Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Majesty
Sailing Date: December 23rd, 2006
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Majesty Cruise Review
We sailed Norwegian Majesty December 23, 2006 from Charleston,
SC, for a 7 night Christmas Cruise of the Western Caribbean, scheduled to call
on Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Key West. We had a group of 24 in our party ranging
from retirees to small children, with the majority being teens and their
mid-40’s to mid 50’s parents.
We live within driving distance of Charleston, so arrived by car. Parking was handled efficiently at the port, although it is my suspicion that limitations on parking might be a reason we do not see larger ships sailing from Charleston. While the port itself could probably handle larger ships, the old warehouse used for parking could not hope to accommodate a dramatic increase in vehicles. It would be nice to see the parking expanded to attract more ships to consider Charleston as a home port for at least part of the year. We arrived at 1pm and found the processing backlogged inside the terminal, although others in our group who came earlier whizzed right through and boarded the ship, in spite of the port authority’s website instructions that nobody would be able to board before 1pm.
We had three large ocean view cabins on deck 4 for our family of six plus one additional friend tagging along with our daughters making their room a triple. The staterooms were smaller than ocean view cabins on Royal Caribbean or Carnival, but we found we had plenty of room (no sofa, but we never sit on the in-cabin sofas anyway so we didn’t miss it). In fact, both my husband and I found that Norwegian Majesty offered more generous drawer space than any other ship we have sailed and the closets were roomy also. The room was pretty basic on décor given that the walls were “decorated” with pull down bunks allowing the stateroom to accommodate a third and fourth guest, but we survived. Overall the emphasis was more on functional than on glamour, but we were more than pleased with the accommodations onboard. The bathroom was cozy to be sure, but I have sailed on ships with smaller showers, and everything worked which is always a good sign. The hairdryer was built in so you aren’t likely to discover that the one that’s supposed to be in the drawer left the ship with an earlier passenger … something we encountered on our last cruise. I cannot speak first hand to the size and comfort of the smaller staterooms or the interior rooms, but within our group we had people staying in different types of cabins and nobody complained so I am assuming the other rooms were adequately comfortable as well.
PUBLIC SPACES (including bar staff)
This was the first time we had ever sailed a mid-sized ship, so my comparisons will be to large ships and mega-ships. We found the scale of Norwegian Majesty quite charming … perhaps a little to our surprise I might add. What we missed was the WOW factor on the bigger ships of wandering into a multi-storied atrium / centrum with glitzy mobiles, glass elevators and oodles of visual pizzazz. Norwegian Majesty is lovely, but understated compared to the whoppers sailing today. There are fewer pubs and lounges, but we seldom ever saw those empty like we sometimes see on the huge ships. The Rendezvous Lounge was almost always bustling with passengers catching up with friends, and the Polo Club usually had a comfortable crowd as well, especially in the evenings. Norwegian Majesty had a feature I haven’t see on other ships that was highly appealing. On deck 5 portside, outside Le Bistro and running between the Crossroads and Seven Seas restaurant there were large windows with window seats adjacent to comfy chairs and cocktail tables with bar service provided that made for a wonderful series of quiet niches to enjoy a good book over a cup of coffee or chat quietly with friends over a glass of wine without sitting in a bar. It was always bright during the day and those inviting window seats were never empty.
The pool deck served the crowd onboard just fine. If I had one grumble here it was that the only chaise lounges were on the upper deck with chairs and tables around the pools. I understand that the smaller ship size probably dictated how the space would be best used, but I missed being able to flake out on a chaise by the pool, especially on winter days when the upper deck was sometimes too blustery for comfort. There were bars at either end of the pool deck and we found the bar staff to be just right on their service. It’s funny I suppose but I have read reviews where one will say the bar staff was too pushy and the next review will complain that the staff was too lax in fetching drinks for the guests. I guess it’s impossible to please all the people all the time, but we found the attendants to be spot on. We never had to wait long before a crew member came along who would gladly get us something to drink, but neither my husband nor I ever felt hounded by the bar staff.
