Number of Cruises: Lots
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Wind
Sailing Date: May 2nd, 2000
Itinerary: San Francisco, Astoria, Ore, Grey Harbor, WA,Victoria B.C., Vancouver B.C.
The Setup: I was the group leader and trainer for a NACTA seminar at Sea group of 37 travel agents and companions on a familiarization cruise on board the Norwegian Wind during a coastal repositioning cruise. We had scheduled meetings for 6 hours and some group functions as well. This review is a compilation of comments, ideas, suggestions and opinions of the group as well as my own.
Embarkation: The group all checked in as individuals with pier pick-up for documents. The check-in process went without a hitch. NCL had scheduled the Wind for routine maintenance in San Francisco and boarding was delayed from 12 noon until approximately 4 pm or so. To compensate for the delay NCL popped open several hundred (if not a thousand) bottles of champagne and served everyone freely for hours. They also served an unlimited quantity of finger sandwiches to hold folks over. Even the entire crew had not been allowed on-board during the work that was in progress which made the delivery of luggage a tad late for those that boarded wanting to change their clothes for dinner. All in all, NCL did a great job of averting what could have been a negative start to the cruise.
Cabins: Our entire group was located on deck 6 from bow to stern both port and starboard. We enjoyed ocean view cabins that featured a picture window, a separate sitting area with a couch, coffee table and chair that was draped to form a separate little alcove. Last year during an Alaska cruise I took my son with me and he turned the little alcove into a separate bedroom that he stayed in. There were two single beds that transformed into a queen size bed when joined together. The bedding and pillows were quite comfortable. There were 3 nightstands with drawers and further drawer space in one of the closets (plenty of storage space for two passengers) There were two separate closets with ample hangers. NCL's cabins (except on the Sky and the Sea) are always very generous and functional.
The bathroom was small (like most ships) and offered a small shower, (the shower curtain hugs you during your shower) sink, vacuum toilet and medicine cabinet for storage. The hot and cold water pressure was excellent and the temperature control good. The towels and such were changed twice daily so there was an ample amount of towels and such. There is a hair dryer in the bathroom and plenty of toiletries such as conditioning shampoo, body lotion and so on.
I always travel with good earplugs and I was extremely happy that I had them with me on this trip. My neighbors had included their two-year-old on their vacation and had trained the child to whine at the drop of a hat. Every morning around six am or so, the child would start crying and continued to do so the entire day and into the evening. I saw the father pushing the child once rewarding its crying with an inordinate amount of attention. No one else in our group had noise problems with their neighbors and I believe this child would have penetrated an iron steel plate wall!
My cabin steward was excellent as were the balance of the group's. A great cabin steward is one that you never see but takes excellent care of your cabin and whatever special needs you have. I forgot to get my tux out to be pressed on the first formal day and the cabin steward took it from me at about 1pm and returned it to my cabin by 5 pm. This is unusual, as they normally will not return items the same day if they are later than 9am or so.
The Norwegian Wind offers quite a diverse amount of public areas for its guest's enjoyment.
Restaurants: The Norwegian Wind offers three different dining rooms. Our group was booked into the Sun Terrace Dining Room and occupied tables 32, 36, 24 and 28. We were in two different sections with two different waiters and such. The Sun Terrace Restaurant is beautiful as it unfolds in four or five different levels that are terraced downward looking out the aft end of the ship. All tables enjoy a nice view and we were fortunate to have window tables as well. The Terraces dining room occupies the next two decks below the Sun Terrace restaurant and enjoys the same type of setting. The third restaurant is the Four Seasons located mid ship and was added when the Norwegian Wind was stretched. All three restaurants offer beautiful surroundings and are well designed and appointed.
Le Bistro: This is NCL's alternate dining option. Le Bistro is a fine restaurant that offers not only a different menu from the assigned dining rooms but consistently features excellent service as well. Le Bistro on the Norwegian Wind is located on deck 8 mid ship and offers intimate dining. While I did not break away from the group to enjoy Le Bistro, several of our group members did and thoroughly enjoyed it. There is a suggested $5 gratuity that is paid the evening you dine at Le Bistro to your waiter (you still are expected to pay the normal tip amount to your assigned table waiter as well) but the experience is well worth it.
The Star Dust Lounge: This is Norwegian Wind's main theater where the nightly entertainment resides. The Stardust Lounge is an intimate lounge that allows you to get up close and personal with the entertainment staff. It is well appointed and easy to navigate. The only flaw with the Stardust Lounge is that there are a number of people that are moving through the lounge to get to the forward elevator banks. In most ships the showroom is located all the way forward and there is no through traffic. We sat as a group in many locations in the lounge and all had excellent visibility. We had late seating for dinner and at no time was the lounge crowded or was it difficult to find seats.
The Monte Carlo Casino: This is Norwegian Winds casino and it seems smaller than on other ships. While I do not gamble many in our group did quite well. One travel agent was walking through the casino and noticed that there were some unused credits on one of the slot machines. He bet three and pulled the handle and won $150.00. So the stories went. I noticed all of the usual tables and machines in the casino and the times that I passed through it was not crowded feeling like on some ships.
Observatory Lounge: T his lounge is all the way up and forward on deck 12. It offers a wonderful view during the day for folks that want to just watch the ocean go by and it turns into a cozy lounge with dancing and cocktails at night. One evening some of our group entered the hot tub aft of the Observation Lounge and were served wine until 2am by one of the waitresses in the lounge.
Lucky's Lounge and Dazzles Disco: Really these are the same location but they are just divided by the middle of the ship. As far as discos go this is a 1 (on a scale of 1 to 10) it didn't stop folks from having fun but it is just part of Lucky's Lounge and is also right in the pathway of traffic walking through the ship. We had a cocktail party in Dazzles Disco the last night and enjoyed it thoroughly…. but then, we weren't dancing either. Lucky's Lounge is a so-so bar and a good place to have a cocktail. They have a duo performing there that plays traditional dance music as well.
Coffee Bar Lounge and Rendezvous Lounge: There was a great pianist playing in the Coffee Bar lounge (there is also a coffee bar serving specialty coffees). It is a cozy spot where you can sing-a-long or simply enjoy the music. The Rendezvous Lounge is adjacent to the Coffee Bar Lounge and is a nice spot for a quiet drink and conversation.
The Sports Bar & Grill: This is a bar on the stern of the Norwegian Wind that is set up as a sports bar with quite a bit of memorabilia on display. They have several televisions that feature sporting events going at the same time. Both breakfast and lunch are available here as well. I found it to be a great spot for a quick breakfast (juice, fruit, croissant, yogurt and a cup of coffee) and enjoyed it every day. I did not get up to the Sports Bar and Grill in the evening and reviewing comments from the group I don't think anyone else did so I cannot say what it was like.
The Reception Area: Located on Deck 7 Mid-ship is the Purser's office, Shore Excursion Desk, Credit Desk and general reception area. There is ample seating however the credit card sign up process is irritating.
The Shops: There are the usual shops on board and they are laid out so as to allow a good bit of browsing. There is a good selection of sundries and gifts as well as the usual duty free purchases. The Wind seems to have numerous tabletop "sales" of items every day to give everyone that bargain orientation.
The Pool Area: The Wind has a very nice pool arrangement. There is a reasonable pool area forward by the pool eatery known as the Pizzeria (serves breakfast and lunch limited items only) There is plenty of deck space by the pool and on the terraced decks that make their way forward. There are two Jacuzzis forward of the pool that are adjacent to the ice creak parlor and quite a bit more deck space for sunning. The Jacuzzis are open extended hours that is very much appreciated by adults. Right behind the Jacuzzis is the Champs Bar that is open during the day and closes around 6 pm. There is also a bar (The Topsiders Bar) aft by the pool.
The Health Club: Ehhhh! Not much here. 4 treadmills, some machines (chest press, leg lift, leg curl, lat pull down, yawn) there are also some dumb bells and that's about it. If you work out seriously it is a bit meager to get a pump. However, the gym is in a great location and they do offer some aerobic sessions for everyone to enjoy.
One of our group members notes, "the massages were good-aching bones and joints were soothed. Hair consultant Eva was very good and realistic in her approach to hair. Bad hair can be made to look a little better with just a little effort. The hair salon is open and airy with Pantene products.
The personnel at the front desk (the main registration desk not the Health Club) are terrible. They are not knowledgeable about much of anything. As an example when I enquired about a transfer from Vancouver to Seattle upon arrival in Vancouver they said, "no, we don't transfer to Seattle." I asked her to double-check this and she then had to admit she was wrong.
Why not just say "Let me check this for you?" instead of simply offering incorrect information to begin with. The list grows. Confirmed reservations at Le Bistro that disappear, a request for the ship's fax number and being given one that does not work so that I was unable to obtain some important documents on the ship…. and a less than concerned attitude from the front desk about the problem.
Children's Club: Located on deck 11 across from the conference room was a very satisfactory children's room. I spoke with a mother that had her child in the ship's children program and was very complimentary about the two people that were running it. However she thought there should be more than two people running the program. There were 13 to 14 children from the ages of 3 to 12 and the feeling was that the two people were stretched to manage the program, however she felt the two people did a fantastic job with the kids. The mothers suggested 1. More interactive games with the children and 2. A kiddies channel on the "in-cabin" TV, always a good babysitter and attention grabber.""
The Meeting Space. The Norwegian Wind offers two meeting rooms (Conference Room 1 & 2) I have done several seminars on the Wind and have found that the best size to present to is fewer than 30. For larger groups the conference room is extended into both rooms by eliminating the divider. The resulting room is odd shaped (quite deep with a bend in the middle) and is not create the kind of environment that is conducive for successful meetings. A gentleman performed a meeting after our initial meeting and I noticed that he rearranged the room so that the chairs faced away from the windows in an arch allowing him to gain a better position as a presenter. This may help quite a bit but I would not suggest this venue for groups looking for many hours of meetings of more than 30.
The group coordinator on this ship is the tops! Danielle Signorile (Hotel Director's Secretary) reconfirmed all of our events, arranged for additional meeting space, arranged for our group photo and made me feel like absolutely nothing could go wrong. She is GREAT! I would recommend this ship for groups as the intimacy of the ship contributes to the group's bonding experience and overall satisfaction level and Danielle completely understands what groups are all about.
Dining: I must admit that I have received a few reviews on the Wind that indicated service and dining were not up to standard and so I was keen on finding out how it had changed from my previous cruises. I found nothing different than before but did observe a couple of things.
You Get What You Give: The crew on the Norwegian Wind is international. Many Eastern Europeans are serving tables and they are very proud people with a heritage that goes back centuries. Many servers consider their occupation a life long commitment to excellence. Folks that treat their waiter (or assistant waiter) like slaves or something less than themselves are treated rudely in return. This would lead the uninitiated to believe service on the Wind is substandard.
You Give What You Get: We found or waiters and assistant waiters to be absolutely fabulous. Even the waiter that was set off by one of our members the first night (rightfully so) became a close friend and comrade. Giving your waiter and assistant waiter their due respect will yield HUGE dividends for every guest at your table.
One of our group members writes: "One expects an excess of food on any cruise ship, and the Norwegian Wind doesn't disappoint. From the fresh-baked cinnamon rolls at 6 am in the Sports Bar to the gourmet snacks at midnight, 6 different breakfast venues and 4 for lunch, there is never any excuse for not making a pig of oneself while on board.
The quality, of course, is not uniform. We found the soups to be consistently excellent along with the fish and chicken entrees. Beef dishes fared less well, but in all cases the food was certainly adequately prepared and the portions properly measured to be consistent with the huge amounts of food available each day.
Afternoon tea was somewhat of a disappointment. The scones were rather small and chewy, and horror of horrors, the finger sandwiches contained processed American cheese (how hard would it have been to use real cheddar alongside the ham?)
Desserts also were adequate, but no more than that, although the Crepes Suzette were very well received. The chocoholic buffet perhaps lacked some flair in its presentation and the deserts themselves were rather lacking in intense chocolate flavor. Appetizers in general were satisfactory, though salads could use a little jazzing up.
I think the consensus evaluation would rate the Norwegian Wind a 7 out of 10 for food. If one traveled on this ship with the expectation of a gourmet experience it would fall a little short."
Ports: Since this was a repositioning cruise the ports were rarely visited and were unique indeed. The Norwegian Wind did an excellent job considering the material they had to work with. Following is a breakdown of each port for those that took excursions and those that didn't.
San Francisco: The ship docked directly next to Fisherman's Wharf (a $35 taxi ride from SFO) and while NCL was pouring champagne for the late boarding I simply went to Fisherman's Wharf and enjoyed world-class eats at one of the restaurants there. Shrimp, wine and a great ambiance was thoroughly enjoyed. Most folks spent the day in the City and shopped, ate and enjoyed themselves.
Astoria, Oregon: I thought that this port would be beautiful. It was in its own way but fell far short in my eyes. I envisioned classic Victorian homes and quaint businesses. Instead it was Wool Worth and gas stations with some older craftsman homes on the hillside. I walked into town, called my wife and returned to the ship without incidence. Some of our group took the optional shore excursion and here is what they noted. "Historic Astoria, We drove up the Astoria column on top of Corcencle Hill. There was a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia River Estuary and also Saddle Mountain. The column was built to honor Lewis and Clark. It stands 125 feet tall and has a spiral staircase inside it that you can climb. Once you get to the top there is a lookout with fabulous views. The murals on the outside wall tell a story of the expedition and the sighting of the Pacific Ocean.
