Norwegian Dream
19 Day Transatlantic - Houston Texas to Dover England
April 14 2007 - May 3 2007
By Tucker

Norwegian Dream
Norwegian Dream



This is going to be a tricky review to write because I don't want it to come off negative. We booked this cruise because the embarkation port is 10 miles from our house, the itinerary was where we wanted to go, the price was right. I read many reviews on the Dream so I knew what to expect and, as a result, we had a great cruise/experience. To be forewarned is to be forearmed and I want to forearm you as much as possible so you, too, will have a successful cruise. 

The Dream is an older ship that was stretched in the late 90's. More cabins were added but, unfortunately, infrastructure was not and, therein, lies most of the problems with her. Add to that NCL's never ending quest for a lucrative bottom line, service staff spread too thin to do a good job, and you have 90 percent of the problems that you would encounter cruising with her. 

Embarkation 

We did not get to port until 2:30 p.m. so the main crowds had cleared out and embarkation was as fast as you could walk. They did ask me to open my carry-on and did inspect my three bottles of soda very carefully to see the seal was still intact. They took up all alcohol they found in carry-ons. I am not sure if they also got it from checked baggage but know suitcases have it has been "flagged" in the past after being x-rayed and you had to go down, open your suitcase, and hand over the offending items. They are wise to booze in soda bottles, Listerine bottles, etc. I fully expected to be called down as I had a multitude of soda in all three suitcases but was not. My box-o-wine (wrapped as a gift) and other people's boxes-o-wine made it through much to the jealousy of other passengers (lol). I also had bottles of "facial cleanser" in my suitcases. Since our luggage just about beat us to the cabin, I don't think they were x-raying checked bags on this cruise. To bring back alcohol from the shore, buy small bottles and stick them in your pockets as they don't frisk you. 

Cabin 

We had a cabin on the Promenade deck, EE category-7247. It is sold as an "obstructed" view but the only obstruction was the width of the deck. However, those forward (and higher category) could have slight obstructions from the bottoms of life boats and superstructure holding them up. Since the Promenade deck was heavily used as a jogging track (walking track more applicable on this cruise), I was worried about people seeing in the large picture window. They are tinted so you cannot see in them from the outside during the day. However, at night, it is a lighted stage inside the cabin so you do have to mind closing the curtains (which our cabin steward did). 

There were only four small drawers but plenty of shelf space in the closet even for a 19 day cruise. I didn't need my hanging shoe bag. I took a handful of wire hangers and was glad I did as there would not have been enough of their hangers. A safe was in the closet. Our bed was made up as a queen with one bottom sheet. It had a duvet rather than top sheet and blanket. It did "sag" in the middle of each "side" but nothing too unmanageable. The two seater sofa and drum chair were not that comfortable so when we wanted to read, we usually went to a lounge. A small TV had CNN and ESPN on it for a few days, then switched to Fox News which we found useless in keeping up with news and sports. Movies, etc. were shown on it, also. Suitcases fit under the bed. There was a small vanity with an equally small drawer tucked in a corner. The only electrical outlet was located there so bring a power strip/extension cord if you are going to be charging a lot of things. There may be another outlet behind the unit holding the TV you can get to by removing a drawer. Not sure, though. There was a "razor" outlet in the bathroom also. 

The bathroom was small but functional. There was a three-shelf corner unit which held our toiletries. I always put my small make-up items in a water glass to keep them from rolling off and have them accessible. A shelf under the sink wasn't really wide enough to hold anything but my hot rollers. A hair dryer that I did not use and heard was not very good was also in the bathroom. There was a small tray on the sink holding a shoe shine rag, shower cap, and body lotion. Shampoo and soap were in dispensers in the shower and another dispenser of soap by the sink. 

Early on, we noticed that our sink was draining very slowly but not bad enough to ask for a repair. However, our cabin steward picked up on it and had it fixed. Hot water was sometimes a problem. We only encountered it twice. Once it came back in a few minutes, the last night, it never did-or at least while we were awake. I heard some cabins were without hot water for days though. 

