We are both young, me 32 and my wife celebrated her 27th birthday on the cruise. This was our 3rd cruise. First time with NCL, both of our previous cruises were on Royal Caribbean Voyager ships. I read many reviews before taking this cruise, and I thought I would return the favor and write one of my own.
Very fast and very hassle free. We arrived at LAX at 9am, used Prime Time shuttle, and were at the pier around 10:45. Walked right up to the counter, took care of our room charge account, and then we went to a holding area where there were many other people waiting to board. We relaxed and they called our number to board around 11:30. Very painless, but then again we were really early.
We booked an inside cabin trying to save money. We were all the way on the bottom on deck 4. This was our first experience with an inside cabin, both other cruises we had balcony rooms. The room was cramped but manageable. The bathroom was larger than Royal Caribbean’s surprisingly. Really not a lot to say about the cabin. Bed, safe, fridge, closet, bathroom. I believe that the laundry room was directly behind our room. While it was quiet at night, during the day (we like to nap), there was loud noise behind our wall, sounding like a laundry room. There is not much sound proofing on the rooms either. We could here the TV in the cabin next to us on several occasions. One thing we did miss was being able to check your onboard account on the TV. We had to go by the guest desk once a day to check our balance. Kind of annoying. Our room steward was AWESOME. We loved her and wanted to take her home. Always had ice, and when we left some beers in our room on several occasions, she iced them down in a bucket for us. Towel animals every night. Very awesome. We wished we could direct each of our 10 dollars a day directly to her.
The ship was large, and we were not sure what to expect. It was super clean, and it was laid out well I suppose, I am sure it was hard trying to fit in so many restaurants. There were a few areas that needed improvement. The main one being the photo shop. This is on a main walkway in front of Ginza and there are always people looking for there photos, and in the process are blocking passage. This area was constantly a bottleneck. Elevators were more abundant it seems than on RCCL's voyager ships. There are 3 sets of elevators, front, back, and midship. We almost never had to wait for an elevator. Another design note, there is a hidden bar behind the Carousel Lounge called the Pearl Martini Bar. We would have never seen or heard of it if we wouldn’t have been meeting there for the pub crawl. Speaking of the Carousel Lounge, it kind of freaked us out. Very colorful, with horses at the bar. We did drink here on several occasions though to get our bar hopping card filled. We decided that it was the most uncomfortable room on the ship. The Pool deck was always crowded during the day, and it was very hard to find any open chairs to sit. The water slides were only open at certain times, and every time we were up there it seemed like they were closed. The Bier Garden at the top of the ship looking down on the pool was a nice place to enjoy a drink. There were plenty of hot-tubs on this ship. There are 4 in the pool area. There is another at the front of the ship on deck 12. Looking down from the front of the ship on deck 12, you can see two more hot tubs at the very front of the ship. They look to be on Deck 7, but we searched and could not find out how to get to them. We found a door, but it was locked tight. I think they may only open these when in port, but I am unsure.
OK, here is the biggie that we read so much about. We tried several restaurants. The main dinning rooms, like I read in other reviews, were hit or miss. Sometimes the food and service were good, sometimes they there flat out bad. On lobster night, my wife wanted a second serving. We waited and waited for our waiter to come back to the table, but after 15 mins, we gave up and left. On many occasions our water glasses would remain empty for 10 mins or more. Other nights we had great service, and everything was just as it should be. Like I said it was really hit or miss. We thought that Aqua was a little slower on the service. Hint, on the night of the rib-eye steak, in the main dining room, Aqua is serving fillet mignon, go with Aqua on this night. We had the rib eye and thought it was terrible. Very thin, and very tough. Everyone we talked to said the Fillet Mignon was excellent. Of the other restaurants we tried Blue Lagoon, Cagneys, and Le Bistro. We looked over the menus of the others but did not find anything that we would care for. Le Bistro was good, but again the service was really really slow. My wife had the surf and turf and I stuck to the fillet. The food was really good, but the service was good… just slow. We had a 7:30 reservation, and were 10 mins early. We didn’t receive our main dish until 8:45. Then we had to really push to rush dessert so that we could make a show. With tip and a beer our bill was like 46. We are still not sure if it was worth the extra cost or not. Cagneys was the exact opposite. We had a 7:30 reservation as well, and were early, seated ordered, and we were both done with dessert and in the star bar by 8:30. Cagneys was excellent. Fast and friendly service, great food. My wife went for the surf and turf again, and I went for the 24 ounce Porterhouse. I almost finished it. It was excellent. With a beer and tip the bill was close to 60. Again, not sure if it was worth the extra cost, but it was a good meal. Blue Lagoon was our favorite spot for lunch. As mentioned in many other reviews, the Fish and chips were awesome. Every meal here we ordered a salad and loved it each and every time. The burgers and dogs were OK. I was not impressed with the wings at all. I tried them twice, hoping the first time was a fluke. One thing here we did not try till the end of the cruise was the Mac and cheese from the kids side of the menu. VERY GOOD! This is not your Kraft Mac and cheese. Definitely give it a try. We tried the market café on a few occasions, and it was a buffet. That is about all I can say. It was as I expected it. It seems that no one on the ship knows how to make breakfast. We tried it at every place it was served, and the omelets by the pool were the best I guess. (Of all places to have an omelet station, why did they pick the pool?) One other note, we never ate at Ginza, but we walked by it often on our way from here to there, and it always smelled great. We didn’t see anything on the menu that interested us here, but I sure wish I knew what smelled so great all the time.
