I want to start out this review by stating that this was my 12th cruise but it was my first cruise with NCL. This was a family vacation for Christmas with my husband and our 2 children (daughter, age 21 and son, age 18). We had 2 interior cabins...9101 and 9103. As we have all cruised several times, we are very well aware that the cabin is primarily for sleeping and bathing and don't feel that the entire cruise experience is based on a sleeping area. I will go into further detail about the cabins later in this review.
To start things off, my family and I drove to Tampa on Saturday which was the day prior to our cruise. We chose an off-port parking area to save on useless parking expenses. We parked at Capital Parking in an area very close to the port. The lot was in a nice, residential area and after parking my family, luggage and I were quickly carted off to the port. At the end of the cruise, we were off the ship no longer than 10 minutes before our luggage was loaded and we were on our way back to the parking area. I would definitely use Capital Parking again and I want to mention that reservations were easily made on-line prior to the cruise.
Embarkation was very simple. We were completely on board the ship in less than 30 minutes. Of course, our cabins were not available as it was only 12:15 so my family and I were off to the Garden Buffet for a bite of lunch. There was a wonderful sail away party on the pool deck which was probably the best sail away party that I have experienced! There were 4 charcoal grills cooking burgers, hot dogs and steaks during the part and these were also used occasionally during the cruise!
The Garden Buffet was occasionally a little on the hectic side during the cruise, but I feel that's to be expected as there are many people trying to get to the same areas of the buffet. During the week though, I found the Garden Buffet to be a little boring. A lot of the same foods on the buffet on many days. On the only evening that we attempted to eat dinner in the Garden Buffet, I was very disappointed. A good majority of the food on the buffet at dinner was also on the buffet at lunch! My husband and daughter did enjoy the made-to-order omelets at breakfast and there are several omelet stations which keeps this area moving slowly. We did not try any of the "pay" restaurants, but did eat in The Venetian on 6 evenings. The Venetian was complete chaos on the 1st evening! My family and I were seated in a timely manner, but it was all downhill from there. The menu selections included surf and turf which brought out many cruisers that evening! It took us over 2 hours after we were seated to actually complete our meal. We were not introduced to an assistant waiter or a bar staff member. The waiter failed to offer to get anything from the bar, failed to offer an additional bread basket or even a steak knife for the "turf" portion of the meal. I have also never been on a ship where the wait staff did not offer to remove the "surf" portion of the meal from the shell! The lady at the table next to me was trying to cut her steak with a table knife which would have probably been ok if the steak had been a top-of-the-line steak, but it wasn't. Now, don't get me wrong, the taste of the food was good, and everything I ordered during the week was correctly prepared, but there was always an undertone of chaos. Menu selections were also far less than I have found on the Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival ships that I have been on.
Our cabin location was great! As I stated before, my husband and I were in 9101 and my children were next door in room 9103. We were centrally located to the pool areas and the promenade areas. Our rooms were quiet and comfortable. They were not the size of the Carnival cabins, but there was adequate storage and room for 2 adults. The bathrooms were probably the nicest I have seen on any ship! The shower was the complete width of the bathroom with a wonderful shower door! No annoying shower curtain attacking your hind sides while attempting to shave your legs and there was plenty of room to bend over and shave without having to stick your leg out of the shower to get to it!
Activities were poorly planned. It was not out of the ordinary to go hours without any activities and then have 3 or 4 scheduled at the same time! Candi, the Cruise Director, was dry and rather boring. She was a far cry from the vivacious cruise directors that I have experienced on past cruises. The pool games were few and far between, and children were allowed to participate. I am not at all against having children's activities because I have sailed with my children since they were age 10 and 7, but that is why there are established children's groups with their own activities. I don't feel that some of the adult games are appropriate for children under age 16. The ship did have some nighttime activities that were off limit to passengers under 18. The production show staff was, well, how should I say this, just sad. The singers could out dance the dance staff at any time and the "Variety" show and "Band on the Run" shows were just terrible. NCL needs to start over with these productions shows and I totally skipped the final production show "Bollywood" because I just couldn't sit through another painful excuse for a show. There were some wonderful aerialists which performed one night and a gentleman named, Greg London, who performed an above average impressionist show. I did not see any comedians. There was some trivia once or twice per day, but no prizes. Usually the winners receive a luggage tag or something, but not on this ship. The Progressive Trivia was a lot of fun thanks to Dan and at the end of the week, one team did receive a few gifts.
The pool area is very small and the pools are even smaller. Not sure what NCL was thinking when they designed this area. Seating by the pool was ample, and I never had a problem finding a lounge chair. The children's pool "The T-Rex" was cute and I saw many children enjoying this area. The bar staff was never pushy, but I do have to say that Pepsi is horrible! LOL I'm a fan of Coca-Cola products and couldn't wait to get one in port, but if you're driving to the port, you can always carry these products on ship without any problem.
Our cabin attendant, Marcela, was very good. She was easy to interact with, kept our cabin very clean and made wonderful towel animals each night.
I was very disappointed with the fact that we had to tender in Cozumel. There was a storm that day and the captain nearly cancelled our tendering. I have been to Cozumel at least 5 other times, and there are 2 large ports there. If the pier areas are already reserved then maybe a change in itinerary should be made to avoid the tendering. We could have easily switched our day in Costa Maya for our day in Cozumel and avoided the tendering mess.
My family and I did the "Easy Walk-off" debarkation and we were off the ship and through customs in 15 minutes!
I have to say that, in general, I was somewhat disappointed with this cruise. Maybe I should have had lower expectations, and I am not sure that I would sail with NCL again. For the money, my family and I have had a much better time on the other 3 cruise lines that we have sailed with.