Earlier I posted a very brief synopsis of the ill-fated cruise. But I thought you might enjoy the actual letter sent to NCL corporate. Should you be considering a NCL Hawaii cruise, this should be a "must" read. Bear in mind, I'm a travel agent with almost 20 years of experience, so anyone can be fooled at least once. Regardless if you believe all of what you're about to read, consider this: if even a small percentage is factual, would you want to risk sailing with NCL Hawaii? And by the way, I can document everything I claim. So here goes .....
I was recommended to the NCL ship “Pride of America” by the head of my cruise department for a special occasion. She has more than forty-five cruises in her past, so I took her advice and booked three cabins. Two of which were balconied staterooms and one was an outside stateroom. Despite being a travel agency owner with almost twenty years experience and thirty-three years of cruising, I had never sailed with NCL previously. Everything I had been told/read about NCL had been generally positive, so I went on this cruise with no negative preconceptions. So when you read this letter, bear in mind that all six of my group were “all smiles” upon arrival. That was about to change.
1) Every dinner, without exception, until the fifth day of the cruise was served COLD. Steak, lobster, pasta … it didn’t matter what you ordered, the one thing you could depend on was that the food temperatures would be mildly cold to ice cold. Simply disgusting. And we were charged extra for this lousy food.
There is no excuse that can be made for frigid food. This is one of the two worst problems with NCL. Some dishes were so cold that the fats had started to congeal resulting in a revolting display of culinary stupidity.
2) The air department waited too long to book the return air for two of my guests
resulting in a connecting flight with an absurd four hour lay-over in SFO. Bear in mind that they have been awake for almost twenty-four hours. The nonstop Continental flight to Houston was available at the time of booking. I know this to be true as I did four of the tickets directly through our agency and got that exact flight. There is no excuse for this.
3) We paid for two balconied rooms. This was done so that while we were in dock we would have a beautiful view and be able to enjoy breakfast outside on our balcony. After all, since the ship sails at night and there is no view except that of blackness, this is the only reason to pay almost double the price of an inside cabin or an obstructed view cabin. However, for the entire cruise, our view consisted of rusted corrugated metal walls that totally blocked any view of anything other than rusted metal. I spoke to at reception
about this problem and it was explained to me that the captain usually alternates sides of the ships in port so that this doesn’t happen. Even after expressing our disgust that on our sixth morning aboard we still were looking at rusted metal walls, nothing was done. So that was our deluxe balcony stateroom view for the entire trip – filthy, rusted corrugated metal walls. If in fact that this was the Captain’s decision, refusing to give us any of the view we paid for, is this the same Captain who ran over a navigational buoy in Honolulu a couple of months ago and then denied it to the
passengers? I ask this questioning his competence to be a Captain.
4) I know of no one who likes dirty silverware, although I always seemed to
get this at the buffets and outside dining. You get tired of picking dried, old food off your utensils. The inside restaurants never had this problem.
5) When you first arrive onboard, you’re exhausted from the long flight. As a result, the next morning we went down to do “specialty” restaurant reservations. We were informed that all of the restaurants were sold out with the possible exception of a five o’clock opening. This would mean that we would have to eliminate some of our selected shore excursions. After a
little “conversation”, the lady managed to get us into the steak house and Jefferson’s Bistro at a more manageable time. Upon getting into these “specialty” restaurants we noticed that the tables were on average 60% empty. When a couple tried to get in without reservations, they were turned away. Yet when the crew walked in they got a seat immediately. This happened throughout the cruise. The crew getting priority over paying passengers … exactly what kind of message does that confer upon your paying customers?
In every restaurant we kept a count of the number of empty tables, the number of refused customers and approximately how many waiters were working. So to deny reservations based on the presumed assumption that the restaurants
were full is a lie. So is the advertisement of “Freestyle”. This was unequivably the most rigid, inflexible and structured arrangements for dining that I’ve ever experienced on a cruise. Simply inexcusable …… .
