Last week, June 7 – 13, we were on vacation! It is the first vacation we have had in three years and it happened to be to one of the places on my bucket list — Maine.
This was the fifth cruise for Hubby and I and the third with the kids. Unlike our other cruises, there were two main differences: One, we cruised north rather than south; and two, we cruised on Norwegian cruise lines unlike our previous four cruises which were on Carnival.
For those of you that have never cruised, it is important to know that there is a huge difference between cruise lines. Each cater to a specific age group and depending on what you are looking for, not all cruise lines are created equal.
I hope to make a post about each port we were in, but before that, I thought I would list some interesting facts, observations, and differences we noted while cruising. Now I cannot speak for any cruise lines other than Norwegian or Carnival, so how Royal Caribbean, Princess, Holland America, or any other cruise lines rate in the areas I am going to mention I would definitely do some research before choosing which one to travel on.
Although there were quite a few differences between Norwegian and Carnival, the four main ones would be in the categories of food, entertainment, staff relations, and age of the cruisers.
For Hubby, what he liked about Norwegian was that the food was considerably better than Carnival. Although the food on Carnival was good, much of it seemed to be processed and the quality was not as high as that on Norwegian. What we did not like however was that of the ten restaurants on the ship, six of them were “Specialty Dining” and had a cover charge of between $15 and $35 per person per night plus an 18% gratuity. Of the remaining four, two had identical menus every night with the only difference being which dining room you chose to eat in. The other two were the buffet and an Asian restaurant. The area for the complimentary buffet was about half that of the one on Carnival, we think because so much of the ship was consumed by the specialty restaurants. The Asian restaurant had very limited space for guests which meant at least a 30 minute wait for seating every night. Granted it has been three years since we were on Carnival, but when we were there, there were only three restaurants that you had to make reservations for and pay an additional fee to eat in and all other dining was complimentary.
Another notable difference between Norwegian and Carnival was the only 24-hour dining option on Norwegian was at a very small restaurant with a limited menu. Carnival had midnight buffets, late night buffets, and food pretty much whenever you wanted. Norwegian offered free 24-hour room service, but unlike Carnival where this was actually free, Norwegian charged a $7.95 room service charge. How is it free if you have to pay $7.95?
Overall, the quality of the food was better on the Norwegian line, it’s just a shame there weren’t more options and opportunities.
The entertainment offered on the Norwegian Gem was very good. Each night there was a show to go to as well as several other music listening options. Based on the age of the average cruiser on our ship, this was probably more than enough. For us however, with two cruisers between the ages of 19 and 22, there was little in the way of entertainment. There were two parties that Zeb and Grace could attend safely, while the bar that opened every night at 11 o’clock for dancing for 18 and over guests was absolutely not appropriate for them. Heck, I don’t think it was appropriate for me. There were actual beds set up throughout the bar for lounging on or as Grace kindly informed me — “make-out encounters.” I don’t consider myself a prude, but what message does that type of decor send to its patrons? Needless to say, after five minutes in that bar, we all went to bed, but not before Grace took a shower. She told me she felt dirty after just standing there and witnessing what was going on. One note here: The crowd that did fill this bar after 11 o’clock was an average of 35 years old. I think Grace would have been eaten alive had we left her there.
When we cruised with Carnival, there were pool and deck parties nearly every night. Granted these cruises did travel south where it was warmer and the weather was more conducive to an outdoor party, but there were areas on the Norwegian where more “family” appropriate parties could have been held, but they were not. Again, this could be because of the average age of the guests.
In our opinion, the entertainment was better with more options on Carnival than that of Norwegian.
One of the most notable differences that we noticed between Norwegian and Carnival was that Norwegian offered something called “Freestyle Cruising.” This gave cruisers the option to eat when they wanted with no set dinner hour. Although this is nice when you are out on a shore excursion and don’t want to feel rushed to get back to your room, dress for dinner, and rush to your assigned table, it left something to be desired as far as establishing any sort of relationship with waiters or servers. Every night you were seated some place different and given a different server.
When we were on Carnival, we had a choice of early or late seating or Freestyle. We had always selected the late seating for dinner, were seated in the same spot, with the same wait staff, and because of the set dinner hours, the wait staff were able to entertain the guests with a song or dance nearly every night. Being that the staff on Norwegian were serving dinner to some guests, appetizers to some, and dessert to still others, they had little time to converse let alone sing or dance. This was definitely something we missed. Some of the best memories we have from our previous cruises were while in the dining room with our nightly wait staff. We formed friendships with them and looked forward to seeing them each evening.
I’m sure that many people enjoy the freedom that the Freestyle Cruising offers, but we prefer a bit more structure and consistency. It has, however, been three years since we were on Carnival, so I am not sure whether they still offer early or late dinner options. It is definitely going to be something I research though before we ever cruise again.
Although it might not matter to most, there was a huge difference in the age of most of the cruisers on the Norwegian ship compared to the Carnival cruises we’ve been on. Here is the breakdown:
Norwegian: 75% Over the age of 55; 10% Between age 1 and 30; 15% Between age 31 and 54 – Mostly retirees, large family groups (parents with children and grandparents), and international travelers
Carnival: 80% Between 21 and 55; 5% Over 55; 15% Under 21 – Mostly families, singles, and younger people
For us, although Hubby and I might be content with the older crowd, as we are getting closer and closer to the majority age on the Norwegian line, Zeb would probably enjoy cruising on Carnival with the younger crowd and more entertainment options.
We don’t regret our choice to cruise on Norwegian. It was a wonderful trip and something that we will remember forever. In the future though I am going to be a bit more diligent in choosing which cruise line best fits the needs of our family at that time.
The Norwegian Gem was beautiful, clean, with an exceptional staff, superb food, excellent shows, tremendous musicians (especially Leo the guitarist we listened to every night), with unbelievably easy boarding and disembarking in every port. If you are looking for a relaxed, easy-going cruise line where the average age is over 50, this is definitely the cruise line for you.
We enjoyed six days cruising from New York to Halifax, Nova Scotia to Saint John, New Brunswick to Portland, Maine and then back to New York. We got there and back safely and have great memories of perhaps our last family vacation with all four of us together, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.