Seven Savory Eateries on Norwegian Bliss

With the biggest eating holiday of the year upon us, today seemed like a good day to write-up our dining experience on the Norwegian Bliss! Before we get there, however, I’ll point out that I’m only covering the specialty restaurants we chose to eat at, not any of the free options. We did eat at The Local, Taste, Savor and even the Manhattan Room one night, which were fine, but the specialties are what really stand out with the Norwegian Freestyle experience.

The topic of specialty restaurants sometimes sparks some lively discussion regarding the perception of nickel-and-diming by the various lines, and I have no illusion that some will be turned off by me only covering those here. As ships have gotten bigger, the number of specialty restaurants on board has grown too, giving the lines additional revenue opportunities. In the past we rarely ate at specialty restaurants, save for the occasional steakhouse on a special occasion, but those were few and far between. That all changed on our Norwegian Escape sailing three years ago when we decided to give some of the restaurants on that ship a shot, and we were not disappointed! With another sailing on Norwegian, purchasing a dining package was a no brainer for us. If you’re looking for ideas of places to try on the Bliss, read on!

Q Texas Smokehouse

This is one of the three places we chose to use our dining package on, and frankly I wasn’t sure what to expect since the reviews all seem rather mixed. After we were seated, the waitress came by and explained how things worked with the dining package, and I have to say, I was unprepared for what this would mean to my stomach. Before we get in to this, take a look at the menu located here. You get as many appetizers as you want, an entrée with as many sides as you want, along with a dessert. If you looked at the menu, keep in mind that you can get the Pitmaster Platter as your entree too!

As shown in the pics below, I started with the Deviled Eggs and Loaded Chips. For my entrée, the Beef and Pork Sausage Platter with corn on the cob and mac & cheese as my sides. Everything was delicious, especially the deviled eggs and sausage. By this point we were both stuffed, but knowing we still had a dessert menu to look at, we soldiered on. The decision really wasn’t that hard. Jen went with the Mason Jar Bread Pudding, and I chose the Bread Pudding w/Whiskey Sauce. Yowza they were good. This proved to be an excellent start to our dining experience on the Bliss!

Le Bistro

Night two brought us to the one place I was a bit apprehensive about, Le Bistro. I say that because I don’t really get too adventurous with food. I know what I like and I tend to stick to it, and knowing this was a French venue had me concerned that I’d have a hard time finding something I liked. Boy was I wrong!

We used the dining package for this one as well, and as before, the waitress said that we could choose more than one appetizer if we wanted to (menu for reference). I chose to only have one due to my aforementioned pickiness when it comes to eating. Frankly, I didn’t see anything in the list I really wanted, but chose to try the Gratiné A L’oignon (Onion Soup), and I was glad I did. I’m not a big soup fan and I don’t like onions, which should have been the death knoll of this choice, but it was outstanding! Following my delicious soup, it was entrée time! This was a bit easier, as I’m all about some filet mignon, so I went with the Filet de boeuf grillé. Again, excellent! Easily the best filet I’ve had on any ship we’ve sailed, and it was cooked to a perfect medium rare as ordered. Once we finished the entrées, it was time to choose our dessert. Jen chose the Chocolate Fondue for Two, and I went with the Profiteroles. Both were excellent, but I learned I need more profiteroles in my life. Those things were soooo good.

This restaurant is situated in a quiet nook on deck 16, and isn’t really a place you wear shorts and t-shirts to. If you’re looking for a nice quiet, romantic meal aboard the Bliss, this is where you want to go! I should also mention that the service in Le Bistro was some of the best we’ve experienced at any restaurant, land or sea. This is near the top of my all-time favorite shipboard eateries!

Teppanyaki

Night 3 brought us to one of the venues we’d been looking forward to since we booked this cruise, Teppanyaki, which was also the last restaurant on our dining package. As mentioned in the Escape post, this was one of the best Japanese steakhouses we’ve ever eaten at, so we were hoping the Bliss version of it would live up to that. Spoiler alert: It did! That garlic fried rice is some of the best out there, and once again, my filet mignon was cooked perfectly. As the chef doles out certain items like rice, he cooks extra in case anyone wants seconds. Jen and I took him up on that for rice, and somehow I got a lot of extra filet. A couple of minutes after serving me my helping of steak, he sent another round my way. What you see in the picture below is only the first helping. I had almost double that shortly after the picture was taken!

