If you read my blog, you will know that I recently completed a week on the Norwegian Cruises ( NCL) on their Norwegian Epic sailing around the Mediterranean from Barcelona and had a fantastic time.
As I have prior cruising experience with Royal Caribbean ( RC ) over the past 2 years on both their Allure Of The Seas and Navigator Of The Seas, I thought I’d put together a comparison.
First of all, both cruise lines are excellent, if anything my complaints are relatively minor, there were no major issues which completely spoiled my enjoyment of the cruise but I have a few suggested improvements that could make this better.
Please note that this isn’t a comparison of the cruise itinerary as where you go is up to you, but is regarding the details of the ships and service provided.
Cabin ( Stateroom ) Size
For each cruise we had a Balcony Mini-Suite for a 2 person occupancy. The sofa of the “mini” suite provides the option of a third person occupancy.
The RC stateroom was wider and had straight walls, the area around the sofa, has a coffee table to sit and watch tv and it was possible to bring the kids in without feeling cramped.
The sofa bed could be utilised for a teenager or adult as it was certainly large enough.
However, on the NCL cruise, the walls of the cabin curved inwards on both sides. I expect that where ours curved in, facilitated the sofa or wardrobe on next doors etc.
As a consequence, the NCL stateroom felt much smaller and there was little room to pass each other or to sit at the sofa.
In fact, the sofa was used to hold the cases as there was no other space available for this as I’ll elaborate that in a moment.
The RC has a built in fairly standard shower-room, featuring shower, toilet and wash-hand basin.
This is located on one size of the door leaving the other side of the door free for cases, then the wardrobe.
However with NCL, their configuration is a separate shower cubicle to one side of the door and the toilet on the other, both of these are surrounded by opaque glass doors, which leave little to the imagination if you value your privacy.
To give a little more privacy, NCL have fitted a curtain divider abouf 5 foot from the door. This gives just that little bit more privacy as you do your business .. as long as you keep the music volume up!
Oh yeah, then there is that pesky wash-hand basin which is now located within the main area of the stateroom, further reducing the usable space.
In addition to the above, as NCL’s configuration uses up more floor space, specifically the space where the cases would go on RC, then these have to be stuck somewhere else in the cabin.
In our case, we used the sofa bed which was then made redundant as a seating area.
With a 3 person occupancy, this configuration would be completely inadequate.
As a direct comparison, we had the excursions to Florence on this year and last years cruise. The bus journey from the port to the central Florence is 2 hours.
Quite a time out on a possible 10-12 hour visit, but the distance is obviously nothing to do with the cruise companies.
In both cases with that distance in mind, if you decided to visit a location as far away as Florence, then definitely book the organised excursion as they will hold the ship in port if you are delayed.
This is not the case with privately booked excursions and I have personally seen the ship leaving on a number of occasions as people ran from taxis to get aboard.
On RC the cost of visiting Florence was 80 dollars including a guided walking tour for the first hours then left to our own devices.
The similar excursion on NCL of Florence On Your Own without the walking tour is priced at 125 dollars, which I think is pretty expensive compared with RC particularly if you have a family to pay for.
The other NCL options were from 200 dollars up, which I think is excessive.
Fortunately the excursions are optional and having previously visited Florence on RC, we gave the NCL a miss and decided to stay on board and enjoy the benefits of a mainly empty ship.
This is the dining that is included in the default package that you pay for.
In both cases, the quality and variety of the food was excellent.
The difference between RC and NCL is that RC has an organised seating plan and you have the same seat for the duration of the trip, although there are also tables available on demand and you have the choice to use their other restaurants including both free and specialty dining with a cover charge.
NCL’s alternative is “Freestyle Dining” which they advertise as eat anywhere, anytime, when it suits you.
However, only 2 main dining areas which serve the same menu, on the Epic these are Taste and The Manhattan Rooms, the other dining areas carry a cover charge.
Although they do have a buffet on the top deck area which is open all day.
For both RC and NCL, we found that that the food in the main dining areas was so good, particularly the steaks that there was no need to eat elsewhere and the idea of paying 40 bucks to eat in their steak-house just seemed crazy as the steaks available with the complimentary dining were fantastic.
Specialty Dining Options
It has to be said that NCL’s range of optional dining, usually for an additional cover charge from 20 to 40 dollars per head was eceptional with much more variety including Teppenyakki, Sushi, Italian than that available on RC.
