Number of Cruises: 6
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Majesty
Sailing Date: June 19th, 2005
INTRO. I was on the Norwegian Majesty’s Boston-to-Bermuda cruise, departing on June 19th. Cruising with me were my 75-year-old mother, my daughter (14) and my son (9). I’ve had some cruising experience before, with Windjammer, NCL, Royal Caribbean and Holland America, visiting the Caribbean, the Mexican Riviera, and Alaska. The Boston-to-Bermuda itinerary appealed to me because we’d be docked in Bermuda long enough to really get a feel for the place, and I’ve always wanted to see it.
We bought our tickets just a few weeks before the cruise. Having booked through a discounter, our tickets were simply for “Outside Guarantee.” I called NCL a couple of days before we were to leave, and they were able to tell us our cabin numbers: 885 and 887. These were about midway down the list of possible outside cabin categories, so we were happy with our assignments.
ONLINE REGISTRATION: When we booked our tickets, our agent made no mention of the need to register online with NCL. I only found out about online registration when I called NCL with some questions…and since it was less than 14 days before sailing, it was too late to do it. I printed out the forms, and we filled them out and brought them with us for embarkation. While that didn’t slow things down too much, it would have been better to have taken care of that online, ahead of time.
EMBARKATION. We arrived at the Black Falcon terminal in Boston at about 12:30. The embarkation process was as smooth and efficient as I’ve ever seen; it took perhaps 20 minutes from the time we left our luggage with the porters, to the time we were on the ship. The crew member who issued our card-keys also took our photos and stored them, so every time we got on or off the ship, or had transactions with the reception staff, they discreetly checked to verify our identities. Aside from that (required) photo, the ship’s photographers presented us with two-count-em-two photo ops before we even got on the ship. We bypassed these, and the photographers gave us the standard ship’s-photographer reaction (utter shock that we didn’t want each moment immortalized by them). A lot of passengers seemed to think that these photos were a legitimate part of the embarkation process (as opposed to just a roadblock), and lined up like little lambs. My policy is to avoid any interaction with the ship’s photographers unless I might, conceivably, purchase the pictures. Skipping photo ops saves resources and, as a bonus, annoys the photographers, so it’s a no-brainer.
The gangplank took us to Deck 5 midships; we were greeted by the usual friendly crew members, who immediately insisted that we use germicide on our hands, which was provided via a touchless dispenser. It felt kind of strange at first, but we quickly became accustomed to using the little dispensers, which were located at the entrance to every restaurant, and also at the internet café and the Kiddie Korner. Every time you board the ship or enter a restaurant, you’re expected and/or required to use the germicide, but if it prevents shipwide illnesses, it’s worth it.
The luggage turned up in our cabins at around 6:00 p.m.
THE SHIP. I expected the ship to look a lot like the Norwegian Sea (which we’d sailed on before). The Sea is like a floating Motel 6. The Majesty was considerably nicer than the Sea – not jaw-droppingly beautiful, but not Motel 6 either. This ship’s décor was, perhaps, at the level of a floating Best Western.
THE CABINS. We took the stairs to our cabins on Deck 8 (from past experience, as well as our experience on this ship, the elevators are both too few and too slow). The cabins are, of course, small, but no worse than our other NCL experience. The view was obstructed, but it was a view. The bathroom is small, but if you keep the shower curtain open when the shower’s not in use, it feels a whole lot larger. The cabins were clean, and laid out pretty efficiently, so we had ample storage space, provided we used the space under the beds for empty suitcases.
The desk in the cabin was small, and a tray containing $3-per-bottle water and an ice bucket took half of it up; we asked the stewardess to remove the tray and its contents, as we needed the space more than we needed the tray.
THE PASSENGERS: This was the youngest group I ever cruised with (with the probable exception of Windjammer); I read somewhere that the average passenger age on this ship was 45. And I’m going to go out on a limb here when I estimate that 90% were from Massachusetts. I expected passengers from all around the US, but almost everyone came from within driving distance of Boston. Many had done that exact cruise before, and loved Bermuda enough to do it again.
THE CREW: This was the most international crew I’ve seen. Our cabin steward, along with a number of the dining room staff, were from central Europe, while there were also a good number of dining room staff from the Philippines, India, and even Jamaica. Reception, the Shore Excursions desk and the kids’ program were staffed mostly by Aussies, Canadians and New Zealanders.
