Occupation:Human Resources Manager
Number of Cruises: 20+
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Dream
Sailing Date: September 10th, 2002
Cruise Line: NCL
Sailing Date: September 10th, 2002
To paraphrase an old pen-pal of mine, "It was the best of cruises, it was the worst of cruises". This was undoubtedly the least satisfying of our twenty, plus, cruises. Having said that, we still had a wonderful time. It was, after all, it was a fifteen day cruise with great ports of call and eight sea days. Some of the details and our impressions are as follows:
Pre-Cruise and Embarkation: Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) was offering two nights in a London hotel, and transfer to the ship, "free", if cruise was fully deposited 180 days prior to sailing. We arranged for our own air, which meant we were responsible for our own transfer from airport to hotel (still a substantial savings). The hotel was Thistle Hotel’s Marble Arch, a very nice downtown hotel whose staff at check-in was completely overwhelmed by the large number (rumored to be 400+) of guests, most arriving early in the morning (we were there at 9:15 AM). They did provide a waiting area with tables, chairs and liquid refreshments, and where we could leave our luggage whilst we set out to explore the city. We did that and arrived back at about 1:30 PM and our room key was waiting for us. On Embarkation Day, we boarded a bus at about 9:30 AM and were on board the ship before noon. NCL had arranged for our luggage to be picked up outside our hotel room and delivered directly to our cabin onboard ship. Time from bus to ship was less than 15 minutes (Way To Go! NCL). Even for non-Latitude Members the time was under 40 minutes. We do not know if timing was different later in the day. NCL did have tables with coffee, tea, juice and cookies in the waiting area. So, we guess they were anticipating some folks having a bit of a wait, before getting aboard. All luggage was in our cabin before the life boat drill. Life Boat Drill was somewhat haphazard and inconsistent from station to station that we could observe, from our station. No roll call, no one checking proper wearing of life jackets by passengers (at our station).
The "Virus": As soon as we entered the terminal building, a NCL representative handed us a sheet of paper informing us, "... that approximately 15% of the passengers on board the previous sailing of Norwegian Dream experienced a benign gastrointestinal infection." They stated that, "NCL’s Director of Public Health & Ship Quality Control is currently on board and overseeing the preventive measures taking place." Although we did not ask, we later heard that NCL’s stance was that anyone not sailing would be the same as their not showing up (i.e. no refund). More about the "virus" later.
Ship Overview: The Norwegian Dream entered service in 1992 as the MS Dreamward. The ship was ‘stretched" in 1998 when a 130 feet section was added midship. Her current length is 754 feet, beam is 94 feet, draft 23 feet. Gross Registered Tonnage (GRT) is 50,764; there are 10 passenger decks; cruise speed from four diesel engines is 21 knots; ship is fully stabilized; guest capacity is 1,748 (double occupancy) ; she carries a crew of 700. We found the layout of the public areas of the ship poor, from a traffic flow point of view. From a mechanical operation point of view, the ship is just fine; we found everything worked as expected. The cleanliness of the ship was first rate. How much was due to the "virus" is conjecture. This was the first time we observed crew washing the walls with a solution that smelled like bleach.. Our cabin window (exterior) was washed at least five times. Janet found the temperature, throughout most of the ship, on the cool side; Ray thought it was fine. Our cabin (6033) was on Atlantic Deck, directly below the Promenade Deck and the ship’s Main Lobby. We never heard any noise from above, nor from our neighbors on either side. One thing we really missed on this ship is that there are no deck chairs on the Promenade Deck to enable on to sit and watch the sea and/or the people go by.
