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NoVaCruiser60

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About NoVaCruiser60

  • Rank
    Cool Cruiser

About Me

  • Location
    Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico
  • Interests
    Travel
  • Favorite Cruise Line(s)
    NCL
  1. @joekatie: about disembarkation, NCL has a tiered service which is free. The earliest departure is for Freestyle, meaning you carry off whatever you brought on. Everybody else gets tags to put on their luggage the night before. You leave your luggage out in the hallway with tags on it, and the porters take it away. You see it next when you are off the ship, just before you go thru US Customs. Tip: there is no Global Entry, so no way to short cut re-entry into the US like we do at airports. The disembarkation times are keyed to different "status": Platinum/Gold/Silver, Suites, The Haven, People who have reserved a tour or airport transfer with NCL. As I said, we do freestyle, so we leave pretty much when we want. Second tip: if you do freestyle, you will reach a point where you either take the elevator or escalator down to Customs. If you have more than one suitcase per person, they force you to take the elevator, which has a long line. If one person is carrying two suitcases, they will try to force you to take the elevator, but you can ignore them and use the escalator. @cmdchiefthom: yes, we made it to GSC the first day, and had great weather until the very last sea day, which was 70 F, overcast, with 15 ft waves.
  2. In last-to-first order: I think any swipe-style card will work. I did not experiment with a card without a strip on the back, but it would not surprise me if any plastic card worked. Howl at the Moon did not permit reservations; it was first come, first served. The showers in the spa are NOT accessible directly from the gym, so you have to have a spa membership to use them. The showers are right next door to the gym, but you have to pass by the spa access attendants. And thanks for all the positive feedback; enjoy your future cruises on NCL!
  3. Our overall impression was positive. It appears that NCL is positioning itself at the top end of the mass market cruises, and using a new version of freestyle to do so. Perhaps it is trying to appeal to both cost-conscious and quality-conscious clients by offering a series of options. We have seen UDP and UBP, now unlimited internet, and I suggest we'll see unlimited excursions or maybe unlimited entertainment plans in the future. These unlimited plans will be offered side-by-side with upcharge options (want premium liquor? want all-you-can-order at specialty restaurants?) and the new standard a la carte options. This will be the key to offering everyone what they want on the cruise, aka "freestyle." How this will hold up on a mega-ship is still an open question. Perhaps we'll see more exclusive zones like the Haven, but that can't solve the problem all by itself. We saw what happens when everyone on a cruise decides to do the same thing at the same time. It was on the morning of the Cozumel port call, which was a late disembark time. The night before was the Glow party, so many cruisers were up late and decided to hit the Garden cafe late for breakfast: it was pandemonium! It was also hard to get reserved seats to the comedy shows, although I believe some reserved seats and didn't use them, so walk-ins were possible. We have no problem with NCL's attempts to raise revenue: its a business, not a charity. The key is to provide quality, in whatever your freestyle clientele requests. That will be a continuing challenge on large ships. We think we'll see continued experimentation by NCL as they try to get it right. Hope you enjoyed the review, and I will gladly answer any questions I can!
