Number of Cruises: 6
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Sailing Date: October 18th, 2002
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
Booking and Pre-board
We booked via an online travel agency - got a great price for a historic ship but not much info. Calling NCL directly, we were told we could switch dining rooms so that we would be nearer our stateroom. Given what we had heard about limited elevators on the Norway and mother being in a wheelchair, this was important to us. No one had a clue once we boarded.
Boarding itself was hellish enough that we almost thought we wouldn't make the voyage. Again, since we had a wheelchair passenger, our experience was different than yours may be - but for us - it was abominable.
We made it to the check- in counter at MIA cruise terminal pier One, mom in wheelchair in plain view of the agent, my brother on his first cruise, and myself. Handed our boarding cards and passes, we were pointed towards the metal detector security clearance. OOPS - they would not let mother proceed beyond that point. We were told to continue down the corridor and board - and just leave her sitting there to get herself down another corridor, wheel herself up a gangplank which we couldn't even see from that security point - so there was just NO way this was going to work. It was as if the guy at the counter, the crew boarding passengers and the security screeners had never had a conversation about how to board wheelchair guests.
At this point, we were all upset - but went up the corridor and gangplank for the "wheelchair" guests, presented our boarding cards and were told we could NOT board. Where were the plastic cards? Well we sure didn't know - seems those are waiting for you at the boarding deck for those walking aboard thru the security screening - the place mom wasn't allowed to go. So to try and correct this Catch-22, I walked back to the check-in counter and explained that we were not being allowed to board together via either route - UNBELIEVABLE.
I was told that wheelchair passengers are to be handled separately and we should have been given the docs needed before proceeding to the ship. The guy at the counter KNEW mom was in a chair - she had to sign for boarding docs at the counter - while reaching up from the chair - so how did he not think to help board us? Someone scurried these plastic cards up for us, and I was able to board and get my mom and bro the docs necessary to do so. WHEW - it was now too late to get anything at the scrap heap of a buffet known as The Great Outdoors - but we were together and ready to sail at last.
Cabin: We had a bargain rate older stateroom - two portholes - near the back of the Theater on Pool Deck.
Not bad really - we saw the neat
lift top desk in the footage of the maiden voyage - same bed setup but a more
modern bath than in the 1960s. Small bathroom mind you - but a full tub and good
water pressure - and spotless. I liked the old prints on wall and funky
bedspreads. The TV worked well throughout the week. Cabin steward was nice enuf
and I am sure we drove him nuts with all the trays of food brought back for mom
- we wheeled her to dinner every night - but almost all other meals were in
cabin. He had fun rearranging things every night - which was a bit maddening but
a charming touch too - trying to make little vignettes with our stuffed animals
and our hats and food etc. Pretty good service - could have used more ice and
missed having a water pitcher as on other ships. Kept very clean throughout.
Closet space was adequate for 3 of us.
DINNER - As mentioned in the preface - we had called NCL to change dining rooms - and it wasn't done. We had to wheel mom to the farthest point to check in for dinner 1st night, have that maitre d' call the other dining room and it was changed. Wheel back to the dining room where they put us at back of room, 2 tables from a rear exit which handicapped and others could use rather than descend the grand staircase. We liked both dining rooms - both very classy - loud with that many folks, but a place you could look forward to dining. Very pleasant waiter, Denzil from India, and very accommodating support staff. Sometimes they weren't quite coordinated - as in bringing the salad and then not bringing dressing for 15 minutes, and a few language problems that brought mystery items throughout the week - but it was fun and classy and very nice overall from the service and ambience standpoints.
The food itself was a notch below that on Celebrity. Some items were just as good, mind you - good breads, good selections of soups and salads, delicious baked Alaska, but the main dishes seemed to be a dollar short of top drawer. Close but 3 stars rather than 4. One highlight we really enjoyed was the Presidents Dinner. Not sure which Pres. this referenced, it turned out to be a very interesting historic menu, taken from a cookbook compiled by White House chefs. We could have some of Lady Bird Johnson's favorite dishes, a salad appreciated by Jacqueline Kennedy, Jimmy Carter's this and Nancy Reagan's that - with the menu listing a paragraph or so about the background and ingredients. Even a mention of Princess Diana's favorite when she visited the White House. Good and interesting meal.
Another highlight was at the end of the week, when all the wait staff ( 4 women among maybe 50 guys) paraded thru singing to us. It was actually quite touching, having bonded with them over the week - a very nice touch.
NOTE to VEGETARIANS - my brother
is a pretty strict one - and this ship has the best selection at dinner from any
ship I have cruised- always a veggie entree on the regular menu - but in
addition, the waiter would bring him an additional menu with several choices of
soups, salads, and additional entrees - really impressive - great job on the
Veggie foods, Norway.
LUNCH - Due to the various port calls, we alternated between the Dining Room and the Great Outdoors buffet - tried room service once but they got the order wrong and it was barely worth eating. Same was true with most of the food at the Great Outdoors buffet - C minus at best. The Dining Room is so nice - if one has the time - go for that instead. The one exception to the poor quality of food at Great Outdoors was the evening buffets - better quality meats and especially better quality Sugar Free desserts than at mealtime. Chocoholic Buffet oddly reverted to the lower quality Sugar Free items.