Shore Excursions/Ports of Call: We will not spend a lot of time reviewing the shore excursions and/or ports of call since there were many options at each port. We would be happy to answer any specific questions via e-mail. NCL seemed to do a very good job with shore excursions. The only complaints we heard were that the all day tours were long and tiring. Something that we think one should expect from a 8-9 hour bus tour. Here are some very limited observation from each port:
· LeHavre, France (gateway for Paris) - Sunny, about 75 degrees F. - A large commercial port which contains the cruise terminal is located quite a distance from the center of town. Taxis were plentiful. There were a few vendors in a terminal building, but this was far from a shopping experience. Most businesses would not accept U.S. dollars and accepted credit cards only if the purchase was above a 10-20 dollar minimum. Best to have euros.
· Dublin, Ireland - Clear, sunny and warm, about 78 degrees F. - Another commercial port; pedestrian traffic prohibited, except in immediate vicinity of ship. NCl, in conjunction with local travel bureau provided free shuttle bus service into center of town, at about twenty minute intervals. A very agreeable process, and the price was refreshing. Speaking of price, the official currency of the Irish Republic is the euro; some places will accept U.S. dollars. Traffic in Dublin is quite congested; something to bear in mind if setting out for independent touring. A folkloric dance group came on board for an afternoon show, which we heard was quite entertaining.
· Greenock, Scotland (gateway for Glasgow or Edinburg) - Early overcast and foggy, cleared by early afternoon to quite pleasant - A commercial port, but possible to walk out to main road (200 yards) and get a taxi into town, or walk (twenty-five minutes). Greenock is a "used-to-be" town, not much present tourist interest. U.S. dollars not widely accepted; UK Pound Sterling the official currency. We were greeted in port by a piper in full regalia; NCL again arranged to have a folkloric group come on board for a show; this one we can personally attest was very good. As we prepared to sail, a youth pipe and drum group entertained us. There was also a contingent of local fire fighters and police carrying a U.S. flag. They had brought some historic and present day fire and rescue apparatus, with lights flashing and sirens sounding. Despite heavy security, (until after the gangway was on board) a sizable contingent of townspeople were allowed onto the pier to bid us farewell. They were waving Scottish flags, and banners expressing well wishes were quite plentiful. As we left the dock, another group of townsfolk were parked and standing along the main road waving farewell. Quite stirring.
· Reykjavik, Iceland - Overcast, cool, showers predicted (no rain materialized) - Another commercial port, sensing a trend. NCL, again with a local tourist board, provided shuttle bus into town (10-15 minute trip, about 4 miles). U.S. dollars pretty widely accepted by merchants. We were again treated to a folkloric show. Captain announces that because of the very unusual high pressure system that has been over us the whole voyage thus far, we will attempt to cruise an inlet of Greenland to view some glaciers that often spawn icebergs. The next day, the high pressure system starts to deteriorate. Captain is still optimistic we will be able to cruise Greenland, despite a developing low pressure system, west of Greenland. Seas are noticeably less docile, but still pretty calm for the North Atlantic. During the next night, the Captain cancels plan for Greenland cruising. The low pressure system intensified and rapidly moved south, meaning we would have to travel through a gale to reach Greenland, with no assurance that we would even be able to enter the inlet, once we got there, due to the weather. Our course was altered to skirt the gale, even so, we experience our roughest seas (minor rocking and rolling); lots of fear/complaints expressed by some passengers. By mid morning seas again Caribbean like, calm, with light/moderate winds. Captain apologizes for missing Greenland, and informs us that a Norwegian trawler (much smaller than our ship) about two hours behind us sank in the gale that we skirted. All 45 crew were rescued by other trawlers in the area.
· St. John’s, Newfoundland - Early
morning mistiness giving way to partly cloudy and very
windy - Another commercial pier, this one only a mile form
center of town. NCL and local tourist board still provide complimentary
shuttle service. We are part of a historic event. This is the first time
ever that three cruise ships are in town at the same time. Since the two
smaller cruise ships (Braemer and Astor) were at the downtown pier, we
had to use the commercial pier. Official currency is
Canadian dollar, but U.S. dollars readily/eagerly
accepted, at varying exchange rates. Two cruise ships
leaving port in close order (Braemer and then us; not sure about
Astor) caused some local traffic jams with locals, on foot and illegally
parked, lining the roads near the harbor channel, bidding us farewell.
