On Jan 26, 2008 my wife and I booked a 12 night cruise on the NCL Gem out of New York to the Eastern Caribbean with another couple. It was great to be on a new ship to some new destinations. The cruise was great and we had a good time. Our only complaints were minor ones, no ship pins were available and one of our Latitude treats was never delivered to our cabin. While on the ship we availed ourselves of the $250 deposit special, where you could get a $100 credit on your current cruise and use the $250 deposit for a future cruise within two years. We noticed that the NCL Jade (a renamed Hawaii ship) would be leaving around the same time next year from NY to the Western Caribbean, a destination that is not really available from NY. We planned on using the deposit for this future cruise. Upon arriving home a group of friends and relatives asked us to join them on the NCL Gem for a 7 day cruise out of NY to FL and Nassau. Since we had a good time on the Gem in January we decided to book on this April 5, 2008 cruise. The deposit would have to wait to be used next January.
Well our good time experience turned into a bad time experience. The Saturday we left NY we booked a dinner in one of the free specialty restaurants, La Cucina. On our January cruise we were never able to get a reservation in this restaurant until the last night. I was happy to see we were able to get in the first night without any problems especially since I raved about the food, service and the fact that there was no charge involved like the Bistro or Cagney's Steakhouse. Well guess what happened at the end of the meal? Our waiter came over and asked who was paying for the meals. Boy was I embarrassed to find out that there was now a charge for the previously "free" restaurant. Needless to say I paid the bill, which according to the NCL daily newsletter should have been half price, but wasn't.
At our second Latitudes party (for silver, gold, & platinum repeat customers) I managed to corner the Hotel Director, Prem. He remembered me from our January cruise since I had requested the use of a spa massage table for a Reiki session for a relative who has cancer. He was very accommodating then. This time however when I mentioned how embarrassed I was to find out that both of the "free" restaurants, i.e. the Italian and Mexican, now charged a fee, his answer was "since the other ships do it we have to do it." Wrong answer. If he was in Atlantic City or Vegas he would have been fired for such an insensitive comment. He didn't even apologize or indicate he was sorry to see us put on the spot in front of our guests. I don't expect a free cruise or some other miracle, but it would have been thoughtful if he had offered a bottle of wine or a free drink at dinner.
We also talked to Captain Frank and asked why the ship had changed its itinerary by dropping the port of Key West and replacing it with Freeport. His answer was just as bad, saying "that when the trip was first advertised they thought they could make it back to NY on time, but then realized that they could not." This sounds like more BS. The more likely reason was that the increase in fuel prices would cause them to burn more fuel to increase the speed of the ship on it's return trip. The Captain also indicated "that there were more changes that would take place in the future." Since he was unable to elaborate, I can only gather that these changes will not be for the better.
Other little points to ponder about the NCL Gem were obtained from past cruisers at the Latitudes Party and include: There are still no NCL Gem pins available for guests who have been on other NCL ships and like to collect them. There were a good number of complaints about there being charges for dining in all of the specialty restaurants, especially the ones that had been "free" in the past. The fees at the Bistro and Cagney's were also increased on this cruise. Another interesting complaint was that the free movie channel is gone. You were able to watch a first run movie in your cabin and a schedule was provided in your welcome aboard literature. The "free" movies are now gone, replaced by a pay per view channel. I heard several parents complaint that the "Cartoon" channel was taken off the air once we were at sea. This forced them to buy a pay per view movie in the evening for their children to watch. It wouldn't be so bad, they said, if the price of the movie was the same $3.99 that you pay to rent a movie at Blockbusters, or from your cable or satellite company, but the price on the ship was $10.99 per movie. "What a rip off" was the overall feeling. Probably the most sensible comment was made concerning the food on NCL's private island, Great Stirrup Cay. Every person who went to the food pavilion on the island was appalled by the number of flies that landed and walked on the food as soon as it was placed in the serving trays. You couldn't get back to your beach chair to eat anything without being surrounded by a swarm of flies. They should rename the private island "Fly Island," it was truly disgusting. It looked like there was more food thrown out than there was eaten.
The last comment concerns the "Quest," an adult treasure hunt that took place on the last night of the cruise. We told my daughter and her husband that they should see it, since some pretty funny things happen during the Quest. At the end of the Quest the cruise staff totaled up the score and announced the top three teams. When they got to the first place team they made a big joke that their prize was absolutely nothing. There was nothing to give out. Now I have seen the Quest before and on other ships. The winning team and even the 2nd and 3rd place teams had always received something small, whether is was a pen, cup, keychain or even a tee shirt. In this case the there were no prizes, not even for the first place team. The cruise staff just about called the customers jerks for playing the game and they weren't giving any prizes out to the jerks who played. They really had a good laugh about this.
My opinion of NCL has changed dramatically to that of a company that wants to squeeze the last cent out of the customer and isn't there to provide anything unless they can charge for it. What about my cruise next January on the NCL Jade? Forgetaboutit! The Jade has been transferred to the Med, the Gem will be back in NY making a one night cruise to nowhere and then an 11 night cruise back to the same old tired ports in the Eastern Caribbean. Why didn't they just leave the 12 night cruise that they had originally advertised?Do you know how I can get my $250 deposit back? NCL can keep the $100 credit they gave me and refund the $150 difference. A letter to the President has gone unanswered. I don't think I'll be sailing with NCL in the future. They may call their cruise experience "Freestyle", but believe me, nothing aboard their ships is free.