Most of the time they would walk past saying “bar service” – no more no less. There was one energetic fellow who always wore a smile calling out a cheery “Happy Happy” and exuding the feel of a one-man party. I think most everyone was endeared to him although I suppose he was the only one who anyone could possibly label as “pushy” (certainly not in our book; he was a joy!). And yet at the opposite end of the spectrum there was another bar staff member, a tall, blond Lithuanian man whose approach was the exact opposite. He seemed to zero in on some family groups and quietly served them repeatedly as though he was their personal attendant. He seldom spoke a word as he strolled by, although I have no doubt he would have gladly gotten drinks for anybody who asked. We were quite flattered when on the last day of the cruise our Lithuanian friend stopped by our table to ask if we would like a drink. We had been watching him all week, and in a funny way we felt like we had arrived when he stopped by our table! The entire bar staff seemed friendly and polite – some extroverts and some introverts just like any other cross-section of humanity.
This was our first cruise on Norwegian, so it was likewise our first exposure to freestyle dining. I think the experience could be described as a mixed bag of good news and bad news. Bad first. The worst dining onboard was Christmas Eve. I wish I could say otherwise, but it was a circus and the waits were unbelievably long. As the point person for our group, I tried to make reservations in the morning for most of us in the Four Seasons as I had read that it was the superior dining experience over the Seven Seas. I was told that they had filled their quota for reservations, as apparently they will lock in a certain number of tables, but then leave the others open for “freestyle” so guests can get seated without reservations. The hostess suggested we come at 7pm as she expected the first wave of diners would be finishing up and we would be able to nab tables then. We arrived at 6:45 to be safe. It took about 45 minutes to be seated, and it didn’t seem to matter whether it was a group like ours or simply a couple … everyone waited, and waited and waited. From there the service was s-l-o-w. I don’t know what the problem was, but by 9:15 I said to those at our table that if the entrée didn’t arrive in 5 minutes I was leaving … I’d go see the hypnotist show (having by now missed the Christmas show) and just grab a hamburger later. Dinner did arrive, after someone at our table complained, we bolted it down (on the bright side the Salmon Wellington was delicious), skipped dessert (boo! I love plum pudding!) and got to the hypnotist show 5 minutes after it started and settled for bad seats. Not the Christmas Eve I had envisioned for everyone in our group.
That was the bad news. On a happier note, we ate every other dinner in the Seven Seas, sometimes with a reservation and sometimes just showing up and we never had to wait long for a table, the service was fine and the food was good. Christmas night in particular made up for our experience the night before. Our server was a delightful Filipino woman named Noemi and she did a splendid job of keeping up with our group and providing professional, friendly service. I regretted very much that I didn’t have any money with me to leave her a tip, and herein lies a tip for anyone reading this review. We are accustomed to the old way of doing things where you have the same food servers every day and at the end of the cruise you present them with an envelope. On many of the cruise lines, including Norwegian, a $10 gratuity (which NCL has recently renamed a service charge) is added to your onboard account and divided equally among the staff. I would have tipped Noemi extra for her superb service, but was caught off guard because I never carry any cash on me in the typical cruise cashless environment. Ironically, for the rest of the cruise I did carry a $20 bill with me to pass along to Noemi, but never saw her again! So here’s my advice … you may never use it, but keep a bill handy just in case you do encounter exceptional service one night that you would like to reward.
Our next cruise on Norwegian will be on Jewel, so I will be interested to compare one of the newer ships built for freestyle and the older Majesty which has been jerry-rigged into the new NCL format. Since I travel with groups (even just accommodating our immediate family is a group!), I think in the future I will plan a little further ahead and book our dinner reservations when we first board the ship. What I really like about freestyle is the ability to try different restaurants and especially to be able to eat at different times on different days depending on what we have going on a particular day. What I didn’t like about our experience on Majesty was that I never got to try Le Bistro, but this is because the reservations were booked early in the cruise, and the restaurant was too small for a big party to just show up and expect to get tables. Moral of the story? Plan ahead! I would think that for a couple who just want to wing it and who are happy to eat either very early or later in the evening especially freestyle dining would be great!