  4. Spa/Gym: Grade A We used the spa and gym every morning for about 4 hours. There are 12 heated stone loungers, and about 20 conventional padded cloth lounge chairs. Sea days were the only times we noticed any competition for the tile loungers. The Spa thermal suite has a large, warm pool with "bubblers", including an attached mini-pool area with more energetic bubblers, a massage-like overhead shower device, and a separate hot tub. It also has a steam room, and aromatic steam room, a dry sauna, and a salt room. There is a serving station for iced water (with and without fruit), tea, and coffee. The thermal suite is a designated "quiet area", but I note that the spa staff does not always abide by this (for example, when they walk through on a sales pitch) and does not in any way remind patrons when they "get loud." The bubblers and shower make quite a din, so if patrons insist on conversing, they get very loud to be heard over the waters. There are some small posted "quiet zone" signs, but they are easily missed. NCL should put a standing sign right at the door, and have the spa attendant remind clients as they enter the thermal suite. It doesn't need to be like a library, but patrons should keep conversations understated and short. The entire rest of the ship is there for partying, so if they are going to call the thermal suite a quiet zone, the staff needs to help police it. That said, the spa has a great view off the bow, and since they limit access to those with a pass (about 120 they told me) or a spa room, it generally is quiet and not crowded. My DW used the spa services for a manicure which she pronounced "acceptable," and while they did try to sell her additional items, it was not a heavy sales pitch. Her only complaint was that somehow our gold status discount did not apply because her manicure was not a "signature service." Whatever! The gym was heavily used, but I never had to wait more than a minute or two for a machine. There are separate cardio and weight areas on either side of the hallway leading to the spa. At least 20 treadmills and a similar number of bikes/rowers/ellipticals on the cardio sides, all in working order, with good TV/music/games options built in. Plenty of towels, including chilled wash clothes! One lack was no obvious place to fill water-bottles. DW was thrilled the weight area had multiple kettle bells, along with free weights, and resistance machines. The only other thing lacking was enough space to stretch in, as the extra rooms for classes were often locked. The so-called running track was a letdown: on this class of ships, it runs immediately by the Flamingo cafe and through sun-bathing areas, so the only practical time to use it is first thing in the morning, but I swore I read somewhere you weren't supposed to run on it before 9:00 am! I did see early morning types walking/jogging on it, so it was possible; there is no separate walking track on the ship (or we could not find it). Spa-users tip: We brought a day-bag or carry pack with us to the gym first thing in the morning, packed with both our bathing suits and casual wear for the day. After working out, we would check in to the spa, use the large locker area to shower, clean up, and get dressed in pool clothes. Lock everything in a locker and head out of the spa for breakfast (we never saw more than one or two lockers, out of maybe 40, in use). Come back after breakfast and use the spa thermal suite, and when done, clean up again, clear out of the locker, get properly dressed, and head out for lunch. This routine kept us out of our room for the entire morning, meant we weren't sharing the cabin bathroom, and saved a few trips up/down the stairs.
  5. Room: Grade A+ We had a spa balcony, cabin 14146, directly under the ping pong tables. I can't say enough good things about the room. Loved the location, near the stairs and the spa. We only heard ping-pongers a few times in the afternoon, so no issue there, and the ping pong area juts out over our balcony, which gave us some protection from rain/weather. The room redesign really made great use of space, there are plenty of hangers in the closet, and all kinds of great storage spots. While the balcony was smaller than we had in the past, we could fit two chairs and a small table out there for morning coffee. BTW, the coffemaker is not a pod system. The latch on the balcony door is somewhat awkward, and you could hurt yourself closing it, so be careful. The cabin has warning lights for "do not disturb" and "make up room" and only one can be "on" at a time (good design). The cabin does use the European power/card set up, where you insert your cabin card in a slot inside the door to turn on all room power. Just bring an old credit card to leave in the slot when you need to recharge something when you are out of the room. There are plenty of lights, and decent (not great) water pressure. Few electric sockets, although I saw both US and European sockets side-by-side, so if you have Euro-capable equipment or socket converters, bring them, as you can then use both! The safe seems to have shrunk: I could not easily fit my mini-chromebook inside. The TV was also quite small, but how much TV will you be watching? Clearly, we have to stretch to find anything we didn't like in the cabin!
