We booked this cruise 18 months before the sail date. The itinerary was great and included many bucket list places for us. Several months after we booked, we found out the ship was going into a major renovation/dry dock. We debated canceling but the itinerary had so many of our bucket list places it was too good to pass up. A few months before sailing, we were advised our 21 day cruise was down to 20 days and leaving a day later. We were given the option of a night in NCL’s hotel or a $300 credit plus we lost a port - Kusadasi. So much for seeing Ephesus this cruise but we stayed with the cruise. 1 day before we were scheduled to leave our home and start our travels, we received another email saying the ship’s departure was delayed another 3 days so we were now on a 17-day Cruise AND we lost 4 more ports of call. We had now lost 50% of our original itinerary with many changes in port times resulting in shortened visits. We were given the option to cancel with no penalty but were able to arrange for extra time in Rome and decided to go for it since we still were going to Israel, Egypt, Oman, Jordan, and UAE. On our travel day there were rumors on Cruise Critic the entire cruise was canceled so more stress but within 2 hours we were able to determine our cruise was still on. Toughest 2 hours I’ve ever spent at an airport!
So off to Rome where we had a fabulous time for 6 days. Embarkation day arrives and on check in we are given a cabin different from what we had booked. We were told it was an upgrade. Huh? We were booked in a DOS so there were no upgrades but they told us we could sort it out with Guest Services once we got onboard. Once we were checked in we learned the truth from our Concierge. No suites were completed so we were downgraded into a balcony across from a service entrance and with a connecting door that seriously leaked noise. We were told it would only be for 1-2 days. We moved into our suite on day 13 of a 17 day cruise. I fault NCL for not disclosing this to us when they delayed the embarkation day. They certainly were aware of it and willfully withheld that vital piece of information from us. Yes, had we known the day before we left home, we would have canceled the entire trip and called it a day but we were stuck. We may even have canceled before final check in had we known it would be 13 days before we were able to occupy our booked suite.
Now a bit about our travel habits. We are not balcony room people. We travel in OS or DOS’s or we stay home plus we usually only travel once a year. So this was a new experience for us. The room was small but we did find places for everything although we are not used to eating, reading, watching tv, and writing in the same place we sleep - our bed. We enjoy spending time in our cabin when we cruise. We heard noise from the service alley at all hours of the day and night as well as noise from the adjoining cabin. Not the best experience but we did manage to survive in there for 13 days despite toilets not flushing, hammering above our room all hours, room phone not working, workers throughout the ship with open panels all over the ship, and general disarray throughout the ship. Several venues were never completed like the Spa, many were delayed in opening like Teppanyaki, and many cabins were in far worse shape than we were. Some passengers reported no toilet seats, toilets either not flushing or flushing on their own in the middle of the night (happened several times in our cabin - so bizarre), no shower heads and even one person with no door to the room. I’m still wondering what happened to the people who were originally booked in the balcony we were given. Where did they get downgraded to? Personally we found the renovation workmanship to be shabby and cheaply done. NCL should get their money back! We had big dents in our ceiling and we were the first guests in there! Eventually we were able to move to our DOS where most things were done but finishing touches like cabinet shelves above the bar area were still missing, no pictures on the walls - you get the idea - just the basics. Overall though we enjoyed the DOS after being sandwiched in the balcony. And the staff bent over backwards helping us move. It took us 90 minutes to pack, move, and unpack. Yes, we were anxious to get into our suite by then! Quite honestly we got used to only one of us moving in the balcony room at one time and could only laugh after we got beyond our disappointment and anger at NCL for deceiving us.
The staff were absolutely wonderful. They were dealing with so many different things out of their control and never complained. Always a smile and good humor. We had breakfast and lunch mainly in Cagney’s and found the food to be very good with enough variety for our tastes. Our specialty dinners in Cagney’s and Le Bistro were top notch but I found Onda a big disappointment. My spaghetti tasted like Chef Boyardee from a can so one night was all we did there. We skipped Teppanyaki just because we were more interested in other venues. The Local is good although I miss their Shepherd’s Pie, always one of my faves. And it was always very cold in there while other areas of the ship were too hot. They definitely needed to work more on that as well as hot/cold water issues throughout the ship. One morning I could only get scalding hot water so my shower was very brief. Others described only getting cold water at times. And one morning in Cagney’s they gave us blankets to cover up with because it was so cold in there. The Captain came in to eat there and left because it was too cold for him!
We usually do the shows but missed every one this trip. We were too tired or too frustrated so we skipped them all.
The casino is nice and has a smoking section so the main casino itself is quite smoke free. People tried to hide out in the smoking areas to smoke not gamble but they really chased them out unless they were also gambling. The machines were not good to us but we had fun and casino staff were very friendly. I did 2 of the Canvas U Paint sessions and had a great time there. The sessions were not in big demand as I’ve found on other ships so not a lot of crowding.
Arriving at ports and debarkation was a disaster due to both people not heeding instructions and delays at getting ship clearance. In Aqaba, we were delayed almost 2 hours so our private tour was shortened but we managed to do everything we planned since we were on a private tour and could move quickly. Another bad thing with this cruise - days we were to be in port changed so we had to change our tours around. Also times in port changed including our port arrival in Abu Dhabi was changed 3 times with the last change occurring 12 hours before our arrival. Thankfully our private tour companies were really responsive to last minute changes. We loved our visits to Haifa and our overnight in Jerusalem, on to Masada, Qumrum and the Dead Sea but due to late arrival in port, we missed getting to Bethlehem, our overnight in Luxor (a return visit for us), our absolutely stunning day in Aqaba to Petra and Wadi Rum, a shortened day in Muscat, the Falcon Hospital in Abu Dhabi (a real treat for us!) and debarkation with 2 days in Dubai. Definitely do a desert safari in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai. It was a hoot. But we did all private tours although at most sights we saw the NCL tour groups so they did/saw many things we did but I’m sure they had to move slower.
So what was our overall impression? We loved all of the ports and that was the reason we selected this cruise. We were disappointed to miss Athens and Kusadasi (Ephesus). As to the ship - even if we had been on a completely finished ship, we prefer mid size or mega ships (in the Haven). The ship seemed too small to us plus you add all of the ongoing construction and it was disastrous. The food generally was very good. Service was very good. The staff were wonderful and worked so hard to make it a great experience for us. Did we have a great time? Yes due to those ports and the places we toured. Am I upset with NCL? Yes because they knowingly withheld vital information from us prior to embarkation when we could have changed our travel plans. But they did give us a refund plus a 50% FCC which I’m still waiting for. We were very lucky to stay a few steps ahead of the Covid hassles and were so thankful to get home without any extra hassles unlike the Spirit Cruise right after us. And I don’t care how great an itinerary may be, we will never be booked on the first cruise out of drydock again! It’s just not worth the hassles. So all in all, we made some wonderful memories and despite all of the snafus, we are happy we did this cruise but also learned some valuable lessons and were very happy we returned home without any Covid delays/hassles.