We never ate in the pasta café since the tables were too small to seat our big family, but we ate in both the Café Royale Buffet and also the Piazza San Marco, both on deck 10. We all loved the Piazza San Marco; the hamburgers and hot dogs were great (never tried the pizza), the food was available at almost all hours (we saw kids with pizza and huge plates full of French fries late at night by the pool) and the atmosphere was breezy, scenic and pleasant. They also had huge bowls full of fresh fruit – apples, oranges, pears – for anyone seeking a healthy snack. Big thumbs up for the Piazza San Marco, and the Topsider’s bar was right around the corner so you could easily enjoy a big stein of beer with that hamburger and hot dog. Life is good! The buffet was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the actual buffet offers a pretty modest and repetitive selection for both breakfast and lunch, especially if you are used to the plethora of all the food in the world in the buffets on mega-ships. On the other hand, at breakfast there was a custom omelet station just outside the buffet that offered up a tasty supplement to what you could get in the buffet line, and at lunch the same spot produced custom sub sandwiches catering to individual tastes that were very good as well.
An interesting observation my husband made was that NCL provides dinner plates at the buffet. Royal Caribbean by comparison has big oval platters in the buffet line. All guests are of course welcome to eat as much as they like, but overall we saw less waste on Norwegian than on Royal Caribbean where too many people seem to feel obliged to load up that platter with as much food as they can squeeze on, while not feeling obligated to eat all they take. The tremendous waste is always distressing to us, all the more when we know that so many of the crew come from places where the amount of food thrown away could feed a village. I think NCL has the right idea here.
Finally, all the dining venues on Norwegian Majesty had hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrance and guests were instructed to sanitize their hands before entering. The same was true of ship boarding after shore excursions; sanitize your hands first, then come aboard.
There is no huge theater on this ship like we have experienced on large ships and mega-ships; the theater is more cabaret-sized. What you miss with fabulous sets you gain with intimacy; the performers are practically in your lap as opposed to way up there on the stage. For a smaller ship I was impressed that Majesty offered a variety of different song and dance shows featuring 8 talented and energetic performers who could be spotted later organizing shore excursions or filling in other odd jobs around this ship. They also had a solo vocalist onboard, a hypnotist, a comedian, and a splendid small orchestra band (Rama 111) who served as the visible backdrop for the song and dance productions and who also played a bang up jazz set at least one evening in the Polo Club Lounge. The pianist with Rama 111 also volunteered to accompany hymns at both the Midnight Mass and Christmas morning Mass. We learned that they are from Gdansk, Poland, where they are recognized as a veteran Polish jazz group, performing in jazz festivals for over 30 years. We were completely satisfied with the entertainment provided in the theater.
My husband and I enjoy playing the trivia games, and we found that on this cruise the games of this type drew a larger crowd than they do on the bigger ships. The Rendezvous Lounge was regularly filled to capacity with teams having a fun time competing for the usual small prizes. We also enjoyed the music trivia games which, rather than being tucked away in a half empty pub, were held on the pool deck with our delightful cruise director, Mike Witte as MC. Plenty of people got involved and it was always a lot of fun. We also saw more families and groups of friends playing cards and board games like Scrabble and Monopoly on this cruise than we usually see on the huge cruise ships. Perhaps what is sacrificed in passive entertainment bells and whistles on the mega-ships is more than made up in quality time together with new friends or loved ones along on the holiday … not a bad thing in my book.
KIDS AND TEENS
Norwegian Majesty has a small center onboard for children, and we had friends along on the cruise whose two daughters participated in the program although I am not sure how they would compare Norwegian Majesty to other cruise ships.
Our kids are teenagers. There is no teen center on this ship, but they appear to have an excellent teen program because our kids and the other teens onboard seemed to have a spectacularly good time. If there was one complaint it was that they only had one dance when the Frame 52 Disco was turned over to their group. That aside, the youth directors had plenty of activities planned and our kids said that unlike some cruises we have taken, the teen coordinators on Norwegian Majesty always showed up and on time to meet with the teens. The kids apparently did lots of Karaoke in the evening as an alternative to hitting the dance floor. We also saw them in hot tubs, in the boardroom (games) and they were known to show up in the Rendezvous Lounge to compete in the trivia games (parents take heart, we oldsters beat them handily!).
