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Age: 49

Occupation:Business Owner

Number of Cruises: 12

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Sea

Sailing Date: October 23rd, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

Repeat after me: "It only cost $399 for 7 days." Now memorize that mantra - you're going to need it.

First, let me color what your about to read. I'm a veteran of 11 other cruises on Royal Caribbean, Princess, Disney, Carnival, and the now defunct Regency lines. This was my first NCL cruise. My expectations are high, but as a business owner I realize that stuff happens, and how it's dealt with by the underlings speaks volumes about upper management.

Now the positives. The ship may be small and showing it's age, but it's well maintained both mechanically and decoratively. The crew, for the most part, seemed friendly and genuinely eager to please, and without that sickly sweet attitude.

The guest entertainers were fabulous. We had a singer, magic team, and comedian. All were exemplary. The in-house entertainment and shows, on the other hand, were not that great. See below.

Now, unfortunately, the negatives.

Their check-in procedure was severely understaffed. It took close 90 minutes just to get to the front of the line.

The restaurant/dining room (s) were surprisingly sub standard. The food taste, choices, and service was mediocre to dismal. Basics, like dirty silverware, agonizingly slow service, and rude waiters were quite a surprise. There were a couple of decent waiters, but they were not exemplary - not "over the top" as other cruise lines.

The food reminded me of Holiday Inn banquet food, and choices were limited. Although they had a BBQ on deck almost every day, can you imagine not offering a BBQ chicken sandwich? Meals in the dining room sounded creative and upscale, but some were either overcooked, undercooked, or tasted bad. I had breakfast one morning and ordered scrambled eggbeaters. It was served mostly liquefied. Where do you place blame, on the kitchen for undercooking it, or on the waiter for serving it?

I found a lot of shore excursions were way overpriced - more than double what we'd pay for the exact same thing once on shore. I expect a markup, but not to the extent of what we saw. But be careful on your selection and barter, barter, barter. Even with experience, you can still get burned - and I sheepishly admit I did.

Avoid the Belize reef snorkeling excursion, booked at the dock (not onboard). They lied to us about how long before we left (they said 30 minutes - it was 2 hours), then tried to keep us on the boat while they booked last minute walkups. A number of us were ready to demand a refund. We were taken upwind of a submerged reef, then told to jump from the boat. The waves were at least 4' high, so it was really rough trying to keep your balance and water out of your snorkel. They do not supply the normal yellow flotation collars you see with most snorkel outfits. They offered the orange life jackets, and suggested we tie them around our waist. Then, they wanted us to swim about 1/2 mile across the reef, so they could pick us up on the other side. We were too exhausted to fully enjoy the underwater view. Then, they took us to a "developed" beach, which was really hard-packed crushed sea shells (no sand). The water was murky, and no one swam. Oh, and the bar didn't serve alcohol.

Keep in mind that the ship does not dock in Belize or Cancun - it uses tender services to shuttle people from the ship to land and back. They had to cancel the Cancun visit because of rough seas - and even though it was a beautiful day, the ocean was too rough to have two ships side by side trying to transfer people.

Be prepared for well-worn deck chairs and very used pool towels. Although I believe they were clean, some were still tattered and stained.

The in-house entertainment shows were okay, if you keep in mind that the stage is painfully small. Dancers hit their heads on the stage lighting, and one of the 3 review shows were not very well executed. The 50's and 70's reviews were good, but the opening night review was embarrassing.

Having said all of that, I actually had a fine time. Cruising works for me, and I was able to ignore a lot of the negatives and manage my expectations.

The secret? Well, hey, I only spent $399.

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