There were also many townsfolk on the mountain tops near the harbor’s
· Halifax, Nova Scotia - very foggy as we approach harbor entrance, to the point of requiring use of ship’s fog horn. By the time we reached our berth at historic Pier 21, the fog had dissipated. We were serenaded by a pipe and drum group and welcomed by the Town Crier with a proclamation from the Mayor of Halifax. Pier 21, Canada’s equivalent of Ellis Island, New York, is about a 15 minute walk from downtown (taxis are readily available), via a waterfront boardwalk. There is a very nice assortment of vendors (crafts, clothing, souvenirs) on the lower level of the building, with non-gouging prices. Again official currency is Canadian dollar, but U.S. Dollars readily accepted. There are shops, restaurants, museums along the boardwalk, with a casino at the end opposite the pier (about two miles total distance).
· Sea Days - We were very fortunate
with the weather on this cruise. The North Atlantic
can be very nasty. While we didn’t have clear blue skies and
bright sunshine every day, we only had one day where we did not want to
venture outside due to weather, and most days the seas were similar to
what one encounters in the Caribbean. Not bad for a
fifteen day cruise. Whales were sighted on three
different days, only once by us. NCL had the usual
assortment of sea day activities: napkin folding; wine tasting; port
lectures; cultural/historical lectures (mostly on Vikings and the lands
they visited along our route); a series of money
management lectures; bridge tournaments; casino
tournaments; passenger participation game shows. Of
course there were the ever popular: Art Auctions (had big crowds, somebody
must like them); the "sidewalk" sales, by the various shops; and what
would a cruise be without BINGO! Galley tours were not
held due to the "virus"; Bridge tours were not offered
due to security guidelines.
Cabin 6033, Atlantic Deck: We had booked the cruise via NCL’s website. As Latitude members, we selected a category C cabin and paid for a Category F (special web only promotion); better than an upgrade because you get to pick your cabin location. We then had NCL turn the booking over to our usual travel agent, who managed to get the price lowered even further. Later, when we discovered that this was a Latitude Members Cruise, our travel agent made sure that we also received that on-board ship credit, even though we had already booked through a different promotion. Between booking and sailing, NCL changed Category designations and our cabin was now a Category CC (sort of an upgrade, without changing cabins)
The cabin was quite comfortable and well
configured. There is a double closet, with one closet
allowing for full length articles, and having six
shelves for clothing. The other closet was configured for half length
hanging and had three shelves below for storage and ½ of a fourth shelf
contained the programmable safe. There were two hooks on the outside of
the closets that accommodated hanging jackets, caps,
etc. The two night tables each contained two storage
shelves, and the TV console has three small shelves on
either side of the console below the TV which housed four decent,
not large, sized drawers. There is also a small make up table, with a
drawer, and well lighted mirror that Janet found convenient to use
without having to lean across a full depth counter
top. The bathroom is cruise ship compact, but not
cramped. There are wall mounted dispensers, one above the
sink for hand soap, and two in the shower for shampoo and bath gel; there
is also a built in hair dryer. The shower is "cozy"
for a person of large size (guilty), but not as
uncomfortable as some I’ve had to contend with.
Sleeping arrangements can be configured as two single sized beds, or
one queen sized bed. Either way, the beds are in the center of the room,
with a seating area near the large picture window. This is a convenient
arrangement, since one can sit by the window to read or look out at the
sea, and not need to crawl across the bed. There is
also a drapery that can be drawn between the sitting
area and the bed, allowing one person to sit and read
or watch TV while the other naps or sleeps. Reading lights are well
positioned whether the beds are in queen or single configuration. All
mechanical aspects of the cabin (toilet, sink, shower, air conditioning-
cooling/heating) worked as expected, however extreme temperature changes
required some time.
