First I must confess that our experience on this trip was made much better by our gradual change from being inside cabin cruisers to the Suite Life. So, take my review with a grain of salt knowing that the Suite perks on NCL are amazing. We plan ahead to afford a Penthouse Suite for these perks and would highly recommend them. Had we been in an inside cabin we would have spent a great deal less, had an equally great time, but missed out on the perks. That said, here you go.
Embarcation was a dream. We arrived at port about 10:30, having stayed the night before just over the GW Bridge in Ft. Lee N.J. The drive down the Hudson Parkway was uneventful until we shot past the entrance to the parking deck. Our vacation began perfectly with a quick U turn complete with a honk and hand gesture from a genuine NYC cabbie! We checked our bags at the curb after parking on the second level of the parking deck. (prepaid $245 and parked on the top level, being careful not to park under a light. Cruise Critic reviewers had advised this to avoid bird poop!)
After a brief wait in the VIP lounge (about 30 minutes) we were briefed by Ruth the concierge. checked in at the desk quickly and were issued our key cards. As a group we were escorted on board by a staff member and taken to Cagneys. We were seated between two families that were our initial entertainment. On the one side a woman talked incessantly for the whole time we were there seemingly about anything that came into her head-rarely pausing except to eat, and then continue talking. The dad on the other side of us had extensive questions for the server about dietary restriction, explaining in great detail about how their son was "nearly a vegetarian" asking whether there was any dairy in anything, for olive oil for the plain pasta they ordered for him. After all of this, watching this young man eat a large plate of fries with ketchup as his parents ignored him was delightful.
As others on CC have observed, Suite perks on NCL are wonderful in terms of the space, service. The room was familiar as we'd been in it on a previous cruise. The butler joked that his job was done since we knew the room. NCL sent a large fruit basket with a bottle of red wine. A nice bottle of champagne (okay it was cheap carbonated Chablis, but the bottle was nice!) was in the room and our steward brought a floral arrangement shortly after we arrived. We toured the spa in the early evening, choosing a pass for the week given the prediction of overcast to rainy weather at least until Tuesday. The spa, which we had never been in before is huge! The private hot tub, sauna, steam room, cold tub and the heated loungers from which we can look out the front of the ship became the highlight of our trip.
I am delighted to report to my fellow Friends of the Leaf that the cigar room is complete! It is quiet and well ventilated and very comfortable. What a treat, since there is no cigar smoking on balconies any longer. As an added bonus for those of you that combine cigars and alcohol, bar service is available in the lounge.
Our CC Meet and Greet was Monday morning in the Star Bar on 13. It was attended by approximately 40 of the over 100 people who asked to be included on the roll call. NCL did a great job of providing plenty of space, markers, name tags and loads of food. Ruth the concierge even arranged for a birthday cake for a CC member who was celebrating their birthday that week (they didn't show for the Meet and Greet, so other attendees happily took the cakes with them).
Tuesday we didn't get off at Port Canaveral but thoroughly enjoyed the relatively empty ship, tanning on the balcony, a cigar on deck 13 and some time at the spa. An elderly o woman wandering about the men's locker room was a highlight (of sorts). I was relieved to be in a robe as she calmly wandered about. She left when told to do so and given directions back to the front desk. More evidence that the most fun on a cruise can be the unexpected!
Wednesday at Great Stirrup Cay was a blast. I highly recommend priority disembarkation as we got to wait in Le Bistro and then Ruth our concierge led us to the tender a back way. The island has had major renovations since we were there last in 2009. A new channel for entry onto the island, more space on the beach and the "Flight of the Fancy" snorkeling trail as well as much improved buildings and a small version of a straw market. Snorkeling was a treat and I spent several hours exploring the underwater flora and fauna as well as the sunken artifacts placed there by NCL to make the area more interesting. We went back to the ship by about 2 as we had arrived on the island by 9:30 and that was enough sun for the day. A great acrobatic show in the evening that is not to be missed.
In Nassau. after another great breakfast in Cagneys we made the obligatory walk into town. We found some last minute gifts and of course a Hard Rock t shirt for our toddler grand daughter! Four huge cruise ships in port today with thousands of relatively wealthy people disgorged into Nassau. A Disney mega ship was to our left all day. This ship has music and movie soundtracks blaring from the top deck at all time and this got rather old by late in the afternoon. We spent the afternoon soaking up some more sun on our balcony then went to the spa for a soak and the heated therapy chairs. There were several really loud snorers there today! Dinner at the Garden Cafe' (what a great selection of things to choose from!) In the evening JP's comedy magic show in the Stardust theatre was great fun!
The trip back to NYC was overcast and very rough going. The staff and crew of the ship did a great job of handling everything within their control and made a rough couple of days as enjoyable as possible. We didn't notice a lot of our fellow passengers out and about during these two sea days and suspected that sea sickness had taken its toll. When the sea sickness bags are posted between the elevators in each stair tower, it's a bad sign! We were admittedly somewhat green ourselves at least the first day. Caught up on some great movies in our room and were thankful to feel much better the second day. As an aside, the combination of Ginger tea and some Ginger had candies we'd brought handled our nausea well. As a bonus, there were none of the side effects of Dramamine or Bonine (e.g. ' what happened to Tuesday?'). Fountains was held Friday I guess because it was too rough to risk Cirque Bijou (we didn't attend either of these shows so can't give you a review, sorry).
Disembarcation was smooth. If you want to leave with the early risers remember to bring all of your luggage with you rather than having it carried off the night before. Otherwise you'll have to get back on the ship and wait. (Don't ask how I know this!) Driving out of NYC was equally a breeze. A quick trip through the Holland tunnel and onto the highway for our trip back to beautiful Ohio.
In short, this was a great trip. We may reconsider whether the convenience of driving to the port is offset by the higher potential for rough seas on this itinerary. My hunch is that the captain can't sail around rough weather and stay on schedule so perhaps this is just a risk of sailing out of NYC. I'd be interested to hear from others on this itinerary as my information is obviously quite limited and I'd love to sail out of NYC more often.