Western Caribbean: Norwegian Getaway
Since this entry started getting really long, even for me to read, I’ve decided to break it up into parts. While the previous post covered the time before and after the cruise, we focus on the cruise ship experience in this one, and the next one will cover what we did at the port stops.
Of the five or so cruises I’ve been on, this would probably be the first one where I didn’t feel any sea sickness; I did feel like I was still rocking on land at times, but no noticeable discomfort while at sea – hurray! Sadly, j.w had stomach discomfort for most of the cruise, but he ploughed through it, and still did stuff with the family regardless. Because we were travelling to areas that have reports of Zika, the cruise line offered DEET-based mosquito repellent at no charge at guest services, which was a nice gesture.
One pet peeve: why are there misspellings everywhere on board? I realize that the majority of service employees on the ship may not have English as their first language, but Norwegian Cruise Line is a company with headquarters in Miami, so English should be its first language and typos just detract from a professional ethos. The marketing and brand correspondence should reflect positively on your company, including correspondence from companies that partner with you; that is, Park West Gallery, the art auction company on board can’t even spell Harvest Caye correctly in their marketing flyers to the ship’s guests [their version? “Harvest Cay”] – that’s the newest private island that NCL has branded and developed. Especially since we were only the second sailing to make a call there, you’d think NCL would want to make sure its name was spelled right. Speaking of which, we almost “bought” a piece of art at the art auction; somehow they “recorded” j.w not lowering his hand in time (with the rest of the room, as everyone started out with their hands raised) and a piece was thus “sold” to us; we didn’t know until they sent us a letter to our stateroom that we had not paid the invoice. Other examples include menu descriptions that are cut off (e.g “garlic toas[someotherdescription]t”) and sentences in the daily newsletter (e.g. “you hard desires” [“your heart desires”?]).
Embarkation and disembarkation
If we thought waiting to board the ship was a long time, disembarkation and customs took over 1.5 hours. Some even complained on Cruise Critic and Facebook that it took them 4 hours. This is why I could never book a flight leaving on the same day we arrive; it’d be too stressful.
Embarkation took a lot time – we made it during our assigned chosen check-in time (actually, j.w and Bean did – the rest of us were assigned a later slot), but everyone was sitting in a waiting area in the terminal waiting to board the ship. By the time the first people were let through, people found out their staterooms weren’t ready yet so everyone mad rushed to get lunch – either at the buffet, Garden Cafe, or the sit down restaurants Taste / Savor.
Speaking of Cruise Critic, try getting in on the roll call – because that’s where I discovered that they had an exclusive Cruise Critic meet and greet where you get to meet and chat with the officers / management, so that you get their information if you need to escalate any issues. j.w mentioned to the hotel director that our room had a bump below the carpet (felt like a snake of wires), and when we later went to the room, a complimentary chocolate trio plate from the hotel director was waiting for us. Turns out it was sent via his assistant; the director didn’t actually know what was wrong with the room but he apologized that he couldn’t do anything more for the ship was full. They also served some light refreshments with complimentary drinks, including smoothies, but I found them to be very sweet.
Some on the Cruise Critic roll call organized a cabin crawl, which was great because we got to see a studio cabin and its exclusive lounge (the hotel director seemed to have just picked a random cabin) – the mood lighting almost reminds me of a spacey dorm room or a really spacious room on a plane – the toilet is literally a water closet; it looks like a space capsule and very claustrophobic. They have one-way windows that look out to the corridor, and you can opt to purchase a connecting cabin (and the $100 last minute prices for a studio cabin would make that very worthwhile). Other Cruise Critic guests offered their cabins for us to preview: a mini-suite is essentially a balcony cabin with a few more inches of room and a double sink, some of which have a tub shower instead of just a stand-up shower, and an accessible aft-balcony is almost 1.5x the size of a regular cabin, but I chatted with another guest at the meet and greet who was in a scooter and her accessible balcony cabin was likely two cabins in width!