Excellent food, excellent service, and a great show from the chef left us happy with our choice once again. Teppanyaki is definitely a favorite of ours and one I highly recommend trying if you sail a Norwegian ship that has it!

Cagney’s Steakhouse

On the 4th night of our sailing, we were invited to Cagney’s as part of an industry-related meeting, so we were on someone else’s tab for this one :). We’d eaten here on the Escape and enjoyed it, but hadn’t planned to eat here until we got the invite. This is an easy one for me to find food I like, as I’m very much a meat and potatoes kinda guy.

Starting off, I went with the Pork Belly appetizer and Iceberg Wedge salad (menu for reference). Both were tasty, but those pork belly squares are a home run! For my appetizer, surprise, another filet! While it was cooked medium rare as ordered and tasty, the filets at Le Bistro and Teppanyaki were definitely better. This just seemed a little dry to me, so it was nice to have the chimichurry sauce to go with it.

The desserts here were pretty good, with my chocolate cake being really, really rich. One of the other people at our table got the warm brownie dessert, and I think we all wished we’d have gotten it after sampling it, super tasty!

Food Republic

After we sailed on the Escape, this was just below Teppanyaki as one of my all-time favorite restaurants on a ship, so I was very much looking forward to eating here on the Bliss. This one’s not part of the dining packages, it’s an a-la-cart fusion restaurant that combines various cooking styles and culinary traditions set in a venue that offers plentiful sea views. On the Escape, I really enjoyed the Wagyu bone-in rib-eye, and I was a little disappointed when I saw that wasn’t on the menu anymore, but my disappointment subsided as we started ordering. Here’s where I remind you that it’s a-la-cart, and the bill can add up pretty quickly as you start ordering things for yourself and things to share. I should also link to menus for this place (these are not my menu shots, sy the way): Handhelds/Sharables, Rice/Noodles/Grill, Drinks/Desserts. We did order more than we really needed, but it was really tasty and I’m pretty sure we finished everything. From the Korean Fried Chicken to the Peruvian Beef Skewers, Chicken Teriaki, Kimchi Fried Rice, ending with the Baklava, everything was delicious. To me, this is a must-visit on Norwegian ships that have it!

Los Lobos

We’d originally intended on using one of our three dining credits here, but got a last-minute industry invite, so this ended up being another one we didn’t have to pay for. Huge thank you to our hostess for the invite, we had a great time here!

Los Lobos sits at the back of the ship next to Cagney’s, and is considered upscale Mexican. Jen’s a taco lover, and I’m always up for a good burrito, and Los Lobos didn’t disappoint. I started things with one of their signature drinks, the Luna Margarita, which was excellent! The Burrito Rojo (which I ordered with ground beef) was quite delicious as well, as was the queso we had to dip our chips in to start things off. Unfortunately, all I have pictures of here are the margarita and burrito, as we were focused on the food and discussions around the table, and I forgot to snap the room or appetizers. Oh well, next time! Here’s the menu for reference too. If you’re in the mood for Mexican food, give Los Lobos a try!

Margaritaville

The final stop on our specialty dining tour was at Margaritaville. When we sailed the Escape in 2015, there was no additional charge for this venue, but that led to huge waits for seating, as mentioned in my past post. Shortly after that sailing, they instituted a small charge (compared to the cost of the other specialties) to eat here, $14.95/pp + 20% gratuity. We never noticed a wait or full seating here, so I’m not sure if the charge has taken things too far in the opposite direction, but we decided to eat here for lunch the day we were in Ensenada.

I tend to stick with the staples when we eat at Margaritaville, and this visit was no different, a Cheeseburger in Paradise followed by that signature Key Lime Pie for dessert (menu for reference). I also went with a watermelon margarita to drink, and while it was good, seemed a bit small for the price. I’ll also mention that this was the only venue we had service issues in. There were very few patrons in there while we ate, but our server still seemed overwhelmed, and things like refills proved fairly elusive. At one point we had to track down another server to get additional drinks, and later our bill. Questionable service aside, the food itself lived up to the Margaritaville name. I could really go for another slice of that key lime pie right about now!

