Following is our review of the August 28, 1993, sailing of the Norway. For comparison, the following are the other ships we have sailed in the past, all since August, 1988--NCL Seaward and Sunward II, Carnival Celebration and Fantasy, Regency Regent Sun and Regent Star, Dolphin SeaBreeze and OceanBreeze, Costa Classica, Crown Princess, and Crown (now Cunard Crown) Jewel. We found the ship to be a good experience, but frankly, probably would not be in a hurry to book that ship again. There are just too many other good ships out there that we haven't tried yet.
We had booked the trip back in December last year, at 2 for 1, cruise only. We flew American non-stop from National to Miami, arriving around 11:30 A.M. If you book air-sea with NCL, they pick up your bags at the airport and transport them to the pier. You don't see them from when you check them at your home airport until they arrive at your cabin. It's really convenient not to have to deal with the bags at all, provided there are no hangups with luggage arriving at the ship. On our trip, we overheard one of the crew talking by walkie-talkie with the ship about some lost baggage, which was meeting up with the ship in St. Marten. Apparently only one person's baggage (out of over 2,000) didn't make it for that particular week. Someone at our dinner table indicated that they overheard the person whose baggage was lost as they were shopping with the $100.00 onboard ship credit. Since we had booked cruise only, we had to provide our own transport from the ship to the pier and had to transport the bags also. Taxi fare from the airport to the seaport is a flat rate of $16.50 for the cab, plus tips and any additional for bags. You could get NCL bus transportation for a fee. However, you still would have had to lug your bags, so it made much more sense to us to just hop a taxi.
After claiming our bags, it was around 12:15 or so by the time we arrived at the ship. There was a huge line for check-in at that time, primarily because there were no check-in people available yet. Around 12:30 or so, the check-in people came out and the lines moved really fast. There were around 8 check-in lines. Dinner seating and table numbers were pre-assigned, so you only needed to see the maitre d' if there was some problem with your dinner seating. We saw we had second seating, table for six, and decided that was certainly satisfactory.
What was NOT done when boarding the ship, and which I found kind of strange--onboard charges are not really fully computerized on the Norway. Basically, you really weren't required to sign up for the onboard charge until it was time to get off. There was no sign-up card at all to charge drinks, etc. The first couple of days, they wanted you to show your cabin key, but not after that. Basically, you just printed, then signed your name and your cabin number on the charge slip. We signed up fairly early on Sunday and waited in almost no line to do so. There is an onboard charge desk on the ship which is open a few hours every day, that you go to sign up. There really is no rush to sign up for the onboard charge, so you should just do it whenever there is no line. As with most ships these days, you can charge not only drinks to your room, you can also charge shore excursions and purchases in the shop. I don't know whether they actually require you to sign up with your credit card before being able to charge items in the gift shops to your room or not, as we signed up on Sunday and did not purchase anything in the gift shop until Thursday. The ship took Mastercard, Visa and Amex, both for on-board charges and for direct charges in the ship shops.
Upon boarding the ship (on Norway deck) there are persons there to tell you which deck to go to, etc., but no one to actually lead you to your room. I suppose that's not that surprising, considering the size of the ship. Once we found our cabin and dumped our carryon stuff, we headed for the welcome aboard buffet. As with the rest of the luncheon buffets, we were generally satisfied with the variety for the luncheon buffet, which, on Saturday, consisted of curry chicken, hot dogs, tacos, roast beef, fried chicken, french fries, about five different kinds of salads, including a meat salad, seafood salad and a regular lettuce salad. Only the desserts were sparse--pound cakes and cookies.
After familiarizing ourselves with the luncheon buffet, we proceeded to familiarize ourselves with the ship. For those unfamiliar with the Norway, she is the largest cruise ship afloat. Formerly christened the SS France, she has the lines of an ocean liner, i.e. long and lean instead of fat and chunky, as new ships are made today. It is a LONG distance from one end of the ship to the other, especially noticeable on the long indoor promenade deck, International deck. Since she is an older ship, there are a lot of the things that one finds disconcerting about older ships at first--certain elevators which only go between certain decks, etc. If you make a mistake about where you want to end up on this ship, you could have a LONG walk to where you wanted to be. There is none of the neon which defaces (my (not so humble) opinion) the newer ships. Unfortunately, the public rooms looked kind of tired and well in need of the refurbishing, for which she was headed after our cruise.
The purser's desk is open most waking hours, from around 8 AM to 11 PM. I had no problems with anyone I dealt with at the purser's desk. Since all the older rooms, at any rate, do not have safe deposit boxes, I used one of the ship's boxes by the purser's desk. Cost was a $40 fee, charged to your room, if you didn't return the key.
There is a drop box for shore excursions, so that you do not have to stand in line to purchase shore excursions. For some reason, this drop box is not available immediately upon boarding, but is placed out by the shore excursion desk only after the first shore excursion talk on Sunday. NCL sends the list of the shore excursions available with your tickets, so we already knew that we wanted to book the excursion to St. Barts, so the form with that excursion checked was placed in the box almost as soon as the box was placed out. Tickets were later delivered to our cabin. The drop-off box could be used for most of the trip, but after the first day or two, you had to go pick up the tickets, as they were no longer delivered to the cabin.
A word regarding perceptions of finances might be in order here. I had a strong perception, although Eric's impression was much less so, of a company trying REALLY hard to sell you something in addition to the cruise, or to transfer some employee costs on to the passenger. On the first day, especially, but not nearly so much after that, the people with the drink trays were REALLY obnoxious. From the moment you boarded the ship, every five minutes, someone was sticking a drink tray in your face, wanting you to buy a drink. The only other time when the pushing of drinks was so obvious was the Caribbean night on deck. There was also the Roman Spa, which tried to capture every single person who came by on the first day, trying to get them to come see the Spa (which was quite an EFFORT in and of itself, just to get there because of it's location on the ship), and to get people to spend money there. There were several different packages available, in all different price ranges. I did find it slightly ironic, however, that during the refurbishment three years ago, when the Roman Spa was added, there were two jacuzzis placed in the Roman Spa area (where one would have to pay for the privilege). There was only ONE jacuzzi up on deck (for 2,000 people) and no more jacuzzis were added up on deck. There was also the ice cream parlor, for which you paid for ice cream, which didn't upset me that much, as they didn't come around the decks and try to haul you in there, as they did with the Roman Spa or the drinks. Then, of course, there was your standard photographs, which, again, don't bother me, as if you tell them "No, thank you, you don't want your picture taken", they go away. A couple of things which I thought were unusual, in terms of trying to get passengers to pay for staff expenses, is that for the tip envelopes, the cruise director suggested leaving a tip for the baggage handlers who delivered bags to the cabins, etc. I do not recall ever having been asked to contribute for that on a cruise line before. Also, over the loud speaker, there seemed to be constant announcements for bingo, specials in the shops, etc., but NO announcements for meals. I frankly thought that was kind of ironic. Then, of course, there was the ala carte restaurant, at which the food was free, but one was expected to tip. We did tip, although we were certain that the service that we received did not warrant any tip. More on that subject later.
