Southern Sailing: Charleston to Bermuda
Onboard the Norwegian Majesty
Carol Phillips Blue and her husband T.J. Blue recently sailed on Norwegian Majesty from Charleston, SC, to Bermuda; Carol is shown above on the ship's top deck.*
Traveler's Tale by Carol Phillips Blue
Bermuda is one of my favorite cruise destinations. So when my husband and I learned that Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Majesty was planning three Bermuda sailings from Charleston in spring 2009, presto, it was an easy decision. We booked months in advance.
On May 2, the big day finally arrived. Enthusiastic about our upcoming voyage, we traveled with another couple from our home in Beaufort, SC. We chatted away on the 1.5 hour drive to Charleston as each moment brought us closer to our final destination -- the Charleston Cruise Terminal.
Parking & Checking In
Private cars and taxis approach the Charleston Cruise Terminal, at the foot of Market Street, via Washington Street in downtown Charleston.
Just check out the South Carolina Ports Authority site for directions and guidance about port parking. You'll also find explicit details about parking at SouthernCruising.com's Charleston Port Report page.
(The Cooper Street Bridge is shown at right - This photo was taken from the cruise terminal area.*)
All vehicles are funneled into an area for luggage handling; it was about 30 minutes before we reached that point. Porters then removed the bags from our car, loaded them onto carts, and sent them to the ship.
To park our car, we motored across the street to a huge parking warehouse. The parking cost for our seven-day cruise was $110.
After grabbing our carry-on bags, we boarded a free, 20-passenger shuttle, within minutes we were at the terminal.
Editor's Note: Walk-ups to the terminal are NOT permitted. Also, special policies and discounted parking rates apply to vehicles with handicapped placards or plates. Again, see this site's Charleston Port Report for more details.
At the terminal, boarding began around 11:30 a.m. We arrived at 12:30 p.m. and avoided the crowds that often form when everyone lines up early and has to wait for the check-in process to begin.
Within the terminal, cruisers join one of two lines to check in at one of about 20 manned stations.
A special line handles Latitudes members, the line's past guests. Suite guests are escorted to a terminal concierge desk for check-in (with a uniformed staffer ready to escort them onboard).
Reader's Hint: One way to speed your check-in process as we did is to use NCL's advance online check-in.
After a quick photo, we eagerly headed "up" to Norwegian Majesty. Be advised that the ramp to the ship can be extremely steep, depending on the tides. (see photo above with blue ramp*)
If you’re mobility-challenged, definitely ask for assistance! While an elevator will take you part way, there is yet another section of ramp to navigate prior to reaching the ship's entrance.
NCL's Freestyle Cruising
Crossing the ship's threshold, our cabin keycard was scanned. Yippee, we were now "officially" aboard! We savored the moment with a complimentary glass of “Welcome Bubbly” served to all guests.
(Above, the Norwegian Majesty is shown at sea**)
NCL features “Freestyle Cruising." You do what you wish, when you wish and with whom you wish. It's a most relaxing way to cruise.
Soon, we dropped our carry-on bags at our cabin and set off for a savory lunch at the Seven Seas Restaurant. Other guests chowed down at the lunch buffet at the Café Royale.
I knew before boarding that Norwegian Majesty was slated to leave the NCL fleet later this year for Louis Cruises. This summer, the ship will operate Bermuda cruises from Baltimore.
Norwegian Majesty also is the smallest and oldest ship in the NCL fleet. Thus, it's not representative of NCL's other newer, amenity-laden ships.
Still, the ship has some fun Freestyle options, so we believed we'd have a great time onboard.
(Shown above from left to right, are T. J. Blue; Goran Blomqvist, the NCL Majesty's Captain; and Carol Phillips Blue onboard Norwegian Majesty.*)
One plus? With only 1,400 passengers onboard compared with the 3,000-plus guests many mega-ships carry, the ship's size contributed to excellent service.
The staff and crew aboard Norwegian Majesty were unfailingly polite and helpful. We were greeted with big smiles and hellos whenever we passed a crewmember. The crew genuinely seemed happy to be there and to offer the guests the best time possible.
Other NCL ships have been purpose-built for Freestyle Cruising and boast up to 13 eclectic restaurants but, as an older vessel, Norwegian Majesty has just six.
These include the two main Restaurants, NCL's signature Le Bistro fine dining restaurant, The Pasta Café, Piazza San Marco (grill & pizzeria); and Café Royale Buffet. Plus, guests enjoy 24-hour room service.
