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After five cruises with Norwegian, here's why I am coming back to Royal Caribbean

28 Mar 2024
Allie Hubers

They say the grass isn’t always greener on the other side - and that sentiment seems to be true for me when it comes to trying new cruise lines.

After sailing with Royal Caribbean for 20 years, I started to get the itch to branch out. I had taken almost every itinerary available with Royal Caribbean to destinations that interested me the most, including Europe, Asia, Alaska and the Caribbean.

I started to feel tired of Royal Caribbean’s itinerary offerings when I would research my next cruise. In all honesty, I mainly decided to jump ship (not literally!) because of Norwegian Cruise Line’s unique itineraries to more exotic destinations.

However, after so much cruising with Royal Caribbean, I’ll admit that I was excited to see what other cruise lines had to offer. I had only cruised with Norwegian Cruise Line once before - and that had been more than one decade ago.

After these four cruises, I’m seriously reconsidering future sailings with Norwegian Cruise Line. I found that I appreciated and missed Royal Caribbean more than I had anticipated. In fact, I feel like I’m returning to an ex-boyfriend that I dumped.

Now, I resonate more with the sentiment of, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone." Here’s why I am returning to Royal Caribbean and sister cruise line Celebrity Cruises.

Breaking up with Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean

Before this year, I had cruised almost exclusively with Royal Caribbean for most of my life. My family had sailed only a few times with other cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line.

However, Royal Caribbean was our favorite cruise line and my family sailed with the cruise line every year growing up. My sister and I earned Diamond Plus loyalty status in college while we continued to cruise with Royal Caribbean into adulthood.

As a longtime loyal cruiser with Royal Caribbean, I have taken 29 cruises with the cruise line to date. While most of these were around North America, about one-third of these cruises were to international destinations throughout Europe and Asia.

Even as I graduated college and married my husband, we continued to cruise with Royal Caribbean because it felt like home.

However, my husband and I don’t have kids quite yet and the family-friendly cruising style with Royal Caribbean started to appeal to me less. Royal Caribbean’s newest ships are literally packed with thrills and attractions to be the perfect family vacation.

Read more: Which cruise line is best? Fans say why they prefer Royal Caribbean over Carnival

However, I’ve become a destination-focused cruiser as I’ve gotten older. I prefer to sail on itineraries where I can visit new countries, cities and islands. My perfect cruising is checking another country off my bucket-list; unfortunately, cruising repeatedly to Perfect Day at CocoCay wasn’t scratching that itch.

Looking at Royal Caribbean’s itineraries left me feeling bored. On the other hand, I was excited to see how many unique and rare itineraries Norwegian Cruise Line had to offer.

The start of something new


Each cruise line has it’s own appeal, although many have similarities when it comes to the cruising experience as a whole.

However, one of the ways that Norwegian Cruise Line differentiates itself from other mainstream cruise lines is with its epic itineraries. As a major player in the cruise industry, Norwegian Cruise Line has comparable prices with affordable sailings.

While other cruise lines are building ships bigger than anything in their fleet, Norwegian Cruise Line has actually built newer, smaller ships. The cruise line’s new Prima Class has built ships that hold right around 3,000 passengers.

Because of this, Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ships can sail almost anywhere in the world without size restriction. You’ll find Norwegian Viva and Norwegian Prima sailing to more far-flung destinations around Europe.

After seeing the different destinations I could visit with Norwegian Cruise Line, I was ready to figuratively jump ship. I wanted to spend my time and money on a cruise that allowed me to visit destinations on my bucket list.

Last year, I booked a 10-night cruise to the British Isles for October 2023 and an exotic itinerary to Africa in January 2024. Additionally, I booked a 4-night cruise on Norwegian Viva to Key West and a 2-night repositioning cruise from Malaga, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal.

I also appreciated how Norwegian Cruise Line allowed you to book more all-inclusive cruises with included airfare, drink packages, internet discounts and excursion discounts. For example, my 10-night itinerary on Norwegian Star to the British Isles was only $3,000 total for two guests, which included round-trip airfare to London.

Read more: Norwegian vs Royal Caribbean comparison

Constant, last-minute itinerary changes

With four sailings planned on Norwegian Cruise Line, I was most excited for my 12-night cruise to South Africa from Mauritius. The itinerary had stops in Reunion, Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa. This was a dream itinerary where I planned to book African safari excursions for each day!

With my cruises booked, I was surprised to see emails start rolling in regarding itinerary changes for my cruises. Of the four cruises I had booked, I began receiving communication from Norwegian Cruise Line about itinerary adjustments for three of those cruises.