BREAKFAST - Again - go to the dining room for good quality and lots of choices of juices, meats, egg dishes, etc.. If you want to be more free style - or carry a tray back to cabin - you can try and stomach the Great Outdoors - but boy oh boy are they strict about shutting it down - even if there is still food on a serving table - they cordon it off and shut you out ON THE DOT - not really appreciated when you are hungry and its there - and you get 2 feet away from it and DENIED.
The Jean-Ann Ryan company puts on the best shows I have seen at sea. Especially given that the week of our cruise saw a new group of dancers - the singers were good - the costumes and staging were good - it was just good fun.
Casino is large, some folks were definitely winning, and their evening buffets provided a bit of a snack.
Sports Bar showed the World Series - and during day had other events on large screens. Also a good Indian buffet lunch couple days of week and Mexican a few days as well.
Movies were shown in the main showroom - but poor sound quality and grainy visuals so barely worth the effort.
Bingo was wildly popular - you can accumulate tickets during the cruise for a grand prize of any NCL cruise in the world.
Art auction was fun - they give
free lithos and prints - but run out of freebies so line up early. Some nice
pieces for sale - mostly in the 50 to 200 US range - some large Peter Max and
other contemporaries went for a few thousand bucks.
PORT CALLS - the tender process can be a pain given the number of passengers, but the ship is simply too large to dock at the ports on this itinerary. All stops felt entirely safe and friendly compared to Jamaica, thank goodness.
The Virgin Islands were lovely - I paid for the snorkel at Trunk Bay excursion - and now I know that other folks were right - you can just grab a cab yourself - its just a few miles from the dock where small boats took us over from St Thomas to St John. Water was awesome - so warm and clear - and the trail is marked underwater with large plaques anchored onto cement on seabed. St Thomas had lots of shopping ops, Bluebeards Castle and old forts and such for photo and hike opportunities.
St Maarten/ St Martin was much less developed - quite a colorful shopping district of a few blocks -and better prices on most things than at St Thomas - my bro did the beginner scuba experience here - if you're too overweight - you aren't allowed to go down - not sure why the folks on ship didn't know this - sold it to embarrassed folks anyway I guess.
Private Island - wasn't really
into that much - went ashore and walked 10 min to scope it out and then back to
the ship. Nice sand and lots of folks seemed to have fun - but I was already
sunburned and could rest better on ship. When you come back from the island - a
special gangplank has running water to hose down your sandy feet - a nice
PUBLIC SPACES - the ship has several lounges and all were well maintained. The best was the International Lounge - old style class - not as large as I had envisioned but it holds a couple hundred I suppose. We listened to nice cabaret jazz while watching the footage of the Maiden voyage of the France. We had hoped to learn a lot from the historian we had heard about - but it was his week off - the Info Desk gave us printouts and some historical info appeared in the daily news.
The library had games and books to be checked out for a few days - and internet access that worked 2 days out of 7. COSTLY too -
Since the sailing party occurs over the crowded pool deck, I must comment on the Great Outdoors in a non-food context. Just as I felt the dinners could gain from another dollar per person, the cleaning of the Great Outdoors needs another person on staff - tables were dirty, need painted, smoking vs. non-smoking never enforced - not a great place to be but where else can you get out on deck to watch your ship pull out of port? Restrooms throughout ship also need more cleaning.
Gift shops are clean and have a fair array of goods - decent prices, nothing memorable but standard ship shopping.
Gym was decent - great that its
open 24/7 - and the running deck is long and a great place for sitting in little
alcoves of two chairs in most cases. Good little place to hide away. Up top of
the ship is a dramatic place to stroll at night - near the whirlpools and the
visually magical tiny pool - great photo ops inside hallways surrounding that
pool as the portholes are visible from the pools. Worth strolling around to
INFORMATION DESK/CASHIERS - One of the weakest links in my opinion, were the women at the Info Desk - I can see the Cashiers being harried - as they were only open limited hours and were swamped - hire more!!! But the info gals were there all the time - that's their full time job. Get a better attitude please. Argumentative, almost surly at times - not a good representative of the Norway. Part of my frustration stemmed from the Daily News wasn't well proofed - there were conflicting items there and the Info Desk wouldn't bother to call and verify things - they just passed the buck. One example was for the Free Cruise Giveaway at Bingo - the paper for that day said there were TWO giveaways at different times - confirmed by the Info Desk - but when you actually got to the lounge for bingo - they knew nothing about it and said that was typical of those running the papers/info desk - to just assume things and not ask the dept that actually knew.
DISEMBARKATION - smooth and easy - you could stay in stateroom till around 10 or 1030 a.m. Luggage was right where they said it would be - and by then we knew where you could really exit with a wheelchair passenger.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS - a historic ship, some of the grandeur of the France is still there - some newer touches as well. Needs work in the public areas as far as cleaning. Food needs an upgrade to compete with the current standards but is served in lovely dining rooms, with very good service - and is better quality than several other lines I have taken. Cabin was not bad - and kept spotless. Well worth the price of our trip - and we would sail the Norway again.