We did enjoy such Freestyle features as "no fixed seating" and "no table assignments." We customized our dining each day according to our activities and whims. Reservations are encouraged, though, for LeBistro and the Pasta Café.
Resort casual clothing was appropriate for all evenings we spent onboard NCL. While one night of our seven-night cruise was “Dress Up … Or Not” night, it was mostly "or not" from what we observed.
We noticed one woman in a long gown and several in cocktail dresses. But, I didn't see anyone in a tuxedo.
We tried all the dining venues, and were quite pleased in all cases.
We made reservations for dinner at Le Bistro twice. While NCL has many complimentary dining venues included in the cruise fare, this specialty restaurant (shown at right**) carries a $15 cover charge per person.
We were seated as soon as we arrived. Escargots Bourguignon loaded with fragrant garlic was the appetizer of choice.
For the main course, I loved the beef tenderloin, which was perfectly cooked and tender. My husband ordered the rack of lamb both times, declaring it among the best he’d ever tasted.
Salads were fresh and crisp. Service was professional and timely … we never felt rushed or delayed.
In the past, LeBistro servers chanted “un, deux, trois, voila!” as they uncovered the entrée plates, but fortunately that routine has been discontinued.
The small Pasta Café is tucked into a corner of the Royal Observatory Lounge on Deck 9. The menu changes daily -- with one pasta offering and one non-pasta entrée daily. We dined there the first night and enjoyed Pasta Carbonara and Sirloin Tips. The food was fresh, delicious, and well-cooked.
Dessert was a flourless chocolate cake, as rich as fudge, which I can still taste … yummy. Service in the Pasta Café, while friendly, was noticeably slow.
The Seven Seas Restaurant is the larger of Norwegian Majesty's two main restaurants. It's also a more casual option -- with nice jean attire accepted for dinner, unlike on many ships. At the Four Seasons Restaurant, guests wear resort-casual clothing, but no jeans are permitted.
Of course, shorts are not permitted in any restaurant for dinner except the casual Piazza San Marco and the Buffet.
Twice we were seated in the main restaurants as soon as we arrived. One time we were asked to wait, but it took just seven minutes for a table to become available.
Breakfast and Lunch
For breakfast, guests might order continental breakfast to be served in their cabin via room service or enjoy a breakfast buffet in the Café Royale, which features omelet and waffle stations.
For a sit-down breakfast with a full menu of choices, the Seven Seas Restaurant (shown at left**) awaits.
Suite guests including yours truly were pampered with a special breakfast service. On Norwegian Majesty, it’s served in LeBistro.
Choices include omelets, Eggs Benedict (either traditional or Crab Cake Benedict), steak and eggs, vanilla-scented challah French toast and waffles.
On our cruise, a Jazz Brunch also was offered in the Four Seasons Restaurant. The surcharge was $15 per person.
It's no wonder I gained three pounds on this cruise...
As for lunch, guests have a choice of dining in the main Restaurant; at the Café Royale Buffet; or at the Piazza San Marco where they grill mouthwatering burgers and hot dogs 24 hours a day.
Chicken and sausage are often available as well. Sides include French fries, cold slaw, salad and the usual fixings.
We felt the Piazza San Marco had excellent outdoor seating and access for pool users.
Room service offered a fixed menu 24 hours a day. It was possible to veer away from the listings, though. One evening my husband had a hankering for a cookie, so I called room service and asked if they could accommodate his request.
The reply was “Madam, we have chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin. Which would you prefer?”. Ten minutes later cookies arrived at our cabin door! How I wish that would happen at home!
We’re not big show-goers, but Norwegian Majesty had a wide assortment of entertainment. The main evening shows were at 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.
Both were usually full. We arrived early to ensure good seats.
Cruise Director Denny Anderson was everywhere throughout the seven days. He hosted multiple events and greeted guests with a smile.
Comic Rod Long made us belly laugh. Juggler Barry John was amazing, especially working with the lower ceilings of Norwegian Majesty’s main stage.
Pianist/vocalist Brett Cave is an enormous talent. His music featured the tunes of Billy Joel, Elton John, Neil Sedaka and more. The audience was enthralled.
In Frame 52 Disco, guests enjoyed dance parties and NCL’s themed “White Hot Party”.
The Royal Fireworks Lounge was a soothing piano bar. (Its entrance is shown at right*)
The Royal Fireworks Lounge also hosted the daytime shipboard trivia contests.
