Posted July 26th, 2005, 05:43 PM
I forgot to mention two things about the port of calls. 1) Although there were four ships in each port when we were there, they did not seem crowded. The main shopping district in Juneau was a little crowded at first but that was because two ships were letting off passengers at the same time. HINT: When reaching the towns, especially Juneau, go to end of the shopping area and work your way back toward the dock. Everyone just starts going into the shops as they come to them and by starting in the back it will be less crowded since you are working against the main flow of people.
2) The ship has two port and cruise consultants on board, Shawn and Martin. Now I have never been impressed with P&C's on my previous NCL cruises, they seemed to only care about selling cruises, but these two changed my mind. Shawn gave daily briefings on the upcoming ports which included where the best deals were and showed some examples. (this was played on the tv as well as a live presentation by him) They also provided us with a daily port of call sheet with numbered map and a rundown of many of the shops. They also had many coupons to give. (Now most of these were for jewerly) They also have a great relationship with the shops in the ports and if you have a problem with something you bought, they become your go between and get it resolved. Yes they provided info on future cruises but that was not until late in the cruise and they never tried to move the conversation to cruise sales like other P&C consultants I have encountered on NCL. These two are great.
Hey, I am easy to please when it comes to food. Just give me a good meal with efficent service and I am happy. I am not as picky about quality as I am about portion size, service and taste.
Let me start with my negative: I did feel that the service in the main restaurants was below what it was on my last Star cruise in 2002. It just seemed that things didn't flow smoothly and the servers seemed confused. I also don't think the front and back waiters worked very well together. On both my previous Star cruise and my cruise on the Aloha, I found some good "teams" of waiters who clicked well together. Never really saw any of our pairs of waiters had the same chemistry on this ship. Did it slow down the dining experience, yes I think so. Did it ruin my cruise? Not at all. (just frustrating at times.)
**I will say that on my last meal in the main dining room, I did find out from a server there that there had been a large crew rotation just that week and many of the crew had just joined the ship that week. I don't know how large the rotation was, but that easily could have been part of the problem as front and back waiters could have been in new pairs and were getting to know each other. (not a defense of NCL, just a possible answer)
We ate in both of the main dining rooms and always had a large selection of items in all catagories to choose from. In addition, Ceaser Salad, grilled chicken, steak and baked potatoe are available every night (just not always listed on the menu.) Some HINTS:
1.) You don't have to choose an Apetizer and a salad/soup for your first two courses. You could choose two apetizers and no soup/salad or vice versa. (we had a soup and salad many times instead of an apetizer.) You can also order multiple apetizers or soups and salads. (my brother did that a couple of times....)
2.) The dining rooms open at 5:30 on most nights. Be there about 5-10 minutes before they open to 15 minutes after they open to be the first seated. (they will take large group reservations ahead of time in the two main dining rooms...I believe the group has to be 8 or more) If you get there when they open, you should be able to eat and make it to the first show (7:30 p.m.), leaving the rest of the evening free to enjoy the lounges. Make sure to tell your waiter you want to make the early show. If you get there at 6 or later, forget the early show. I only saw people waiting for tables between 6:15 and 7:15.
3.) Don't be afraid to ask for another entree if you are still hungry or really enjoyed it. It will come out much faster than the first one.
4.) If you want quicker service, you can break up into smaller groups. Twos seemed to get done very quickly.
5.) If you have special dietary needs, you can contact the maitre'd ahead of time with special requests (no sauce, specially prepared, etc.). You may have to set a time to eat so that it will be ready, but it is done. My mother has serious food allergies and the ship was very accomodating after we found out this procedure. (even in the specialty restaurants!)
We ate in two specialty restaurants, La Trottatoria and Endless Summer. I love LaTratattoria for both service and food. It was the best service we got of the week and the portions were large and very good. Endless Summer, the tex mex restaurant also had good service and good food. I had their Meatloaf with Barbeque sauce, very tangy and tasty....I had seconds.......lol.
