Number of Cruises: 9
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Crown
Sailing Date: July 23rd, 2006
Greetings! Just got back from sailing the NCL Crown this past
week. Please be patient with me for I sometimes start to ramble but my
intentions are to give an honest and hopefully open-minded review of the ship,
the ports, and the cruise in general. First a little history. My name is David
and I live in the city of Houston, TX. This cruise marked my 9th passage over
the last 28 years and my first cruise on NCL in 20 yrs. It was on NCL’s Skyward
that I met my future wife and we have been married going on 18 yrs. We were both
excited about returning to NCL and Bermuda was always high on our travel wish
list. We traded in our flier miles and with two kids in hand ( Daughter – 13,
Son – 8), we packed our bags for NYC and life aboard the Crown.
Transportation: We arrived at LGA (LaGuardia) and decided since there were 4 of us, the cheapest way to get to the cruise terminal was to take a cab. We checked on transfers that NCL offered but this averaged out to about $50/pp and this wasn’t economical. The CC site showed that from LGA the fare would be around $22-$30 plus possible toll bridge fees if applicable. Usually, I would research this and have directions ready but my instincts were that all cab drivers would know how to get to the cruise terminal from the airport. Wrong! Our cab driver was someone who didn’t speak fluent English nor have any idea what a Cruise ship was let alone where the cruise terminal was. He kept asking us what bridge to take and driving directions to the terminal. After taking us through a beautiful tour of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan ( Are you kidding me?), he eventually tried to drop us off at the infamous Circle Line terminal. All of you New Yorkers out there are probably laughing your tail off about now. We finally got him to call his dispatcher and $45 later we arrived at the terminal. Lessons learned: Make sure your cab driver knows NYC, speaks English and that you bring a map or specific directions to get to and from airport. By the way, our return trip back to LGA took 29 minutes and cost us $31 plus tip ( this included toll for Triboro bridge). I still would recommend a taxi as the choice of transportation if you have more than 2 persons in party.
Embarkation: No problems. We arrived by 2:00pm and we were aboard within 15 minutes. We pre-registered on NCL website so all we had to do was get our pictures and leave credit card imprint for on-board charges. The keys were in room and we were allowed to go straight there upon boarding ship. Very impressed.
Ship Appearance: I knew by reading up on the Crown that she was the oldest ship in the NCL fleet and small in comparisons to other mega-ships out there today. This is both good and bad. The good is that you will learn the ship quickly. The Crown has two hot tubs, 6 restaurants, 7 bars and lounges, 1 swimming pool, a fitness center, a spa and beauty salon, a kids and Teen area, a library, game room, and Internet cafe. Most of the activity resides on 2-3 floors. Because the ship is small, she can only accommodate 1000 passengers. This is good if you don’t like crowds. You will soon learn everyone’s face because you are always running into them. The ship reminded me of the Starward and Skyward. They too were small ships and the décor is somewhat dated. She shows her age but it is in fairly good shape. The decks are now worn and no longer polished. She doesn’t have the glass that you see on the newer ships and she definitely doesn’t have rock climbing walls, basketball courts, etc that seems to be the trend these days. From what I saw, the pool was seldom used but the hot tubs were always a gathering point. When you first step aboard, you notice the décor represents the 90’s with lots of blues and reds and mirrors. The word is that 2007 Bermuda run will be her last for the Crown. She has been sold to make room for bigger ships being built by NCL. Too Bad.
