Number of Cruises: 10
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sea
Sailing Date: December 14th, 2001
This was my 10th cruise. NCL offered deals for this cruise that were unbelievably cheap, and I have wanted to try out Freestyle Cruising for a while, so armed with plenty of frequent flyer miles, an old friend and I set off to Miami. (My wife couldn’t get the time off work, but we have another long cruise in a couple of weeks, so she was not that disappointed). I only booked this cruise two weeks ahead of time, and grabbed a Category X2, which is an Outside Guarantee. This was my first time sailing with NCL, but my 5th (gulp) cruise this year. I have previously sailed with Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Princess as well as a couple of other lines. I will say up front that we had a very enjoyable cruise on the Sea.
I live in San Diego, and my friend lives in San Francisco, so we ended up taking a red-eye flight from San Francisco into Miami and arrived the day of sailing. Normally, I would stay overnight, but this had to be a quick trip, and luckily everything worked out well flight wise. We arrived at the Miami airport before 10:00 AM, and grabbed a taxi to the port.
Check-in was a little different than I am used to. We got to the pier at about 10:45 AM, and had to wait for about 15 minutes until we were allowed to go through the x-ray machine. Once past that, we were checked in, given our cabin assignment and boarding passes (hand written) and directed to a waiting area. NCL started boarding the ship at 11:30 AM. On this ship, we were not given a “sail and sign card.” When we got on board, we needed to go to the casino to establish our on board credit. Every time we purchased something, be it a drink or what not, we just put our room number on the check. Security was very strict while boarding. We needed to show our boarding pass and photo ID twice between check-in and boarding the ship. As we boarded, we were escorted to our cabin; we thought it was a nice touch that is missing from most other cruise lines these days.
We had cabin 2014, a Category G outside cabin on the Biscayne deck, right near the forward staircase. On this deck, the outside cabins have portholes and not picture windows. The cabin itself was the smallest I have been in a long time, but it was fine for a short cruise. I knew going in that I was likely to get a cabin on this deck since I didn’t pay very much, but that is part of a guarantee. Storage space was also decent for a short cruise. I am now totally spoiled, and prefer a balcony cabin, but the Sea has no cabins with a balcony at all. Even so, I don’t think I would splurge for one on a three-day cruise.
For a 13 year-old ship, the Sea was in pretty good shape. We did not notice any strange smells, the elevators worked for the most part (although we only used them 3 times the entire cruise), but the carpets did show a good amount of wear and tear. The ship’s layout is extremely easy to navigate. The bottom two (Biscayne and Atlantic) passenger decks have staterooms only. The Main deck has staterooms as well as the beauty salon, shore excursion desk and the Purser’s desk. The two main dining rooms, Four Seasons and Seven Seas, are on this deck as well. Continuing our way upward, the International deck is where the main indoor activities take place. The main showroom called the Cabaret lounge is all the way forward, and the secondary showroom called the Stardust Lounge is all the way aft. In between you will find the shops, Internet café, video arcade, and of course the casino. The next three decks, Promenade, Star, and Norway all have cabins. The Promenade deck doe s have a wrap around promenade with a basketball court at the very aft of the ship. The Norway deck includes the disco, Boomer’s at the very aft as well. The pool deck is next with two pools and two Jacuzzi’s as well as Lickety Splits, where ice cream was served daily, and at the aft end, the Big Apple Café where you could have buffet style meals. The top most deck, the Sun Deck has the very small fitness area and Spa, as well as the Le Bistro restaurant (an alternate dining venue) and two lounges.
I love Freestyle! The service that we experienced on this cruise was very good, much better than I anticipated. Our Cabin Steward, Leon (we never did find out where he was from) did an excellent job keeping our cabin clean. I only saw him three times during the entire cruise. We ate at the same dining room (Seven Seas) for our meals, but had different wait staff each time, and all were very accommodating and helpful. Anthony from the Philippines was especially good. We also ended up eating at Le Bistro twice and had the same waiter, Yaskul from Turkey both times; he was very good as well. When my wife and I were on Princess earlier this year, we chose their Personal Choice dining, and really enjoyed it. I enjoyed Freestyle more since I did not have to bring any dress clothes (it also made packing much, much easier). I did notice that on the optional formal night that there were no tuxedos, but a majority of the ship did dress in semi-formal attire. I did not feel out of place at all however. The hostesses for the Seven Seas dining room were great, we asked for a table for two at every meal, and were granted the request without a problem. The only time we every noticed a slip in the service was at breakfast the last morning where it seemed like the staff were preoccupied. Outside of that, I could not have asked for more. NCL does add a $10 per person per day charge to your account for gratuities, but you could take them off, reduce or increase them, as you deem appropriate. However, we did tip our room service waiter in cash each time a delivery was made to our cabin. All in all, I thought NCL did a very good job service wise.
In the main dining room, the food was very good, and we did have one breakfast, two lunches, and one dinner there. We did eat at Le Bistro for dinner twice, and thought the food there was excellent. We give the Big Apple Café a mixed review however. We had a good breakfast, but a very mediocre lunch there. Even though we got to the Café right when they opened for lunch at 11:30 AM (OK brunch, we had just woken up) the food still wasn’t very warm. Overall though, we definitely enjoyed what NCL served.
I did have one massage at the Spa. This ship was built before the rage in Spas, so the Sea only has two massage rooms. NCL uses Mandara for its spa services instead of Steiner (although Steiner has recently bought into Mandara). The Massage was very nice, and there was no hard sell at all for their products.
Ports of Call
This cruise had two ports, Nassau and NCL’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay. We walked all around Nassau, including walking from “downtown” to and over the bridge to Paradise Island. We did end up taking a water taxi back to the ship from Paradise Island ($3 per person each way). During our day in Nassau we did some shopping and sight seeing, and had a very pleasant day. Our day at Great Stirrup Cay was very pleasant as well. We took a late tender over to the island and got some sun. When we had enough, we took the tender back to the ship. The island did not seem crowded at all, and the weather was perfect.
The entertainment was very good. We enjoyed the comedians on board as well as The Liars Club. The Jean-Ann Ryan Company dancers were also good. I did try my luck in the Casino and did not do very well. I won a little of my money back on the last night though and that took away some of the sting. Bingo and one art auction were held, but we did not attend. The on board entertainment seemed to be a strong point for NCL.
We thought that debarkation was handled very well. Freestyle allows you to stay in your cabin until your color is called. Our color was called while we were still eating breakfast. We finished eating, went back to the cabin, got our bags, and off we went. Since it was a short cruise, we only had carry on bags, so after a five or so minute wait for immigration, we went right though customs and out to the street. We were in a taxi before 9:30 AM on our way back to the airport.
We had a nice long weekend, and would like to do this type of cruise again. I look forward to trying out Freestyle on a longer cruise as well. In fact because of Freestyle, NCL will definitely have a chance to welcome me back soon.