Well - to make it easy: you can pay more - and you get more... but I am always asking myself is there a need to have more and spend the money for another cruise for some comfort of one cruise only.
With NCL I can afford balconies while with the same budget I would only get lower categories.
But you must accept some lower standards in the free food.
Our cruise started in Copenhagen. A great embarkation port. Close to airport. Only problems when you are someone extremely "cheap" and loves to carry your bags 20 minutes to the next public transport an on weekends. But pre-/post-cruise could be a little more expensive than somewhere else as Copenhagen is not the cheapest city but beautiful and worth to see. Drop-off bags at curbside: no problem, check-in: no problem either.
As we really have a great TA with great revenue with NCL and great contacts we got an upgrade from Balcony to Mini-Suite.
The Mini-Suite was just (like the whole ship) from a time where maritime feeling decides. Great furnitures - enough space. Only problem was door to balcony and the drawers need to fixed for unintentional movements. Walkable closet and a seperate beauty table incl. hair dryer in the bathroom: wonderful! Only disadvantage: bath tub instead of shower - especially if you had sea movements and no handle to get in or out.
Our cabin steward did a very good job and every special request we had was done asap.
The ship itself had space and maritime feeling. Not like NORWEGIAN EPIC which reminds more to a floating casino mall... You had great lounges like Observation Lounge to look forward - not like NORWEGIAN STAR/DAWN only looking back! You had atriums which gives you the feeling how tall the ship is with glass elevators.
Open deck: not so crowded that you have the feeling to be squeezed with others.
Well... food... We did not die of hunger... but somehow variation and quality become worse and worse. Even when you pay extra like with the Musical bruch: Salmon as starter, salmon as entree... and the next days salmon salmon salmon... Compared to our last experience on NORWEGIAN JADE it was poorer: like Cesar's Salad: no options like anchovies or tabasco. It was plain and you can top chicken, shrimps or croutons. As they sold 2 for 1 you had also very "cheap" fellow-cruisers: no habit how to queue up and ignoring existing queues, pushing you away because they arrive and need space, early arrival before buffet was finished and starting to store desserts before coffee was served because they were afraid that when they finished their entree the desserts might be gone. I am willing to pay 20 or 25 USD to have a nicer atmosphere but such guests who obviously never participated to any better buffets before. Therefore PLEASE NO MORE 2 for 1-OFFERS!!!
They still had surf and turf, but with two shrimps instead of a lobster tail. But they still have lobster.
Lunch in the MDR: same every day! No general variation.
The offer day by day: regional specialities for lunch and dinner: but if you get a waiter who does not know and they forgot to display you do not get it.
But even the regional specialities: nothing upscale: things like Meat Loaf, Saussage, Wiener Schnitzel.
Soups: as I am a soup lover and so I was quite disappointed that flavour was a word the chef in charge for soups did not know. They had days simple things like chicken broth were excellent and other days it tasted like water.
Before you book Royal Caribbean or Carnival: they are not better either - but NCL lower their standards later than Royal Caribbean.
We had two occassions to eat two dinners in Le Bistro and Moderno. Le Bistro unchanged so far (Latitudes Platin) and Moderno: not as good as on NORWEGIAN EPIC due to capacity reasons: buffet is smaller on NORWEGIAN SUN so something which we knew from NORWEGIAN EPIC was missing. Nevertheless: an experience you should not miss.
A new experience was Las Ramblas Tapas-Restaurant... well I could not say that this reminded me very much to classical Spanish Tapas-Bars but it was a nice place to sit and listen music or to have a snack.
It was the second time that we were drawn for the Hosted Dinner Table. No idea why they put us on a pure German speaking table. I had to learn that the HR Manager and the Staff Captain are not the same person and it was great to learn many many new things during this dinner. I can only recommend to go to the front desk and let them know that you are interested to join this event. It's complimentary and you get free drinks you normally have to pay and very nice company like us.
It was our first time on NCL to join the Chef's Table. But honestly COMPARED to Princess and Carnival the 75.00 USD was a little poor since you get cooking books and food preparation in the galley! Furthermore the "best" was a veal chop while you get Lobster Thermidor on Princess! It was also a little sad: it was hold the night when we set sail in Torshavn and so we missed the passage between the islands as our separate dinner room was kept dark. We need to say it was still a great food and service experience we would not like to miss and therefore a reason to be first onboard on NORWEGIAN SPIRIT in January 2013 to book it.
The coffee was an up and down and my fellow had his French Press and his own coffee with him.
What was very good: Breakfast variation: you can choose in the MDR if you like la carte or buffet. And if you did not find anything in the menu you can just top by food from the buffet and vice versa. A "secret": Breakfast at Moderno: nearly the same standard like with the VIP breakfast in Il Adagio but no warm menu.
Although the food could be better we accept that we had to "suffer" because of the great crew. We really did not expected anyone might be onboard whom we know but just 10 minutes after embarkation we heared already "Welcome back onobard - nice to have you back with us again!". There were so many good "friends" with the crew that they even could read our mind: like I did not get the same teabag I am used to have: someone who served us many times before came and asked what was wrong. I normally say: when you have a quota of 90 good / 10 bad - I can live with it. But with NCL you normally have 98 /2 but on this cruise it as 99.5 / 0.5!!! Maybe because of the ship's management: Richard Jarnicki whom we know from previous cruise and his entire team did really everything to accomodate us. The word "No" we have never heared. We can only say: we had no reasons to go home and tell people not to go NCL.
