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About ocdb8r

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  1. Ever since the Epic we have always purchased a Thermal Suite pass and this was the first time we have ever seen it happen. And, as I said, the Assistant Manager clarified that it wasn't allowed. However, it DID happen and to me it signaled that SOMEwhere staff are being encouraged to be very accommodating to those with drink packages.
  2. Thanks all for the posts and comments. As mentioned in my original post, no immediate plan to give up on NCL and am indeed planning on returning to the Gem class for the next cruise to see how things play out. I'm a long time cruiser and have done all kinds of itineraries. I know the itinerary, time of year and luck of the draw can heavily influence the "feel" of any cruise but what really struck me on this cruise was how much NCL staff seemed to be encouraging the overindulgence behavior. That, combined with lower service quality overall, just left a bad taste in my mouth. We may also try the Haven out again.
  3. I wasn't clear probably because I'm not entirely clear how I feel. All I know is that the atmosphere on this cruise was a real bummer for me. I've done both Princess and Celebrity and found them to be a bit too much subdued. I like that the NCL entertainment is a bit more up to date and occasionally edgy and generally in the past there seemed to be certain venues that were clearly for hard partying (pool deck, Bliss, Spice) and others where it was a more collegial atmosphere (Atrium, Syd Normans, Maltings). This cruise just felt like every single venue was packed with people looking to get plastered as quickly as possible. We couldn't even escape in the Thermal Suite (where I find serving alcohol totally unacceptable as the whole point of this venue is to have a mellow place to relax and rejuvenate). As to the Haven, not upset at it so to speak. We tried it when it first came out on the Epic and enjoyed it but didn't find sufficient value for the up-charge. I guess I'm a bit frustrated that the middle ground has been eliminated for a completely bifurcated experience and that NCL has begun to rely so heavily on these drink and dining package promotions to fill the ships, rather than innovating like they did with the whole freestyle cruising concept and other products that hooked me on them years ago.
  4. Have just got home after a very mediocre cruise on the Breakaway out of Miami. We are very long time cruisers, having cruise on most of the big lines (Carnival, RCCL, Holland America, Princess and NCL) as well as some smaller lines (American Hawaii, Disney) but have been almost exclusively loyal to NCL for the past 7-8 years, finding them striking the right balance for us of food, fun, entertainment, value and itineraries. However, this cruise proved to be quite a struggle. I think my topic title says it all...I felt like NCL had become a combination of Haven (where everything is private, exclusive and you are catered to) + Carnival (where the masses are appeased with volumes of salty food and copious booze). NCL seemed quite intent on pushing the popularity of the current promotion and the included drink package. At every turn the cruise director, cruise staff and even entertainment were encouraging everyone to just have another (free) drink to solve whatever problem they were having...and the masses seemed all to happy to partake. To be fair, we also took advantage of the drink package promotion and enjoyed several drinks a day, including a glass of wine or two at dinner, but I find it totally unacceptable to be encouraging such crowds to drink to the point of near incapacity. The number of people being held up and assisted to their rooms by 9 or 10 at night was much higher than I have ever seen on previous cruises. We even had problems in the Thermal Suite where a group of people was ordering drinks and being repeatedly served (getting progressively louder). When we left we asked the front desk if drinking alcohol was ok in the Thermal Suite and she replied "yes, is there something I can order for you". When we clarified we were asking if it was allowed per the policy, she said we should talk with the supervisor on duty....who promptly told us it was absolutely not allowed. Clearly a communication issue, but just served to reinforce the impression we had begun to form that NCL was very aggressively promoting taking advantage of the drinks packages. I also think the volumes of people with specialty restaurants now included in their fare has also taken a toll on quality. Nothing was horrible, but certainly nothing was up to the standard we would expect for the up-charge prices quoted. We had a wonderful steak in Cagney's but the sides were very mediocre (and service was horrible, receiving our drinks 25 minutes after ordering them...and before being asked to order anything else). Teppanyaki was a total salt and garlic bomb (but again the steak was wonderful and tender...must have an excellent meat shipment this cruise). Ocean Blue was the sole exception, but that cost us an extra fee on top of our dining package credit. The buffet has definitely decreased in quality over the past several years and I now generally tend to avoid it except for an occasional snack (and breakfast, which they still seem to manage well). Finally, we had an absolute horrible disembarkation which I mentioned here in another thread. Short story - late customs clearance and poor people management resulted long, timely lines to get off the ship, worse than I have ever experienced before on NCL or otherwise. We're not abandoning NCL...entertainment is still at the top end of the spectrum for cruises. We've been fairly well swept up in the mega ship trend, generally really enjoying the additional options and variety the larger ships offer, but I think it's time for us to return back to the Jewel class for a few cruises to see how things are going on those ships. It'll give us the opportunity to look at some more unique itineraries and see if perhaps NCL is striking the right balance for us on the smaller ships. Just sad to see what was hitting such a sweet spot for us cruising morph into something not as pleasant (and, really, not as reliable). Wondering if we're in the minority as we heard many other people raving about the great time they had on NCL for the first time (I won't lie...we chalked them up to Carnival refugees).
