Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Dream
Sailing Date: June 18th, 2002
Itinerary: Norwegian Fjords
I haven't seen any reviews on
here for the Norwegian Fjords cruise on NCL, so thought I would add mine. It
appears from their website that they have dropped this destination. I certainly
hope it is not permanently. It is a lovely cruise and if they add it with a new
ship, it would be the trip of a lifetime for anyone.
This was my Mom's first cruise and my third. My mom's father was born in Norway and we thought this would be an excellent way to see a good portion on the coast. It was a 14 day cruise with a good variety of towns and activities available. One of the highlights was that we would be at Nordkapp on the longest day of the year.
I will first talk about the itinerary, which was far beyond anything we had dreamed of, and we had researched Norway before going. We started at Dover (those white cliffs are blinding), and headed north immediately. By the first morning we were passing through the North Sea and oil platforms. We are from the West Coast of BC and have travelled up that coast extensively. We thought Norway would be like BC and then once we hit 50 north the landscape would become barren. We were so wrong. The offshore currents mean that almost the whole way up the coast (to 65 degrees north) there are small viable farms, including strawberries and apples. The other major point is that Norway is a very rich country. That said, it is a rich middle-class country. There are no displays of personal wealth and no poverty that we could see. Even in oil-rich Stavanger, there weren't the large expensive cars and homes you would expect. They seem to have used their money on infrastructure. They serve their small coastal settlements well with power lines, roads, tunnels and ferry service. There were small farms lining the fjords and they all seemed to be active. The towns (Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim, Kristiansund, Geiranger, Flam) are beautifully clean, the people speak at least some English, and everyone is happy to serve you efficiently. Norway is expensive ($5 US for coffee, $8 for beer) but we tried several establishments off the tourist track and found the prices to be the same. In otherwords, they aren't gouging the tourists. I should mention that they do have a tax refunding system for tourists and it is best to ask people at the small tourist kiosks in the port towns how the refund works. Sweaters and pewter are two items well worth buying. A little more expensive that your usual souvenirs, but beautifully and authentically made.
As I previously mentioned we were at Nordkapp on the longest day of the year. The pilot who takes the ship up the fjords (similar to the piloting system required through Panama) said that in the 25 years he's been going to the Kapp, this ranked as one of the three best weather days in history -- about 65 degrees F and calm. The pilot is needed. We went through unbelievably narrow passages. At one point I could have sworn we were going up a shallow river, but it was a fjord in the inside passage. Oh, and one thing to keep in mind. After the first night on board ship, you will have no nights. We have pictures taken at 2:00 a.m. with full light flooding our cabin.
I double-checked my notes, and I think that out of all the stops, there was only one that required tendering, and that was just a short hop to the pier.
The choice of excursions was good and the trips were lovely. It was also possible to just get off, stroll the towns, and see the sights. There are no pests standing near the pier trying to sell tours and souvenirs, the towns are safe, and the people friendly.
Now for the ship. I agree with the reviewers who describe it as slightly dowdy. Our stateroom (#9) was a suite with a small sitting area and large floor to ceiling window. No balcony but that was on the advice of our travel agent who said the cabin she had chosen was better positioned than many with balconies and on this trip we wouldn't be sitting out in the sun anyway. She was right. The temperature was 50-70F. We often sat comfortably on our sofa reading, looking up to watch the fjords go by. Small bathroom, small closet. Something to remember... those nice big clamshell cases hold all the clothes you need for 14 days but they don't fit under the beds! We set mine neatly beside the curtain that separated the beds from the sitting area and it never bothered us, but if my mom's hadn't fit under the bed it would have been awkward.
The biggest problem with the ship's design is that those in the suites on Deck 10 (Star Deck) have to travel through the theatre to get to their cabins. Usually we quietly snuck through even when activities were going on. There were a couple of private parties and some show practices, though ,where they totally blocked off the area. We had to go up to 11, across and down. On one of the two big show nights, due to a lack of dressing room space, the stairwell was used as an extension of the backstage area, and the performers were VERY angry that we cut through their area. We had no choice. We had to get back to our cabin as I was ill. (more on that later) We found the stretch design a bit inconvenient. Others have mentioned traffic pathways through the restaurants or bars. We found it disruptive, especially when eating areas were closed or were being cleaned.