LUNCH. We headed up to the Café Royale on Deck 10 for the lunch buffet. It was pretty dismal, as (it turned out) the lunch buffets generally were. The Indian selections out by the pool were a bit better, but the grill (Deck 10 aft) would probably have been our best bet (burgers, dogs, fries, salad and pizza). (Note: while Indian food was offered that first day, the selections by the pool varied each day.)
KIDS’ DRINK PROGRAM. Next stop was a bar, where we bought a soda band for my 9-year-old ($17) and a drink “passport” for my 14-year-old ($34). The soda band gave him unlimited sodas throughout the trip; he had only to belly up to any bar, show them the band, and walk off with a soda. *He quickly learned the location of every bar on the ship.) The passport consisted of 20 coupons, each good for a soda, a smoothie, or any “virgin” drink (e.g., a virgin pina colada). The 20 coupons were more than enough to last through the cruise.
DINNER. The Seven Seas (the largest main restaurant) and the Four Seasons (considerably smaller) appear to share a kitchen, and on any given night, they offered the same menu as one another. (Every morning, dinner menus are posted outside each restaurant, so you have plenty of time to decide where to eat.) The first night’s dinner wasn’t anything to brag about (note: it wasn’t the Welcome Aboard menu, which, in a mind-boggling move, was served on the second night). I ordered fried mushrooms as an appetizer; it was almost a joke when they arrived, as the serving consisted of just four tiny mushrooms! The wine stewards didn’t really specialize in wines, and they always turned up to offer $3-per-bottle Evian and San Pellegrino; the waiters instructed us to give all bar orders to the wine stewards, so at dinner, the kids ordered their sodas and smoothies that way. Service was consistently slow; it generally took about ninety minutes to get through dinner. (My kids got bored with sitting for that long, and they often blew off the dining rooms in favor of the grill on Deck 10 aft.)
We grown-ups generally ate dinner in one of the main dining rooms, as the menus (after that first night) always included something that sounded good. (None of the subsequent dinners were as bad as that first night’s.) We eventually arrived at the strategy of passing up dessert in the restaurant in favor of just going to Cafe Royale on Deck 10 and choosing something from the dessert offerings there. Café Royale offered more dessert selections than the dining rooms, and was a whole lot quicker.
KID PROGRAM: The kid program provided a single flyer per age group, describing the week’s schedule (as opposed to putting another piece of paper in our room each night). They started on the first evening, when the younger groups (note: 6-9’s were combined with 10-12’s) were entertained from 7:00 to 9:45. My son invariably enjoyed the kid-group’s activities, but then, he thrives on having a schedule – any schedule. (If the daily schedule had said “join us for a toilet-scrubbing party at 8:00 a.m.,” he’d have signed up, and, most likely, enjoyed it.)
On the sea days, the kid program entertained the younger kids from 9:00 to 11:45, from 2:00 to 4:45, and from 7:00 to 9:45. If you wanted more, you were into the realm of group babysitting at $5/hour.
The youth counselors were quite good and the kids had a lot of fun. A healthy tip was in order at the end of the cruise, and the counselors provided envelopes as a little hint to the parents. My son wrote a nice note to accompany the tip.
TEEN PROGRAM: The teen group’s activities were on a much later schedule; I think one activity started at 1:00 a.m., but that was later than I was willing to let my daughter stay out. The activities were sometimes canceled for lack of participation, but the activities that did take place looked to be fun. They did a lot of scavenger-type hunts, e.g., a game called “Hunt It Down and Wear It Well.” The activities appeared to provide sufficient opportunities to meet other teens and make some friends.
FIRST SEA DAY. The seas were very smooth. I’m prone to seasickness, and was worried (having read several reviews that described rough seas), but we were lucky. I wasn’t even tempted to dive into our cache of (now over-the-counter) Antivert.
We ate at the Café Royale, but to be honest, it’s just not that appetizing (unless you like staring at a huge vat of herring). Later in the cruise, we discovered the waffle-and-crepe bar out by the pool, which was definitely a step up. Made-to-order omelets were also available, opposite the crepe/waffle bar.
That kind of sucked. I played a little blackjack, read, and slept.
OPTIONAL FORMAL NIGHT: The one and only optional Formal Night occurred on the evening of the first sea day. Maybe 25% of the passengers dressed up. I’d bought formalwear for the kids (check eBay for great prices on boys’ tuxes!) and we all got dressed up. We actually – gasp! – sought out the ship’s photographers so as to get nice portraits of the kids. Two backdrops were set up: a Titanic stairway (odd choice, for a cruise ship, when you think about it) was near the Seven Seas, and near reception, the white grand piano was adorned by flowers and set up for the second photo backdrop. We went to both, and got photos of both kids, individually and together. We were pretty happy with the results, and ended up buying 4 8x10’s for $60 (one of those ship’s “specials,” but actually, not a bad deal).
