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.

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