Norwegian Dream Panama Canal and X-Mas Cruise 12/6/02 - 01/05/03
On our arrival in Miami, we had to drop our suitcases with a person outside the terminal, who had no identification to show that he represented the cruise line nor did he give out any baggage claim receipts. So, in case of a loss, I suppose the customer lucked out. Check-in was chaotic - we were booked on a back-to-back, the girl on the counter did not even take the tickets for the second cruise. When we asked her about the second cruise, she spoke to her colleague in Spanish and neither indicated confidence as to what they were doing. Their grasp of the English language was poor. We had also completed a guest registration form over the internet; the girl was not interested in these forms and we had to sign another guest registration form while checking-in. Finally we made it onto the ship and found our cabin. The cabin was not made up yet from the person on the previous cruise (14:30). Luggage arrived in our still dirty cabin in a timely manner. The cabin was finally cleaned at around 16:30 hours. Departure from Miami was delayed by about 5 hours, which is why we had to miss Belize and go to Cozumel/Mexico instead, we were told.
The ships condition looks a lot older, than the 1991 build or the 1998 stretch and total refurbishment would suggest. A lot of the carpets looked stained and some were even very wet from leaking water pipes on Deck 4.
The restaurants Terraces, Four Seasons and Trattoria made a clean and bright impression and seating arrangements were appropriate for all different group sizes. This is what I was looking forward to. The first night we ate at the Sports Bar, as we did not want to sit in a restaurant for hours with our 4 year old getting tired from all the travelling. The food here was not even on a match with a $6.99 "All-you-can-Eat" US Diner. The second day we tried the Four Seasons. Food was acceptable but very slow service. In the evening we went to the Trattoria at 18:00 hours. We wanted to eat with our daughter, who wanted to go with the children's club to a show at 19:15 hours. We waited from 18:00 hours to 19:07 before any food arrived at our table. As my daughter wanted to go to the show, she could not eat a lot in 6 minutes and most food was wasted. The food again was acceptable. However, every time we ordered from the children's menu, be it a simple toasted sandwich to spaghetti, the order took at least 40 minutes to arrive. Portions were enormous for a four year old - the chefs are not interested.
On examination of the "Freestyle Dinner" times I found, that despite the catalogues advertising, the Restaurants were closed, one after the other from between 20:30 to 21:30 hours. The catalogue suggests that you can eat till midnight, which we found to be untrue on this ship! Another experience we had on the second day was, that we strolled the ship and found the shuffleboard and Basketball field on Deck 13. A couple of English kids had a soccer ball and we started to play a round of soccer. After about 5 minutes two girls from the Mandara Spa on Deck 12 came and asked us to stop playing, as this would disturb passengers in the fitness room and the spa. I asked why Norwegian Dream had a sports field when you can't use it. They shrugged their shoulders and left. By this time I was livid, as I was looking forward to do some ball games on this cruise. I requested an appointment with the Hotel Director. On the next day I was granted permission to speak to the man. Bret, the Hotel Director, a Canadian man of about 40 years, told me that the rule is made from Miami, that the sports field can't be used, as the plop, plop of the balls would upset people in the massage cubicles. I asked why I have to suffer for the mis-design of this NCL ship. He was not really interested and told me, that he will see, what he can do and put some time in. He did open the court a few times: On sea days in the morning between 8-10 am and in the afternoon between 12-14 hours. Now that sounds very good, but please consider: Sit down Breakfast is between 8-10 and Sit down Lunch is between 12-14 hours and unless you did not care for food you could not play, as it takes a minimum of 1 ½ hours to do a sit down meal.
After dark you can not use the shuffleboard fields either, as the lights would disturb the captain on the bridge two decks down!!!! (That was a new one, especially as the same lights are going around the whole ship on Deck 12 below.)
The golf clubs on the driving range were taken away in the evening and the table tennis corner was filled with deckchairs after sunset, so no sports were possible after around 18:00 hours.