We had booked what was billed as a "family sized" stateroom on Norway deck, cabin number 155. This cabin had a double bed, plus another single bed and a bunk which folded into the wall. There was a refrigerator in the room, which we didn't get as much chance to use as we thought, since we had used the one we had on the Crown Jewel a lot. I'm sure that this was probably a function of the fact that we were not often in the room. There were two fairly large hanging closets in the room, so Eric and I each had our own closet, which was great. In the closets there were around 4 or 5 smaller drawers, plus some shelves above the closets. There was a vanity table with (kind of dim) lighting, with 4 good sized drawers underneath. Beds were high enough off the floor that our rather large suitcases fit under the beds without any problem. The bathroom was larger than most and the shower was actually about the size of a fair sized shower stall, with a detachable shower head, which put out warm enough water, but sometimes not quite enough OF it at times. There was a great contraption over the toilet for sundries, etc. It had around 5 or 6 large shelves, with glass doors which closed over top of everything, so that one could see what was in all the shelves, but they couldn't tumble out all over the floor. Good organization, except that one had to put the toilet seat down in order to open the door to the thing. Eric says it may have been on purpose, to keep people from accidentally dumping stuff in the loo. There were four swimming suit hooks on the wall in the bathroom, plus two hooks on the back of the door. Two portholes, with a shade, as well as regular curtains over the portholes. Overall, we had a very comfortable, functional cabin and we had no complaints about the cabin except for the door keys, which did not work too well. The older decks on the Norway have the traditional keys for the doors, while the newer decks have the plastic keys favored in new ships. Normally having a regular key doesn't particularly bother me, but the locks on many of the doors apparently need replacing, as ours did, as we saw several people fighting with their keys, trying to get into their cabins, as we often had to do, especially on the first couple of days. Cabins on Norway deck are not too badly placed, as far as public rooms, as we were just down the hallway from the entrance to our dining room (the Leeward). Most of the public rooms were on International and Pool decks, which were three and two decks up, respectively. One surprise was that, except for the first day, we didn't have a major problem with finding elevators when we wanted. There was one elevator which was out of service for a couple of days, but otherwise, elevator service seemed good.
Three new decks (Sun, Sky and Fjord) were added to the ship in 1990, and if I had the choice again, I would probably book in one of the cabins on those decks. Not only were all the furnishings new in those cabins, with nice large windows, but they have the newer plastic keys. I think that part of the reason that we did not spend much time in our cabin this time was because you couldn't see out too well, with the two portholes, placed pretty high up in the room. Unfortunately, I'm not really sure that most of the cabins on the Norway with the private balconies (a subject close to my own heart after the WONDERFUL balcony we had on the Crown Jewel) are really worth the extra money. If I were going to book the ship again, I would book one of the cabins on Sky or Sun decks which have floor to ceiling windows. The balcony cabins on Sun deck are very nice cabins, not huge, but nice, but the balconies are really rather small, basically with room for two lounge chairs, side by side, and a small table with two chairs. The major problem that I would have with them is that they are NOT private AT ALL. There is a smoked glass screen between each balcony and between the last balcony and the public areas. The last balcony toward the center of the ship is right by a staircase, so everyone going up and down that staircase will be staring at you if you are sitting on your balcony. Frankly, I never saw many people out there. Furniture on Sun deck balconies was fine, white PVC (but no cushions).
Balconies on Fjord deck were better in terms of size, being maybe twice the size of those on Sun or Sky deck, and with regular solid metal walls between the balconies. However, views from many of these balconies are obstructed to some extent by the lifeboats. Furniture on Fjord deck balconies was horrible--a mishmash of stuff which often did not match on the SAME balcony. I saw a couple of those fabric kind of director's chairs on those balconies. I'm going to assume that the furniture on those balconies is going to be replaced during the refurbishing.
Other cabins with balconies that we noticed were not much better than those already described, sometimes for different reasons. The cabins on Sky and Fjord deck aft with balconies are horrible, as far as privacy. They look right out over the basketball court, so there is constant bouncing of balls right under your balcony. Certainly not a restful experience, plus persons further down the ship could look up and see you on your balcony. There are two owner's suites all the way forward on Sun deck which have huge wrap-around balconies looking straight forward, and around the corner. Unfortunately, we missed those suites when taking our customary gander through all the cabins on the first day, so we weren't able to see the balconies (or cabins, for that matter) for those cabins. However, even though these cabins had a huge wraparound balcony, there was only a waist high railing between the two balconies, so if your neighbor was out on his balcony also, you had no privacy whatsoever. Also, since they were facing directly forward, I would think that the breeze might well make it uncomfortable to sit there while at sea.
After looking around the ship, it was time to head back to the cabin to see if our luggage had arrived, which it had, so we started putting away things until time for the lifeboat drill. Lifeboat drill was held before leaving port and was kind of a perfunctory deal, in that no one came around to check the position of the lifejackets. etc. It was a good thing that they did not check MY lifejacket, as, while we were sitting there waiting, I noted that my lifejacket was missing the light, the whistle, the battery for the light AND the buckle which makes the thing fasten together!!! Now I know why Eric insisted recently that my company should buy me some life insurance. Hum........ Anyway, our lifeboat station was in the Checkers Cabaret, along with probably around 400 other people. On most ships, the staff captain or his designate would come around and check the lifeboat stations. However, no one came in to the Checkers Cabaret. They did ask one person from each cabin to stand in line to report how many people were in each cabin, but there was no calling out of room numbers, as we had seen on other ships.
Once the (REALLY long) lifeboat drill was over, we headed back to the cabin, where we were finishing putting away things, when the Captain came over the loud speaker to announce that we were late leaving port (which we hadn't noticed), because there was apparently a storm somewhere on the east coast and some flights into Miami had been delayed. The Captain indicated that we would not be late arriving at our first port in St. Marten (which we were not due to arrive in until Tuesday anyway), because he would pour a little extra coal to it, to make sure we arrived on time. The Captain also indicated that he had been following the course of Hurricane Emily, and that, even though it was still several hundred miles away, that he would alter our course slightly for the first day, so that we would not have any possibility of rough weather.
We got underway around 45 minutes late. For a good part of the week, including most of Sunday and for Thursday and Friday, the Sovereign of the Seas was generally within sight. I would presume that this is probably the normal protocol, since the ships mostly mirror their itineraries, with the Norway going to St. Martin and the Sovereign to San Juan, and both ships going to St. Thomas (although on different days) and their respective private islands, which are side by side. What was interesting, especially the first day, was the extraordinary number of freighters which we saw. I'm sure this was as a result of Emily, in that many ships were avoiding a major portion of the Atlantic and Caribbean to give Emily a wide berth. What was also interesting to us was that the Norway was almost always a little ahead of the Sovereign. I don't know how that arrangement came about, as to whether the captains switch off from week to week as to who goes first, or whether the captain of the Sovereign always lets the "older lady of the sea" go first.