Main Dining Room(s): Tropicana / Savor / Taste
Main Dining room food was mediocre at best. When you have a different dessert menu every night, but only one or two is repeated, and you find yourself ordering the same thing every night (i.e molten lava cake), then should have an idea just how ehhh the food is. I applaud them for allowing me to pre-order my meals ahead of time due to my allium intolerance as they prepped the dishes during the day, but that meant I was committed to eating at one of the main dining rooms the following night. However, ordering a plate of plain, grilled chicken breast or a steamed or broiled fish filet and a variety of steamed vegetables or even a plate of avocado, served to be quite the challenge – it seemed to boil down on who your server was and their pull in the kitchen (or whether they can inquire on your behalf) – this was very much unlike all the other cruise ships we had been on, and perhaps this is the huge drawback of freestyle dining; servers don’t remember your preferences and orders. I recall that the Maitre’D (Azim) and server on Celebrity went out of their way to ensure that Bean had a great meal when she was still a baby on a restricted diet. I’m not sure whether my diet restrictions affected the end results, but vegetable pad thai isn’t supposed to taste like lo mein saturated in soy sauce – whatever happened to the low sodium request or the tamarind (or ketchup at the minimum!), and although the beef tenderloin in the beef wellington was nice and tender, I was expected a puff pastry around the meat, but nope, it was just a piece of meat and veggies. I ordered a tonnado carpaccio-like veal appetizer, and out comes a roma tomato salad, but the worse part is that the server thought that it was a tonnado dish, which tells me that they don’t even know what the dishes are supposed to look like!
We had made advance reservations, but we ended up doing walk-ins due to the (slow? lack of?) service at Taste; can we say it left a bad taste? (ha!). After trying all three, I think the dining experience is just the luck of the draw, based on which server you get. The atmosphere at Savour and Taste seemed similar, more casual but quiet, whereas Tropicana seemed more formal (dimmer lighting) but also louder with the nightly live-music entertainment on the dance floor, including some performances by Burn the Floor.
Maybe it’s because this ship is newer, but I really liked the added touch of washing basins / sinks at the entrances of the buffet; it’s easy to wash your and the kids’ hands without having to visit the restrooms.
A good variety of food was offered at the buffet, and made some attempts at some international food (I liked the Indian style curries more than the Chinese attempts, but possibly because I’m not Indian; the naan bread though seemed more like unleavened bread – the texture wasn’t quite there), and even offered a pot of self-serve chai tea (tasted like watered down evaporated milk with ginger tea than the spiced chai I usually encounter) at the buffet bar – it wasn’t with the rest of the beverages, so you had to have happened upon it, or someone told you. I really enjoyed the ox tail stew with plantains when we were at Harvest Caye for the day.
There was a team of very enthusiastic staff at Garden Cafe, who would often greet guests with a song or two at the entrances with one guitar in hand, accompanied by backup singers. On one occasion, they even stopped to sing little brother the birthday song on his birthday; what a treat!
The host didn’t know of chicken and waffles on O’Sheehan’s complimentary pub & grill (even though online descriptions mention it as a dining feature) and the breakfast I ate there was what I could get at the buffet – clever name though: Irish twist to “Ocean’s” which j.w had to point out before I got it, so we didn’t go back.
Shanghai’s only opened for dinner, didn’t allow for reservations or carry away/take-out orders, the tall tables weren’t toddler / baby friendly, and it always seemed full, so we didn’t get a chance to try their Asian-style dishes either. If food and dining service was a hit and miss, why would I pay a premium to try their specialty restaurants; that is, paying more for potentially equally mediocre experience? I did toy with the idea of getting my espresso coffee fix at the café/gelato/sweets and pastry shop, but the 18% service fee on a $2.95 cappuccino deterred me away.
Entertainment and Play
Norwegian Getaway is a relatively new big ship, at 2 years old. At Deck 7 and 8, you can take a selfie at a photo kiosk and send it to any email address for free, which is a neat way to say hi to people at home and a nice modern touch, since getting reliable wi-fi wasn’t the greatest unless you paid $7.95 for 15 minutes.
Despite it holding 4000+ passengers and crew, the play areas never felt full – but for a ship that size, central areas like the pools and theatre seemed quite small. While we didn’t end up having the chance to go down any waterslide, the lines for them and for the other activities including the ropes course, bungee trampoline, spider mountain (a net where you climb to slide down a loop slide), mini golf didn’t seem very long at any given point. All of these seemed to be targeted for younger cruisers (like their competitors – maybe knowing that’s where the money is these days), with the exception of mini-golf, where I can see my parents doing; the rest I can’t.
I didn’t think I would do the ropes course, but seeing that my fear-of-heights husband did it without much apprehension, I had to try it – plus, there’s a zip “line” at the end. The harness really makes it tame and very safe; it looks scarier to walk the 8ft plank than when you’re actually up there – I recall having some of these ropes on childhood play structures above the ground, and there were definitely no harnesses and people did get injured (though a friend tells me that she jumped and broke her leg, and not fall through the ropes). You do need closed toe and heel shoes (yes, even water shoes without socks), and a sleeved shirt – maybe so that the harness wouldn’t chaff against your shoulder?
