When NCL first launched the Freestyle Cruising concept, I was completely onboard. It seemed like a great idea whose time had come: dine when you want; where you want. In reality, it was awful. Dinner was the stuff nightmares were made of. If you were lucky enough to get a seat, you may or may not get a meal. One evening, we spent an hour and a half in the main dining room when we finally got our appetizers and they weren’t what we ordered. We ate them and left. I knew I would lose weight on this cruise. NCL was also among the first to include prepaid gratuities. The staff didn’t care how fast or if they moved because they were getting tips regardless of how poor the service was. In fact, they hovered in groups and spoke loudly to each other in their native tongues. And there weren’t many other dining choices. As I recall, there was only one specialty restaurant onboard and there didn’t seem to be any rules there either. When I got off that cruise – and trust me, it wasn’t soon enough – I recall telling anyone who would listen that this would be the downfall of NCL.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
NCL is now one of my favorite cruise lines and the reason is Freestyle Cruising. Other lines have tried to compete, but the result has been a clumsy flop. The only time you make a dinner reservation is when you are dining in one of the specialty restaurants. On my last three NCL cruises, there were short waits of about five minutes in the main dining rooms for those who dined after 8:30 p.m. Otherwise; you were seated when you walked in the door. There were lots of dining options and Staff at every dining venue was friendly and service was wonderful. There were two dress-up nights on my last cruise on NCL’s Jewel, but formalwear wasn’t mandatory. Many people dressed in their Sunday best; many others did not. There aren’t many rules on what to wear on these ships. You are not permitted to wear tank tops, shorts or flip flops in two of the dining rooms on our cruise. But you could wear jeans and a nice shirt. Other dining rooms had no dress code, but almost everyone wore nice slacks and shirts. It was wonderful.
These days freestyle cruising extends beyond just dining. On NCL, you board the ship as soon as you clear check-in. When it’s time to debark, if you elect to carry your own bags you can do so anytime from when the ship has cleared customs until 11:00 a.m. It’s a very relaxed departure. This type of cruising is not for everyone. If you prefer a mandatory, formal atmosphere, love playing dress up and want everyone on board to do the same, you should probably choose another line. But if you want the laid back relaxation that a cruise is supposed to provide, you can’t go wrong with an NCL Cruise.