OVERVIEW This was our 25th cruise in the past six years and our second on Norwegian Cruise Lines, having sailed in '98 on the Norwegian Wind, the Dream's sister ship. We flew American Airlines to Buenos Aires, Argentina three days prior to sailing and visited Vincent's South American relatives. This is a country in economic crisis with many kind and warm hearted people. This itinerary has fascinated us both from our history and literature books. It took us around Cape Horn, through the famous Beagle Channel (named for the vessel on which Charles Darwin sailed in 1833 and catalogued its wonderful wildlife: penguins, elephant seals, cormorants and of course the legendary albatross) and through the Strait of Magellan, -- now we have realized a lifetime dream onboard the M/S Norwegian Dream with the dashing Captain Rolf Sandvik (Norway), whose knowledge of this area and his willingness to share it with the passengers made this trip one of our most memorable.
The Norwegian Dream was commissioned in 1991 and Diana Ross christened her on 12/6/92; she was built in St. Nazaire, France, at a cost of $240 million and was "stretched" in '98 by inserting a 130-foot midsection in Bremerhaven, Germany at an additional cost of $69 million. Her length is 754 ft.; beam 93.5 ft.; gross tonnage 50,764: height (keel to mast) 164 ft; draft 22 ft. and she has a passenger capacity of 1,750 with a crew of 614. This trip she sailed fully booked.
EMBARKATION Embarkation was quite simple since the port was easy to reach on a Sunday morning -- no traffic. The Buenos Aires Port was well organized. Porters took our luggage at the drop off point and wheelchair assistance was prompt. Latitude members (Repeaters Club) were met by a staff member who facilitated passport and security checks. The rest of the check in was done on board where passports were taken and we received yellow boarding cards to be used in all ports. Our passports were returned the day before we disembarked.
This ship has yet to upgrade to the single card system, commonly found on newer ships, which serves as ID boarding document, on board charge card and room key. We understand that this procedure will be adopted when the Dream goes into dry dock in Dover, England, sometime in May, after repositioning to Europe for the summer.
SHIP'S PUBLIC AREAS The Norwegian Dream is what Vincent terms "sober elegance." A very simply outfitted ship of the old style -- very functional -- lots of beautiful wood and shiny brass. She is kept in excellent shape under the watchful eye of Hotel Director Brian Walters, a gentlemen who may take pride in this well organized and ship shape vessel.
Caribbean Deck 4, Biscayne Deck 5 and Atlantis Deck 6 are mostly Cabins with the Medical Center located on the latter.Promenade Deck 7 has cabins and the main entrances to the Lobby, where the Information & Purser's Desks, Shore Excursion and Concierge Desks are located. Just like the great liners of yesteryear, outside is the wrap around promenade deck, also used in the early mornings as a jogging track (three and one-half times around is one mile).
Norway Deck 8 is mostly cabins with balconies and the lifeboat/tenders.
International Deck 9 forward has suites and inside cabins, midship is the Four Seasons Dining Room, and toward the aft there are the following public rooms: The Rendez-vous Bar, Le Bistro (up scale French cuisine, more about this later), the Library, Coffee Bar, Card/Game Area, and finally the multilevel Terraces Dining Room with a wall of windows overlooking the ship's wake -- very beautiful on sea days for dining.
Star Deck 10 has cabins and suites forward, then there is the Star Dust Lounge/Dance Floor where shows and receptions take place (seating is a combination of couches and single upholstered arm chairs with some poles blocking the view of unlucky spectators seated behind them). Midship is the Monte Carlo Casino, Lucky's Bar and aft the well stocked shops.Sun Deck 11 forward has the bridge/radio room, midship are the Owner's Suites, Pool Bar, the Pizzeria, Conference Rooms, the Kid's Corner and aft are the Sun Terraces/Trattoria Dining Rooms again with surround windows; these are beautiful tiered dining rooms with a marvelous underwater mural in the background.
