Won't sail with Norwegian again
Because I am a vegetarian, I did as much advance research as I could prior to my trip. I didn't want to spend too much on a trip traveling with an 8 year old. However, food quality is important to me. Norwegian is known as one of the better cruise lines in this regard, meeting the sweet spot between value for your money, family friendly, and having (at least as far as I could tell) decent food. I know it is hard to feed thousands well anyway, so I had low expectations. The one thing I wanted to be sure of is that I would not be subsisting on salads for a week. So I was really clear with the sales agent I spoke to before booking that: a) I cared about food and b) my family and I were vegetarian and c) we didn't want to be eating salad all week.
Let me just point out that it is inexplicably impossible to get specific information regarding the food. No menus available anywhere officially. I was able to get an unofficial copy of the menu for Teppanyaki and La Cucina, as Asian and Italian are usually promising choices for a vegetarian. However, Teppnayaki had no vegetarian options and the sales agent couldn't tell me prior to booking whether La Cucina used cheeses made with animal rennet. Since that is the norm, I figured that specialty dining was not going to be worth it for me. I was sort of vaguely told before booking that dietary restrictions could be met if you let them know in advance. Since I started the reservations in April, I would say 6 months is sufficient notice. But no indication what that meant and no one could tell me - even when I called just the day before we left.
The first night on board we went to Shanghai's - as again, Asian is usually a good choice. There was 1 vegetarian option, 2 if you included the one vegetarian dumpling appetizer that they had. The fried rice dish could be made vegetarian, but that consisted of literally just removing the meat from it. No offers to add anything else - since tofu is not served here. As the meat (and probably also fish sauce or something else not vegetarian friendly) was apparently responsible for imparting flavor, both dishes were bland. The vegetables were obviously frozen and (as we later learned) both the rice and noodle dishes were buffet quality.
After checking out the menu at the 1 other restaurant that had more than french fries available to eat, and having established that the quality in the "complimentary" (Taste/Savor - basically the same restaurant since the menus are identical) restaurants were low, cheeses of unknown rennet, and the vegetables not great, we decided to stick to the Garden Cafe. Because I thought (as it turns out, irrationally) that cheap, vegetarian-friendly protein substitutes like beans, lentils, and tofu would be offered at the buffet.
Let me just take this time to point out that in addition to the health benefits of vegetarian eating, that there are millions of people who don't eat meat not just for ethical reasons, but because their religion prohibits it. We are talking about religions that are thousands of years old. In short, vegetarianism is not exactly a new fad.
So while you might not be strictly adhering to a healthy diet while you are on vacation, you are not going to do something you find morally reprehensible. But I digress...
One night (yes, just once in a whole week) veggie burgers were offered at the buffet. (You had to wait ten minutes for the chef to prepare it... but ok). The "salad bar" was only out for a few hours a day. So, unless you hit it at the right time, you were out of luck. And it was really poor variety. Twice there were kidney beans. And that was it. Two types of lettuce, shredded carrots. Occasionally cucumbers and peppers. Once, maybe twice, there were (obviously from a canned but whatever) beets. You had to travel away from the "salad bar" (more like salad desk...or salad tray) for the tomatoes, which often lived by the deli-sliced cheeses. But that was it. Prepared salads (at one meal - 4 DIFFERENT salads) ALL inexplicably had meat.
Never - not even when they had "Asian" or "Mexican" nights - did they have beans or tofu. Unlike the miles of always available meat, the (few) vegetable/vegetarian dishes would inexplicably not be replaced when they ran out. For example, papadum was served for (literally) 5 minutes. Never to appear again. A (actually rather good) dish of sauteed greens was not available when I went up for a second helping.
Twice they had the same combo of steamed broccoli and cauliflower. And always macaroni and cheese, "nacho cheese" and chips, french fries, and mashed potatoes. The fries were under cooked and under seasoned. The "nacho cheese" was watery and tasteless. I mean, it actually poured out of the ladle like neon orange water and tasted like...nothing.
Twice they had a lentil dish that was actually pretty good and once (on "Asian night") they had a decent curried vegetable dish.
But that was it. For a seven day cruise. The desserts - even the soft serve and hand scooped ice creams - were appallingly sweet and tasted of nothing but sugar.
The macaroni and cheese was a bit bland but the only thing besides the mashed potatoes that were both vegetarian friendly and regularly available, so that is what I ended up eating a lot of. The first day off the boat one of the first things I did was go to a grocery store and buy smoked paprika to help out. I had to sneak it in - you weren't allowed to bring outside food on board.
The service - unless you count the food service people who looked at you like you had leprosy when you told them you were vegetarian - was decent. People were mostly otherwise friendly, although you could tell sometimes that it was forced. Having the woman giving you a manicure try to peddle eye cream on you is a little off-putting. Similarly, my masseuse tried to sell me "oils" that would "get rid of the lactic acid" (Really? How does THAT work?) But I politely turned them down and sort of (it was my birthday) winced at the over inflated cruise pricing for the spa services. Don't bother with them, at all.
We got the "free" WiFi (worked sporadically), $100 onboard credit, and the drink package (an extra $199 for the service charge, but still worth it for 2 people for a week).
The weather was good (windy, but mostly sunny) however, the main pool was inexplicably closed for most of the trip. Since both pools are small and this deck is where people congregated while we were sailing, it was so crowded we didn't bother.
The child care was excellent - our child basically wanted to live at Splash Academy all week and he cruised for free. So, that -if nothing else -made it worth it for us, although we will obviously never cruise with this line again.
While it was largely a disappointing birthday cruise for a "foodie" (me); it wasn't wholly unexpected.
Food and Dining
Service and Staff
Cabin / Stateroom
Skip the overpriced spa services - not worth it. Do get the beverage package even if you don't think you will drink much. Those drinks add up, especially for more than one adult.