That brings us to the end of our Norwegian Bliss specialty restaurant tour. With all of the paid restaurants we visited, we only ended up in the MDR one night, and while it was fine, I’d have been happy to visit any of the above venues again instead. Whatever your opinion of the specialty dining craze, I recommend giving any of these a try if you’re sailing a Norwegian ship that has them!

Credit to EatSleepCruise and CruiseCritic for the menu pictures I’ve been linking to.

 

 

Seven Days of Bliss

One week ago yesterday we returned from a seven day sailing aboard Norwegian’s newest ship, the Bliss. This sailing was the National Conference for our organization, and like last year’s voyage on the Harmony of the Seas, I don’t feel like we can accurately review everything about the ship since we were in sessions during the day and cocktail parties at night, as those kept us from experiencing some of the normal things you get to on a regular non-work sailing, but I certainly want to recount the things we did experience.

Before we get there, let’s talk about the itinerary. We were originally set to visit Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas, but mother nature had other ideas. Hours in to our sailing, while we were attending our first cocktail party on the evening we departed, the captain came over the PA to let everyone know that the storms closing in on our target area meant a complete change of schedule. To avoid the area and keep the ship and passengers safe, our stops were now San Francisco, San Diego, and Ensenada. Here’s my post of the itinerary change, along with a shot from NOAA of what the storms looked like at the time:

This is the first time we’ve experienced an itinerary change first-hand, so as agents it was good to see for ourselves how things played out. I completely empathize with those who were upset that the warm beach vacation they expected was gone, and that we were headed for a first stop where the high would be in the 60s, I really do, but I thank Norwegian for keeping us safe. The storm was not of their making obviously, and with limited options for ports, they gave us the best choices available. I know there are still people who are upset over this, mad at the line, etc, but personally I’m satisfied with the way they handled it. I understand if people are upset that there was no indication before boarding that Norwegian was even considering a change, but frankly, they had little time to evaluate the situation. Willa formed early on the morning of our departure, so direction, timing and future strength were pretty uncertain, and Vicente hadn’t formed much earlier (the day before) and was a lot further south. Most of us would have been on our way or at the port by the time either of these really became a threat to our itinerary, so an early warning to passengers when it was pretty uncertain whether either would impact us would have been an impossible call, and one I don’t envy them having to make. In my eyes, Norwegian did the right thing, and while they weren’t the stops anyone anticipated, they still gave us ports to go off and have fun in without the threat of sailing into heavy storms. I’m not here making excuses for Norwegian, I’m stating fact. They made the call, and we as passengers could either be upset and let it negatively impact our week, or we could accept it and choose to have fun. We chose the latter. Jen and I actually got a good laugh out of the change, as we’d been in San Francisco on vacation the month before, and had spent the 3 days leading up to the cruise in San Diego visiting our daughter, and would spend the 3 days after the cruise back there doing the same.

The itinerary change aside, we still had work to do. Our headquarters team did an amazing job getting everything rescheduled so that most (if not all) of our sessions were still held, in some cases at different times or on different days. I’m sure none of that is of interest to those reading this, so I’ll get moving on an actual review of the Bliss.

First up, the ship! The design is similar to the Escape (which we sailed 3 years ago), and as such, is just as beautiful. Even though it’s part of the same Breakaway-Plus class Escape is, the Bliss fixed a number of the things I took issue with on the Escape, as listed in that older post. Examples:

  • Movement of the ship was so much better. Maybe something was wrong with the stabilizers when we sailed Escape, but as mentioned in that review, movement/rocking in even calm seas was noticeable. In less than perfect seas, it was negatively impacting me, and I never get seasick. I was really happy to see the Bliss had no more movement than any other large ship we’ve been on.
  • I never felt like there was a lack of bar staff, as most of the time I was able to walk up and get a mudslide whenever I wanted without much of a wait, if any.
  • Margaritaville never had the waits we saw on the Escape when I walked by, or the day we ate there. Granted, when we were on the Escape it was free, which changed shortly after that sailing. I’ll talk more about the charge and experience in my restaurant post coming up after this one.
  • I was probably a little harsh on the main theater last time, but on the Bliss, I really had no issues with it. Good sight lines all around, and while the cup holders are still small (and I assume still don’t fit the soda cups), they fit everything else we threw at it; bar glasses, plastic bar cups, etc.
  • Outside space, especially around the main pool, is more plentiful. Here are comparison of shots I took of the main pool area on the Escape and Bliss to illustrate what I mean (Escape on the left):

My number one complaint from last time, the smell of smoke in the atrium due to the casino allowing smoking in an open area, has mostly been addressed, too, and I couldn’t be happier to see it. Did I still smell smoke? Yes, but only on the floor the casino was on, and nowhere near as bad as on the Escape. How has Norwegian accomplished this? By putting smoking gamblers in a box, literally. As mentioned on Norwegian’s blog, those who wish to smoke while gambling must do so in a separate room, complete with more than 100 machines and 6 table games. Some of that smell has made it out, but it’s far better and much more contained than it was on the Escape. Kudos, Norwegian!

Let’s move on to our cabin. Much like last time, we went with a standard balcony cabin, this time on deck 11 (11732, specifically). It was a pretty standard room with plenty of space to move around, and ample storage. Honestly, neither of us have anything negative to say about our cabin. Take a 360 degree look around both the room and balcony:


Now before we get to the fun stuff, like go-karts and water slides, let’s talk about the staff. I’m sure they were told that there were going to be a thousand travel agents, along with executives from NCL and other lines onboard, but even so, they were awesome all week. Again, we didn’t get to interact with them as much as we would normally, but when we did, we always got smiles, a “how’s your day”, and all out good attitudes from them. I walked around one my own a bit without anything identifying that I was part of the group, and there was no change in attitude. Additional little things, like the always-happy attitude on the guys at the buffet doors ensuring people were sanitizing (the “washy washy” guys) and the girls walking around Taste and Savor at breakfast handing out additional little treats while brightening your day with a song were awesome touches. If you were on the ship and don’t know what I’m referring to, you missed out! Fortunately, some friends of ours managed to get it on video!

Really, the only crew issue I encoutered was at Margaritaville, but we’ll talk about that in my upcoming food post.

Next up on page 2, the good stuff; go-karts, waterslides, and shows!

Five Delicious Eateries on the Norwegian Escape

The Norwegian Escape boasts 28 possible places to fill your belly as part of their whole Freestyle cruising setup. Being that there was no standard MDR with assigned dining times, we decided to give a few specialty restaurants a try, and pre-purchased the 3 meal dining package. Prior to this, I think we’ve only eaten in two or three specialties on all of our past cruises, so this was a big change for us. When it was all over, we hit 12 different restaurants over the course of this trip, including the free options and Supper Club.

We spent a bit of time trying to decide where to eat on the dining package, and after some back and forth finally settled on Teppanyaki, Moderno Churrascaria, and La Cucina. We set up reservations for all three ahead of time out of concern for seating availability once we got on board, as we only had certain nights available due to our conference schedule.

So how was the food? Honestly, it was all really good, which I wasn’t expecting. This is all going probably to come off sounding like I’m trying to suck up to NCL, but I mean every word of it. If we didn’t like something, I’d be more than happy to call it out, like I keep doing with the Supper Club. I truly left the ship amazed at how good these five restaurants were. Let’s take a quick look at the pay restaurants we ate at, in the order we dined there:

Teppanyaki: We love Japanese steakhouses. The ones we usually eat at are mostly chains (Kabutos, Nakato, Benihana), with our favorite being Kabutos. This blew those away. Absolutely delicious from start to finish. Service was great, the food was great, and our chef did an outstanding job. It really set the bar for the rest of the cruise in all apsects, as it was the first real meal we had on board. I had the filet and green tea cake. The fruit pic is my wife’s dessert, which the menu claimed to be exotic fruits. She liked it, but didn’t really feel it was all that exotic. Regardless, we left quite happy. One thing to note here, you never run out of rice. They cook enough for everyone to have at least two servings, so you can ask the chef at any time for more, as it’s sitting there on the grill staying warm throughout your meal. Another thing on the rice, they grill it up with garlic and butter, something we’ve never seen in this food genre. As my wife put it: I didn’t think fried rice could be improved, but I was wrong. The rice is amazing!