We loved the location of our cabin. We were steps from the elevator and a door out to the Promenade deck, right below the Terrace and Trottoria restaurants, and the Sport's Bar grill. The other restaurant and show room were more mid-ship so everything was near at hand. I liked the smallness of the ship as I never felt I had to pack a lunch to go from one end to the other. The cabins are very sound proof, joggers/walkers never bothered us at all. The last day they were off loading luggage very loudly with fork lifts, etc., right under our deck and we did not hear a thing in the cabin. Very impressed with that. 

We had two cabin stewards-a head one and a trainee who had 38 cabins assigned to them. They would come in the morning, make the bed, clean the bathroom, vacuum the floor. In the evenings, turn down the bed, do the bathroom. No time to tidy up like in the old days. Again, spread too thin. Someone had to be at the "end of the line" which meant once our room had not been turned down at 10:00 p.m. or made up at noon even though the "make the room up" thingee had been put out hours before. Once they got an idea of our schedule, they worked around it pretty well so we were not inconvenienced. All requests were met with a smile. I bought a foam cooler from home about the size of a six-pack cooler that my eye medicine is shipped in. It kept the ice pretty well as the ice bucket produced a puddle pretty quickly. I used it to ice down my wine which I transferred from the box into a soda bottle. 

Cabins forward of the showroom on Deck 10 do present a bit of inconvenience. To get to them, you had to go through the theater. If a show was going on or they were rehearsing, you had to go down to Deck 9 and then back up to Deck 10 to get to your cabins. I heard minor grumbling about that. Avoid Cabin 5001 at all costs unless, to quote the occupant "you like sleeping with the anchor." Apparently it "clangs" against the side of the cabin all cruise long. I think he was moved eventually. 

The Rest of the Ship 

I thought the ship was in good condition considering its age and the fact we were told it was sold after the South American season but then I am not that picky either. 

My husband says the jogging track around the Promenade deck is the best he has seen on any cruise. It is marked with distances, a cushioned surface, not obstructed with deck chairs although there are "benches" along side where extra life jackets are stored. 

The Library is worthless, bring your own books. They took what was the library and made it into an Internet Café leaving only a few shelves for books. A daily crossword puzzle (not very challenging) and word find were available there. 

The showroom is the "old fashioned" kind with "sofas" and chairs clustered around small cocktail tables on the main floor. There were a few rows of theater seating way in the back. Posts obstruct views, chairs get moved around so it is hard to get to some seating towards the middle, and I didn't even want to think about a fire. Not very big so seats were hard to find close to show time. There was not a big incline so if you were in the back, it could be hard to see. I did not see people saving bunches of seats-maybe just one or two for a companion. 

The main pool was heated. There was also another pool and two hot tubs. If you wanted a lounge, you had to go up a deck as around the pool were only tables and chairs to be used by people eating at the Pizzeria buffet or other food prepared there. I did not use the spa facilities or the beauty parlor so I can't comment on those. I did hear one gentleman complain that he went to the gym and was told he had to have a "trainer"' at extra cost, of course. I don't know if it was mandatory--he said all he want to do is use the treadmill--or was intimidated by the hard sell enough that he decided to just forget it. 

The casino slots surprised me in that there were mostly nickel, quarter and a few penny slots and very few dollar slots (which I never saw anyone playing) only one $5 one. A couple of blackjack tables, a crap table, roulette (no thingee that tells you what numbers have hit recently but they will provide you with a piece of paper and a pencil), a poker table. The blackjack tables had continuous shuffling machines so card counting was not going to help. I heard the slots were tight (doh) and can attest to it. A group of us pooled $20 each for a total of $220. We decided on Wheel of Fortune $1 machine. We played three bucks at a time and would run the money through once divvying up what was left. Husband, the analyst, said we should get 90 percent back and a half hour of entertainment. We played out our $220 with less than half our stake left. One of the players ponied up $2 out of his pocket and a "stranger" gave us another dollar to play one more time because we had $102 left and it would divide much better if there was only $99 left. That spin got three more dollars so they took that to play again. Would you believe on the next last spin we hit $100 so we ended up getting back $18 per person. Husband smirked "told you so, 90 percent back." They did have various "tournaments" during the week. I did not see the casino being heavily used, though. 

