Tag Archives: NCL

The Fine Print of Travel Purchases & Library Fines Alternatives

I’m back from my nightmare cruise last week. But at least my experience can be your lesson learned, or at least your heads-up.

If you have an airline ticket, once you’re on the plane, the airline is obligated to get you to your destination. But sometimes stuff happens. If that airport is closed, they’ll detour – but will eventually get you to where you’re going, even if that has to include putting you up in a hotel somewhere along the way at your expense.

My cruise last week was only on-track for an hour before Norwegian realized that hurricane Wilma wasn’t going to let us go to the Mexican Riviera. By the time we would have gotten to Puerta Vallarta the winds would be 80 plus miles an hour. But, when you book a cruise, they have the total right to change their itinerary. You pay for a one-week cruise without a guarantee of the advertised ports. Instead of 30 degrees and three Mexico stops, we ended up with San Francisco (I was just there) San Diego (I was there last year and will be again in two weeks) and Ensenada, Mexico.

We also didn’t see the sun the entire week and never saw anything above 15 degrees. But that can’t be blamed on Norwegian Cruise Lines as they honoured the cruise for the week. It just falls under the category of “stuff happens.”

One more thing: I really love responsible people. A lady checked out a poetry book from a Louisiana library that his son returned it last week…84 years later when he was cleaning out his Mom’s possessions. The financial good news is that the library waived the $3 late charge. Responsible AND a financial savings…bonus!

Even better is what the L.A. libraries are doing with kids who don’t return books or movies on time. They’re now allowed to ‘read off’ their late fees! Instead of charging their parents the overdue fees, kids just need to go to the library to read and work off their fees. I love that total win-win!!

Norwegian Cruise Lines

Last week I was on the brand-new Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) ship the Bliss on what was scheduled to be a Mexican Riviera cruise, but only got from our LA departure port to San Francisco, San Diego, and Ensanada (20 miles south of San Diego), thanks to hurricane Wilma.

If you’re a smoker, sadly, you want to avoid NCL at all cost. If I’m not mistaken, that’s still around 25% of the population, myself included. But that’s not NCL math: There is one smoking area way out of the way in a windy corner of one of the upper decks. It holds around 20 people and is standing room only the entire day. It’s, by far, the most popular area on the ship.

Plan B, if you want to light up, is a cigar lounge that holds 16 people. Plan C is even worse: It’s in a segregated and closed in area of the casino. That way you can have two smokes while also leaving behind a hundred buck donation in a slot machine….

When 20 to 25 percent of the population smokes or vapes, over 4,000 passengers include around 1,000 that smoke. With NCL it won’t take you long to figure out that you’re really not welcome on the ship.

That may well be, or become, the norm on other cruise lines, but you’re not likely to find that out until you’ve paid, committed, and are on board. If you know which cruise line still welcomes your business, send me an email as I’d love to promote them!

Greetings from Aruba!

Yes, this week I’m in the Caribbean enjoying 80 plus degrees, and heading for a partial Panama Canal crossing on the Norwegian Pearl. Typically, a full crossing is a cruise from LA to Florida, or the other way around. However, many cruise lines, including Norwegian, now do these partial crossings that start and end in Miami. They’re rather expensive, as they’re 11 day cruises, but well worth it for anyone who has always wanted to see the Panama Canal.

The Pearl is a mid-size ship with 1,200 cabins and 2,400 passengers. That’s what you want, instead of the massive 4,000 passenger ships that are becoming the norm with most cruise lines. On the other extreme, my best friend will only go on a cruise with lines such as Viking that have only a few hundred passengers – but there’s a big price to pay for that.

I do have to confess that it’s my sixth time on the Pear, as it’s still one of my favorite ships. But if you’ve never cruised before, you really want to get the expertise of a cruise specialist with a local travel agent. Different cruise lines, just like different ships, have a very different personality – and for extended cruises, that matters a lot. Many Norwegian cruises have an average passenger age in the 40s. This one, for example, is likely in the 60s due to the length, and non-spring break time of the trip.