Public Areas: We did not use the following Public Areas: Beauty Salon; Spa; Video Arcade; Golf Driving net; Ping-Pong area; Medical Center; Wet Bar (swim-up, not open); Internet Cafe; we only used the Casino as a walk through to Stardust Lounge. We will comment on our personal observations of the following:
· Observatory Lounge (Deck 12 forward): Nice venue high above forward portion of ship. A good gathering spot prior to dinner or after dinner for conversation and dancing. Unfortunately, the musical duo, Rhythm of the Night (vocalist and synthesizer) that played there every night played only what they wanted, and without much enthusiasm. Almost every song played was with a samba, cha-cha, or merengue beat, or a waltz tempo. Perhaps it was to give those taking the dance classes a chance to practice.
· Champs Bar (Deck 12 forward): Usually only open in port, in afternoon, in good weather. Could be a nice spot in the Caribbean. The Ice Cream Bar is also located here, open in the late afternoons (no charge).
· Topsiders Bar (Deck 11 mid): Another outside bar that was open only during daylight hours. It was busiest in nice weather, but also picked up some action due to its proximity to the Pizzeria. This is also the location of the Hagen Daz ice cream bar (extra charge).
· Monte Carlo Casino (Deck 10 mid): A fairly active venue, but never seemed very crowded, nor loud. Biggest crowds were passengers passing through on their way to/from the Stardust Lounge.
· Dazzles Night Club (Deck 10 mid):
Right across the central stairway/elevator bank from
the Casino, and sandwiched between the Casino and
Lucky’s bar, this room running the full width of the ship had a lot of
walk through traffic, but not many folks stopped. This was also the
locale for the disco and Karaoke. Karaoke drew a few "wanna
be’s", the disco even fewer, often times, only the DJ.
· Luck’s Bar (Deck 10 mid): This was home base for a very talented duo called Me and Mr. Jones (vocalist and guitar/synthesizer). This room is shaped like a large "U" with the stage tucked in at the closed end where it is difficult to see from most of the tables/chairs. In addition, there is the same walk through traffic on the "legs" of the "U". This duo would have been much better suited to the first class venue of the Observatory Lounge. Another down side to this location is its proximity to Dazzles. Each night as the DJ was trying to pump some life into the Disco, the loud sounds infiltrated Mr. Lucky’s, which always seemed to have a good crowd.
· Shops of the Galleria (Deck 10, aft): Not much to be said about the shopping area on the Norwegian Dream. It is tucked away at the aft end of the ship, and unless you are particularly looking for them, or heading for the aft elevators/stairs, you might never see them. The Photo gallery is in the same complex of shops, but it at least borders on Lucky’s Bar. The shops carry the normal array of goods, at typical shipboard prices. Of course there are the inevitable "sidewalk sales", "gold by the inch" and "clearance" sales. At least on this ship, probably due to location, the "sales" are not much of a hindrance to traffic flow.
· Stardust Lounge (Deck 10, forward): This is the main show room of the ship, also the gathering point for shore excursions. In the afternoons of sea days, this is also a movie theater (never seemed very well attended on the days we looked in). The seating is fixed banquettes/sofas and movable chairs; tables are fixed to the floor. The arrangement of the Banquettes/sofas makes for difficulty in trying to traverse through the rows to interior seats. Sight lines to the stage, except for the very center seats have the possibility of a support pole interfering with one’s view. Service staff trying to deliver drinks during the show are a real distraction since they cannot maneuver through the hodgepodge seating arrangement. The lighting system seems adequate, and the stage allows for some interesting special effects. As we have found on most cruise ships, the sound crew almost always has the volume very loud for the musicians, often making hearing the singers difficult. There are cabins forward of this show room, so there are occasional passengers passing through during the entertainment. Since the passageways on either side of the stage are used by the performers as dressing areas, sometimes these passengers are turned around by the staff and then they have to traipse back through the show room. This is also the venue for Bingo (at every opportunity).