  6. Administration: Grade C If you're going to go mega-ship, you have to be prepared. One thing we really liked about NCL in the past was how smooth things ran. This time, we experienced several glitches, which we attribute to the larger number of customers. Check in was fast, but after having our photo taken for ID purposes and given our cabin card around 11:15, the NCL rep told us they were boarding already. We bounded up to the boarding area to find it was....still a waiting area. OK, small issue, but when our boarding group was called (after a 30 minute wait, still good), we were herded to a card reader to board. My wife's card was rejected because she had no photo on it. The woman running the card reader was alone; she said we had to "start over" and pointed us to some stairs; there was no one there to assist us. We walked down and found ourselves in the US Customs entry point: if we left those doors, we were back outside the boarding area security perimeter. Luckily, a port baggage steward came out of another set of doors and showed us back into the main hall, which was now crowded with passengers. Again, no one could help. We asked several of the NCL employees who were moving people along what to do, but they didn't know. They suggested we get back in line. We decided to cut to the front and went back to the same NCL rep who had "taken" our picture the first time. Luckily, he immediately apologized, fixed my wife's card, and escorted us back through the card reader, where once again there was an issue, since the reader believed my wife was already on board. This time the rep escorting us took care of it, and we were officially (and really) on board. If we were not seasoned travelers, or if we had simply turned left rather than right, this would have been a very bad start to a vacation. Kudos to the rep who made things right. Another issue was the Ultimate Beverage Plan, or UBP. We signed up over 10 months ago, so we had the very best deal, with everything (including gratuity) included, and we were very excited to use it. We went to the Mojito bar for a sail-away toast, and promptly received a full bill to sign for each drink. Later that night, I checked my account and saw I was only charged for the tax due because we were still "in port." If CruiseCritic boards hadn't warned me, I would have been very confused. From then on, all our drinks at bars came without signing any bill, but all our drinks at restaurants came with a bill to sign but all amounts credited! So we witnessed three different ways of charging. In case you are wondering, no, the UBP does not cover the drinks provided in your mini-fridge (can't explain this: I can order a full whiskey and bring it to my room for free, but I can't open the half-serving whiskey in my fridge?). There was a similar situation in the Garden Cafe, which has a wine automat machine you can run a cabin card through and get a pour of house wines, except UBP patrons can't use it. There is only one bar in the Garden cafe, and I saw several patrons getting angry as the queue formed and lengthened. We found it generally easy to get served if we went to the bars, but very difficult if you stayed in your seat (say, in the theater), which was a big change. We used to feel like the waiters were badgering us to order drinks; now they seemed to be overwhelmed by the demand. In fact, for the first time, we saw NCL employees who could not manage a smile. They weren't many of them, and most of the crew was still unnaturally chipper, but we saw several who were clearly just trying to get through their shift. We wonder whether NCL increased the staff size commensurate with the increased passenger load. When we arrived for the Spa opening the first evening, there was a free raffle drawing going on, resulting in a big, noisy crowd. We were told by the Spa associate that we had to return to our room and get the Spa sticker we were provided and put them on our cabin cards (we were in a spa balcony cabin, so spa access came with the cabin). We explained there was no sticker in our cabin, from which we just came, and she could see we were in a spa balcony room on the computer, so could we just enter? She said her manager was busy (with the crowd), so she could not help us. We went back to our room and called the service desk, who connected us to the manager, and we were told to come back and we would be given a sticker and allowed to enter. Again, we were in the computer; what's with the sticker, anyway? Now none of these glitches was anything more than a minor inconvenience. But they were all easily preventable, or predictable, and they were exactly the type of thing that a service company has to anticipate and mitigate. More importantly, we didn't encounter them on NCL in the past. Most of this happened the first few hours, so maybe its just that the rush is so hectic, small things go wrong. Maybe its that with so many people on board, any one place can get overcrowded. And maybe the bar/bill confusion is just due to the transition to a new program. All I know is, we have been on many an NCL cruise in the past, and we did not experience such things.
  7. @garnet115, I think you are right, in that I don't recall whether those two shows had food/drink tossed in. As to Legally Blonde, we're familiar with the story, so it just didn't incite much interest. BTF got rave reviews on here, so we almost went, but I got the sense it was "solid gold dancer" stuff, which even if done well (and plenty said it was), that just didn't interest us. To each his own on those, I guess.
  8. Entertainment: Grade B We tried several comedy shows, and the stand-up comics were uniformly better than past NCL cruises. On those cruises in the past, we walked out on those who were really not funny, but we stayed and laughed through the whole show this cruise. We did not make any of the "adult" comedy shows at 11:00 pm, but the other shows were edgy and still family friendly. There were generally three comedy shows a night; they required reservations, which seemed to be a hit-or-miss affiar using the shipboard automated systems. Sometimes it would tell me they were all booked for days; other time, they were all available. We stumbled into some sing-alongs/trivia sessions, and the hosts did a good job of getting the crowd engaged. We did not participate in the Illusionarium, Burn the Floor, Wine Lovers musical, or Legally Blonde. It seemed to us (opinion only) that NCL took the free shows they used to offer, paired them with meals or drinks, and added a cover charge. We know the old shows were pretty mixed quality; we can't judge the new ones, but we weren't interested in replacing any of our high quality meals with more mass-market menu alternatives, even if the meal came with a show. The ropes course looked like fun, if not our cup of tea. There were plenty of folks of all ages climbing around on it. Other offerings like the mini-golf, ping-pong, chess, and water slides appeared well done and well used. We could not help but notice how small the main pool area is; it seemed the kiddie pool area had a larger footprint! We felt the message NCL was sending was "if you want to lay out pool side, maybe we aren't the line for you." We did avail ourselves of the unlimited internet option, which ran about $210 for the 7 days. You could only have one device online at a time, but it was nice not counting the minutes when we were online. Access was good throughout the ship, including the spa, but speeds were not adequate for streaming video. Regular e-mail and site reading went fine. One side note: we are very sensitive to cigarette smoke, but did not find the odor overwhelming when moving through the casino. We found it harder to walk past the designated smoking area near the pool and the one along the waterfront.
  9. Just finished the Getaway, western Caribbean itinerary, 13-20 December. I will provide our (my DW and me) review in separate sections on Food, Entertainment, Administration, Room and the Spa. Before I do, a little about us as cruisers, so you can put our comments into perspective. We are longtime cruisers who committed early and stayed with Norwegian's freestyle concept. That said, we took a break from ocean cruising for the past 5 years, while we tried out river cruising and all-inclusive land resorts. Norwegian's introduction of the Breakaway class of mega-ships intrigued us, so we decided to come back and see what had changed, and what hadn't, what was good or bad. As to our cruise style, we primarily focus on the ship, making maximum use of the specialty restaurants and the spa/gym. We'll go to some bars and shows, use a few of the other entertainment options, but rarely go ashore. We don't use the casino, shop, or do any of the "group fun" activities (e.g., trivia, game-shows, contests). In each section, we'll concentrate on what we saw/experienced, compare to our past cruises, and if we add a comment on something we don't personally use, we'll note is as "opinion only." Cutting to the chase, our overall experience was positive: NCL remains a good option for a vacation. However, NCL is changing pretty dramatically, and its unclear how that will play out. Here's the first section: --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Food: Grade A. We ate breakfast daily in the Garden cafe, and had lunch there most days. On boarding day, we slipped quietly into Taste for lunch, and later in the cruise we ate lunch at O'Sheehans and the Flamingo cafe. We ate dinner in all three main dining rooms (Tropicana, Taste, Savor), Cagneys, Le Bistro, Moderno, and Ocean Blue, using a four pack ultimate dining plan. The food in the specialty restaurants remains excellent: generally very high quality, and portion sizes seem to have grown larger. We had no issue ordering as many appetizers/desserts as we liked, getting served drinks (we had the ultimate beverage plan). We always had reservations, usually around 6:30 pm, and the service was a little faster than we were used to cruising: we never had a specialty meal last two hours (which would not have bothered us, as we enjoy a slow-paced meal on vacation). Service was attentive, but not rushed; in our opinion, the speed of the meal was driven by the need to turn-around tables for more guests, given the size of the ship. Most of the restaurants serve unwarmed bread before the meal: kudos to Cagneys and Ocean Blue, who served warm bread, especially Blue's Mascarpone cheese bread! The Garden cafe is decent cafeteria food, nothing more, nothing less. There are numerous options, including all the usual favorites (pancakes, waffles, eggs all styles, every breakfast meat known to man) and several ethnic options (I saw generic Indian, Asian, Latin, English, and Italian, among others). It pays to walk around the serving block which occupies the central quad of the restaurant space, since anything you see is probably offered multiple times (without waiting) a little further along. What you get at the Garden cafe is many options, unlimited servings, and immediate delivery...not memorable cuisine. We found the quality and portion size in the main dining rooms has improved. In the past, it seemed to be just a little better than the cafeterias, but now it was equal to regular restaurant cuisine. The three dining rooms serve the same menu for dinner, with slight differences in atmosphere. Tropicana is a large ballroom with live music; Taste & Savor were smaller and more subdued and modern. Only one was ever available for breakfast or lunch, and then not always. O'Sheehan's is a chain-style Irish pub, open 24 hours. If you get a hankering for fast food such as chicken fingers, nachos, or fish-n-chips, it is there to scratch that itch. We had high hopes for the Flamingo grill, which was often open for breakfast and lunch, and ostensibly offered Cuban food, but we were very disappointed. Flamingo did serve Cuban-style cuisine, but we found it heavily overdone: way too much deep frying. It was Cuban in form only, the way Taco Bell is "Mexican."
