October 9, 2007
NCL has been sold by the Norwegians to an Indonesian shipping company, who implemented and heavily promote "Freestyle Cruising." Actually, it is a cost cutting plan that reduces the number of waiters by extending the restaurant operating hours with the expectation that fewer tables can be serviced if the guests arrive over a period of four hours instead of all guest being seated at the same time.
NCL's Dream on a recent transatlantic cruise had 1,842 passengers serviced by a staff of only 705. Most cruise ships have a ratio of at least one employee for two passengers. Evidently, at least two hundred staff members had been eliminated by extending the hours of one resturant and closing or limiting the use of their other resturant. The fallacy of this plan is that most guests want to eat at approximately the same time anyway, which produces long lines waiting to get into the resturant at lunch or dinner time. For instance, the evening Theater Show gets over and everyone heads for dinner, or shore excursions return to the ship and the whole group is ready for lunch. Your wait for breakfast, lunch or dinner at a table under the "Freestyle" plan will consistently require you to stand in line from 10 to 45 minutes. Meanwhile, the one small buffet resturant gets incredibly crowded and then you can't find an available table after going through the buffet line.
Do not expect NCL's "Freestyle Cruising" to be for your convenience, unless you don't mind waiting in a long line for a table (even if you are willing to share) at almost every meal. And by the way, there will be no songs, skits or marches through the dinning room by your waiters, like you may have enjoyed on other cruise ships.