Room Cabin: We reserved an ocean view room on the 8th floor. Because of the ages of our kids, we requested a Quad and that is what we got. It has 4 fold down beds that come out of the walls. During the day, the top two are closed up and the bottom two serve as couches. It had a small TV, a safe (no instructions on how to use it), a shower and bathroom area, a writing desk and plenty of closet and drawer space. We had 3 suitcases of clothes and we had no problem unpacking and hanging things up. For a small room, I never felt cramped with the exception of when 4 people were trying to get dressed. My gripes were that there was not a refrigerator in the room nor were there electrical outlets to plug items into. My guess is that this was NCL’s intention. The only plug was in the bathroom and it was geared to shavers only. Ironing would have been impossible in the small bathroom area. The showers are small but had decent water pressure. Each stall has soap and shampoo dispensers. I would strongly recommend that you bring a bar of soap and shampoo with you. The quality of the supplied products is poor at best. Your room steward will ensure that you have enough towels and on port days you can check out beach towels instead of using the ones in your room. Window size is relatively small and you may want to determine if outside room warrants the extra cost. Inside rooms are very dark. We took the outside stateroom because they did not have an inside quad available. There is nothing fancy about the room. Beds were extremely comfortable for me and I slept great while aboard. Overall, the room did not blow me away but my room steward kept it clean and comfortable from the time we boarded till the time we left.
Freestyle dining concept: I might as well get started, “I hate it”. I know a great deal of people like the concept of freestyle dining but in the end, we didn’t like it and I will do my best to tell you why. First, this was the first cruise that we had ever taken that didn’t have assigned dining. Every other cruise had either an early or late seating and you usually got to choose which one filled your needs. I understand what NCL was trying to accomplish by giving passengers freedom to choose when they wanted to eat so that they were not restricted to a schedule. That part of freestyle dining appeals to many but my biggest problem is that it causes you to lose many benefits associated with assigned dining. One benefit is the loss of establishing a rapport with your wait staff. With freestyle dining, you are not assigned the same waiter and as a result, you get whichever waiter is assigned to the table that you draw that night. With assigned seating, you get the same waiters every night. They learn your likes, your dislikes, what you drink, how you like your coffee, etc. They learn the tempo of how you like to eat and in short, they get to know you and you get to know them. They know your names and you theirs. Often, you would spend time during your meal talking with them about their families, their experiences and by the end of the cruise; you really had built a close relationship. You didn’t have to continually tell them things over and over again because they took the time to become familiar with your eating habits. With freestyle dining, that opportunity is gone because you usually never get the same waiter twice. Another benefit of assigned dining verses freestyle dining is that you don’t have to stand in line waiting to be seated. There wasn’t usually a long time but with assigned dining, you always knew when you were eating and you could go directly to your table when you got to the dining area. One last observation about Freestyle dining that I noticed right away. Freestyle dining tended to restrict the ability for the dining room to staff correctly or functionally operate during dinner hours. It appeared to me that they were overstaffed at times and understaffed at other times. You must remember that freestyle dining allows you to choose the times you eat. As a result, the wait staff couldn’t plan how dinners rolled out. Just as soon as they had your order in, another group of people would sit down and they would have to start over. This constant shuffling in and out of people tended to cause two things to happen: 1) dinner took longer to complete 2) food continually came out warm at best. Way too often we were looking around for our waiter and in turn, service suffered. My belief is that NCL should look at trying to find a compromise and offer both types of seating. Half of the room could be conventional assigned seating and the other freestyle. Just a thought but it is something that really bothered me during this trip.