· Rendezvous Bar/Coffee Bar/Cards, Game Room (Deck 9, mid to aft): This conglomeration of rooms flow in an open venue along the Starboard side of the ship, from the Four Seasons Dining Room (mid) to the Terraces Dining Room (aft), with no feature of demarcation between any of them. This is a very busy area most times of the day, or evening. The entrances to the Internet cafe, the Library (what there is of it) and the Le Bistro Restaurant are also located along this stretch of ship. The Art Auctions are held at the aft end of this space, and the Trivia sessions are held in the center of this area, and passengers use whatever space is available to play cards/games and just sit, so organized use of this area is sometimes difficult. In the evenings, a very popular pianist (Kathy Guglielmo) holds forth at the area by the Coffee Bar. Unfortunately, sometimes, especially during her frequent times of sing-along, her act carries, at just about full volume, into Le Bistro, which can be less that entertaining to those dining there. Just another result of trying to pack too much into a limited area. An unfortunate casualty of adding the Internet Cafe in what was the Library, is that the Library not consists of two enclosed bookshelves, one on either side of the short hallway leading into the Internet Cafe, containing maybe one hundred books. Best to bring your own reading materials.
· Main Lobby (Deck 7, mid): A typical arrangement of Front Office (Purser’s Desk), Excursion Desk, and NCL’s On-board Reservation/Information Desk. What makes this area stand out is that it is the one public area where you can sit and read and/or watch the passengers walk by on the Promenade. The only other place is on a couple of benches that also hold spare life jackets out on deck.
· Sports Bar and Grill (Deck 12, aft): Practically never any sports on the TV’s (not sure if lack of ability, or desire, to maintain satellite positioning). Used mostly as the buffet area for breakfast and lunch, and a casual buffet dinner venue. Due to the "virus" preventative measures, passengers were not allowed to serve themselves at the buffet lines. All food had to be placed on plates by a crew member, wearing plastic gloves. The set-up of the room does not allow for servers behind the serving line, therefore the required servers were in the same line as the passengers, and there is not a lot of space to begin with. Imagine building a salad through a crew member who may or not understand your language very well. To make things even worse, all beverages were tucked back in a small alcove, along with the desserts. If you happened to remember you need lemon for your tea, back into the melee to have a crew member place it into your tea; forget about additional salad dressing. Most passengers that we talked to who liked this venue said it was because this was the least hassle for dining (everyone is entitled to an opinion). If you were there just as it opened, it might not be too bad, at least there might still be a seat available.
· Cafe and Pizzeria (Deck 11, mid): A good snack spot, not usually crowded, and that is good since there is very limited seating in this area (four tables for two, and three elevated tables with stools, each seating four). If the weather was good, there might be some lounge chairs around the pool area adjacent to this area. One could also use the stools at the Topsiders bar, although the bartenders did not like this, if you were not buying drinks. This venue offered an early morning continental breakfast; during most of the rest of the day (until about dinner time) they served salads, cheeses, cold cuts, a couple of times even large bowls of decent sized shrimp, beverages (coffee, tea, milk, water), cookies, and of course pizza. This is not a large area and having to have crew members in the walkways to place food on your plate, did cause congestion even with limited number of passengers. The congestion comes from passengers trying to navigate the "U" shaped configuration with food on one side of the passage and beverages on the other and the crew members in the middle.
· Trattoria (Deck 11 & 10, aft): This is one of the Norwegian Dream’s two specialty restaurants, with it’s own galley; there is no cover charge and reservations are not required. Some brochures, and the ship’s diagram handed out on this cruise, still refer to this as the Sun Terrace Restaurant; the name was changed when NCL converted this ship to Freestyle Dining. This dining room offered a fixed menu of Italian specialties, except for the nights of the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Dinner and the Captain’s Farewell Dinner. On those nights the menu matched that of the other dining rooms (except Le Bistro). It seemed to take almost a week before a lot of passengers found their way to this charming restaurant. We ate here a number of times and really enjoyed the atmosphere, and we never had to wait in line at this location. The room is a series of tiered levels with great expanses of windows overlooking the sides and stern of the ship. There are a number of tables for two in this dining room. Some of the walkways are a bit tight, but even those of us who are super-sized can manage with a bit of care and watching for bustling service personnel.
