Changes in NCL Cruises – Part II of II

A staple of cruising on NCL is the “Washy Washy” people at the entrance of the buffet encouraging everybody to receive a squirt of sanitizer on their hands. On the Bliss, instead of the sanitizer, there were four sinks at each entrance which we were strongly encouraged to use. And they still had the workers singing various songs to get you to cleanse yourself.

A new feature, at least to me, were the self-called “Pastry Girls.” These two ladies, perhaps in their 20s, probably from the Philippines, would go through the breakfast venues singing out, in unison, offering the daily delight of the day. Lemon muffins, chocolate brownies, and banana donuts were three of these. All promised, melodically, to be “Yummy, yummy, to the tummy.” These ladies were infectiously cheerful.

These pastries were accompanied with song — with charming semi-butchered lyrics. (I suspect the butchering was intentional. After all, they both butchered the lyrics identically.) For example, instead of “Doo wah diddy diddy dum diddy do” we got “doo wah dummy dummy dum diddy dum.” If some curmudgeon wanted no part of happiness at breakfast time (that was me on one of the days when I was near the conclusion of the novel I was reading and didn’t wish to be disturbed) and waved them away, they would cheerfully respond in unison, tunefully, “Enjoy your breakfast” and move along to another table.

There was entertainment every night, of course including two production shows — an NCL-based musical featuring the six wives of Henry VIII and “Jersey Boys.” We’ve seen both the musical and movie versions of this Frankie Valli story, but we enjoy the Four Seasons music, so we went again. (This time we were disappointed. You have to get the right singer for Frankie Valli, a tough singer to mimic, and this guy wasn’t quite up to the task.) There were also Beatles impersonators, comedians, a comedy magician (Jean-Pierre — definitely catch his show if you can), and the usual assortment of musicians playing in different venues.

Since Bonnie and I go on these cruises at least partly for the dancing opportunities, there was one trend on this ship that particularly irked us. Many of the places that offered music included dance floors. On the Bliss, almost invariably the band would set up on the dance floor, forcing whoever wished to dance to do so on the carpet. A far better solution would be to have the band set up on the carpet and leave the dance floor to the dancers! 

Our favorite dancing venue was the “Q,” which is a Texas barbeque restaurant that includes a country-western band in the evenings. My dancing background is country-western, and that’s the kind of dancing I taught Bonnie when we got together almost nine years ago, so this was right up our alley. When they cleared off the tables, there was a large dance floor and usually we were the only ones on it. This is our kind of bliss, although this enjoyment is not shared by most.

The female singer, named Cat, loved to tell bad jokes. I learned what you call a waffle that falls onto the beach. Have you heard that one? It’s a San Diego!  

I also heard another that is probably better heard than read. It’s about the two peanuts who went walking though the rough part of town. One was a salted. The other was an unsalted.  

I stopped into the casino to see if for some reason they have included some playable video poker. They haven’t. It’s actually gotten worse. Normally you can find some 6/5 Bonus Poker. Here you couldn’t find a game near that loose! There were some Ultimate X machines that were vulnerable, but they were all low denomination. I didn’t want to spend my trip making the trek to the casino for less than $1 EV profit each time (the time I checked, many of these games had been played at a five-coins-per-line recently, so clearly there were other potential vultures lurking aboard), so I didn’t. One very nice feature of this ship’s casino was that smoking was only allowed in the sealed smoking section. The rest of the casino was effectively smoke free! As on a few other NCL ships, notably the Epic, the smells of the casino can travel unimpeded to the atrium. That was the case here, but there was no smell of cigarettes. How refreshing!

The restaurants mostly had names NCL travelers will recognize — Manhattan, Taste, Savoy, Cagney’s, La Cucina, Le Bistro, Garden Café, Teppanaki, and Ocean Blue — but there were some new ones. Moderno has been replaced by a Mexican restaurant. O’Sheehan’s has been replaced (in name only) by The Local Bar & Grill, and Margaritaville has been replaced by the American Diner. There was a 24/7 Starbucks, an ice cream place, and maybe a few others.

On the pool decks there was a typical assortment of available activities — including walking tracks, water slides and miniature golf. This ship also included a speedway, where you could drive a relatively small race car around the track. Driving fast is not my thing, so I didn’t try it.

Disembarkation from the ship came with different protocols than we were used to. A customs declaration form is no longer required. They still have limits on what you can bring into the United States, but no place to easily declare what you have. This makes it a little easier to smuggle, should that be your bent. 

In the past, we swiped our keycard to get off the ship. Not this time. There was a facial recognition program where they scanned our faces, compared this with a picture we provided when we signed up for the cruise, and let us off. When we got to US Customs, the same type of facial recognition software was used. We spoke to no customs agent. 

Presumably this means that all cruise passengers and crew are now in some Federal facial recognition database. If this is of concern to you, stay off cruise ships!

I know my blogs for this week and last haven’t been much about gambling. Still, NCL cruises are earned by many of my readers, most of whom haven’t been sailing in a while. Since most of us have earned these cruises through casino play, that’s enough for me to justify these two blogs. I promise that next week will be more of a typical video poker column from me.