ARRIVING IN BERMUDA. The ship goes north around the islands of Bermuda, and enters St. George’s through a narrow channel (I think there’s 18 feet of clearance on each side of the ship). It’s worth being up on deck as the ship pulls in; there’s a funny little man in a tri-cornered hat who shoots off a cannon (note: at least in our case, he missed the ship entirely) and then waves like he’s never seen a cruise ship in his life. Several of the locals were out in their yards waving, too (mostly ones with small children), and the passengers, of course, waved back. You get your first look at the characteristic Bermudian home architecture, and you get a feeling for just how crowded these islands are (wall to wall houses). But you also see how beautiful the shoreline and the ocean are (the water’s very clear, with startling colors). The ship spins around and docks at Ordnance Island, faced in such a way as to facilitate an easy exit in a few days.
FIRST DAY IN BERMUDA: You can pick up fairly crummy beach towels from the ship (note: that first day, the beach towel check-out was not located anywhere near the gangplank!) and head out. (Another note: save your receipt for the towels, to turn in when you turn the towels back in. NCL will charge you a ridiculous $25 for each towel you don’t check back in.) Since the ship’s docked there for three and a half days, we didn’t do much with the shore excursion staff (more on that later), and opted for self-guided tours using Bermuda’s bus system. I bought 3-day passes for my daughter and myself at the Tourist Info center, on the St. George’s town square. (Note: I bought her an adult pass for $28, but later realized she qualified for the child’s pass rate of $14 – check the ages if you’re not sure). Note: The passes are good for both the buses and the ferries, but the ferries only make a few runs per day, all close to mid-day.
We then hiked about 20 minutes to Tobacco Bay; that morning, with all of us newly-arrived cruise ship folks, it was the most crowded beach on the planet, but it ended up being our favorite of the five beaches we visited on Bermuda. It was like a huge swimming pool with no deep end; rocks sheltered it from the surf (which was minimal anyway), and you could just stick your masked or goggled head in the water and see fish, even in waist-deep water.
After a bit of snorkeling there, we caught a bus to Horseshoe Beach, transferring between bus routes in Hamilton. The bus lets you off near the top of the steep road down to Horseshoe; the whole walk down, I was thinking what fun it would be to climb back up that hill in a couple of hours. Horseshoe was OK, but crowded. (Note: it did offer the most services of any beach we visited, with changing rooms, showers, a café and a lifeguard.) The next beach to the east (easily walkable) was much less crowded, but was out of view of the lifeguard. Anyway, after swimming at both beaches, we got a bite to eat at the Horseshoe Beach Café, then paid a local entrepreneur $1 each for a van ride back up the hill (well worth it).
Before heading back to the ship, we stopped off at one more beach: Elbow. Elbow was relatively quiet, but offered no services and, more importantly, no lifeguard. We had a full day, but we got to see four beaches and, moreover, got a good look at the island during the hour-long bus rides between St. George’s and Hamilton.
SUBSEQUENT DAYS: We spent the subsequent days seeing Hamilton (more or less a larger version of St. George’s) and the Botanical Gardens (very much a work in progress, and we weren’t able to find any Winslow Homer works there, despite tour books!). We got around the islands by bus and ferry.
DINING ASHORE PROGRAM: $25 lunch vouchers (one per adult, which meant my 9-year-old didn’t get one) were delivered to our cabins on the first sea day, along with a booklet listing the participating restaurants. We used the vouchers for lunch in Hamilton. Not knowing anything about the choices, we asked a local to look through the booklet and suggest a good, nearby restaurant for lunch, and he recommended The Pickled Onion. They offered only a very limited menu to customers using the vouchers. We found that the food there was excellent, but very pricey (our lunch bill came to about $30, just covering my son’s food, a couple of soft drinks, and tips). The cruise line automatically charges you $5 per voucher; if you decide not to participate in the program, you need to turn in the vouchers well before the end of the cruise, and they’ll credit the $5 back to your account. This program did make it a lot cheaper to grab lunch when spending a full day away from the ship.