NCL star

Since I booked most of these cruises exclusively for their itineraries, my heart would sink every time I would get yet another email from Norwegian Cruise Line about itinerary changes. At first, the itinerary changes only pertained to my British Isles sailing in October and Key West cruise in December.

My British Isles sailing was revised to include reduced port times in Edinburgh, Scotland and Portland, England. I was disappointed to see Norwegian Cruise Line reduced our time in Edinburgh by an hour, as it was our most anticipated stop.

The 4-night cruise on Norwegian Viva removed Key West entirely and replaced the port stop with Nassau, Bahamas. This was extremely annoying, as I booked the cruise because I wanted to visit Key West.

According to the emails provided by Norwegian Cruise Line, these changes were due to “port congestion." However, there were no other ships scheduled to be in port at the same time as us. In fact, our British Isles cruise on Norwegian Star was the last cruise of the season!

Read more: How does one of Norwegian's oldest ships compare to Royal Caribbean's oldest ship?


The biggest blow came almost immediately after I made the final payment for my 12-night African itinerary. Norwegian Cruise Line sent an email with a totally different itinerary than the original one we booked! I felt like I had been catfished after just making the final payment days before.

The country of Mozambique was dropped entirely from the itinerary, as we had two scheduled port stops here. One sea day was added and adjustments were made to the ports in Madagascar. Again, this was cited as “port congestion” according to Norwegian Cruise Line. I was devastated, as this was one of the reasons I had booked the cruise.

Rumors circulated that Mozambique was dropped due to safety concerns or a yellow fever breakout. These are understandable - and more believable - than port congestion. 

This was the third itinerary I booked to be impacted by port congestion, so I started to grow suspicious at this point. Also, Mozambique was removed from all of the ship’s African itineraries for the season. I have a hard time believing that Mozambique had port congestion for every single sailing over the course of three months.

Unfortunately, further emails were sent with even more changes to my African safari cruise. This time, port times were reduced for multiple ports of call. The cruise line shared the changes were in the name of sustainability.

“We are committed to providing the best vacations at sea and have been working tirelessly to continue to elevate the quality of our offerings and overall guest experience while driving a positive impact on society and the environment. As we optimize itineraries for fuel efficiencies, we have modified Norwegian Dawn's itinerary as shown below,” said the email.

Missed ports

Although I was already annoyed about the constant itinerary changes, I was still excited for my cruises with Norwegian. Unfortunately, I encountered further disappointment during my highly-anticipated cruises.

To start, we encountered a bad storm during my 10-night British Isles cruise. This caused us to miss two of our port stops in Dublin and Isle of Man, as both of these were tender ports and the waves were too rough to tender. I was surprised to find our itinerary apparently had three tender ports, as this information alone was hard to find on our reservation confirmation.

However, there is probably a reason no other cruise lines were operating this late in the season around the British Isles. Sailing this late in October is risky, and perhaps Norwegian Cruise Line finds taking the risk to be profitable since they have the monopoly.

Missing a port during a cruise isn’t unheard of, as this is also one of the risks of cruising in general. You are at the mercy of the weather and your ship’s captain. But, I have been extremely lucky that I had never had a missed port before with all of my cruising.

Fast forward to January - I am sailing away from Mauritius with an anticipated arrival in Madagascar. History repeats itself that we were unable to dock in Madagascar, although we had already arrived to the port area and everyone was ready to disembark. The entire ship was disappointed and I even saw some shed tears during breakfast.

Luckily, we were able to visit our second port in Nosy Be, Madagascar the next day; however, the captain of our ship warned us that he would be reevaluating whether we could arrive. The weather was iffy and tender operations were quite slow, but I was able to check Madagascar off my bucket list.

I was anxious for most of the cruise about whether we would actually be able to dock in the ports of call on our itinerary. I realized I had never felt this kind of anxiety cruising with Royal Caribbean before, even while sailing to more exotic destinations like China, Thailand, Malaysia, Israel and Lithuania.

Of course, you can encounter bad weather during any cruise. However, Norwegian Cruise Line was the only cruise line operating in these regions during both of these cruises. There is probably a reason other cruise lines opt not to sail this time of year!

Bad luck or a trend?

When it was announced that we would miss our port in Madagascar, I was fed up with Norwegian Cruise Line’s shenanigans. I had flown halfway around the world to have Mozambique removed from the itinerary and now my time in Madagascar was being threatened.

To make matters worse, the onboard gift shop had destination t-shirts for Mozambique. Rubbing salt in the wound! For many guests onboard, including myself, this might have been our only opportunity to visit the country.