Sun Deck 12 forward holds the Observatory Lounge (always crowded), Sauna, Spa and Gym areas, the Ice Cream Bar and aft is the Youth Center, Video Arcade, Snack Counter and the Sports Bar & Grille, where full breakfasts, lunches and meals are served throughout the day cafeteria style; this is a popular gathering place for those who prefer to eat informally.It is easy to get around this ship due to the three sets of elevators (forward, center and aft) and not half as much walking as there is on the gigaships of RCI (the Adventure, Explorer and Voyager of the Seas). Here most places were just a few steps away from one's cabin or elevator: Great for Vincent who is slowly graduating from the wheelchair to the cane! The overall feeling of this ship is nautical, no neon fantasies here. It is very comfortable and simple in design and execution.
FOOD & SERVICE We happily report that there is much improvement in the food over our last NCL cruise. Executive Chef Patrick Joubert (La Rochelle, France) has the attitude that food is also entertainment and he does his utmost to beguile the passengers with variety. "Free Style" dining allows cruisers the freedom to eat in any of several restaurants at times individually selected. There is no rushing to meet fixed first or late dinner times.
Free Style breakfast is as follows: 6:00 to 11:00 am Full Breakfast, Sports Bar Deck 12. 6:30 to 9:00 am Breakfast Buffet, Four Seasons Dining Room, Deck 9. 6:30 to 11:00 am Jogger's Breakfast, Pizzeria, Deck 11. 7:00 to 9:30 am Sit Down Breakfast, Terraces, Deck 9. There is also a full breakfast served by room service (we took advantage of this and had three minute eggs, crispy bacon, toast, coffee, hot chocolate, fruit compote, juice and cereals (both hot and cold) and assorted sweet rolls on various days, all hot and excellent.
Free Style lunch is as follows: Noon to 2:00 pm Sit Down Lunch, Four Seasons. Noon to 2:00 pm Hot Dogs and Burgers/Salads/Soups and Pizzas, at the Pizzeria. Noon to 3:00 pm Luncheon Buffet, Sports Bar. Noon to 5:30 pm Pizza and Snacks at the Pizzeria (including the best cookies ever!)
3:00 pm to 5:00 pm Ice cream Parlor, Deck 12.Free Style dinner is as follows: 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm BBQ Dinner Pool side (weather permitting) Deck 11. Unfortunately on this cruise it was cold, windy and even rainy at times. 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm Tex-Mex dinner buffet, Sports Bar (There was a great variety, but Vincent prefers to sit at dinner.). 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm Sit Down dinner in the Four Seasons 6:30 pm to 10:00 pm Sit Down dinner in the Terraces.
There are also two specialty restaurants: 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm Le Bistro, (French Mediterranean style cuisine), where the food is interesting, but the service is slow, maybe only on par with the other restaurants on board (try the shrimp Provenšal). There is a $10 cover charge.
7:00 pm to 11:00 pm The Trattoria, Italian dining, where there is a variety of foods and pastas, some excellent some not so good. Try the Spaghetti Bolognese, the Osso Buco and the cannoli. Some good appetizers, especially bruschetta and mozzarella with tomatoes and basil. However, the waiters need to learn the Italian words on the menu, since they usually resorted to some abbreviations to identify the items, e.g. P & M for prosciutto and melon. But it was fun and we enjoyed their mispronunciations.
We found under Chef Patrick the food to be far better than the last time we sailed on the Norwegian Wind, but there is still room for improvement. As seasoned cruisers we know that corporate offices control much of the supplies and dictate specifics of recipes in order to regulate quality control. Personally, we would like to see more freedom in preparation, so that originality could enhance menus.
