We had a wonderful time on the Gem in Courtyard villa 14508. My husband and I picked this cruise based on a few factors: we wanted to take our kids to see New York for a few days and it is fairly easy for us to get there (only one plane, we don't get many direct flights out of our fairly small airport) plus we didn't want the time change to be a factor for our children.
We have sailed in a courtyard villa on the Pearl in 2006 and were booked in one on the Jewel in 2008, but we got the call of a lifetime and got the Garden Villa upsell. Now that was incredible, but I think the Haven courtyard villa is the best deal afloat for a family like mine.
When we arrived at the port at around 1:00, we had virtually no wait in the suite entrance (off to the far right). We were immediately escorted onto the ship (again, NO line) and up to Cagney's. Since we had already eaten, we met Kadek (concierge) and immediately went to our room. I LOVE these rooms. They layout is so thoughtful. My 4 and 8 year old love the kid's bedroom (queen bed and pull down). The master bedroom is so beautiful and the bathroom is amazing. I love having a seated dressing table, huge closet, bath and shower with those picture windows. I noticed that since our trip on the Pearl, they removed the bench-like couch in the living room and replaced it with a sleeper sofa, so you could have someone sleeping there as well, though I wouldn't be volunteering for that spot! The only negative I can think of about this particular cabin is that it is underneath the Haven sundeck and we did hear some chairs moving above us in the early mornings, but it wasn't very bad.
Other than having the two bedrooms and bathrooms, the other factor that we think is so wonderful about this category is the Cagney's breakfast and lunch. We found breakfast to be very slow in the restaurant, it took 45 minutes to get our food the first morning at sea, and it wasn't very crowded, I think many people ordered it to their cabins and the courtyard. The food is very good, but it did take a while. After that, we mostly ordered it in the courtyard and ate it there. Again, it seemed to take a while for the food to come in the courtyard, but Joseph, the courtyard butler always had a smile and we appreciated his great service during the week. We loved how coffee and tea was always set up in the courtyard in the morning, along with pastries and fruit, and plenty of cookies and goodies in the afternoon. I really felt spoiled there in the afternoons by the pool. Having the cool mist spray in the sunny afternoons was wonderful!
We ate in the main dining room at dinner 2-3 times, and found the food to be good, and service was generally great, maybe a little rushed but always friendly. I was happy I could order my children something other than the standard kids menu--my son ordered a steak one night and thought he was king of the world. Christian, one of the assistant servers took extra time during a very busy night to make paper frogs for both of the kids, and they loved that. I made sure to write him up as one of our "vacation heroes". Also, if you go to the Magenta dining room, look for Sherman. He was the greatest and made great recommendations for us from the menu, and even brought us extras. We also saw him in Blue Lagoon (I think Blue Lagoon is great with no upcharge--obviously the food is nothing fancy but it was a fun change of pace). The only poor experience we had was in La Cucina. I don't know if our waiter was just having a bad night, but he took 15 minutes to come to our table, and even then, didn't great us at all, just asked what we wanted. The food took a very long time to come out, and when it did, it was disappointing. I had the lobster fetticuine with snow peas, and I don't recommend it. The lobster was tough and it had about 2 snap peas in the sauce. We were so ready to leave after the entree we didn't even bother with dessert. By far the best meal we had was dinner in Cagney's. Our server, Hazel was excellent, she knew the menu and wines very well. I had sliders as an appetizer and I believe sea bass as my entree and it was excellent. My husband had a filet and it was perfectly medium rare. I don't order dessert very often, but I was on vacation...The raspberry creme brulee was totally worth the calories! We also ate one evening at Le Bistro, and it was good, but I don't think it was as good as Cagney's and the service was not as crisp.
The kid's club was awesome. Our kids did not want to leave. They had a busy cruise, according to the director, but did a good job of entertaining everyone, my daughter especially loved the face painting. The circus at the end of the week in which all of the campers participated was wonderful. Since our kids were there a lot we tipped them accordingly, and I hope other parents did as well, because those kids work their tails off. We also did the Pajama Jam breakfast....Hmm. My kids did enjoy it but I think $20 a head is steep...The buffet is cute, but not a lot that is filling. Mostly frosting-coated pastries. We ordered room service before and made our kids eat before they got so distracted and filled up on junk, I would recommend that. I would probably save $20 and just send one parent if we had it to do over.
In Port Canaveral, we split a cab with another group who wanted to go to Kennedy Space Center. Since the ship didn't dock until noon, we only had until 5, KSC's closing time. The good part about that was that most of the crowd had come and gone, the bad part is that we didn't have enough time to do the tour and see the IMAX films, but we had a good time anyway. Ticket prices are expensive in my opinion, at $50 even for children. My family and I have always followed the space program so we really wanted to go. But it might not be for everyone. In June they will open the Atlantis shuttle exhibit so there will be more there. I understand that you can contact your congressional office and they get a limited amount of tickets for constituents. That wasn't an option for us, as South Carolina was in the process of a special election to fill an open district seat, so hopefully someone else will get lucky. We rented a cabana in Great Stirrup Cay and we think it was money well spent. Even if you are not in a cabana, everyone can go over to the beach below them and we found lots of small but beautiful sea shells there. The water was rough that day so snorkling was difficult but we had fun on the floats. You can rent life jackets on the beach for $5. They did forget part of our food order but brought us a sushi platter free of charge and refunded the fee for the seafood platter we didn't get. No big deal. Drink service was s..l..o..w. Plan ahead! We did the Dolphin Cay experience at Atlantis in Nassau. I cannot say enough about this. I think this is the neatest experience we have had as a family. You get to get in the (shallow) water with the dolphins and a trainer. Everyone gets a chance to pose and kiss/high 5 the dolphins. I don't think I will ever forget that I could feel Tracy's heart beating while I had my photo taken with her! Then all of the dolphins put on a little show for everyone. Even if you decide not to go in the water, you can watch from an observation area. I'm not sure who enjoyed it more, me or my kids! We were shocked that NCL refunded a portion of the cost of the excursion, since Atlantis was having a special in May. Of course you can't take your own pics of the dolphins so you have to buy the ones they take, and the cheapest package is $70. At least the discount of the excursion helped make up for that, but I am glad I have a picture of that moment. Also I want to mention that they make you remove all of your jewelry and give you a locker to store everything in. If I had known that, I would have left everything on the ship. Just FYI. Atlantis is massive, so be prepared for a lot of walking. You also get admission to the amazing aquarium and we all enjoyed that. We were worn out from that day. It was nice to have two sea days to recover from all of the action, but they went by way too fast! We all agree it was a great vacation and we look forward to having another Haven vacation some day soon.
In case anyone is interested, the air craft carrier "Intrepid" is docked right beside where Gem/Breakaway dock in NY Harbor. We wished we had made time to go onboard, in addition to many military aircraft and submarines, they have a Concorde jet and one of the space shuttle orbiters on deck(when we returned, they had almost completed an enclosure around the shuttle). It looked like fun! Have a great time, everyone!