Background: I have sailed on Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Princess. Was a little bit wary about trying NCL since I had heard the food was not so good and wasn't sure about the any time dining thing. I treated my son and daughter in law to a cruise vacation but told them they could pick the cruise. Part of the deal was they had to pay for transportation to the pier. So...since they were paying for that part, they picked leaving from NYC since we live in upstate NY and could take a Trailways bus directly to the pier.
Debarkation: My sister, son, daughter in law and myself arrived at the pier about 11:30. A "longshoreman" entered the bus once we arrive at the pier and let us know there would be a $2 fee per bag if we would like to be rejoined with our luggage on the ship. Got off the bus and went through the registration process quite quickly. Entered the ship about 12:30 or so. Nobody was there to show us where to go but eventually found out what floor the food was on. I was impressed with the offering and was able to find a seat. Rooms were ready about 1:30.
Cabin: We each had a mini suite, for two reasons. Regular rooms on this ship are extremely small and I suffer from claustrophobia at times so like the extra space. The other reason was since my sister and I are over the age of 60, we got the same rate on a mini suite as a regular balcony. Room was nice. Full size sofa, flat screen TV, tub with sliding glass doors in the bathroom and toilet had a separate door to close that area off if need be. Beds were very comfortable and I do have back issues. Slept better here than I do at home. TV had FOX News (which I am hooked on),MSNBC, BBC, CNBC, kids channels,a channel with sitcoms and a movie channel. The only downside was the closet. Couldn't open the doors all the way. They hit the bed. Very poorly laid out. They should copy the closet like a Princess ship..separate by the bathroom. Another great feature for us was the coffee pot in the room. We don't know in advance what time we will wake up so hate to order room service the night before because of that. So we could enjoy the coffee when we wanted. It was also great for making tea in the evening.
Staff: As usual, the room steward was the best. Actually, Jay was the best steward we ever had. Always spoke to us. Helped us out when we lost one of the room keys. Ice bucket filled and wine glasses arrived as requested. Jay was leaving for home in the Philippines after this cruise for 2 months. He has been working on a 9 month contract. Waiters were another story. Since they don't receive tips like the ones on fixed dining do. They seemed inexperienced too. We only tried dinner in the Tsars. Because the experience wasn't the greatest, we only ate dinner there 3 times. The rest we went to the buffet and many times brought food to the room which was just a flight of stairs down, very handy. We ate in the Blue Lagoon for lunch and they was very nice. Waitstaff a little better there. Buffet staff not very friend either. Never really seemed to talk to acknowledge you in any way.
Food: Best I have had which was a big surprise. The buffet had so many choices that I didn't try everything I would have liked to. Eggs Benedict good. Rolls and pretzel sticks to die for. Salad fixings excellent.Even most desserts were tasty which was unusual. Only had two things I didn't like(chicken melinase and a lemon pudding cake). Don't know how anyone could complain too much about the offerings.
Itinerary: Changes frequently due to hurricane Sandy. Went to Port Canaveral and took ship excursion to Epcot. Weather was great, perfect. Had a good time. Then instead of going to the private island the next day and Nassau the following day, we docked at Freeport the next day. We took a taxi to the shopping area ($10 total)Since we had not been to the Bahamas before. Total waste of our time. Nothing but junk but the weather was at least good for this and that part we enjoyed. We did not purchase anything. We will never go there again. If a ship stops there we'll say on. We then were supposed to dock in Charleston which I really would have loved to do. But the Storm was coming so we went to Norfolk, VA. Not much there. We got off and walked around about 2 hours. Walked to a mall but we have malls at home so got back on the ship. Got back to NYC safely and walked off the ship about 9:15. That part was very easy.
Bottom line: I wish I could build my own ship. For excitement and funstuff to do I'd copy Carnival. For food I'd take NCL. For pretty ships and personnel it would be Princess. For overall friendliness and also good food it would be Royal. I think I liked the anytime dining thing but miss the waiters that we would get to know. Also will avoid the Bahamas and Port Canaveral ports. Nothing to do at either one. Overall..good trip