  5. What ship and sailing? Just off the Breakaway this past Sunday and disembarkation was a total disaster. Customs clearance was late (past 7:45) and then they had to stop and re-start disembarkation at least twice due to overcrowding issues. The created a line throughout the center of the ship on deck 7, starting at the front elevators, trailing back through the casino, looping down by the rear elevators and then back out to the front. We we're in the "walk off" on our own group and didn't get out until 10am. Admittedly this is the first time I have ever had this issue after MANY cruises on NCL and other lines, but I was very disappointed in the way things were handled (or basically NOT handled) by NCL staff. It was an unpleasant end to what was a somewhat mediocre cruise for us...
  6. ...but were the Royal Suites and Penthouse Suites also sold out (publicly)? People should keep in mind: 1) Celebrity will move people up to those suites (either via MoveUp or free upgrades) if there are people waiting in the wings to give them more money for CS. 2) don't think of the program as so linear and directly related to actual occupancy of any single given category. Celebrity is looking for everyone to input as many bids as possible to as many categories as possible. They can then apply a simple algorithm to determine who to shift where for maximum profit. CS occupants moved up vacate cabins for CS bidder...etc. Think of the potential complexity here: let's say you're in a C2 and bid $500/person to upgrade to a CS and someone in an A2 has bid $300 to upgrade to a CS....you might think the C2 person gets the upgrade. But what if there's someone in a regular balcony who's bid $250 to upgrade into an A2 (and not bid anything to upgrade into a C2)? Celebrity would bump the A2 into the CS and then the balcony into the A2 to collect a total of $550 in overall upgrade fees. Extrapolate that over the number of people and cabin types and a quite complex picture emerges....with the only thing clear that Celebrity gets as many of us to tell them what we're willing to pay for any sort of an upgrade so they can crunch the numbers to shift all the puzzle pieces most profitably. 3) finally, Celebrity want to collect these bids on even completely sold out cruises (whether there are cancellations or not). This program gives them an incredible amount of data that can help them refine future cabin pricing and even cabin planning on new ships to help them maximize return. Over time it will produce incredible insight into what people willing to pay for extra space, views and amenities.
  7. I posted in another thread that we became Spa Pass buyers when we started cruising on the new NCL mega ships. I have to get some pool/jacuzzi time on every cruise and the pools are just too damn small and crowded on the big ships. In addition, the thermal suites on the new ships are fabulous. For us it has been hit or miss as far as "crowds" in the thermal suites. It's never anything like on the pool deck, but occassionally the warming beds will be all full. However, we've also had many times where we practically have the whole place to ourselves (just check it out on a port day). Overall, we're quite happy to spend the extra $200/each and just budget it in to our overall cruise fare.
  8. As usual, CC delivers very good advice which I agree with. A couple of other things I'll add: I absolutely love the studio cabins. They're compact but incredibly well designed with the solo traveler in mind. The addition of the shared space in the lounge is also very nice as it provides a good place to meet other solo's, relax and grab the occasional little snacks they leave behind. I have cruised solo a few times with NCL and the solo gatherings can be hit or miss. However, one thing I'll point out is that except for the Brittania, the EPIC (and all the NCL ships with solo studios) far outstrips in size all the other P&O ships. That means more venues and more entertainment. You'll see many posts pointing out the quality and variety of NCL's entertainment and this is a real plus as a solo as there is always something to do or watch. Things you may miss from P&O: - No proper tea served in the afternoons on NCL. - Very casual dress at all times on NCL. - You may not bring your own alcohol onboard NCL (P&O allows you one litre before charging corkage). - Less "ballroom" style dancing on offer on NCL. Take the plunge! The savings alone is worth trying NCL once.
