We joined a group of 42 others on this cruise. We travelled to NYC by tour bus, and were directed to a parking space outside the Terminal. Our luggage was removed from under the bus, and we were informed that the charge/tip would be $2 a person. Not a bad price, and the luggage was next seen in our cabins.
As latitudes members, my husband and I were ushered into the "special" line for check-in. There were so many repeat cruisers, that as we shuffled along in the long line,we watched first-timers whiz right past us, through check in, and on board!
We had lunch in the buffet, and then went to our cabin. It was always neat and clean, and the stewardess was friendly and helpful. Except, that she was not pleased when we carried glasses from our cabin anywhere else on the ship. In fact, she wouldn't replace them! We ended up bringing glasses from the dining room for our own use! Since they are no longer provided automatically, we requested bar soap, lotion and robes, and got them all.
We used several excursions, and they were all what we expected. We also organized a boat excursion in St. Lucia on our own for eight, and decided that was our BEST day of the trip!! Others in our group took tours, and some just picked up taxis, etc. in ports...everyone was happy with their choices.
Meals....well, things sure aren't what they used to be! I agree with other reviews in that the buffet food did look like cafeteria fare. My favorites were the pretzel rolls and the ice cream. The food area is quite large, and I find that by the time I make my choices, fill my plate, and get to a table, my food is cold. No beverage service was provided at the tables, and no lemonade was available as on other NCL ships. We ate in the Blue Lagoon many times and preferred it because the choices were good, and the service was quick and efficient.
The dining room...we ate mostly in the TSAR...varied. We had a couple wonderful, entertaining, waiters, and then we had one waitress who was just rude and unhelpful. Unfortunately, we had her on the surf and turf night! When additional lobsters were requested, she brought them, plunked them down and ignored us the rest of the meal. No melted butter was served with any of the lobster. We asked for more water (our glasses were all empty), and finally got another waiter to bring it. Same thing with bread. Three of us had ordered dessert before the meal. We got ours, but no one took the others' orders. Two of them eventually ordered dessert, but the third person was skipped. And, regarding the lobster, what is the policy on "seconds". Since we had contact with so many people in our group, we compared stories. Some had several lobsters, some were told they could only have one, some others requested to see the Manager, and he told them only one. There needs to be a set policy!!
We had one bad experience for breakfast in the Tsar too, but it might have been because we joined another couple who had already ordered. I think we confused the waiter, and had to wait forever for our order...when the eggs benedict arrived, they were hard-boiled. Since we had waited over 30 minutes for them, I was reluctant to send them back, but the waiter RAN and got another plate...which was perfect!
Other observations...the gym was very nice,I would like the casino better if there was no smoking, but don't spend much time there anyway. The ship was neat and clean, except for our balcony which had trash in the "gutter" the entire trip. We also prefer the balcony "no smoking" policy of other cruise lines. The cabin storage is more than adequate, but those TV's have got to go!! The beds are extremely comfortable! One comment heard often was that the ship is noisy...there are very few "quiet" places to go to read, etc. The music in the dining room was so loud, you had to scream at your table mates. We did enjoy the dinner with a staff member...very informative. We also enjoyed the entertainment...some of the best we've seen.
The disembarkation. Because we were a large group, NCL provided a staff member to explain things two days before the cruise ended. She gave out the colored luggage slips so that we'd all be together. She explained that those needing assistance would meet in another area and we would all be re-joined in the customs area. Sounds good; didn't work! Because of the storm "Sandy" damage, some things are not working as usual in the Terminal. Our departure was over an hour late, we had to stand outside in the freezing cold, and the luggage claim area was a zoo! Because the Gem was also disembarking, it was very crowded and everyone was told to "keep moving". We tried to keep our people together, but some were outside the terminal, some were at the bus bay, and others were inside!! Eventually everyone was located, but only because someone in our group knew a Terminal Employee and asked her to help out.
All in all, it was nice to get away from the cold, and we enjoyed the group of people we were with. NCL is not our first choice of cruise lines, but it is handy in NYC. We plan to try the Breakaway when it's available, and have put a deposit down on it.