For some background, let me say my husband and I are extremely well traveled. We are very flexible and believe "when in Rome..." We've traveled budget to luxury and we've enjoyed our experiences at all levels by making the best out of some not so good situations.
Embarkation at the pier in New York was disastrous. I have NEVER experienced such chaos embarking on any cruise in any part of the world. Masses of people were pushing and shoving in front of other passengers by removing the line dividers. When we finally got to the front of the line to check-in six other people showed up out of nowhere to join the person in front of us.
Once we were on board, we took a deep breath and let it go, determined to make the best of everything. After all, it was vacation so we headed for the Garden Cafe for lunch which was fine. Upon return our luggage was waiting for us so we unpacked before muster. After muster we met up with some of our fantastic group of Cruise Critic members for a sail away drink at Spinakers.
Dinner was at La Cucina that night, which we really enjoyed. In fact the food at all the speciality restaurants, as well as the dining room (we went to all the speciality restaurants except Moderno) was very good.
We especially liked La Bistro. It wasn't until the Meet and Greet did we discover there was almost a riot in the Grand Pacific Dining Room the first night because of the exceptionally long waits for tables.
As it turned out, NCL booked an extremely large group or groups. Some said there were 500, but the crew and bartenders told us there were upwards of 900 passengers part of a group or groups. The first evening NCL completely closed off the Magenta Dining Room to the general passenger population to accomodate the group, but because of the first night's problem, they decided to designate it to the group from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM each evening, allowing general passengers to enter after 8:00 PM.
I know it all boils down to business.........but what was NCL THINKING!? Groups in these numbers can be disruptive and problematic on so many levels to the other passengers on the ship. Minimally NCL should have advised the non group passengers of the inordinately large group/groups booked on this sailing, so other passengers could make an educated decision whether to book the sailing or choose another date.
In addition, cleanliness was definitely lacking at the Garden Cafe, The Great Outdoors,the Blue Lagoon, and rest rooms. NOT ONCE did I see a crew member use a cleaning solution to clean a table. Most just used a dirty napkin they took from us to wipe the table. I brought and used my own disinfectant wipes to clean our eating areas. How ridiculous for NCL to have so many people standing around to welcome you into the eating areas instead of utilizing them to clean and repel rampant germs.
On the positive side, the weather was perfect in all ports.
San Juan: It was nice to get off the ship for awhile after being at sea for two days. We walked around Old San Juan, stopped at CVS for some water to take onboard and sat and had a few drinks at a local outdoor bar.
St. Thomas: Scouted every perfume store in St. Thomas to find my favorite perfume and found the last two bottles at the last stop. Had lunch at Glady's where we had delicious conch fritter, conch chowder and jerk wings. Yum Yum Yum.
St. Maarten: Went to Mr. Busby's and rented chairs and umbrella for $20. Order lunch and drinks on the beach and enjoyed a day in paradise.
Samana: Don't miss Cayo Levantado. It is absolutely beautiful, and you're getting this from a couple who stayed on Bora Bora in Tahiti, a true paradise.
Ship entertainment was...well...ship entertainment. Amusing but not inspiring. I will say, however, that the lounge entertainment around the ship was very good.
All in all we had a good time and we met some wonderful people from the Roll Call on this board. Will I book NCL again?...the jury is still out on that one. I had a problem with NCL the last time I booked with them about ten years ago. When I wrote to them about it they sent a letter saying that if I decided to book with them again, they would see what they could do to accomodate us. The timing was good for us for this particular cruise so we decided to give NCL a go again. When NCL was notified they extended a very generous $25 onboard credit to us, and it was like passing a bill through Congress to get it from Guest Services.
It's nice to know there are so many choices out there.