· The Terrace (Deck 9 & 10, aft): Actually, Trattoria and The Terrace sort of split the space from deck 9 through 11, at the aft of the ship. The main galley of the ship runs along the port side of the ship, on Deck 9, and is shared by The Terrace Restaurant and The Four Seasons Dining Room. Like Trattoria, The Terrace is a tiered dining room it also has a large number of tables for two. It has a larger seating capacity than Trattoria but seems more congested. Like the Trattoria, it has expansive window views off the stern and sides of the ship. Perhaps because of the larger capacity, this room seemed noisier, to us, than did Trattoria.
· Four Seasons Dining Room (Deck 9, mid): This is the largest of the dining rooms aboard the Norwegian Dream. There are fewer tables for two and more large tables (8-10 passengers) than the other dining rooms. There are various levels to the dining room, but not nearly as pronounced as the tiers of Trattoria, or The Terrace. There are window-side tables on either side of the dining room. The size and congestion of this room created the noticeably highest dining room noise level that we encountered during this cruise. Despite being the largest dining room, or perhaps because of that fact, this was the dining venue where one was most likely to encounter a waiting time to be seated. There is one very pleasant attribute that all three main dining areas share; this a musical trio (bass and two guitars) called Best of Friends. They strolled about the three dining rooms each evening, playing and serenading those at dinner. Any group that can get a number of cruisers at dinner to stop eating and just listen is more than just good, they’re exceptional
· Le Bistro (Deck 9, mid): This is
the second specialty restaurant aboard the Norwegian
Dream; there is a $10.00 per person cover charge, and
reservations are highly encouraged. On the first day of the cruise NCL was
offering a reduction (to $5.00 p.p.) in the cover charge for that
evening. Le Bistro is the smallest dining room, but
has it’s own galley and chef. The cuisine is French
Mediterranean and only varied slightly a couple of
evenings. As mentioned earlier, it is not far from the area where Kathy
Guglielmo, the pianist, held forth each evening. The entrance to this
restaurant is located at the center of probably the busiest walkway of
the ship. The "wall" along this walkway is open,
except for sheer curtain partitions. Not exactly what
we would consider an "exclusive" location, but that is
the space that was available, I guess. During the morning and
afternoon hours, this area was used for the series of drawing
lectures/classes, the napkin folding demonstration, and cooking
demonstrations. Some afternoons, card players could also be found here.
Freestyle Cruising and Freestyle Dining: This was our first experience with Freestyle Cruising/Dining which NCL touts as the way of the future and what every cruiser has been waiting/asking for. We did not ask for it; we knew about it and were willing to give it a try. Our main reasons for booking this cruise was the itinerary, length of cruise, and number of sea days. Also there were not a large number of ships in Europe doing transatlantic repositioning cruises. As mentioned earlier due to the fact that we are Latitude members, and the fine work of our competent travel agent, the price was extremely favorable. NCL defines Freestyle Dining as, "That’s why we say dine when you want, where you want, and with whomever you like." We found that it doesn’t always work that way. On more than one occasion when we went to The Terrace, and told them we were willing to share a table, we were told to go to the Four Seasons for immediate seating or wait 20-30 minutes to eat at The Terrace. So much for "where/when you want"; that doesn’t even factor in "with whomever you want". We overheard parties of six or larger told that they would have a 20-40 minute wait. It did not turn out to be a major issue for us, we usually went up two decks to Trattoria and were immediately seated at a table for two or a shared larger table. There we did have a choice, it just wasn’t our first choice.
