Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Bigger better? Possibly

With thanks to Norwegian Jewel for lunch today
Six weeks is a long time on this blog. December 16 is when I was marvelling at my shameless selling out on my proud snobbery about big cruise ships, by accepting a free lunch (no such thing) on board the Explorer Dream, a Chinese-owned vessel that accommodates just under 1900 passengers. That's way beyond my personal tolerance of about 600, and I was fully prepared to sneer. And, in fact, I wasn't won over, but - important proviso, this - with most passengers presumably ashore enjoying Auckland's mid-city roadwork chaos, I appreciated the public spaces and could see how other people might be able to put up with the thronging at-sea population, in return for all the nice things that were on offer.
So what did I find myself doing today? Only selling out again, even bigger-time, by accepting ditto (ditto) on board the confusingly similar-looking Norwegian Jewel, which hosts an even larger complement of 2,376 passengers. At this rate, I'll be trundling mechanically onto the Ovation of the Seas in a month's time, mingling with its 4,905 captives guests. 
Because, again, I got sucked in. NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line) pride themselves on many things, the most salient here being that they invented the ship-within-a-ship concept that so impressed me when I encountered it for the first time on Explorer Dream. On Norwegian Jewel, it's called The Haven, and there are only 14 staterooms in this exclusive section of the ship. They accommodate from 3 to 8 people, depending - the biggest is the Garden Villa, which is bigger than some houses I've lived in, with three bedrooms, a dining room, and a huge sitting room complete with grand piano, plus a private deck with a hot tub (though you have to share that with the corresponding suite, tch). No actual garden though, pft.
At the other end of the scale are the interior cabins that we don't usually get shown on media tours because they are, honestly, dark and poky. But our guide stressed throughout  that, increasingly, multi-generational family groups are sailing together, and the grandkids don't complain about their box-like bedrooms because the ship has so many treats for them elsewhere that they just fall into bed and straight to sleep at the end of entertainingly busy days.
Entertaining for everyone, that is - an advantage these bigger ships have over Silversea (my default comparison) is the shows. The theatre is properly big and the stage ditto, so they can put on really impressive things like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Broadway shows, where you feel you're at a professional event, rather than an upscale school production (sorry, Voices of Silversea). 
There are 15 dining and drinking options on the ship and, though our lunch today was a bit ordinary, we heard plenty of enthusiasm from the guide about the standard and variety of food on offer. He guaranteed weight gain, which none of us recommended as an advertising theme (viewing the stern as I ferry'd away afterwards, I reckoned mine might end up looking similar). We also all jumped when he told us the name of the restaurant we would be eating at: Tsar's. Say it aloud.
The range of deals on board was a bit daunting for those of us accustomed to all-inclusive pricing - but, of course, that appeals to people who, say, don't drink. But the gratuity surcharge would always be painful, I reckon. Don't get me started on the curse that is tipping. Anyway, Norwegian Jewel: would I say yes? Um, probably - but only if I stayed in The Haven, and even then, probably only as a family group holiday, which I do agree would promise an appealing level of generational acceptability, and subsequent fun.

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