Number of Cruises: n/a
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Wind
Sailing Date: March 31st, 2001
Freestyle Cruising on the Norwegian Wind
On March 31, 2001, I went on a 7 night cruise on the Norwegian Wind as a member of a group of travel agents. This was my first chance to experience how the new "Freestyle" program worked. In a nutshell... it worked far better than I thought it would.
The basics of the program is to give passengers a number of dining options. For dinner, you can dine at a number of different "restaurants" within a stated time frame.
Four Seasons and The Terrace dining rooms have traditional table service. You can dine anytime between the hours of 5:30 PM and Midnight, but you must enter the dining room by 10 PM. If you prefer traditional dining schedules, the Maitre'D will assign you a specific table, waiter and time for every night of the cruise... along with other passengers. The people I talked with said that not many passengers do this. We ate at various times, arriving at the dining room as early as 5:30 and as late as 10 PM and the longest we had to wait for a table was 5 minutes. The Maitre'D may ask if you would like to be seated with other people, but all requests for specific sized tales were granted without fuss.
The Four Season's dining room had been dramatically changed when the Norwegian Wind was stretched. The room now is ship-wide and with floor to ceiling windows on both sides and a raised ceiling, it is an airy and bright room. This is a huge improvement over the original design. Many of the tables are now for 2 or 4 people. The mix of table sizes is very good so that no one had to wait more than a few minutes for a suitable size table. The Four Seasons is home to the breakfast buffet while you can have traditional waiter service in The Terraces dining room.
The Sun Terrace dining room is now the Trattoria Italian Restaurant serving lunch and dinner... reservations accepted but not necessary. They have a standard menu that never changes, but they have additional daily "specials" that make it possible for you to eat there every day and not have the same food. We ate there 3 times during the week and the food was very good.
The Sports Bar and Grill has been radically renovated. The long bar along then back wall has been removed and replaced with a buffet line. The outdoor eating area has been enclosed, adding more tables to the dining area. Buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner is served here. Dinner service begins at 5:30 PM and the food is a mix of buffet standards and some very good hot dishes and salads, along with a nightly carving station. The tables are covered with table-cloths and candles are lit... and set with cloth napkins and silverware. It is a nice place to eat when you are not in the mood for full-course meal.
The Le Bistro is a fixture on NCL and this one is the same as the others. I noticed some slight menu changes but nothing worth talking about. Open from 5:30 PM to Midnight, reservations are a good idea. This is the only restaurant on the Norwegian Wind that has an additional "reservation fee" of $10 pp. If you go... don't miss the Chocolate Fondue.
The Pizzeria is a snack bar by the pool. Also by the pool is a BBQ area with 2 huge Weber grills. At lunch and again at dinner, this area is open serving BBQ ribs, chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs, etc. The problem is that seating is very limited. The few times we tried the area, there were no tables available.
There is now only one formal night on the Wind however, contrary to what many expected, this doesn't mean that people "dress down" on the cruise. For the most part, I found that people dressed a little better for dinner than usual and on formal night, most of the men in the dining room were wearing jackets. NCL requests that shorts not be worn on the ship after 6 PM. One man told me the was turned away from the dining room for wearing shorts with the suggestion that he utilize the Sports Bar and Grill.
Other changes ... lots of new help in the dining rooms. I am glad to report that NCL is not eliminating Caribbean-based employees by attrition, but they are hiring many Phillipino, Maylasian and Romanian personnel. In addition, many of the new employees are women and I would say that at least 40% of the wait staff on the Wind are women. Service remains remarkably good in all the dining rooms. There are a lot of new crew members so things may not be as polished as they want, but I have no complaints about the service.
Tips on the Wind are now pre-paid at the rate of $10 per day per person. This is automatically added to your Sail and Sign account so at the end of the week, you need not tip anyone. You can adjust this amount any time you want at the "Reception" desk and if you want, you can personally tip anyone an additional amount in cash. The crew that I talked with said that they were getting the money and it seemed to be working well. The standard 15% is still added to your bar orders.
Freestyle cruising has changed other aspects of the cruise experience. You no longer have a purser's desk... instead you have a Reception Desk and an Accounting Desk. On disembarkation day you no longer have to get up before the sun to have breakfast. Buffets and waiter service breakfasts are available from 6 AM to 9 AM and you can even order room service Continental breakfast if you wish. You do not have to be out of your cabins until 11 AM so you can go have an early breakfast, sit by the pool then return to your cabin to clean up and change before you leave the ship.
In short. .. I like Freestyle. I like having the options of eating when, where and with who I want. I enjoy having a table for 2 so I can have a quiet meal with a friend or sharing a table for 8 with members of a group or just meeting new people.
The ship itself is in excellent shape having just come out of dry-dock 2 months ago. We did miss a port (Grand Cayman) when the Captain announced that we were running on 3 engines instead of 4 due to the fact that some spare parts had not been delivered to the ship on the day of departure. This was compounded by a strong current which would have made us arrive too late in the day. NCL credited every cabin with a $100 credit.