Number of Cruises: 5
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Dream
Sailing Date: April 28th, 2003
First, I would like to say that my wife and I are very experienced travel agents. We have both traveled extensively and are use to things not always working out as planned when you travel. Our attitude is, its all part of the experience.
We recently returned from a cruise aboard NCL's Norwegian Dream. This was our first experience with this cruise line. We selected this cruise first off because Scandinavia and Russia is a place we both wanted to see, in a relatively short period of time we had (two weeks) a cruise seemed like the best way to do so. We chose NCL, also because of the Freestyle casual dining which appealed to us and the itinerary matched our holiday time May).
That being said, to say we were disappointed was an understatement.
When we arrived in Dover, we were full of expectation, because, as I said, we were eager to travel to Scandinavia and Russia, Russia being the main reason we chose this cruise. Our hopes were dashed quickly, when we were handed a memo from the cruise line which stated simply due to ice in the Gulf of Finland, this cruise was going to have to by-pass that region and therefore St Petersburg (and the side tour of Moscow we planned to do) Helsinki and Tallinn were all eliminated. The replacement destinations were, Warnemunde Germany (for a side trip to Berlin), Bergen Norway, and Amsterdam Holland. The rest of the itinerary, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo would remain.
So within five minutes of our embarkation, our hopes of seeing Russia, were dashed.
Let me make it clear I understand the need for passenger safety, but what I do not understand is why NCL does not advise in its literature that there is a distinct possibility that the spring cruise to Russia and Scandinavia may not go, so people can make informed choices. We are experience travel agents, not experience seamen. We rely on the cruise line to do that. In hind sight, I now understand why no other cruise line does this itinerary this early in the season.
So the heart of our cruise was cut out before we even boarded the ship. When we (and many other passengers, many of whom became hostile) asked what the options were, we were informed by the NCL staff that either we traveled or lost the money, as per the terms and conditions. There is no doubt that is what the terms and conditions state, so what choice did we have but to travel.
Things went from bad to worse. As we boarded the vessel we were given a questionnaire regarding SARS, asking us if we had been to Asia or Toronto in recent days. Well, we are from Toronto. We were pulled to one side in full view of other passengers and told to wait for the ships doctor. Again I want to make it clear I am all for passenger safety and have no problems with answering any questions, particularly since neither my wife and I had any symptoms of SARS and both had undergone doctors exams and had a note from our family doctor for just such a situation.
It was the fact that we were being embarrassed in full view of other passengers. We felt NCL could have taken us aside and into another area where we could have discussed this in private.
So our NCL cruise we had planned for all year was turning into anything but the Dream vacation we hoped.
We took this cruise because the itinerary was full and active. We are active people. The new itinerary left little to be desired when compared to the original format.
First, while cruising through the Kiel Canal, there was a scheduled tour of Hamburg which we never intended to take. But the stop the next day in Warnemunde/Restock was made so people could do a day trip to Berlin. My wife and I have been to Berlin and did not wish to go back, so we toured the small fishing village of Warnemunde and then took a train to Restock fifteen minutes away. Nice yes, but hardly what we had hoped for. Restock being in former East Germany where the economic boom has yet to take place, there was little to see other than an 15th century church in desperate need of repair and a few shops.
Our first major city was Stockholm. We departed Monday from Dover and it was now Friday before we had a major city center we felt was worth seeing. Not the active itinerary we hoped. You could argue we could have done the Berlin tour and break things up, but considering we had been there, we felt the price was more than it was worth ($269 usd per person). So for four days, aside from our day trip to Restock we were on board ship.
Stockholm was very nice, but I have say the ship offered tour left a little to be desired. We did the City tour and Vasa museum, a three hour tour which was made up a 45 minute drive around the city and the rest at the Vasa museum. Interesting, but not what we hoped. We ended up jumping off the bus and wondering on our own and had a great time in the Old city.
The Copenhagen tour also left a little to be desired as the Copenhagen stop was not on its usual day. We did the Walking and Shopping Tour. We were in Copenhagen (following another day at sea after leaving Stockholm). It was a Sunday. The first part of the tour was fine, but half way through, we found ourselves sitting in a pub which the tour guide took us to and we soon came to the conclusion that she was stalling for time. The reason....the shopping part of the tour was not possible as all the stores were closed. Had we been told this in advance we would have chose another tour.
In fact the only tour we did take that we thought we got full value from was the day tour we did up the Flam railway in Bergen Norway, which was one of the added ports. We finally gave up on the cruise tours when we got to Amsterdam (another replacement city we had both been too) and saw the city on our own and had a good time.
We found the Freestyle dinning, while in theory is a nice idea, in practice left more than a little to be desired. There are three main restaurants The Four Seasons amidships, a second restaurant serving the same menu in the aft and an Italian restaurant also aft. We found the Italian restaurant to be the best.
There is also a Sports Buffet and a pizza restaurant on deck. With Freestyle dining and the fact that this ship seemed more crowded than any other I had ever been on, we were forced to line up sometimes for over half an hour for meals, particularly on days at sea when the ship was full. The food at the Sports Buffet was poor and at times almost inedible. With line ups so long at the restaurants for sea days(5 days at sea as opposed to 2.5 on the original itinerary) we gave up eating lunch in the main restaurants and went to the pizza buffet.
As I said, this ship was vastly overcrowded compared to others I have been on. The staff service ranked from good in some cases to poor in others. In fact several crew members stated to us they hated the free style dining as they did not make money on tips. So it appears the service, with this attitude is suffering.
In fact, there was a general attitude towards the passengers on this cruise. Once, we watched the girls at the pursers desk talking to a passenger who was politely explaining to them a few problems he was having. This man was polite and courteous and after he quietly explained his feelings he thanked them for listening. As soon as his back was turned the staff laughed at him in full view of other passengers. Not the customer service one would hope.
Our cabin was very large, outside suite with picture frame window and sitting area and very nice. The ships steward kept this room spotless and were polite at all times. However the bathroom always had a heavy musty smell coming from it which got worse as the cruise continued.
We are not big on shows so I cannot tell you what they were like. There was a jazz duo in the foreword observation lounge that was nice.
We found it difficult to find quiet time on board, as the vessel was over crowded, and often spent time in our room. If you are a tv junky forget it. There was CNN and a movie every night and in between reruns or two US tv shows shown over and over again.
That being said, we had an OK vacation, but it was more because we were trying to make the best of it than anything NCL was trying to do. There was a general 'take it or leave it', 'if you don't like it too bad' attitude on board that seemed to get worse as the cruise went on. An attitude, which I must say we have never felt before on any other ship we have been on.
To sum it up, we felt the Norwegian Dream was a smooth ship sailing ship, with good facilities, had the ship had perhaps 400 less passengers. The Dream has been lengthened in the mid 90's and had more cabins added few additional facilities. The ship is clean and well kept, but lacking in personality and the service is average at best. We began the cruise on a bad note with the itinerary change, and instead of trying to make amends with better service, we were offered $150.00 credit per person (less for inside cabins) in the form of compensation. Instead of trying to turn the service level up a notch, we found it at best average at worst, poor. The ships passenger services are poorly run and there is a general take it or leave it attitude on board.
I feel NCL should updates its sales literature, brochure and websites to reflect the possibility that there may be ice in the Gulf of Finland in the spring to allow people to make informed decisions BEFORE they book this cruise.
I would rate this ship at 3 stars out of 5 at best and could not recommend this to anyone of my friends or clients.