Norwegian Jewel Cruise Review by kcdionysus
- Sail Date: March 2019
- Destination: Asia
- Cabin Type: Family Oceanview Picture Window
We’re big fans of Norwegian hence why we swapped to this trip. We couldn’t fault our previous cruise on the Breakaway so we had high hopes for our first cruise to the Far East. Firstly, let me say the places we visited were excellent as were the people and our only complaint would be that we didn’t have enough time in them so we are planning to return and spend a few days in each as one day in Bangkok for example just isn’t enough. But as for the cruise itself.... we weren’t happy.
The good parts.... as mentioned, the itinerary was great, the frontline cruise staff (waiting staff, cabin steward, bar staff etc) were all great, polite and lovely as they usually are. Food in the Garden Cafe buffet restaurant, Chin Chin’s and Cagney’s speciality restaurant was excellent. The ship’s public areas were nice and smart due to a recent refurb and the ship itself was a smooth sailer.
Now for the bad/frustrating elements...... the food in the main Azura restaurant (other than the meal on the last night) wasn’t great and neither was Cucina, Le Bistro & Moderna speciality restaurants. I had a filet mignon in Le Bistro that was so dry, I had to take mouthfuls of water just to swallow it. The oceanview cabin we had was probably the smallest we have ever had with a tiny, weird offset toilet and a bed where we couldn’t walk down the sides to the bed as the overhang of the unused pull down bed meant I had to climb over the bed each night to get into it. As part of the refit, the cabins have been largely left but they’ve replaced the old square tv’s with flat widescreen ones but when open, they overhang the narrow walkway to the door and/or bathroom so it’s easy to unexpectedly walk into at night.
The onboard internet was a joke. You don’t need an internet package to access the NCL app functions but the WiFi wouldn’t hold the signal unless I activated our minutes package so I was effectively using up internet minutes to access onboard info. Sometimes it would but most times, it wouldn’t stay connected? In the main, the ship seemed understaffed. Hardly any drinks waiting staff around the ship for example on the pool deck or the buffet so you end up going to the bars, which in itself isn’t a problem. But when you get there and there are often 8+ customers waiting to order various drinks and cocktails and there is only one guy serving?
The big single issues.... Embarkation was a nightmare. We were in group 1 as we were amongst the first to check in and despite being Latitidues members, it seemed your status wasn’t as relevant as the queue you started in as the latitudes queued people were given different group identifiers (colours as opposed to number) and were called forward before anyone else. Then the lady with the mic finally called out Group 1, exactly the same as she had called the other groups, so we all stood and started heading towards the ship before she then said ‘don’t go yet....just get ready’?? So we had all moved off our seats whereby newly checked in passengers were now coming through and sitting in them and she’s telling us not to go but to get prepared. Then she said it again and held us in limbo. It was like she was winding us up. Eventually, we get told to go towards the ship. All in all, we had our paperwork checked 6 or 7 times from the time we entered the terminal before going aboard. Why? Completely unnecessary and time consuming as people had put away their documents and just retained their sail away cards and then had to keep retrieving them so someone else could check them.... just wasting time.
The first port was Koh Samui which was a tender port. We obeyed the cruise directors instructions to be actually ready to leave the ship before getting a tender ticket. Big mistake..... they didn’t launch enough tenders and we waited for over 2 hours to be called and it was 2 hours 40 minutes before we got to Koh Samui. There were big gaps in calling groups forward. Tenders were taking roughly 10 minutes to load, 20 minutes to cross and approx 5 mins to unload before returning to the ship for the next group. They only had 6 tenders running. So we didn’t get to Koh Samui until 11.40 ish and the last tender was scheduled for 4pm which meant we would only have 3-4 hours in port.
Anyway, we headed back around 2.45pm as we didn’t have enough time to go exploring and there was already a long queue on the pier. Instead of loading 2 tenders at a time (as there was 2 loading/unloading points when discharging passengers earlier), NCL was only boarding from 1 point for some reason? The queue was getting longer and longer behind us and people were getting tetchy as some passengers seemingly decided that queuing wasn’t for them and pushed past everyone towards the front, which caused upset for some who were queuing in the hot sunshine. We watched as the NCL crew were seemingly messing around with one of the tenders and after 20 minutes or so, they had to throw a line onto it and tow it. At first we weren’t sure what was going on and thought it had perhaps broken down but it became apparent the tender had run aground as the tide was going out and the NCL crew hadn’t anticipated this. Then all the waiting tenders (there were 4 waiting by this point) turned around and sailed off. Bearing in mind we were watching this fiasco and had no idea what was happening as in typical fashion, we weren’t being told anything.
