We love to cruise and we are veteran NCL cruisers so we very much looked forward to going back to a line we knew with excellent food and service. After having been on 4 previous cruises with two different companies (Princess and NCL) we can honestly say this was the worst we have ever taken!
Embarkation in NYC was chaotic and horrible (not the ship's fault but the port is to be avoided if you can) because it was so confusing and difficult. We stayed at Roommate Grace Hotel (great place to spend the night in Times Square) and walked to the port (about 10 blocks) that morning. We thought everything was going alright until we tried to find the ship, board the elevators, and check our luggage. It was so disastrous and disorganized. We've never seen that in Miami, New Orleans, or Barcelona.
As for the passengers, we were in shock. We booked a 10 day cruise expecting there would be few children (as there have always been on board NCL cruises). There were special interest groups booked with large families. There were children out of private school for special holidays in NYC in late January. There were so many baby carriages being pushed and carried down those narrow hallways and staircases that it was insane. Typically it's just slow moving behind some elderly people with canes on cruises. Not on this ship.
Nickelodeon everywhere. Activities, signs, and play groups all for children, in addition to the kids club onboard. Half the daily activities were geared to families/children which is fine but I'd never seen NCL like that before. It made me wonder how much the ship had changed in the 3 years since we have sailed with them.
NCL has no requirements that children be with their parents. Children were often left unattended and they literally ran about the ship swinging from staircase railings, sitting in any restaurant they want (even specialty restaurants where they are allowed to eat for free, as long as they eat off the children's menu even when not accompanied by a parent), hanging over the edges of theater balconies. It was a circus.
The teenagers travelled in packs and berated the staff with their foolish antics "My friend's name is Seymour and his last name is Butt. Can you say his name waiter?" It was embarrassing to have to sit at the table beside them during lunch and dinner, unsupervised by parents. They sprawled out on the decks and were so loud while passengers were trying to lounge and relax. Late at night they would run up and down the halls shouting for one another to find each other in their rooms. It was neverending- there was no place to escape.
All of the lounges that are typically quiet on sea days when people are lounging on deck or swimming, seemed to be occupied by religious services for the private groups or craft making sessions for the children. We always thought children who weren't with parents had to be with the kids club onboard and thats why we never saw them. THAT IS NOT THE CASE. Large groups with children were pushier than anyone else letting others cut lines and making staff and other passengers extremely angry during disembarkations at the ports. It was chaos on every single day, sea days, port days, embarkation and disembarkation because of these passengers.
I delayed in writing this review to let my emotions simmer down but I am still so upset by how the other passengers acted. Since getting home I've seen several NCL commercials advertising to parents to come onboard, get a nice spa day, and let the kids go off on their own. Seriously NCL? And then I receive emails telling passengers kids can sail for free this fall? WHAT???? I'm appalled that this is the new chosen group that NCL has directed marketing efforts towards and that they want them on every ship, at every time of the year. We may not be NCL's type anymore.
The saving grace for us was the cruise critic group and the exceptional staff of NCL- we met some fantastic people and really enjoyed seeing them throughout our cruise after the meet and great on day 2. If you're wondering whether to join a meet and greet, I strongly advise it because it could save your sanity on a disastrous cruise.
Better than ever NCL. We tried to eat at The Grand Pacific and Magenta dining rooms each day. The Magenta was closed a lot of times during the week for a private group to take meals. Grand Pacific took care of passengers but there were often people complaining in line or yelling at the hostess about perceived injustice at not having a table for 20 available IMMEDIATELY. "I thought this was freestyle" was often heard. I wanted to redirect these large groups to the buffet but...alas, it made it difficult to enjoy meals with the constant needy, belligerent groups around.
The Garden Cafe Buffet was always packed with often no seating available. We ate many breakfasts in the Great Outdoors seating area. We frequently enjoyed a better ice cream selection there after dinner than in the restaurants.
We had amazing dinners at Cagneys Steakhouse two different nights. The crew we dined with one night were amazing.
We did our own excursions to get away from the crowds and just got into public transportation or taxis to find private beaches. 3 out of the 4 ports of call were nice as expected, but we were very disappointed with the final destination -- Samana, Dominican Republic and were grateful to have booked the Cayo Levantado beach trip. The beach was nice but it was clear from the vendors just how poor this island really is. Those travelling here should be aware that this is nothing like the other islands you visit on this cruise and should strongly consider booking the beach trip for $30-$40 per person with the ship.
We got into port late due to a medical emergency which was not NCL's fault but this late arrival became THE WORST DISEMBARKATION PROCESS EVER. Usually we each grab our bags and walk off. Instead, everyone decided to walk off. Some people had like 6 bags and could not carry them themselves. Some people kept forgetting a bag because they had so many. Huge groups of families should have just waited with colored tags but did not. We waited until after the movie in the theater when we were called and by then people were fighting and the stairs were blocked. It was a mob scene and you could not go to the bathroom (cabins were now off limits) without being yelled at and pinned to the wall as though you were trying to cut the line.
The entertainment was not good. The Gem Orchestra was very good. The rest of the shows and comedians were either ok or not good at all. We were shocked at how loud some of the bands were, playing until midnight most nights (even before ports) and how it echoed several floors above the lobby into our room while we tried to sleep.
The dining staff, the stateroom staff, and the cleaning staff were exceptional, as always. They went out of their way to be helpful and always had a smile on their face. The crew was fantastic and responsive to concerns, but reasonably could not do much about the large groups and unruly children which was upsetting but understandable.
Overall, we may not be NCL cruisers anymore if they are going to pander to parents and children.