Number of Cruises: 7
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Sailing Date: March 17th, 2002
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
Our cruise was slated at 2,400 passengers. When I inquired about this figure, I was told that she could carry 2,500. Last year there were around 2,000 which seemed crowded. This cruise was no exception. There were long lines for lunch, which was almost impossible to eat on the Great Outdoor Cafe, and also for tender service ashore. Since the Norway has such a deep draft, she cannot dock anywhere on the route, except at Miami. At St. Thomas, I waited 45 minutes just to board a tender, since the crew was running simulated emergency procedures. Anytime most of the 2,400 (not to mention the additional crew) passengers wish to take a tender, it's a long drawn out exercise which usually involves obtaining a boarding ticket to reserve your departure position.
As this was a spring break week in March, there were a fair number of college students on break. This tends to populate the disco more than on other cruises, and was actually quite run having them aboard. There was a mix of middle-aged and some seniors aboard as well. There were probably six large groups of people ranging from dance groups to a country music station group from Tampa, all of whom were very friendly and seemed to enjoy the cruise.
There were a few very noticeable problems with the cruise, the biggest of which was the fact that it seemed as thought the ship was being repaired (along with normal maintenance) as we were cruising. More than a few times you could be awakened by what sounded like a jack-hammer or grinder whizzing away at something on the ship. With a steel ship, the sound reverberates long distances. I had a cabin on upper part of the ship, the Fjord deck. The cabin was spacious, well appointed, had a huge picture window (completely blocked by a lifeboat), and a very old bathroom. While comfortable, the cabin had an annoying creaking sound at night while underway-- so much so it would easily awake you during the earliest hours of the morning. To make matters worse, right above my cabin was the Sun Deck, which at that particular spot, the deck chairs were ceremoniously un-stacked each morning by taking a chair from its highest point, and dropped, then dribbled over the deck as loud as possible. This happened every morning from 7:30am to 8:00am. While some people may be up at that hour, getting in from the disco anytime after 3:00am make that an annoying alarm clock.
Aside from the crowds at lunch, the ship was able to handle other events reasonably well. While the shows were fully attended, it appeared as though people were able to find seats.
Last year the food aboard ship was average to good. This year it was average to fair. Several occasions my table partners and I sent entree’s back. The appetizers were fair to good, and always better than the main course. Steaks were done always well, and never to what you ordered. For some reason, the management decided to do away with the sushi appetizer and lobster dinner from last year which was a great disappointment. Always be sure you're on late seating dining (8:30pm) since the 6:30pm is usually when sunset arrives, which you do not want to miss on any ship.
The good news is that the Club Internationale aft was left untouched by management. This sixties retro bar has tall ceilings, with relaxing furniture and a small dance floor where you can waltz or meringue the evening away while listening to the live music from the "Standard Time Trio" (piano, vocalist and percussion). The trio was outstanding. It's a great martini bar as well. I recommend the Mellontini and the Cosmopolitan amongst the wide variety on the martini menu. Usually before and after dinner, I would retire to the Club Internationale for a martini. I'd rate this bar five stars.
Another bright spot on the cruise was the dance lessons offered by a Canadian couple, Ed and Jackie. Normally, they would host dancing lessons at 5:00 pm at the Sports Bar. Don't worry if you don't have a partner, somebody will show up, and will be more than happy to dance with you. It's a good place to learn the waltz, tango, rumba, meringue, cha-cha and a variety of other dances (all of which can be utilized by the ss Norway Showband or the Standard Time Trio).
Dazzles Disco is another great place to dance, and play a variety of music from Rap to Madonna. Since this was a spring break cruise, the genre was mostly geared towards the college set, which was fine since other music venues were offered throughout the ship-- from "Spasch" playing Caribbean music, to waltzes and jazz offered up by the Showband or Trio. The Disco was routinely open well past 4:00am. My favorite in Dazzles are the Jell-O Shots. Keep in mind that drinks are pricey, and they always automatically add a 15 percent gratuity.
Stay away from the internet cafe. In years past, I've blown money getting internet access from these shipboard venues. It's just not worth it. This cruise, they offered "the first five minutes free." I said to myself, "Well, that sounds like an offer I can't refuse." After I spent four minutes going through the log-in procedure, I carefully timed myself for five minutes. I logged out, then went to the desk, where I was present for a bill for nine minutes ! I couldn't believe it. It was the old “bait and switch” game. I was charged an "initiation" fee (which just so happened to equal five minutes of usage, and then was charged for my time I spent logging in. I couldn't believe it. You are charged $.75 a minute, just being logged in. It doesn't matter if you're on the internet or not. Save your money from this rip-off. When in St. Thomas, there are plenty of internet cafes to choose from. The more expensive ones are $5.00 an hour for access. Not only is the a less expensive option, but some of these internet cafes are great places to sample the local culture. When I was in Cartagena on my last cruise, I was in a internet cafe located in Old Town, and in a bar which was over 100 years old. They also served up fresh Colombian coffee or locally brewed beer. Sample the local culture, get off of the ship.