Restaurants: There are two primary restaurants aboard the Crown. The main dining room is called the Seven Seas and the Buffet dining area is called the Yacht Club. During this cruise, we ate at both. The Seven Seas restaurant allows shorts during breakfast and lunch but at dinner hours, there is a dress code. I saw many people get mad because they were turned away because they wanted to wear a muscle shirt, jean shorts, and flip-flops to dinner. Use common sense and you will be fine. There are also several free specialty restaurants to choose from but require reservations. You can’t just show up so make reservation as soon as possible before they fill up. These restaurants are the Pasta Café (Italian) and Chopsticks (Asian). Both are nice but not spectacular. There is also a Fee-Based Specialty restaurant called Le Bistro. It serves Steaks, Lobster, Fish, and various French cuisines. The fee for this restaurant is $15 per person and another $5 if you order surf and turf. We ate at this restaurant for my birthday and the food was far better than either of the other two restaurants. One thing that I noticed is that this cruise never offered steak or lobster once on their menu. The only way to ever have this was to pay the fee for it in the specialty restaurant. My opinion would be to spend the money on the specialty restaurant. You will definitely see the difference. Le Bistro is not great but it is a step way up compared to the other two restaurants. The sad part is that the food offered there is what cruises use to serve during normal dining. NCL has definitely lowered its standards on dining experiences. One thing I need to mention. While at Le Bistro, my kids ate off the Kids menu and not the specialty menu. At the end of the meal, they tried to charge me ½ price for a cover charge for them eating at the restaurant. I refused to pay and they removed it from the bill. If you are bringing your kids, be sure to arrange with the Maitre D all charges so you won’t be surprised. Overall, I would classify the food on this cruise as mediocre. The buffet line seemed to serve the same things over and over again and way too often, it looks like they recycled the food from meal to meal. The dining room food was far superior to the buffet line but still I have been on many other cruises where the food was much better. Presentation of food in the main dining was good but the quality of food was only fair. We found the women wait staff much friendlier then the male wait staff. Good things offered during the cruise was the chocolate buffet, barbeques by the pool ( very good) and late evening snacks especially the ice cream. Bad things offered were $40/pp coke cards and the constant hawking of $8 specialty drinks. We found it so much cheaper to either bring sodas with us or buy them 1 at a time at the bar. The cost per soda was about $2.25 after gratuities. From my daughter’s perspective, the wait staff was inattentive and often forgot what you ordered or ignored you. She also noticed that they were less friendly than other cruises that we have been on. My kids are junk food eaters for most of the time but by the 4th pizza or hamburger, they had had enough. That should say it all. Lessons learned: stay away from buffet, eat the ice cream, try the specialty restaurants at least once, stay on top of your waiter if you want any type of good service.
Teen/Kids Club: we have been on several cruises with our kids. Because this ship was far smaller than other ships we have been on, the participation in the kids clubs were far smaller. This is good if you want more attention paid to your kids. For the younger programs, I think this cruise provided ample entertainment. For the other teens like my daughter (13), she did not find it as gratifying. This was primarily due to most of the kids in her area were 15-17 and thus she felt left out. My observation is that kids of that age range ran unattended for most of the time on the ship. I would recommend the kids club for any kid under the age of 10. The staffs for these age groups were great and offered a variety of things for them to keep occupied. Several of the kids were taken on special tours of the ship by the cruise director and also appeared on cruise-T specials. This ship offered Kids Karaoke, which was fun along with special dinner events just for them. Downside of kids programs was that the rooms they occupied were small in comparison to other programs and often the club hrs interfered with other activities going on.
