flew to Miami arriving morning of the cruise (7 am). Killed some time at airport as was too early to head to Port. Took a cab to port I believe $24 fixed fare (2 cab as was traveling with mu wife, 5 children and our teenagers friend). Short drive to Port. Porters checked in our luggage. Then waited in a short line (which grew longer) as they had not yet opened the doors to check in. We has arrived at port approx 9:30 am. They were checking in the ship employees first. Then went through security and checked in relatively quickly. We are seasoned cruises but his was our first NCL cruise. Typical check in process except they automatically activate all the people in cabin (even young children) stateroom key to be active with the credit card. The check in person advised us when on ship to go to purser to deactivate the children's charge ability as in recent cruise a child had spent $900 at the video arcade without his parent knowing until the end of cruise. All other ships I have been on children were automatically not connected to the credit card. Was short line on ship to get the kids cards deactivated. Not a big deal but seems like a unnecessary step.
Waited about 1 1/2hrs before they started boarding the ship. quick board. Not able to go to cabin until about 2 or 3 pm.
I will not do a day to day review: Just some thoughts:
dining: I like anytime dining. most cruise lines have this now as a option not mandatory as with NCL. Only had to wait 15-20 mins for dinner (prime time) for our party of 8 first 2-4 days of the cruise after that no wait.
FOOD: I was disappointment with the variety of food on the open seat dining rooms. We ate dinner mainly at the venitian. Found the atmosphere there to be more like other cruise lines. More elegant then the Aqua. Both dining areas serve basically the same dinner choices. Desserts were fair, sometimes good but very limited choices on the changing menu. They have s set menu everyday with appetizer, entree, dessert choices the same the entire cruise. Then each day a appetizer/entree/dessert selection that changes. Even with those "changing" menus there was not very much variety. They have a "chefs special" entree that changes each night as well. Unfortunately it is not printed on the menu. Your waiter tells you what it is (many times hard just before you are ready to order). Would be much more helpful to have it posted at the door or a card with it on the table. Food itself was good. But again was disappointed with the variety.
Luckily we went to dinner the the first (i belive perhaps second night) this was the only time they served lobster the entire 11 night cruise. Cagneys steakhouse has lobster $8 (in addition to the $25) specilaty charge.
Lido deck buffet: ate breakfast there always. over all good. not to hard to find a seat. had a nice "kids" section which my 7,8,10 yr old liked (small child chairs, tables and there own small buffet line with food). Lunch was ok. not great. Had a deli daily and a hot buffet line and desserts.
Late night snack was very limited. Pizza good, some desserts and hamburgers/hotdogs (not very appealing).
Chocolate buffet (one time event i believe 8-10:30 Pm) had a good variety. It was in the lido deck buffet. The time of it was not ideal as too soon after dinner. Should have started at 9 and went to midnight.
There is a 24 hr free restaurant with a fixed menu: has a decent breakfast choices, It is sit down, order form a waiter. Nice area with views out the ship or views down to the atrium where there is a late night movie and 7-11 pm musical entertainment. Lunch/dinner there is fixed menu (cheeseburger, fish and chips, chicken wings, panini sandwich. starter wonton soup or chicken noodle, spinach/cheese and tortilla chips and for dessert cheesecake or strawberry shortcake. The burgers were great (angus beef-much better than the buffet) and the wings were good. You could also order food there to go. Never had a wait.
We did not eat at any of the specialty pay restaurant. Was going to eat at Cagneys steakhouse but never got around to it. Plus the added cost was higher then i wanted especially traveling with 8.
By the way the steak in the "free" dining rooms was not very good. Could tell they chose cheaper cuts otherwise so as not to be close to competing with the specialty restaurants. Specialty restaurants never seemed to be busy. Always had openings. Many times seemed empty.
typically cruise ship. Had no complaints. Show room was good. Pool was good.
Cabin we almost always get a inside. Use our money for other things. Cabin was very small compared to all the other ships I have been on. Layout was poor. When bunk was down could not see the tv. Closet space very limited.
I would avoid this cabin and this part of the hall. Ship layout plan gives no clue that it is a ship crew "party area". Noisy, laughing, music, partying form the crew starts about 8 pm and goes on until early in the morning EVERYDAY. We were happy we at least had 3-4 cabins away form the "emergency only/crew only" door that ended the hallway.
STAFF: excellent overall. cabin steward was great (even stored some of our luggage that would not fit easily in our cabins). Wait staff overall good. Aqua dining room wait staff did not seem to be up to par. I have never seen wait staff stand around and "talk" with each other so much.
Entertainment was good on board. variety good. The comedian they brought on board was horrible though.
Kids Crew (kids club):
Our 7,9,11 yrs old liked it. But the variety of activities was limited. Also activities in port were not included you had to pay extra for these. I have never had that on any other cruise lines.
Smoking: we do not smoke. Smoking around the pool was annoying. Also the "cigar" lounge needs much much better ventilation the smell goes very far down the hallways and into the other non smoking areas.
I am always amazed that the engineers can't have better ventilation that "sucks " the smoke out.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: We had booked Samana Zip line months before the cruise.(we actually had done zip line in Samana on a Holland America cruise dec 2011. When we arrived at the ship first day was a note form shore excursion stating the tour had been cancelled. Talked to shore excursion person later who told us they have not done that excursion for months because of safety concerns. Not sure why they still have it for sale on the NCL website???? frustrating.
The free shore excursion to Cayo isaland in Samana was great. Well appreciated. This is like other "private" cruise line islands we have been on before.
Some members of our party did zip line/canopy excursion in Dominica and liked it but it was not just zip lines. Was other "obstacle course like things" Which was "scarier" to my wife. She "did not feel safe". The guides on the excursion were not very helpful. She enjoyed the Samana Zip line and felt much safer in December.
Dominca: took taxi ($20pp roundtrip) to CHampagne neach (is a rock beach) excellent snorkeling best the entire trip. champagne like bubbles stream up in some places on the reef.
Overall I enjoyed the cruise. But there has not been a cruise that I have not liked. I am not sure how this cruise compares to other NCL cruises/ships. Before This cruise ewe were planing on a Dec 2012 cruise on the same ship but have decided against it. Compared to our other recent cruises (Holland America, carnival and more distant RCCL and Princess) we are planning to to book with one of those lines for our next cruise this year.