I've been reading CC for about 2 months prior to our cruise and the tips were really good and useful. I travelled with 10 members of my family including my 2 kids (2 and 5 yrs).
Embarkation: Hardly any lineups getting on board. Struggle to get the kids to hold still to take their ID pictures. Slight struggle to get into our rooms as none of our 4 keycards worked. A supervisor (room stewart??) had to let us into our cabin.
Kids Crew: The Kids Crew was wonderful!! My DH and I think it was a godsend on this cruise! My 5 yr. son just couldn't get enough "school" and was constantly asking when "school" started up again. My 2 yr. DD was not as consistent on liking "school" or not. The pager helped. The KC opened for 3 hrs. starting at 9:00 AM, then closed for 2 hrs., opened again at 2:00 PM for 3 hrs., then closed for 2 hrs. again with this process until 10:00 PM. Pay extra for the group babysitting after that until 2:00 AM. Because we were in a big group, dinners were a struggle since we were given early dinner seatings at all the restaurants we reserved. With the Kids Crew closed between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm, we had no choice but to go to all the specialty restaurants with the kids despite they were not eating off the regular menu (kids menu is the same in all restaurants) or just buttered bread. We paid $98 for formal night at Le Bistro. There needs to be some sort of alternative service for kids during "dinner times". Maybe allowing group babysitting service during dinner time.
Cabin: We crammed the 4 of us into an inside cabin and was fearful at first. It was a tight space and we all fit, can't imagine what 4 adults would do, but once the door was closed and lights were off (except a night light we put in the bathroom), all was well and the kids slept well. I put our 2yr. old daughter in a playpen to sleep and it worked like a charm. Used the upper bunk for luggage storage. We appreciated the bigger-than-usual bathrooms and the detachable shower head works great for kids that are used to "baths" only. Got only 1 towel animal in our 8-day cruise but was still a sweet surprise to our children when they did see it on the last night of our cruise. The cabin stewards were really nice too (Ruth and Andrew, I think). Left them a fat tip in the end.
Dining: We went in with an open mind (really!!) but was disappointed with the food or service depending on the restaurant. We originally tired to go to 4 of the specialty restaurants on alternative days and everyone scatter to try other restaurants on their own accord on the other days. Four days into the cruise, majority of the family was sorely disappointed in the food in the places that DIDN'T have a cover charge. The food was all the same despite where they went and was sick of it. So it was decided from there on to just eat at all the other "cover charged" restaurants just to get a better meal. It shouldn't have to be that way they said.
Versailles: Food not good, always lukewarm with a "skin" on the sauces, but looked good, and service was okay too. Aqua: Food better than Versailles but same parameters and service was again, okay. Le Bistro: Amazing food!! Ended up going there 3 times and covered the entire menu. Everything was good. Had our fill of filet mignon and foie gras!! Service and ambience was the best! DH left a $20 tip the 1st time we were there, he was so impressed with our waitress (can't remember her name, from Romania I think). We always left extra tip for the servers each time. They were funny and entertaining. Cagney's: steaks were great here too and the shrimp cocktail was impeccable. Service was only okay. The servers looked bored and a few of us got some attitude(which surprised us). Ginza: we were excited to get asian food and was disappointed that it wasn't authentic what-so-ever. Again, the food looked good but the taste was something else. Service was again, just okay. SoHo: Food was okay but the service was great. Found out they ran out of the live lobster so the restaurant was slow (only 4 tables filled), hence we got better service. I tipped extra the servers who looked like they really enjoy doing their job (they are more entertaining, in turn, a better experience and ambience) rather that it just being a job to serve you food. Market Cafe: same food every day for breakfast. Would be nice for variety but wasn't an option. My husband's pancakes actually "crunched loudly" (?!?). Kids Cafe didn't help our kids either if you didn't want a hot dog or burger. No pasta or veggies to speak of. I thought all kids loved corn or spaghetti?
Excursions: Manzanillo: Did the Cuyutlan Turtle Experience and letting those baby turtles go into the ocean was quite the experience for our children, DH and I. Very memorable. Wished the tour was shorter though. Tour could have been done in 4 hrs. or less. On the way back after lunch, son and daughter were bored and 1 got car sick. Puerto Vallarta: Did the Pirate Boat Adventure. Very entertaining!! Great for older kids and adults. My 2 yr. old's attention span just could not be contained and she had no where to go. The 2 hr. beach break was perfect!! Was not the kiddie pirate boat adventure I thought it was going to be but was still thoroughly entertained as was most of the adults. Wished for more options for my little ones that were tired of sitting. Mazatlan: Did a private tour. Very nice. Works out better when your somewhat in control of the tour. Can make it as short or long as you want. Cabo San Lucas: Very nice port. Too bad we were only in port until 1:30 pm. Just walked the seawall and lounged on the beach with the kids. Nice sand, clear waters but cold. Wished we stayed in port longer.
Entertainment: Didn't do much of the entertainment due to the kids bedtimes. The ones we did catch were either okay or good. All entertaining. Again, need more entertainment options for the little ones (when it's too windy & cold for the pool or can't use it when youngest is in diapers and the Kids Crew is closed).
Debarkation: Smooth sailing off. But long line-ups at the tiny elevator to get down to the ground floor. Didn't have the option to carry all luggage, 2 kids and a stroller down the escalator.
Overall, it was an entertaining cruise for my children. The rest of the adults found NCL lacking compared to Princess in food quality and entertainment options. Freestyling is not for us but I'm glad to have tried it. My DS can not stop drawing pictures of NCL and the "floating hotel"! Can't beat having ice cream and play group every day!! I wished it worked out better for the adults.