmembers cleaning and doing maintenance constantly. Captain Juliussen said at one point in the cruise that one of his primary focuses has been the upkeep of the ship. He admitted that there were times when the ship was not maintained as well as she should have been. He is working diligently to change that.
On the final morning, disembarkation was a breeze. We had breakfast in the Windward dining room, said goodbye to our friends, and waited around in our stateroom for our turn to disembark. We were called to disembark at about 10:30am. We were off the ship, through customs, out to the bus, and on the road in less than thirty minutes. In another half hour we were transported to the airport, checked in and given our boarding passes outside, and sent on through the security checkpoint.
Devon, the historian, gave an analogy that perfectly illustrates the type of people that will enjoy the Norway the most. Assume that you have to make a choice between a vacation to London and a vacation to Las Vegas. If you go for the glitter and glamour of Las Vegas, the Norway may not be the ship for you. The glitter and glamour can be found on the newer ships like the Explorer of the Seas or the Norwegian Sky (among many others). If, however, the grace, elegance and historical value of a city like London appeal to you, the Norway will be a memorable vacation. Believe me, if London is anything like the Norway I want to go there next.
I have to apologize for the length of this review. I only hope that someone will find it helpful. I think the most appropriate way to close this review is "Vive le France! Vive le Norway!"
May 27, 2002