With a plethora of vacation options to choose from, which weighed heavily on our decision, my husband and I decided relaxation was in order and a seven night Caribbean cruise would do the trick. Based on timing, cost, and the destinations that we ‘wanted’ to see, we booked our cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line – Getaway (NCL)for a relaxing mid summer trip. The cruise itinerary included stops in the Bahamas (at their private island), Virgin Islands (St Thomas), Dominican Republic (Punta Cana), and Puerto Rico (San Juan). We paid in full and began planning our excursions. And then…..
We received a message from NCL about 3 weeks prior to our departure date that our itinerary had changed. We would not be going to St Thomas at all and our day at Punta Cana had been canceled and moved to Amber Cove DR. We would have to spend an extra day at sea. There was no explanation given and no money refunded. Our excursions were canceled (that money was refunded), and we would have to wait until new excursions were posted to re-book. Because the cruise line reserves the right to alter itineraries as needed, we could not cancel without losing money that we had already spent. I was not happy and this had already put a bad taste in my mouth for the trip.
I had cruised twice before, both times with Disney, and my husband had cruised with Royal Caribbean, so these were the expectations that we had going into our trip. Both had provided excellent service and it’s what we expected from NCL but that is not what we experienced and we hadn’t even begun packing for the trip.
Check in Process
Upon arrival at the port, I proceeded to drop off our bags while my husband parked the car. I hadn’t “checked in” via the app in time so I did not have my room number. They looked it up, tagged the bags, and we got in line. And then we waited, and waited, and waited, and waited. The check in process, once we made it past the COVID check, took over 1 hour. The reason: “computer issues”. Once we finally received our room key, we made our way onto the ship and to get settled in. We noticed that one of our bags had already been delivered but the other two were missing. We were told by the staff that they would eventually be delivered. So again, we waited, and waited, and waited and at 5:00 pm (before the ship left the dock) we decided to go and look for our missing bags. Sure enough, there they were in the baggage room, un-tagged and on the floor. I still have no idea how the tags were not on our bags but I guess the positive is that at least they made it onto the ship.
Once we unpacked and got a snack, we decided to download the cruise app and start booking some activities. This is a standard feature with most cruises and it allows you to see your excursions, dining options, shows, and activities on the ship. Great idea except that the app was offline and all activities would need to be booked by calling or waiting in another long line at the front desk. We decided to at least get our dining reservations booked by calling and reserving our choice of restaurants for three of the seven nights of our cruise. Everything else would have to wait.
After dinner our first night, we decided to take a stroll on the upper deck, grab a drink and a deck lounge chair, and possibly listen to some music by the pool. Sounds nice, right? Except, on this ship, they begin picking up and stacking the chairs as soon as the sun starts to go down. There was nowhere to sit and no one in the pool. Why? The reason, it seemed to me, is to drive people to the casino or to the shows on the lower decks. So far, my idea of relaxing cruise with a tropical drink had resulted in almost lost luggage, a mediocre buffet, and a smoky casino. Might as well have been in Vegas.
Speaking of pools, there were four on the ship. One was in the spa (you had to pay to access), one was in the VIP section (yep, only for VIPs), one was a kiddie pool (only available to kids), and one on the main deck for everyone else. I cannot tell you how packed that one available pool was. There was no place to sit and almost no way to access it during the day due to the large number of people in there. I decided to pay the money and go to the spa. At least there was a pool there I could use.
Once our in cruise app began to work, we were able to access the ships activities. Some could be booked directly via the app and some required sign up in person. I decided to take a painting class on our extra day at sea and attempted to sign up earlier that morning to ensure my spot. After one hour of asking multiple cruise attendants and going to three different spots, I was able to find the sign up desk for art class. No one seemed to know where to go or how to sign up or that it even existed. This was apparently the the case with several activities that required in person reservations.
We decided to try the two shows offered aboard the Getaway and overall the quality was not bad. One show, Million Dollar Quartet, was spectacular. It’s a jukebox musical that dramatizes the 1956 impromptu recording session at Sun Records featuring Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. (The actor that played Jerry Lee was exceptional!) The other show during our cruise was Burn the Floor which features a variety of Latin dancing including the samba, rumba, etc. Definitely a show to see if you like lots of Latin Ballroom dancing.
NCL is unique in that guests can book dinner at a variety of restaurants at the time that works for them. Guests are not given a dining rotation with a specific time to eat. There were a variety of restaurants to choose from and most were very good. Some do require reservations and some are first come, first serve.
The buffet, while robust, was not memorable. It provided standard cruise fare and was a nice option for a snack.
I do want to mention the Mojito Bar. This bar specialized in, you guessed it… Mojito’s and they were yummy. My husband was a frequent visitor and tried each one : )
Unfortunately, during this trip, I got food poisoning and I do not know when/where this took place. And while I will not point fingers at the cruise line (it could have happened during an excursion), I was very disappointed by the lack of medical care. At 2:00AM I decided to hobble down to the nurses station only to be told they would not see me unless I paid $200 upfront and they would not take insurance. They didn’t even open the door! This was the piece de resistance for me. To not help someone in need unless you pay upfront (given that we’ve paid quite a bit to be on this ship in the first place) was unacceptable. I basically stayed in the room for the next day and half and didn’t recover until after I got home.
Excursions/Great Stirrup Cay
There were a decent number of excursions to choose from based on our three ports of call and I will write a separate post on this as these can apply to a variety of cruise lines. We did stop at NCL’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay, which was a lovely island but with too many zip lines. They do have many activities to choose from such as snorkeling, beach games, paddle board rentals, and cabanas for rent.
Be advised that NCL requires a tender boat to get from the ship to the island whereas some other cruises dock directly next to the island allowing guests easy access to the ship. The line to get onto the tender at the end of the day is long so plan accordingly. Also, there are no bike rentals on the island.
Overall, I was not impressed by this cruise line. I thought the overall communication with guests, both before and during the cruise, the issues with technology, the change in itinerary, and lack of pools/outdoor “space” were poor. I’m sure NCL has other ships that may be better equipped to offer a 7 day Caribbean cruise but this is not it.