Anyone following Norwegian Majesty knows already that the Christmas Cruise was hampered by weather and mechanical problems. Weather first. We were sailing in the winter, which means that the seas were rougher than they typically are in the summer. No cruise line no matter how much they might like to can change this. We were scrubbed from visiting Grand Cayman because the seas were too choppy for the tenders to run. So be it. I am sure everyone was disappointed to miss Grand Cayman, but that happens, especially on winter cruises, with tendered ports. We were in good company; there were 7 ships bobbing offshore at Grand Cayman waiting to reorganize and move on, Majesty was alongside Queen Mary 2 and the pampered guests on the Cunard luxury liner were no more able to visit Grand Cayman that day than we bargain cruisers on Norwegian Majesty were. To assist passengers to miss their shore visit to Grand Cayman less, the crew flooded the passengers with all the free rum punch anyone could manage; I saw people with 3 and 4 glasses of punch lined up because they couldn’t keep pace with the swift and generous delivery of more good cheer. So you go with the flow.
We did hit some really choppy seas on this cruise, and on a mid-side ship you will feel the motion more than on a ship the size of the Great Pyramids at Giza. We have one son prone to motion sickness and he did keep Dramamine handy, but the rest of our family rather enjoyed the gentle rolling … in fact we all slept like zombies being rocked to sleep every night. Most of us did just fine, but I would suggest to anyone afraid that seasickness might be a problem, get a patch from your doctor, or buy sea bands at your friendly pharmacy before you travel so you are prepared. When in doubt, always have Dramamine or Bonine on hand just in case you might need it.
The mechanical problems plagued us the last day at sea, and most of all the last night at sea. All 4 ship generators died around 10:30 am that last day. Our family had been to morning Mass onboard and my husband and I were catching a late breakfast when all of a sudden the ship went silent. I suspect the problems started during the night because our stateroom seemed warmer than usual when we got up, suggesting the air conditioning was already compromised. To make a long story short, we were adrift for awhile, complete with stalled elevators and dark corridors, although at no point were we in any danger. In time the mechanics and engineers onboard were able to get things going well enough to get the ship moving again, but not so completely repaired that the ship could run the air conditioning. And so, as the day wore on the ship got progressively hotter until by evening it was pretty well sweltering in the staterooms and the public rooms were not much better. How people coped with the circumstances may say as much about the passengers as the crew. Call us weird, but we sort of viewed it as an adventure. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was interesting and it brought out a spirit of cooperation among the passengers. Through all of this I might point out that the ship put on full lunch and dinner service (with free beer and wine thrown in), and after dinner they put on 3 (not the usual 2, but 3) shows in the theater, under the lights with the performers in full costume (I cannot imagine how hot they must have been) and after the cruise director, Mike came out and thanked everyone who came to the shows for being good sports and making the best of a bad situation.
The crew kept free pop and bottled water flowing for the rest of the night. We slept in our stateroom as usual (yes it was hot; we managed) and so did our boys, but our girls joined the throngs of passengers who elected to sleep out on deck, or in foyers, stairwells and the like. All the doors on the ship were propped open to allow in as much cool air as possible and the ship turned into a spontaneous gigantic slumber party. Lots of people were really angry and upset, but we saw others who were laughing and if not having the best night of their lives, were clearly making the best of an unfortunate turn of events.
Probably everyone was glad to disembark the next morning because the ship was undeniably uncomfortable, but for our family at least, that last night onboard did not take away the fact that we had a great cruise. Would we cruise Norwegian again? You bet (we are – next June). I hope Majesty gets the repairs she needs to sail again with confidence that passengers won’t deal with a last night like we had, especially since such mishaps scare off plenty of people from sailing again, or at least from sailing on this particular ship.
I am happy to answer any questions you might have; feel free send me an email.
ALBE Travel International