by Dale Kaukeinen
April 30, 2006
Summary: Nicely maintained and refurbished older, smaller cruise ship, excellent crew and staff, great meals, good value. Bermuda is a close, clean and interesting destination. Great beaches, tours and shopping. Would recommend.
We were very happy with the Norwegian Crown on this latest cruise to Bermuda from Philadelphia. It was definitely an older crowd (not a 'party' boat), and few children, which suited us. The trade-off is negotiating hallways and lobbies with some older and more infirm passengers and finding that nobody wants to get up and dance at the various music venues. As we live near Philadelphia, it was a real treat to leave from a small port rather than Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. The process was painless and well organized, and we were able to park at the pier for $70 for the week. The passage out to Bermuda was very rough, but we had brought 'the patch' for seasickness and were not much bothered. It did make walking around the ship quite a challenge and some older folks fell. We saw one broken arm as a result. The return was much calmer and I doubt anyone was seasick coming back. Bermuda in early may can be cool-jacket weather. The water is 65-70 degrees, pretty cold for swimming and snorkeling and quite windy. We understand the locals don't go in the water much before July so these early cruises are really pushing the envelope on water activities. Our snorkel trip was cancelled due to windy conditions. I gathered it made the trips out to reef areas rather unpleasant. There was no problem about taking prepaid charges off our bill, and the staff tried their best to offer replacements.
On-board ship entertainment was pretty limited but sincere. The casino was small but fun, only one table for $5 blackjack. There is smoking in all ship public areas but it wasn't too much of a problem and most times we could just move. Bingo is very expensive (av. $50 a session) but cleverly done with wireless readers and computers, minimum $100 payouts, and after one try we were hooked. We won twice and probably about broke even. Our stateroom was one of the cheaper outside cabins but it was roomy and better than we expected. Excellent if uninspired steward service on our deck.
Professional if somewhat cool restaurant service-since the 'Freestyle' approach means you are never at the same table you always have different servers and you don't get very familiar with them. The hostess gently pushes group seating but will also seat you separately. The 'automatic gratuity' of $10/day covers tips to all the crew and staff except for special individual things like spa treatments, etc. I think it should be called a 'service fee' since it wasn't voluntary. Still, it was nice to not have to worry about finding folks to tip at the end of the voyage. There was no charge for room service-a pleasant surprise. It was odd to charge for soft drinks, but since we don't drink these it didn't matter.
Food, atmosphere and service in the Seven Seas restaurant was excellent. We were never tempted to try to reserve one of the 4 'specialty' restaurants. For informal and between meals eats the buffet line at the Yacht Club was also great. Our biggest food problem was that we found the coffee undrinkable. We are avid coffee drinkers and only until we could get to a Bermuda grocery store and buy some flavored creamer did we succeed in making the Crown's coffee drinkable. You could get some half and half from the wait staff with difficulty in the small packs but we were generally expected to use milk to lighten our coffee (ugh!). Expect to spend at least 50% of your basic cruise bill in shore and shipboard activities and minimal purchases/souvenirs. Drinks are $5.50-$8 plus a $1.50 service fee and they do add up. Norwegian offers vouchers for in-town dining for $5 that will get you a burger or equivalent at one of the interesting pubs or small restaurants, particularly common in Hamilton. I would recommend the Hog Penny in Hamilton or Frog and Onion at King's Wharf for at least drinks if not a meal-seem well patronized by locals as well.
St. George is my favorite Bermuda port -- you can walk to everything. We enjoyed Tobacco Bay (the one time I got wet) and the quaint streets and shops. Hamilton has a small museum near the post office that is on 'island time' and finally opened after 10 am one morning after we had been there several times to check. The art museum is also interesting but most everything out of town gets complicated to see with expensive taxis or setting up for bus transport. A taxi to the zoo/aquarium and back cost us about $30 plus the $20 admission. We did just one ship-organized excursion, a glass-bottomed boat. It was fun to get off the ship but the coral all looks brown under illumination at night and we only saw sea slugs and one kind of fish.
The best shore excursions seem to be at the Navy Royal Dockyards at the extreme western tip of the Bermuda islands. The cruise line calls this port 'King's Wharf' but they must have made this name up themselves. It is not called that in any tour books or maps we purchased. Here you can do a dive with an air helmet, swim with dolphins, see the best Bermuda museum, best fort, ride Segways, go biking, visit a good snorkel beach, and enjoy the best shopping under one roof that Bermuda offers. The bad news for us was due to some scheduling mix-up, we didn't get a full day at 'King's Wharf' as advertised, but only one hour (!) in the morning from 9:30 (when most things open) until 10:30 am on our last day. It was just enough time to squeeze in some final shopping and think about what we were missing. Hardly seemed worth the trouble of the Crown docking for this limited period. I gather another cruise ship had previously tied up the single berth at the dock and didn't let us in. But the change was not announced until the day before and no accommodations were made. If we had known we would have gone ahead over on a $4 ferry ahead of the Crown and caught up with it at departure. So don't pin your entire cruise vacation on one big shore excursion-these kinds of schedule changes or weather-related cancellations are probably common and you should always be flexible and have some backup plans.
In summary, we would definitely cruise with Norwegian again and hope to return to Bermuda in future during July-August when the water is more hospitable (although that also gets into storm season). And I definitely want more time at the Royal Navy Dockyards (“King's Wharf”) to do shore activities next time.