The Pearl has also just undergone a two-week dry dock renovation. About half the upgrades were age related, and something you wouldn’t notice. (Could you tell that the original railings are teak, and the replaced ones are spruce?) The other half are quite nice and noticeable. All cabins had a make-over, the most common traffic areas have new carpets, and some of the (pay) specialty restaurants were given a make-over as well.

A couple of heads-up as you might as well learn the painful lessons of someone else (that would be me), instead of on your own:

Within two hours of being on board, it turns out six of my well planned out dinner reservations made two months ago had been wiped out, and were gone. One other had been moved by three days, and only one of eight was still showing. As some of the popular specialty restaurants fill up early, that would have destroyed my vacation in the first few hours. The only reason I was able to get most of them restored, with the help of an incredible hostess who spent an hour helping me, is that I had printed the confirmations and brought them with me. If not, it would have been my word against the ship’s computer, and there’s no chance I would have had them re-booked. Print and take everything! The ship’s hotel director chose not to respond to multiple requests for an explanation or what passengers should do – as I wasn’t the only one. Trust me, I’ve heard the horror stories from almost all cruise lines. And, as I always tell you: If it’s not in writing – it didn’t happen! That will always be true: Case in point that 8,300 of my casino reward point (which is a lot) also disappeared. But with no written proof, I’m out of luck so to speak.

The second heads up is even more valuable: We talk about it at least twice a year: Loyalty is dead. From credit card programs to Starbucks, airline frequent flyer programs to cruise lines. Norwegian Cruises has a pretty high loyalty level called “platinum” that applies at roughly a dozen cruises. This cruise, my traveling companion had also reached that level. But what you don’t know in advance is that none of the worthwhile “rewards” are passed on to the second person. Yes, I get a free load of laundry – he doesn’t. Yes, I get a complimentary dinner – he doesn’t. The value of reaching that loyalty level for the second traveler is $1.25. It’s their own bottle of water in the cabin for the week.

If you have a regular travel buddy, or travel with your partner, make sure you stay a free agent in not always booking with the same cruise line. They get the revenue, but you don’t get the rewards.

Norwegian Cruise Lines – Hello from New Brunswick

Greetings from New Brunswick!

Yes, I made it all the way to the Canadian Maritimes this week with Norwegian Cruise Lines.

We’ll talk about the economy here in the Maritimes next week, but, since I’m on the Norwegian Dawn (my second time on this ship), it seems appropriate to talk about the cruise, first.

Friends of mine have called Norwegian my girlfriend. I love them, being on my 15th cruise with them. But, sadly, Norwegian doesn’t love me – or any passengers – back anymore. About two years ago, they merged with Oceana. Since that time, the cost-cutting measures have been many – and noticeable – and continue to this day.

Being sold happens on every cruise ship – on every cruise line. But cut backs, right now at least, is the specialty of Norwegian head office, from the small to the big. Six mid-level executives, including casino executive and their media relations department, haven’t replied to questions or feedback in the last two years. I also haven’t received a post-cruise questionnaire in over three years. Whether it’s perception or reality, Norwegian no longer seems to care about passenger feedback.

No more lobster in the fanciest and most expensive restaurant on ship, Cagney: That news was delivered by an embarrassed waiter during my (about) 40th visit to the restaurant. Upscale is gone – money saving is in. Free breakfast in your room…but I’m not sure what’s free about the fine print of an $8 service charge now. The room stewards seem to have more cabins to do as the quality of the rooms has noticeably deteriorated. But that may just be my cabin: I didn’t notice until the first morning that my sheets had blood stains on them or that the water glasses in the bathroom were incredibly dirty. Used glasses, dishes, etc. no longer get removed at turn-down service, but stay in the cabin until the following day. My deck has popcorn stuck on it from the previous passenger, or the one before that, or the one before that, as well as quite a bit of hair everywhere and definitely hasn’t been cleaned for some time.

Some time ago, Norwegian rolled out a program to entice you to book with them. No business wants to lower their prices, but does have to give you something to speed up your decision making process. Norwegian lets you pick from a number of add-ons, depending on the cabin type. You can pick an internet minutes package, $50 towards cruise excursions in each port, or unlimited dining and beverages. The latter two are the most popular, and the two I consistently choose. Unlimited dining was any restaurant for all six nights at sea. That became four, and has now (surprise!) become only three! And it’s not disclosed when you book!

