Kosher Cruising in General and Norwegian Cruise Line specifically
I just returned from a weeks cruise on the Norwegian Pearl to Alaska and would like to share some of my experiences with those who are considering a cruise independantly and not with an organized Kosher cruise with Kosherica , Suite Life, etc.
A large part of cruising is the food and as can be expected the Kosher cruiser comes up very short in this point. The food served was pre packaged and reheated, from Webermans Foods of Miami (more on that later on) and in no way came close to the level of food served to the regular guests. On a scale of 1 to 10 it probably was a 2. I really did not expect much and knew what I would be getting but still there were many sursprises and not for the better. I will attach below a copy of a letter that I am sending to Weberman's which is self explanatory.
The ship's crew was extremely helpful and in most cases knowlegable of the needs of the Kosher cruiser and things went fairly smoothly. We were presented every evening with a list of items that were on the ship and we picked and made our menus for the following day. The Pearl had two main dining rooms (where the Kosher meals were served) and a few buffets.
We found it better to eat breakfast at the buffet as there were Kellog cereals, Dannone yogurt (OU D), bagels (OU) , orange and apple juice (OU) and milk (the chocolate milk did not have a Hechsher) You can ask for prepackaged Smuckers jelly (OU) to be brought up from the main dining room as the jelly on the buffet is in large bowls
There were prepackaged dairy breakfast dishes available in the formal dining room but we chose to eat it as supper and have a meat lunch instead. It consisted of waffles, cheese blintzes and Vermont style French Toast, all very good There was also two types of omelttes which were not.
The hard ice cream served at the buffet was OU as were the cones ( I asked the server to lift up the drums and to see the original box for the cones) There is also soft ice cream in two machines in the buffet . The Maitre D at the buffet was Mr. Mark Evelyn who when asked went into the store room and brought me the boxes from the soft ice cream mix and arranged with the chef to let us have whole uncut fruits such as pineapple and melons
Of course one should always check the current Hechshers as suppliers can change.
Of special mention is the Maitre D in the Summer Palace main dining room, Mr. Adonis Perez, who went out of his way throughout the week to see to it that we enjoyed as much as possible our "culinary experience" He also offered to have double wrapped fresh salmon prepared for us.
There were of course a few negative points. The plastic cutlery given was of the lowest possible quality something which really shames the image of NCL. I took this up onboard with the Hotel Director and the Head of Food and Beverage Service and they said that they would look into it. (He sent me a bottle of Maneshewitz wine to my cabin, maybe as a peace offering)
Additionally a few times the wait from when we sat down until when the food was served was close to 20 to 30 minutes. You should be prepared for this and we sometimes sent one person down to get a table and get the "ball rolling" and the rest came later. Most times however the wait was about 10-15 minutes
All in all the cruise line tried to be accomodating and since the purpose of the trip was to go to Alaska and not necessarily eat my way there, I can sum up, subject to my following letter to Webermans, that it was a pleasant experience
May 26, 2011
I have just returned from a weeks cruise on the Norwegian Pearl where your food was served.
I must write and say how disappointed I was with the food especially after looking at your website before the cruise and expecting to be served what I saw there.
As an experienced traveler I know that frozen, defrosted and reheated food suffers along the food chain but still it is possible to present a good tasting and maybe even more important, a good looking meal. One only has to look at Hermolis of London or Regal/Borenstein of New York to see that it can be done. My Regal meal on Delta on the way home was far and away better than anything I was served on the ship
Sadly this is not what I was served by NCL. The food ranged from inedible to fair and nothing really above that. Certain foods to do not take well to this type of handling and should not be served . Of special mention in this category is the eggs rolls and croquettes. Other dishes like the lamb stew and roulade, while edible were not pleasant to look at.
Do you have a quality control department? Do you test the meals to see what they look like and taste like when served on a cruise ship?
Of special mention is the packaging of the soups. While they were tasty they were impossible to open and to transfer to a disposable bowl or cup. How is one expected to do it? We had soup spilling and squirting out in all directions. The only normal packaging was the Matzoh Ball soup. Why couldn’t all the soups be packaged like that?
Additionally no bread or rolls were served all week. Is this standard or just that NCL did not order it?
If after eating twenty one meals over the course of a week, all I can say is that the best food item that I can think of is the apple strussel cake, then I think that you have to improve your game tremendously. On the Kosher Chowhound board and the Cruise Critic board I gave your meals a rating of 2 out of 10. Is this the message that you want to be out on the internet?