Perhaps it was a stroke of bad luck that I had all of these itinerary changes and missed ports with my Norwegian cruises. Regardless, this seems to be a pattern with Norwegian Cruise Line with changing itineraries, dropping ports and shortening port time under the disguise of port congestion or sustainability efforts.

As a new Norwegian cruiser, I started researching this sort of bait-and-switch on cruise forums. Come to find out, many have reported having the same things happen to them. Even worse, most report that Norwegian Cruise Line does not communicate itinerary changes until after final payment dates, which was the case for me.

Although the cruise contract allows companies to make these changes, this started to feel like poor organization and cost-cutting measures. I still do not trust that Norwegian Cruise Line was being honest about the reasons for the changes, especially when sharing the negative impacts immediately after final payment when you are locked into your reservation.

NCL star

In fact, the cruise line just came under massive scrutiny for butchering an Antarctica itinerary just a few weeks ago. Guests were notified that they wouldn’t be sailing into Antarctica until they were onboard and noticed the itinerary had changed in their apps.

Mind you, I have only once had an adjusted itinerary after booking a cruise with Royal Caribbean. After booking my honeymoon cruise to Greece and Croatia, our sailing had an itinerary change from Dubrovnik to Split. This was a bummer, but we were still visiting Croatia and the change was months in advance.

Smaller qualms

Because I am so destination focused when cruising, these disappointments are enough for me to be extremely hesitant to book further itineraries with Norwegian Cruise Line. This is especially true for any bucket-list itineraries, as it seems like any itinerary booked will likely have further adjustments.

However, I had other qualms about Norwegian Cruise Line that did not impress me. For example, face-to-face immigration was horribly operated during my African cruise. People were literally fighting and screaming to get through immigration - it was unlike anything I had seen before. I've done face-to-face immigration with Royal Caribbean multiple times on various ships and it's always been extremely organized and civil. 

This was just the tip of the iceberg for issues during this cruise. In addition, we had to embark in Mauritius without any sort of terminal. This left us dragging our luggage for hours in a make-shift tent during high temperatures. Many guests fainted or experienced heat stroke.

Our disembarkation in Cape Town was just as chaotic, as we disembarked into a parking lot of gravel. Again, there was no terminal, the wind was causing a minor dust storm of gravel and guests were struggling to walk with their luggage.

The cruise line’s tendering operations were highly disorganized on both of my cruises. We had to wake up hours before arriving to the port so we could wait in line for a tender ticket. I’ve never had an issue getting tender tickets with Royal Caribbean, as they have most often been distributed the day before.

Finally, the entertainment was extremely lacking on all of my Norwegian cruises. I am used to Royal Caribbean having entertainment every evening on a cruise. I found this was not the case with Norwegian Cruise Line, as multiple nights had no headliner entertainment. Perhaps this was because I was sailing on older cruise ships, but even Norwegian Viva only had headliner shows for two of the four nights.

Coming back to Royal Caribbean

Needless to say, the grass wasn’t greener on the other side. I was disappointed with many aspects of my Norwegian cruise experiences, especially related to the itinerary changes and missed ports. It all comes down to trust.

I realize that this disappointment can be true with any cruise line, but four cruises was enough for me to rethink my plans with Norwegian. I have a cruise booked to Asia with Norwegian for next January; however, I don’t trust that this itinerary that I am being sold is the one that will come to fruition.

Although all cruise lines are businesses that need to make money, I feel a little icky about the way Norwegian Cruise Line treated me as a customer. I am hesitant to spend more money booking itineraries that are likely going to change even before I get onboard.

NCL viva

On the flip side, I don’t have trust issues with Royal Caribbean after having good experiences time and time again with the cruise line. Royal Caribbean hasn’t given me a reason to doubt their operations and ethical business practices - I’ve been fairly treated as a customer.

As someone who wants to take interesting itineraries to new destinations, I think Celebrity Cruises will be a good fit moving forward. In fact, I have two cruises with Celebrity Cruises this year and one cruise with Royal Caribbean scheduled for next year.

If I am going to spend my hard-earned money and vacation time on a cruise, I would rather sail with a cruise line that has proven itself trustworthy to me. You can find me happily sipping my free Diamond Plus cocktail on the top deck of a Royal Caribbean ship soon!

Allie Hubers has been cruising since she was a tiny toddler. What started as a yearly vacation with family quickly turned into a passion for travel, cruising and adventure. Allie's been on nearly 30 cruises all over the world. She even studied abroad on Semester at Sea, sailing the world on a ship while taking courses for college and visiting 4 continents.

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