Just returned from the inaugural cruise on the Sun. We and about 75% of the pax on board did not care for the free style dining. You must remember you have to pay for a fee ($10.00 for two of the restuarants and the third is off the memu prices - so forget eating where you want and when you want. The waiters did not remember you and you didn't get that wonderful old fashioned service that we are used to. Most of us would just as soon forget free style - but assume many who sail the Caribbean in the Fall and winter will love it.
We tried it this past march on the Wind. Did not like it at all. We could not eat when or where we wanted due to the fact that they just cannot possibly seat everyone where they would like to sit, nor when they want to. Lets face it, most people tend to dine around the same time every evening. There were long lines at every resturant on the ship. Finally a reservation system was set up. Then the only ones waiting in line were those who had no reservation. So much for "freestyle." Plus, adding insult to that, those without reservations were being seated in the back, far away from any windows. Again, so much for being seated where you want to be. Service was also very lacking as the wait staff was new every meal and there was never any connection with any particular waiter/waitress. I fear that other lines will adopt this policy and that will be the end of the fun cruise, as far as dining goes.
We sailed on NCL for the first time in May cruising to Alaska on the Sky -- one of our best cruises. Absolutely loved Freestyle -- the only way for us from now on. We happened to get the best waiter ever and we just arranged to be seated in his area each night. We didn't have to wait in line at all. We did try an alternative restaurant (Horizons). Although the ambiance was absolutely wonderful and probably worth the $10, the food wasn't any more special. When the dish my husband ordered came with some surprise shellfish (he's allergic), they did nothing to compensate us -- just quickly delivered an underdone piece of beef.
Our next cruise is on Princess and we're looking forward to Personal Choice.
Sailed on the Dream 9-9-01 from Dover to the Baltic Capitals and return on our third cruise with Norwegian. This one was very disappointing compared to the first two. I think their automatic tipping policy and the freestyle dining has removed any incentive for the dining room staff. Service was lacking compared to the previous cruises. Furthermore, I believe their suggested level of tipping is about 10% higher than before.
Maybe the Sky is better suited for "Freestyle" cruising. The Wind was fully booked and there is no way that everyone could be seated at or near the same time. Thats where the lines came in. The reservation system they set up also defeated the purpose. Maybe it was because :Freestyle" was fairly new, but we were not impressed. Nor were we impressed with the menu. The appitizers and desserts never changed, only an entree or two nightly. Now we love calamari, but when it is limp and soggy, that is just not appitizing at all. We felt that the food served was of "Denny's" quality at best. We also had problems with one of the shore excursions. We scuba dive and had signed up for all those excursions. While in Belize, we could see that the waves were way out of limits, however the tour operator refused to cancel, so we set out to their "resort" to attempt to dive. When we did arrive, a 1 hour 45 minute boat ride from hell, we were told by the dive master that the waves were indeed out of limits and we would not be diving. Rather than taking us back to the ship, so that we could at least save something of the day, they "suggested" that we enjoy their "resort" for the day. Well, their "spot of heaven" was a garbage strewn island with it's own population of stray dogs and cats. After 8 hours of waiting, and a cold lunch, we were finally returned to the ship where we promtly reported to the excursion desk. Of course it is only open for 2 hours a day. We explained what had happened and were asked to provide proof!! After arguing our case for over an hour, we were promised a refund of the excursion price, nothing else for the lost day of our vacation. I asked if NCL ever checked on their excursion operators and their facilities and was told that no, they are chosen on price. Needless to say, NCL will never get us on one of their ships again.
We actually had a good experience with the "Freestyle Dining". We were able to get a table right away almost every time. To be sure, being there early helped, and we were willing to share a table with others. While the "Freestyle Dining" does provide flexibility, in order to get the most out of it, I think passengers need to be flexible themselves.
An update from our previous post. We enjoyed NCL so much that we've booked the Sky again for the Christmas cruise. A great deal and we really love this ship. Since we sailed her in Alaska before, we are really looking forward to an NCL Caribbean experience.