We met our table mates on Saturday evening, a couple from New Jersey, and two ladies from California. We had an enjoyable time over the course of the week, discussing life in general and cruising in particular, with them. Service on Saturday night was excruciatingly slow. We were just about the last table to leave the dining room, primarily because our waiter took SO L-O-N-G to get the food from the kitchen. The worst night for this was Saturday night, but it was very slow on several other nights. Our waiter proceeded to tell us that he was leaving the ship (and being a waiter) for FOREVER once this particular cruise was over, and it was none too soon for him. That was kind of disconcerting to learn for the first night, but we hoped that the service would get better over the week, and it usually was better than that we had on the first night.
Weather for Sunday and for the week basically was good, with some scattered (five minute) rain showers from time to time. It was really interesting to see the captain appear to steer around some small rain showers, and it was really neat at one point, to observe that it was just POURING rain about 20 feet to starboard, while we were perfectly dry and the sun was shining.
On Sunday we had breakfast at the buffet--eggs, bacon, waffles, oatmeal, cereals, fruits, danish. Even though we were one of the very first ones in line, after the buffet opened at 8:30, our food was rather cold, which I found unacceptable, since we were one of the first ones in line. Lunch we had buffet also, with a good selection, including (REAL) onion rings, spaghetti, chicken burgers, hamburgers, hotdogs, rotini, hot apple strudel, pies, cakes, and some really good watermelon.
Sunday was the Captains' welcome aboard cocktail party, which we thought was handled about as well as could be expected with two thousand people. If you wanted to meet and shake hands with the Captain (which we passed on), you stood in this wonderfully long line at the Club Internationale. Then, once you had had your picture taken a couple of times and met El Capitan', you proceeded on to the North Cape Lounge for your free drinks and dancing, etc. However, if you wanted, you could just proceed directly to the North Cape Lounge and pick up your free drinks. The basic drink that was available was champagne, unless you were able to flag down a waiter. They would bring you anything you wanted, but it was very hard to flag down a waiter to do so. There was a small amount of hor douevres available, but nothing exciting.
The Norway's captain is one of the more loquacious captains we have encountered. He made several announcements over the loudspeaker over the course of the week, detailing the path of Emily. On the night of his cocktail party, he launched into a little speech, telling the passengers about the other Kloster Cruises products, then went into a little of the history of the ship, from the first commissioning as the SS France. He seemed to take a lot of pride in the ship, and it showed. He also had a very good command of English, which sometimes seems kind of lacking, with the heavy accents sported by some cruise ship captains.
The Captains' welcome aboard dinner is served Sunday evening, with entre' selections including prime rib and ravioli and I enjoyed a wonderful cream of papaya soup and a chocolate pecan pie. After dinner, we headed to our one and only stage show which we watched for the week, but were generally disappointed. More on this later under the subject of Entertainment.
As usual, we spent quite a bit of our evenings in the ship's casino. The casino on the Norway (a rather plain room overall) is too small for such a large ship and the tables were often crowded to overflowing. There was 1 roulette table, (which was almost always PACKED), 1 craps table (which was often in use), 3 Caribbean stud tables, and around 8-10 blackjack tables, with around 4-6 tables in use most of the time. Most of the slots were quarter machines, although there were some dollar machines and a few five dollar machines. Slots were generally tight and not nearly as busy as the tables. One thing that we had not noted before on other ships, although I suppose we just didn't know it, is that several of the croupiers in the casino were temporary workers. Apparently several of them are switched from ship to ship from week to week, depending on where they needed help. There is a bar in the middle of the casino, so, of course, we spent many hours there at the bar. For the week we sailed, the two bartenders in the casino bar (who took very good care of us, and thus we took very good care of THEM!), were Livingston and Hannibal. Both great guys to talk to and great bartenders.
Monday was a restful, rather uneventful, day at sea, with Eric getting a good start on his sunburn for the week, and I getting a good start on "Murder at the Smithsonian" by Margaret Truman. Lunch was had at the buffet, then we headed in for the art auction. I don't know whether it was a come-on or not, but the auctioneer was quite put off by the low prices he was receiving for the pieces and many pieces were withdrawn because he did not get a minimum bid. I did not see anything I was particularly interested in, as most of the art was modern, with a few exceptions. There is a catalog. However, the catalog is the same catalog every week and the catalog lists and describes only the artist, not the particular work. I do not know if there was any ability to see pieces before the auction or not, but do not think so. Obviously, one needs to know the particular artist involved and if one intends on purchasing anything, you should get there early and sit up front. According to comments we overheard over the week, prices at the first auction were much lower than comparable items later in the week.
Tuesday was St. Marten, well, sort of. Having been to St. Marten several times (and enjoyed it each time), we decided that we would do something a little different and take the ship shore excursion to St. Barts, aboard a motorized catamaran called the White Octopus. We had known before leaving home that we wanted to do this trip and noted that it was limited to 30 people, so we scurried down the first day and signed up for the excursion. However, for our trip anyway, there were only around 15 or so people signed up, so it did not sell out.
Generally we do not take ship shore excursions, because we feel that we can either beat the ship price, or even if paying the same for a taxi tour, we can go at our own pace and not be herded around like cattle. There is occasionally an exception to this rule, for unique experiences that you may not be able to do on your own because of limited time in port, notably the Stingray City tours offered by many ships at Grand Cayman, the Atlantis Submarine in several places, and on the Norway, the shore excursion to St. Barts from Philipsburg. The cost is $52 per person, which is basically for the catamaran ride from Philipsburg to Gustavia (St. Barts' port).
We were to meet at 8:30 in the main lounge for the tender service for St. Martin. Staff started leading us down to the tenders around 8:45. It took around 15 minutes to load the huge (450 passenger) tenders. Our shore excursion tickets served as our tender tickets for St. Marten. (The cruise bulletin indicated that those not on shore excursions would need to obtain tender tickets till 10 A.M., and after that time, could just proceed to the tender point.) We arrived around 9:15 at the dock, then took the short walk down the beach to the White Octopus.