I made this its own category, because it was a big one I thought, and I have many money saving tips we found out about late in the cruise. First off, beer is expensive. I read many reviews that said that beers were 3.50 with the auto-gratuity. I also read many reviews that said they had a buy 5 get the 6th free bucket. Well neither is the case. There are no 6 beers for the price of 5 promotions the entire cruise. Beers were 3.95 each and with the auto-gratuity came to 4.54 each. EXPENSIVE!!! I don’t pay that for a 6 pack at home. Anyway, after the initial sticker shock, I realized there wasn’t a thing I could do about it, so I pushed it out of my mind and had a good time. Now for money saving hints on drinks. There is a Bar Hopping program. We did not hear about this till our 4th day on the ship. They do not advertise this in the freestyle, you have to ask. Anyway, there are 6 bars on each bar hopping card. At each of the 6 bars, you order a drink and they punch your card. Once you have had a drink at each of the 6 bars, you will have 6 punches on your card. You can then trade your card in or save it. The card lists these 6 bars. Pool Bar, Disco (Carousel lounge), Night Club (Gatsby’s), Piano Bar (Star bar), Observatory (Spinnaker Lounge), and Sports Bar (Red Lion Pub). My wife and I easily filled up a card each, every night. Here is what you can redeem your fully punched cards for. 1 card – shot (I believe you keep the little souvenir glass). 2 cards – Souvenir glass with your choice of drink. 4 cards – a bucket of beers (4 beers on ice). 8 cards – you can take home a bottle of liquor. We used up all our cards for beers the last day. That was nice!! Another promotion they did on several nights was buy one get one free drinks in the casino. Typically I think this was from 11pm to 1am. 1 night, I don’t remember which, it was earlier than that. They say no take outs (of the casino). But one night, our waitress said it wouldn’t be a problem, and got us 6 beers each in a bucket with ice, which we took to our room. I heard this is a NO NO, but our waitress did it for us. So we didn’t complain.
The Casino is large and I thought that it was laid out better and roomier than on Royal Caribbean. They have all the same games. I love to play Let it Ride, and I spent quiet a bit of time there. My wife learned Craps while onboard, and taught me to play, and we spent some time there as well. All in all, I think we about broke even. There are several promotions that they do in the casino. The first is 15 dollars in chips for the price of 10. You are only allowed to do this once during the cruise. Another promotion they do on the first or second sea day is the Lucky Ace. Your room steward will deliver you an ace along with your freestyle daily. You can then play this as your first card at any blackjack table. As mentioned before they also do buy 1 get 1 free drinks. Then there is the player’s club card. If you earn 25 points on it by the end of the cruise, you get money off your bill. We gambled every night in the casino, and only achieved 10 points. We used our card constantly, but I guess there point system takes a bunch to equal a point. We stayed away from the slots for the most part. We played the “certified loose” slots at the bar, but we didn’t have any luck on them. Nor did anyone else that we saw, so I am not sure how “loose” they really are. We did play “Reel em In” just because we love that slot machine.
