We've been on 4 cruises before but this was our first on NCL. We read all the reviews on here and heard the good and bad. Our two kids, 7 & 9, hadn't been on a cruise before and the idea of a new ship with Nickelodeon and water slides was appealing. Also, I've always disliked the typical cruise where you spend half a day in each "stop", thus allowing you no real time to see much of anything aside from the port. Staying in Bermuda for 3 full days was different.
In summary, we had a terrific time. All was not perfect but the flaws were outweighed by the positives for us.
We stayed in an aft haven suite. The suite had 2 bathrooms and a very large deck. It was modern and spacious for my family. We saw many of the other rooms while aboard and they were small by comparison. There is no doubt that the Haven was pricey but from our point of view, I'd rather spend more and be comfortable versus saving and being unhappy. And after hearing from other guests and comparing/contrasting with our own experience, I would either go Haven or not go at all. It was that much nicer.
Embarkation : smooth and easy. Haven passengers were in a separate area and we had little to no lines at all. Parking at the Pier was easy although it did cost around $250 for the week. Ouch!
Room : Haven Aft Suite. Spacious. Nice bathrooms. Comfortable bed in master bedroom. Huge deck. All good.
Food: We ate in Le Bistro (good, not great), Ocean Blue (excellent! best food on the ship), The Haven (more in a moment - good to very good), UPtown Bar and Grill (solid and easy choice for lunch / breakfast), Osheehan's (mediocre but decent pub offerings), Gelato place (good!), Cirque Show (food was okay - show great!), Garden Cafe Buffet (nice buffet, very clean), OCean Blue Quick Serve (very good but pricey), and the Sabrett's hot dog cart (solid hot dog)
Overall food was good +. Servers were incredibly friendly. Haven restaurant was the best deal though. It's included and serves 3 meals / day. Plus there is an outside casual pool menu in the Haven. Plenty of options. Food was good to very good. Best dinner item we had was the grilled shrimp. Good salads and tuna tartare. Liked the beets too. All restaurants were very clean and they ahd no problem bringing off-menu items or special requests. Ocean Blue had legitimately top notch food and was as good as any NY or big city restaurant. At $49 / person it's not cheap but compared to what a Geoffrey Zaccarian meal costs at his other spots, it's not outrageous. Kids were 1/2 price here and free if they ordered off the kid's menu. Great steak. Great fried calamari. Dover Sole was top notch. Excellent desserts. Terrific meal!
Concierge: In Haven, we had Ryan. Very nice guy and helpful. We pre-booked and only needed him to rearrange some things. We heard several folks yelling at him for issues they had but we had nothing but ease. Luck?
Casino: smokey and pretty typical for a cruise ship. I won a poker tournament which was nice. The poker table is a rip-off. They rake 10% of the pot (normal by AC standards) but take up to $25 / pot (in LV and AC they cap it at $4).
Activities: Plenty. Rope course was awesome and kids loved it. So unique. Water slides were legit. Lines were long though and took some time. But the kids loved them (and so did I). Mini golf was cute but course was kind of simplistic. Kids loved the bunjy jump. Played all the usual stuff: ping pong, big chess, etc. Bingo was bingo. We lost but kids had fun.
Gym: Very nice with a ton of classes in Pilates, Yoga, TRX, etc. Classes were typically open. But the gym gets packed and isn't big enough for the whole ship. Not enough machines. As a Haven guest, we had hoped there would be a separate gym in the Haven but there isn't. Advice is to work out in the middle of the day or early evening. Morning? Forget it.
Spa: The Haven had it's own mini spa which offered all the services of the main spa. Both have a litany of services. I loved my hot stone massage. But prices are as high as any Las Vegas or NY spa with 15% tacked on for service.
Kids: They loved Splash Academy. It was clean and well done. Different groups for all ages. Lots of safety checks and balances. We felt comfortable dropping off the kids there a couple times. And they loved it.
The pools were an issue. They were simply too small. Too many people for too few pool real estate. You couldn't swim. It was more like standing in water. The Haven had a private pool but it was the size of a hot tub. And as usual, everyone fought for limited deck chairs. If you were in the haven, there was plenty of space and more than enough chairs. However, if your kids wanted to be in the kids area or water slides, you had to fight for chairs in that area and as stated, there were just not enough chairs to go around.
The other issue was nickel and diming. Everyone was complaing. We expected it but it was certainly rampant. Want Internet? Pay $$$. want to call someone on board? Pay more $$$ Want gelato? Cake Boss? Soda? WAnt to charge $ to your room from the casino? Want to take an exercise class like Pilates or TRX? All extra $$$. And it adds up. On top of that, there is a $12 / pp / day charge on your room. That's $48 / day for a family of 4, another $350. It all adds up to you spending a lot more than your initial deposit. Again, we expected this but if you don't prepare your expectations, be forewarned. Your bill at the end won't be pretty.
-In the photo area, you pay for each photo, like usual. But in most other places, you can pay $ for a whole DVD with all the photos or you can buy individual. Here you must but individual. And if you want a DVD, you must first buy individual photos and then you can get the same photos you already bought on a DVD for another $35! That is absurd.
-Ice bar - fun concept. But a rip off for $20 / per person (including kids!) The room is tiny and crammed so you spend $20 for two small drinks and about 20 minutes in a cramped room. I'd reduce the price and charge 1/2 for kids.
-Rock of Ages - Loved it. Faithful adaptation of the original show. Great 80s rock and set. