We drove to NYC on February 1st. For those looking to drive and not pay the outrageous port fees, we stayed at the Wyndham Garden in Newark, New Jersey. We chose the "stay & fly" package which was $155+tax and included 14 days FREE parking.... that's right, completely FREE! To get to Manhattan, we took the hotels free shuttle service to the airport, then took the NJ transit train into Penn station for only $12/person. It was incredibly easy and worth every penny (to save us from driving in NYC traffic)
Embarkation was incredibly simple and fast, we were on the ship by 11:30am with absolutely no issues.
We had lunch at Tsar's Palace, which was good but not the same "incredible ship food" I was expecting.
When we were allowed to go to our rooms (about 1pm if I'm not mistaken), I was pleasantly surprised by how much storage room we had for such a small room.
Cabin: Our room steward was very nice and kept our room nice and clean. However, he did not once address us by name when he seen us. He did however always have a smile on his face and asked how we were. The carpet in the room was stained in a few areas and looked like it could have used updating. I was quite disappointed to find out that the $12/day automatic gratuity did NOT include our room steward, who I found was the only people who actually worked for US the most. I think the automatic payments should be going to room stewards, waitresses, etc, not the lights & tech people who do nothing for my overall cruise experience. Although we were on Deck 5, we had friends on Deck 4 and whenever we went to their room there was a very distinct awful smell on the whole deck. It was there the entire cruise.
Entertainment: The entertainment was good. We only walked out of one show (the puppet guy) because it was just awful to watch. Jean Pierre was funny and a good show to watch. Cirque Bijou was wonderful. The cruise staff were great (especially Chris and Brian), and very helpful. The casino dealers, staff, etc, were all wonderful and enjoyed just stopping by to talk (even without losing all our money, heh)
Although we didn't bring our 2.5 year old daughter on this cruise, once we seen the facilities/activities for the children, we were glad we didn't. The children's area on the pool deck was tiny as well as the activity areas. There may have been more going on for activities, but there definitely wasn't much published in the freestyle daily for family activities.
Freestyle daily & activities: I was in my room by 11pm-12am every night because there was absolutely nothing going on after the 9:30pm show or karaoke. We were quite disappointed with the lack of activities going on throughout sea days. Don't waste your time at BINGO, the cards are incredible over priced ($50 for 9 cards for ONE game only - a blackout.... and that's supposed to be budget bingo) The prizes weren't even that great so they didn't make up for the price of it. Trivia - the trivia on the ship was lame. The questions were not even challenging because half of them weren't even correct. For example: Multiple choice trivia: Which is the world's largest cruise ship? A. Freedom of the Seas B. Queen Mary 2 C: Carnival something or other. As a cruiser we all know it's Allure of the Seas (or Oasis) but NO, the answer was Freedom of the Seas, because the trivia questions were done up in 2005 when the Jewel first came out. Like NCL even has a ship bigger than the Freedom (the Epic) and they think the answer is the Freedom? It wasn't even worth playing after a while.
Pool area: Average. Hot tubs were closed by 10pm, pools closed earlier than that. BLUE DOT RULE? Biggest made up thing ever. There were multiple days with multiple chairs that were only saved by towels (PLUS the pool was closed and 10 people in the 4 hot tubs, so they definitely weren't around the pool deck). I even got so frustrated I asked a waiter who told me to speak to the gentleman with the yellow shirt (I didn't get his name), who I asked about the blue dot and the 20 minute rule who told me to go look for a chair on a higher deck. He has absolutely no idea what this rule was (or maybe he was pretending he didn't because it definitely wasn't being enforced). None the less, I finally watched for a chair that hadn't been occupied for a while and just moved the persons belongings off of it.
Food & Dining: Average. Food was average in all restaurants, including specialty. The menu and options in the MDR's were horrible and ALWAYS the same thing. We ate in both main dining rooms, as well as Le Bistro, Cagneys, and Teppanaki. Le Bistro was good and worth the price however, should be able to receive that quality of food in MDR's. Cagney's was very average. I could have made a steak just as good at home. However, was impressed with the size of the steak & prime rib (which was cooked to perfection). Teppanaki was a complete delight.... we actually got so sick of the below average buffer and the average main rooms that we booked there twice. We were very impressed both times with our food and our server. BEWARE: IF YOU WANT GOOD BREAKFAST, GET TO THE MAIN DINING ROOM BEFORE 9AM OR ELSE YOU EAT IN THE BUFFET. Now on to the buffet. The breakfast in the buffet was awful, until we discovered getting our own omlettes made, then it was average. Most of the food was horrible and was left on the plates (and I hate wasting).
Public areas: Average. The bars and lounges were good. We enjoyed the waiters in the Fyzz Lounge so found us spending lots of time in there. The casino was also very average and not quite as big as I expected.
The public washrooms were horrible. They had been cleaned multiple times a time, however still had a built in smell of stale urine. I tried to refrain from using them and only using the washroom in my stateroom. About 80% of the stall door handles were lose. I couldn't understand why they hadn't had people in there with a simple screwdriver fixing them.
Ports of call: WONDERFUL. Every island we visited was fun and even though we didn't book excursions in each place, we also quickly and easily found something to do and enjoyed each place.
Debarkation: It was easy. The guards were actually on the ship but we chose to carry our own luggage off and had absolutely no trouble. It was a 2 minute process and very easy.
Overall: Our cruise was okay. We were on vacation after all! We had a good time and enjoyed our cruise. However, I don't think I would cruise with NCL again.