Unlimited beverage now has you pay a $120 US dollar “fee” for it at your time of booking While it may still be a deal (go for it – it’s not as though you’re driving the ship!), it appears bar staff have been instructed to slow you down, or to make it difficult or frustrating to utilize.  While you can’t order a double (sorry heavy drinkers…) you now can’t order two drinks inside a certain unknown period of time. My guest and I ordered a shooter. and another one a few minutes later. No, you can’t do that is what we were told…by two bartenders already!

On the positive side, I can’t tell you much about the Norwegian Dawn since Media Relations didn’t reply with a simple fact sheet. It’s a mid-size ship that’s just gone through a month of renovations. This Quebec City to Boston cruise has three stops in the Maritimes, but only runs four times in the fall before going back to its regular Boston to Bermuda sailings. If you’re a senior, this week’s Maritime cruise has an average age of 66, according to one senior staff member, so you won’t be alone. If you’re not a senior, no worries – their Boston to Bermuda cruises average age is in the 40s, and the L.A. to Mexican Riviera cruises attract an even younger demographics. You’ll enjoy the enhanced variety of entertainment with something for almost everyone during the week.

If you’ve never been on a cruise before, what are you waiting for? But be careful, and book your first two with a professional travel agent. Different cruise lines and different ships have very different clientele and personalities! If you still want to test-drive Norwegian, I’d recommend the Jewel, the Pearl and the Dawn, and that you avoid the massive 4,000 passenger ships. Make it one cruise on Norwegian, maximum and avoid their loyalty program. When businesses say that you can’t put a price on loyalty and loyal customers, Norwegian can. It’s six dollars. Twelve or so cruises get you a status that includes a free dinner with bottle of wine. But the most recent cutback is that my second appetiser would be at my cost, and is now on my room charges. (You need to read the: Loyalty is Dead story we did a few weeks ago…)

With that, I have to go and now find some lobster here in Saint John. And remember, as always, you can find my previous cruise stories on yourmoneybook.com by searching the “radio stories” link.

Cheap Like a Norwegian?

Greetings from St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands today! As I’m on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL)Getaway. So it only seems fitting to talk about it for a few minutes. Some people have joked that Norwegian is my girlfriend because I spend so much time on their cruises. But it’s about time to break up with Norwegian. Since all of you listening and reading this live a short drive or flight from LA, Seattle, Vancouver, or Victoria, lots of you do go on cruises – and you should!

NCL recently merged with another line, got a new CEO, and billions of dollars of debt from the merger. Someone has to pay for that. The rates haven’t changed much with Norwegian, but they’ve cut back on some not so noticeable things, and some really obvious ones.

Big cutbacks on the awesome little chocolates on your pillow at night. Got my first one on night four… good thing there’s no shortage of sweets at the buffet, so I’ll be OK for my sugar fix. Probably a cost saving, but pretty stupid if you ask me. No more kids’ discount in the surcharge restaurants, and no more St. Maartin port of call. The ship recently switched to a stop in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) with huge savings in their port fees. St. Maartin is a dream stop with a ton of sightseeing, tourist attractions, and shopping! BVI has pretty much none of that. That’s really bad for passengers, really cost effective for NCL. As a really frequent passenger, there used to be a package of some perks in the cabin. There wasn’t. I’m not sure if they’ve been cut back or cut out, they just forgot me, or if my complaint got them. But in every industry, regulars get taken for granted while all marketing goes to new customers.

I’m actually here this week for a free slot tournament. Or that’s my excuse anyway. Except my three-month ago entry never got processed. It took the host to actually find someone at head office on a Friday night to get me in…while I got to freak out and sweat it out for three hours! I did get my welcome gifts – sort of. The highlight of my trip is dinner at the steak restaurant called Cagney’s. I love that place. The welcome package is always a dinner for two. I’m here solo, so it’s always been OK to just go twice. No, with the cutbacks that’s no longer allowed. Help me with the math: Dinner for 2 is $60. Dinner for one, going twice is $30 x 2 or…yes…$60. Two other people were almost as choked as me at this stupidity. So I gave back my dinner certificate and a $150 spa credit. I don’t think my message to tell the VP who makes these decisions to shove it will get delivered. If Norwegian wants to save money, I donated back $210. If they don’t want my business, I KNOW RC (Royal Caribbean) does.

