Travel To Port of Embarkation / Hotel We were staying at the Hilton Riverside which was a great location and received a great price through an online hotel site. On embarkation day we just rolled our luggage to the streetcar outside the hotel around 1030 (we weren't sure what time the streetcar would arrive) and got off at the next stop (Julia Street). We crossed the tracks and walked into the terminal building after leaving our luggage with the porters. We got into a very short line and within minutes we had our shipboard cards and were walking on the ship amidst a very loud and colourful cruise staff who were welcoming everyone. It felt somewhat like a circus - I thought I was getting on the wrong cruise line. After a brief look around, we noticed some rooms open so we went up to deck 9 to see if our rooms were ready so we could drop off our carry-on. The side doors were closed so we had to wait. We decided we may as well grab lunch in the MDR Versailles. Going up to the buffet is usually a gong show, and it being Thanksgiving Week cruise I figured the place would be swarming with kids (we were 2 adults - 55 and 39). It was nice to have a civil lunch without congestion and no panic looking for a table.
We booked an inside guarantee (I usually book a balcony but this was last minute and money was tight) and received inside mid ship (9613) which was the perfect location for the week. Our cabin steward was Henry and he was terrific. We had towel animals each night. I even wrote him a note hinting for a bunny rabbit and monkey for my roomie - that night we had 2 animals. Henry, unlike any other CS in the past, let us keep our animals so we had quite the zoo staring at us by week's end!
The room itself was fine - we packed light so didn't need all the space. The suitcases don't fit under the beds but fit nicely in the closet. The bathroom had lots of hooks for hanging things although I wish there had been a few more places to put toiletries, etc. The shower stall was heaven - room for 2 and with the sliding door was the best I've been in.
The tvs are a joke esp. when we do spend a lot of time in our cabin. And there are only so many loops of the E channel one can stand!
The beds - groan! They have foamies on top and they are loose so you wake up and they are half off the bed. Maybe they are better when they are together.
Our a/c died the first night and the tv blew a fuse so at 4 am I was out on deck watching the skeleton staff get ready for breakfast. It's very surreal to be sitting on a deck chair getting the warm sea air with a breeze when the ship is so quiet. I went down to Reception and put in our complaint. Maintenance fixed the a/c issue immediately (kudos to NCL) but we had to wait until later in the day to get the tv fixed. I did find that the a/c was really not the best until the last 2 nights when it got too cold. But twice we heard from NCL asking if everything was okay in the room which again impressed me.
They have a very tiny 2 tiered nightstand that is rather useless. I would have liked more room to put my books, and all the other items I seem to need at my reach.
I did find the rooms small and I missed not having a couch and coffee table to sit at to watch downloaded items on the computer or eat room service. The beds weren't the most comfortable to sit on for hours.
The ship was typical of most ships in layout, etc. Muster drill happened before we left. It took longer to collect all the people and tick them off the list, than the actual drill.
We were late for our CC party but were invited to the bridge on the last sea day and spent a very informative 45 mins. with the staff there. If you get the opportunity it's worth the visit. I had the opportunity years ago aboard Celebrity Constellation and found it to be very different layout, etc.
It seemed to be everywhere - if you forgot and walked down the wrong side of the pool deck you found yourself waving off smoke. And the casino was the worst!
I'm a big reader on a ship and the open hours were rather strange. The hard covers are always locked except for like 4 hours a day (watch for times). They have the paperbacks open 24/7 for swapping in and out. The library is very large with couches for sitting and reading. Unfortunately it had 2 doors so people would walk through it as a walkway and the doors would slam each time. One evening I went to drop off books and found a bunch of teens playing monopoly which was fine. They politely asked if I wanted to play too!
We did not try any of the specialty restaurants that cost money. Many were always very quiet. We did notice that Teppenyaki ? was always busy. Moderno as well was visited by a lot.
The tvs located all over the ship were great to tell you whether the dining room you wanted was full or not.
We only ate at Aqua once and found it so noisy. We ate all other dinners, except one in Versailles which was quieter. Being a twosome we usually got a window view. Versailles was open for lunch on sea days. Otherwise we were stuck with the buffet. I get up early so ate breakfast at Market Cafe, and then had a light breakfast 2 hours later with my roomie who likes to be served in Versailles.
I was excited to spend a lot of time in this restaurant having seen the menu but I was disappointed. The food was just okay. And it was always empty.
Breakfast was always good - you were able to help yourself and no bacon police to be found. The omelet station (which is on one side only) was excellent with great choices. They only had muesli the first morning and was sadly missing the rest of the week. There are 3 stations on one side, 2 on the other (one of which is omelet/egg station). Everyone seems to line up at the first section, move down to the next section, it's the same food and less people. We never had a problem finding a place to sit. There is staff that will come around and offer coffee/tea on a trolley. Cutlery is already on the tables which is handy and they clean up the tables quickly.
Lunch was hit or miss on the ship. You can eat at Oasis by the pool where they serve burgers, dogs, french fries and salads or just stay inside at Market Cafe. It was the usual lunch fare with a variety of cultural dishes as well. When Versailles was open for lunch we ate there - they had the same menu daily and it had a good variety of the usual items.
Dinner in the dining rooms was limited I felt. I did try most of the appies, but nothing was to my taste to try again. The first night they had the mini lobster tails and I asked for 2 and was told that was all I get (never had that before). I found the food, although edible, was not exciting, and it just felt like they were trying to do a dish as cheap as possible so most were very bland. I was very disappointed, although I had been warned so I really wasn't expecting much (maybe it was wishful thinking).