Next we drove to Fort Clatsop National Memorial. This was the actual site that Lewis and Clark built a fort to house the expedition party during the first winter and spring. The Ranger there directed us to a theater to enjoy a wonderful slide show. Next we hiked down to an exact replica of the fort and then to a landing where they came by canoe off the Columbia River to build the fort. It was quite a beautiful walk ¼ mile under the lush greenery. Then on to the Maritime Museum that was a bit of a rush but very worthwhile going to. After the Museum we returned to the ship thoroughly enjoying our tour of Astoria.
Grey Harbor, Washington: I thought that the comedian's rendition that the Wind left Astoria, went out 5 miles to sea, tooted its horn to tell the folks to turn the signs around to read "Grey Harbor" and then reentered the same port was right on. Grey harbor was boring! The ship arranged for the local buses to take passengers on a tour of Grey Harbor. I wanted to get off and call my wife so I was one of the first off the ship. I boarded the bus not knowing where it was going (but felt assured it would take me to a payphone) first stop, the local mall. I was laughing when I got off the bus. I called my wife and then re-boarded the next bus with great expectations. Next Stop, Wal Mart…. I was cracking up! I decided to stay on the bus anxious to see where its next stop was. I wasn't disappointed, it stop at the bus terminal downtown! I looked around and saw that the local pawnshop was closed so I decided to stay on the bus back to the ship. Good decision, as I understand it.
However, some on our group took the ship's tour and here is what they said. "We took the Grey Harbor historical and cultural tour. First stop, Parson Lumber Museum. It was very nice and had a lot to see. The pictures on the wall were actual photographs and were very interesting. The next stop was the Hoquiam Castle, a register historical place and Bed and Breakfast. You would have to be in the front drawing room to comprehend the beauty and colors of the house. It would be worth driving a couple of hours to spend a night or two there---not much to do in town though. Next we visited the 7th Street Theater (unbelievable, seats 1,100) the ceiling is like an outside sky and the acoustics in the theater were outstanding. There was a surprise entertainer from a Russian group that played the accordion for us that was quite a nice touch to end the tour. I thoroughly enjoyed Grey Harbor and the tour."
Victoria, B.C., Canada: Oh Victoria! Anyone can have a great time in Victoria. B.C.. It is absolutely beautiful and a wonderful place to indulge oneself. I decided to take the Greyline Express bus to Buchart Gardens to check out the water plants (boring, I know) while the tulips were in full bloom neither, the roses nor the water plants were exposing themselves yet. I beat it back to Victoria and made my way to the local park where the water lilies were in bloom (I saw them on the transfer into Victoria from the ship) I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in the park checking out the gardens and the ponds that were much like my own back home. I eventually walked back to the ship along the coast and had a wonderful time stopping to chat with several locals who were enjoying the unusually sunny May Sunday.
Others in our group took various tours and here is what they noted. "I took the Victoria Highlights and Mt. Talmie tour. I found it to be a big disappointment. We did not see the Cragdaroch Castle or the remains of the Fort Victoria. Instead we just circled the city and went through the elite homes (who cares?) and the tour driver was not very informed. We did go up Mt. Talmie that had a beautiful view of the entire city of Victoria."
Vancouver, B.C. Canada and Debarkation: I think Vancouver is one of my most favorite cities. It has everything for everyone and if you can't find something about Vancouver to like you need to have your pulse checked. Although I simply disembarked and made my way to the airport to catch my flight home, I regret not staying a day or so in Vancouver just to enjoy it. Many in our group did just that and enjoyed a second vacation in Vancouver after the cruise.
We docked at the Ballantyne Port facility (the old cruise ship pier) and the debarkation process went as smooth as silk. Canada Place (the newer cruise ship terminal) can be a bit more hectic but I was off the ship and on my way to the airport by 8:45 in the morning.
Overview: While the Norwegian Wind certainly isn't Crystal it has retained its class and ambiance throughout the change over of ownership to Star Cruises. The group found the service, dining, attitudes and overall experience to be consistent with NCL's excellent reputation. While there are always areas that could improve, the Wind is an excellent vacation choice for adults wanting a little class thrown in with a great cruise.
Cruisers looking to berate and belittle their servers should look elsewhere however as the staff on the Wind demands the equal respect that they are entitled to. Once given their due respect guests can feel confident that they may make a new life long friend (or at the very least, understand a different, yet exciting culture) .