Bars were scattered throughout. Dazzles had a small dance floor-more of the disco type. Dancing was held in the main theater before and after shows some evenings and also available in the Observation Lounge. There were male partners for the ladies. The dance floors were pretty small, though. 

I didn't find long waits for the elevators. They were small but unless someone was on a scooter, they never were full except at times you would expect them to be-like after a show. 

Activities 

To me, there seemed to be plenty of them but I heard others complain there wasn't enough to fill up the many sea days. We are trivia players and on sea days there were two, sometimes three, games a day. The evening game was "progressive." You formed a team and that team played every evening and at the end, the team with the most points won a bag of NCL goodies. The daytime games were regular ones. Prizes were either non-existent, a punch on your activity card you could redeem for things at the end of the cruise but you needed a whole lot of them, or a bookmark a couple of times. In other words, you were playing for "bragging rights." 

Much to my happiness, there was organized bridge on sea days. In the morning they held a lecture. In the afternoons there was a "sanctioned" duplicate game. I was lucky enough to find "another man in my life" who partnered with me. Jim had the patience of Job with me and was a delight to play with. The directors, Tony and Josephine Cafaro were very good and, also, by chance, were our Progressive Trivia team mates. 

There were lectures in the Observation Lounge but you had to get there early to get a seat as it was not large enough. Also held were the usual Art Auction which pretty much took up all of Deck 9's space when in session, sales promotion seminars, napkin folding, ice carving, bingo, karoke, a passenger talent show-the usual things. Craft classes were held but I didn't attend any so I don't know if there were fees involved for the class or supplies. 

Food 

NCL works on the theory "a full mouth is a quiet mouth." There were plenty of opportunities to fill the mouth. 

As mentioned before, the infrastructure for dining was limited so it was spread out a bit. Two main dining rooms. One was open for breakfast and lunch. The Sport's Bar Grill open for all meals and 24 hours a day for coffee/tea/hot chocolate-no lemonade. However, it is way too small for the number of passengers. Thirty-forty tables maximum. It was loud and could get warm with all the bodies in there. They had two buffet lines to move things along. They allowed you to serve yourself from the buffet which made me nervous with the Norwalk Virus around even though hand sanitizers were all over the place and you were encouraged constantly to use them. However, no one was standing there to make sure you did. Also no trays so sometimes it took multiple trips to get everything you needed. The Pizzeria had a continental breakfast which was moved to the Trottoria when the weather got cool as seating is outside around the pool. The juice dispensers in the pizzeria were "closed" after breakfast but if you could remember which spigot dispensed what you wanted, you could still get juice out of them. Also on the pool deck was an omelet and waffle station. The bacon was crispy, yessssss. At noon, weather permitting, they had barbeque/Mexican food on deck along with hot dogs/hamburgers/pasta and other items in the Pizzeria. When it got too cold to serve on the deck during lunch, they served cold cut sandwiches and soup in Dazzles. No free beverage service there so if you wanted something to drink you had to go to the bar and ask for a glass of water or purchase a soft drink. In the afternoon they had "tea" which is really "snacks" rather than the type of tea time on other ships. Again, you served yourself sandwiches, scones, and sweets. Late night snacks were served in the Sports Bar and Grill and the casino. Bottom line, you never went hungry. 

Food is subjective so I won't go into comments about the quality of it. Lobster was only served one night. They had beef tournedos one night that were delicious. The only truly awful things I had were the chocolate crepes (chocolate flour tortillas with some kind of faux chocolate sauce on them) and a Monte Cristo sandwich which resembled nothing I have ever seen under that description. The presentation of the food was excellent. 

Le Bistro is their extra charge restaurant. It is $15 pp except on certain days they have it for $15 for two if you have a 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. reservation. However, if you want the really good stuff like filet mignon, lamb chops, upgraded onion soup, upgraded dessert, it is another $10 pp (you have to squint good to find that little info at the bottom of the right hand page of the menu posted). I heard people that ate there said it was just wonderful and worth every cent. I heard people say it wasn't worth the extra price. 

