We completed the N.Star Pacific Coastal 7 day cruise on Sept 26.
Our first trip on Norwegian and we were apprehensive to start, however we are happy to report that we had an excellent cruise. In brief:
1. Entertainment: by far the best we have experienced on any cruise line,
including Princess, RCCL, Carnival and Celebrity and HAL
2. Food: Excellent in the alternative (pay) dining room we used (Ginza). Excellent
in the snack bar and good to average in the main dining room. Good selection
of desserts, poor selection of seafood.
3. Service : Excellent room maintenance service, bar service, and dining service,
except in the main dining room when it was very busy. Poor service in the
high end jewelrey section, however I found the shops generally poor all around,
poor selection and high prices.
4. Embarkation/Debarkation was very good, debarkation especially was quick and
painless. Being able to stay in your room until your baggage colour is called was
5. Shore excursions : no comment, we did not do excursions since we have been
to all of the ports before and could make our own arrangements.
6. The ship sailing was excellent - I don't think I ever felt motion, however we did
have good weather.
7. Pre-charged tipping: we were OK with this because I don't see how you could
do it any differently with freestyle cruising. I don't really think this had a negative
effect on service.
8. Excellent service at the front desk, we had to change our billing half way through
the cruise and they were most accommodating.
9. The main negative about the cruise was the Port of San Pedro which you can't really
lay at NCL's door. I have never experienced such a lack of service and confusion at
any port - we waited 45 minutes to get a shuttle, those who had prereserved shuttles
were at no advantage to those who had not.
This was an excellent cruise, however the key to NCL and also Princess is whether or not you like freestyle cruising. We found that it is not for us because we enjoy meeting the same people at dinner each night - with freestyle they sit you with others and since you are meeting them for the first time, your conversation does not have time to get past the preliminaries each evening. We also feel that there is less commotion at dinner and at lunch if you have an assigned seating time - on the Star if you did not get to dinner at 5:30, or after 8:30 you usually experienced a line up for the main dining room (I won't wait on line at any restaurant, at sea or on land).
I think if you are with your own group, freestyle would not be a problem (except for line-ups for dinner/lunch in main dining).
It's interesting that you found debarkation to be so pain free. We were on the Star this past week and the immigration process was done on board the ship with the agents set up in the Spinnaker Lounge. I think they said this was something new they were trying. In any event, the line for immigration processing basically went back and forth the entire deck 12, one line snaking across both sides of the ship which left lots of unhappy people. I heard more than one person saying that they would like to have their comment cards back in their hands for one final comment. I'm sure there are ways that NCL can improve on this process such as calling people up for processing deck by deck instead of 2000 people showing up at the same time. Most people just took it in stride but some people were not too happy about it.
I think the difference on debarkation is that since ours was a Pacific Coastal cruise, we had to go through immigration at our first U.S. port of call which was Seattle, there we were required to get off the ship, go through customs and they called us floor by floor. Then, when we got to our debarkation port of L.A. there was no need to go through customs.
We have experienced debarkation as you did on your cruise many times and yes, I would agree there has to be a better way. All cruise lines seem to have the same problem and I think it is more a problem with customs than with the cruise lines.
One of the mistakes that novice cruisers make is assuming that the Cruise Line has something to do with Immigration Procedures.
This is a very hot topic among shipboard employees - especially the Pursers Department, who are responsible for trying to make it go smoothly.
US Immigration Officers are Unionized US Government Employees who get to decide nearly every detail about how the Immigration Inspection on a ship is to be done. Quite often their biggest concerns are snacks, beverages, and breaks for their staff. The Cruise Line employees must be very careful when making requests on how, when, and where the Inspection is to be done. If the Inspectors are in any way inconvenienced, they will "punish" the cruise line (and the passengers) by working very slowly, taking long breaks, having lunch before the Inspection, deciding to inspect crew before passengers, and many other games they like to play.The whole exercise is very much like trying to get good service at the Post Office.
Ships have an especially challenging time when they are on a re-positioning cruise. The ships staff probably are not familiar with the Chief Inspector for that particular port and have not had an opportunity to establish a working relationship with him. So they start from scratch and are very careful not to give him any reason to delay the procedure. He, on the other hand, is probably not familiar with the layout of the ship, and may insist on having the Immigration Inspection in a very illogical location. Usually the ships staff just go with the flow, hoping to keep the people with the guns happy.
Bruce, thanks for the explanation of the immigration process. I'm curious, though. Does the ship have *any* control over the process with regard to the flow of passengers when the immigration process takes place on board the ship rather than in the terminal? It seems to me that a stampede of 2000 souls onto one upper deck of a ship is really not a safe thing to do. I would think that having designated groups arrive when called and only being called as the line clears up would be the logical way to handle it. We were snaked back and forth on one deck and, in fact, it was difficult to tell where the line began and where it ended. If there had been an emergency situation, it definitely would not have been a pretty sight.
Sorry, but our dear US Immigration people are worried only about their own safety and comfort. On the rare occasions when a Cruise Ship employee dares to point out something like this to the Immmigration Supervisor, he usually gets only a laugh or an insult in return. Your tax dollars at work....................
It is usually a bit better when a ship is established on a set itinerary week after week. Slowly the ship personnel get to know the Immigration Officers. Slowly they are able to convince the Officers that their jobs would be easier or more comfortable if they tried it another way. Eventually they get around to making it better for the paying passengers.
Thank you so much Bruce for that explanation. I happened to be at the Reception desk during the disembarkation process and was appalled by the abuse that was being handed out to the ladies at the desk by passengers. I really felt horribly for them, knowing that this was completely out of their control. I only wish that these certain passengers would consider, even if just for a moment, that this was Immigration's department and not the cruise line's. Sometimes it saddens me to watch these people lash out to those who have been so hospitable to us while we "visited" their ship. (If anyone saw the special presentation at the end of the magic show by the crew, it brought tears to my eyes...only because I had never considered my dream vacation being a "visit to someone's home". They welcomed us and took care of us for 8 days. I don't think they deserve to be treated in such an abusive manner. And...yes, I did experience some crew members...maybe 1 or 2 who weren't exactly the cheeriest of people...but who is 24/7? I still didn't let that get in the way of enjoying my trip.) I think that no matter how Immigration and Customs is handled there will always be a line or a wait of some sort. I did not choose to stand in line when most of the ship did, I waited it out. We were still off the ship and on the road by 11am...which I don't consider to be too bad since we were still sitting at our leisure enjoying the remnants of our breakfast at 10am.