We were towards the middle/front of the queue and didn’t hear anything informing us of what was occurring but we noticed that the queue behind were all moving back down the pier and we could see a mass of people heading towards another pier. So we followed and realised they were changing the boarding location of the tenders to where the other cruise ships (Tui and Aida) we’re boarding from. It was chaos with people rushing and we ended up in a mass crowd near where we think the tenders might now be boarding from. The reason I say that is that we still hadn’t any info from NCL so we were following everyone else like sheep without direct info. There must have been over 1500 people all crowded in. It was very hot, chaotic and a nightmare. We didn’t get back on the ship until 6.20pm (3 hours 35 mins after we joined the initial queue). So all in all, we spent something like 6 hours and 15 minutes waiting for and on a tender. It was a complete joke where we wasted loads of time instead of enjoying the actual port we wanted to visit. The ship left much later than planned..... Tui and Aida didn’t seem to have any problems.
In Cambodia, when we got to the pier, there was a line for the shuttle bus. We had to sign up for the $15 tickets so boarded the bus to the town where we ended up hiring a Tuk Tuk type taxi. What we didn’t know was there was a free shuttle bus to the port gate, which is what we would have taken to get a Tuk Tuk, but this wasn’t signposted.
When we got to the next port (Phu My), we opted to hire a taxi to go to Saigon. Our relatives decided to take the shuttle to the local town again at a cost of $15. So they went to the desk on the pier exactly as we did at the port before but they, along with everyone else, were told they had to go back on board and get tickets from Reception?? So people were going back and forwards as the procedure kept changing. At the next port, it was tickets on the pier again?? Just disorganised and chaotic.
Now with regards to Cambodia, we need a visa for entry and you can get them on arrival. This visa is around $30 so when passengers were being charged $89, they were kicking up. Prior to us leaving the UK, we were told by NCL that visas for different countries could be between $29 and $89 and passengers from different countries may have different visas levered upon them. NCL didn’t specify the prices for different ports. It would be logical to assume that different countries have different charges but to charge $89 for a $30 visa is criminal. NCL are charging almost twice the price of the actual visa for printing out a form that we could have filled out ourselves but they didn’t give us the option. Some people had applied for an online e visa but it didn’t apply to the port of Sihanoukville. It applied to Sihanoukville airport down the road but not the sea port? So some passengers had paid for one visa ($30) and then got charged $89 by NCL regardless of whether they got off the ship or not. Loads of people were complaining at reception and removing their onboard gratuities. One receptionist was even advising it?? And this was for just one day in Cambodia and due to Sihanoukville being subjected to mass building works across the city amongst severe poverty, some cruise ship staff were even advising against bothering to go ashore as they said ‘it wasn’t very nice’?? You couldn’t make it up.
We went to a few of the theatre shows. Whilst watching shows, we often had to get up and down multiple times as guests were arriving 10 minutes, 15 minutes and then 20 minutes after the show had began. Personally, I think it’s discourteous to arrive so late and interrupt passengers trying to watch a show but there obviously wasn’t anyone from NCL stopping people from entering the theatre so late so it continued unabated. I saw people across the theatre from us getting up to let people in 30 minutes after the start time??
Lastly, at disembarkation in Hong Kong, we had flights departing at 14.25 so thought we had loads of time to kill in the morning as on pretty much all cruises we’ve been on, disembarkation is usually pretty swift. But no, just to finish the cruise in the same manner the rest of the disorganised chaos had been, we came off the ship and into a departure hall that was chock full of people in a huge, meandering queue where you couldn’t work out where the end of the line was. It took 2 hours to get out of this and into another long queue for taxis. So despite having what we thought was loads of time, we ended up rushing to make our flight. Luckily, we ended up seeing a limo driver who was touting for fares and pulled us out of the queue and into his MPV in the car park above. We headed off to the airport where we just made our check in. If we had stayed in the taxi queue, we wouldn’t have made it. There were no NCL staff around and despite seeing this chaos, NCL on the ship didn’t think to change tack and call passengers who needed to make flights as a priority.
The whole cruise from start to finish was a disorganised mess. It felt like the managing senior staff on the NCL Jewel hadn’t operated on cruises before as pretty much every aspect was disorganised and dysfunctional. In that regard, I felt for the front line staff who had to put up with passengers complaints and sour moods when it wasn’t their fault. In my opinion, it seems to me that NCL are trying to have a presence in the Far East as it looks good when advertising how far and wide their ships sail. They achieve this by having one ship doing multiple itinerary’s in far off places BUT they aren’t operating in these various regions all season so do not know the peculiarities of each port and end up in distant berths and having other problems. NCL need to decide if they want to run these routes and if so, do it properly or maybe with a senior crew who are capable of adapting to changing and varying ports/conditions as opposed to ones who are perhaps used to going through the motions in ports they visit week in, week out. For us in the future, we will have to weigh up the likelihood of a positive experience on NCL on far out routes versus an alternative cruise line with more experience in the region. It might be a better option??
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