We arrived in the UK on the 24th of April and stayed with friends in Poole, near Bournemouth pre-cruise, and they drove us to the port on the day of departure, so I do not have any tips on hotels in the area of the port.
Embarkation in Southampton was smooth for us. We arrived at the terminal around 10:45a, and were allowed to proceed directly through security and into the check-in lobby. I was curious as if we were going to be allowed in early as our e-documents requested that you not arrive before 11:00, and that boarding would not commence until noon. Once inside, I was surprised at the number of people already checked in considering the directions about arrival time given in the documents, but there was plenty of seating in the holding area. Boarding commenced a little before noon, and shortly after the day visitors were invited to board.
We were asked to not go to the cabins yet as they were not quiet ready, so we took the opportunity to look around the ship. Sometime just before 1p, I think, an announcement that the cabins were ready was made, and we proceeded to ours to drop the luggage off.
We were in a Spa Balcony cabin, category B9 located in the forward section of deck 14 on the port side of the ship. We found the cabin set-up to be a huge improvement over the cabins on Epic, but it did seem tight. The balcony was very small....any smaller and it would be a "French balcony". The decor was very subtle and nice, but it was interesting that the only piece of art in the cabin was on the wall behind the sofa. Pretty standard desk with mirror and hair dryer below the desk surface. There were two small cabinets underneath the television for storing some of your stuff, and then a cabinet with the mini-bar refrigerator. The closet had shelves on one side - one with the safe, and hanging space on the other. The hangers were the kind where the ring was permanently attached to the bar and you lifted the hanger off the ring. Several of ours would not stay on the ring, so ended up laying either in the top or bottom of the closet for the entire trip. Hard to believe that they feel the need to go with this set-up, I guess I wasn't aware that hanger theft was a huge issue, so it basically said "we're cheap" to me. The bathroom was pretty standard NCL from Jewel class ships. Interestingly, the life vests are stored in a basket under the beds, but even with the basket, there was room for 3 suitcases, and we could have probably gotten an additional small bag or two under there. Speaking of luggage, ours arrived at our cabin very quickly. Dennis, our cabin steward, introduced himself day 1 and was very available. He did a great job keeping the cabin during the trip. Note that on Breakaway, the "Make Up Cabin" and "Do Not Disturb" indicators are electronic, and controlled by switches that are high on the wall by the door. Also note that the cabin electrical system is activated by putting the key, or some other card, in the slot by the door. This seemed to control ALL the cabin power including the power outlets, so if you need something to charge, do it overnight, or bring along a card key from a hotel and leave that in the slot while you are out.
We had the opportunity to view a Spa Mini-suite, category M9 as it was still open for the day visitors. Interestingly enough, the cabin itself did not appear any larger than ours. The bathroom is definitely larger though, with double sinks. The mini-suite balcony was the same size as ours. From viewing this cabin, I am not sure that the cabin would be worth the higher cost.
Over all the food was good to excellent. Service at times was a bit spotty, and slow. They have some crew members that are very on top of things, and others that are still learning the ropes, or so it seemed. We saw a couple of manager types have melt downs because of various issues, and found that it was off-putting to see such unprofessional behavior displayed in front of passengers. Interestingly enough, the wait-staff remained calm, cool, and unruffled.
That being said, we ate breakfast several mornings in the Garden Cafe, several mornings in Savor/Taste, and one morning at the Uptown Grill. We had no problems with service in Savor/Taste when we dined there. Food was provided in a timely schedule, and we were offered coffee/water/and juice as we needed it. One observation that I noted on this trip, only on one occasion do I remember the server introducing him/herself, as well as an assistant waiter. I'm not sure if they are eliminating assistants, or what, but you could tell there needed to be some attention to this issue. Garden Cafe is set up in a pretty standard configuration and was quite large. Food was good and seemed to be rotated on a regular basis. The omelet/egg station line moved quickly. Seating seemed adequate on our cruise, but considering the ship was no where near capacity, I have to wonder what will happen when it is booked to capacity. We liked the area of the Uptown Grill, but the selections are limited to yogurts, fruit, and breakfast type sandwiches. Oddly this seemed the coldest place on the ship, even when other outdoor areas warmed up a little, this area stay COLD! It will be a nice outdoor area in warmer weather.