6) In every “specialty” restaurant we ate in, with the only exception being the “East Meets West”, every meal took a minimum of two and three-quarters of an hour to complete. We weren’t “camping”, we wanted to go see the
shows, but extraordinarily long time between when the waiter came by or we finally had a course brought to us, caused the entire party to miss every show on the boat. Whether the fault lies with the waiters, the cooks or
lack thereof, the result was the same. Why was this allowed to happen?
7) Virtually every employee (and this is well over twenty) we spoke to couldn’t wait to end their employment with NCL. Some offered this tidbit without even being prompted. Many said they were holding out for their free flight home and that was the only thing keeping them on the ship. They complained of the lousy tipping policy, bad management, long hours, lack of respect, inability to see the places they were docked at and a multitude of other issues. In one interesting situation, while we were eating, one of the restaurant managers began a rant to three other employees, (in a very loud voice) of his dissatisfaction with NCL. He loudly proclaimed for half of the restaurant to hear “You wonder why you’ve had four managers in the last thirty days? Well you’re about to have five! … I’m quitting!!” Now that sent a very explicit message to us. No wonder the service is so bad, the crew is mad too! I’ve never known of any business in my lifetime that has had such an embittered staff. Additionally, I’ve never had so many employees candidly sharing (without prompting) their horror stories about working about the Pride of America.
8) Hilo – what a totally wasted stop. The time would have been better spent anywhere else in Hawaii. I’d rather have stayed docked in Honolulu for another day just to avoid it. Predictable rain and poor selections of excursions make this a dreary, and pointless destination. We left Kauai early on the last
day. I’d rather have the extra day there instead of an industrial city like Hilo.
9) While in Kona, I forgot my diving mask and had to return to the ship by tender. That was a mistake! The tender couldn’t dock at the ship for well over an hour due to an eighteen (18) inch swell. Eighteen inches??
And these people manning the docks and the tenders are supposed to be sailors?? I asked the pilot if this was a joke and he said it was a safety issue. I say again … eighteen inches?? The swell was more than that when I initially boarded the tender for the island. This was not a safety issue … it was a competence/lack of training issue. And it was obvious. This is a subject I am familiar with as we’ve had boats far larger than the tender. Regardless, this amateur act cost me two hours of a far too short stay in Kona.
10) Most of the staff in restaurants (including the “specialty” restaurants) were
inexperienced and it showed. Many of the waiters told us that this was their first time to be a waiter. While they were never rude, they simply didn’t have the necessary training or experience to be waiters. The only exceptions were the gentleman who helped us in “Little Italy” and the young lady in “East
Meets West”. The gentleman obviously was a “pro”. And the young lady told us that this was her first time waiting tables, but she did a very good job for someone so inexperienced.
While dining in the “Liberty” restaurant on the 17th of January we had a full demonstration of the lack of training. There were so many dishes and glasses being broken all around us for the entire dinner, that we started to wonder if
we had stumbled into a Greek wedding. After the first three or four times, the amusement factor is gone. There needs to be more waiters (probably double or more likely, triple the existing amount) and they need to be trained.
This is one of the more major issues and needs to dealt with ASAP.
11) While attempting to contact reception, using the phone in my stateroom, I found myself waiting through 152!! rings. And they never answered. Were they trying to send me a message by not answering, after they saw the cabin number? Had this been an isolated incident, I wouldn’t be so paranoid. But with the constant problems we experienced while onboard, … I wouldn’t be surprised if this was in fact exactly why they refused to answer.
12) When I went to the dinner reservations area, the obviously harried woman behind the counter literally “jumped down my throat”. I didn’t take serious offense because I could see she was really upset due to all the angry people
who couldn’t get into the “full” specialty restaurants. I actually felt bad for her to be put in such a situation.
13) When I checked the price I paid (to see if there was a price change) a few weeks before the cruise, I found that the price had dropped by $300.00. I assumed that there would be no problem in getting the money back. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This incident would take several pages to discuss. I’ll just say that I’ve been cheated … and that’s not too strong a word to use for the trouble I’ve been through trying to resolve this issue.
