My wife and I and two of our adult children were aboard NCL's year-old Jewel for its Dec 17-24, 2006, Caribbean cruise. We booked two cabins: an inside stateroom and a balcony stateroom. My wife and I had cruised with NCL before (The Norway, 1983) and loved every minute of it. We also have cruised with Royal Caribbean (The Mariner of the Seas, 2004) and were thrilled with that experience. We were so looking forward to the NCL Jewel and its Freestyle concept, but instead we were treated to several big disappointments.
The first hint that all was not right with NCL was when one of the gifts that I had ordered (fruits, bottle of wine, chocolate-covered strawberries, to be waiting in each stateroom upon arrival) had not been delivered. After several calls we received the missing item the next day, sans strawberries. Ah, well, things are bound to improve....
NCL's Freestyle concept scatters many small specialty restaurants throughout a ship and a party may dine wherever they please. This differs from traditional cruises in which a party is assigned to always dine at the same table in the same dining room, and is therefore always served by the same wait staff. The Freestyle concept may appeal to passengers who prefer to be ignored by wait staff who are either too busy to take time to acquaint themselves with patrons' needs, wants and desires, or who do not care to do so. The frenetic pace and apparent blasť attitude by the ship's wait staff is encouraged by NCL's mandatory tipping policy in which each passenger's credit card is automatically charged at the end of the cruise, rather than allowing each passenger to reward dining room wait staff and room steward personally. This business practice disconnects staff members from responsibility to the individual patron, in our case resulting in my party being largely ignored during meals, being served the wrong dish, etc.
Are you fond of relaxing in a bar where the bartender remembers your name and your favorite beverage? If so, then don't look to NCL for your next cruise. I'm an easygoing guy and I always order the same drink - Crown & Diet Coke - and on a ship filled with bars I could find only one bartender or server who remembered my name and drink. And don't get me started on the so-called "cabin bar setup service." I prepaid $80 for a dozen Diet Cokes, a 500ml bottle of Crown, and perpetual ice service. Our cabin steward gave us ice twice daily - morning and night - plus the first day when I told him that I would appreciate receiving ice every afternoon as well. Well, I'm not fond of drinking in the morning so getting ice then wasn't helpful, and I'm not fond of drinking in bed so ice at 9:00 wasn't very helpful either. NCL's mandatory tipping policy seems once again to have removed any incentive for our cabin steward to remember my request for the bar setup to be restocked with ice.
Of lesser import but noteworthy is NCL's designers' inattention to acoustical control. All of the ship's restaurants, with the exceptions of Le Bistro and Tango's, were so noisy that our group had to speak loudly to hear one another. Also, my wife and I had a balcony cabin whose walls creaked and groaned 24/7, apparently due to a construction defect in which a worker forgot to insert a rubber insulator somewhere, resulting in constant creaking inside the walls.
The shore excursion in Antigua on Wednesday was not quite what we bargained for: The tour guide who collected the group of 30+ people shipside promptly lost most of the group while wending us through the congested dockside streets. My family was the last to board one of the vans and all that remained were fold-down jump seats - 10" x 10" hard seats with 10" x 10" fold-up backs - in the aisle of the shuttle van. Everyone else aboard the same van had luxury padded seat with high seatbacks. Okay, the tour's not off to a great start, but let's focus on getting to the beach where we'll have a great lunch (meal was prepaid, included in the price of the tour) and some aquatic fun. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. The beach restaurant ("Miller's By The Sea") stopped serving lunch within 20 minutes after our tour group arrived, or around 1:30 p.m., and while I did manage to grab a quick lunch, my wife and children missed out on lunch. They tried to speak to several people in the restaurant and were first ignored and then eventually told there was no more food and that nothing could be done about it. In retrospect, my wife and children were lucky, because later that day I came down with a raging case of Caribbean Crud and spent most of the next four days either in bed or in a bathroom.
We will definitely not be booking another cruise with NCL.
Freestyle Dining is either great or lousy. Apparently you believe it's a lousy idea. I would disagree. I prefer dining whan I wish, even if it means less personal service, as long as it is efficent.
NCL isn't the only cruise line using an auto tipping policy, in North America the only major cruise lines not doing so today are Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. With NCL Freestyle, where you can eat in up to 10 different restaurants on a cruise, the likely hood you'll have the same server every night is very slim. On a cash less ship, there's no way you could tip that many servers with cash stuffed into envelopes on the last night of a cruise. So, it has to be an auto-tipping policy, or no tipping at all.
I hope you gave the one bartender a good cash tip above the auto, for remembering your name and favorite drink. With 2500 new passengers every week or so, it's not an easy accomplishment as your local bartender at home, who sees you every day or every week.
Did you give the room stewar dan extra cash tip when you asked for the afternoon ice delivery? The room stewards are scheduled to work in the morning in evenings to change your beds, they have the afternoons off. I'm not surprise you didn't see him or her in the afternoons.
As for the bus trip, being last on always means having the worse seat. Next time, you'll keep up with the guide better so you will not be last. I do fail to see how what happens on the bus reflects upon NCL.
I also fail to see how what happened at the local restaurant reflects on NCL either. I've seen restaurants close in America after lunch and before dinner. Also, you didn't have to eat the food ashore. I never do, and you know why now.
Since the meal was included in the cost of the excursion I think the poster has every right to expect to get what he paid for. If this was an NCL excursion then NCL should be responsible enough to ensure the restaurant they contracted with provides what was promised.
I hope this man spoke to NCL about the excursion once he was back on board, my hope is he was refunded or discounted the price of the excursion. I was on the Jewel last yearand had none of these problems. After each meal the waitstaff gave you a comment card to fill out and return regarding their service. If it was so bad that was your chance to comment. I am sure these cards are viewed by the waitstaff boses, so yes the waitstaff must care if you were pleased with their service or not.
I had a few bartenders remember my name/ drink which is a compliment, but if not I don't hold it against the,. They work like dogs seeing thousands of people every week, working on only a few hours sleep each night, I cut them a break.
I have cruised both RCCL and NCL several times, there are wonderful points to both lines.
We sailed on the Jewel last year after just three months on the water. The ship was great, beautiful and service outstanding and all personnel very friendly. The service in all the dining rooms was excellent. It's hard to expect a cabin steward to work 24/7. As Ron Clark stated they have certain hours to work, mornings and evenings. How could any passenger expect these people to work from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM straight thru. No American worker would do that. Expectations on a cruise can either make the cruise great or disappointing. As for remembering names, go to any American restaurant/bar a few times, and the waiter/waitress probably won't remember your name either. I think the Jewel cruiser who started this thread expected too much. I understand however the frustration over the shore excursion and shortage of food, that would upset me also. I would think this passenger would have forego-ed his meal to feed his kids, and wife. The bus ride on the shore excursions has nothing to do with NCL. In Progresso, Mexico you get a an old converted school bus with plastic bench seats, and no air conditioning, but it gets you where you want to go. The key to a good cruise, is research, good planning, and make a few dining reservations once you get on the ship. Even with freestyle dining on NCL, you must remember there are peak dining times, when there are a fixed number of seats. Everyone can't get in at the same time. Plan your dining experiences ahead for your main meals and make a reservation once on board. That will help limit the frustration and make your dining experience much better. Than you can supplement dining with some of the lesser filled eating areas. On the Jewel and Pearl there are plenty of choices to dine.
Richard & Mary
Las Cruces, New Mexico USA
Pearl Feb 2nd, 2007 Southern Carribean
Pearl May 20th, 2007 Alaska