For Lunch, we ate a couple of times in the Garden Cafe and found our favorite dishes were the Indian dishes that were offered. The salads seemed fresh on the buffet, and once again, food seemed to be rotated in a timely manner. A couple of days we chose to eat lunch in Savor/Taste, and overall the lunch menu was standard. One particularly cold day though they were clearly unprepared for the number of guests that showed up for lunch. The food was just ok that day, but the wait staff seemed to be working very hard in not the best circumstances. We ate lunch twice in O'Sheehan's, and found the food to be typical "fast food" but it was served hot, and the waitstaff was very good. Our favorite lunches were at Shanghai's Noodle Bar. The food is prepared fresh and the wait staff is very good. It is an ala carte charged menu, but very inexpensive and worth the money. That being said, the location of Shanghai's was not well thought out. It is right next to and completely open to the casino. The problem is that the open kitchen, with the large vents over the cooking area is on the far side of the restaurant, and therefore draws the cigarette smoke from the casino through the restaurant. This seems poorly thought out from a design standpoint, and people sensitive to smoke would find this an unpleasant place to dine.
The first night for dinner we chose Ocean Blue. The food and service was very good. I particularly enjoyed the mussel appetizer. For the main course I had the Sea Bass and it was prepared very well. The second night we dined in Le Bistro, and were quite surprised as it was NOT the experience that it used to be. The restaurant was clearly understaffed for the number of tables they were attempting to serve. There seemed to be no assistant waiters anywhere to be found, so many of the little things that were associated with the presentation of the meal were missing. These little things were the things that made eating there special, and it was not the same with them missing. The waitstaff was working very very hard and even the maitre d's were helping with the service, but they were very rushed making the atmosphere somewhat tense. Thankfully, the food was still excellent. Hopefully this is just a scheduling glitch that will be worked out quickly. Night three we went to Teppanyaki and as always the food and presentation were excellent. I had the seafood entree which included lobster, calamari, and shrimp. It was a great choice. The steak some others had looked very good as well. Night four was Cirque Dreams & Dinner Jungle Fantasy, and it's all about the show. The food is a set menu, so it is brought out en mass and placed before you. The food is good, but not great, the show on the other hand is excellent! Night 5 was Cagney's. This was the best meal we had. Christina and Rodney were our servers and they did an excellent job. Steaks were cooked to perfection, and the sides were excellent. The lump crab salad appetizer was spectacular, as was the wedge salad. Desserts were very good. We enjoyed the macadamia nut ice cream and the creme brulee. We enjoyed our dinner so much here that we returned to Cagney's on the final night of the cruise and requested the same servers. The second time around was as good as the first. Night six we ate at La Cucina, The food was good to very good and the service was excellent. The insalata caprese was very nicely done, and the vegetable lasagna was good. Tiramisu dessert was very good.
For the shows we did Rock of Ages one evening. The music is good, but story line is pathetic. I'm still not sure why this was such a hit on Broadway, and even the movie was given mixed reviews. Many people left the show early. All that said, the cast seemed to do a good job with the material they were given. Cirque Dreams is excellent and the performers really do some amazing things. Worth the money in my opinion! Burn the Floor was also excellent. A very talented group of people deliver an enjoyable experience. We did the late night Second City show one evening and found it enjoyable, and thought the team did a good job with the improv, and didn't get too raunchy. We had a great time dancing at the Glow party and thought the music was good. I have mixed feelings about Bliss though. The dance floor is huge, but the seating area is limited. Not near the amount of seating nor the lounge like feel of Bliss on the Norwegian Pearl. The 80's party was pretty good, but very cold as it was held at Spice outside. Fireworks were o.k. for a first time effort, but didn't compare to the fireworks show on the Disney Dream.