Sadly, the climbing wall was only open for limited hours (usually during nap time or dinner time), and I didn’t end up trying it either. They require socks and dry clothing, but provide climbing shoes and helmet for you at the rock climbing wall (so you might wish to bring and wear a bandana).
Notes: the loop waterslide has a minimum rider weight of 99lbs – if you don’t meet that requirement and depending on what you wear, you might not make it around the loop and have to escape through the emergency hatch at the bottom of the loop; I didn’t even try to attempt. The sign for the bungee trampoline says that the maximum weight was 80lbs even though their marketing says it’s for kids and adults, so while I had wanted to try it, I didn’t. It wasn’t until after the cruise that when I searched online for photos of adults trying it (because what adult is 80lbs?! I may be close but still didn’t meet the requirement), that I saw people post photos of a previous cruise where they had a piece of paper taped over the 80lb correcting it to 160lb. That made more sense – as j.w said, I should’ve just asked them – though I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of some kids so that’s probably why I held back anyway.
I would also say that the private island, Harvest Caye, belongs under this category as I see it as an extension of NCL. Unlike the other ports, this island had a very artificial feel to it – with a “nature” center consisting of a few cages of animals, pristine sand, beach chairs crowding the beaches, a tiny lagoon for rented boats, stand up paddle board and kayaks, a pool with a swim-up bar, and potted plants. I felt bad for the lone staff manning a very empty ropes course – why would someone walk so far and pay for a ropes course when there’s a decently free one on board? The worst idea on that island though is probably recycling the water in the children’s splash pad / water park – we all know that some kids end up swallowing water when they play hard – especially down a waterslide, and other kids end up well, having accidents in the water when they play hard. You’d also think they would plan for having enough water on a hot day; the water level became too low for them to continue to operate the kid’s waterslide.
Twisty slides and trampolines are two things that excite our little one, but she had to be 43 inches tall and while she had fun on the little rope course, she was definitely a bit scared even with the harness (and bit her lip when she slipped). I was a little disappointed at the Guppies room (0-3yo free play), as it hardly had enough room for two families to supervise and play, and they didn’t have a toy lending program unlike the Celebrity Millennium, but I appreciated the structured time they had set out for 0-2 year olds with their caregivers; we unfortunately missed most of them though as it conflicted with our lunch or dinner times. While they had a great program for children 3 years and older at Splash Academy, including a final theatrical performance by the kids, Bean didn’t take to it so well and refused to stay / go after the second day. She really enjoyed the soft foam splash pad area though, and it was enclosed, which was a nice touch to keep the kids (and water) in.
To be honest, I didn’t understand Burn the Floor feature performance (just looked like a mish-mash / showing off of all ballroom dance genres) and the music from Million Dollar Quartet wasn’t my cup of tea, so when our kids seemed more tired than usual, we weren’t too disappointed to miss it even though we had reservations. And because of kid bedtime routines starts around 8:30 PM, we usually had to call it a curfew after that time – so we didn’t see the complimentary comedy shows or other events in the evenings either.
Overall, it seemed less pretentious that Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas grandioso experience, maybe being less pretentious outweighs the other not-so-positives. When researching prior to the cruise, forum posters talked about NCL’s change of policies such as restricting any liquids to be brought on board, but according to some conversations I had with service staff, it seems like they also made changes for their staff: with vacation requests extending beyond 2 months is more rare and evaluated according to seniority; it also seems the staff have less say in preference as to which ship to work on after each contract. Thus, more of their lives are spent on board than at home (often leaving family at home) and if they work well with a team or certain team members and are very familiar with one ship, they may have to relearn everything. Be warned that service staff may still be on shift / duty despite showing signs of a cold or a flu; I overheard the manager at the internet desk explaining that he was sick so he shouldn’t shake his co-worker’s hand. Sure enough, he was holding a wad of tissue and sadly, that was after I had already let my little one pound on the keys at the internet cafe. I made sure to wash his hands after, but maybe that’s where he caught the cold from, and didn’t get signs until the cool Miami evening breeze at the beach, thereby affecting everyone else in the family.
Next up: Roatan, Harvest Caye, Costa Maya, and Cozumel