None of our group ate in any of the other (charged) specialty restaurants. We all agree that you shouldn't have to pay extra for food on a cruise ship. The cover prices range from ala carte pricing in the Sushi restaurant to $20 in Cagney's Steakhouse and some items in Cagney's are per item at $25. The steaks in the main dining room were just fine. HINT: If you want a whole Lobster you have to go to one of the Specialty restaurants. (Soho, I believe) The lobster you get in the main restaurants on Lobster night (Monday), is just Lobster tails. (but you can order two...or three (as my brother did).)
You can make reservations for the specialty restaurants as soon as you board on Sunday and during the day each day (until 5) at the counter to the left of the Reception desk. Make them early to get the best selection of times and not to get closed out. We tried to go back to La Trotittoria late in the week but it was full. You can also attempt to walk up to the specialty restaurants when you want to dine to see if they have had a cancellation or an opening, but be prepared to either wait or be told they are booked. (this is easier accomplished early in the week.) LaTrotittoria is closed on Saturday nights since they share space next to the buffet and so many people eat in the buffet on Saturday night due to the dinnertime arrival in Victoria.
Kids Menu was excellent, it is the same in all dining rooms, including the specialty restaurants. Almost anything a kid could want from peanut butter and jelly to chicken fingers to hot dogs and hamburgers to pizza. Kids can supplement their kids meal with apetizers, salads and desserts off the main menus. (or they can always order ice cream or sundaes.) They bring the kids meals out as soon as they are ready which can be a blessing or a curse. Yes, the hungry kids get to eat quickly, but then those now full (and bored) kids have nothing to do while you eat. Not sure what the answer is to this though.
Buffet: Ate here more often on this cruise because of the timing of the ports. Like last time, a wide selection of hot items each day. Everyone can find something to eat here! The lines moved quickly and there were always people to help younger and older people carry their trays. Tables were generally bussed quickly, many times while you were still sitting there. Very nice to be able to enjoy the end of your beverage and socialize without dirty dishes in front of you. Never saw a drink machine out of order like on the Aloha. Breakfast buffet was very good but disappointed that omlet and toast stations are gone. They now make toast ahead and it sits and gets hard in warmer. Omlets on line are now one kind, can't get them made to order. (you can in the main dining room for breakfast though).
1.) If coming from the mid elevators, skip the first line, it is usually longer than the second at the other end.
2.) Walk the buffet before getting your tray to see what they have to help decide how much to take of each item. (ran out of room on my plate one time because I hadn't checked it out.)
3.) If you don't like the main buffet, go over to the kids buffet on the starboard side in the corner. They always have hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken nuggets there and adults are welcome to use it. (just have to bend down lower......lol)
4.) Get instruction on how to use the ice machine.....lol (strange device, you have to have your hand on the back of your glass to get ice.)
5.) When looking for a table during the main meal times, go all the way aft in the buffet to the table area in the back. (the line they aren't using) Usually tables available there and the drink station back there is in service without the crowd of the main drink station.
6.) On Saturday, go early if you plan to eat at the buffet due to the dinnertime arrival in Victoria. We got there at 4:45 and by 5:15, there was a long line in all lines. Table space became scarce by 5:30.
LITTLE KNOWN FACT: Hungry late in the evening, or just want something sweet or free coffee or iced tea? After 9:00 p.m., they open the very back line of the buffet (back by aft elevators.) This line will have salad, soup, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken fingers, usually pizza, lunchmeat & a selection of desserts as well as the drink station. Went there many times for a quick late snack.
Blue Lagoon: This diner type area on Deck 7 serves the same limited menu all week. Great potatoe skins and fantastic Macaroni and Cheese as well as other favorites. You can also walk through here and get a free cup of coffe or Iced Tea any time of the day and not have to go to Deck 12 (buffet) or have to pay for the coffee like at the Java Cafe just around the corner. This is a 24 hour operation. Great place for a quick bite on shore days.
Ice Cream Hint: The hand dipped ice cream stand is hidden on Deck 12 aft as you go out to the kids pool. It is behind a corner and can easily be missed if you aren't heading out to the pool. They serve ice cream from 12-9 every day. They give you small single scoops, but you can ask them to put additional scoops on the cone. (you will get dirty looks sometimes, but they do it without comment)
I think that about covers everything about food.