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Food Republic: We decided to eat here on a whim on night three. We hadn’t planned to pay for any food above the three we’d already booked, but it was well worth it. You order everything on an iPad at your table instead of the traditional server-based ordering, and the food itself was outstanding. Jen had chicken skewers and sushi (don’t recall specifics on that, unfortunately) and she really liked it. I had the 18oz Wagyu bone-in rib eye and it was some of the best meat I had all week, and was perfect with the chimichurri sauce that came on the side, although it stood on its own just fine too. As shown in the picture (which I wish was better quality), it arrived pre-cut, and every piece was perfectly cooked. If you only eat at one specialty on the Escape, this one should be at the top of your list. As shown, we had a window seat and ate as the sun set, which made the experience that much better.

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Cagney’s Steakhouse: Again, not on our original list, but we totally backed in to this one. Some friends or ours, also fellow agents, had been invited here by one of the NCL execs, Alex Pinelo, and they were able to invite two other couples along, with us being one of them, which we appreciated very much. We can’t thank him enough for the hospitality, and I have to say that the food, wine, and service was excellent! One of the best ship-board steakhouses we’ve eaten at, with our filet being perfectly cooked all the way through. Didn’t hurt that this happened on my birthday, so added bonus for me! We both had the baked potato soup and the 8oz filet. I had mac and cheese as my side (that was just okay) and the yummy chocolate cake for dessert, while Jen had the apple crisp. I think my only issue is how long it all took. Start to finish, I think we were there for more than two and a half hours, possibly three. I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth though, it was an excellent evening.

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Moderno Churrascaria: I love a good Brazilian steakhouse, so this was mostly my choice. Any place where people keep coming by my table with meat is good by me. I don’t remember a lot about the salad bar, other than there being plenty of choices, so I’ll go straight to the meat. My favorite was probably the signature steak, which if I recall was some sort of flank cut. Really, really good. The sausage was also a favorite of mine. Mmmmm. In addition to the signature, my wife’s other favorite was the grilled pineapple, which was also popular with both tables around us. The only filet I had was the well done one as it turned out, but by the time I realized it I was too full to try the medium version unfortunately. That was the only issue I had all night, and only an issue because I wasn’t paying attention when he said it was well done. All in all a really good night, and as usual I left the green button up way too long :). The plate of meat you see was shot right after I realized that and flipped the card to red. The dessert is a delicious cake they brought me for my birthday, which could easily have been shared with three to four people.

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La Cucina: We ate here on our last night, and scored a table outside. If the weather is right, this is definitely the way to go, the ambiance outside is outstanding. Eating a good meal out on a nice quiet deck at night? Yes please! We both had the meat lasagna, and agreed it was excellent. There’s a place near us (Arooji’s Wine Room) that has some of the best lasagna I’ve ever eaten, and La Cucina beat that. Hard to do, in my opinion.  I’d definitely eat here again, especially if we could sit outside. We both had the beef carpaccio in addition to the aforementioned lasagna. I had the chocolate torte for dessert, while Jen had the lemon curd ricotta cheesecake. That chocolate torte was super rich, but I powered through and finished it 🙂

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That about covers the pay restaurants we ate at. As mentioned in the last post, all of the other restaurants we ate at (Taste, Savor, Margaritaville, Manhattan Room, O’Sheehan’s, Garden Cafe buffet) were good too, with the notable exception of the disappointing food in the Supper Club for the Brat Pack show. We were very happy to see that Norwegian’s put some effort into improving the quality of the food on board, it’s definitely paying off. If anyone has specific questions on any of the dining venues we ate at, feel free to ask in the comments!

