Freestyle Cruising is anything but free
Norwegian Gem Cruise Review to Europe - Western Mediterranean
Review SummaryIf you are looking for good value on your cruise vacation, I would advise avoiding Norwegian Cruise Lines. With NCL you end up spending a lot more money than you planned for a mediocre product and service. NCL doesn't just nickel and dime you, they $5, $10, $25 and up you for almost anything you would expect to enjoy on a cruise. Obviously, some things can be avoided like $50 haircuts and $150 spa services, but other things can't be avoided like beverages with your meals, getting from the ship to the shore and back, and mandatory tipping. NCL has raised ala carte pricing to an art form and the entire experience is designed to extract as much money from you as possible during your captive stay. Yes, other cruise lines charge extras but the NCL markup is exorbitant (typically 2 to 3 times retail), and often times hidden until it is too late to avoid. NCL touts freestyle cruising as giving you freedom to choose, but the reality is you are very limited without incurring steep additional charges. Examples: the ship's transit schedule get you into ports very early (before 7 am, when non NCL shore excursion services are closed); you must be back on board 30 minutes prior to departure, but NCL provided shore to ship transportation may terminate 90 minutes prior to departure (except for those who purchased NCL excursion packages). The result is that you are unable to enjoy a late afternoon cocktail ashore without incurring an expensive cab ride to the ship; you end up paying $8 + 15% gratuity for on board cocktails while you wait for the late arriving passengers from the NCL excursions. The dining rooms that do not charge $25 per person extra are over capacity at normal dining hours so you must either eat early and reduce shore time, eat late and miss the entertainment, or use the cafeteria where you bus your own dishes but still must pay the wait staff gratuity that is added to your bill at the end of the trip.
Service: The cabin and wait staff are very friendly and informal. The wait staff is unpretentious but also unpolished serving from the wrong side and reaching across the table. The cabin staff does a good job but goes off duty at 9 pm; if they forget something you are out of luck until the morning. The bar staff does not share in the $12 per day per person mandatory gratuity but collects a 15% mandatory tip. As a result they are very pushy constantly interrupting asking if you want another drink. My major complaint is with the professional staff; no one has the authority to do anything. We had 2 minor problems and 1 major problem. In all cases the procedure was to disavow responsibility and imply it was the passengers fault (of which I agree there was some culpability since one is in a different environment). Regarding the major problem, the assistant cruise director was arrogant stating that every week passengers make the same mistake I made and causes a big problem for NCL. I pointed out that if it happens a lot then maybe it is a systemic problem and NCL should correct it; he insisted than NCL had no responsibility and walked off in huff.
Pros: The ports of call
Cons: The arrogant assistant cruise director