Before we went on this cruise we had read some reviews that commented that service in the Four Seasons Dining Room was extremely slow. Our personal observations confirmed the fact that the slowest service we encountered on the cruise was in the Four Seasons Dining Room; the next slowest was The Terrace. Whether it is because they are the two largest, and share the same galley, we don’t know. Trattoria service was prompt as we have come to expect on a major cruise line. Le Bistro was slow or prompt depending on your eating pace; each new course was served when you had finished the previous course. In the Sports Bar buffet, speed of service was totally dependent upon you.
Another aspect of Freestyle Cruising is that gratuities are automatically added to your on board account at the rate of $10.00 per day/per adult. This cover gratuities to dining staff and cabin attendants; there is 15% added to all bar beverage purchases to cover gratuities for bar staff. The $10.00 per day can be negotiated at the Credit Office; the 15% is not negotiable. The reviews we had read prior to the cruise suggested that dining room staff and cabin staff were not as attentive since they already knew what their tip would be, and thus had no incentive to do more than the bare minimum. Along those lines, our cabin steward was OK, but far below the standard set by most others we have experienced over the years. A number of times we returned from breakfast and the room hadn’t been touched, even on occasions when he wished us "Have a good breakfast". Again, not super important, but less than we have come to expect. Concerning dining room staff, most of those I saw seemed to be trying very hard, but still seemed to fall short of the mark of meeting expectations of excellent service. NCL states that "excellent" is the only truly acceptable level of service. If they truly mean that, then we believe that they are providing an unacceptable level of service. Perhaps it is a required tradeoff in Freestyle Dining that one puts up with inferior service to compensate for the options of moving about to different venues and times. If that is the case, Freestyle Dining is not for us. We have enjoyed the relationship we have forged with dining staff over our cruises. Most times, by the second night, the waiter and/or assistant waiter know our preferences and adjust service to accommodate them. Sadly, we feel that too many (not all) of the wait staff on this cruise have given in to the "I know what I’m getting, so, I know what I’m giving". One clear exception to that was Le Bistro. We had made reservations at Le Bistro to celebrate Janet’s birthday. On another night when the regular menu did not offer anything real appealing, we made a reservation at Le Bistro, and we chose to dine there the last evening of the cruise. All three occasions were pleasantly memorable, except for the sing along intrusions. The waitress, Katy, who served us the first night was so excellent, we requested to be at her station for Janet’s birthday dinner. When the service was even better for the birthday dinner (she remembered our preferences), we of course, repeated the request for the last night.
In our opinion, the biggest drawback to Freestyle Dining is that the wait staff never get to learn your dining preferences. Most of the other passengers, that we discussed Freestyle Dining with, expressed similar feelings, as well as not establishing rapport with steady tablemates. The ratio of the very unscientific survey was 3:1 against Freestyle Dining. Most thought that the level of service had deteriorated with Freestyle Dining. This is very contrary to NCL’s report that most everyone loves the new concept. Could that be because they have designed their new ships with this type dining in mind? Those who like the concept cited the ability to dine with different people each night. Our response is that breakfast and lunch are already open seating, offering the opportunity to meet new "old friends, for the first time". Another aspect that passengers say they liked about Freestyle Dining is no "dress codes" (except the ban on shorts in the dining rooms). This change makes no real difference to us; we can still dress formal if we want to. Freestyle wouldn’t necessary keep us from sailing with NCL again, but it surely would not draw us to booking with them. Good price and/or the "right" itinerary, or ship would be the only reason to sail with NCL again.
