This was our second NCL cruise. The other was six years ago and since then we have cruised exclusively on Celebrity. The embarkation was quick and efficient.
We chose a penthouse suite at the back of the ship. This was not part of the Haven but did gain us access to the breakfast and dinner in Moderno as well as other suite perks. I'm glad we did not stay in the Haven. The courtyard and swimming pool are tiny and I would not have utilised these facilities.
First, the positives. The ship has recently undergone a drydock renovation and it looks good. The decor has been modernised and the pool area decluttered. The ship was very clean and well-maintained.
We dined at Cagney's, Le Bistro, Teppanyaki, Moderno and Azura.
The food at Cagney's and Le Bistro was tasty and the service was good. My criticism would be a lack of vegetables. The meal plates were dominated by meat and after a few days we were longing for some greens. The food at Azura was very good too.
My biggest disappointment was the Teppanyaki. Culturally, it bordered on offensive. The cooks were Filipino, pretending to be cooking an authentic Japanese dish. They were not. The food was very average - fried rice with a meat choice. Again, very few vegetables. The whole experience reminded me of being on a conveyor belt at an amusement park. Four tables were served at a time and it was very much a case of getting the people through and then out a side exit so more people could be moved through. A complete rip off. To add insult to injury the 'sake bar' only had two sakes. Very disappointing.
My most pleasant surprise was the Moderno churrascaria. A fabulous salad bar and nicely cooked meat skewers. Very friendly staff too.
We purchased the premium plus beverage package. Most of the bar staff were unfamiliar with the package and some were put out at being asked to serve anything more than standard spirits and wine. It NCL are going to upsell these packages, they need to train the staff. When it came to cocktails, many of the staff had the American habit of putting in way too much sugar syrup. We had to ask them to halve the amount.
One positive of the premium plus package was that all of the wines available by the bottle were excellent. Whoever was buying these wines in has done a good job of sourcing them.
The premium plus package also included unlimited specialty coffees. Unfortunately, the baristas were Starbucks trained and so, while obliging, the coffees were not good. If NCL are pitching their product at New Zealanders and Australians, they need to employ baristas from those countries who actually know what a good cup of coffee tastes like.
The stage shows were a pleasant surprise. Plainly NCL had spent a lot of money on sets, costumes and performers. We really enjoyed Velvet and the final show Le Cirque bijou.
The only disappointment in the shows was the behaviour of some of the other guests. The first night a woman tried to save two rows of seats for her "closest friends" and distracted from the start of the show trying to wave them down. The second night, the people behind us talked through the entire show. I understand that it must be hard for the cruise line to monitor this sort of impoliteness.
The staff were mostly friendly and helpful (except some of the bar staff). Carlos, the suite concierge was the best we've ever had. He is smart, capable and hard-working. I would love to see him in charge of more of the restaurants and bars.
We bought a pass to attend unlimited classes. There were not enough scheduled to make it worth our while. I would like to have seen more cycling and TRX classes. Also, the gym attendants were unsafe in taking Pilates classes. There was a danger in injuring passengers as they did not modify the activities for those of differing experience levels.
We stayed in Sydney at the start of the cruise. It's a great city and I strongly recommend staying in the downtown area. Unfortunately, there was a bit of smoke about due to the bushfires.
Wellington: We skipped Dunedin and the Sounds due to poor weather and made an unscheduled stop in Wellington. We headed into Cuba street and went to a nice restaurant and bar.
Akaroa: Always beautiful little Akaroa. We enjoyed a walk through the historic cemetery and finished with Fish and Chips on the waterfront.
Picton: We enjoyed a lovely walk to the lookout and then followed the pathway to Bob's Bay. Beautiful views and great sailaway through the Marlborough Sounds.
Napier: We took a car and headed to Te Mata peak. We stopped in at Craggy Range winery for a tasting. Fabulous wine.
Tauranga: We arrived during a triathlon. We enjoyed a walk around the Mount, followed by coffee and ice cream.
Bay of Islands: It was a beautiful day but as there was a twenty minute tender into Paihia we decided to stay on board.
On arriving in Auckland we decided to skip breakfast and were among the first off the ship. The disembarkation process was fast and easy.
In summary, while overall we had a good time, I prefer the Celebrity product when it comes to dining and service. I am unlikely to cruise with NCL again.
The cabin was roomy and the deck was large and sheltered. We really enjoyed this cabin.
We enjoyed a lovely walk
Take the time to visit the wineries