Lastly, the downside to big ships like the Getaway is trying to get a dinner reservation in a you-pay restaurant, or seeing a show. On this same ship in December I was not able to get any reservations for any show the entire week. This time, I was one of the first people on the ship and immediately went to the interactive screens at every elevator bank to make sure that didn’t happen again. Well, they don’t work or didn’t work. Pick the show, confirm the person and press ‘next.’ Except ‘next’ doesn’t work. I MAY be seeing one show – not sure yet. That’ll be one in 14 days on the ship! And before 95% of passengers were on board, some restaurants only had 9:45 pm reservations! Who eats dinner after 10:00 pm and how did a few passengers on board before noon already make thousands of reservations? In fairness, the Assistant to the Hotel Director did volunteering to help me. However, morally I couldn’t ask for something other guests can’t get and still have the right to share it with you.

Would I go on another cruise? Would next week be too soon? Would it be Norwegian again? Not likely. Obvious cost-saving cutbacks just tick people off, something I certainly heard during the week. Another passenger commented that it really wasn’t freestyle anymore with the odds to getting into a show or dinner. How sad – how unnecessary – but how common after almost any merger…

Greetings From Bermuda

Yes, I’m on another cruise. This week it’s on the Norwegian Dawn from Boston to Bermuda. But I’ll talk about that experience next week.

As some of you know, in addition to my books and radio program, the largest part of my life is my purpose and passion in teaching team building and leadership seminars all over the world. What always drives me crazy is companies who promote “our people make a difference” on their web site – and only their web site – because they don’t actually mean it in real life.

Yet, the cruise industry, and (from what I’ve observed) Norwegian in particular, has created a culture where their people do make a difference – in actions and not just slogans. You’ll find the staff to be totally attentive to you, incredibly professional, and more than patient; sometimes with passengers who wouldn’t treat their dog the way they treat some of the almost 1,100 staff.

Elsie is a hostess in one of the restaurants. She works on the ship with her husband and they’re saving money for a home back in the Philippines. Ryan is a waiter working his standard 10-month contract thousands of miles away from his wife. Ask Ryan when his next two months off are and his face lights up. This year will be the first time in a decade with Norwegian that it falls over Christmas and New Years, and he’ll get to spend it with his family back home.

Elin is one of the room stewardesses who all work a split shift, cleaning your room in the morning, and again until well past 9 PM each night. She actually has her diving certification and really wants to take her diving rescue courses back in Columbia on her next time off. Gina from the Philippines works in the casino. She’s always smiling and friendly. But then, yesterday was a good day for her because she got to phone home and speak to ‘everybody,’ as she calls it: Her mother, as well as her 11 and 5 year olds. 10 months away from her kids has to be one of the hardest sacrifices any mother can make in order to provide a better life for them in the future.

Lauraine  is one of the hostesses in the casino. This is actually the fourth ship she’s been transferred to in the same year. That has to be hard, but it’s the price she pays of being one of the best at her job. In fact, when I walked into one of the receptions she greeted me by name at the door. I’ll never figure out how she knew me. I meet 6,000 people a year at my seminars and I’m very bad with names. But it’s part of what makes someone feel special, and almost made it OK that I lost the first two days in the casino.

On a cruise ship, most people will meet the omelet chef at the buffet station, one or two of the wait staff in their favorite restaurants, a couple of the bartenders, and their room stewart – but that may be it. However, it’s the other one thousand plus staff who are just as invaluable to making your holiday a memorable experience. So, the next time you go on a cruise – any cruise – make it a point to make eye contact and say a quick hello and a thank you…to the ‘non-obvious’ people. If every passenger on the average sized ship did that just five times a day, those 74,000 plus hello’s and thank-you’s in the week make up for a lot of loneliness, being so far away from their families, hard work, and long hours.