Entertainment: The Crown entertainment was the best that I have ever seen in all of my cruising days. This was the biggest shock that I encountered while aboard. On most cruises, the production shows are poor but in the case of the Crown, I found them to be almost at a Broadway level. The dancers (Jean Ann Ryan Company) were top-notch performers and I was pleasantly surprised at the choreography. There were other acts aboard the Crown that were excellent. The best act was a comedian/acrobat named Rudi Macaggi. He had everyone rolling with laughter. He is also a finalist on the “America’s Got Talent” show that will be airing August 17th. It was a one of a kind performance. We also enjoyed Jane L. Powell who was a singer with an unbelievable voice. She performed only once but brought the house down. Last, there was a comedian named Dave Heenan. He was okay and his comedy centered on New York humor. My wife who is a native New Yorker related to many of his jokes. Other entertainment was Bingo, Adult Karaoke, Sexy Legs contest (boring), and traditional Newlywed game. Bingo has replaced traditional cards with hand-held remotes. This is one area that I think technology might have hurt bingo sales. The new devices require you to do nothing. You spend an hour or so looking at the device. My belief is that people need to have all the cards in front of them and if they don’t have to punch the cards in, they get bored. I myself won the first time I played and earned a grand total of $116. To be honest, I was surprised about the lack of interest in the bingo. They do a hard sell of getting you to buy a variety of packages and most start at about $35 for each game. My package was $55 for the bingo session ( 6 games). The payouts were very small and this was probably due to number of players and I think the devices scared off some of the older players who were use to paper cards. My take on the cruise was that there was plenty of entertainment at night but very little during the day. I did enjoy the special movies that they showed in the main showroom on several nights during the cruise along with the special late night shows (70’s night, Liar’s club, Jazz fest, Tropical Island Night, etc) that were available throughout the week. The cruise director Clint was very personable and tried to make everyone have a great time. For evening entertainment: A+. For day entertainment: C
Casino: The crown is not known for its casino. It is small and for the most part, it did not stay busy. There are 3 blackjack tables – one for $5, one for $10, one for $25. The $25 table was never busy and only a few times did I have a problem getting on either of the other two tables. There is also a roulette wheel and a 3 card poker table. They offer Craps on request but I never saw anyone playing it. They do have about 20 or so slot machines but I didn’t see them paying too often and I found no one who actually won big on any of them. There were traditional blackjack and slot machine tournaments but were not highly patronized. I did relatively well on the blackjack table and I met someone who won over $3000 on the roulette wheel so there was money to be one. One observation was that the dealers did not interface with the guest as much as I have seen on other ships. As a result, they missed opportunities to bring players to the tables. The bottom line was that the casino lacked excitement. I think that this could be directly attributed to the casino staff. They did not sell themselves at all. A casino should be almost like a circus and these guys were sullen, barely spoke, and really killed the mood. I was there at midnight on several nights and it was almost dead. A big problem for the casino was the cruise schedule. Because the Crown was in port for 3 full days, the casino was only opened for 4 nights. Wait staff in the casinos was good. I found the best waiter aboard and for the rest of the cruise; he and I became good friends.
Ports: Our ship stopped at two ports: St. George and Hamilton. There was supposed to have been a third port: The Dockyard (Kings Wharf) but this was dropped due to some port issues but this was not too disappointing. You could catch a ferry from either of the other ports if you wanted to go there. St. George and Hamilton are the best spots. I personally like St. George better but both are accessible while on the island. There is a ton of things to do in Bermuda. First off, the Bermuda beaches are some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Another fact, the temperature of the sand in Bermuda never changes. It could be 100 degrees outside and the sand will remain cool. I also found that the sand changes from beach to beach. The most beautiful beach on the island is Horseshoe Bay. While in Bermuda, we visited Tobacco Bay, Horseshoe Bay, and Church Bay. All three were different. Tobacco Bay, the water is perfectly calm, great for kids, with a fort at one end (Ft. Catherine) and a golf course on the other. There is good snorkeling here and there is a ton of volcanic rock to see and climb. Beach facilities are available along with rental of umbrella, chairs, drinks, and snorkel gear. The sand is more white than pink and if you want to get away from the crowds, all you have to do is walk further down the beach and you will find yourself all alone with your own private cove. Ft. Catherine is only opened till 4:00pm so if you are planning to see it, go early. Horseshoe Bay is the