Chef Patrick is pleased with the Free Style dining, since it allows for a calmer galley when the work is spaced out over several time schedules and several venues. Using the "mis en place" system the line chefs are awaiting orders from the waiters and can devote special attention to every order. We were happy to hear that the galley crew likes it as much as the passengers. We had a tour of the galley and saw why the Dream rated a perfect score of 100 by the CDC during their last two sanitary inspections, in April and December, 2001. This perfect score is rarely achieved. BRAVO!Service on board is fast (24 hour room service) and friendly; there is a pervasive feeling of willingness to please. We always have good service because we recognize that politeness works both ways. Both water and coffee on board are excellent, no excessive chlorine taste here.
The cruise highlight was dinner with Captain Sandvik. Mary was seated on his left and had a wonderful evening conversing with such an open and friendly man whose love of the sea is evident. He spoke of the Norwegian fjords and the cruises he will Captain there, on the Dream, this June. Chief Engineer Steinar Kruse added to the congeniality of the evening with ship lore and even Norwegian Fish recipes. Chef Joubert outdid himself with a dinner which included the following: Norwegian Seafood Platter, Wild Mushroom Bisque, Lobster Tail/ Filet Mignon, and a surprise dessert which descended from heaven (a cup crafted out of chocolate filled with an exquisite Cappuccino Mousse -- our compliments to the Chef! All this was accompanied by two California wines, a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon, all served under the watchful direction of Sr. Maitre d' Wolfgang Unger. Ah! a night to remember, wonderful food, wonderful drink and wonderful conversation!
The best Concierge afloat is Carlos Zarate (Chile) whose personal knowledge of his homeland allowed us to explore the food and sights of Chile with the benefit of an insider's advice. He is capable, willing and able to solve any question which may arise. He is a dear new friend, who arranged a personal tour of Nobel Prize winner Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda's homes in Valparaiso and Isla Negra and some incredible meals in local restaurants.
CABIN We were in Owner's Suite #1102 on Deck 11. When entering on the left there is a small walk-in room/closet with wardrobes on one side, and shelves, cabinets with a personal safe and a pullman bunk bed on the other. Next is a large living/dining room with a wall of windows facing the sea, furnished with a sofa bed, a brass and glass coffee table, mini refrigerator, TV and two upholstered chairs.
When entering the cabin on the right, there is the full bath with tub, shower, granite counter tops and mirrored cabinet. The far door leads to the bedroom, with a king size bed with mauve suede headboard, two night stands with wall sconces, a mirrored vanity/desk, a second small TV and wall-to-wall windows (for stargazing) with a private door to the balcony which holds two chaise lounges and a table -- excellent when we sailed through the Chilean Fjords right up to the Amelia Glacier. Memories are made of this: still blue waters with icebergs floating in them and silence all around and the fun of watching the crew in a small boat selecting the perfect iceberg to hoist aboard for the close inspection of the passengers.The French door leads back to the living area with another balcony door on the right and a bar on the left and two more chairs. This suite is restful in decor (shrimp and beige in color and natural woods) and very functional in design. We had an excellent stewardess, Lelica Koncurat (Croatia) and two butlers, Denny Muharran (Indonesia) and Roquel Dimaappi (Philippines) who were very efficient and quick to notice which cheese and fruit we liked.
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Soozy Atkins is a multitalented lady (she sings beautifully), who heads a very busy staff who run the following: Trivia (we won six), Bingo (we lost six), exercise/walking, Bridge games, Arts & Crafts (the multi-lingual International Host, the handsome and charming Fulvio Mazza (Italy) was spied teaching beading to enchanted ladies) his sonorous voice in Spanish making announcements over the intercom enraptured everyone.There was a good mix of entertainment featuring the Jean Ann Ryan Company, snappy dancers and singers, especially Elvy Rose in concert ("I Will Always Love You" and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" ). At the Coffee Bar pianist Katie Guglielmo played the Classics and a "Tribute to Frank Sinatra." There were a series of seminars and lectures on various topics, including psychology, geography, languages, etc..., and Argentine Tango lessons along with tango shows by the Duo Miro -- really smoooooooth! There was something for everyone to enjoy, plus lots of quiet places just for reading or doing crossword puzzles.