NCL does a good job of providing onboard entertainment. From a Karaoke Night, to Caribbean Night, the festivities go on and on. While I'm not a big fan of comedians, I did go to see Carl Strong in the North Cape Lounge. The Lounge was full, but not overly so, and the comedian was fantastic. The room was rocking with laughter. While I did personally see any of the shows in the Saga Theatre, many passengers queried said the performances were topnotch.
Since there were only three destinations on this cruise, there were not that many off ship excursions offered. In St. Maarten, you can visit a beach, go shopping in town, and do a variety of paid shore excursions. Last year I did the 12-Metre America's Cup Challenge which I highly recommend for you nautical types. It's fun, and you get time actually working a real (retired) America's Cup yacht. Better yet, you get to match race on a course against another yacht. This year I did the mountain biking excursion which took place on the French side of the island (St. Martin). It was really hot, but lots of fun. The biking part was moderate, and you should have some experience on a mountain bike to really enjoy it. The beaches on the French side are nicer (in my opinion) and you can cab or rent a motor-scooter for a 15-20 minute ride to a beach. Most of the private yachts anchor near Marigot on the French side, and there are some spectacular luxury yachts were are always there.
As always on a NCL ship, the staff and crew are excellent. My cabin steward (Panfillo from the Philippines), the table waiter (Montgomery from Jamaica), and our busboy (Suarez from Nicaragua) did a fine job. Club Internationale and Dazzles Disco bartenders Ted and Joe made incredible martini's.
To my surprise, the only unfriendly one of the bunch was the Captain. He was only seen during the Captains reception, and wouldn't even let me take a photo of him with my digital camera. While I know they have to make money with their photo concession, as a single passenger I was surprised he wouldn't entertain my request even when asked twice. They went as far as to take my camera away while they were taking the photo. On my last cruise (Radisson Seven Seas / Diamond) the captain actually would come down every evening to say hello, would engage the passengers in conversation (and smile while doing so), and seemed genuinely interested in the passengers. At the very least, a Captain should be seen around the decks during the day. I saw our Captain on this cruise only once.
One of the more surprising events of the cruise was when we had to wake up at 6:30am to clear customs in St. Thomas. Several officials came aboard the ship, and make everybody present a boarding pass and identification (photo ID or passport). Everybody was required to do this, even if you did not get off the ship (which was at anchor). This brings up another interesting question-- every passenger pays a $149.00 “port charge” fee. The ship only is at dock at Miami, which makes me wonder, what is the port charge for, if the ship never docks? I can understand paying the fee if we actually had to dock someplace, but the Norway is always at anchor. [The ports charges cover the costs for the right to anchor off a port and for docking with the tenders – Editor’s Note]
The dress code aboard ship was for the most part casual. There are two formal nights aboard ship, with the more formal night after the first day at sea (Monday). The second formal night was on Friday, and there were more ties and jackets than tuxedos. I personally like formal nights (at least once during a cruise), and hope they don't lax this dress code. NCL has adopted the “Freestyle” cruising on all of it’s other ships with a great deal of success. But having everybody dress up on the same evening makes sense, and this is one tradition which should stay.
There are a few improvements (suggestions) that I would make to the ship. First, get rid of the outside sports deck aft of the ship-- convert it into more dining space for the Outdoor Cafe. Nobody uses the basketball court, and it’s a substantial amount of space. Also get rid of the golf driving enclosure on the top deck, nobody uses that either, and it takes up valuable tanning space. With any passenger load over 2,000 there are a lack of lounge chairs outside for tanning. I’d recommend putting up hammocks. They’re easier to store, more comfortable and easier to maintain in the long run. Each passenger could be issued a hammock, then just find a spot (hook) to hang it up. Simple and fun.
I have lots of photos of the cruise at my site www.cruisingreview.com where you can see ship, island and people photos.
Usually I rank cruises by three main criteria-- the ship, the people on the ship, and the itinerary. The main draw to the Norway (ship problems aside) is it's charm. This cruise was great because the people aboard the ship were fun to be around and were very friendly. The food was not that great, and the itinerary was average. But it only takes one of the three criteria to really make a cruise a good one. Even with the crowd problems, this was one of my more favorite cruises.