We were on the exact same cruise as the previous reviewer, and I got to say, that review was pretty spot on. Having said that, we did have positive experience in certain areas.
Let me first start by saying we picked NCL among all the other cruise lines offering comparable rates and itineraries for 2 reasons - Free Style dining, and most importantly, the Youth Program. For that, I would say NCL met our expectation.
Especially their Splash Academy, I can't say enough good things about them! This review is only based on 1 of their Youth Programs, for the 6-9 age group. They have one for the littlest ones, I *think* 1 other program for the tweens and one for teens. With a just turned 6-year-old and a almost 9-year-old, I knew that Alaska was not going to be as 'exciting' for them as it would be for my husband and I. After all, as Seattleites, Alaska is almost our own backyard, and the scenary wasn't going to be as exotic to them. The Splash Academy filled in all the waking moments when we weren't on land and during meal times as well as family time when we wanted to. Kids got to have all kinds of fun activities, they actually went outside on deck for running around time (instead of being inside and sitting on their behind watching the screen), and got to participate in a Circus where they performed on the main stage! When cruising Glacier Bay Nation Park, they had a Park Ranger on board to talk to them about the wild lifes and geography about the national park, did fun stuff with the Ranger and got to earn their Jr Ranger badges.
The counsellors were from all over the world, and most importantly, were certified. I needed that assurance that my kids would be well taken care of by those who actually know what they are doing when I left them on board. Yes, it's included and the only fees we needed to pay were the 2 meals when my husband and I were doing our shore exclusions and the kids weren't interested to come along. It's $6 per kid, and they closed the Splash Academy during meal time and the counsellors brought the kids to the Blue Lagoon for lunch/dinner. Both kids had so much fun, they didn't want to leave! They even wanted us to invite the counsellors to our house when they next sail into Seattle.
The only thing I wasn't pleased about was we registered the kids immediately once we got on board, and they had to wear the plastic wrist tag the entire week. If they got it off, it's $5. The tag wass plastic, uncomfortable, and it felt too much like a hospital tag... I really don't see the reason for that.
As for Free Style - yes, we ate whenever and wherever we wanted to. With kids, we needed that flexibility. We had our first dinner at the Indigo, one of the two main complimentary restaurants, where we celebrated my son turning 6, and it was fabulous. And...... that was it. Since then, we didn't get to dine at the Indigo anymore as the wait was always long. We didn't have to wait for long at the Summer Palace since we usually dined before 6pm, but the service there was subpar at best, and worst, down right surly. We had the unfortunate experience of getting one of those waiters on the 5th night, when we were celebrating my husband's birthday, no less. Needless to say, he wouldn't be celebrating his birthday on NCL in the foreseeable future.
The Garden Cafe where the buffet is was packed breakfast, lunch, dinner. They had their famous Chocolate buffet one night, and it was a zoo. NOT a pleasant experience. I don't understand why can't they open up the Indigo for breakfast and lunch as well instead of having it just for dinner. The art auction sessions could be conducted else where on the ship, and it would provide so much more ROOM. Food wise, not much variety to speak of, and the quality went steadily downhill. My son ate Mac n Cheese almost daily while on boad, and the last dinner, when he took 2 bites and declared that was it, you just know it was bad. They have 1 espresso station, and the prices was pretty much the same as you pay for at any Starbucks. The Bar City was adequate, and prices for drinks were reasonable as well. We didn't dine in any of the fee/cover-charged restaurants as we got all those restaurants and more in Seattle, we just don't see the need to spend more on board. There were electronic sign boards indicating the wait time for each restaurants throughout the stairways/elevator lobbies so that helped a bit with meal time planning.
I guess that's what comes with Free Style cruising. You got great flexibility, you lost that intimate, classy level of service. The food was, well, Red Robin/Outback Steakhouse standard, and you got that same level of service as well. While I didn't exactly expect the white-glove service and Michelin 3-star gourmet food we gotten with Princess Cruises, I did expect a better than average level of service with the prices we paid, especially with their F&B wait staff. The food really wasn't exceptional at all, no "Wow!" factor, and by the third night, the lack of variety started to get annoying. For those of us foodies, it was absolutely disappointing.
FWIW, I do think that the managers and officers on board were trying hard though, as we gotten a nice complimentary dessert sent to our room once for a very casual feedback I made to an officer. And for that 'unfortunate incident' on my husband's birthday dinner, we got a very apologetic restaurant manager calling to let us know he gotten my feedback letter, he was really sorry and wanted to make it up to us. He sent a bottle of champagne and a nice stem of red rose to our stateroom, a very nice gesture which we do appreciate very much.
In conclusion - it's highly unlikey that we will be cruising with NCL when it's just my husband and I. Princess Cruises has much bigger stateroom, exceptional service and excellent food. But if we are crazy enough to bring the kids along again, and we are going to some place warm, we may give NCL another chance. But we'll definitely be going with a stateroom with balcony, since a family of 4 in a picture window stateroom of 116 sqft was just painful....