We were traveling as a group of two couples in our mid-50's who are experienced cruisers. We took the same cruise on Norwegian Dawn exactly a year ago and enjoyed it so much that we re-booked for this year.
Let me hit the key points up front, followed by some details.
1. You'll probably see people complain about the delay returning to Tampa - ignore them. NCL can't control the weather, and they did everything they could to get us back to port as quickly as possible.
2. You may see some people complain about the physical condition of the ship - ignore them. Granted, the surface of the Promenade deck is definitely getting worn, and I expect NCL will replace it. But...it's still a safe and comfortable walking surface. The rest of the ship was in great shape - NCL freshened it up over the past year.
3. If you speak with a knowledgeable travel agent, they'll tell you the decline in food quality is consistent across all cruise lines - not just NCL. Everyone is trying to save money. Was the food great? In the buffet and public restaurants, no - it definitely went downhill over the past year, but it was still OK. The specialty restaurants continue to be excellent.
4. Would I go on this cruise again? Absolutely. Going on different shore excursions makes it a different experience every time.
- Our flight arrived in Tampa earlier than expected and we immediately went to the ship. Boarding was very fast, with no wait in line, and the counter staff were friendly and helpful.
- The first day at sea was relaxing. A bit cool, but very comfortable. The barbeque by the pool was good. We ate dinner in the "Moderno" specialty restaurant, and it was excellent. We've been to other Brazilian Steakhouse restaurants, and Moderno didn't disappoint.
- Roatan: we took the ship's excursion to Tabyana Beach, based on recommendations from friends who took the excursion last year. It's a beautiful beach, drink service is very attentive, snorkeling off the beach is better than I expected, and you can walk down the shore to stretch your legs.
A very nice day.
- Belize: we went with Coral Breeze Tours on a snorkeling tour to Caye Caulker and Shark Ray Alley. Awesome! Fantastic! With the exception of scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef and in Bermuda, this was the best snorkeling I've ever had. Shark Ray Alley in particular was wild - so many rays. There were a few rough edges in the course of the day, but nothing serious. I highly recommend Coral Breeze if you want a fun snorkeling experience.
- Costa Maya: we went on the ship's "Down and Dirty Mini Jeep Adventure". Lame and not worth the money. If you've never been on an ATV you might find this to be unique, but We own ATVs and found the trails and scenary to be boring. Last year we took a tour with The Native Choice Tours, and that was ten times better - if you haven't used them, give them a try.
- Cozumel: we've been to Cozumel several times before, so we took the ferry over to Playa del Carmen for the day and had a blast. The shopping is concentrated and excellent, and the beach is beautiful.
- Last day at sea: beautiful weather, and another nice barbeque by the pool. We ate dinner in the "Le Bistro" specialty restaurant, and it was excellent - strongly recommended.
- Departure in Tampa: my version - around 7AM the captain announced the Port of Tampa was closed due to heavy fog - no ships allowed in or out. They made a mad dash during the night in an attempt to reach port before it was closed, but they were too late. We sat until about 1PM when the captain announced the port was being re-opened. My sole gripe is the way NCL handled the "easy off" line for people who wanted to get off the ship fast in an effort to catch flights home. The announcement was clear: only get in line if a) you have all your luggage with you, and b) you're trying to catch a flight. Despite this, there were locals in line who were driving home. And, "line jumpers" weren't controlled. NCL could have done a better job of shutting down stairwells and elevators to prevent the ugly scene that happened when we hit the dock and the line was allowed to move - I'm glad I was near the front, as it was getting ugly behind us.
- Bottom line: it was another great cruise. The itinerary was good, the ship staff were excellent, the weather was perfect, and I feel NCL did a pretty good job of managing around the weather challenges and keeping the passengers comfortable, fed, and entertained.