The White Octopus is a regularly scheduled charter from St. Marten to St. Barts. It is a catamaran only in the same sense that the Radisson Diamond is a catamaran. It is a fully motorized vessel, with no sails. It is a 100 passenger vessel, with plenty of shade, bathrooms, and complementary sodas on the way over. Prior to getting on the boat, we removed our shoes (because they SAID to--we didn't really get an explanation WHY) and filled out a paper with information for what amounted to a visa in these parts, I guess--our names and dates of birth. The trip to St. Barts was around 1 and 1/2 hours and fairly rough, which was apparently fairly normal. I never use any seasick medication on cruise ships anymore, but I did take some that morning before boarding the catamaran. Neither one of us was ill on the way over at all, although we did see a couple of people who looked a little rocky. Needless to say, the White Octopus crew had seen this many times before and proceeded to bring out the saltines for those in need. Non-alcoholic drinks were provided in the morning. Beer was available in the afternoon, although I don't know if there was a cost or not. It is a smooth ride back in the afternoon. Snorkeling gear was also available for the day at St. Barts from the White Octopus if you wanted. We did not see anyone picking up snorkeling gear, so don't know if there was a charge or not. Prior to our arrival in Gustavia, the crew made some brief comments about available restaurants, tour costs, etc., but they did not appear to back any particular establishments. They were also available for specific questions.
We arrived on St. Barts around 11 A.M., sailing into the picturesque (very small) harbor, practically right up to the doors of the Little Switzerland. I laughingly told Eric that I could find shopping ANYWHERE. But, as the crew of the White Octopus pointed out, the prices and selection were better at St. Martin, so shopping is not the main reason for taking this shore excursion. Shops were due to close at noon until 2 or 2:30, so we decided that we should do what shopping we wanted to do before heading out to do anything else. Gustavia is really the only town of any significance in St. Barts and the shopping district is only 3 to 5 blocks long. The shop keepers were very friendly and willing to help in any way without being pushy. All prices were in French Francs. Generally we were provided with US change, however. Large bills may be a problem with change, so be sure to take smaller US dollars to avoid any change problems. We perused a few stores in the downtown area without any problem in the hour before noon, picking up some obligatory post cards and I purchased a hand painted shirt. We knew it was hand painted, as the painter (a lady who spoke some English, but mostly French) was onhand and painting WHILE talking on the telephone in French, WHILE taking my American dollars and corresponding to me in English. Quite a talented lady.
We had "scoped out" St. Barts on the Caribbean BB and in some guide books before leaving home, and knew we wanted to head for a beach named Saline beach and also knew that we would not be able to get anything to eat or drink there. Therefore, we brought some fruit and some bottled water from the ship (although by customs reg's, we probably were not supposed to do so!), and headed to a grocery store to pick up some wine and cheese. Just down from the main part of town we came upon a grocery store, which was quite well stocked with about 4 rows of wine--in all different price ranges, but with French wines predominating, and with very reasonable prices. We bought part of an edam and had picked out some wine, but realized we needed a corkscrew. We approached a lady at the flower counter at the rear of the store and asked if they had any corkscrews for sale. Looking at the large volume of wines in the store, we were certain that they must sell corkscrews there, but could not find them anywhere. The lady did not understand English, but smiled when we picked up a wine bottle and made a corkscrew motion. She came out from behind the counter and marched all the way to the other end of the store and found the box of corkscrews and presented one to us with a flourish. It was one of the best memories of our trip. Altogether, our cheese, the wine and the corkscrew came to a grand total of $7.35. The corkscrew will also go in our stash of things to take on cruises in the future!
Having procured our supplies, we were ready to head out to the beach. We headed back toward the pier, which is where the taxi stand was. We found a nice LADY taxi driver there, who gave us a 45 minute tour of the island (ALL there was to see--G!) for $10 PP with 4 people per taxi. It's a really rocky little island, with some really great views and a quaint very short runway that basically dead ends on a cliff into the ocean. Some of the views are fantastic, and we considered the tour well worth the price. The tour price also included a drop off at St. Jeans beach and later a pick up for return to the pier prior to departure. St. Jeans beach is one of the major beaches on St. Barts and has changing facilities, restaurants, etc. People we spoke with were happy with St. Jeans.
The taxi driver combined several people for the tour, actually 4 people for the tour and 4 people who wanted only to be dropped off at St. Jean beach (for which the cost was $6 per person). The cost for our tour with the other couple was $10 per person and for the drop off at Saline beach an additional $10 for the two of us. Initially, we wondered if there should have been an extra charge, but having read that it was difficult to get to, we didn't say anything. The additional charge also included the pick up at a predetermined time.
At times we are still amazed at the attitudes of some cruise ship passengers and can sometimes understand why some people think ill of cruise ship passengers, as the group that just wanted to be dropped off at St. Jean's beach were, in our opinion, rather obnoxious to the driver and seemed to think they were doing her favor just to be in her taxi. Once they were dropped off at St. Jeans beach and had arranged with the driver for their pick up time, the driver reiterated the extra $10 charge for our specific drop off and told us again to make sure that we understood that there were no restaurants or other facilities available at Saline. We again agreed with the extra $10 for the drop off and said that we understood that there were no facilities available. Once that was done, she seemed to feel much more at ease. She proceeded with the tour of the island, stopping at the many scenic spots for pictures and explained in her (sometimes spotty) English what we were seeing. Overall a good tour of the island.
With the tour over, our driver proceeded to take us to Saline beach. After winding around some curves and over and around some hills, the blacktop ended and a dirt road (really a cowpath) continued. We passed some salt ponds, where they were drying seawater to produce natural salt, and finally came to a dead end, where there were several other local vehicles parked, but no taxis. Stopping there, she pointed to the path over a sand dune, saying that Saline beach was just over the hill, about a 5 minute walk. After arranging for the appropriate pickup time, off we went up the path.
Once we reached the top of the hill, looking forward down the path was pure white sand, short green vegetation on each side and straight ahead was the crystal clear waters of the caribbean. It made a beautiful picture and a great start to the beach trip. There are no facilities there--no restrooms, no restaurants, no bars, no shade--but the water is so beautiful, it seemed unreal. There were no shells, no rocks, nothing but sand and beautiful, beautiful water, and some-medium sized waves, along a half mile stretch of beach, inhabited by only around 20 people. And, of course, one of the best things about this beach was that swimming suits were not necessary equipment. One thing that we noted was the complete absence of any trash. During the course of the afternoon, anybody that left also carried their own little trash bag, as did we, with them when they left. Each party left the beach as pristine as they had found it. The trip was definitely worth it. Saline is now probably our favorite beach. Being on this almost deserted beach with our own refreshments will long remain one of our favorite excursions and one that will not be easy to duplicate.
At the appointed time, we headed back up the hill toward the deadend road where our taxi driver was waiting for us. She asked if we had a good time and seemed genuinely interested in what we thought of Saline beach. Evidently there are not many requests to go there from day visitors to St. Barts. We had also concluded that the additional $10 charge for the drop off and pick up was well worth the effort on her part and well worth the experience for us, especially considering that there would not have likely been any taxis who just happened by at this deserted place.
One very nice item is that there are fresh water showers and toilets at the pier in St. Barts for use at no charge. This allowed for a quick shower and change of clothes before boarding the White Octopus for the trip back to Philipsburg. Having the showers available also allowed us to do some quick shopping in Philipsburg upon our arrival without feeling so sticky from the saltwater and sand of our day at the beach.