most beautiful beach. It is also the most popular. My recommendation is that you get there early. We went twice while there. You can catch the number 7 bus and it will drop you off right there. It is a 20-25 minute ride from Hamilton and if you only have time for one beach, this is the one. We got there one morning at 8:30am and the beach was practically deserted and it was one of the most peaceful experiences I have ever had. Be sure to bring water shoes so that you can climb some of the many rock formations. You can also snorkel here and there is a beautiful cove to the right as soon as you step onto the beach with excellent diving opportunities. There is a steep hill that goes to the beach and it is infamous of getting people tired while getting back to the main road. During the day there is a guy who takes you back to the top for $1 for adults 10 years and up. Trust me, spend the dollar – it will be the best purchase of the day. Church beach is a beach that is past Horseshoe Bay. You can take the 7 Bus there also. It is a small beach with a much grainier sand base. It has a quick drop off and much stronger waves. It was hear that we found the infamous “beach glass”. This is broken bottles or shads of glass that have been smoothed by the wave activity and washes ashore. We found quite a bit of this and brought it home with us. There is good snorkeling here but the undertow is strong near the shore and the waves are very powerful. The beach is small and not as nice as Horseshoe or Tobacco but it has the pinkest of sands if you are looking for it. There are no facilities here but there is umbrella, chair, and snorkel rental available. Outside of the beaches, there are many things to do. NCL offers a ton of excursions that you will see offered. They have a shore excursion desk that will be glad to assist you with questions. Getting around the island is usually accomplished 3 ways: 1)Bus 2)moped or 3) taxi. If I came to Bermuda without the kids, I would have rented a moped. NCL frowns on it but there are tons of them around the island. You have to remember that they drive on the opposite side of the road and Hamilton is much more congested than St. George but if you want to explore, this is the best way to see the island. With the kids, this was too dangerous and risky so we utilized the bus and ferry systems. They are not bad but I want to pass on some lessons learned: 1) if you are planning to spend your day at the beach, buy individual round-trip ticket and not the one or two day pass. Only buy these passes if you are planning to move around the island several times during the day. 2) If you have kids, buy a 15 ride student card for approx $8.00 at the bus terminal. This should last you for your whole time while in Bermuda. Taxis are fast but expensive so be ware 3) If your plans include taking a carriage ride, we found that you can ride for $40 for a half hour for a family of 4 verses paying $40 per person for a hr. offered by NCL if you rent the carriage directly on Front street. We found the carriage drivers friendly and informative. We took our kids to the Zoo/Aquarium. It was okay but don’t expect too much. No lions, tigers, or bears. Very small. I believe it cost $ 36 for the 4 of us (2 – adult, 2 children tickets). We bought the tickets at the place itself verses taking this as an excursion. This was a great deal cheaper. St. George and Hamilton are both historical ports with many excursions geared to discovering it’s flavored past. Both have special market nights that are fun and highlight the spirit of each port. I would strongly recommend seeing both. Hamilton has some small parades on Wednesday night and the nightlife in both is worth seeing and experiencing. Be aware that shops close early (5 pm avg.) so if you are souvenir shopping, don’t procrastinate. Shopping is better in Hamilton due to the many stores along Front Street. St. George is less crowded and most of the stores are within walking distance of the ship. You can spend a lot or a little in Bermuda. There are great shopping opportunities but do your homework. If possible, listen to the port discussions aboard the ship. They are informative and helpful. Enjoy Bermuda.
Dining Vouchers: Quick word on this. This is a program offered to the NCL Crown passengers. For $5, you can get a $25 lunch dining voucher to be used at various restaurants within St. George or Hamilton. You can upgrade the lunch voucher to a dinner voucher for an additional $5. In this case $10 buys you $50 dining voucher. My opinion is to not use the $25 lunch voucher but upgrade it to the $50 dinner voucher. The lunch menu value is minimal. The restaurants are few; the voucher only applies to a special menu with little selection. Trust me, you will not see the value if you utilize it at lunch. Upgrading the dining voucher to dinner vouchers will yield you a much better deal. The Carriage House in St. George accepts the dinner voucher and everyone that I talked with enjoyed this immensely. We used it on lunch and thought it was a major rip-off. One thing to remember is that the voucher only is offered to those 12 yrs and older. As a result, we had to pay full fare for my son. My daughter, wife, and I received the voucher. A hamburger alone for my son ran $12 with no drink. Use the voucher on the Carriage House or something equivalent or don’t use it at all. Be sure to make reservations as soon as possible. The front desk can help you.
