The crew of this ship was the most caring, attentive, thoughtful, cheerful, helpful, and personable I have ever encountered in 30 years of cruising. This was my first NCL cruise and I was impressed with the overall experience.
The cruise before us could not get into port so it created a difficult situation. Everyone was forced to board at once instead of spread over a 4 hour period. The whole process was very organized and handled far better than anyone could ever expect. We were given minute by minute updates on text, email, and phone calls so we knew what was happening.
Our background is Carnival and Royal Caribbean and two cruise lines that are out of business (Big Red Boat and Royal) We had a bad experience on Carnival Triumph out of New Orleans 6 years ago and swore off of it forever and started with Royal Caribbean. We live in the Tampa area during the winter and we are retired so we usually cruise twice a year. This year, Royal Caribbean dropped Costa Maya from their cruises so we switched to NCL which was a nice result. WE did give Carnival another chance last November on a short cruise to the Bahamas on the Ecstacy which was a very positive experience.
We previously sailed on a ship that had set times in one dining room and one Your Time Dining which worked very well, but this was our first experience with the whole ship freestyle dining so we expected long lines. That never happened. WE never waited even 5 minutes to be seated, and we ate many different times - 7 p.m., 8 p.m. 9 p.m. and even 9:30 p.m. WE never had a problem. We do like to be seated with others and you have to specifically request it or they will seat you alone. We like to visit with other couples and hear their adventures and life stories. We kind of miss having regular table mates, but the advantage of eating whenever we want to outweighed the loss. WE don't drink so do not hang out in bars which limits our interaction with other cruisers except during dining.
I cannot imagine anyone not finding something of quality to eat on the menus. We do not eat in the specialty restaurants and we had a big variety of dishes that were well prepared in the Aqua and Venetian. We had lobster, prime rib, salmon, tilapia, and rib eye steak in the main dining rooms and great choices in the Garden Cafe. The Venetian was exquisitely appointed with a beautiful atmosphere. The Garden Cafe had a huge variety to choose from but you had to realize that each line had different things and check them all out. I love sweet potato fries and they were offered every day and were crispy and delicious! I had an omelette every morning with the sausages I love. How anyone can complain about the food on this ship is beyond me.
I cannot say enough about the crew! The waitress and waiters in the dining rooms were very concerned that we were happy and well served. WE never had an excessive wait for our food. I always have iced tea and it came quickly and was refilled regularly. Our cabin steward kept our ice bucket filled which we never even requested. We got towel animals every day and got 2 one day. So much fun. Victor was our steward and he kept our room perfectly made in a timely manner. WE were never bothered by photographers insisting on photos like other ships in our experience.
WE were given excellent dance lessons and totally mastered the cha cha under the tutelage of our cruise director, Geo. All the entertainers were friendly and accessible. The guitar player actually helped me one day when I was trying to find a particular lounge.
The shows were excellent, and there was a big variety of music offered in different areas of the ship. WE loved the Abba Tribute.
WE do not use the ship excursions because we are very experienced travelers and are comfortable making our own arrangements which saves a lot of money. It was our first time in Roatan and we used Rony's Tours to go to West Bay for snorkeling. If you are not very comfortable in the water, I would not try a beach snorkel without a guide. WE are and had a wonderful time on a beautiful reef spending hours in the water. There was a cliff to hang our towel and beach bag on with no problem with getting things sandy. WE did not pay for a lounger or entrance fee. We live in Florida 5 miles from the beach so the beach experience was not our goal. We were there for the snorkeling. WE were able to hook up with 4 others which reduced the price of a private guide to $25 each. We found them on the Roll Call Meet and Greet. Some in the group paid an extra $10 for a lounger in a different area of the beach. We told our guide what we wanted good snorkeling and he delivered.
In Belize, we used V.I.V. and were very happy with the service. WE did zip line and cave tubing. It was the dry season so the tubing was not the fast flow experience I expected which was a little disappointing. They gave us a great lunch before returning to the ship.
WE went to town in Costa Maya for $3 to and $2 return taxi. We found Banana Tours on the beach in town and went out on a skiff for an hour in the water on the reef and 15 minute boat ride for $15 each.
Disembarking was so easy! NCL does not rush you if you do not need to catch a flight and allows you to disembark at your leisure. WE stayed out of everybody's way because we were being picked up by a friend. Very easy and well organized like every aspect of an NCL cruise.