We sailed the 7-night New York City loop to the Bahamas and Great Stirrup Cays from 5/27/01 to 6/3/01. This was our eleventh cruise overall and third with NCL. We sailed on the Norwegian Sea for our first cruise, when she was the Seaward in 1991.
We boarded a bus in Mount Laurel, NJ around noon and were at the pier between 1:30 and 2:00. An NCL rep boarded the bus and quickly mentioned where to go, but many didn't hear her (including us), so finding the entrance was confusing. There wasn't a rep present to escort the group, so it took a while to find the elevator up to embarkation. When we arrived, I asked where the Latitudes line was, and was guided to it. There were only two people trying to process all the latitude members. The other lines were moving faster than ours, but by the time we realized it, we were among the last to board the ship. This was around 3:00 to 3:15.
[Our impressions of various aspects of the ship, staff, and cruise follow our daily descriptions.]
We quickly found our cabin and then proceeded directly to the Big Apple Café, where lunch was being served. This was the only restaurant open (that's what we were told, anyway), and the lines were unbelievable! We were in line for close to an hour. When the life boat drill was ordered (the only thing on time!), there were probably 100 to 150 people who stayed in line until we had food. My wife has a gastro condition (we even carried a few cereal bars on the bus), so it was imperative that she eat. We never did get to the "drill."
We set sail around 5:00. It had rained on the trip to NYC, but cleared before we sailed. The aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy was holding drills with attack helicopters in the harbor, which was terrific! Seeing this, along with the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, and World Trade Center, certainly made me proud to be an American, especially with Memorial Day that Monday. My father and father-in-law were both vets, both gone now, and I had a "lump in my throat" and a "tear in my eye" when we viewed the demonstration.
The rain finally found us on our first sea day, but it gave us a chance to unwind, unpack and explore the ship. I thought NCL had done a very good job maintaining the ship. There was minimal wear, and the ship was very clean. We ate breakfast each day in the Seven Seas or Four Seasons dining rooms. The Big Apple Café was good for lunch, but the menu didn't vary much and could be crowded if you ate at peak times.
The sun returned and temperatures were in the mid 70's to 80. This was also a "sea day," and we lounged around the pool most of the morning and early afternoon. The pool area gets very crowded by 11:00, so if you are looking for prime seating, get there early. It was somewhat windy and cool early in the day, so we purchased a couple of NCL sweatshirts -- they did the trick quite well.
We docked at Nassau, which we had seen several times previously, so we decided to take the "Dolphin Encounter" at Blue Lagoon. It was pricy ($89 per person), but well worth the look on my wife's face as our dolphin "Stormy" interacted with us and gave us a hug and kiss! The tour lasted around three hours. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the pools and hot-tubs on board.
The weather had been cooperating since day one, and this was no exception. Tendering to Great Stirrup Cay took around 1/2 hour, from boarding the tender until reaching the island. We managed to get on the second tender, so getting a great spot on the beach was a breeze. If you came late, it was difficult to find a good location. We rented a large float-tube for $15.00 for the whole day. The water was a little chilly when you first entered, but felt OK after a few seconds. The island itself is laid out well, with a few small shops, changing facilities, food, rental equipment and beach chairs all within easy walking distance. We enjoyed the laid-back, no-schedule-type atmosphere on this island.
Days Five and Six
The last two days we spent hanging around the pool area early, then sunning in the afternoon. We found a quiet, warm and secluded spot on Deck 10, aft. I took two lounge chairs and placed them in front of the glass by the Observatory Lounge. Several others "discovered" this area too, and we enjoyed the days in splendid bliss!
Cabin Steward and Cabin
Our cabin, 3208, was located on Deck 3. We were forward of the front elevators and close to the Kids Playroom, making for easy access to the main deck. Our steward's name was Delroy, from Jamaica. We requested to have our beds placed together the first night, which he did without any problem. He did a wonderful job with our cabin, and had our room cleaned very quickly. Although he seemed invisible, he was always close by if we needed anything.
The overall service was better than I expected. The only place it wasn't too consistent for us was dinner once in the Four Seasons Restaurant. Most of the bar, cabin and dining staff did a decent job (IMHO). Others will disagree, but our experience was pretty good.
The shows that the Jean Ann Ryan troupe performs are done very well. Plenty of energy is put into their performances. The singer Donnie Abrahams has a great voice and performed many of the classic-type songs (Elvis, Tom Jones, etc.) We saw three different comedians (already forgot their names). Their shows were PG-rated in prime-time, but R-rated late-night. The two main comedians were a riot, especially their late shows! The third act was just so-so. The band performing at the Stardust Lounge was named "Mind the Gap." They played a good mix of music from the Sixties to present. Their lead singer (Karen?) had a great voice! We enjoyed them on several nights.
My one "sore spot" was how poorly this works, at least on this ship. My wife and I enjoy traditional style cruising, but wanted an informal, laid-back cruise for a change. This concept of being able to eat "when you want, where you want, and with whom you want" sounded great. The practice of this idea is NOT great. Three consecutive nights we tried getting a table for two -- once each at 6:15, 7:15 and 7:30. We tried both restaurants, which didn't make any difference. We could not even get seated at all for over a half hour (at ANY table) for the first two nights.
On the third night (at 6:15), the waiter attempted to seat us at a table where six people were halfway through their meal! When I refused to impose on them, the waiter returned us to the Maitre d'. Confused, she claimed she wouldn't have a table for two for quite a while. I told her that's not where the waiter placed us, and that I only want to be seated where others weren't half-through eating. She then found a large table where another couple was seated. If you were seated within a half hour of the restaurant's opening, you could get to choose where you sat. This was the same at both restaurants. You could also choose your seating if you ate after 8:30. Many passengers I had spoken with had similar problems with seating. Some enjoyed "freestyle," but I don't think they tried various times. I was NOT a happy camper!
The food quality in both the Seven Seas and Four Seasons restaurants was generally good for a mass market line, but there were not many choices. The Le Bistro (we ate there twice) was very nice, but the menu didn't vary the nights we were there, plus there wasn't a large selection there, either. This somewhat surprised me the first night, as there is a $10.00 per person charge. Also, the escargot wasn't very good, but everything else they prepared was very good. One of our favorite places to eat was the Pasta Café. They divided the Big Apple Café after 6:00PM into a buffet and Pasta Café. Although a small menu, the pasta was terrific, along with the service and ambience.
NCL claims their system is seamless, but ours was a mess. We were the second group off. Customs wouldn't allow us to debark until after 10:45 (it was supposed to be around 9:30), due to a problem with the luggage being removed (I think NCL held it up because several passengers hadn't settled their accounts). When we got off the ship, the mass of people waiting to board was clogging the way. I couldn't find any signs referring to baggage, so I asked an NCL rep where I should retrieve my bags. He sent me to where the next group would board. I finally went back and watched the next group, then followed them. The signs only show you to the "buses," and don't mention baggage claim. Maybe I missed something, but numerous others missed it too. Once we found our way, finding our bags was easy and there were plenty of porters to assist.
I think the cruise itself was well worth the great pricing we received, but if NCL plans to keep "Freestyle" on the Norwegian Sea, they should remove the traditional seating set-up in the dining rooms and add more tables for two. I think there are a large number of passengers who travel as couples and would like to really have a true "choice" when dining, not just rhetoric.
Norwegian Sea Promenade Deck
PHOTOS courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
Bob Pennington is a loyal reader and contributor to the SeaLetter Cruise Forum
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