  10. The library is a good suggestion, as is the small sundeck on 18. Visit the closed bars and you will find quiet, too. No one has ever asked me to leave them, unless they are cleaning. Our favorite spot is the spa; get a full cruise pass, and its the most calm location on the ship.
  11. We had about an hour and a half in Carlsbad aka KV. They parked the big bus at a "new" bus parking area about 2 km from KV, then we waited (with all other bussed in tourists) for a single shuttle bus to take us the 10 minute trip to KV. It was a real cattle car experience, and cost us most of our time in KV. We could have walked into town and saved time. If you get to the KV parking area on time, and the crowds aren't bad, you may be ok.
  12. room 108, aquarium class, and never heard a thing!
  13. with AMA on the Danube. We are independent travelers and felt the same way. What we found: the smaller number of pax made the cruise director very willing to work with you. They will be happy to let you know where they will be docking, to let you depart from the tour, and maybe even to "catch up" with the ship (we didn't try the last one). In small towns, you are generally within walking distance of the main town square; in larger cities, it depends (Vienna, no; Budapest, yes). But you are always close enough to catch a cab or mass transit. We tried several of the free orientation tours; we would probably skip those in the future, because even though we were in the "fast walkers" group, the tour was wikipedia level info and ate a lot of time. We think a river cruise would be ideal for a combination of in-depth slef tours, leaving the option of doing the package tour for those days/locations we just dont feel motivated. Be adventurous!
  14. Cruised Nuremberg to Budapest, with 3 days pre-cruise in Prague. Service overall and food quality was excellent. We did not try the chef's table optional restaurant, but all the options in the main dining room were spectacular. Wines were above average, and quite free flowing during lunch & dinner. DW & I are also in our 50s, and in pretty good shape. We are independent travelers who wanted to see what RC and AMA are all about. Some quick initial thoughts: The "city familiarization trips", even in the active walkers group, were of little benefit; mostly a slow local walk or bus tour. Seriously consider skipping these and doing your own thing with the time saved. We enjoyed the bike tours; not too challenging, but a nice change of pace. Weather was great, especially for those escaping DC 90/90 August weather. Cool mornings in the 50s, afternoons mostly sunny in the 70s. Only rained a few drops the next-to-last day; it will be considerably cooler for you, so bring layers! The vibe in Prague and Budapest were entirely different. We found Prague to be friendly, with nearly everyone greeting one another and happy to speak English. Budapest had more of the reserved, big city feel with an edge: just our experience. The transit systems in Budapest, Prague, and Vienna were all easy to master and use. Do so! Two tips: beware pick pockets on the Karlovy Most in Praha, and make sure you have a valid ticket for the underground in Budapest; they were checking!
  15. flying to Prague and returning from Budapest. I asked AMA for quotes, and they responded quickly with average fares and choices of airline/time. Not bad, but nothing special, either. We have some options wrt frequent flier miles, so we decided to book on our own. I ensured the flights I selected arrived/departed within the time windows AMA offered, and we have tentatively agreed to AMA's transfers to/from the airport. My advice: if you travel often on your own, you can probably do better arranging your own flights. If not, you won't be ripped off by going with AMA's offerings. good luck!
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