We are first time cruisers that decided to go on our first cruise for our 30th wedding anniversary to the Western Caribbean embarking from New Orleans We booked 8 months in advance and I spent A LOT of time on the internet researching "how to" cruise, excursions and NCL. I was excited and also a little nervous about getting things right from packing to tendering and tipping. I must say that we had an amazing experience. NCL made everything so easy and were so accommodating that our worries vanished as soon as we entered our state room. Here are some of our experiences:
Embarkation: Best advice we got came from a local port authority policeman when we were checking out the dock a day in advance of boarding. He told us to come early (9am) and leave our bags and then enjoy NOLA for the day and then board about 2:00 pm. We took the advice and were in our stateroom w/in 25 minutes of entering the port and it was a hassle free boarding.
Stateroom: We booked a balcony stateroom on the advice of our travel agent and were not disappointed!! Our Staeroom was 9032 and was truly lovely. Had plenty of room, lots of storage (loved packing cubes for keeping everything organized) and our room steward Joel was terrific!! Best advice: Take a cheap over the door shoe organizer to hold all your small items like cameras, Key cards, bathroom items- best investment of the trip. Kept everything neat and organized and right at our fingertips!!
Food: We had read a lot about the food being only ok on the Star and maybe we had low expectations,( or are not super picky), but we really enjoyed our meals. There is SO MUCH food available for so many different tastes, that it is really hard to imagine not being able to find something you want to eat! My husband loved to order room service whenever he wanted and bought a drink/ juice card because he loves tomato juice. The bar staff soon recognized him as the tomato juice king as he was the only person ordering it without alcohol. If there was weakness in the food, I would say desserts were not as good as the rest of the food.
Best Advice: Try one specialty restaurant if you can afford it. We ate at Cagney's to celebrate our Anniversary and it was a real highlight of our trip. We had an amazing experience with the wait staff who truly went out of their way to make it a special occasion. From singing to us, to a complimentary anniversary dessert, picture taking and absolutely the best dining service and food we ate on the ship it was a stellar experience.
On board Activities: Lots to do and see with something for everyone. We saw most of the shows and thought they were pretty good. We danced at the Spinnaker Lounge and had a great time at the White Hot Night. We also enjoyed the International Talent show put on by the crew because it was so cute and the "Fountains" act at the end of the show as HILARIOUS.
Ports: Loved all the ports and had a great time at each one. Loved the different flavors of the countries and the weather was fab.
Excursions: We did 4 excursions and did not book any of them through the cruise ship on the recommendations of friends who had cruised before. We saved A LOT of money doing it this way and had nothing bur GREAT experiences with the tours.
Best Advice: If you are not on an NCL tour for Roatan get up EARLY - like 6:45 and get the early bird tendering tickets so you can get to your excursion on time. We had to leave the boat by 8 am in order to make our tour and would have missed it if we had been late to get the tendering ticket.
Debarkation: We chose self debarkation and walked our bags off about 8:30 am. There was a wait in line for about 15 minutes ( which more experienced cruisers said was very unusual) when we first got off the ship. We later found out immigration officials had had drug sniffing dogs out looking for something and that was our holdup, but once we got past that, things went very smoothly and we were out of the port with in about 20 minutes.
Overall we had a wonderful experience on NCL. We loved the free style dining, thought the NCL staff very kind,courteous and FRIENDLY! We loved the ports and our excursions an truly had an EXCELLENT experience. We can't wait to cruise again!