We found the staff helpful but rather sullen. I have read so many reviews that have trashed the Sports Bar as an eating area. I beg to differ. It was crowded, but we liked it for breakfast and lunch, and we are fussy eaters. Maybe it is because we just wanted rolls and cheese or bagels and smoked salmon for breakfast and soup and sandwich for lunch, but we always found lots of great food.
They often had sushi chefs or other "performance chefs" working and most people never realized it. Also, we had a very astute waitress who told us on day 2 that if we wanted a glass of wine at lunch we were far better off to buy it by the bottle and she would label it and put it in the bar fridge! (She got an unsolicited $20 tip at the end of the cruise)
We loved Le Bistro, and ate there 3 times. Other times, we ate before or after the crowds in the main restaurants and got window seats every time. We liked Freestyle Cruising and the choices. We were dismayed at the people who hadn't done their research and spent most of their time complaining about the freestyle concept. One night one of our dinner companions went berserk at dinner because they were out of caramel ice cream, but other than that we enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people or dine alone as our mood dictated.
We especially loved the coffee bar area with Katie, the pianist/singer and spent a lot of money relaxing there each evening.
So, what was bad? Other than the wait staff in Le Bistro and a couple of waitresses in the Sports Bar and coffee area, the staff seemed very unhappy. I don't expect smiles all the time (although the Royal Carib people were always cheerful on our Panama Cruise) but these people seemed like they were overburdened by something going on behind the scenes.
The other major problem was the illness that swept the ship and the staff's total denial of the extent of it. We took a straw poll in the coffee bar halfway through the cruise, and already about 25% of the people we spoke to had been violently ill. The medical staff said that "a few" people had been ill. However, one elderly man told me they had run out of IV fluids and he was considering leaving the ship in Stavanger to get his wife to a hospital. They were also out of saltine crackers. There were many singles at dinner because one of the couple was ill. On our bus back to London after the cruise, we started asking around, and over half the people had suffered from this GI problem. (To be graphic, after a night of it, I had black eyes from the force of the vomiting) Moreover, when we were at the Marble Arch, we kept running into people from the ship who got sick within hours of leaving (probably from germs on the bus) and had spent their London days in bed. My mom was one of them. That summer, we saw the publicity over Norwalk Virus on Alaskan bound ships and realized that was probably what we had.
The several medical evacuations (heart attacks and a fall)that happened on board ship were well done and the Norwegian medical system seemed quite efficient. Apparently their air ambulance system is excellent.
The last comment I'd like to make is on the Thistle's Marble Arch. Large rooms, far larger than you expect for that price in London. Horrendous staff. We were sent to three unmade rooms before we got one that had been cleaned. The front desk reaction was "What is the problem?" Well, dirty towels and unflushed toilets just don't appeal to me! They were so non-responsive that at first I thought I was on a hidden camera show. We had only one tiny half roll of tp, with no more in sight. We had to call down for more. When it didn't arrive by 10 and after two more phone calls I ran out to a convenience store and bought some. (This was in the midst of my mom's illness) The room had three phones but they only worked in-house. I complained to the operator and at the desk but their response was that I just didn't know how to dial long-distance. They also suggested that I just use the lobby phone for all my calls. Very rude! Apparently the Thistle's right on the Thames is much better managed. And don't eat at their coffee bar. There are much better choices at one tenth of the price at the coffee shop down on the corner.
So, would I recommend this cruise? Absolutely. It's a well-planned itinerary with a good balance of cruising and stops. The port towns are clean and safe and the people are proud of how prosperous their country is and are happy to serve you. 10 out of 10.
The ship? It would take so little to freshen things up and smarten up the crew. They are a 6 out of 10.