However, as the main restaurant food was so good and varied, we did not feel the need to use these restaurants.
This was our biggest disappointment of the trip, the complete lack of formal nights on NCL.
So there you are ladies and gentlemen, you’ve paid top dollar for an excellent holiday, looking forward to cruising the med and dining in style.
You’ve packed the long evening dresses, tuxedo, or kilt in my case.
You’re looking forward to getting dressed up for the occasional formal night only to find that NCL doesn’t do them.
“Wear what you like” .. they say .. and you do that .. But you’re going to feel a right plonker if you’re the only ones dressed up and everyone else is dressed casually.
In comparison, RC offer 2 formal nights per week, a reasonable amount in my opinion and there’s nothing better than being dressed up and seeing everyone else do the same, it really does make the cruise feel special.
Service on both RC and NCL was fantastic, no complaints at all.
If anything my only observation was that NCL had more Philippine or Eastern European staff and cutting their costs.
But that is not to the detriment of the service provided which was excellent.
A nice touch of the RC cruise is that as you sit at the same table, the waiter and drinks waiter took note of our drinks preferences and would have our aperitifs waiting on our arrival.
A minor benefit of NCL’s freestyle dining in comparison with RC is that having different waiters each night you didn’t feel the need to provide an additional tip to the staff who had looked after you all week.
Both RC and NCL have built in service charges in addition to the cost of the cruise. You can either pay these in advance or they will be added to you’re account for settlement later.
But there is no avoiding them and they should be considered in the cost of the cruise particularly if you have a family as its per person per day.
The daily standard service charge was similar.
This is available on both cruises 24/7, however NCL charge just under 8 dollars per order for the privilege compared with it being free except for alcoholic drinks on RC.
The NCL charge seems unnecessary but time is money and with the range of dining options available, I expect that most people would only use this in particular circumstances. i.e. ill, hungover, having a romantic duvet day!
Last year on RC, my kids made the most of the free service, ordering pizza, steak at all hours and loved it.
Both RC and NCL have fantastic Broadway style shows.
This year NCL featured performances from Cirque De Soliel and Burn The Floor which are both top of the range Vegas style shows that tour independently and not only part of the cruise line.
In addition, although RC provided 3 or 4 “casual” entertainment, such as piano-bars, acoustic sets, nightclubs etc. NCL probably topped this with the addition of a Jazz and Blues Bar, Comedy Club etc.
The quality of the entertainers on both lines were excellent.
Another bug-bear against NCL was that our minibar was not only locked, but anything that we used would have been charged even although we had their ultimate drinks package.
In comparison, as we also had the drinks package on RC, our mini-bar was included in the cost and would be topped up by our stateroom staff each day if we used anything.
NCL have an area reserved for “VIP’s” at the front of the ship, upgraded room, prime sunbathing areas with upgraded loungers etc. Private bar and restaurant areas.
There is obviously a cost associated with this, that’s business.
My gripe is that there were some areas on the sun-deck which looked interesting which were unavailable to us “ordinary” guests particularly on days were the ship was at sea and sun loungers and space were at a premium.
I’m unaware of RC having this to any sizable extent apart from the odd “owners suite” etc.
My point is, why advertise “Freestyle Cruising – eat anywher, anytime time” then spoil it by having division?
To most people probably the most important aspect of the cruise, in our case we booked well in advance with RC at a cruise only price and had a late booking with NCL and got a deal with the drinks package included.
If we compare brochure prices RC is 10-20% more expensive on a like for like basis .. but remember that cabin going to be smaller.
The late deals we found for both RC and NCL were similarly priced, we chose NCL as the dates and itinerary suited us better, the last minute deal including the drinks package was a bonus.
We had a great time on both NCL and RC have no doubts about that, both lines are provide an excellent service and we thoroughly enjoyed our holidays.
However, if we were looking again and all things were equal on cost and itinerary, we would probably choose RC.
I say realistic, as I wouldn’t expect NCL to alter their cabin configuration on existing ships, but there are some small do-able changes would make the difference.
NCL – Add organised formal nights in one of the complimentary dining restaurants on 2 nights per week. People don’t have to go if they don’t want to, but those who do would have the option.
NCL – Remove mini-bar charges
NCL – Remove room service charges