You know this in your own life at work: Being appreciated doesn’t replace your income, but sometimes it’s just as important. In fact, until you book a cruise – and you should – start practicing closer to home: In the restaurant, while you’re shopping, or anywhere else. It matters a lot – to a lot of people.  If you want to understand more about the people part of your life at home or at work, cruise through my web site at: vantageseminars.com

 

George Boelcke, CCP is the author of It’s Your Money – the Spanish, U.S. and Canadian bestseller book on borrowing smarter, paying it off quicker, and spending less money. In addition to his books and radio program, George also teaches seminars on teambuilding and relationships all over the world. He can be contacted at www.yourmoneybook.com or www.startfightingback.com

Travel Like A Norwegian

Good morning from beautiful Mazatlan. OK, it’s not really that beautiful . But since I’m on the Norwegian Star this week on a Mexican Riviera cruise, it’s a word that gets used a lot with almost any ship announcement.

I know that huge numbers of you either aren’t Mexican vacation fans, or have never been on a Norwegian cruise ship. The former is understandable with many long-standing and well publicised troubles in Mexico. But if you haven’t been on a Norwegian cruise, you’ll definitely want to add that to your bucket list sooner, rather than later.

As more than seven million Western Canadians, we really don’t have an excuse not to, since three of their ships depart pretty close to home: In addition to the Sun’s cruises out of Los Angeles to Mexico, the Norwegian Sun cruises Alaska from May to September with many departures right out of Vancouver. The Norwegian Pear, my favourite Norwegian ship, also cruises to Alaska, departing from both Seattle and Vancouver.

If you go, or hopefully when you go, you won’t be the only Canadian. The Sun this week has passengers from 12 different countries ranging from Brazil to Ireland and China. After the 80% Americans, we Canadians are the largest group, as I’m one of 200 on board this week. I actually thought that number would be a lot higher – and it should be. With the departure being out of the Port of Los Angeles, it isn’t exactly hard, or very expensive to get to LA, since you can be there in less than four hours.

Since this is a financial program, you need to know that cruising is one of the best travel deals around, as it’s a very competitive industry. If you’ve been to a one-week all inclusive resort, you know the treatment, service, and amenities you’ll (hopefully) get. A cruise is the same thing, just with the added bonus of also getting to explore a whole lot more of the world than just the 60 or so acres of a resort. If you don’t need a suite, and can avoid the three most popular months of the year, you can cruise like a Norwegian (whatever that means…but it’s their advertising slogan) for under a hundred dollars a day. That’s cheap! You’re getting a four star all inclusive vacation AND getting to see at least three different cities in different countries during the week.

If you’re a morning person, you’ll get even more out of your cruise, as you’ll be watching six gorgeous sunrises almost all by yourself. It’ll be you and less than a couple of hundred of your fellow passengers (out of the 2,400 that the Star accommodates). I’m pretty sure it’s the 11 bars and evening activities that turn most cruise passengers into night people – or at least people that won’t be seeing any sunrises during their vacation, because, well…you know…

Even during the three at-sea days you’ll never get bored. Each day has a wide variety of more than 90 different activities. And that doesn’t even include the most important ones of just vegging, sitting in the sun, or enjoying a relaxing meal… or two… or three in one of the many restaurants. If you do end up on the Sun, you’ll be treated to one of the best food services of any ship. The variety and quality of food is unmatched by any other cruise ship I’ve been on – and that includes a lot bigger and newer ships. Even Belgian Hotel Director Hugo Vanosmael seemed a little (but very pleasantly) surprised to hear that feedback.

If you’ve never been on a cruise before, you need to so some homework. Every ship and every cruise line has a very different personality, which is just as important to know as their itinerary. First time cruisers should deal with a well-experienced travel agent that specializes in cruises. If you’ve been on a cruise before, you can find Norwegian direct at ncl.com. (Do avoid signing up for their newsletter as it’ll trigger marketing calls that are next to impossible to stop.)

And now I need to go: There’s great shopping to do here in Mazatlan and I have a two-hour ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the ship – something the inner nerd in me has wanted to do for over five years!

I’ll share another quick story about my cruise from Los Angeles next week.