Initially suggesting that we celebrate our new year by taking an ocean cruise adventure, I was happy that my wife and her sisters grabbed on and planned the entire excursion.
Norwegian Cruise Line is the fourth cruise-ship line that we have tried. That was one of the only stipulations I had made when the women were in their planning stages; try to find a cruise line we haven’t been on before. We had cruised on Princess, Carnival, Viking and now Norwegian. After this last trip we have decided that we may just need a break from cruising. Norwegian failed to keep us excited for the ocean adventure.
Up to this point we had really enjoyed cruising where seemingly everything is included onboard. That was part of the charm of cruising, is that it was rather brainless. We really didn’t have to think about finding a decent place to eat, when we could eat, and what entertainment we could afford or where to find it. The charm of cruising for us is that it was all onboard.
Norwegian seemed to have everything covered for those that are onboard and perhaps cruising for the first time; however after just a couple of days, we had realized that there are a good percentage of Norwegian groupies. This was evident on the first day at sea, even in the cloudy morning (before 6 am . . . Really?) guests were placing their towels on the pool-side lounge chairs in groups identified by groupie towel clips that would identify those chairs as being for their particular party of guests. Don’t get me wrong, those clips weren’t a Norwegian ’special’ clip that only those particular patrons were able to buy onboard in a Norwegian gift shop, rather they were more of a ‘chip-clip’ one might buy in a bag of 6 at the local dollar store; but they were often times all the same color or style to identify each group of reserved chairs or pool-side seats . . . and the sun wasn’t even out, no one was sitting in the chairs and there was no one guarding the claimed spots. I witnessed this early-morning ‘claiming’ of the chairs only once before at a Palms Springs resort. Perhaps I’m just not quite caught up on the Generation X behaviors. It seemed that those were many of the same patrons we talked to while on board that spoke in favor of the Norwegian Cruise Line adventures. There were a lot of repeat and ‘Norwegian only’ guests on board. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of first cruisers (usually identified by their lack of an upgraded beverage package) and other cruise-line loyals that were agreeing with us that Norwegian seems to nickel and dime you on many facets. We purchased the upgraded beverage package that included almost anything except for top-tier liquors, wines and champagne. Our beverage package also included a bottle of wine each for dinners in the on-board restaurants. We took several corked bottles back to the room and unopened (tell them “don’t open it”) good bottles of champagne for ourselves during the New Year’s Eve celebration.
When I had initially thought of going aboard a cruise line for New Years, I had the thought of being onboard the entire day before the new year. I thought it to be interesting to watch all of the decorations being put up, the hype and all the people getting their drunk on well ahead of schedule. I had thought about the pool parties and fun that could lead up to the ‘big moment’. Instead we pulled into Cozumel, Mexico and laid on the beach and did some shopping at Chankanaab, a beach type resort a small van ride from the dock-side shopping area of the ship’s pier.
Chankanaab was a good time for just relaxing and taking in some culture. There were gardens and crocodiles (caged), beautiful salt water pools and reefs to explore. There were places to get some local food and also burgers and wings (mostly saw tourists from the ship eating that crap). Chankanaab was a clean resort and rather relaxing before heading back to the ship for our New Year’s Eve celebration.
New Year’s Eve started off with our dinner reservations that we made weeks before departure (highly recommended) as part of our dinner package that included four ‘specialty’ restaurants of most, but not all the ‘finer’ dining restaurants on board. I am skeptical to say ‘finer’ as most of our dining experience on board was at par with the other cruise lines we have embarked. The food and service was better than good, but often times I felt as though the experience was not quite up to our expectations for cruise lines. This New Year’s Eve we ate at the Brazilian steakhouse. It was enjoyable and fulfilling of the desire to eat at another ‘churascaria’ anytime soon. Then the partying began.
We headed off to smoke cigars only to find only three areas as designated smoking areas, one of which was an actual cigar lounge. I may not have been cruising lately, but in 2004 and again in 2007, guest were able to smoke on the balcony of their stateroom (also not the case with Viking Cruise Line, and they only had one small smoking area . . . and we went to Cuba. Go figure). Anyway, we spent a lot of time in that cigar lounge for the remainder of the cruise. There was also the starboard side of the casino for smokers as well, but I don’t think they allowed any cigar smoking in that area.