Full disclosure: I’m very much a meat and potatoes guy, and in no way claim to be a foodie, so YMMV 🙂

Norwegian Escape – First Impressions

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, kicked off by a cruise on the Norwegian Escape that sailed on 11/19, the first full 7 day sailing since the ship arrived in the US. While I plan to go in to more detail in future posts, I wanted to get one out on our overall impressions of Norwegian’s newest ship. First, a little history.

I’ve mentioned before that we haven’t cruised NCL in quite a while due to issues we had on our first sailing with them, on the NCL Jewel in March of 2006. The MDR food on that sailing was horrible, but that paled in comparison to an injury our daughter suffered to one of her hands due to negligence on the part of one of NCL’s tour operators. NCL’s response to the incident was pretty bad as well, and that played a big part in our decision to stay away from them as long as we have.

Fast forward to this year,  and our company’s national conference aboard their newest ship, giving us the chance to see how much has changed with the line. It was just my wife and I, and we both went in with open minds. So what did we think? In a word: Redemption. We had a blast, and saw that many things have changed for the better. As mentioned, I plan to go into more detail on certain areas in later posts, but here’s the overall pros and cons list:

Pros

  • It’s a beautiful ship, not gaudy like others.
  • Our room, a standard balcony, was excellent. Having the bed next to the balcony door was great, there was plenty of storage space for the two of us, and there were more outlets (including USB ports in each of the bed-side lights) than most ships we’ve sailed. The bathroom layout was great too, with a ton of shelf space.
  • The food was much better than last time. We only ate at the included restaurants on 4 occasions on this sailing, with all being good. The only place we had food we really didn’t like was in the Supper Club during the “For The Record: The Brat Pack” show.
  • The specialty restaurants we ate at were outstanding. I’ll go in to more detail later, but the list of ones we ate at: Cagney’s, Teppanyaki, Food Republic, Moderno, and La Cucina. Some of the best specialty restaurants we’ve eaten at on any ship.
  • The “For The Record: The Brat Pack” show was one of the best shows we’ve seen on a ship. Again, the food in here was pretty bad in our opinion (as was the service), but the show more than made up for it.
  • We never felt like there were 4,000+ people on the ship, even when debarking in each port. Getting off in port went a lot smoother than other sailings on smaller ships.
  • The staff was outstanding. It can’t be easy dealing with over 700 travel agents, and they all did a great job all week.
  • The photo setup is cool. Whenever you get your picture taken, they scan your card, and your pictures are put into a specific folder for you in the photo area, so no searching through dozens of other pictures to hunt yours down.
  • The only slide we had the chance to ride (due to the others being closed during times we were free), but the AquaRacer is a blast, especially with the tandem tubes. There’s a shot taken from the clear section of it while Jen and I were riding tandem in my pictures below. Here’s the full video of that same run:

Cons

  • The smell of smoke around the casino is flat out bad. We noticed it as soon as we got on while walking around the Atrium, as the smell is already embedded in everything in the casino, and the ship only had two sailings prior to ours. The problem here is that it’s in a central area, being open to the Atrium like other ships in it’s class, so you have to put up with it any time you walk through there. They need better ventilation here.
  • The movement of the ship, even in calm seas, is more than we remember on any past cruise. It was rocking back and forth pretty much the whole cruise, and at one point even started getting to me, and I’ve never gotten motion sick in my life. Someone mentioned that NCL was using smaller keel technology, not sure if that’s true, but whatever the issue is, it’s very noticeable based on a number of people I heard complaining about it both on the ship and after the cruise. It also caused a constant creaking sound in our room as the ship rocked.
  • Lack of bar staff. There was almost always a wait at the bars when we went up to get our soda cups refilled. In most cases, there was only one person behind the bar, which during the day on sea days was problematic when there were 10+ people waiting for drinks of some kind.
  • Margaritaville’s setup is bad. Good food, and the same key lime pie from the main restaurants, but the wait was ridicu-bad. On sea days, it wasn’t uncommon to find a 2+ hour wait around meal times (we got in after a 40min wait on a port day), all while half the tables sat empty. We heard after the cruise that the kitchen in there was too small to keep up with the demand when full. Again, no idea if that’s true, but regardless, they had to deal with it. They’ve since changed it from a free option to charging for items a-la-carte.  It actually started with the 11/28 sailing, which IMO is wrong. Announce and give people warning it’s coming, but to blindly do it right as people are about to get on just feels wrong.
  • I’ll say it again, the food and service in the Supper Club for the Brat Pack show were both bad, start to finish. Both can be fixed, so hopefully Norwegian listens to the feedback from us and other guests.
  • I’m not a fan of their “Freestyle” setup. I get the point, it allows guests to only pay for the food and shows they want, but it means having to plan part of your schedule ahead of time. We felt like we needed to make reservations for specialty restaurants and shows before we cruised, which doesn’t really feel “freestyle” to us. We also don’t like the lack of assigned MDR seating from one aspect: getting to know your servers. It’s always fun getting to know them, and in many cases they learn your habits and will have things ready for you that they know you’ll want.
  • The outside setup on the ship is odd. There isn’t much space on the upper decks to hang out on sea days due to a good chunk of the space being taken up by clubs. The open area around the main pool is tiny compared to other ships we’ve been on, and my own pet peeve, the only place to watch the wake coming off the back of the ship (outside of aft cabins) is deck 8, which has no chairs to sit and enjoy it on. Spice H2O takes up the other good spot, with a  huge video display taking up the center of the back of the deck.
  • The main theater’s design is just, well, bland. It’s really the only area of the ship where my earlier “it’s beautiful” comment doesn’t apply. Additionally, whoever designed the cup holders needs to be reassigned. They aren’t big enough to hold NCL’s own soda package cups, unless you put one of their plastic water cups in there first and then put your soda cup in that (picture below).
  • The announcements from, well, anyone, were pretty difficult to hear and understand, when we actually got any. Example: when waiting to get off in ports, we never got any updates as to when they expected to be able to allow us off, or even where to go, so people were just sort of wandering around until we finally got the announcement that the gangway was open. On other lines, our CDs have been good with ensuring guests are kept up to date with any delays, where to go after debark starts, etc.
  • Show scheduling was an issue all week. Our early show the night we boarded (The Brat Pack) was cancelled due to cast illness, with them re-booking us for the later show, which was also cancelled. We ended up seeing it the next night, but ours wasn’t the only show with this issue. Million Dollar Quartet also had cast illness (heard later it was Jerry Lee Lewis) that resulted in them cancelling the last 3 nights of shows. They did fly in Tenors of Rock for the final night, which we caught, but whatever was going on with the other cast members must have been bad (hope they’re okay), we’ve never seen show cancellations like this.

Yea, there were a few negatives above, but all in all it was a great week that gave us a much better experience this time around, and we’d definitely sail them again as a result. I’m not going to comment on the cruise director, her staff, or any of the on-board activities they run, as we never had time to enjoy any of it. On sea days, we were in sessions for our conference and missed out on all of that.

I’ll be posting reviews of the specialty restaurants and our excursions separately, but in the meantime, enjoy some shots of the ship! Oh, and that last picture calls out one more highlight from the cruise: Guy Harvey was on board for this sailing!

IMG_1468_SmallIMG_1083 IMG_1080 IMG_1067 IMG_1065  IMG_1010 IMG_0942 IMG_0931 IMG_0925 IMG_0844 IMG_0804 IMG_1016IMG_0792 IMG_0773 IMG_0752 IMG_0740 IMG_0692 IMG_0690 IMG_0689 IMG_0688 IMG_0687 IMG_0686 IMG_0683 IMG_0682   IMG_0658IMG_0554IMG_0665IMG_0637 IMG_0623 IMG_0597 IMG_0594 IMG_0570 IMG_0561  IMG_0548 HUDT8551

 

Travel Photography – What’s In My Bag?

With travel season approaching, I’ve been working on changes to the photo and video gear I carry with me. There was a time when I would carry my Nikon DSLR and all of my lenses with me on vacation, but over the past few years I’ve gotten to the point where I wanted to go as light as possible and not have to carry a full camera bag around with me. It started with our Thanksgiving cruise in 2012, where I found myself shooting around 60% of our pictures with my Nokia Lumia 920 vs 40% with my Nikon, slowly edging up to the point where I was shooting 90% of our vacation shots with my Lumia 1020.