As stated before, the return trip was a lot smoother. Drinks were provided, along with cheese, apple slices and bread. All in all, the trip to St. Barts is a shore excursion well worth taking, especially for those who have been to St. Martin several times and want to try something different. Another shore excursion which was received well by our tablemates was the America's Cup racing regatta. Cost of this excursion is around $50 per person and is limited to around 30 people. The excursion lasted approximately 2-3 hours. According to our tablemates,this was an actual hands-on racing experience. Each passenger was assigned a job to do, be it helping to man one of the main sails, or being the ship's bartender. Our table mates had an enjoyable time and thought the excursion was well worth the price paid.
Most of the other shore excursions offered in all the ports are the standard fare offered by all cruise lines. We have the shore excursion signup sheet for any specific questions or prices.
Wednesday was St. John and St. Thomas. The shore excursions for St. John were to meet at 6:30 A.M. Our tablemates from California had purchased this shore excursion and never made it up to leave the ship at that time. The Norway allows those interested in doing St. John on their own to leave the ship without having to purchase the ship's excursion, but that means getting up and off the ship at the crack of dawn to catch the tender. This is still an improvement over those ships which only allow those with paid shore excursions to get off at St. John. I personally do not think that the hour of 6:30 A.M. exists most of the year, and especially not while I'm on vacation.
At any rate, I was destined NOT to sleep late this morning anyway, as we were awakened by CONSTANT announcements over the loudspeakers from 7 A.M. to 8 A.M. regarding foreign nationals meeting with immigration officials before being allowed to debark in St. Thomas. Since when?? We have been to St. Thomas probably a half dozen times and have never heard that type of announcements for U.S. immigration at St. Thomas. We turned down the speaker in our cabin, but the speaker was so loud in the hallway, it kept us awake anyway. Very strange.
We had not particularly rushed to get off the ship this day and waited in the lounge and caught the last tender for which it was necessary to get tender tickets at approximately 10 A.M. The Norway does not dock in St. Thomas (or in St. Marten or the private island, obviously) and actually, anchors so far out in the harbor that you can't see her from the downtown area. Because she anchors so far out, the tender ride is a little longer, but not bad. Tenders let you off right downtown, in front of the Burger King.
As we came around the bend and I looked down the dock at Havensite to see what other ships were in port, my heart kind of stopped. The ONLY ship in port was the Crown Jewel. Some of you readers here will know that our last cruise was on the Crown Jewel and that she is my favorite ship. I was at once happy to see her and sad to see that in my (not-so-humble) opinion, that Cunard had defaced her by putting that god-awful orange where she used to be colored that regal purple on her stack and the line down the center of the ship.
With only the Crown Jewel (which according to our taxi driver was only half full that week) in port, along with the Norway, the streets in St. Thomas were empty. One could walk across the streets without getting run over by taxi drivers, there were almost no traffic jams--it was kind of scary. I'm sure that the shopkeepers probably thought it was kind of scary, too.
We had not planned much for our day in St. Thomas, just some shopping (only to LOOK, of course!) and then to the beach in the afternoon. Unfortunately for Eric's smoking credit card, we happened upon the kind of a hole-in-the-wall shop where I had purchased a sapphire and diamond necklace about five years ago. We stood and talked to the owner for a few minutes, whereupon he persuaded me to try on a sapphire ring, and, of course, I was, once again, hooked. After leaving that store, we headed around to a couple of other stores and did some more "looking". (G!!)
After a bite of lunch at the Arby's downtown, we headed to the beach for the afternoon. We decided to try a different beach this time and headed to Morningstar. It probably suffered a great deal from comparison to Saline the day before, but it was merely OK. It was fairly close to the ship, with taxi fare at $8 one way for the taxi. The beach is the one used for the Frenchman's Reef resort. There is a restaurant there and a bar. Right in front of the bar, it's pretty rocky, but the beach on down is much better. Morningstar is probably one of the best places there is to get a picture of the Norway, though, as you can't even see her from downtown.
We caught the last tender back to the ship at 5 P.M., then caught a shower, to rid ourselves of the salt and sand. We then went up on deck, to catch a fabulous sunset, which netted some (I think) really great pictures, from which I will have to choose which one or ones I want to blow up for my wall of pictures from various cruises. After watching the sunset, we headed for the casino before dinner and won some big bucks, before heading to dinner, for a really good NY strip steak. Later, we watched for a little bit the country western night on deck, but did not participate, as I had forgotten my cowboy boots. (Yeah, right!)
Thursday was a day at sea and we got up around 9:15 and headed for the buffet, snarfing up some pancakes, etc., before heading out for some sun. Later we started some of the disagreeable task of packing and went off to the shops to purchase the obligatory "everything under the sun" with "Norway" on it. On Thursday, we met back up with our "buddy", the Sovereign of the Seas, and we sailed along all day within sight of each other.
Friday is NCL's private island in the Bahamas. We were afraid that we wouldn't have enough time there, since the ship is really only there around 5 1/2 hours, but we found we had enough time. People who sign up for the snorkeling at "Pleasure Island", as it is called, get to take the first tender on shore, so it might be worth it to do that, if you want to stake out a good place on the beach close to the food and drinks. The island is very crowded when the Norway is there.
The ship bulletin said to gather in the North Cape Lounge at 12:45 to get tender tickets, but I had gone early to get tickets for us. Therefore, we were on the first regular tender, which started loading around 12:15. Lunch was served on the island from 1:30 to 3:00. There are also restrooms, some local t-shirts, etc., for sale, volleyball nets, shuffleboard, etc., plus there were 2 bars on the island. Drinks, of course, could be signed to one's room, but if you wanted to buy a t-shirt, you had to remember to bring some money from the ship. We did note that, since our last trip there in 1988, the local merchants had been moved back up the hill further out of the road, and that there appeared to be more tables for eating. It was very hot on the island, with no breeze at all. After taking a few pictures and grabbing some lunch, we headed out to find the c/o beach on the island that our bartender friend, Livingston, had told us about. It is a LONG hot haul, about a 20 minute walk around the point of the island, over some rocky ground. There is nothing to drink over there, except what you bring, and there is no shade, but there is a beach, which on the week we went, had around 10 people on it, about half of which were crew. It was certainly less crowded than the regular beach, although lacking in facilities.
Right next door to NCL's private island is Royal Caribbean's private island. We noted that the Sovereign of the Seas was there even a shorter time than the Norway was, as the Sovereign left probably a half hour before the Norway did. We put the long lens on the camera and tried to snoop over at Coco Cay, but weren't able to see too much. We did get some pretty neat pictures of the Sovereign, though, before catching the last tender back to the ship at 6 P.M.