Freestyle 

The ship was not built to accommodate Freestyle dining and it was apparent. The dining venues for "white table cloth" service were the two main dining rooms, the Trattoria, and Le Bistro. The first few days you made reservations for all of them. Then, they discontinued reservations in the two main dining rooms-it was first come, first served. You still needed them for Trattoria and Le Bistro. If you didn't make advance reservations a couple of days before you wanted them, then in the Trattoria it would be after 8:00 for the most part and Le Bistro not available. This presented a problem if you are like us and wanted to see what was on the menu at the regular dining room before falling back to the Trattoria if nothing appealed. 

Service was very slow and very spotty in the main dining rooms. Count on two plus hours for dinner, hour plus for lunch or breakfast. This is not the fault of the servers. They are spread too thin. They hustled the entire time; the dining room is just flat understaffed for this type service or their organization for filling orders is insufficient. There always seemed to be a long wait between the end of the meal and getting dessert. You had to ask for things like butter, water/ice tea refills, coffee, which sometimes you got in a timely fashion and sometimes you didn't get at all. 

Timing was a problem for us. We played trivia at 6:00. Our choices were to immediately leave trivia at 6:30 and run to the dining room before the 6:00 show let out or to be prepared for a half-hour to 45 minute wait for a table. Even going at 6:30, it was a gamble whether you would be out in time for the 8:30 show and, if you were, there was a good chance no seats would be available. Consequently, we saw very few shows. When the shows were at different times like 7:15 and 9:00, you really had to work your timing. 

We mostly ate in the Terraces restaurant because it was closest to our cabin. I liked the ambiance of it better anyway. We also had several meals in the Trattoria whose menu remains just about the same every night. Even though our reservations would be for 8:00, we would go up earlier and usually get seated right away. We would always ask for sharing. A couple of times there was no one to share with and another few times we would be seated but would choose to wait a few minutes for the next "sharing" people to come in. This added additional time to our meal experience but we didn't mind as we had nothing else to do anyway. We liked being able to meet and talk with different people every night. 

Frankly, I don't think I gave Freestyle a fair chance. I would like to try it on a ship that was designed for it and see if the service/time was any better. 

Tours 

If at all possible, get them on your own. Not that difficult with the internet and recommendations on the various forums like Cruise Critic. Not only are they cheaper, you have control not having to waste time waiting for a bus to load/unload, cooling your heels at shopping stops, waiting for the person who is always late. The only one we booked through NCL was the Normandy Beaches which we felt we had to because of the nine hour length and distance from the ship involved. Too risky to go out on our own and possibly miss the ship when it left. We were very satisfied with it. I did not hear any complaints at all about the ship's tours, other than the high prices, so they do have good providers. 

Smoking 

Smoking is not allowed in the dining rooms or theatre. The 9th deck is smoke-free which is good because that is where you have to wait to get your dinner table so you spend a lot of time there (lol). Dazzles Lounge has smoking on one side separated from the other side by the dance floor, bar, and band area. Observation Lounge has smoking on one side also separated by a larger dance floor, bar, and band area. Allowed in the casino. I assume allowed in cabins since I didn't see a no-smoking sign. 

NCL's quest for your almighty buck 

Let's start with alcohol. The cheapest glass of white wine is $5.75 (add 15% tip to all the figures) for something called Hogue Fume Blanc. A bottle is $26. Chardonnay is $7 , bottle $32. St. Francis Merlot is $5.50 a glass/$24 a bottle. Most of the wines are $7 and up per glass/$36 a bottle. Beringer White Zin is $5.25 a glass; $22 a bottle was the lowest. The glasses were only about 1/3 full of wine-I guess their wine needed a lot of "breathing" room. Daily frou frou drink is $8 in a souvenir glass; Smoothie drink is $9 ($6 with no booze); Martinis $7.50 and up. Cocktails $5.50; plain drinks $5.75 (and not very strong, I heard, but good brands of alcohol). Not an alcohol drinker? Do they have a deal for you! $163 plus tip for a fountain coke card for the entire cruise. That breaks down to $10.50 a day with tip. A can of soda is $2.02 including tip; a fountain drink is $1.25 plus tip. You would have to drink a lot of soda to come out o.k. on that. Bloody Mary/Screwdriver for $5.50 from 9:00 - 11:00 a.m. Beer was $4 or so a bottle. You could buy a "helmet" where you got five and the sixth was free. 

