Review of Western Caribbean cruise on The Norwegian Dream 10/7/06-10/14/06
First off let me warn those reading this that this was our first cruise on a cruise line other than Carnival after 5 cruises on them, so there may be many comparisons to Carnival in this review. But I will try to provide unbiased information if I do a comparison for those who have not cruised before. We found NCL freestyle cruising to be a completely different product than what we were used to (which was expected) but that does not make it bad, just different. We met many people that liked it, but also many who preferred the typical fixed dinning times as with the other cruise lines. More on that topic to come.
First off embarkation- The Dream sails from Houston, not Galveston as CCL, RCL, Princess and Celebrity do. This had both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages were that is it 40 miles closer to our house. So the drive time is shortened. Also, since it is the only ship in the port, the cruise terminal and parking was not shared. We arrived at the terminal at 10:45 (NCL documents said that boarding began at 1PM) and they had already begun letting people board. We pulled up to the terminal building dropped our luggage off and parked in a secure lot all of 50 feet from the building (No shuttle bus needed, very convenient). Parking at the Port of Houston was only $49 for the week versus $70 at Galveston. While there was a short line, check-in took all of about 10 minutes. This was a record check-in time for us even when we had Carnival’s VIP check-in. If you were a past guest on NCL you were considered a “Latitude Member” and received what my kids called a “Fast-Pass” and had your own line and were given a check-in clerk before a first cruiser.
The disadvantages of the Port of Houston is its location and the long walk from the ship terminal to the ship up a very long (but covered) gang way. Unlike other ports we have been in, the building is not two stories nor is it along side the ship, so you are required to pull you carry on bags up a long ramped gangway into the ship. Not terrible, but not convenient either. The location of the port within a very industrial area and the container shipping terminal made for some very ugly views. If it were not for the signage leading you to the cruise ship port, you would be very reluctant to turn onto the roads leading to it. The other disadvantage of the location is the 40 mile sail distance before you get into the gulf and open water.
We were on the ship by 11AM! I’m not sure if this would be “standard” or not however, since this was the first cruise for the Dream in the Caribbean, she may have been relatively empty coming from Miami (although they were cleaning cabins still when we got on-board, so maybe not) I do know that they were still letting people off at 10AM when we returned. But in either case, if you are cruising on the Dream, it would not hurt being there early.
The Room- We had an ocean-view room as there were not that many balcony rooms on the Dream. There are owner suites that seemed very nice and larger suite cabins, but the “standard” cabin was an ocean-view cabin (there are only a very few interior cabins also) The cabin itself was not bad all at. There was a king size bed plus a futon type sofa that pulled out into a full sized bed (which the cabin stewards would close and open each day so that you could use it as a sofa during the day. The cabin had a good amount of clothing storage space (mostly shelving in the closest but the TV stand had 4 drawers in it also. The desk was laughable. It was so small as to be mostly pointless (big enough to hold the “welcome aboard” folder and not much else). If you are sailing on the Dream.. bring a “over the door, plastic shoe thingy” as described elsewhere in this forum. This was the first time we had brought one and found it to be great for being a “vertical desk”. We will definitely bring one on all of our future cruises. The bathroom was a tad smaller than on our Carnival ships, but not unbearable. So overall, the cabin was ok. It was not a disappointment, but I would not have written home about it either. The biggest issue I had with the cabin was the water coming out of the facets in the bathroom. Even on the coldest setting, it was almost scalding. If you let it run for a few minutes it would cool down enough that you could wash you face, but for teeth brushing, you had to fill a glass with ice to cool it down. (We asked our stewards to make sure our ice bucket was always full which turned out to be a very good idea). The toilet flushed with very hot water too. Which is very nasty if you sit down right after it was flushed, your behind got a steam treatment. Yuck…. At first I thought maybe it was just our cabin, but my sister’s cabin on the other side of the ship had the same issue and others we talked to had it also. I THINK they were trying to combat stomach virus problems, but I’m not sure.