GUEST TALENT SHOW: I’ve been on a number of cruises before, including NCL, and the guest talent show was always open to all passengers. My son, who’s a pretty serious dancer, had planned on entering the talent show, and brought appropriate clothing, dance shoes and a CD along on the trip. We were surprised, then, when the talent show announcement appeared and they said the talent show was only open to passengers 18 and older.
NCL currently calls their talent show a “star seeker” program, with the gimmick that the very best entertainer, at any ship’s talent show, over (I think) the whole year, MIGHT win an entertainment contract with NCL, and a free cruise. (They taped the talent show, and they said they’d send the tape of the winning entry to their corporate offices, to be judged against all the other NCL winners – we’re talking about hundreds of candidates, and it sounded like the prize wasn’t even guaranteed to be awarded at all.) Anyway, the youth counselors knew that my son wanted to be in the show, so one of them asked the cruise director if he could appear as a non-competing guest. They did let my son dance in the show, and they let a 17-year-old girl sing. There were only 5 adult entries, so adding a couple of kids didn’t drag it out too long, and both kids enjoyed getting to perform.
INTERNET CAFÉ: I made extensive use of the Internet Café to keep in touch with my husband, who was holding down the fort – and our home-based business – while we were gone. They offered a variety of deals over the course of the week. The Latitudes membership was supposed to give you a good deal on shipboard internet usage, but when I mentioned this to the café manager, I got a blank stare in return. I ended up buying 100 minutes for $55, with a “free” 15 minutes thrown in, so I was paying about 48 cents per minute. Late in the cruise they offered 30 minutes for $12.00, but I was carefully managing the 115 minutes I bought (I used all but four minutes).
PHONE CALLS: There are a bazillion phone cards available in the US, and they work to/from many countries. However, Bermuda is seldom one of the countries you can call from (because Bermuda doesn’t allow call-back schemes, which is how most cheap international phone deals work). You have a few options for making affordable calls home. One is to purchase a phone card before you go, verifying that it’s one of the few that offers service from Bermuda; I bought such a card from http://phonecards.gonetotravel.com and it worked fine. Another option is to buy a phone card when you get to Bermuda, verifying first that it works on calls to the US. The rate might not be very good (the one I saw charged about twice the rate I paid for my card), but it’s still not actually horrible. Finally, you can take a chance and use your cell phone. We use Cingular, and I had good signal while in Bermuda. I didn’t make any calls that way, as I didn’t know what the roaming rate was, but I took a chance and used it for a few text messages. The cellular bill just arrived, and I was very pleasantly surprised to find that we weren’t charged extra for the fact that the text messages were sent from Bermuda. I checked Cingular’s web site and they indicated that they didn’t charge data roaming fees for the US, Bermuda or part of the Caribbean. I would be curious to find out what it would have cost to make voice calls via my cell phone; my mom’s cell company said her roaming rate would be 67 cents per minute.
SHORE EXCURSION STAFF: We did book one shore excursion, for my son and my mom to do a “land and sea combo tour” of Bermuda. The adult rate was $99 and the child rate was $79. When they handed me the ticket, I saw that it was in my name, but when I pointed this out to the shore ex guy, he said that was because our cabin was charged to my credit card. Fair enough. It was my fault that I didn’t notice they’d issued a $99 adult ticket for my 9-year-old son. Well, my mom did notice the $99 price when they embarked on the shore excursion, and pointed it out to the tour operator. Mom said that the tour operator made a note of it, and then I followed up with the shore excursion desk as soon as I found out about their mistake.
I expected an apology and a $20 credit. WRONG-O. Their first reaction was that they’d have to check with the tour operator about whether the adult ticket was truly used by a kid (oh, how I love to be called a liar!). I was told that I needed to check back with them later. (Now, why they couldn’t just check and credit the account, I don’t know…unless, heaven forbid, they were trying to make it hard to get back the $20 they overcharged me.) I went back later, and they had checked with the tour operator, and they said that they would credit the account. But on the last sea day, when I requested a copy of my bill, it still showed as $99, with no $20 credit. I made a third trip to the shore excursion desk, and they had credited the $20, all right…to the wrong account. What bothered me was not so much the mistakes they made (I’ve made my share of mistakes), but the implication that I was the one trying to pull a fast one (“we’ll have to check with the tour operator”), the fact that it took three trips to the shore excursion desk to straighten out THEIR error, and mostly that they never apologized for any of it. I can’t recommend the “service” there. On this particular cruise, you have very little reason to book a shore excursion through the ship, as you can either self-guide or just pay a tour operator directly (like the glass-bottom boat cruise that departs from a dock very close to the cruise ship). You don’t have to worry about the ship leaving without you – you’re there for DAYS, after all.