Moving on, need to exchange your money? For a mere $7 per transaction they will get you euros with an exchange rate that is not exactly favorable. For another $7, they will buy them back (no coins, though). 

Want a ride into town? They have shuttle buses. For $18 round trip, you could catch a shuttle in the Azores into a town that you could see from the ship, you just had to walk a long way around to get to it. We (four of us) took a 5 hour tour from the dock with a private company for 25 euros each including a generous tip (the ship's price for a tour that covered less was $60 pp) In Dublin the price to town was $16 and they said was a 25 minute bus ride. We took a cab for four for 10 euros total which took 12 minutes. Our Normandy Beach's tour is $12 less on Celebrity. In Cork we had a tour for 19 euros each with a private vendor, the ship wanted more than twice that for the same tour. 

Need laundry done? They will do a small sack for $25. By the piece undergarments were $1.25; socks $1; t-shirt $3; etc. Dry cleaning also available, $10.50 for a suit. 

Cell phone service was available at the same price as a ship's phone service-around $7 a minute. 

Hometown newspaper Xerox copies of the highlights--$3.75 per day subscription required. 

Of course other money makers are photos, bingo, Krack Pull Tabs, Beauty service (I heard a manicure/pedicure was over $100), internet usage, casino, etc. Anyway, you get the gist-be prepared to fork up money for just about anything they can figure they can charge you for. Your cruise fare is almost like a down payment for the cruise. 

Basically they are cutting corners wherever they can. An example is the "disappearing blue book." One day a blue binder of the type you get in hotels telling you their services, included some stationery appeared. I put it in the bedside table cubby to read later. The next day, it was gone. Apparently, you have to share with other cabins. So when your turn comes, read it fast! 

Tipping/Service Charge 

NCL adds $10 a day per person to your ship account to cover "service" from your cabin steward(s), wait staff, and others who stock the buffet, etc. This is basically their salary. Even though the service in the dining room was poor, they were doing the best they could under the circumstances and they did take your order and bring your food. It amounts to about a dollar pp per meal when you get down to it which isn't that much. I will admit the $7 per cabin a day to the room steward(s) is pushing it a little but, still, they deserve to get paid and they bend over backwards to please you. Anything we asked for was promptly provided like wine glasses, cork screw, extra copy of the Freestyle Daily newsletter, etc. I also would leave a $2 bill and a piece of candy for the room stewards with a note thanking them every other day or so which could have helped the cause along. We kept a supply of $2 on us to tip out the wait staff, also, if we felt they deserved it. However, that only happened once-when we got our meal in an hour and a half. Some people were going to go down to the desk and demand it be removed. I don't know how successful they were, though. So just figure in the service charge when you price out the cruise. I will say, the crew members were very friendly and gracious in spite of a lot of not so gracious passengers when they didn't get what they wanted when they wanted it. I don't think the lack of service could be directly attributable to knowing their tip was in hand. They were just overworked. 

Post cruise in London 

We bought the two day post cruise package from NCL as it was the path of least resistance. It covered our transport into London from Dover and two nights at the hotel. I checked around for hotel rooms and really didn't find any for less than $200 a night so when you added that along with the cost to get to London (NCL did not offer transportation to London from the ship, just to the airport--$80 pp if you didn't buy their air package) we probably came out about even. Our hotel was the Holiday Inn Forum which was located close to a tube station in Kensington and included a continental breakfast. We were very satisfied with the accommodations. However, there is no safe in the room. There wee safes available in a room off the lobby. I don't know if they charged for them, though. They even had ice on the 25th floor but you need your own container as I didn't see any around and there was no ice bucket in the room. There was an ATM machine at the hotel but it charged 1.75 pounds per transaction. Right down the street across from the tube station is a bank with an ATM. 