Friday night was the last, somewhat depressing, as always, night at sea. We dutifully handed out our envelopes, tipping the recommended amounts for what we considered average to below average service and handing our friends Livingston and Hannibal, bartenders in the casino, an extra amount for their excellent service for the week. Bags were required to be out by 2 A.M., although when we came to bed around 3, from a last stroll around the deck (to observe the lights of Miami), our bags were still sitting outside the room.
Saturday morning we were awakened by announcements over the loudspeakers to proceed to the customs check. We were happy to learn that danish and coffee were available on deck, as we didn't feel sociable enough after 4 1/2 hours sleep to eat breakfast in the dining room. We were actually up in time that we could have gone there, as second seating was, I believe at 8 A.M. The line for customs was at the Checkers Cabaret. I went once around 7:45 to look at the line and determined it was too long for me. I went back later, around 8:15 and the line was pretty short, and moved very fast, since there were around 8 or 9 customs officials.
The ship started unloading passengers around 9:30. Debarkation was by flight times, but was on the honor system. There were no colors assigned to you, based on when your flight was due to leave, etc. We were booked on a 3:30 flight back home, but knew that there was an 11:30 flight that we could probably catch, so we debarked as soon as the first announcement was made. We actually stayed in our cabin until 9:30, which probably would not be allowed, if the ship had not been going into drydock, as the cabin steward probably would have shooed us out. In any event, we were one of the very first ones off the ship, as the ramp we were to debark from was about 50 feet from our cabin. There were trucks from AA, Continental and Delta (among others) there so that passengers could just check bags there, then proceed to the airport. Since we were providing our own transfers, we were happy to check the bags there, then grab a taxi. We were in the Miami airport at 10 A.M.
Following are some indepth remarks regarding particular items of interest.
FOOD--On the whole, we were pleased with the quality and selection of foods. We normally eat at the buffet for both breakfast and lunches, but varied our pattern slightly on this trip, eating in the dining room for breakfast on 3 mornings. One of the major reasons for this was the relatively late hours that the buffet was available. For some inexplicable reason, the only items which were available at the buffet on at sea days before 8:30 were coffee, orange juice and danish. For our arrival in St. Marten, this hour was moved up to 8 A.M. In either event, certainly not early enough. On Sunday morning, we went down for our usual buffet breakfast around 8:15 and couldn't figure out why everyone was sitting around and not eating. Finally, right at 8:30 the regular buffet lines opened. Selection was about average, eggs and bacon every day, sometimes sausage or ham, usually either pancakes or waffles. The only juice available at the buffet other than orange juice was grapefruit juice. Kind of odd, considering the wide selection of juices that were available on the Seaward. Standard selection of fruits was available. Unless I missed it somewhere, there were no croissants available at the buffet, which I considered a major deficiency. Lines for the buffets, both breakfast and lunch, seemed to move well. Breakfast in the dining room was open seating with the exception of Saturday morning.
Luncheon buffets offered the standard hamburger and hotdogs, french fries, usually (REAL) onion rings, some kind of a pasta dish, and a warm dessert (strudel, etc.), plus fruit, and lettuce salad. One thing that we noted was the large number of assorted salads. One day I had a really excellent carrot salad, a shrimp salad, and a couple of other assorted salads, which were a nice change over some recent ships. Drinks were iced tea and lemonade, water, coffee and milk only. The drink service seemed to be set up backwards to me, with the iced tea dispenser being before you get to the ice dispenser, so you had to put tea in the glass, and THEN the ice.
Plates and cups were, for the most part, plastic, reusable. The plates were HUGE, white plastic affairs. Standard plastic glasses and cups, although they did seem to often run out of the plastic cups, and substituted paper ones. However, I do not recall ever approaching the drinks section when there were no cups available at all. For the most part, then, throwaway items were limited to cold drink cups, napkins, and condiment packages. A step forward over the all-throwaway stuff in the past on some ships.
Seating for the buffets needs to be mentioned here. There is not sufficient seating for the outdoor restaurant. This is a major problem at lunch time, but not so much a problem at breakfast. I think that I read here on the BB from Catherine Courtney that they were going to be re-doing the Outdoor Restaurant during the drydock. However, I would assume that they will NOT be adding an extra 50 feet on the back of the ship to put more tables and chairs, and that would be the only thing that would really help the situation. There are tables and chairs inside all the way down the sides of International Deck and people are usually eating at most or all of those tables on sea days. Although I am sure that the line does not really like it, many (as we did) carry their food into the Club Internationale. There doesn't appear to be a good solution for the problem, as the ship, built as a transatlantic liner, was built with the anticipation that most people would eat at the regular restaurant.
We ate at the main restaurant for lunch a couple of days. Lunch was assigned seating, except for the days in St. Marten and St. Thomas, which featured a lunch buffet and open seating in the dining room. One day that we showed up for lunch in the dining room, our waiter was really discomforted, as he had no place to seat us. Lunches in the dining room are supposed to be at the assigned tables, and of course, at your regular seating hours, which were 12:00 and 1:30. Two persons from his early seating lunch showed up at 1 P.M. and demanded that they be seated. (They also showed up on the last night for dinner at 9 P.M. and demanded to be seated. For some reason, on both occasions, they were accommodated.) In any event, we sat at another waiter's table for that day, which was fine with us, but of course, I still had to make trouble. I had a (wonderful) steak and cheese sub and wanted french fries to go with it. Of course, no french fries on the menu, so the waiter had to go up to the buffet restaurant to get some (or so he said, anyway!). They were very good.
Dinner in the dining room was generally a good experience, with a good selection of items for your enjoyment. There were generally around 2 or 3 cold appetizers, a couple of hot appetizers, usually 1 cold and 2 hot soups, 2 salads,
The Norway has an ala carte restaurant called Le Rendezvous. The restaurant serves an evening meal from 7 P.M. to 11 P.M., plus a selection of hot snacks from 11 P.M. to 1 A.M. There is no charge for the food, but one is expected to tip. There used to be a charge for this restaurant, and I presume at that time, the menu and the service were better. Actually, the food was pretty good, although there is a limited selection, which consisted, for dinner, of a choice of fried mozzarella or fried calamari for appetizer, one or two soups, a salad, and about four different entrees, all Italian, plus a choice of three desserts. The fried mozzarella sticks were very good, the Caesar salad was ATROCIOUS, (dry, and with so much parmesan on it, it stuck to your tongue), and the pasta was good, although not nearly spicy enough for us. They do not take reservations for the restaurant, and I am sure that we probably came at the worst time, around 8 P.M. However, they told us the wait would be only around 20 minutes and it ended up being well over an hour. There is a small section to the side with tables to have drinks while waiting, but the service there was horrible, as was the service in the dining area. After we had been sitting there for around 30 minutes, we finally got some drinks. Service in the dining area of the restaurant was horribly slow, as there were not enough people assigned to do the job. There were two waiters and one busboy for our half of the restaurant, which was just not enough. Two of our tablemates ate in the restaurant the same night we did and they indicated their service was similarly bad. We also overheard one other person talking up on deck who said that the service he received was terribly slow also. I don't know what night that person went to the restaurant, so don't know if the problem was isolated to the one night we went there or not. The IDEA of this restaurant is very nice, lots of tables for two, SUPPOSEDLY more individual service, etc. Execution was, unfortunately, sadly lacking on the evening we went. It seemed somehow symblematic that the restaurant provided one with ONE fork, ONE spoon, and ONE knife. If one used the fork (or knife, or spoon) and placed it on the serving plate, they just lifted the fork and placed it back on the table when they removed the dirty plate. Surely they could afford to wash another fork for me?? Guess I'm getting too picky. Anyway, we had wanted to go up there for the late night snack one night, but since we had the late seating, somehow never made it there. Late night snacks were a choice of fried chicken wings, fried mozzarella, calamari, and perhaps one other thing which escapes me at the moment.
