This is our third cruise in 13 months ( 11 day Mediterranean with RCI in May, 2011 and 7 day Bahamas with Carnival in January, 2012) and NCL exceeded our expectations in terms of food, service and entertainment. I have read other reviews that freestyle dining means long waits to get a table, but this was not the case for us. We had most of our meals at the main dining room and although this sailing was full, we did not experience having to wait long. Maybe the fact that we went early ( 5:30 to 6 p.m.) helped . Talking about food, the menu selection was great. I'm quite a picky eater, and in the other cruises there were times when there was nothing in the menu that really appealed to me, or I didn't like the taste of the food. But in this cruise, I'm very happy with the food. On our last day, we were even offered a special meal of our ethnic food for both breakfast and lunch, and we are just a small group of 5 people ( couple with 3 daughters ages 17-22)!
The service in NCL is fantastic. Crew and staff are very attentive and friendly, and we chatted with a lot of them. I'm also a light sleeper and had a noise problem with our stateroom, but the very day I made a complaint to the front desk, they rectified the situation by moving my husband and me another stateroom ( actually an upgrade). On top of this, they gave us a complimentary dinner for the entire family in one of their specialty restaurants. I wrote a thank you letter to the Hotel Director, who then had chocolate covered strawberries delivered to our room with a personalized note !
What really impressed us was the quality of the nightly entertainment. Their in house production cast was surprisingly good, all ghe girls could sing solo. Guest performers were a pair of comedic jugglers who trained in a circus school, a comedy group ( Second City), and a husband and wife team who were not only members of the Russian Ballet but also great acrobats. Their Cirque De soliel type shows were spectacular, specially the one on the last night which also included magic acts, and dance and song routines by the in house production cast.
Another great thing was the fact that there were many venues where groups could get together and play board or card games. Our family like to play board games during sea days, and in the other cruise lines finding a place for this was a problem. IN NCL, during the time when the specialty restaurants are not doing business, passengers are free to sit around.
One nice touch with NCL is that during port days, there would be a crew member at the terminal offering cold glasses of water to the returning passengers. It's a little gesture, but much appreciated by those "dying" from thirst !
Oh, and we love the fact that we have an option for speedy disembarkation, where passengers travelling light could just walk off with their luggage as soon as the ship is cleared for disembarkation. No more waiting in public areas waiting for your turn to be called ! Also, we like having no formal nights; we think that it's not worth the trouble of packing fancy clothes and dress shoes that would be worn for only a couple of hours. NCL gives you the option of going formal ( or not) for one night, instead of the usual 2 formal nights. I personally suspect those formal nights are ploys to generate business for the ship photographer.
On the negative side, our staterooms were very small. With the twin beds pushed together to form a king, there was barely any space on the side to move around. Nevertheless, I would strongly recommend NCL, as the quality of service, food and entertainment is more than enough to compensate for the small room, where passengers should not be spending a lot of time anyway.
TIPS to other cruisers: If you are driving from your home to the cruise terminal, allow plenty of time for unexpected traffic. We almost missed our boat in New York because there were major road accidents on the day of embarkation. Also, travel light. Between the five of us, we only had 2 small suitcases, 2 duffel bags, and 2 backpacks. Travelling light served us well 3 times: when us 4 women had to run all the way to the terminal with our luggage while my husband was parking the car, when we had to repack when my husband and I transferred staterooms, and when we wanted to disembark quickly.