14) Here’s an interesting topic … running out of food! This was a constant issue in all the restaurants. Here’s just a few examples. No parmesan cheese. And we weren’t in the Italian restaurant. I was curious how those particular
patrons felt about that. While the ship was docked, one of the employees couldn’t go to a grocery store?? No sweet rolls for breakfast … at least the manager noticed it and tried to get someone to fix it. (no luck) No gravy for
the biscuits and gravy. No lamb in "specialty” restaurant we paid extra to get into. We also found this less than entertaining: our menus explicitly mentions “Grande Marnier” atop the cheesecake … but, when it finally arrived sans the liquor, we asked where it was. We were told “It’s too expensive, so we had to stop using it”. Is this a joke?
15) The breakfast buffets were the best meals on the ship … provided you could get there before they started putting all the food away thirty minutes before the buffet was supposed to close. This is not a joke … you had to literally run from station to station to get the leftovers. And I say leftovers, because they
stopped putting out fresh food. There is no excuse for this. They began hiding the food first, on the outside rear deck. Oh, and by the way, nothing really helps the first meal of the day dining experience like inhaling mass amounts
of burning tobacco smoke. It shouldn’t matter that it’s the outside deck … people are eating. I don’t appreciate smelling like an ashtray, which is what you are subjected to unless you go and change your previously clean clothes to
something else not reeking of the remnants of someone else’s cigarette. I should say that hopefully it’s only cigarettes, as some were actually smoking cigars. This is a policy that should be changed immediately. And as usual,
even though we asked that smoking be banned in all restaurants due to the stink and the detrimental effect to their passengers with allergies and breathing/lung problems … nothing was done. There is no excuse for this assault upon my health.
16) Virtually no Hawaiian food … this is a Hawaiian cruise isn’t it? Not even the most basic item … coffee. Kona coffee is world famous and we were docked at Kona …. and no Kona coffee?
17) The D.J. who ran the sounds for the dance floor was terrible. He didn’t know
what to play or how to properly run the equipment. It was so bad it was comical. He flatly refused any requests or help. The sound system sounded like the loudest AM radio you’ve ever heard … tinny. Unless of course you were in my cabin at one o’clock in the morning trying to sleep. The sound was so loud it was shaking my room … and … it still sounded bad.
While I understand the previous D.J., the week before, had just been fired for having sex with a passenger in the public spaces, it’d be better not to have any music in that room than to endure (once again) untrained people.
Had this been an isolated item, it would have been a funny story to tell clients and friends about …. but it’s not. It’s a symptom of an endemic employee service problem.
18) While trying to run from station to station for breakfast before all the food is
gone, someone had the “good” sense to run an employee fire drill! Now this is being done while the already angry, understaffed buffet people are putting away what little food is left. So since there are no trays to carry your food and the rear buffet has already closed, you are literally running back and forth from the stations, juggling your plates, to the rear outside dining area while the employees are busy trying to close all the doors. This of course, keeps you from getting to the rear smoke filled deck. The only word that comes to mind is stupidity. Why wasn’t this done after lunch when most people are off the ship? Is this really so hard to figure out? The explanation that “it’s for our safety” is another lie.
19) Watered-down drinks. My friend Jim had to have the alcohol brought to him in a jigger as it was obvious he was being shorted. This occurred throughout the entire cruise in two different bars. Is this a company policy?
20) Having a mandatory ten dollar per person/per day tip policy is wrong. First,
it gives the traveler the impression that with the exception of booze that all of the gratuities are covered. Second, it demoralizes the members of your staff who depend on tips for a significant amount of their income. And as a result you wind up with most of the issues we encountered relating to bad service.
This is a policy that needs to be eliminated immediately.
21) The quality of the “specialty” restaurants simply doesn’t match the additional fees that are charged. Most of the meals we had there were cold, plain and unattractive. In fact, they below the standards that I would accept at an entry-level cruise line. And for these exceptionally poor meals NCL charges more?
No wonder they were 60% empty consistently ………
And to add salt to the wound, some of the “premium” restaurants, in addition to their surcharge, had another surcharge if you ordered particular items. So NCL’s policy is: charge for the meals, then charge to get in the “specialty” restaurants, then charge again for the food?? This is offensive and I sincerely
wonder who would be stupid enough to actually pay three times for the same meal? From what I saw from my week onboard, virtually no one.