For recreation, the ropes course is a really interesting and fun thing to do. As one who doesn't care for heights, I was able to enjoy the course, and I even walked the plank...although the first time around I didn't make it very far out. The second time I tried, I made it out to the end. Too bad the camera didn't work :(. The flash goes off but the pics are not recorded. The free fall water slide was a blast as well, but once again, the camera here was not working. That being said, the main pool area will be interesting when the ship is full and the weather is warm. The area seemed tight to me, and cluttered due to the "Market Place" being stuck between the two pools. The Spice H20 area seems more spacious than the one on Epic, but this is because there is no pool there, just open deck and a couple of hot tubs. I still thing the Giant Screen is poorly placed as it blocks the view off the back of the ship. I don't understand why it is not mounted on the wall on the opposite side of Spice.
The spa was O.K., but like the one on Epic will be very crowded when the ship is full. The thermal suite was definitely not ready for this cruise. The water in the hydrotherapy pool was barely warm, and the hot tub did not work at all for the first several days of the cruise. The hydrotherapy pool seemed overly chlorinated at times, to the point that my skin felt very dry and irritated after spending time in it, and my eyes actually burned from the smell of the chlorine. One of the showers out side the Sauna was scalding hot, and it took several DAYS for the staff to post a sign on it that it was out of order. The salt room also did not seem to work at all the first day or so, and then only intermittently after that. It really seemed to be a wasted space to me. Some days the steam room was at full steam, other times not so much. The sauna did seem to consistently work. Passengers seemed to think that the heated loungers were theirs for the day, but several times, I did see staff removing all towels and robes from unoccupied ones to allow others to use them. I believe the charge for the week to use the thermal suite was $146, but it was included with the spa balcony fare, although others encountered confusion with the staff on this issue, by the time we asked we were automatically given the sticker, no questions asked. If they decide later that it is not included, there is certainly NO reason to pay more for a forward balcony cabin on deck 14!
The fitness center was divided into two sections across the hall from one another. The cardio room was oceanview, and seemed to have an adequate number of machines to choose from. Plenty of treadmills and elliptical machines, although at certain times in the morning they all seemed to be in use. I had no problem getting a machine late morning or early afternoon though. Across the hall on the "inside" of the ship is the weight room which had a variety of machines and free weights available for use.
The camera's on the plank and water slides not working were not the only problems with the photography system. Even though the photographers took many pictures, and scanned our key cards, the vast majority of the photos never showed up in our portfolio, nor on the electronic screens in the photo shop. The electronic screens also show the photos in a very poor layout, and even though the photos are shown on an NCL screen, they are covered with an NCL "watermark" for lack of a better work, that makes it very difficult to tell just how good or bad the pic is. Are they really that worried about somebody taking a picture of their picture on the computer screen? Another example of something that in my opinion says "We're cheap!" Maybe they need to send somebody from the photo department on the Disney Dream to see how the system should work!
The Waterfront is a great concept, and I wish the weather on the crossing had been more agreeable to enjoying this part of the ship. I can imagine that it will be very popular in warmer weather, and tables will be difficult to get.
Disembarkation went very smoothly and seemed to run ahead of schedule for most if not all of the morning. They are VERY strict about the number of people they allow in the terminal, and seemed to oly let around 30 at a time into the baggage claim area. This is not NCL policy, but the Port Authority or Customs/Immigration, but not sure which.
Overall the ship is nicely decorated, and seems to be designed much better than Epic in my opinion. I will be interested, however, to hear reviews from cruisers when they are on the ship and it is at or near capacity. It seems to me that it could become very crowded very quickly, and I'm not sure there is enough staff to handle the crowd.
We spent one night post cruise at the Marriott East Side. The hotel is very nice and the service there is excellent. It is in the building where Georgia O'Keffee and her husband resided in New York, so it is not your cookie cutter hotel.