As for midnight buffets, we only made it to one, which was the Gala Buffet, on Thursday night, which is held on International Deck. They have the buffet set up on both sides of International Deck and running all the way down the ship, which is a LONG way. The displays on both sides of the ship are exactly the same, so once you've seen one side, there's no use to traverse the other side. In any event, it's a pretty extravagant spread, worth taking pictures of, and worth standing in line at the various stations for--for the shrimp, if nothing else! I (while not hungry) stood in a (rather short) line for the shrimp--pretty large ones, with generous doses of cocktail sauce, of course. Then, obviously, one has to partake of a few desserts, just to say that one has attended a midnight buffet. It's pretty crowded, trying to walk through to look at everything, but since there are really separate lines for each station of food with plates provided at each station, the lines to actually get food are not long. Seating is another matter and it was pretty difficult to get seating along International Deck. The best plan was probably to get some food and then head on down to the Club Internationale or outdoors to sit.
ENTERTAINMENT--Entertainment is one of the things that NCL is supposed to do well, and, for the most part, they do. We only attended one of the regular "big" shows, and frankly, I was kind of bored. I think it was more a function of the show it was--"Meet Me in St. Louis", which I did not particularly enjoy. The Show was around one and one half hours long, which I thought was TOO long. One thing which they do on the Norway and we had not seen before, is to issue tickets for the big shows. I think that it works particularly well, especially for those on second seating. My perception is that there are a lot of people on first seating dinner on most ships that go to the second seating show. Therefore, there is a crowding problem on second seating shows. The Norway issues three colors of tickets for the major shows, and posts in the bulletin which shows are at which times, and requires you to show your tickets in order to gain admission to the show. Tickets are presented at dinner the first night. In any event, for the "Meet Me in St. Louis: show, we arrived at the theatre only around 10 minutes before scheduled show time and were able to get a seat just about right down front without any problem. By the time the show started, the theatre was basically full, but it was nice to be able to get a good seat without having to get there 30 minutes before the show started. I'm not sure what the show is that is replacing that show, but "Meet Me in St. Louis" is no longer going to be presented after the drydock. We had heard that previously, and saw them offloading the sets for the show in Miami. The main show lounge for the Norway (the Saga Theatre) is set up kind of like a movie theatre, not like many of the show lounges on new ships today, with tables and chairs surrounding the tables. Chairs are fixed, facing straight forward, but no drink tables, etc. Also, thankfully, there are no drink pushers trying to sell you a drink in the show lounge at all. Other major shows--that we did not attend--were a Broadway show and a Hollywood movie-review type show. There was also a late-night, R-rated comic one night, which we had intended on attending, but did not make it to.
Other entertainment consisted of a male/female vocal team who sang top 40's hits, who were quite good. There was a Caribbean band who played by the pool, and also played some popular songs. Of course, there was the ubiquitous orchestra, playing Big Band Music "for your dancing pleasure" most every night in the Club Internationale.
There is a decent sized card room, with around 10 card tables and various games (available 24 hours), right by the library, which opens also into the back of the Checkers Cabaret. The card room also features a large scale model of the Dreamward. A not-too-subtle advertising gig which was, nevertheless, very interesting. The library had a decent selection of books--all hardbacks, no paperbacks--but it was only open for around 1-2 hours each day. You had to sign a charge slip for $10 to check out the book, in case you didn't return it. The slip was destroyed once you returned the book.
The disco on the Norway is kind of an uninspired room, although it was certainly hopping at 3 A.M. the (one and only) time we were in there. There were probably at least 100 people there at 3 A.M. and going strong. It has windows that look out into the bottom of the aft pool. However, I'm not sure anyone is ever swimming at night when the disco is open, so it's kind of a wasted idea.
NCL also places a lot of emphasis on sports activities. Onboard the week that we sailed were a retired professional football player and a retired professional basketball player, who each held a question and answer session during the week. We attended one of the art auctions, which are held about 3 times during the week. We did not see anything that we were interested in, although most of the art was modern. One afternoon by the pool, they held the NCL Olympics, which was kind of fun watching, including the kid's (separate) section of the games. The basketball court, as well as the volleyball court, got quite a bit of action while we were onboard. Tuesday night was a Caribbean night up on deck, with the live band, dancing, etc., and the midnight buffet was served in the Great Outdoor Restaurant that night. Wednesday night was the country and western night on deck, with (taped) music, country line dancing, and a barbeque buffet.
Television in the cabin had no live channels, which was kind of a disappointment to me. Other lines, such as Princess, Crown and Carnival, had had CNN, plus some other live broadcasts available. There was one channel, which showed the view (in black and white) out the front of the ship, a couple of channels which showed (the same) movies, and one channel which showed reruns of shore excursion talks, debarkation briefings, etc. Some of the movies which were available for the week were A Few Good Men, and The Bodyguard.
SERVICE--Service was one of the areas which was disappointing for us on the Norway. Service in the Great Outdoor Restaurant (removing dirty dishes, etc.) was generally pretty good to excellent. Our cabin steward did the basic job without any major problems. Service at Le Rendezvous was terrible. Our waiter and busboy were not very good. Actually, the waiter COULD have been an excellent waiter, if he had wanted to be. He was a very personable gentleman who had a wonderful personality to be a waiter. Unfortunately for us, this was his last week on the ship and, in fact, his last week as a waiter, according to him. He told us on the first night that he was leaving the ship after our week and was not ever coming back. He said that he, at the ripe old age of 23, had been involved in the restaurant business for 13 years and was tired of it and was going home to Austria to start a new life for himself in some other profession. In any event, he was exceedingly slow with service. On the first night, our table had to be one of the very last ones to leave the dining room, but that was because he was so slow getting us our meals. On several nights we were only getting our entre' as the table just in back of us was finishing their coffee. Our busboy was really bad--a bad attitude all the way around, he would disappear for long periods of time, the water glasses and coffee cups were often not refilled, etc., etc. Every evening, he basically just asked who wanted coffee (if he remembered) and kind of had us hold up our hands. He was very surly. We tipped both he and the waiter the recommended amount and no more. We tipped the assistant maitre d' nothing. We could not believe it, on the last night, when we heard the cruise director recommend that the assistant maitre d' be tipped the SAME amount as the busboy. I don't think so, especially since he prepared NO tableside dishes for us, did NOTHING special for us at all, and only stopped by once during the period of the cruise to see if everything was OK. Other sections of the room gave a rousing cheer for their assistant maitre d's, so I would assume that we just got a bad draw, all the way around on this trip. It really is the first time that we can remember getting a really mediocre waiter and busboy and maitre d on the same trip. Bar service was generally very good, with the exception of the previously mentioned obnoxious waiters on the first day.
