Occupation:Financial Research Analyst
Number of Cruises: 14
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Sailing Date: 15th,
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
We usually arrange to arrive at the embarkation city a day before departure, and this cruise was no exception. Through NCL, we booked an evening at the Doubletree Surfcomber in the South Beach section of Miami. The hotel had a lovely pool area, and our room was small, but comfortable. The on-site restaurant was expensive, but quite good, although we opted for the nearby Burger King for breakfast the following morning. The hotel itself wasn’t worth the cost, but being able to board the ship early was. We took a taxi to the pier at 11:00 am, preferring not to wait the additional two hours for our pre-paid transfer.
The embarkation process was fairly smooth. We arrived at the terminal to find three lines, including one for NCL repeaters (Latitudes members) and one for suite passengers. As Latitudes members, we were able to embark approximately one hour before the official boarding time.
We entered the Norway amidships on Norway Deck, just outside the Windward Dining Room. Latitudes members were escorted to the Sports Illustrated Café on International Deck, where we were treated to light snacks as our cabins were being readied.
“I can’t believe I’m on the France!” pretty much sums up my initial impression of the ship. Right before me were all the places I had only read about – the Windward Dining Room, International Deck promenade, Club Internationale – even more beautiful than I had imagined.
Our departure from Miami found us atop Sky Deck, directly under the large NORWAY signage. This ship is so large that we were unable to hear the loud bon voyage party taking place by the aft pool a few decks below. (We watched it later on the in-cabin television.) But, we made our own fun on Sky Deck, mingling with our shipmates and waving to passengers on other cruise ships.
I found it interesting that the Norway was one of the smaller ships in Miami that day. We were berthed between RCI’s Voyager of the Seas and the Carnival Victory; only Carnival’s Paradise was smaller, but not by much. This was in stark contrast to ten years earlier, when the Norway dwarfed all ships around her. We were the last to leave Miami, and it was truly a poignant experience as the three ships took turns saluting her as they passed by. Obviously, the Norway still commands a great deal of respect.
This is not the ship on which to book a category guarantee or run-of-ship cabin. As of April 2001, the Norway boasts 26 cabin categories, and there may be great variation even within a single type due to the France’s two-class configuration as well as NCL’s addition of more modern staterooms in 1980 and 1990. Keep this in mind as I report on our accommodations for the week.
We had selected cabin F020, an obstructed-view oceanview stateroom located amidships on Fjord deck. Although we did not know this until we boarded, the cabin was wheelchair accessible, with metal ramps in place of risers. Upon entering the cabin, there was a sofa bed on the right-hand wall, positioned between two end tables, one with shelves and the other containing a small refrigerator. The left-hand wall had a desk/vanity with lighted mirror, king-size bed, and nightstand. We also had a double closet. There was sufficient drawer and closet space for the three of us. Latches on drawers and closet doors kept them from opening unexpectedly, but were easy to operate. There was no safe in the room, but safety deposit boxes could be rented free of charge from the purser’s office. The main cabin area measured 260 square feet, providing ample floor space even when the sofa bed was in the open position. The huge window was set between two lifeboats, affording us a decent view.
What the main cabin area featured in comfort and convenience did not extend to the bath. Although the bath was roomy (70 square feet) and had plenty of storage space, it looked as if it was refurbished in 1980 and not touched since. The main problem we encountered was that water from the shower would go everywhere but down the drain. There was no lip between the shower area and sink area, although there was a barrier between the shower and the rest of the bathroom. As a result, shower water would flood the area in front of the sink, making for a dangerous situation for brushing teeth, etc. We tried to devise methods to keep the water within the shower, but none were successful. We had a very understanding cabin stewardess, who clearly earned the generous tip she received from our party.
It seems that NCL does react to passenger comments. Our cabin included a remote control for the TV (there was no need to sign for one, as I had seen in earlier reviews), and shipboard announcements could be heard in the cabins by tuning the television to channel 21. And, the toiletry basket was not removed the final night of the cruise.
As much has been written about the public spaces on the Norway, I will keep this section as brief as possible.
It stands to reason that because the France was a cold-weather liner, her indoor areas excel. Most of the Norway’s public rooms are located on International or Pool decks, and passenger flow on these two levels was the best I’ve seen on any of the dozen ships on which I’ve cruised. International Deck, of course, has the covered promenade on each side, making the deck easy to navigate. Pool Deck is also well designed, offering unimpeded flow as far aft as the North Cape Lounge, allowing passengers to bypass the casino should they desire. But, as on any older liner, it is quite easy to lose one’s way in the cabin areas, especially on the lower decks.
Most of the Norway’s outdoor areas were added during her conversion from the France in 1980. This is where some improvement would be welcomed. The pools are seven feet deep all around, and hot tubs are isolated on Sun Deck. The outdoor promenade doubles as a jogging track, leaving no room for passengers who wish to lounge in a shaded outdoor area. And, the Great Outdoor Restaurant does not offer sufficient seating for number of passengers who prefer this casual dining option.
The only rooms I will comment on specifically are the dining rooms, if only to address the Windward vs. Leeward debate. The simplest way I can put this is as follows: If you want to feel as if you have stepped onto the SS France, and a quiet atmosphere is not essential, choose the Windward. If you prefer a modern design and a more intimate dining experience, choose the Leeward. Both dining rooms are elegant, and the menus are identical. If neither appeals to you, a table at Le Bistro may be reserved for dinner at a nominal charge.
Overall, service was very good to excellent. I found the crew members to be very helpful and polite – and that covered everyone from the photography staff to the maintenance crew to the officers. Our cabin stewardess was effective, if not as quick as others we have known. Bar service was efficient without being pushy. In the dining room, our waiter and his assistant made a phenomenal team, and quickly learned our preferences.
