February 23, 2008
Norwegian Cruise Line's reputation is that it's on the "budget" end of the scale of the large ship, major cruise operators. I saw nothing on this cruise to challenge this. I do not mean this as a criticism, but a statement of fact. The "budget" reputation is most evident in the dining experience. If we had went on this cruise expecting the quality or variety of food we found on Princess or Royal Caribbean, we would have been disappointed. Just as I would not call the front desk at a Motel-6 looking for a concierge to make theater reservations, I did not expect a complete first class experience. We had a small suite in the aft end of the ship. While we did enjoy the bathtub and extra room, the additional movement associated with either end of a ship and several days of rough seas more than offset the suite experience.
We have been to Cozumel twice now. I cannot recommend the "Cozumel Highlights & Shopping" tour. The "Highlights" were two trinket and kitsch markets and a tequila making display with a very small Blue Agave garden -- Blue Agave being the plant from which tequila is made. The true highlight of Cozumel was, courtesy of the weather, the tender ride to and from the ship. Still, as far as I know, Cozumel is still the only place in Mexico where one can drink the water.
Belize was very good. We had a very good and entertaining guide for an ATV drive in the rain forest with a spelunking stop.
Roatan was interesting. I never cease to be amazed by the diverse history of some of the small, out-of-the-way places we have visited. I had heard that Roatan was home to many ex-pats. If so, I didn't see them.
The ship passed on the last stop on the stated itinerary -- Great Stirrup Cay -- because of the weather and went to Nassau instead. Like most of the passengers I talked to, we considered this a bonus. We took a guided tour of the Atlantis resort's Aquarium. Worth the trip.
Apparently, there are many more trained singers and dancers in the world than there are job openings. I am always amazed at the talent of the singers and dancers on cruise ships. As I said up front, NCL is a budget cruise line. Don't look for ice rinks with an ice-skating show, rock climbing walls, acts you have seen on TV, and such. Still, they do a very good job.
The casino was small, but well run with a friendly staff. They had several Slot, Texas Hold'em, and Blackjack tournaments. They also had one $25 and one $10 Blackjack game dealt from a shoe.
Our only real specific complaint was that our cabin steward seemed a bit lazy. The room was not well cleaned when we arrived and on three of our seven days it was also not properly cleaned. I should add that on our first cruise, which was on a Princess ship a few years back, we had the cabin steward that set the standard by which we have judged all subsequent cabin stewards. A few have come close, but "Ping Pong" was in a class by himself.
Our general complaint is not limited to NCL, but all cruises we have been on. They continue to find more things to charge the passenger for. Not only more things to charge us for, but even higher prices. They are way past nickel and dime. I remember buying the unlimited soft drink package on the Island Princess in 2004 for $2.25 a day. By giving us a free to refill Coke tumbler and a free refill sticker for my key card, both my wife and I had unlimited refills. On the Norwegian Sun this cruise the soft drink package was $6.50 a day. There was also a free ice-cream bar on our 2004 cruise ship. Free ice-cream was gone on our last cruise on Princess. On the plus side, the Norwegian Sun still has a free ice-cream bar. (I remember the 2004 cruise on the Island Princess because it was our 30th anniversary and not only did I remember our anniversary, I took my wife on a surprise cruise. I'm still spending the points I earned on that anniversary. I do believe, however, that my points will be used up soon and I will have to reload with some special surprises for our 35th next year.)
We went to the specialty restaurant one night. There was a $30 surcharge for the lobster. While the lobster was huge, the service was about the same as in the regular dining facilities where no surcharges are required. Drinks are priced about the same as most mid-scale clubs and restaurants, or about twice what they were three to five years ago. Anybody else remember $1.99 Margaritas at a sail away party? And I'm not talking about a cruise I took in 1970. The $1.99 Margaritas were on a cruise this century!
I do believe that most cruise ship operators are trying to pay for the ship via the photography department. I recommend taking your own pictures and going to Kodak.com or Snapfish.com and getting prints for about one tenth the cost.
All in all NCL does a good job in their niche -- as a budget cruise line. We enjoyed the vacation. I would caution you that if you book one of the aft suites, be sure and check the expected sea conditions first. Also, you will not need an alarm on port days. When those side thrusters are turned on, it's about a 78 point bull ride, only closer to eight minutes than eight seconds!