I would appreciate receiving your reply to this letter with the hope that improvements will be made.
We did a 5 night Disney Dream cruise in July 2011 and had a similar distasteful Weberman's experience. They also had a list of food but it was basically the same stuff you get in the Walt Disney World parks: chicken breast (awful); roast beef; salmon or vegetable lasgna and for kids chicken fingers. There is also soup, which was actually the only thing we liked but opening it was a very big challenge. Luckily, our server was a sweetheart who obtained a clean pair of scissors for us to use to open the soup containers. The desserts were also awful but at least the soft serve ice cream is kosher and so are the Mickey Bars that you can order from room service. One time they tried to serve us Passover food - in JULY! Even the Passover rolls! I promptly let the head server know that we are not to be served ANY Passover food (luckily had a green label so easily identified). We were able to get breakfast food if we wanted but only cheese omelet (which we sometimes ate as a lunch or supper) or cheese blintzes. We just stuck to the cereal and milk, both of which had hechshers and saved the warm stuff for lunch and dinner.
I agree that the kosher cruises probably have much better food experiences but at twice if not three times the cost, it just doesn't seem worth it! Fortunately, Disney Cruise Line allows you to bring on prepackaged food and that is my plan for our June 2012 cruise. I will use the in room refrigerator and make do with the prepackaged Weberman's stuff for only one time per day.
Check out my posts on this thread:
We've done two cruises now with Carnival, getting food shipped from a kosher restaurant to the boat. A tiny bit more cost, nowhere near the cost of taking an entirely kosher cruise, but entirely worth it. If you have questions let me know.
That post was after our first cruise. We did it a second time. Ate ribs :)
Sja I totally agree with your evaluation of the food quality, lack of presentation, and paper products. Two years in a row we have taken our daughter and son-in-law on "regular" cruises. Both have been with Royal Caribean. I must say that on both cruises the staff tried their best to accomodate our party of four. Just as you did, we did our homework before booking the cruises and contacted both the cruise line and Weberman Foods. Weberman assured us that their food was top notch. From information I had gleamed from cruise critic we made sure to pack a box cutter to attack the plastic wrap. As you said the food ranged from inedible to passable. Unlike you we were never given the option to have any Weberman breakfast meals. I had brought along a new frypan and utensils on our first cruise but there was now way the cruise line could make that work. The cutlery, as you mentioned was the lowest quality. We spoke to the maitre'd and he informed us that Weberman's meals cost the cruise line significantly more than any "regular" meal they serve. After seeing the elabrate "regular" meals it makes me wonder how much could Weberman charge for what I would call a basic TV dinner. Unlike you, we were handed a list of all the meals and side dishes that were available for the entire week. It appeared that the cruise staff may not have been rotating the stock and some of the meals tasted off. As you said we did not expect "gourmet" food but we did expect more than a TV dinner. The kosher cruises I have looked in to were using older ships and charging 3 times the regular fare. At this point I have been turned off of the "regular" cruises. My husband and I really enjoyed the cruising vacation because we were able to do as little or as much as we wanted to while the "newlyweds" could plan their own activities - rock climbing, ice skating, etc.. But, the food situation left a bad taste in our mouths.
It was very interesting to read your reply. I am an active member of Cruise Critic and read a review there of a "Kosher couple " on a Royal Caribean cruise. They were enthusiastic about the Weberman food and even posted a list of offerings which included pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers which were all available even thru room service. I was very jealous and even began considering RCCL for my next trip instead of NCL as none of these were available on the NCL Pearl
I did get an answer to my letter to guest relations of NCL and they said besides the usual corporate PR mumbo jumbo, that they will look into their contract with Weberman's when it comes up for renewal and will also look into the issue of the plastic cutlery. As we say here in Israel, "Ashrei Ha Ma'amin", Happy are those who believe. Of course I received no answer from Weberman's
FYI, Kosherica does use top of the line ships and even had the same trip to Alaska on the Pearl in July and another one planned for next week. Prices of course are two to three times regular rates.
I too lost a little of my desire to cruise because of the food issue and hope that some change will come. One thing is for sure. Before the next cruise I will stop at Costco for a box of silver plasticware.
I do not want to give the impression that we did not eat during the week. We did. As I pointed out some of the food was inedible but I quickly discovered which and did not order it again. I learned to order the better items and we never left the table hungry.
This does not mean that we had a gourmet experience, but I did not expect it. Both Weberman's and the cruise line could have and should have a better job. This is the purpose of my post, to try to get the word out so that future cruisers would know to ask for and demand better service.