ACTIVITIES & PORTS The following are some of our observations and tour suggestions:
1. Buenos Aires, Argentina. Sunday sailing time 4:30 pm. Since we were in Buenos Aires three years ago, we did not book an excursion with NCL. However, on our previous trip we had a great time by spending a day at an estancia (a farm where the gauchos will entertain you with riding, dancing and an Argentine BBQ).
2. Montevideo, Uruguay. Monday 7:00 am to 4:00 pm. This was a rainy day, so we did not do much sightseeing. There is a free bus to the leather and sweater shops, as Floridians we have little use for those items. Instead we went and bought souvenirs by the local artisans. NCL offered a City Sights and Wine Tasting tour, 5 1/2 hours, $89.
3. Puerto Madryn, Argentina. Wednesday 11:00 am to 7:30 pm. At five in the afternoon locals did a Folkloric Program on board called "Pilmayquen" and those who saw it raved about it.
We took a private tour arranged on the dock to see the penguin and sea elephant colonies: a boring five and one half hour ride whose monotony was only broken by an excellent lunch of local fare (roasted lamb and free range chicken). The wild life at this time of the year was sparse. NCL Shore Excursions offered these tours: Port Madryn and Gaiman Welsh Colony (we heard was excellent) 3 1/2 hours, $68; Patagonia Experience (visit the Paleontological Museum and the Estancia San Guillermo) 7 hours, $99; Port Tombo Penguin Experience (walk among penguins) 7 1/2 hours, $137.
4. Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. Friday 10:00 am to 3:30 pm. Tenders to the island were only able to land twice this season; we were lucky with a beautiful sunny day. We took a bus tour for 1 1/2 hours, booked on the pier for $15. The Welsh settlers are nice people with reason to be proud of their schools, senior citizen homes, hospital and other health care facilities. There are great woolen buys here.
5. Cape Horn, Saturday at sea -- this was phenomenal, sailing around the Horn, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Pacific, was every thing we thought it would be. The whistling winds came up; the seas grew high and wild; we saw through the binocular the Albatross Monument (inscribed with the "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner") and the guano covered mounts, and a vivid rainbow. We wondered how the courageous navigators of old ever rounded the Horn in their fragile sail ships.
6. Ushuaia, Argentina, Sunday 7:00 am to 12:30 pm. After our tempestuous sailing around the Horn, we sailed through the channels of Tierra del Fuego toward Ushuaia, the southern most city on the Earth. We took the Penguin Discovery tour, a catamaran through the Beagle Channel and saw penguins, sea lions and cormorants, large fish-eating birds with webbed feet, who can be mistaken for penguins, from a distance. 5 1/2 hours, $98.
We then set sail toward Punta Arenas through the famous Beagle Channel (which rarely exceeds more than 2 miles in width) on calm waters with its spectacular snow topped mountain peaks and breath taking glaciers such as the Hollanda, Italia, Francia, Alemania and Romanche (the latter named after a ship). Ushuaia is also the southern most end of the Pan American Highway which starts in Alaska and ends here after 16,000 miles.
7. Punta Arenas, Chile. Monday 7:00 am to 6:30 pm. This is the jumping off point for Antarctica Fly Over Experiences to the "White Continent," 5 1/2 hours, $1,425, a tour which was inexplicably canceled (bad weather or not enough bookings, probably). There is also a tour of the Torres del Paine National Park for 11 hours, $989, fly, drive, and hike to the Biosphere Reserve and Laguna Amarga (famous for its flamingo colony and beautiful blue water). We were not physically up to such long excursions, maybe next time!
We went into Punta Arenas and with the help of Carlos and his suggestions. We had our first taste of Conger Eel and the best King Crab in our life at "Sotito's" Restaurant in O'Higgins Street, just three blocks from the Ship. We went with our travel companions, the Drs. Bozian and the Drs. Chen, who all agreed that this was a lunch to savor.