For the New Year’s Eve celebration, Norwegian did a good job keeping everyone drunk, happy, singing and celebrating with multiple venues and genres of music and dancing. The ship provided multiple areas to celebrate the ball drop and had plenty of party favors that got spread around into every imaginable corner for the ship’s crew to clean up. The ship was a mess that night but the crew had it all ready to go the next morning by 6 am when I hit the deck. Good job!!!
The best place on board that night for music was back aft under a huge television and awesome sound system with stage and lighting to match the celebration. Problem was that one of the small smoking areas was on that deck, and that area quickly filled with the multitude of teens on board and made it difficult to find a seat, let alone an area where we could sit and smoke a cigar. We attribute the large number of teens on board this trip was due to their holiday break from school. Norwegian seemed to really cater well to the teens and younger kids with the variety of ‘younger’ activities, entertainment and shipboard venues. Norwegian also has an exclusive area or club area that I don’t know what goes on behind that gate . . . trust me, I tried to get in. I’m thinking it is again part of the ‘Norwegian’ groupie thing.
This particular Norwegian ship, Getaway, is a ship class that has a layout that is the same aboard all of the ships within this newer class of cruise ships. The same bars, the same restaurants and the same features. This particular class of ship also shares the same entertainment with each of the ships; entertainment I felt was both lacking in quality and diversity. Although there were a couple of entertaining shows and bands, most were the same every night and those that were found again and again, were not very entertaining; seriously . . . a melodica? I don’t think I saw one comedian that was good. The comedy show host was better than the headlining comedians . . . that’s hard on the headlining act. There was one particularly good broadway musical on board that payed tribute to the recording careers of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Million Dollar Quartet was definitely the show to watch on this cruise, but much of the remaining entertainment was rather lacking in appeal.
Since the ships’ layout are the same, that means the locations of the bars and the entertainment venues are the same; but given the layout of everything, it seemed as though everything was in the wrong place. One such example is O’Sheehan’s, an Irish sports pub located just above the open atrium area of the ship. People watching the sports playoff games in O’Sheehan’s had a slide-show of lyrics on the big screen of the atrium for the children’s singing show just below in the atrium area. A bunch of kids singing to the movie “Frozen” made watching the big game at O’Sheehan’s just a little odd.
Another example of the errant ship’s layout was the location of the teen’s club. Many cruise lines make an effort to give those teen travelers under the age of 18 somewhere they can develop friendships and do activities with other travelers of the same age. I remember having walkie-talkies to keep track of our kids while cruising on our earlier cruises before the cellphone boom around 2007. Our kids would be doing teen activities on board I’ll say until dinner time; they had to be at dinner. The location of the teens’ club on board this vessel was just above the cafeteria and pool deck, but just inside the ship’s doors (a sign that read “no one under the age of 18 allowed . . . and usually ignored) that led to the one smoking bar that also had a huge big screen television and flat stage area used for much of the ship’s entertainment, dances and bands. I thought the flat stage area was difficult to see the performers over all of the dancers; but when a show began, or even often times when just transiting to that bar area, there would be a group of teens just outside of the teen’s club entrance hanging out or otherwise communicating on their cellphones . . . reacting to anyone’s presence in a rather brainless manner.
There are many positives of cruising with Norwegian on this particular class of ship, but there were also many detriments. I don’t think Norwegian Cruise Lines is for our future travel plans, but we have now been afforded an opportunity to check Norwegian out. Perhaps next time . . . if there is a next time soon will need better defining. Perhaps taking a break from cruising and doing a bit more planning and investigating as to which cruise lines will better fulfill our expectations. Currently thinking that a balcony room may no longer be necessary since we only spent very short periods on our deck that we used to enjoy afternoon cocktails and cigars before heading to dinner. A change of ‘our’ norm and expectations may be in order.