HAVEN has fallen

Before reading just a warning: this review is not for cheap budget cruise passengers. If P&O, a special offer from Daily Mail or an interior cabin is a landmark for your cruise choice is better not to read this! I am not a snob but I like quality, style and don’t mind to spend money for a real cruise experience. I prefer to stay home than travel in an inside cabin and have the only view of the sea from an overcrowded lounge on deck 5. Thank you !

“Olympus has fallen” , “London has fallen” … and now “Haven has fallen”

No, it is not another blockbuster for the movie series. Is what I sense recently in our 11 days Canary Island Cruise from Barcelona on Norwegian EPIC.

For more than 4 years I’ve been one of the biggest supporter of the Norwegian Cruise Line. Their concept of “ship within ship” called HAVEN never let me down and the inscription on the ship card, “Welcome to you sanctuary” was always backup by the reality on both JADE and EPIC. Until now…

We did in December a canary Island Cruise from Barcelona and we left the ship with an imperious need to come back as soon as possible. And here we are, less than three months after, back on board, on Norwegian EPIC, in Haven, room 17017.

What a joy this cruise could be! Unfortunately the reality was far away from our December experience and I am still trying to find what and how things on board can change in such a short time.

The NCL website (https://www.ncl.com/thehaven/experience/#overview) describe de experience as “a private world of luxury at sea – a ship-within-a-ship reserved exclusively for Norwegian’s special guests”. And as a guest you are informed that “from the moment you choose The Haven, your VIP treatment begins”

The embarkation was the first step on a journey which contradicts the build-up expectations. A very “can’t be bothered” check-in followed by a short stop…a very short stop in the Haven Check-in lounge where some tired staff invited us to “enjoy” some cold coffee and some breakfast leftover cookies from breakfast. In all our previous trips the Concierge or one of assistants were welcoming the guests at check-in or in Epic Lounge. This time nobody was guiding us and the check-in experience and arrival on the ship was far from the exclusive welcome for which Haven guests pay for. Finally we arrived in Haven were a very “busy” concierge ask us to wait for other arrivals to “don’t repeat” the information again. What’s so difficult to treat everybody as individuals and not cabin numbers or to check the information about Latitudes members on the guest list at least to provide a polite “welcome back” to them?

The room (17017) was what we expected: lots of space, elegant, Elemis amenities, clean and welcoming. Great first impression but, when you start looking around you realise that the maintenance of the ship needs to be reconsidered big time.

First the toilets; the revolutionary bathrooms — which split the toilet and shower into two separate units — got most tongues wagging with much talk about the “see through” doors. In reality, the doors are translucent and couples and traveling companions of a nervous disposition can pull across a drape that effectively shuts off the bathroom area from the rest of the cabin. Never had any problems with the design or functionality and in the photos the bathroom area looks nice & trendy. In reality the translucent glass door was broken in a previous cruise and even the guests in a 2 bedroom villa pays a lot of money nobody at NCL found a proper door as a replacement and the result was a piece of plastic very bad cut which resembles a little bit with the original. And was there THE SMELL. Due to the bad design or bad maintenance the main toilet smell continuously no matter how many times was cleaned or how many air freshener were placed in the room.

The Haven offers guests another touch of luxury: a cell phone contactable around the ship. Great idea even if a little bit exaggerated. But in previous cruises we used it proving to be an useful tool on a ship where free style cruise includes a lot of choices for everybody. This time the phone didn’t work and any feedback give to the concierge ended with a lot of excuses and the blame place on the shoulder of “maintenance guy. So the posh cell phone on board was never functional.

As a Haven guest you have free access to a TV system which allow you to have free movies 24h. Excellent idea and the selection was impressive and, what a surprise changed since December, including now Oscar’s nominated productions. But again the bad maintenance (again a Concierge opinion) made necessary to spend 9 hours (indeed NINE hours) to watch the last James Bond. The system crashed every 5 minutes and I never spend in my entire life so much time with Daniel Craig and his funny running style!

Right from the get go, we needed to have the clogged toilet fixed, later it was a ceiling tile with a light came down, the door needed to be fixed (and avoid to spend an extra 2 h in case of emergency to get out). The list goes on. So we got to know the electrician, carpenter, and plumber pretty well (all very nice people)

The Haven supposed to be a quiet place, “announcement free”. But once again the reality was different. A malfunction of the system brought the too many and in too many languages announcements every day in our cabin. Was funny but we weren’t able to listen to the entire announcement…only the DING-DONG and the first half because after that the sound stopped. Don’t say it…we spoke with the Concierge about that but I bet you can guess already the answer and the outcome. So Ding-Dong and Pedro’s ½ sentence 5 times/day for us!

Fortunately for us the only thing that made this Haven experience memorable, in a good way, was the excellent service of our butler and cabin steward. Polite, excellent manners, smooth service and very strong consistency made the room team an excellent asset for EPIC’s Haven. Richard, the steward, was funny and chatty and Sahmed the butler was always there without being too much in to your face ready to assist with whatever you need: from laundry to organising a private party in our cabin.