We bought day passes for the tube which was 10.60 pounds for the two of us-- only good after 9:30 a.m. which suited our schedule. 

To get to the airport we were on our own since we did not get our air through NCL. We took a cab to Victoria station and then caught the "local" train to Gatwick. The cab was 10 pounds including tip. A tube ticket to Victoria Station would have been 4 pounds each and we would have to wrestle our luggage up and down steps. The train was 8.40 pounds each. An express to Gatwick would take ten minutes less and cost twice as much. We went to Victoria station the day before and got our tickets and scoped the situation out. There were signs indicating that you could buy your ticket on the train at no additional cost. The whole process from hotel to Gatwick, check-in, through security took 2 ½ hours. Keep in mind, though, it was a Saturday at 7:20 a.m. so traffic to Victoria Station was not heavy. 

Kudo's to NCL for Help 

My friend lost her purse in the Azores which contained, among other things, her passport, money, credit cards, and sign and sail card We were not on a ship's tour when this happened but, still, NCL went the extra mile to help her replace the passport in Dublin by setting up an appointment at the American Embassy, arranging for a cab to pick her up and taking passport photos. They gave her a phone call to cancel her credit cards. They arranged for the police and port authority reports. They checked with her off and on to update her on arrangements-even gave her a free tote bag to replace the one she lost. She was very grateful. Note: NEVER TAKE YOUR PASSPORT ASHORE, leave it in your safe and take a photo copy with you off the ship just in case the awful thing happens and you miss the ship. 

Dress 

When they say wear what you want, when you want, they are not kidding. There was really no set "formal" nights other than at the noon announcements the CD said "y'all can dress up tonight if you want." I figured right off we didn't need to bring the tux for Richard--a dark suit would do along with a blazer and dress pants. I took black silk pants and two glittery tops. A few dressed up formally on some nights I think just to make carrying those clothes worthwhile. We did for just for that reason. To me it is a "waste" because you could be sitting there in your tux and long dress at a table with people in khaki's, polo shirts, and ReeBoks. Keeping in mind this is an older, veteran cruising group on the ship, I did find that some of the men changed out of the polo's into sports shirts. Some wore a sport's jacket (no tie) with their polo's or sports shirts. The women also upgraded their outfits a little from daytime wear to maybe a nice blouse or sweater set. but it really wasn't necessary. Whatever you had on short of formal clothes some would be dressed dressier than you and some would be dressed down from you. You didn't stick out like a sore thumb no matter what you had on. I'll bet on a newer ship on a seven day cruise that attracts younger people, most of the people wouldn't change at all. 

Conclusions and other notes 

We had calm seas crossing. Probably the worse part was from Houston to Miami where I did see some barf bags discreetly placed around. Maybe one or two other days when we were in the Atlantic. I did not hear of any wholesale sea sickness, though. I took a ginger tablet every morning and evening as a prevention. Husband did not and he did just fine. 

You have to read the Freestyle Daily carefully. For instance, the chocoholic buffet was held for one hour in the afternoon yet the only mention of it was tucked away in the dining hours listing on the back which you would assume would be the same every day and probably would not read line by line each day. While trivia was held at 6:00 most nights, one night it was 6:15. Other trivia games held during the day were at various times. 

If the price is right and you can roll with the punches this was a good ship. We certainly had a good time and don't regret it at all. We liked the size, the opportunity to get to know fellow passengers because you do see them frequently. In fact, we are thinking about doing the return flip from Barcelona to Miami in the fall. However, if I was contemplating the South American itinerary in the winter, I would investigate other lines and, if the price is comparable, go with them. My gut feeling is since it is sold after the winter season, anything that needs to be done will be given the band-aid treatment to keep it going until they can unload it and what were minor inconveniences on our cruise could become major on down the line-like lack of hot water or toilets not working. 

P.S. Since returning home, I heard the ship will be deployed to Boston for a Bermuda run next summer. Don't know if that is true or not. All I can say is the crew said after South America it was being "retired." 

If you have any specific questions, feel free to e-mail me. tucker at seacruisechat.com