The boat went through the Panama Canal, which was spectacular. After the Panama Canal, we were informed by the Captain, that we will stop just outside the canal for two hours to take on some fuel. Some 6 hours later we finally left our anchored mooring and continued on towards Salavery/Peru. We were meant to arrive in Salavery at 7 am, after a sea day. During our day at sea we were informed, that because of our delay in the Panama Canal we would only arrive at 12:00 hours and that the ship would leave on the dot by 15:00 hours. Well that would leave 3 hours, but oh No you have to be all aboard by 14:30 hours, which only gave us 2.5 hours. Salavery is a mining town with a few houses around a mine. The nearest town Trujillo was 15 miles away and there were only a few taxis available outside the port. Now, that was ok, if you booked a NCL tour, because the ship would wait for your delayed arrival with the bus, but if you were on your own, tough luck. I risked it anyhow and found a nice town around a nice square.
That evening we went to dinner at the Terraces and ordered a Portuguese Cucumber Salad. When a small bowl with a few green salad leaves arrived I asked where the cucumbers were. The waiter showed me a couple of pickled gherkins. I told him, that these are pickled gherkins and not cucumber. His response was: Well nobody else complained! After this answer I talked to the Maitre D', who apologised and told me, that there were no cucumbers on the boat. Apparently the menus are done in Miami and handed to the cooks onboard, who try to cook the menus with the items loaded.
The next few stops were uneventful till the night before we reached Valparaiso, the change over from cruise one to the next cruise. That night we could only sleep very little. All 3 lifts on Deck 4 forward are closed to the public and suitcases are loaded up all night. On Deck 4 the suitcases were literally thrown from the lift into the passageway, where someone else picked them up and threw them towards the exit door. This exit door is a watertight door and an alarm bell goes off anytime the door either opens or shut to warn people from being squeezed. We were in the second cabin (4208) from this commotion. Every two minutes the alarm bell went off, staff shouting across the hallways and the loud thumping of suitcases flying against walls. At 1:30 am we called Reception to complain about this. They responded with the statement, that they will send security down there. Nothing changed till 4:30 am, when I finally fell asleep. At 8:00 am we were woken by a knock on the door, because checkout time was being called. Firstly we were back to back cruisers, which our cabin stewardess knew and secondly I remember reading in that fancy NCL brochure: Guest-friendly disembarkation, relax and enjoy your final morning aboard the ship. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the buffet or in the dining room, or a Continental breakfast served in your stateroom. No more standing in a long line to leave the ship. Disembark at your leisure, as late as 10 am in most ports. No more sitting around in public rooms on the ship with all your hand luggage, waiting for disembarkation. Like any other non-freestyle cruise ship coloured tickets were handed out for disembarkation and the colours called from about 7:30 am. People were even notified on the disembarkation meeting by Dottie, the cruise director with the voice from hell, that no room service was available on checkout day. So much for that "freestyle" disembarkation. We wandered into Valparaiso, everything was shut on this Sunday and so we decided to go back to the boat. What a mistake! There were 400 people back-to-back from Miami, but no entertainment was offered, no decent lunch or anything till after the boat left at 17:00 hours. What a disrespect and mediocre planning towards these 400 people.
In Valparaiso we got 1450 new guests, giving a total of 1850 people for the X-mas/New Year part of the cruise. If we thought the first part was bad, there was news for us! Of the new guests, there were 700 Columbians and a few other South Americans with about 300 teenagers and kids. Anyone with a bit of experience with Latin nations knows, they don't have breakfast till 9:00 am and they do not eat dinner between 17:30 and 21:30 hours. They start eating around 22:00 hours. Well obviously NCL has not heard about this, when they marketed this trip in South America, because they did not want to change their eating times, causing literal fist fights in the restaurant. The Hispanics came at 5 minutes before closing time and demanded their meal, as it was not 21:30 yet. These dinners were drawn out till 1:00 am, causing upset waiting staff. But as always, the small staff on the boat had to deal with the problems head office could not think off. The morning after Valparaiso we noticed, that we did not have a newspaper. We asked at reception for a paper to be told, that NCL does not do them any longer, but I could order them for $3.95 daily. I pointed out, that I am a latitudes member and they get a paper anyhow, but again I was told, that this privilege had been removed.