But, there was one occasion when all that changed. While the Norway has not adopted NCL’s Freestyle Cruising concept, dinner was served open seating the evening we were in Cozumel. Service that evening was absolutely abysmal. There was a general lack of coordination among the dining staff, exacerbated by the constant stream of passengers walking by them. I missed having my regular waiter. The Windward Dining Room had been one of my favorite areas of the ship. But, on this night, I couldn’t wait to leave.
Entertainment: Other lines book well-known stars to provide an evening of entertainment to passengers. NCL does not need to rely on famous names as they have the Jean Ann Ryan Company. These talented performers made the nondescript Saga Theatre come alive with some of the most extraordinary dancing I have ever seen. In one unforgettable segment, the male dancer held his female partner overhead, and then released her so that she dropped like a ring over his body. The shows in the Saga Theatre were enhanced by the enforcement of the “no seat saving” rule and no drink service once the show commenced.
Youth Program: As we were traveling with our 7-year-old, a quality children’s program was of great importance. Overall, we were very pleased with the NCL Kids Crew. There were many activities, such as arts and crafts, parades, ball games, supervised scavenger hunts, and lots of free play within his age group. The Easter Bunny even stopped by for a visit and presented a stuffed animal to each child. Kids Crew activities were categorized by age (3-5, 6-8, and 9-12), and there was a separate Teens Crew for passengers between 13-17.
Fitness: I participated in the “In Motion on the Ocean” fitness activities to earn tickets toward a T-shirt. Activities were quite varied, ranging from yoga to step aerobics, and were led by an enthusiastic staff. I actually made it to the gym every day, which wasn’t difficult as it was open 24 hours a day.
Enrichment Programs: There were two lecturers on board the Norway during our cruise. The first was a guest speaker with expertise in retirement planning. As this is peripherally related to what I do for a living, I attended one of his three gatherings and found it to be accurate, organized and well attended. The speaker for the other program was the ship’s historian, Devon Scott, who presented a slide show on the history of the France and Norway. As researching passenger ships might qualify as my nonpaying job, I found Devon’s lecture to be fascinating, and I came away with an even greater knowledge of this great ship.
PORTS OF CALL
Our Western Caribbean itinerary featured four ports: Grand Cayman, Roatan, Cozumel, and NCL’s Bahamian Out Island, Great Stirrup Cay. Roatan was a last-minute substitution for Costa Maya, whose pier had been damaged earlier in the week.
We turned Roatan into an extra “sea day,” preferring to stay on board and enjoy the ship.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman: We had visited Grand Cayman in 1992, so we had already seen Hell, the turtle farm, and other sights. This time, we decided to spend the day along Seven Mile Beach. For convenience sake, we took NCL’s excursion to Beach Club Colony, where our tickets entitled us to admission, beach chairs, and one drink apiece. Taxi fare was a reasonable $3 per person each way. All told, the day cost us less than three bleacher seats at Fenway Park, and was far more enjoyable.
Cozumel, Mexico: We had one mission in Cozumel – to purchase several blankets to complement the one we bought on our last trip here in 1992. Based on recommendations by CruiseReview contributors Tom and Mary Milano, we headed straight for Los Cinco Soles. This market featured handcrafted items and was clean, cool, and very friendly. We had a light lunch in the adjoining restaurant, Pancho's Backyard, also recommended by Tom and Mary, which also provided live musical entertainment. Our son enjoyed the music, and when he ventured into the courtyard to dance, the musicians invited him to join them in a number! This certainly made for a memorable moment.
(A side note: This is proof that even experienced cruisers like myself can benefit from reading others’ reviews. Pancho’s Backyard turned out to be a highlight of our cruise, and we might have bypassed it otherwise. Thank you again, Tom and Mary.)
Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas: Ah, NCL’s private paradise. We were on the third tender and had no trouble finding beach chairs on the island. The water was very calm and extremely clear, and we could see many fish without snorkeling.
NCL has the best debarkation procedure I’ve seen to date. Breakfast was served open seating, and continental breakfast could be ordered through room service if desired. We were also permitted to stay in our cabin while U.S. Customs cleared the ship. Because our flight was leaving from Fort Lauderdale, we were among the first passengers to debark, and we were off the ship and on our way to the airport by 9:30 AM.
As it was school vacation week, we booked NCL’s Air/Sea program for its cost and convenience. Simply put, this is the last time I’ll let a cruise line book my air tickets. The flights themselves were fine, but NCL’s policy to not obtain seat assignments made both legs of the round trip quite stressful. I’ll spare you the details, but when we received our air itinerary from the travel agent one month before departure, we called USAir and learned that our three seats were scattered throughout the aircraft on both flights. Despite the fact that we were traveling with a young child, USAir would not permit us to change our seats over the phone at that “late date.” Once at the airport, we were also unable to get at least two seats together as the flights, both ways, were overbooked. Thanks to the generosity of our fellow travelers, we were eventually seated, although being the last passengers to board an overbooked flight made for a most unpleasant situation. Twice.
My point: If NCL will not make seat assignments on flights booked though their offices, they should make passengers aware of flight numbers early enough so that we may do it ourselves.
Fortunately, we are not allowing our airline fiasco to impact our overall impressions of the cruise itself. We waited a long time to cruise on the Norway, and she exceeded expectations.
As previously mentioned, the Norway will be transferred to Star Cruises later this year. Plans for her future are vague, and the subject of many rumors, which I will not substantiate by printing here. But, no matter what happens to our beloved Norway, I thank NCL for taking a chance on an idle, but not forgotten, liner back in 1979. Through their hard work, the Norway made a successful evolution from transatlantic liner to tropical cruiser, allowing us to enjoy the beauty of the last passenger ship of the great French Line.