Gratuities: The worse and best thing that NCL did. Each person is charged $10 per day for gratuities. Children under 10 get charged $5 per day. This covers your dining and room steward. If you receive special service from someone, additional cash gratuities are appreciated. The fixed gratuities are added to your bill at the end of the cruise. It makes it simple so you don’t have to figure it out and prepare envelopes, etc. Since I usually over-tip, the pre-gratuities simplifies my life. The bad part of it is that the staff does not have to work as hard for their money. They are paid either way. I have found that work staff will work a great deal harder if they know that you may or not tip them based on service. I found my room steward did an excellent job and we gave additional tip as such. The dining staff did a poor job but still was paid. I think they would have been more attentive if their primary monies were coming from the patrons. All drink services add on gratuity so be sure that you don’t tip the bartender again unless you received exceptional service.
Portraits: Trust me, you will have opportunities to get your picture done. For the week we had pictures taken at least 10 times. Many good pictures were taken, many bad. Pictures are very experience and you can end up spending a fortune if you do not watch out. 8 x 10 portraits are $25 each so you can imagine how quickly they can add up if you received 20 pictures while aboard. There was a good offer for $20 that included a portfolio of the ship and a 5x7 collage. This is a special that you will see toward the end of the cruise. There is one formal night and this is when most people take pictures so dress for the occasion.
Spa/Salon: Did not utilize this much but we saw specials offered during the cruise. There were several programs offered regarding physical and health tips during the day and port specials for both the Spa and Salon were your best bet for bargains.
Art Auction: this is one area that NCL and all cruise lines push. Complimentary champagne is offered if you register and you can learn quite a few things regarding art if you attend any of the shows. Knowledgeable Art Auctioneers are aboard and can answer any question regarding various artist or painting. My observation on this is that NCL has tried to expand cruising to all levels of financial ability. The problem with that is the fact that lower income levels do not buy art nor are they willing to part with thousand of dollars at an art auction. This can be a good thing or bad thing based on how you look at it. My bet is that if you can afford it, you can find some bargains since you will probably receive little competition once you get past the opening bid. There are many beautiful pieces of art available but many are overpriced in my opinion and you may find better deals elsewhere. You also need to be aware that the price paid usually doesn’t include shipping or the frame that it was shown with so bid carefully.
Disembarking: NCL offers several disembarking plans. Before any US citizen can disembark, Customs must clear Non-US citizens. They are first priority. Once they clear, US citizens can then leave the ship. NCL offers the ability for those passengers who need to disembark right away due to transportation issues or other pressing needs to hand carry their luggage directly off the ship without placing the luggage in the hallway on the last night. For those not in a hurry, colored tags are assigned based on departure urgency and are placed on all remaining luggage. This luggage will be placed on pier and you will sit there till your color is called. At that time, you will pick up your luggage and go through customs (each family will have a customs declaration form that will be turned in) and you will then be able to leave the ship. We decided that we were not in a hurry and took our time leaving the ship. At the latest, you can expect to be off the ship no later than 10:00am. The ship must be readied for sailing by noon so they get you off very quickly. You will be able to eat breakfast and take showers before you leave your room the last morning. I found this process extremely efficient. Exiting the ship was smooth and we proceeded straight to the taxi stand. No waiting.
Summary - Overall, this cruise was okay. I liked the entertainment especially and the ports of call. The food was mediocre and I did not like the quality of food or the concept of freestyle dining. I was disappointed that they did away with the Captains welcome aboard party and the lack of day activities. I did like the progressive Trivia games offered and areas such as the library and Internet Café. Because the ship was small, I soon began to recognize everyone by the end of the cruise. I thought the cruise staff tried to make our cruise enjoyable. Would I cruise NCL again? The jury is out but I loved Bermuda and I love cruising so you never know. If you are looking for excitement and lots of activities, this ship is probably not right for you. Till we see you again, Happy cruising!!