THE REFURBISHING--We kind of kept our eyes and ears open and asked several of the crew members about what types of things were going to be replaced and/or refurbished in the job. All carpets in the public areas and in the cabins are due to be replaced. The North Cape Lounge is to be entirely remodeled and there are apparently going to be major changes in the disco also. On the last morning, we saw all the slot machines being brought up on deck and watched as some of them were lifted off the ship by crane. I don't know for certain what will be happening to those, but assume they will either be replaced or spruced up. I didn't really see any problems with the slot machines, except that they forgot to pay me several times. (G!!) I do not generally play the tables, except for roulette. However,Eric did notice that the Caribbean Stud table had a hole in the felt, where the dealer normally stands and deals. I would presume that the felt was going to be replaced during the Norway's refurbishing.
We also saw on the last morning, that they had crated up all the deck lounge chairs and were taking them off the ship. I presume (AND HOPE, FERVENTLY) that they will be replacing them. The deck chairs were a disgrace--plastic strap deals, with no pads of any nature over them, and generally sooty. We had not been on NCL since December 88--on the Sunward II and August 88 on the Seaward. Those same strap chairs were in evidence on those ships then. (Don't think I remembered--I looked for pictures in our scrapbooks!) Anyway, one would think that those chairs should have replaced when the Norway got her face lift in 1990. The chairs were very uncomfortable, especially considering the fact that there were positively NO towels available up on deck. Your cabin steward delivered two (count em, TWO) beach type towels to your cabin each night and that was IT! Even for shore days, there were no extra towels available by the gangway. For our excursion over to St. Barts, we had requested two extra towels from our cabin steward, and he brought them to us, but he was not at all happy about it. It was the only grating note in our otherwise good relationship with the cabin steward for the week. This business of not having any extra towels available up on deck struck us as fairly cheap.
There is a problem with soot coming down from the stacks. I frankly do not remember ever seeing this problem on another ship, but I assume it does exist on other ships. Soot is visible on the deck chairs, in particular. The only time when I really noticed that soot was actively coming down was when we were up on deck one night and I was looking straight up at the stars and got soot in my contacts. Kind of ruined the mood, as it were. I don't know if this is a mechanical problem which will be addressed during the refurbishing, but hope so.
Although we are perhaps more tuned into such things than other passengers, some of the crew also indicated that they knew that the ship wasn't in the best of shape. On Friday, while on the beach at NCL's private island, we talked to a crew member who was involved with the maintenance of the power plant, etc., in some way. We didn't really ask him specifically what his job was. He just stated that there were a lot of things mechanically wrong with the ship at the moment, which the drydock would fix up. He seemed very proud of the ship, in general, and stated that, once the drydock was completed, the ship "would be the NORWAY again". It is a good moment to remember.
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS--We were initially concerned about lines in such a big ship. Frankly, we did not have many problems with lines, although, to some extent, we avoided activities normally associated with lines, for example, having formal portraits taken or having our picture taken with the Captain, and midnight buffets, with the exception of the gala midnight buffet on Thursday. Breakfast and lunch buffet lines seemed to move pretty fast and the only real line we waited in for a meal for the week was because we got there before the buffet line opened. The only major heavy-duty line that I waited in for the week was the last morning for customs. Actually, that line really wasn't that bad, either, as I left and came back later, to a much shorter line than the first time I thought about getting in line. Tender service was not nearly the trouble that we thought it was going to be. The Norway has two tenders onboard, each of which seat 450 passengers. Then, at NCL's private island, there is the resident tender, which also holds around 400 persons. Therefore, it didn't take nearly as long as we'd feared to clear the ship, and having to tender at every port was not a big deal, except perhaps for those persons who wanted to do lots of sightseeing, etc., in St. Marten and St. Thomas and wanted to come back to the ship for lunch.
One thing which was really unusual for us and which caused us to pack altogether the wrong clothes, is that the Norway has two formal nights and all the other nights are basically casual. The two formal nights are pretty well observed and we saw a higher percentage of tuxes and long gowns than we had seen in a while. However, there are no other nights other than the two formal nights in which one needs anything other than casual clothes. Technically, there are nights which are designated as 50's/60's, Caribbean, and country western. Many people participated in wearing special clothing on various nights, with the caribbean night, of course, having the highest percentage of observance.
CONCLUSION--We have been doing extensive reviews of our cruises for the past five or six cruises and this one was the hardest to write. Part of our discomforture was because we wanted to be fair to the ship, especially considering that a lot of the superficial things that are wrong with the ship should be corrected with the refurbishing. We also knew that we would have a hard time evaluating the ship in an impartial light, since our last cruise was on the Crown Jewel, a brand new, smaller ship, on which we had had a suite with a wonderful, huge balcony. Actually, we were very pleasantly surprised with the cabin and we had no problems with the cabin at all except for the problem with the keys. We were initially concerned about crowds on such a large ship. For the most part, except for very predictable things like the gala midnight buffet, those fears were mostly unfounded, as the ship handles the crowds pretty well. However, the size of the ship--in terms of the long physical distances between places on the ship--reinforced our feeling that we would generally prefer to sail on a smaller ship.
We had wanted to cruise on the Norway for a long time
because of her reputation as being the "grand old lady of the
sea". However, we found ourselves often disappointed. Other
than her immense size, we just didn't find any magic which would
make us recommend the ship over any other ship visiting the same
ports. Her decor we found kind of bland--not bad, just bland.
It was not just the difference between a new ship and an older
ship either. Probably our second favorite cruise of all was on
the OceanBreeze, which is an older ship, but her public rooms,
from the Mayfair Lounge to the casino, had a kind of class and
elegance that was lacking on the Norway. We felt the only truly
elegant room on the Norway was the library. Both dining rooms
were nice rooms, with possibilities to be wonderful rooms. Our
dining room (the Leeward) has a wonderful spiral staircase, but
the furnishings, while not appearing worn, just appeared rather
plain. The captain and many of the crew seemed very proud of the
ship and we hope, for their sakes, and for those of future
passengers, that the refurbishment returns the glamour and the
intangibles to the ship that she was lacking when we sailed her.
Then, as the one crew member stated, "She will be THE NORWAY
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