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Kimber Sterling

Age: 38

Occupation:Sales

Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Wind

Sailing Date: August 6th, 2001

Itinerary: Alaska

Kimber Sterling

My wife and I honeymooned on the Wind’s 8/6/01 Alaska (Glacier Bay) cruise.  We had read every review of the Wind that we could find of the web.  Though the reviews initially concerned us, we ultimately decided that the things that most of the reviews complained of weren’t likely to ruin our trip.  Also, we had increased our expectations based on what seemed to us to be a trend towards more positive reviews during 2001, since the acquisition by Star and the conversion to FreeStyle.   We had a wonderful time and found the ship and its staff to meet most of our expectations.  Areas where there were shortcomings (noted below) were not sufficient to significantly detract from the overall experience. 

THE SHIP

The ship itself was clean and in good shape.  The layout is a bit weird (as many have reported), but we found an easy and pleasant way to avoid the floors that could not be easily traversed from one end of the ship to the other:  We simply used the outdoor Promenade Deck to get front and back and then the stairs from there.  We really didn’t have any difficulty with the layout.

There was something else that seemed strange vs. other ships (Princess’ Star and Sun) we’ve recently cruised on.  The disco and many of the bars were more thoroughfares than separate (and cozy) destinations.  This might have been to accommodate the massive amounts of windows that are in virtually all public rooms.  And if this is the case, it was worth the trade off.  But I did feel something was missing in terms of intimacy in the public rooms/bars.  My wife felt the opposite, that the openness was nice. 

The stateroom (standard outside) was better than those we’d had on Princess.  A real usable separate sitting area near the windows was great for playing cards, etc.  We really liked the cabins.  The bathroom was small as others have reported, but not a big deal.  (And I’m 6’5”.)  Obviously space is a tradeoff, and we appreciated the sitting area more than we would have a larger bathroom.

My favorite things about the ship were:  the big promenade (3.5 laps/mile), the windows (they were everywhere which was great given the scenery of an Alaskan cruise), the stateroom and the numerous dining locations (more about that below).   The negatives to the ship:  not as grand as some bigger ships (no atrium).  That’s about it.  The ship was full but rarely felt crowded, except at predictable rush times at the restaurants.

THE FOOD/FREESTYLE DINING

I loved not bringing dressy clothes.  Some people did dress up, but they were in the minority.  Just as pair of cotton pants and a decent shirt/shoes were fine.  I also really enjoyed eating when and where I wanted, rather than the less flexible traditional approach.  We ate dinner at 5:30 some nights and 9:30 others, depending on whether we were planning to have a late night (no port the next morning) or an earlier one. 

The food was good.  Not great, but good.  Not much different than what we experienced on Princess.  (We don’t normally eat so much heavy food, and very much appreciated the fact that there were recipes reproduced from Cooking Light magazine on all menus.   These were typically tasty and lower fat.)

The food was always served hot.  The soups were generally very good.  The breads were also very good, but were occasionally served a bit stale when sliced.  (I think they sliced up too much bread at a time, hours before serving it.) 

The deserts were usually quite good.  And coffee, espresso, etc. was good (and potent!…we were up pretty late after enjoying it). 

We tried the Bistro (the French restaurant with a $10 cover charge per person) the last night.  You need to book this a few days in advance if you want a primetime dinner (7-8pm) or the day of if you can wait until 9:30 or so, like we did).  We found the Bistro’s food to be of a higher quality.  It was worth doing one or two nights.

We also ate at the Trattoria, the ship’s Italian restaurant.  We liked our lunch there.  Good pasta, etc.  But mostly, we ate in one of the two main restaurants (Four Season or Terraces) for lunch and dinner as the menu usually offers some appealing options for us.    

For breakfast, we ate in the Sports Bar (buffet) most of the time.  It was open until a bit later than the other restaurants which was convenient when we weren’t moving too quickly in the morning.  It did get a bit crowded (predictably since it was the only open restaurant from 10-10:30).  But even then, we were able to get a table all but one morning when we ate outside near the swimming pool.