As for the rest of the Dream, we found the ship to be a bit tired. It was very well kept, but old none the less. I was VERY disappointed with the architecture. We have sailed on the Celebration in 1995 and I know it was built long before the Dream in 1991, but the styling and the appointments of the Celebration were much nicer than the Dream. The main entry “hall” (I only call it a hall for lack of better terms) is little more than a one story room that contained the reception desk and the shore excursion desk. On the other ships it was a multi-story grand entry with glass elevators. The Dream’s was barely recognizable as an entry. The remainder of the ship is nicely decorated. The lay out is good, everything you needed is on deck 7 (reception) or up with all of the dinning, show theater, casino and piano entertainment areas on deck 9 and 10. We were on deck 8 right below the piano bar area and never heard any noise, so the I wouldn’t worry about noise anywhere on the ship. Which is surprising since none of the “lounges” are in their own enclosed rooms. The piano bar and the disco and the other bar/seating areas are all open to each other (its almost as if the ship was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright with his “open spaces” concepts). Overall, very serviceable, but not what we are used to.
The casino- (my favorite place) was reasonably sized and had a good selection of table games. However, they had 4 blackjack tables, but only two of which were open. A single $5 min table and a single $10 table. The 3rd table was dedicated to Blackjack Tournaments and a fourth was normally not used until the last couple of nights. This made the 2 tables that were running very hard to get on to during the day and impossible to do so at night. Once someone got onto a table they basically camped out all night long. This was not a big issue since I mostly played craps, but still a complaint. The craps table was definitely not “normal” The surface was very “bouncy” and the chip rails did not stick out over the playing surface at all to help keep the dice contained. So if you tried to loft the dice to the other end they immediately bounced out of the table. This was very annoying as it would slow the game down a lot. The only way to keep the dice on the table was to throw them low across the table which tended to mess up the chip stacks. BUT, this didn’t keep me from playing.
Dinning- Freestyle dinning is just not for me. It may have only been the fact that the Dream was not designed for it, but there always seemed to be a line to wait to be seated (I HATE to wait at restaurants) and the buffet area had very little seating, so there was never a table open for breakfast. We had good wait staff on only two nights. We determined that since they probably would never see you again, they didn’t feel they needed to provide “outstanding” service to get their tips. The wait staff in the buffet areas was non-existent. If you wanted a refill on your drinks or coffee, you had to get it yourself. The food was average to poor. They offered an okay selection, but the quality was just not there. The salad was warm. We ate in Le Bistro (the extra fee dinning option) one night and the service and food in there was very good, but it was at the level and quality that we experience in the main dinning room on Carnival ships. One of the waiters we had on the first day commented that galley was too small for freestyle dinning (he had came off of one of the larger/newer NCL ships)
The other service staff was excellent. Our room stewards did a wonderful job. Everyone seemed friendly and helpful. The Kid’s Crew staff were great. They kept our girls entertained and they spent a lot of time doing the activities which is unusual since they didn’t send much time in Camp Carnival on previous cruises, so they are doing something right.
Entertainment. Sub par. I enjoy the shows on the Carnival ships (not really big on dance shows, but I didn’t mind watching them. On the Dream, I watched the first one and determined I didn’t need to waste my time on others. They had two guest acts, a comedian and a magician. They did two shows each. Carnival would bring in a new set of acts in each port. The other problem was that NCL did not allow anything above a “PG-13” rated show. (Carnival would allow R-rated comedy on midnight shows). This seemed to hinder the comedian as he was always having to watch what he was saying.
The only other thing to say would be that the daily activity schedule was very poorly planned. There seemed to be very few things scheduled during the day and then they put multiple activities on top of each other so you had to choose one over the other. I never try to do everything, but at least on this cruise, a little better planning would have allowed you to do more with having to choose one thing over another.
Overall the cruise was about what I expected. I was not disappointed, but neither was I pleasantly surprised. I would say we got good value for our money but we probably won’t sail on NCL again due to the freestyle dinning. If we do, it would be on one of their newer ships set up for it.
The Dream is in its last cruising season out of Houston. After this season, the Dream will go back to the Mediterranean for one last cruise season and then heads to South America and eventual sale to another cruise line on ’08. So it is obvious that NCL recognizes the Dreams limits too.
Carnival Cruise Lines:
Fantasy 90, Celebration 95, Victory 05, Conquest 05, Spirit 6/06, Freedom 6/08, Holiday 7/08, Victory 6/09, Valor 9/09, Dream 6/10, Splendor 8/10,Conquest 8/11,Magic 11/11,Triumph 4/12,Spirit 7/12,Freedom 11/12, Triumph 2/13 - The fire cruise
NCL Dream October 2006, RCCL Mariner OTS June 2007