We only saw 2 shows during our trip. The comedian, he was OK, and had a few good ones. We also saw the magician and all of his card tricks. He did several shows, but the card show is the only one that we caught. He was OK, but I would have rather seen one of the other showing where everything wasn’t cards. There is a movie theater on the ship, and while on our Nov. 9th thru the 17th sailing, they were showing War of the Worlds and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Both of which come out on DVD here in the next few weeks. They also showed these in the cabins. We spent a lot of our time in the Star bar listening to Allen on the piano. He is very good, and songs that he didn’t know, he learned by the next night. So he kept us glued to there. There is the typical cruise Bingo, family feud show, honeymooners show, and many others, but we did not attend any of these. They also have something called crack-its. I am unsure of what they are, but I gather it is like a lottery ticket you have the chance to win a free cruise on. I saw many people with these all over the ship. The pub crawl was fun I heard from reading reviews, so we showed up, but unfortunately only 3 couples turned up to do it. So they said that they could not give away the thousand dollars worth of prizes they advertised unless there were more than 10 people. So they gave us a prize pack that had t-shirts, coffee mugs, playing cards, key chains, and other NCL gear. It was a disappointment for us, because we looked forward to it. Not sure exactly how it worked, because we didn’t get to do it.
Everyone who has read a review of NCL before knows that the internet is expensive. 75 cents a min. While we knew this going in, and planned on using it to read our email updates on our 14 month old daughter, we did not know that there was a one time 4 dollar account set up fee. This quickly changed our mind. We easily found internet in all of the ports at much cheaper rates. Most were 2 bucks for a half hour. The only place that we could not find one was Zihuatanejo (we found one but it was closed). To use the phone to call to the states on the ship was 5.95 a min. I have no idea if this is expensive or not. We signed up for international calling on our cell phone (Cingular) prior to the trip, and were told that it would be 9 cents a min. As luck would have it, we have a great Cingular signal (no roaming) on all of our sea days. So we called to check on our daughter quite often. When we were in port, the service changed from Cingular to Telemex or something, don’t really remember. We haven’t seen our bill, so I have no idea how it is going to be charged. Our last sea day, was the only time we had problems, the phone had a cingular signal with all bars, but when talking on the phone it was super static. Not sure what was up with that. Laundry, we packed too light, so we took advantage of the laundry service. It was fast and no complaints. On the night of Zihuatanejo they have a deal where you can fill a fairly large bag with cloths and they will clean it all for 25 dollars. Not a bad deal. Postcards were rather expensive to mail from the ship. 1.25 each. I am sure that hotels in port can do it much cheaper, but the one that we tried was out of stamps.
We did not book any excursions this trip. Instead we just did our own thing. We were on this trip to see the Hard Rock Cafes in Mexico, so we made that our own excursion in each port. Acapulco, we took a taxi to the Hard Rock. We paid 8 dollars after haggling with the guy, and after the drive we felt we got a good deal, as it was a 10 to 15 min. drive. We stayed at the Hard Rock for a few hours, and then we decided to start our own pub crawl, so we walked to Carlos and Charlie’s. After a few drinks there, we moved on, and for some reason didn’t stop anywhere else. We took a nice 2 hour walk back to the ship. Zihuatanejo, we got off the ship and tendered to shore. We looked around, and shopped, but that was all. We live in Texas, and all of the shops sold the same stuff that we can find in any border town here, so most of it did not interest us. Puerto Vallarta, we left the ship, and once again took a taxi to town. Found the Hard Rock and had a drink. After that we went to the BuenoVentura resort. It was about 6 or 7 blocks from downtown. We paid $35 each for a day pass, and with that got unlimited food and drink. They made super strong drinks. We had lunch and hung out by the pool. It was nice and relaxing, and all you can eat and drink was a nice thing. After that we took a taxi back to the ship where we did a little shopping near the dock. Cabo, very long tender ride, or so it seemed. We went to the Hard Rock and then moved on to Cabo Wabo. We had lunch there. I had the tacos which weren’t very good, my wife had the guacamole burger, and that was excellent. I wasn’t impressed with the Waborita, but I tried it none the less.
Well that is about all that I can think of. Although we had a good time, and we liked dining when we wanted, we don’t think we will ever cruise NCL again. The service just wasn’t there like we had on Royal Caribbean. We came off our previous cruises feeling pampered and we not once felt that at dinner on this cruise. Our room steward was the exception though. She was great. The food wasn’t as good in the main dinning rooms either. Although the pay restaurants were better than what is on Royal, they are like I said, pay restaurants. Add all of that to the price of the beer and internet, and all the other nickel and dimes they try to squeeze from you, made for an expensive trip. We plan on trying Princess or Carnival next. NCL isn’t for us. I hope you find this review helpful.