OK, here goes. This was our first trip with more than just my husband and I. We were travelling with my brother-in-law and his wife who have never cruised before. We stayed in Miami on Saturday and we were on the 11 AM bus to the port from our hotel.
Embarkation - This usually is a very smooth process (we have cruised on NCL four times before). Unfortunately this wasn't the case this time. Our group split up because we were going in the Latitudes check-in and thought we would be on board first to help our family get their bearings when they got on. However, there was some type of serious glitch with the machines that produce the cabin cards and ours was wrong so they had to go back and try over and over again. We were waiting for at least 15 minutes or more and the line behind us just kept getting longer. Apparently when they swiped my card someone else's picture would show up. Finally they gave us the cards and sent us on the ship but when we hit the first security check the cards didn't work and we had to go to the customer service desk to get new cards printed. Not the best start for the cruise.
The first day is always hectic. We headed to the buffet on Deck 12 and naturally it was overflowing with people. Eventually we managed to get a table and sat down to have a very nice lunch. By this time our cabins were ready so we took our friends to our cabin on Deck 11 first and then headed down to their cabin on Deck 10.
We had a mini-suite and it was very nice except I would have liked to have adjustable chairs on the balcony. Our friends had a balcony cabin on Deck 10 and they just loved it. They also had Bon Voyage gifts waiting for them from their family.
Of course we all had to go to the muster drill and so we took them to find the spot where they would have to go when the alarm sounded. Being their first cruise we had to show them around the ship. It was about 4 PM by the time all that was over with and we headed back to our cabins. By now our luggage had arrived so we got busy unpacking. There was lots of storage space in our cabin with four large drawers, a closet and two large shelves along with smaller drawers in the desk.
One big complaint about our cabin (and probably everyone else's) was the size of the TV. I should say "lack of size"! The TV was about a 15" screen! It was pathetic and NCL really should have replaced these by now with at least a 27" screen. I had a larger TV in my hard-top camper 20 years ago.
The first night we ate in the MDR because lobster was on the menu. I had the NY strip loin steak which was very nice but the lobster was actually a HALF a lobster tail and a small fillet of red snapper. Very nice but not a very filling meal
FOOD -- Except for the first night and one meal at Cagney's, we ate exclusively in the buffet. The food was very good, hot and well presented. My only complaint is that the carving stations seem to be cutting back on the nicer (more expensive) meats and for the most part it was chicken, turkey, ham and even meat loaf and brisket. We used to have roast beef, duck and lamb on previous cruises.
We did have one meal at Cagney's and on future cruises we will not be bothering with this. We had clam chowder as an appetizer and then the prime rib which was not as tender as it used to be. With it we had a baked potato and sauteed mushrooms. For $50.00 it was not a very good meal and we will be sticking with the free venues from now on.
ENTERTAINMENT- This was pretty standard stuff and we did not go to any of the song/dance productions. However, the comedienne in the Spinnaker Lounge was very good and the Frankie Vallee show was excellent. We also enjoyed the magician who came up into the audience to do some of his tricks.
We did have a problem with the advertised "Wii Game time" as we enjoy the Wii bowling at home and we were looking forward to trying it on their big screen in the atrium. Turns out that they will not allow the passengers to play the "bowling" because there are real bowling lanes on the ship!! Seriously?? Not exactly the same thing and with 2,300 passengers and four lanes for bowling I don't think they were going to lose any money. I also found it hard to watch any sports on the big screen in the atrium because we are used to high-definition TV at home and the picture on the big screen is practically blurry.
Bowling- We did have fun with this and went twice to play one string (all you are allowed when it is busy). They have several times when it is "2 for 1" so it is only $5.00 a string.
Shuffleboard -- They had 3 -- 4 courts around the ship and they were very good being the proper size and laid out well. Always a lot of fun
There is rock climbing, a tennis/basketball court and a golf driving cage as well as a walking track.
We did not use the spa or the exercise room.
CASINO -- One of the major problems for us. We are non-smokers and cigarette smoke really bothers my eyes so the fact that the entire casino is SMOKING was a real turn-off. I could only stay in there for about 20 minutes and then I had to leave. With all the complaints you would think they could have two smaller casinos (separate) with one for non-smokers and one for smokers. They certainly would have made more money off me and my DH if it weren't for the heavy smoke.
ITINERARY -- We were going to be stopping at Great Stirrup Cay (private island) in the Bahamas and then going to Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
Hurricane Sandy put an end to that. She was just a tropical depression when we left but to keep everyone safe we diverted to Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico.
GREAT STIRRUP CAY -- We rented one of their cabanas for the day on this island since there were four of us. However, we are all seniors and the walk from the dock to the cabana is at least 10 minutes and then you have to climb a staircase to get to the cabana. I should note that it was a very hot, sunny day. Considering the cost of renting these, they really should have golf carts (or similar transportation) to get folks back and forth. We were in Cabana #1 so the other 9 cabanas were even further away. The amenities were great. A fridge with 8 bottles of water, eight beach towels, a bowl of fruits, wine glasses/dishes all set out and chips/salsa once we got settled.
The price also includes floats for the water, hippo slide tickets and $50.00 in drinks/food. There are four loungers and four chairs and a table so it is just lovely.
It was a very hot day and we enjoyed getting into the ocean to cool off. I did make a surprising discovery when I came home. Apparently there are SHOWERS at the back of the cabana and our guide never told us about them. The back wall of the cabana is solid and we never thought to walk around the building! It would have been very convenient had we known about it.
My husband and his brother had a big hassle when they started out to go snorkelling though. They are both certified scuba divers and have been snorkelling for over 30 years. So they were pretty surprised (and annoyed) when they were told by the lifeguard that they HAD to wear snorkel vests to go out snorkelling! Then they found out that they had to RENT them from the dive shop! If NCL insist that people have to wear these vests then they should be FREE since it is not our choice. It ended up that we did not have to pay for them because we got a credit for our hippo slide tickets (it was out of service).
The buffet on the island was wonderful and there is a large area of shops to buy beach clothing and souvenirs. It turned out to be a very long day because it was extremely hot and there is a lot of walking to get from the cabana to the buffet and washrooms and to the shopping area and back to the dock.
PRIORITY TENDERS -- A problem. Our cabana fee included a priority tender but we discovered that there was no such thing when it came for us to leave the ship for the island. I do not know whether this was due to the rough seas or not but we had to wait in the (long) line with everyone else to get on the tender. The line went from deck nine all the way down to deck 4 where the tender was loading. It was a very rough ride and a lot of people were sick both coming and going from the island. On the lower deck one side of the boat was getting hit by large waves and everyone was getting soaked. With a water temperature of 84F it wasn't too much of a problem.
SERVICE -- Excellent as always and everywhere on the ship. When we were diverted from Jamaica the front desk staff used the ship phone to contact the hotel where we had booked an all-inclusive day trip so we could cancel it and get a refund. We also had a few problems with our bill but they were fixed immediately once we contacted the billing staff.
Disembarkation -- We tagged our luggage for a 10 AM departure and it all went smoothly. Overall we had a wonderful trip and I will be sailing with NCL again.
The only other complaint I would have is that the grout around the bottom edge of our bathtub was black with mould and should either be removed and replaced or cleaned with chlorine bleach. It wasn't very appealing when laying it the tub!