This issue of the needless additional charges for the “specialty” restaurants, combined with cold food, poor service, bland presentation, long serving times, very high empty seat ratio and lousy method of reservations made it obvious
to everyone in my group that the “specialty” concept is a total failure. The only thing this “specialty” concept does is generate ill will. I would recommend ending it, and returning to a more conventional first and second seating arrangements for dinner. Your restaurants are simply not prepared to
deal with a true “on demand” restaurant environment.
22) We made one attempt to have a breakfast on our “no-view” balcony. It ended promptly when we were hit with the blast of a high-pressure water sprayer! Why NCL made the decision to blast the balconies with water during breakfast, which as stated earlier is why you have a balcony, escapes me.
This is another example of bad management or incompetence. Regardless of the reason, it effectively put an end to this (again cold) meal.
23) No robes in the cabin. You’re paying double the price of a standard cabin
and NCL can’t put robes in the balconied cabins like other cruise lines?
Is this incompetence or cheapness?
24) When we got to the “specialty” restaurant “Jefferson’s Bistro”, we were seated directly next to the kitchen exit. When we asked to be moved, you’d have thought from the reaction of the wait staff that we had committed a crime. This exit should have an additional set of doors to quell the din from the kitchen or a double walk-around like professional restaurants.
We eventually got a new table(s) as the two tables were pushed together and were of different heights, resulting in the person seated in the middle (me) having his plate cocked at a fifteen degree angle. After what my group had been through just to get a quieter table, I didn’t want to upset them any further
and sat through another disappointing cold meal.
25) When ordering dinner, I asked for two desserts and was told that I couldn’t order both at the same time. I did such because the wait staff usually disappeared fifteen minutes after we sat down. I knew that if I wanted an
an additional dessert, it’d probably take thirty to forty-five minutes to get it.
I shouldn’t have even have bothered, as they weren’t up to cruise ship standards anyway. Actually, the desserts weren’t much better than McDonalds or Jack in the Box. At least since most of them were supposed to be cold, they arrived cold …. just like our entrees.
26) I had a minimum of two, perhaps three conversations, with Mr. (head of all restaurants on board) regarding the multitude of issues relating to the restaurants onboard. I asked that something be done about the conditions of the food and the staff. He had that “deer-in-the-headlights” look on his face. It was at that point, I realized that he had no control over the circus that NCL calls “restaurants”. At least he was able to get us into a few of the “specialty” restaurants.
27) I requested to personally meet with (hotel director), repeatedly, to try to resolve at least a few of the problems everyone was having. Either he was never
informed or choose not to meet with me. I don’t know which is correct … but one can draw from the lousy experiences we all were having, that latter may be the reason. A gentleman, “Haley” I believe, was sent out as his sacrificial
aide. I related a few of the problems, and he was polite, but nothing changed.
28) After much discussion with (NCL rep), she put a $200.00 ship-board
credit on our account due to the overcharge of our cabin. Of course, when we got onboard … no credit. It took four days. When we checked outside our door for any messages, there were six letters from NCL. The first four were each a $100.00 credit, totaling $400.00. We both thought, “oh my, they’re actually trying to do the right thing finally” …… nope. The last two letters were actually letters rescinding $200.00 from our account!
The ship should be renamed the “Embarrassment of America”. The entire trip was a total disaster. Every moment onboard brought a fresh disappointment, even when we
thought it couldn’t get much worse. The only positive thing that happened, is that the
ship didn’t sink or catch fire. I could write another entire letter on the complaints I heard from other passengers. On each of the twenty-eight points I made earlier, there is a substantial amount of additional information pertaining to each. But to the constraints of space and my hand injury that makes typing extremely difficult, I have tried to give a brief synopsis of some of the problems. A mere letter can’t convey how bad this cruise was … had I not witnessed these acts personally, I don’t know if I would have believed that a major cruise ship could have been so mismanaged, under staffed, under trained and such a travel nightmare.
I simply can’t express our disappointment over this botched cruise and the fact it absolutely ruined my wife’s 50th birthday.