8. Tuesday and Wednesday were days at sea. We traveled through the Strait of Magellan and the Patagonian Channel with its wonderful scenery.
9. Puerto Chacabuco, Chile is the scenic part of Western Patagonia where the ship's tenders took us ashore. Tour: We took the Puerto Chacabuco & Surroundings tour for 2 1/2 hours, $39. The tour followed the river along the gorge and stopped at Simpson National Reserve, rugged scenery, rugged bus ride!
10. Puerto Montt, Chile. Friday 8:00 am to 4:30 pm. We booked a private tour on the dock for $25 and visited Puerto Varas (the City of Roses), Lake Llanquihue near the magnificent snowcapped volcano Mt. Osorno. Here we saw torrents rushing through gorges made of lava. This is a beautiful area. NCL offered several excursions, but one that sounded interesting was the tour of Petrohue Falls and Lake Esmeralda (known as the most beautiful lake in the world due to its blue-green color) for 8 hours, $119. It was too long for us to book.
11. Valparaiso, Chile was our last port. Since we had a late evening flight, instead of taking a direct transfer to Santiago Airport, Carlos booked a private tour for the six of us with the Cocha Travel Agency of Santiago. We had a very special tour with English speaking guides, Gustavo and Cristobal, who made this tour extremely interesting with a handout of poems and detailed descriptions of the sites visited. The highlights of this tour were the visits to two homes of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, where we saw his life long eclectic collections (from masks to carvings taken from the prows of ships, from ship bells to fancy glass bottles, etc., etc...) He was a person of many interests, widely traveled and an inveterate collector. This tour gave us a personal glimpse into the poet as a man. The tour was 8 hours; the cost was $430 for the six of us. For the quality of transportation (a new mini bus), the sites visited and the pleasant company of Alicia Geisse, travel consultant, the guides and our friends, this was one of the best tour value we ever had. Thanks Cocha!
Santiago, Chile has a very modern well organized airport and boarding was easy.
SUGGESTIONS This was our "dream" cruise, especially in regard to the very interesting itinerary. It is difficult to criticize something on this cruise, since we had such a great vacation. We did not let minor inconveniences adversely affect our "great time." As we have said before, we have never had a bad cruise. However, we'll keep on cruising since we are still searching for the perfect one. So we have to search here and there for some imperfection, otherwise it will be all over, with the complete fulfillment of our search.
What was the problem with this cruise? It is unfair to criticize food, since what tastes delicious to one's palate it may taste inedible to someone else. However, to those who are biased toward the Italian cuisine, there is room for improvement in certain recipes, especially in regard to palate expectation. When we choose from the menu a specific item, we expect that item to have a characteristic taste to match our expectation; i. e., Fettuccine Alfredo or Bucatini alla Bolognese, are expected to have specific flavors, traditionally associated with those dishes, which are the results of given recipes and ingredients. Unfortunately, on the Dream some of those dishes, especially the Italian ones, did not meet our expectation.
Recommendation #1. If NCL wants to offer a variety of dining options, it is important to use the appropriate recipes and ingredients. The chef of each specialty restaurant must be a specialist of that specific cuisine; i. e., trained Italian chefs for the Trattoria and French chefs for the Bistro.
Recommendation #2. We had pasta tasting gluey, even though the chef at the Trattoria cooked it al dente just for us. The problem is not as much as in the cooking method, but in the quality of the pasta used. This seems to be a problem in common with some other ships. We suggest that, for a few more pennies per pound, a better quality durum wheat pasta should be purchased, possibly made in Italy, where pasta is the queen of that cuisine.
It seems that our recommendations are becoming repetitious, since they are similar for most of the ships we have known. Probably it is common that the ingredients are obtained through centralized purchasing and that most cruise lines are using the same suppliers.Well, it was a great cruise. Happy Cruising!