At lunch time we went to the restaurant and were shoved a bowl with antiseptic wipes under the nose to clean our hand before going into the restaurant. Well best regards from Norwalk I thought, but this was denied for days, till my whole family got it, spending 7 days in the cabin. The "Freestyle Daily" announced that the doctor onboard did all consultations for free for people with stomach problems. Still denial, till some here unnamed officer finally made a mistake in a conversation with me admitting having had a passenger board in Valparaiso with Norwalk. The passenger was given medication and told to stay in his room for 72 hours, but walked the boat instead, spreading the virus around.
Entertainment on the boat was mediocre at best. The "Freestyle daily" was filled with 2 pages of activities, but once you looked closer you could get a lot of information about when the Casino Slots, Mandara Spa , Gift Shops open, the cost of today's Cocktail Special, etc. (i.e. everything in which you can spend money to give them extra revenue). If you took all this information out of the activity sheet, because the opening times are on the reverse side AGAIN, there was a Trivia left or an Ice carving exhibition. Most interesting activities were between 13:00 and 15:00 hours, when most people were eating or having a rest (Hispanics call it Siesta NCL). Just in case of disbelief, I have taken copies of "Freestyle Daily" and will make them available here as well. The Cruise Director Dottie enjoyed making her daily announcements, repeating everything in the "Freestyle Daily"; obviously there were a lot of illiterate people on the boat. Dotties voice was so croaky, that it drove a lot of people to the wall. I found out, that she had 6 operations on her voice cords, but, as much as I do sympathise with her, she should NOT hold a microphone!
Room Service: We had our 4-year old child with us and used the sofa bed in the living room for her to sleep on. On any cruise line this sofa bed is made back into a sofa at daytime for seating down, not with my room girl! For 30 days we had a bed and no other sitting area but our beds. This was brought to the attention of Front Desk Manager Derick van der Nest, Hotel Director Bret and Hostess Elke in the first few days of our cruise, nothing changed to the day we departed. We felt that our girl was very lazy and unfriendly - but felt this has also to do with the tipping policy (see below). We did not have a room service menu in our room and asked the room girl for one, she told us to get one from reception. Another day we did not have cold water, just boiling hot one. I reported it to the room girl who told me to call 23 (reception) and tell them. I thought that this was part of the room steward's job!
This brings me to the "Freestyle Tipping". For MY convenience, so I don't have to worry about envelope stuffing on the last day, NCL will charge my account with $10 a day for tips, which they promise to distribute. Well the attitude of some staff tells me something different. NCL wants to give the lazy man or woman the same amount than the guy or girl that rips their "ass" out to help you? NOT in my world NCL!!!!! Tips are for service and NOT an automatic increase of cruise charges! I took up on this subject to find out (from staff and Officers), that it does not make a difference to their wages if I tipped $1 or $1000 as all tips go to Miami; wages have been increased in lieu of tips. A lot of the nice staff are quitting or walking away from NCL, because they earn up to $1500 (particular Waiter) less a month with "Freestyle Tipping" over traditional tipping. Once I found out, I went to reception to adjust my tips, on the "Gratuity Adjustment Form", to individual tipping to be informed, that it does not make a difference, because if the staff receive a direct tip, they have to pool the money. If they don't and it is found out, they will be terminated (What a nice company this must be to work for).