The "Virus": It is hard for us to say just how much the virus influenced the quality of this cruise. NCL’s notice to embarking passengers stated that approximately 15% of the passengers on the previous cruise were victims of the virus. Passengers who were on that previous cruise and continuing on a back-to-back basis (about 220 passengers) often stated that the number of effected passenger and crew was probably much higher than the 15% reported by NCL. During our cruise, everything that wasn’t right, was blamed on restrictions required by the virus. One day at lunch Ray’s water glass was very cloudy. When he showed it to the Head Waiter, the Head waiter said they are all like that. The reason was, "Because of the virus, the health authorities will not let us run the glasses through the complete washing cycle". We are at a loss to understand how cleaning the glasses (dishes?) with only a partial cleaning cycle is more conducive to good health practices. That evening we were only a couple of tables away from the Captain’s Table. Guess which table had sparkling glassware? A few days later, the cloudy glasses were history. Fortunately, we were not effected by the virus, but we did talk to a number of passengers that were. Duration of symptoms seemed to range from 1-2 days to 5-6 days. Various crew members confirmed that a large number of crew were also effected. One passenger, a retired nurse, during lunch, at about day eight, told us she had been a victim of the virus and told us about her visit to the Medical Center. She informed us that the on-duty nurse told her that they had treated over 200 passengers on this cruise, despite the "official" count, which was touted as less than 3% (this would be 53 passengers based on 1750 capacity). This was just half way through the cruise and did not include crew. The higher number is not hard to believe, based on personal observations of groups of 10-15 people waiting in the hallway outside the Medical Center. Our cabin was just down the hall from the medical center.
A day or two prior to this, the bedspread in our cabin disappeared; not seeing our cabin steward, we couldn’t ask about it. The retired nurse/passenger told us that she was told that all the bedspreads were being sterilized for the next cruise. NCL’s great fear was that the U.S. health officials in Boston would quarantine the ship and not allow it to continue on its New England itinerary. The last sea day prior to our docking at Boston, the passengers in the 25 cabins booked to continue on the New England itinerary were informed that they would have to leave the ship in Boston and could not sail on the following cruise. NCL did help them arrange transportation back to their home cities, fully refunded their cruise payments, and gave them credit on a future 10 day cruise of their choice. The reason given to the passenger that told us of this development was, "We can control the crew, but not the passengers, and we need to break this chain of contaminating new passengers when they board the ship". The passenger was disappointed, but thought NCL’s compensation was equitable. Toward the end of the cruise, the ship started to run out of certain provisions, since, "the health authorities would not allow us to take on new supplies, due to the virus". During the cruise, there was very little "official" information about the virus; the bulk of the advice was "wash hands often’. Some of the "strange" controls that NCL had over the crew was to require the wearing of plastic gloves by some of the food handlers, but that did not include the waiters or assistant waiters who placed the food in front of passengers. We also observed crew wearing gloves and using their hands to cover their mouth/nose to suppress a sneeze and not change gloves, or pick up something from the floor with the gloved hand and not change gloves, or fixing their hair with the gloved hands and then serve food. NCL may have told some crew members that they had to wear gloves, but it looked as though the entire reason for the gloves and proper glove protocol was not assimilated by the crew members.
Disembarkation: All luggage, except carry-on bags are requested to be placed in the hallway outside your cabin by 2:00 AM on the last night.. NCL uses the color tag process for disembarkation. Different colored baggage tags, based on your continuing travel arrangements, are distributed for use on the luggage placed in the hallway. Since we had no flight to make, we were assigned a color that would be called next to last. The first color was called at 9:00AM; our color was not yet called at 10:35 AM, but we left the ship since we had reserved a limousine for 10:30 AM, and all the passengers with flights had already been called; we were in the limousine at 10:45 and home in New Hampshire at 11:45 AM.
As we stated earlier, this was probably the worst cruise we have experienced, but we still had a wonderful time. Freestyle Dining is not our preference, but would not keep us from sailing with NCL again. One last gripe. All the daily activities are printed each day in the Freestyle Daily, and yet the Cruise Director still read them to us twice a day. There is a bright side to that also. It could have been the captain reading them, and no one would have understood them. Even the entertainers and Cruise Staff openly referred to him as Captain "Mumbles".
We would be happy to answer any specific questions you may have about our cruise and/or our opinions.