This was our family's first experience with NCL freestyle cruising so it is difficult to review without making comparisons to other cruise lines whether pro or con. My husband and I decided to take the kids to Bermuda since we went last year on the Enchantment of the Seas with RCI out of Baltimore. Our children are 15 and 12 and we thought they would be bored on the smaller ships that go out of Baltimore and since we live in central PA we can drive to the port in NYC.
Getting into NYC wasn't too difficult on a Sunday morning but once we hit 12th avenue just blocks from the ship at 10 am it was mayhem! There was another cruise ship also on the same pier so traffic was insane. Then at the parking garage there was only one person working the gate for parking. You have to dump luggage and park and get on a huge freight elevator that opens to only one or two porters throwing luggage onto racks. It was INSANE!! Once inside the terminal things calmed down but only because we booked a suite with the Haven and there was a lounge with checkin then they escorted us in groups to the Haven Concierge lounge. We ended up in the back of the group and never heard a word what was said and apparently they handed free cocktails to the people at the front. We never got one and after the craziness at the port I NEEDED one!
That said, the Haven was amazing! The staff was very attentive throughout the week. We ate breakfast every morning there and you can dine inside a lovely dining room or dine on the courtyard by the pool. The haven courtyard is spacious with plenty of lounge chairs by the pool and upstairs there is plenty of seating inside under the retractable roof and the the private sundeck is large with very nice chaise loungers. There is no bar outside and I rarely saw a waiter bringing drinks. I mention this because on RCL there are always waiters bringing drinks. Maybe this is typical of NCL? Didn't matter to us, we just walked to the inside bar to order. There is also a sauna available on the pool deck. We never had the great weather at sea, it rained heavily most at sea days, and the Haven was NEVER crowded! I mention this because I read many reviews about the lack of chairs on sea days, not so in the Haven. The only comparison I will make about Haven and Concierge on RCI is that RCI has free cocktails in the evening and NCL does not.
We loved our suite, an aft facing penthouse on deck 9. Very quiet, I was worried because the room is right above Cagney's and I never heard a peep. The balcony is ridiculously HUGE!!! And on a corner. We were on the port side and when booking the agent said to go port because it will be a view of Bermuda. Which is true but you also get to watch all the taxis coming and going.
Plenty of storage space for four people plus easy to store luggage under the bed. The toiletries are Elemis brand and are typical hotel sized bottles. I saw that regular staterooms have shower dispensers but not in the suites. Our stateroom attendant's name was Christian and he kept the rooms spotless with plenty of towels for a family of four and room changes twice daily but no chocolates at turndown service, my kids missed that because they always collect the chocolate for the trip home. The butler Mark was very attentive. We asked him one day if the kids could get some bread from the Italian restaurant Le Cucina and he ended up bringing it every day for their afternoon snack. He was also the contact for any ensuite dining. We only ordered once for breakfast on a port day and it was on time and still hot!
Let me say about the dining on NCL, the food was always good. We ate dinner in the Haven one night and for lunch twice and breakfast every day. The only thing they need is a soft serve ice cream machine! My daughter was at the buffet several times a day for ice cream.
Before we sailed I booked for upcharge dinners because I didn't know what to expect from their included dining venues. This way I knew we had reservations at 7pm 4 out of 7 nights. EVERY time I checked in I was told my reservation was at 6:15. They always seated us but I wasn't too happy with the fact that I booked online with NCL and also had the printout that showed the reservations were at 7. Where this 6:15 thing came up I have no idea. It wasn't a problem but I did feel like we ended up being squeezed in a few times. Most notably at Le Bistro where we were dressed up and wanted to have a fine dining experience. Out waiter was excellent but he was clearly overworked. There were two LARGE groups that evening and they were very loud and pretty much took over the restaurant. Bad luck on our part. It's otherwise probably a nice quiet place for a special dinner.