Footloose & Fancy-Free:
By Georgina Cruz
When Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) announced Freestyle 2.0, a fleetwide enhancement program made possible by the infusion of $1 billion by Apollo Management, I decided to try it out.
Whether you're sailing from Miami, FL, Charleston, SC, or another port, Freestyle 2.0 is being introduced fleetwide, (such as at right on Norwegian Sun*). I experienced it this past month on Norwegian Pearl.
Certainly NCL’s Freestyle Cruising has always been about freedom -- the freedom to do what you want, when you want, where you want and attired how you want (there are no designated “formal” nights).
But now, in my view, the Freestyle 2.0 enhancements have gone a long way to improve the overall guest experience on NCL.
Among the improvements, that Colin Veitch, NCL’s president and CEO, called “the next generation of Freestyle Cruising,” are:
- A major investment in dining options;
- Stateroom upgrades;
- New onboard activities for guests all of ages;
- Additional recognition, service and amenities for balcony, suite and villa guests; and
- Re-launch of a tiered Latitudes past guest recognition program.
Chowing Down with More Gusto
When it comes to dining, during our seven-day voyage, we enjoyed succulent lobster galore in the main restaurants. And the lobster was available – and not just once during the cruise -- but on two evenings.
Hint: If you're a lobster fan, no worries. On days when lobster isn't on the menu in the main restaurants, just head for an alternative restaurant where you're likely to find it on the menu.
Additionally each restaurant now boasts a signature specialty dish. For example, you might savor a scrumptious chocolate fondue tower in the casual buffet venue.
For those who feel a real meal means real steak -- NCL now offers a 48-oz. Porterhouse steak in the steakhouse.
Other dining improvements include a “bubbly welcome” with a glass of champagne for everyone; an enhanced night-time dining experience in the action station restaurant with table cloths and muted lighting; an expanded room service menu; one or two alternative restaurants open for lunch on sea days; and a “Taste of Freestyle” with samplings from all alternative restaurants on embarkation day.
Substantive New Stateroom Features
In the staterooms, there’s been an ocean of change beginning with upgrades in bedding, including sheets, pillows, duvets and memory foam mattress toppers; and in fluffier towels and bathrobes.
I particularly enjoyed the addition of a big Euro pillow for support when reading and watching television.
Staterooms also have Elemis bathroom amenities; upgraded coffeemakers with Lavazza coffee; expanded television offerings; and a choice of fruits in daily complimentary fruit bowls.
All stateroom categories also have customizable mini-bar selections – because sometimes you just feel like a chip, while other times like a candy bar or nuts. It's wonderful to have them available in your cabin.
I booked a mini-suite. With the new program, balcony and mini-suite cabins feature several new perks. (NCL's newest ships boast hundreds of balconies, as shown in the photo at left.*)
Among them are a separate check-in desk; distinctive colored key-card for ship-wide recognition; and a personal escort to accommodations at check-in.
Best of all, these categories have access to an “at your service” priority reception and restaurant reservations line (to be able to make restaurant reservations 48 hours in advance with all other guests being able to make them 24 hours in advance).
This line really was useful for our alternative restaurant reservations. The new priority disembarkation option also came in handy when our airline changed our flight to an earlier departure time.
Suite and villa passengers can expect pampering concierge and butler service; a welcome bottle of Moet & Chandon White Star champagne in the suite or villa; upgraded canapés every day; a private breakfast/lunch in Cagney’s Restaurant; use of an exclusive concierge lounge; Lavazza coffee; priority restaurant reservations; and a private breakfast/lunch in the Courtyard (for villa occupants only).
And for a great night’s sleep, suite and villa accommodations have NCL’s Bliss bed with pillow top mattress and pillow menu.
Guests might also choose from such customized (to guest taste) treats as chocolate-covered strawberries; tortilla chips and salsa; brownies; and a soft pretzel among other choices. Passengers also may select the time of day these snacks are delivered.
New Activities and Themed Parties
On the activities front, new NCL U offerings were listed everyday in our Freestyle Daily programs. Options included Tequila Tastings, Organic Cooking, Digital Photography and Second City Improvisational classes.
Another new perk? The onboard library now has coffee and honor system book borrowing.
New evening entertainment with Freestyle 2.0 includes two themed parties: NCL’s White Hot Night and Monte Carlo Night.
The White Hot Night is held in one of the lounges. This is a dance part. Guests are asked to wear white, but (no worries) they let you in no matter what color you are wearing!
The Monte Carlo Night takes place in the casino. Both offer fun into the wee hours.
For young sailors, there are expanded hours for the Kids’ Crew, NCL’s program of supervised children’s activities. Plus, your kids will find new Xbox game consoles in the arcade and Wii, Xbox and additional table games in teen centers.
Sunning in Style
For those who are content with just catching some rays, NCL has enhanced its Pool Deck Experience. Quiet zones are now in place,
(One of the line's pool deck spaces is shown at right.*)
Deck chairs have drink flags. So you don’t even have to lift a finger to get something cool that hits the spot. Additionally, to ensure that you stay cool all over, there are Evian spritzes and cold towels available.
NCL has also enhanced its Latitudes past passenger program. You'll now find a staffed concierge lounge for Latitudes members on each ship. The lounge fields coffee, cookies and board games.
Overall, we had a fabulous cruise. Our only personal critique was that the ship seemed quite crowded on our voyage - more so than other vessels of similar size.
The only criticism we overheard from other guests was that the crew sprayed hand sanitizer on guests' hands rather than letting guests use the hand sanitizer dispenser themelves. But in the grand scheme, that wasn't a big deal.
The bottom line? NCL has always been a good value for guests’ vacation dollars. But with Freestyle 2.0, passengers wind up paying for a moderately priced cruise and sailing away with a many premium touches.
If You Go
For more details, contact your travel agent, call 866-234-0292 or visit www.ncl.com.