DEBARKATION TALK: I swear, cruise directors all seem to get the same list of stale jokes, and insist on telling them to the captive audience during the Debarkation Talk. And every one insists on telling the stories as though the situations described have actually happened to them, personally. Then, when our cruise director finally got around to discussing debarkation, he was careful to say everything twice, just in case you were too stupid (or too drunk) to catch it the first time. I would love it if cruise lines would leave printed debarkation information in the cabins, with the option (for the very stupid, or the very drunk) of attending the debarkation talk. It’s a waste of our expensive vacation time to sit through a talk like this.
DEALS: The shipboard “bargains” never fail to amaze me: art sales, “half-price” jewels, “inch of gold,” etc. NCL seems to really take that “there’s one born every minute” thing to heart. My personal favorite was a blow-out on souvenir barware – like they needed to unload their souvenir glasses to us at a bargain rate, when they were going to turn around and haul out a new bunch of cruiser-suckers the next day. Having said all that, they did offer one deal I took them up on. After being away from home for the better part of a week, I really wanted some clean clothes. I considered finding a laundromat in St. George’s (you can ask a crew member or the Tourist Info folks where to find it), but I hated to give up several hours of a port day to do laundry. Well, on the Wednesday evening, the cabin stewardess dropped off a laundry bag and laundry list, with the ship’s valet-service offer of washing and ironing as much as you could cram in the bag for $20. The only catch was, if there were any special-care articles in there, they’d dry-clean them and charge you for that. Well, we had no problem cramming the bag full of T’s, jeans, underwear, etc., and it was surely a welcome sight when it came back clean on Friday afternoon. We’d been vigilant about checking the care labels before throwing stuff into the bag, and they apparently found nothing that needed dry-cleaning, as they charged us exactly $20. I felt that that $20 was well spent.
LAST NIGHT: NCL now offers Express Debarkation, which means that, if you’re willing to carry all of your luggage off the ship, you can get off first. More than half of the passengers opted for this. If you’re going to use the regular debarkation program, you need to have your bags out in the hall by 2:00 a.m., keeping just a carry-on with only what you need for the next morning. Well, either way, there will be big bags out in the hall, and porters collecting them until sometime after 2:00 a.m. As far as I can tell, NCL offers this job to only the noisiest crew members aboard; the din in the hall (as heard from our cabin) was deafening. Just when you thought you’d heard the last of the pounding and clanging, there’d be more. My son slept through it (he can sleep through anything), but I was awake until the last piece of luggage was loudly removed from the hall. When that time came (about 2:30 a.m.), I thought I was home free and could finally get a few hours’ sleep, but I was wrong; that’s when our drunken cruise-mates started rolling home, shouting “woo-hoo” in the hallways as they made THEIR noisy way to their cabins. The bottom line is, I should have remembered how noisy the last night on a cruise ship always seems to be, and opted for ear plugs.
LAST MORNING: The last morning would have been improved by a decent night’s sleep, but there you are. We went to the Seven Seas for breakfast (I think that was the only table-service restaurant available), and it was fine. They did offer a somewhat limited menu, in order to get all the passengers through breakfast in a timely manner, but there was still plenty to choose from. After breakfast, we returned to our cabins (a real plus for the Freestyle Cruising is that we didn’t have to wait in the public rooms).
TIPPING: Tipping was hassle-free, as advertised. When I requested a copy of my bill on that last sea-day, the tips were included, showing up as $10 per day for me, and $5 per day for my son. I had assumed it would be $10 per day for each of us, so that was a pleasant surprise. I definitely recommend spending a few minutes on that last sea-day getting a hard copy of your bill from Reception and going over it for any surprises. The last morning of the cruise, the reception area is going to be a zoo, so get it done when it’s still quiet there.
DEBARKATION: I’ve got to say that this debarkation was, by far, the smoothest I’ve ever seen. Express Debarkation folks could leave anytime after about 7:30, and then they started calling luggage-tag colors (note: luggage tags were, for the most part, assigned on a per-deck basis). With the exception of folks who’d paid for a post-cruise package (they left first), the ship was unloaded by deck, with the top decks leaving first. (My guess is that the stewards just work together and clean their way down the decks, in order to achieve the very quick turn-around time for the ship.) Anyway, our deck (8) was called very early, and we were off the ship by about 9:30.