  9. Shoppie - I currently tip very similar to what you outlined above, both on a cruise and on shore. I've been cruising for over 30 years, and I can tell you my take on how tipping has evolved. The impression I was given by several lines as "auto gratuity" emerged was that as US cruise lines diversified their marketing to capture more of the European market, average tipping began to decrease which started to create staff retention issues. In order to remedy this, they introduced the auto gratuity system which they sold to the European markets as a "service charge" (a concept very common in Europe) and sold to the US as an auto gratuity added for convenience that could be adjusted at any time. While there was some resistance, this has largely been successful in ensuring a more stable and predictable take home for crew (and now we even refer to it as a "discretionary service charge"). What I would be very curious to see is how the contractual pay offered by cruise lines has evolved since this development. I'd really like to see if offered pay has increased at a similar rate to which the the auto gratuity amount has increased. If cruise lines aren't upping their pay at a similar rate, I think it would tend to show a reliance on auto gratuity to compensate for pay rates not keeping up with inflation. Finally, I have two thoughts about the comments by some that are frustrated this "poll" has evolved into yet another gratuity/tipping conversation: 1) I think having these conversations in healthy. Tipping is a custom for which there are no hard and fast rules. Regular discussion about the current state of the custom helps others see where the custom is moving and allows them to make a more informed decision about whether to adjust their own behavior or not. 2) the very fact that this is a difficult conversation without clear rights or wrongs is precisely why many of my European/English/Australian friends absolutely loathe the "tipping culture". To them, the last thing they want to do when they are on holiday or sitting at a restaurant for a nice meal, is to run through in their head the very debate we're having here. They'd much prefer to know that people in the service industry are being appropriately compensated for their work (even if that means higher prices or an added service charge). For people not accustomed to it, it creates a lot of anxiety. I quite often have European colleagues or friends come to me before heading to the US on vacation to ask what is "normal" tipping in the various vacation contexts because they are aware it changes over time (which reinforces what I said in #1 above, these conversations help calibrate "normal").
  10. This is what I have been told by several NCL cabin attendants (although, admittedly, has not come up in the last few years so may not still be the case). I was also told that if auto-gratuities are removed, they are also requested to verify if they received any cash or not (and reminded that all cash gratuity was to be put into the shared pool).
  11. I think most people have summed up experiences pretty well here. Just a few small bits from me that weren't entirely addressed: 1) I'm surprised no one has mentioned the pool situation on the larger NCL ships. If you are a pool person, be prepared for a very cramped experience. We LOVE NCL and this is the only single thing I don't love about the large ships. Our solution: we always factor in the cost of a spa pass and get our fill of "water time" in the spa therapy pool (and much more as relaxing in this area is wonderful). Despite the pool issue, we have no trouble finding sunny spots on the upper decks so between the spa pass and empty upper decks, we've found a way to address this one gripe. 2) As others have mentioned, I think NCL typically does an excellent job with managing people on the big ships. Big ships mean more venues and thus a greater variety of entertainment. We feel we get all this and still maintain the general "vibe" of NCL that exists across the fleet, regardless of ship size. 3) Fully agree on main dining room experience - upgrade to the paid restaurants for at least half the cruise. Final note on food is that for years we felt NCL had the absolute best buffet at sea. We're not lovers of buffets but for quite a while NCL struck the perfect balance of variety, freshness and accessibility. Personally, I think standards have slipped a bit in the last 3-5 years but we still find the buffet perfectly acceptable for breakfast and times we just don't want to sit through a full service meal. Despite all of the above, NCL does have it's own "vibe" that is distinct from Celebrity. I think they truly offer "freestyle" cruising (although, I think they need to srop the "free" and maybe call it "your style"). This results in a group of people that like to approach the ship on their own terms. Celebrity still has an air of traditional cruising where your experience is a bit more "programmed". We like part of both and like one of the previous posters find ourselves rotating between Princess, Celebrity and NCL (but lately more NCL as even with the "extras" added in, we feel we're getting better value and better overall entertainment experience). Please come back and post a trip report with your thoughts after you've cruised!
  12. Hey NCL Cruisers! Over the years I have often seen posts by people picking up "last minute" cruise booking for great rates. This has never really fit into our vacation strategy in the past as we like to plan and typically book our vacations 9-12 months out. However, have a unique situation where we know we will have some free time after a work project I'm completing in Amsterdam. There's a NCL Getaway itinerary departing Copenhagen on August 27th that would be a good way for us to see some of the N. Europe ports, but we're kind of take it or leave it about booking. We'd equally be happy to fly into Copenhagen and then just meander around Scandinavia on our own. So, here's the question...what's the best way to monitor rate drops and when typically do things start to drop? The 120 day payment just passed yesterday and I didn't notice a price change. There looks to be quite a bit of cabin availability in all categories. Just out of my depth on strategy here (or even when/how often to take a look).
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