Freestyle dining - DON'T DO IT!!
Norwegian Pearl Cruise Review to Caribbean - Southern
Sail Date: December 14, 2007
Ship: Norwegian Pearl
Cabin Type: Balcony
Traveled As: Couple
Reviewed: 8 years ago
Unless your idea of a good time is fighting your way trying to balance a plate and a hot cup of coffee through crowds of people all trying to do the same thing (breakfast and lunch), or waiting in line for over an hour for a table at dinner, take our advice - don't cruise with NCL!! Their much-advertised Freestyle Dining' - eat what you want, when you want - maybe be a good idea in theory, but not in practice. We just got back from a 9 day southern Caribbean cruise on the Pearl and found the whole dining experience a nightmare - and we were certainly not alone in that. Though there are 12 restaurants on the ship, only 5 of those don't have an extra charge, and the no-extra-charge ones don't take reservations, so you have to turn up and hope for the best. Our longest wait was 1 hr 50 mins between leaving our cabin and finally sitting down to eat - and 20 minutes of that was waiting in line just to put our name down and get a beeper. When we arrived at the Summer Palace restaurant on the second night, the line stretched halfway down the ship, with old people with walking frames who couldn't stand for long, tired hungry kids running around screaming, and the rest who were just very unhappy passengers. We filmed this and will be sending a clip to NCL to show just how well their system works. Not. Even in the 'extra-charge' restaurants you can only make reservations between 10-5 one day in advance, so unless you called first thing, we found they were either fully booked already or you could only get at table at 5.30 or 10.00pm. We're not 'early-bird' diners and thought we might have a better chance eating at 7.30 or 8, but sadly not. Often when we eventually did get into a restaurant, there were many empty tables, so clearly there was a staff problem somewhere. We own a restaurant, so we know very well how quickly a table can be cleared and re-set. We complained - along with most of the rest of the passengers I think - but couldn't get a straight answer as to why there were so many problems, and the Restaurant Manager was not a happy man, having to deal with so many complaints. Added to this, there had apparently been outbreaks of the Norwalk virus on 2 previous cruises, so for the first few days you had to be served your food in the Garden Cafe (buffet-style restaurant) which meant long lines and even more chaos. NCL are to be commended on their efforts to keep everyone healthy, and I believe they succeeded, but they needed more servers at the stations to keep things moving. Our food was always cold by the time we got it and found a place to sit. On the plus side, the staff were mostly surprisingly pleasant and helpful, given the problems they were clearly working under, and the food - once we got it - was usually OK, though wouldn't say great. Because trying to get a meal in a timely manner ended up something akin to planning a military operation, we can't say we had a relaxing and restful time - which is what cruising should be all about. So thanks NCL, but that was our first and last time 'freestyling'.
Ports of Call
Pros: Itinerary, design of ship, comfortable cabin, good fitness center
Cons: Whole dining experience