Disembarkation: I thought it would be a pain having to have luggage ready to put out after a late shore excursion, but it was no big deal. You do have to spend most of Saturday packing, but it was ok. Disembarkation tags arrived around 10 on Saturday morning giving time to get them wrote and on the bags. You are only given four tags per cabin but can ask for more from steward or the reception desk.
I love the fact that you can have a nice breakfast and wait in your room until your color is called.
Finding our luggage was easy and getting through the customs officials was a breeze. (the disembarkation talk and information made it sound like the customs officials could be a real pain, they weren't). There were plenty of porters available to help with luggage once you found it.
The only bad part about disembarkation is waiting for a bus out front. The bus loading area in front of the building is too small for the large number of busses that are loading people and groups of people are crowding the sidewalk waiting for their bus. It becomes difficult to move. The street sidewalk is crowded with car drivers trying to pick up fares and crowding as close as they can and still be on the public sidewalk. My suggestion would be to take the curb in front of the bus loading zone and make it bus loading also allowing several more busses to be parked there which would help get people out of there. The NCL tour busses for those on shore excursions took up a large portion of the bus loading lot for a long period of time. Perhaps they could gather those people someplace in the terminal and bring them out all at once instead of letting them trickle out one or two at a time.
Hint: I learned this trick on the Aloha. Go to the reception desk on Thursday and ask for a preliminary copy of your bill. Your shore excursions should be on there along with all charges to that point. You can find any mistakes early and have time to work on correcting them (children charged adult rates on shore excursions, etc.). Ask for another preliminary report late Saturday afternoon. By checking it early, it will save you time early on Sunday morning when the final bill comes! I am happy to report that there were no errors on my bill this time.
My biggest complaint about the cruise is not the fault of NCL and I don't think NCL can do anything about it. I have never been around so many RUDE people in all my life!! Let me give a couple of examples: 1.) Elevators: It is polite and proper to allow those exiting the elevator to leave first before those getting on enter it. Most of the time I experienced people who would push on while you are trying to get out. My mother got pushed back in an elevator she was trying to exit one time and had to ride again! We are not talking kids here....but adults! The elevator is not going to leave anyhow until those exiting get off, so what is the rush??? It was unbelieveable!! 2.) Lines: I was standing in lines for restaurants at opening and to get on or off the ship and it was amazing the number of people who would come down a different stairway or hall and push their way right in. What were the rest of us who got there earlier doing, waiting for them???? HINT: When waiting in a line to get off the ship (especially in Victoria), have each member of your party put their hand on the person in front of them's shoulder and stick together. (there was a very, very long line (20 min) to get back on the ship in Ketchikan and one lady walked up and stepped in line and when someone told her the end of the line was the other way, she snapped that this was her "cruise time and I don't have time to waste in line." Luckily she was behind me or else I would have gotten the dock security person. 3.) There was a lady and her kids on a shore excursion that our family was on and she kept rushing to the front of everything with her kids, pushing people out of the way, standing or sitting in front of others, including kids just to get her kids up front. When they called all the kids up on stage at the one stop and her boys were in the back of the kids, she yelled to them to "get in front." Sure enough, her two boys pushed their way through the rest of the kids, many younger and shorter and got in front. Sickening. (she was the butt of our jokes for the rest of that day like other rude people were on other days.....lol)
I am sure most of you have similar stories about rudeness on board, perhaps one day I will start such a thread! Once again, let me reiterate, although that was my biggest complaint and most upsetting part of the cruise, it is NOT NCL's FAULT and I'm not sure what they could do about it. (perhaps though they could offer a manner's class....lol)
Overall, I enjoyed this cruise. Of course there were some problems as there always are, but I am a firm believer that since problems do occur, it is not the problem that defines the company, but the company's response to the problem that defines it. In this case, with the exception of the casino and the kids running in the hallway, the few problems we had were handled efficently and quickly. At least my disdain for the casino staff did help me...by keeping money in my pocket, lol! I sail NCL for the Freestyle concept. I hate dressing up, I hate having set dinner times and being told who I have to mingle with and I hate being herded like cattle through disembarkation. Already thinking about my next cruise............
Ok, fire away with the questions and comments.