More than 600 guests onboard - ourselves included -- were past guests and, thus, members of Latitudes.
We enjoyed the special Latitudes party for past guests. (shown in the photo at left.*)
More Freestyle Fun
Scheduled talks for guests included Shore Excursions, Port & Shopping, Destination Bermuda, Disembarkation Information, and more.
Onboard activities generally began at 8 a.m. and lasted into the wee hours of the next morning. Energetic types were on Deck 7 at 8 a.m. for a Mile Walk of four laps around the ship.
One decadent highlight was Thursday’s 11 p.m. Chocoholic Buffet in the Four Seasons Restaurant. It featured wall-to-wall chocolate goodies.
Internet access was available in the Internet Café (shown at right*). We also had Wi-Fi in our cabin, making it easier to use our laptop.
We chose the 250 minute plan for $100. We also received an extra 30 minutes of time for buying the package on embarkation day and being Latitudes members.
Shopping and the Spa
The shops aboard Norwegian Majesty carried a wide assortment of NCL logo items. The last day featured a special Bermuda T-shirt sale at two for $25. There were also sales at the onboard jewelry store, tobacco and liquor shop.
As a benefit of being a Latitudes guest, we received 10 percent off our purchases in the Onboard Tax & Duty Free Ships, excluding watches, sale items and other special offers.
If frenetic shopping isn't your thing, perhaps a pampering spa treatment is. The Mandara Spa offered a full list of massages, facials and hair & nail services.
We noticed there were specially-priced offerings each day including mini-massages and mini-facials at greatly reduced pricing.
(The Norwegian Majesty's colorful bow is shown at left.*)
NCL’s innovative Cruise Rewards program - only available onboard -- allowed us to place $250 on our onboard account to serve as our full cabin deposit for a future cruise.
As a bonus, we received $100 onboard credit immediately on our account … so the cruise deposit nets out to be just $150, which we considered a deal. The only caveat is that we must take that cruise within four years.
If you use a travel agent, the good news is that your agent will get credit for the booking and assist you with the arrangements for the future cruise.
Although I’m not focusing on Bermuda in this piece, we were so pleased to be welcomed into St George’s (shown above*) by a costumed “Town Crier”.
He and other Bermuda residents stood on the rocks at the narrow Town Cut, where the ship enters St George’s Harbor.
He called a hearty welcome to the Norwegian Majesty. A cannon also boomed a greeting. The ship answered with three whistles.
(The town crier and a historic fortification are shown at right.*)
We docked at Ordnance Island in St George’s, and our understanding is that the Norwegian Majesty is one of the last ships (due to its smaller size) able to dock at St George’s.
That’s too bad, because St George’s, in our opinion, offers a beautiful and historic experience.
Our ship stayed in Bermuda for nearly 72 hours, and served as our home base as we explored the 22-mile long island.
Stay tuned, as I plan to submit some observations of my Bermuda destination experience to SouthernCruising.com in the near future.
Our return into Charleston was delayed by an hour or so due to mechanical difficulties en route. Express walk-off -- in which passengers take all their baggage with them -- was scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. but didn’t begin until around 9 a.m.
Suite guests were next off, leaving the ship around 9:45 a.m. Various colors of baggage tags were called next. The bus groups left last - around 11 a.m.
We had our keycards scanned for the last time, navigated the steep downwards ramp into the cruise terminal, and retrieved our luggage from the appropriate colored-tag section.
Porters were easily available. Ours escorted us through U.S. Customs and to a shuttle bus in front of the terminal.
The shuttle buses each tow a cargo trailer (see photo at left.*) to accommodate the luggage of departing passengers.
By 10:15 a.m., we were driving home, savoring memories of our cruise.
But we also turned our thoughts to next spring, when we again cruise from Charleston on Celebrity Cruises’ Mercury to the western Caribbean. I can't wait!
For more information on NCL Freestyle Cruising and NCL's other voyages from the U.S. South, talk with your travel agent or visit www.ncl.com.
Editor's Note: Thanks to Carol Phillips Blue for this Traveler's Tale. Carol is an experienced traveler, a former travel agent and a former television personality. She's an enthusiastic lady and her observations are usually "right on." Stay tuned for an upcoming look at her Bermuda destination experience.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used here courtesy of T. J. (Thomas) Blue. All rights reserved. Do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.
**Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line. All rights reserved. Do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.