There are exceptions, as I enjoy shooting auto racing when I get the chance, and I have yet to see anything below a DSLR and a set of good lenses that can handle the speed and low-light requirements, but for everything else, the lighter I can go, the happier I am. So with a cruise on tap in a week aboard the Norwegian Escape, followed by Thanksgiving at Disney World, I figured I’d post a quick walk-through of the gear I’ve settled on.

Photo Gear

For the first time in a long time, I’m not taking a DSLR with me, even as a backup. I will have two alternate devices with me, however:

  • My Lumia 1020 with camera grip: This may be a bit long in the tooth, and might be a little slow on a per-shot basis, but nothing in the phone space beats the PureView imaging system. This thing has been a favorite of mine for shooting since the day I bought it, and that’s why this is going to be my main back-up camera.
  • Sony DSC-WX350: I picked this up on the cheap as an open box item at Best Buy a few months ago to use as a business camera  for things like ship/resort tours, so we’d have something either of us could just pick up and shoot with at the drop of a hat. The results are pretty good for a P&S, in my opinion.

I really don’t expect to have to use either unless something happens to my primary. So what is my primary? Well, it’s my iPhone 6s Plus, equipped with a few extras. A quick shot of my gear (including the backups and tripod):

Primary gearBackup gear

Of the main gear in the left hand shot, the case is a CamKix medium GoPro case with the CamKix customizable magic foam. What am I carrying inside the case? Well, a few things:

  • Shoulderpod S1 Professional Smartphone Grip: I needed a way to mount the iPhone to my Gorillapod if the situation arose. After a little searching, I knew I had to have this. The reviews aren’t wrong, the handle’s solid and really helps stabilize both still and video scenarios.
  • Moment wide angle and telephoto lenses: I spent a lot of time comparing specs, reviews and sample shots of the various iPhone lenses. I’ve used cheap lenses from other companies before, and this is definitely a category where you get what you pay for. I wanted high quality glass, and I definitely feel I got it with the Moment lenses!
  • Spigen Neo Hybrid Carbon case: Normally I keep the Spigen Slim Armor Volt on my phone (wireless charging FTW!), but it’s too thick to allow mounting of my lenses, so for the duration of the trip I’ll be using this case.

I’m looking forward to putting this gear through its paces over the next 2-3 weeks. Feel free to follow us on Facebook and/or Instagram to see how the lenses perform on our trips!

Video Gear

For land trips, I generally just use my phone for any video I take, but when we go on cruises I also bring along a GoPro to handle any situations where the camera may get dirty, wet, or may need to be mounted to me in some way. This trip will be no exception, as I want to be sure I get plenty of video from the excursion we’re doing on my birthday in St Thomas, the BOSS Underwater Adventure.  I’ll likely end up doing some snorkeling at the other two ports, Tortola and Nassau, so it’ll get plenty of use this trip. Here’s my video setup:

Video gear

The case is a Shineda Water Resistant Large GoPro Case, which fits just about all of my GoPro gear. The main items in the case that I plan to use this trip:

  • GoPro Hero4 Silver plus extra battery: I bought this a while back as a replacement for my Hero2, which I gave to my daughter to use while at college. I’m looking forward to having the LCD to frame my shots vs hoping I’m getting what I think I’m aiming at :).
  • GoPole Bobber Floating Handgrip: This is my first trip with it, so I’ll be interested to see how I like it versus the regular wrist strap I’ve used for snorkeling in the past.
  • Head strap: This isn’t the official GoPro one, my daughter took that one with her when I gave her my Hero2. This is a knockoff my wife ran across at Five Below for $5, and frankly I can’t tell the difference.
  • Random mounts: Not sure I’ll use any of them, but since the case can hold them all, I figured I’d throw them in.

Okay, so maybe I’ve failed the whole “carry less gear” goal, but at least it’ll be lighter. Regardless, I’m very much looking forward to putting the new stuff to work! After we get back, I’ll post my impressions of how the Moment lenses performed in real-world use.