All in all I feel that the top management on this boat has about the quality of a local McDonalds Restaurant Manager, not more and not less. The only people to really comment are Victor, the Ships Restaurant Manager, from Portugal and Thomas Braun, the Maitre D' in the Terraces Restaurant, from Germany. They always kept their countenance and had a friendly smile or a few words for their guests, trying their best to please everyone with the material given.
Children's programme On first part of cruise there were only 20 children on board the boar from 3 to 17 years of age. The entertainment offered to all was the same. A film for the teenagers was put in the television and the younger ones were expected to watch this. Our 4 year old daughter complained that she was fed up of watching the same movie for the third time! Too much was made of the television and watching the 45 minute shows in the evening, to make the job easier for the cruise staff. I do not subject my daughter to 45 minutes of a show, because I know that she will get restless. NCL does and even has the audacity to complain about my child and threaten to ban her for one session of the children's club (which we actually had to do once!). Timings were totally for the cruise staff and not for the parents. On the "last" evening of the first cruise, they even had the club only open from 7.00pm to 8.30pm; officially it was because parents want to get things packed for disembarkation (I certainly find it quicker to pack without my 4 year old); unofficially, the staff told us that they need to clean up and prepare for the new passengers - is that the passengers problem? We did get it changed to 10.00pm, but think that this is not necessary.
A few other gripes:
. A litre of water costs US$2.95 plus 15% tip (Olympia Explorer was US1.75 plus 15% tip for 1.5 litres) . Wine and Cocktails are overly priced on this boat in comparison to other boats and large quantities of ice are used. . The specialty restaurant Le Bistro is not worth £10 difference - same food, just silver service! . When leaving the boat at port of call, no record of who leaves the boat (i.e. magnetic room key not used as ID card as well). . New Years entertainment was very poor; no extra hours in Children's room, Casino closed down. . Tender boat drivers were appalling and should not be allowed to drive the tender boats. Tender boat operation very poor in general, from tender ticket collection to quantity of boats used. . Television was very poor. During the whole cruise they repeated the same pre recorded comedy shows, reception of cartoon network and CNN were unreliable and only one movie channel. No radio. No moving map with interesting data such as outside temperature, speed of boat and position. The worse thing was that the whole programme was repeated the second part of our cruise!!!
Inflexibility of catering to 400 back-to-backers As there were 400 people of board that were staying on for a second cruise, you would think that NCL would be able to use their brains and provide some different entertainment!! How wrong can you be! >From breakfast hours on the check out day for the non back-to-backers, to exact replica of entertainment, shows (apart from X-MAS and New Year), menus and even trivia questions!
When we were going around Cape Horn our Captain was giving explanations about everything we see. All of a sudden, without realising that he did not turn the microphone off we heard: S..hit, sh..it, starboard, starboard. Immediately after the announcement the boat was leaning in a sharp right turn, sending all plates in the Sports Bar to the floor. We almost hit a rock sticking out of the water, when the wavy water revealed it. I wonder if they can afford sea charts on NCL Dream. In the afternoon the Captain Rolf Sandvik came on the microphone again to tell us, that the words he used were nautical terms for a sharp right. I don't know if his jokes were appreciated by everyone, that realised how close we were to a serious accident.
In summary we would not use NCL again, as we fell that they turned into a very greedy company (since purchase from Star?), charging much too much for bar drinks (Cocktail with 90% ice $8.74 including Service charge), water ($3.39 for 1 litre), tours, bingo ($49 per session with their computer), newspapers ($3.95 a day), photographs ($19.95) and Mandara spa products. We also feel that the staff attitude is downright unfriendly (with a few exceptions) and that they are not really trying. Entertainment/Sports activities for adults and children were terrible to non existent (apart from Bingo and gambling and anything else that could bring extra revenue). The shows were boring. Also the no alcohol on boat policy we find very short sighted; my husband and I like a bailey's before dinner in the evening, but we could not even buy a bottle from the duty free shop to take to the room. We also feel that the convenience of the staff is more important than the convenience of the passenger.