The deckside BBQ (salmon steaks, chicken, etc.) was another very good option.  We had beautiful weather in Alaska (no rain at all) and enjoyed eating outside.

We also enjoyed breakfast in our room a couple of mornings.  Simple menu, but convenient and on-time.  (You can order from a menu you leave on your door like you would in a hotel.)

In the food category should probably be the drinks at the bars.  Following a suggestion we’d read in a review, we “smuggled” a bottle of liquor on the boat in our suitcases.  So, we didn’t buy a whole lot of drinks on boards.  However, the ones we did buy were noticeably stronger than those on Princess’ ships. 

Overall the food was maybe a shade below Princess, but still fine.  (Our goal is to try not to gain a bunch of weight on a cruise anyway, so we try not to make the food the entire focus.  For those who evaluate the cruise based largely on the food, they can probably do better than NCL.) 

THE SERVICE

There has been much written about the service one gets via the FreeStyle system where you’re not assigned to a consistent waiter.  We found the service to be less friendly than when we’ve had a specific waiter team for a week.  For the most part, that didn’t bother us.  We’re not looking to be best friends with our waiters anyway.  But most waiters were pleasant and some were more friendly than that.  We did have one waiter that was rude in that he didn’t even greet us.  That was the only unacceptable experience we had and we filled out a comment card to address this shortfall. 

In short, we found the benefits of FreeStyle (dining flexibility) far outweighed the only negative, less friendly service. 

Our cabin steward was friendly.  (I think they still regularly get extra tips and continue to be motivated to “bond” with their passengers.)

The bar staff was courteous and attentive, as their compensation is still based on moving drinks.

THE ENTERTAINMENT

We were surprised not to like the entertainment as much as we thought we would.  The troupe that performed the shows (Smokey Joe’s Café, etc.) was ok.  But they were not great.  There were sound problems (mics cutting in and out) and the singing was inconsistent.  The music was also before our time. 

The comedian and the singer (George someone) were very good though.   So we saw about ½ of the shows.

Part of the reason we were quick to bail on marginal shows was the fun we were having in the casino.  The blackjack game was player friendly with good rules: double any two cards, double after split, dealer stands on soft 17, etc.   There was also a good cut card (out of 6 decks, usually little more than one was cut off.  Never more than 1.5 decks).  Some of the dealers were fun to talk with.  Others minded their own business which was fine too.

MISC.

Debarkation was easy.  The only bad part was the announcements that started about 7:30am.  We had breakfast in our room (room service) and left the room around 9am to play cards in a lounge while we waited for our luggage tag color to be called.  It was nice not to be kicked out of our stateroom.  Much more leisurely than other cruises we’ve been on.

The ports of call were fun, but only a taste of Alaska.  The best sights were seen from the ship.  Definitely bring the telephoto lens and the binoculars.  As has been mentioned elsewhere, the shore excursions are overpriced.  This did not stop us from booking one in each port.  Our favorite was the Tatoosh Island kayaking in Ketchikan.  Very beautiful.  The Mendenhall glacier whitewater rafting trip was not great.  It’s a pretty tame river if you’ve ever rafted before.  And my wife and I both were disappointed to have much of the river lined by modern homes.  Not what we expected in the Alaskan nature…  And the horseback ride in Scagway was only ok as well.   Better than not getting out at all, but not wonderful scenery.  Also, very boring to ride a horse in single file for 2 hours if you have any horse riding skills at all (even if only watching Gunsmoke).

We saw whales from the boat!  I gather that this happened a few times, but we only made it to the deck at the right time once.  But that time there were at least 6 humpbacks traveling together not far from our boat.  Very fun and thrilling to see.  And the captain essentially stopped the boat for about 20 minutes so we could watch.  There was also a pod of killer whales spotted.

I’m sure I’m forgetting other things I should mention.  But I wanted to get this posted quickly as I know that current reviews are most helpful…or at least were to us.

We liked NCL’s FreeStyle so well that we would have a difficult time going back to the old way.  Obviously that’s what NCL is hoping for. 

Email me with any questions.  I’d be happy to respond.  Happy sailing!

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