We finally made it to "Shout" after we missed so many times on NORWEGIAN JADE. A great show - most of the songs I downloaded later as iTunes. "Rock it" we did not like, so we left after few minutes as it was too hard and too loud for us (Sorry: too young to be "EasyRider"-Generation"). Claire Maidin was nice but when she had an additional Matinee show we left also early as she started to repeat songs from her 1st show which we did not like. Rope artists are not my world but we stayed to see the crew farewell... Anyhow we were so busy that we had no more time see anything. Jaime was a great Cruise Director and really one who was available for their guests. The only thing I need to claim: if guests are using signal horns to disturb the performance it's no fun - it's a reason to send security.
We went on cruises and we experienced also concierges whose body language let you know "Do not bother me when you are not a suite-guest and only Latitudes Platinum". But not David Contreras: he showed up after few days, asking how we were as he was wondering that we never showed up so far and told us one more time that he was there to assist us and we should not be shy and come. A great concierge.
I think they could treat their Latitudes Platinum guests better: You get a letter what you kind of amneties you get. Like "fruit basket". Never delivered but a box of chocolate (Godiva but the cheapest selection!!!): Background: guests can walk to the Garden Cafe and grab their fruits. That was why they sent chocolate. Nightly chocolate was never available: reason run out - could not find any supermarket in Copenhagen to buy new one... 10 addtional minutes for internet and only once. Cheese and Wine for Gold and Platinum: service went not fast enough: so guests took away tray with cheese from waiter and deliver to their friends and family while eating from the tray.
What was great: when you arrived back from your tours someone was always there to welcome you with warm and cold beverages or cakes and a hot/cold towel. Something we even did not get with Holland America with 100 F in Asia!
We choosed the cruise because of the itinerary:
Copenhagen, Denmark: as we knew Copenhagen well we arrived very late and spend Saturday in Karen Blixen Museum (Out of Africa) and Kronborg (Hamlet's to be or not to be). We missed an insigth of Louisiana as our US-friends had to see the airport because their bags were missed. But we were on vacation - so no stress. The dinner we met Danish friends. The day of embarkation we spend a little time in Malm' in Sweden before returning to Copenhagen to get on the ship.
Bergen, Norway: 90% of the days of the year it is raining. So what? It was raining. We send our friends to Norway in a Nutshell BUT the tour offered by Fjordtours on boat (Naer'yfjord), train (Flaam-Railways) and bus (Stalheim) and sitting with the ship's tour 27 miles in a tunnel to miss the UNESCO World Heritage. We stayed the day in Bergen and went on Mt. Fl'yen and did some shopping. In the evening we left with our friends on Hurtigruten (Norwegian Coastal Line) Bergen to Aalesund.
Aalesund, Norway: Hurtigruten was testing the acceptance of H'jrundfjord instead of Geirangerfjord for the next year. So we were lucky to go into the fjord what we missed with NCL: Aalesund itself: season was over and they did not go to Geirangerfjord - how sad! We returned by taxis who took us to Geirangerfjord in Hellesylt and Mt. Aksa back to our ship.
Lerwick, Shetland Island, Scottland: we rented a car and drove ourselves to Jarshof to buy some gloves and hats. A calm day.
Torshavn, Faroe Islands: the port with the lowest expectations! So I felt the right to cancel just in case the weather might be too bad. But the tour went that day. The tour operator arranged that we had a one-way and must not return with our boat the whole way back and so could see more and arranged that public bus would wait for us. We have not seen one bird on the bird cliff tour. But just the voyage on the public bus from Torshavn to Vestmanna was worth to see. It was calm because my 20 fellow-cruisers who followed me (it was a open public tour everyone could join and I did not want them to enroll etc...) were so surprised of the scenery that nobody said a word on the tour. Later once they saw the boat for the ship's tour and our boat it was the moment they liked to kill me. But our small Viking boat could enter grottos etc.. Same with the boat tour: nobody spokes... what should you say, when you have Kau'ai (Hawai'ian Island), Norwegian Fjords and Halong-Bay (Vietnam) at one single place. It was the biggest surprise for me and I definately want to come back and see it again but with birds.
Reykjavik, Iceland: unfortunately I got the same morning a message that a very good friend passed away. So my attention to The Golden Circle tour was very limited. We booked a public tour. It was cheaper and was fine. Geysir, Guldenvoss, Thingstatte... all the essentials. We stayed the night in Reykjavik because we thought that Iceland was worth to see more. So the next day we did Perlan (Saga Museum), a helicopter ride and Blue Lagoon. While the day before tons of buses arrived we had only about 30 cars in front of the Blue Lagoon.
Greenock, Scotland: So we had the luck to miss the 2 days at sea with 15 ft high waves. When we arrived the day earlier in Glasgow we informed the port agent and I need some time to arrange some flowers for the funeral. So the afternoon we went to Edinburgh to see the Royal Yacht Britannia and meet friends for dinner with typical Scottish food. The next day we followed our friends' recommendation to see the Loch Lomond area and had more scones for our US-friends. It was nice - but after Torshavn it was somehow a little weak... Everything was done by a rented car.
Dublin, Ireland: Again we booked a private taxi tour for Glendalough and Powerscourt. Well Glendalough was not my world as I hate bunch of old stones (but same with Stonehenge, temples on Malta or Ostia Antica... but I liked Angkor Wat, Tulum, Leptis Magna or Ephesus...) The Powerscourt were worth the money and time. But best was the lunch our driver took us with for. Never had better corned-beef before and fun!!!
One picture says more than thousands words:
Here in the postings of the boards you find pictures of our voyage incl. information of the ports and events on board:
there were few little weak points but I would do this tour again and I would recommend all my best friends to go on this cruise again.
You cannot get more for the price we paid! You can pay more and get more! But I prefer to go another cruise for this budget.
I hope that someone from NCL read this too and take it as inspiration to become better with the food. I do not mind to pay a little more if I get a little higher standard with the food.
But do not touch your crew: wonderful: can I adopt them for my home?