This was my husband's and my first time on Norwegian Cruise Line. This was the only cruise sailing on our anniversary so we decided to try it. In brief: we stayed on the 8th floor, aft ship. The room was clean and we had no problems with any outside noise. The bed was terrible! For this one reason I am thankful the cruise was only four nights - I don't think my back could have taken any more! The majority of people on the ship were 30+ years old. There were few children although NCL did offer a kids program. Possibly because of the age difference from other cruise lines, there seemed to always be easy access to the pool, Jacuzzi, and lounge chairs on the lido deck. The food was very good, both in the restaurants and the buffet. The coffee was terrible, so thank goodness for the coffee bar (which was cheaper than Starbucks). We ate in the restaurants every night and met some interesting people (and some not so interesting). We thoroughly enjoyed the laid back feel of eating at our own time. We did eat at the French restaurant one night, a $20 per person up charge, which we highly recommend! They served the best escargot I have ever had. There was no assigned formal night but rather it seemed that people dressed up on whatever night they felt like. The entertainment was good although we do wish the bands would have rotated the lounges they were assigned to. NCL does seem to nickel-and-dime you for everything so be sure to watch those receipts.
I spent hours before the cruise researching decent parking away from the port. The port charges a ridiculous $20 per day, however, this being downtown Miami there were no other safe alternatives that I could locate. We decided to spend the extra money and ensure the end of our vacation wasn't ruined by a broken into or stolen vehicle. That being said, the cruise terminal is conveniently located across the street from the port's parking garage. We arrived around 1:00 pm and were able to board the ship with minimal wait. My husband did not have his passport on him (we had filed for it but of course it arrived while we were away) and he was easily allowed on the ship with his birth certificate, however, he had to sign a waiver that if he did not return to the US on the ship (such as in the event of becoming injured and needing to fly home) he would not be allowed entry into the US. Just something to keep in mind for the non-passport holders... The ship had a full buffet for lunch, a surprise to us since we were used to other cruise lines offering traditional pizza and hamburgers on the date of sailing. The dreaded muster drills were not as rigid as on other cruise lines.
The first port was Freeport. We took the Garden of the Groves excursion offered by NCL. When we first visit an island, we generally like to take an excursion offered by the cruise line in order to orient ourselves. While we enjoyed this tour, Freeport does not seem to have as much history as some of the other islands. The the majority of the city tour comprised pointing out their local Pizza Hut, Costco, Subway, Hertz, Burger King, etc. The Gardens were lovely and I wish we had more time to spend there. The marketplace was typical for what you would find in the Bahamas and I wouldn't consider spending more than an hour there. We did find a gentleman by the docks who fried fresh conch fritters while you wait. 4 for $1 - a definite must if you out that way! Unfortunately, most of the resorts on the island have closed due to economic difficulties. We weren't overly impressed with Freeport and won't go out of our way to return. If there is a next time, we make stick with the beach or the cruise ship pool.
The second port was Nassau. A political demonstration was taking place when we arrived. We were nervous at first about our safety, but later learned that the natives were angry at the ex-pats rather than the tourists. As we have been to this port numerous times we decided to take a self-guided walking tour available for free online from Fromer's. I highly recommend visiting the local library, which used to be the jail, where the bars were removed and books installed instead. It's free to enter but no pictures when inside. The library also houses a small museum. The Queen's Staircase and Christ Church Cathedral were both breathtaking. And don't miss the British Colonial Hilton where two James Bond movies were filmed!
Great Stirrup Cay was the last stop of the cruise. This appears to have been a newly acquired island as much of it is under construction. The construction, though noticeable, did not impede our enjoyment of the island. The strawmarket was nice and there was plenty of covered eating space. The beach front portion of the island is enormous compared to other cruise line islands and it was easy to locate lounge chairs that had only a few people around you (rather than being packed in). The beach was rocky and I would recommend water socks but we were able to enter and leave the water with minimal difficulty. We brought our own snorkeling gear and the number and variety of fish was an amazing sight. Dear NCL: More hammocks, please. Beware the seagulls! They are very aggressive and will steal your food off your plate as you are walking if it is not covered. COVER YOUR FOOD!!
Disembarking was a little frustrating in that the crew would only allow a certain number of people off the ship at a time. On the night prior, you were required to register for a time to leave the ship which turned out to really only allowed you to get in line to leave not to actually leave the ship. We were also disappointed that you must pick up your luggage in a large warehouse then carry everything yourself through customs. This makes the wait in the customs line cumbersome and tiring. Other cruise lines have you go through customs first then get your luggage which you take directly to your destination without having to schlep it through a 45-minute customs line. This process made checking your baggage the night before disembarking pointless, in my mind. It would have been better to simply carry your luggage off and avoid the 30-minute wait to get off the ship as you ended up carrying it through customs anyway.
I have tried to offer both the highlights and complaints of the cruise. We did enjoy this cruise and would definitely sail NCL in the future.