For us, embarkation was quick and smooth. We arrived rather late (about 3pm) at the port and had no problems boarding the ship. The ship is very nice, clean, and the staff was very friendly and courteous the entire trip.
This was our first time for freestyle cruising. It has pros and cons. You can't just go to dinner whenever and wherever you choose. If you don't plan ahead for the whole week, you cannot get reservations in the specialty restaurants.
The menu in Tsar's Palace was fairly good the first few nights, but after that was very mediocre. We did have the opportunity to eat at Tango's (the Mexican/Latin cuisine) two nights and at Cagney's (Steakhouse) on our last evening of the cruise. We really liked the food in both of these specialty restaurants.
Overall, the food was good and we had plenty to eat. Other passengers we spoke with said that Mama's Italian kitchen was quite good. Our biggest disappointment are the desserts. They always look good, More
but are not very tasty. Hardly worth the calories!
We enjoyed the evening shows. The comedian, Peter Sasso and the Jean Ann Ryan dance company were very good. Don't miss LeCirque Bijioux show, it was excellent!! In St. Johns, Antigua we took the Kayak/snorkel tour. It was very enjoyable. The kayaking was fun and the snorkeling was okay. Overall, I would recommend it as an excursion for this port.
While in St. Thomas, we went on a daysail that we had booked independent of the ship. We sailed on Highpockets, with Kathleen as our captain. She fixed us drinks, a very nice lunch and rum cake for dessert. It was a great day. Snorkeling was also included in our trip.
Due to high seas on our last day, we were unable to stop at Coco Cay for our private island day. We were disappointed, but understood that it was canceled for the safety of the passengers.
One other note about the freestyle cruising that is somewhat confusing is the gratuities. NCL automatically charges you $10 a day per person to your onboard account. When you order drinks a 15% gratuity is automatically added and they also have a place on the ticket for you to add more gratuity on top of that if you wish. It is also this way in the specialty restaurants where you are charged a surcharge for dining there. I just wonder how much of the automatic charges we pay are given to the crew members. The alcohol drinks on this ship are quite expensive. At $8-$9 each plus gratuity, it can really add up. The frozen drinks were not that good and had almost no alcohol. One beer costs over $4 with gratuity.
Overall, we had a good time with good service and will probably cruise NCL again sometime in the future. Although, I would not rate this cruise any better that Royal Caribbean or Carnival. Less