Cattle-Call Cruising

Since today's an "at sea" day, I thought I'd comment upon the vessel we're crusing on.

When I came on this cruise, it was with high expectations, as my only previous cruise was two years ago with Holland America. That cruise set the bar for all future cruises. I was also aware that I would likely find some things to complain about—and in that, at least, I wasn't disappointed.

Norwegian Cruise Lines' trademark is "Freestyle Cruising," nowhere more exemplified than in their approach to dining. Essentially, passengers do not have a specific time for dining in the main dining rooms; instead, they are free to dine any time those venues are open.

Of course, there are several specialty restaurants (cover charge required); a buffet; two outdoor restaurants; a small coffee shop; and room service. Only two of those options are available whenever I'm hungry, however, and room service was not what I expected.

On our Holland America cruise, we could order anything from room service that was on the menu in a dining room or restaurant. Not so on NCL: there was a short list of items we could order. We found this particularly annoying one evening when we didn't want to dine with the crowds and the coffee shop was immersed in the din from a raucous band. I ended up getting a couple plates of food from the "cattle call" and bringing them back to the cabin.

By "cattle call" I mean the buffet, and I call it that because of the incredible number of people who show up. Also because of the utter mess in the seating area. Finding a seat is very difficult; there just aren't enough for the number of diners. People block the aisles as they eat with no regard for others walking through. Still others barrel their way through like a bull in a china shop to get where they want to be. One "gentleman" had the misfortune of having his hot coffee spilled on him because he couldn't wait to get around me as I was setting my tray down.

And the buss staff? Absolutely the most atrocious I've ever run across. I'd say that 10-15% of the tables were inaccessible at any given time because they had not been bussed. There were just too few staff members to match the crowds.

Was the dining all bad? Not at all! All of the food was excellent, no matter what restaurant or dining room we were in. (I've got a new-found appreciation for chilled soups!) But the experience just didn't match up to our expectations.