Haven has it’s own gym, sauna and steam room but, again, somebody miss the point of having such facilities on board. The changing room was always full with stuff for cleaning or sunbed cushions, the gym was not very clean and if you wanted to use the sauna or steam room you needed to wake up 1h earlier and switch on the facilities if you want to use them around 9AM.

Reading again the NCL website I am still surprised by the Concierge’s role description: “Once on board, a concierge will help plan your day whether it’s hosting a private party or reserving a private tour ashore”. In our previous cruise was exactly like that with a Concierge having lots of genuine smiles and polite conversation even if the guests in Haven are not all the time “Premium Guests” and the feeling of “new money-bad manners” is quite common on NCL. This time was different. Both Concierge (Elvie) and a gentleman who was the Assistant Concierge were the perfect example for “Concierge Don’ts”. I will need another review to write down everything so let’s try some examples looking at main Concierge skills:

  • Active Listening – both of them all the time when we approach their desk were busy “doing something” on the computer. No eye contact, no interest in the conversation, having phone chats or conversation with others in the middle of our request and so on. One moment we decided to skip the Concierge desk and started to organise and sort our issues ourselves.
  • Service Orientation – the skill of being pro-active didn’t find a space in their CV. When my partner was ill and we ask the concierge about medical emergency procedures and costs on board, her assistance was limited to a “put you through the medical centre” like a hotel operator. No follow up call, at least as a courtesy if “duty of care” was not in her language.
  • Social Perceptiveness & discrimination awareness – as gay market is a massive source of income for any cruise lines and NCL was brilliant from this point of view until now, I didn’t expect such an aggressive and rude homophobic behaviour from both Concierge and Assistant Concierge. I was thinking that one can make a lot of money from complaining about gay discrimination and taking in the account all the rolled eyes, ironic smiles and close to the end of the cruise the constant “ignored” applied to us. Nothing to do apart of smiling when we didn’t get any answers to our “hello” or “how are you”
  • Judgment and Decision Makin – or in simple words “The answer is NO, what’s your question? That was a constant attitude at the Concierge desk. One of my friend wanted to change a booking for a show and the answer was NO. When we check later, directly in the theatre and with the help of an excellent Cruise Director they were plenty of seats and no problem with re-booking.

We missed so much our previous concierges Adrian, Monica and all the others who really understand why and how they can make somebody experience in Haven an “experience truly first class” (https://www.ncl.com/thehaven/experience/#service). Maybe some training or a temporary demotion will do well to both Concierge and Assistant Concierge.

Dining experience was again of mixture of good and bad.

The Epic Club – a private restaurant dedicated to Haven guests exceeded our expectation. Justin and his staff were perfect. The new menu and China are very close to a high class restaurant. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are now indeed an amazing experience in Epic Club and for sure when the crew will be more comfortable with the product the service will polish at the same level as the food (food knowledge, peace of service, wine knowledge, and recommendation system). But we come back again and again to enjoy the new menu and the service standards.

Same story in Cagney’s. The Maître D manager superbly his team and food match perfectly the service. Not too much waiting, a waiter always ready to serve or to recommend, new China, glassware and cutlery and an ambiance which made us to go for at least 6 times for dinner.

The other side of the coin were two speciality restaurants were the disappointment was part of the menu. MODERNO – the Brazilian restaurant used to be our favourite spot with excellent food and great service. Now the service flow changed, the meat arrived in a chaotic order and if you are a first timer you have the chance to eat ONLY chicken and sausages and miss the excellent Fillet Minion or Picana. The salad bar changes and now NCL seems to give Brazilian passports for Sushi (Japan) or queso manchego(Spain), question of taste ! The most annoying thing about Moderno was that the excellent quality meat was always cold. Even after we sent back twice some dishes the rest was still cold and as we didn’t get any reaction from the Maître D or staff we ended abusing the salad bar. Not a good idea if you pay for the restaurant.

BISTRO was another favourite of mine in old days. The French restaurant used to be an oasis of taste and style. Now only the escargots survived….Slow service, lack of customer service and cold food made us cutting the diner after the starter and save our figure in one night. Such a pity for old good days!

Disembarkation was another failure for NCL on this occasion. Our flight was at 11.15 and the Concierge informed us that we have to leave the ship with our transfer at 6AM. When I inquired about the reason to leave the ship 5h before th flight when the distance to the airport can be covered in max 45 minutes, the “lovely” Concierge started to be very annoyed by my question and mentioned that “I can move the transfer whenever I want but is my problem if I miss the flight”. Professional reaction…Thank you! We left the ship at 6.45AM and when we were trying to, locate our luggage, even if we had coloured tags we found them in 4 different location around the terminal and we needed 45 minutes for that. Adding all time lost during disembarkation we still arrived at the airport 3h before our flight – maybe Elvie the Concierge can learn something from this!

