Tag Archives: Norwegian cruise lines

Thinking Of a Cruise? Not Yet…

If you’re a fellow cruise fan or addicted like I am, I’m sorry to tell you that you should probably wait another year.

This morning I priced out a Norwegian cruise (the Bliss) from L.A. to Mexican Riviera the first two weeks in January. Its one of the blocks on the calendar when travel is at its lowest (thus should be cheapest) since people just spend a ton of money on Christmas and it’s a month before most people think seriously about any winter holiday. But the price seems way too high, the obstacles are significant, and I’m not sure you want to be that close and personal with 3,000 other people for a while longer…

The price: $2,900 all inclusive for two people for a week? No way! That’s way too expensive. Sure, they’ll include a bunch of perks right now (free wi-fi, 3 upgraded restaurant visits and unlimited drinks). Sure, the actually cruise price will drop in the next month…but that only helps people living within driving distance to L.A. The rest of us need to book an airline ticket way in advance or that already overpriced flight will go even higher!

The obstacles: If you’re not vaccinated – forget it. They may (but not with all cruise lines) allow you on the ship (the rules change weekly) but you’ll be isolated onto certain decks and sections. If you have a mixed vaccine (like I do) you’ll be allowed on (I think) but treated as unvaccinated. The CDC and all Canadian medical institutions say you’re fully vaccinated, but some cruise lines, Italy, and other countries don’t agree.

You will also need a Covid negative test before you get on your return flight. You’ll be able to get off the ship by around 9 am, but then have to find a Covid test place, and get it one, and pay for it (I think it’s around $200), and then wait for the written results, and then get to the airport. The odds of making a flight back home that day seem remote. That means you may need to pay for a night in a hotel and the cab fare to get tested, to the hotel and to the airport!

The friends who wanted the cruise info will end up at an all-inclusive in Cabo and not on a cruise. Smart decision for so many reason right now. Sure I want to cruise again but not for that kind of money and not with those hurdles and unknowns…Sad but true.

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!

George Boelcke – Money Tools & Rules book – yourmoneybook.com

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.

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

The “Value” Of Cruising

For almost two years I’ve wanted to take a cruise on the now second newest Norwegian ship, the Epic. This past week, I finally made it for a seven-day cruise out of Miami. Deal, or no deal, between the airfare, cruise cost, on-board charges and excursions, it’s still a large financial decision for most people, and something that first and second-timers should only do with the help of a qualified travel agent.

Booking a cruise is a minefield of traps, on-line discounts that we’ll probably never get, or limited time offers that just aren’t true. According to travel agents, and fellow Epic passengers, Lori and Mark Guerin (www.landandcruise.com), most people also have all kinds of incorrect information and dozens of misconceptions about cruises in general. Lori and Mark should know, having been on more than 100 cruises between them! You’re entrusting your entire holiday to a specific cruise line and cruise ship, each of which has a very different personality and you can’t change your mind once you’re on board.

The Epic is a two-year old ship designed by Norwegian specifically for freestyle cruising. That basically means that you can wear what you want, when you want and eat what you want (sort of) and where you want. Five restaurants are included in the price of the cruise, while nine upgraded specialty restaurants have a surcharge. Whether you choose to pay that is up to you. Two nights, my brother and I did step up for the extra expense, and the service and food were incredible at Cagney’s (steak house) and the French-style Le Bistro. The meals would have been well above $50 in a restaurant, compared with the extra $15 to $30 ship surcharge.

If you’re looking for a good deal on a cruise, your travel agent will find a lot of options with a lot of cruise lines for you. It’s a very competitive industry in a not-so-good economy, and an industry that keeps adding new capacity with newer and bigger ships. But when cruise prices drop, the pressure to increase the on-board revenues accelerates in tandem. From art auctions to bingo, watch sales, raffle tickets, and promoting 90 excursion packages ranging in price from $20 to $230, you will get pitched – hard and often. A general rule of thumb in the industry is that each ship has to generate the same amount of revenue as the cabin sales. That’ll include an average of $8 in liquor sales per passenger per day. Liquor isn’t included in your cruise, and drinks aren’t cheap.

One of my biggest regrets is not being able to see the total room charges for a vast number of passengers. With cruise lines, just like Disneyland, and chips instead of cash in casinos, the last thing cruise ships want is for their passengers to remember that they’re spending real money. No, it’s not that they don’t seize every opportunity to reach into your wallets – it’s just that the room key is your charge card for the entire week. Prices aren’t always easy to see (Free beer! Buy five and get the sixth free!), but when it’s simply a matter of showing your room card, for most people, that card quickly disconnects their brain from their wallet. It totally loses the correlation that showing a room key is actually spending real money. Nothing would have been better than to see the look on the faces of many passengers the morning of departure as they wondered where the %&#@ all those charges came from, which were now on their credit cards.

On next week’s program, we’ll talk about some of the good, the bad and the ugly.