We had dinner in the buffet one night as the dining room menu was just not exciting. But unfortunately the buffet was just as bad, if not worse.
We did get room service late at night on 3 occasions. The menu is limited but we usually wanted tea/milk and desserts. Don't order the grill cheese. It is just 3 pieces of bread with a small piece of cheese melted in the middle. It's hard and unlike most grill cheese which is buttered on the grill side, this was tasteless and very dry.
From 930-1130 nightly they have limited snacks in the buffet. The chicken wings are very good, the fries were always crispy, they would also have hot dogs, burgers and sandwiches. It was fine for a late night snack. The desserts were so so. One side does have a crepe station which was okay. And the soft serve cones were always available. At Oasis during the day only, you can get hard ice cream. Ice cream in the dining room got 2 thumbs up from my roomie who ordered it nightly.
We are big trivia fans and they had daily progressive at 530 with the cruise staff who were superb. We always chatted with them so you got to know them on a personal level. With any activities you don't win prizes but collect signatures to cash in at the end of the cruise. There weren't a lot of variety but it beats winning 6 pens or luggage tags!
Other big activities were Deal or No Deal ($20 I believe) and Bingo almost daily. Both were big hits with lots of people.
I went one evening and it is quite large and I had fun for 2 hours on $20. As a non-smoker I found all my fave slot machines were next to chain smokers. I was ready to throw my clothes overboard when I got back to the room.
- Children's Clubs
For a Thanksgiving cruise I didn't find it overwhelming with children. I think the clubs kept them busy and would see many children with painted faces and artwork they had made.
I must say this is the friendliest ship at sea I have ever been on and I'm at 20+. I must admit tho that happy happy boys at the breakfast buffet got a little annoying about day 3 so I would go in the other doors to avoid them. I think there were only 2 crew members who did not acknowledge me or smile when I smiled at them. Most officers/crews would automatically say good morning as they walked by and asked how you were doing. And they sounded sincere as well!
I found some of the Versailles staff lacking experience. I know some of the staff I chatted with were in training for NCL Breakaway but not sure on these staff. You'd ask for a lemonade or milk and you'd wonder if they left to squeeze the lemons or milk the cows themselves. For the most part service was good.
I found the entertainment lacking in the theatres. I walked out 3 times in boredom. Shark Bait were very entertaining but I didn't think it was really a family show and I'm sure that some parents had some explaining to do to inquisitive children. The staff did a 60's Mod Singing review which was cute, filled with music I could relate to. One of the girls was having an off night in the singing department tho. It was not something for families. I found Elements not to my liking and left but my roomie said it was good so it's obviously a taste thing. Second City on board had a show in the theatre which was funny, I went to their kids show which was hilarious but their late night adult show was painfully awful.
The crew had an entertainment show on the last day which was hilarious. Unfortunately they packed in too much stuff in that last day (or maybe because instead of the usual 3 days at sea we only got 2 and they had to fill slots). You had to keep choosing what you wanted to see more.
The shipboard music was good. I never heard the pool group but the piano singer was amazing, as was the trio in the atrium.
They did the usual type Newlywed game, Quest (which seems to be done on all ship lines now) and others which were good for a few laughs.
Port & Shore Excursions
I've done the western Caribbean many times so no shore excursions were booked.
- we were the only ship in dock so that was nice. We just hopped a taxi to Mahaulah (spelling?) which is about 10 min. away. It was a $2 ride each way. When we got off we were a bit concerned as the group of us were immediately herded by a local to their private beach (Crazy Lobster I think it was called). They set us up with lounge chairs and were available to serve us drinks and food if necessary. We were expecting them to have their hands out for tips, but they said it was all free and it was. The beach is gorgeous there and I went swimming quite a bit in the warm flat water. I did have one $2 beer and my roomie had a coke, not sure on the cost. I notice quite a few people just sat at the tables soaking up the sun and the tequila - fancy drinks were $7 and very large. I would def. go back there and relax for the day, and maybe try the $7 drinks. You could rent a waverunner for $20 for 1/2 hour and they were very popular with all the cruisers. Lots of shopping as well, and they left you alone if you said no. The prices I feel were the best on the whole trip. Just don't accept their original ridiculous prices!
- we had to be tendered so we waited until it was open tender before we went off. It was a hot day but very cloudy so we just walked around for an hour and got back on the ship.
- I didn't get off the ship as it was hot and overcast again (it broke in the afternoon as it did daily) but my roomie wandered around buying souvenirs.
- 7 ships in that day. When we got off we wanted to do something but there wasn't a lot of tours left to choose from and we didn't want a taxi tour again so we just wandered around and back on the ship again.
We chose to take our own luggage off (the first time ever) and it was easy. We left everything in the room while we headed for buffet breakfast and at about 930 we left the ship, and hopped the streetcar back to the Hilton.
NCL is great for freestyle cruising and their staff get an A+. There is plenty to do and you won't starve, even if the food is just plain fare. They don't push things on you. It's your vacation and you do what you want to do, when you want.
For this cruise we just needed a quick, cheap getaway and picked NCL for its freestyle cruising. It fit our needs this trip as we didn't want to dress up for dinner and be structured. But I miss having a set dining table, servers and table mates each evening.
You have to ask yourself what type of vacation do you want - laid back or structured. It's great for families. You do get what you pay for.
Would I cruise NCL again - yes, but in the far future. As I get older I guess I'm set in my ways and prefer a better quality of food (yes I know that in the last 10 years food on all lines seems to be slipping) and I like structure and a higher class of service. I think it will be a while before I do another NCL cruise.