I was reading again this review and my previous review about Norwegian EPIC and I experience now a bitter sadness. EPIC is a great ship, HAVEN is an amazing product but all the effort of EPIC staff can be destroyed so easily but some basic mistakes!

Just for my own curiosity I was applying SWOT and PESTLE strategic analysis models, to understand what NCL is doing wrong and I manage to understand a bit. No worries I will not bother you with the entire analysis but you deserve a short briefing. I gathered my information not only from official NCL sources but mainly from conversation with other guests in Haven and some from NCL experienced staff on board Norwegian Epic.

The cruise market is at the moment very competitive and the obsession of “all-inclusive” like a cheap holiday resort made NCL to go in the wrong direction. Is understandable why NCL started to have very cheap cabin with drinking package included – they want their ship full and soon they will cruise from Southampton. The risk is obvious: if you charge little you will attract the “P&O” or Benidorm crowd. A crowd who will drink for the sake of drinking, eat for the sake of eating and base their holiday on the CHAV’s rule: “I prefer to be sick than sorry!”. How strong crew members can be to keep their service standards if the passenger drinks Baileys, a paint and a glass with “dry white wine” (the brand is not important in this case) in one order! Even for the “free style cruising” invented by NCL this is too much…have a look at the photos to understand better.

Trying to give a lot for free will not bring you any profits. Therefore you have to cut and cut and cut under this “included free…” blanket. The cocktails are not as they supposed to be (I discover the recipe for Long Island Iced Tea with one type of spirit and lots of Diet Pepsi), the food is cold and mediocre quality because nobody care as long as it’s free, the manners and service standards are under performed because nobody is able to appreciate or say thank you! Is like a snow ball reaction: the new passenger profile downgrade the product and the lower quality or product/price attracts a new type of passengers. The time of style in free style cruising on NCL is gone and replaced with low cost airline’s labels on the suitcases in embarkation day.

Another marketing mistake will alienate the former traditional guests of NCL: on-board upgrades. And this phenomenon is very obvious in Haven. More than 95% in older time and around 10% in the last cruise of guests in Haven paid full fare for their “pure paradise” – as per NCL definition (www.ncl.com/thehaven/experience/#overview). In our 11 days Canary Island Epic cruise 90% of guests in Haven were upgrades with 2 and sometimes 3 grades (balcony to Haven or Mini Suite to Haven). Of course when you pay almost nothing you act in the same line with the rest of the ship…is not an exclusive area anymore. How can be an exclusive experience when in a 2 Bedroom Villa created for a family of 2+1 and use and paid in our case by 2 guests you accommodate 5, 6 or even 8 people. Next door to us was a family of 6 adults+2 children in the same space….For sure no space left for style, class, ore more than 2 shirts/cruise/family member. Quite sad!

How you can explain to full fare guests that is difficult to achieve high standards and performance due to the high number of guests, when most of them paid 1/3 price of the full fare ?

Of course we meet some exception…in all cruises. This time sadly the “exceptions” were outnumbered by main stream passengers “lucky” enough to be in Haven but not smart enough to behave accordingly.  And the general question for full fare guests was “why to pay more?” and for well trained staff was “why to give 6* service for third class passengers?”

Looking at the figures a Haven guest spend in a 10 day cruise in average 3 times more than a Balcony passenger. And I am talking about a full fare guest not upgrades! Therefore I am afraid that NCL will soon lose the real and happy to pay Haven guest and replace them with “fix budget” holiday makers happy with anything ias long as is free. Is a dangerous spiral and one of the staff suggested that is what the new marketing strategy of NCL wants: keep Oceana and Regent as high end and push NCL to the low level. Something similar like the relation P&O – Cunard.

Is sad…because I love NCL…I like Jade and Spirit and Epic…and I always feel like going back home stepping on-board. And is sad because the latest experience made me re-think twice and keep in hold my next 3 cruises with NCL this year, despite of the professional pressure of Paloma-a great cruise consultant.

Not so sure that I want to go back very soon on an NCL ship. At least not this year!

Like Olympus in the famous blockbuster, Haven has fallen this year! Not because of a group of high trained terrorist but an army of tourists armed with a huge collection of bad manners, Primark clothes, fix holiday budgets all packed in Sports Direct suitcases.

~ by leonard69 on March 7, 2016.

2 Responses to “HAVEN has fallen”

  1. How was the Cruise consultant on the Epic ?

    • She was great. Paloma is a great Cruise Consultant and we discussed a lot about our future cruises. Very knowledgeable, not at all pushy and more interested in giving as the best cruise and the best value for money than in her own commission. She is one of the few on board who will be a reason to go back on EPIC. When discussing with her couple of the issues we had she offered to help. But at the end of the day was not her job…we had (unfortunately) a Concierge for this.

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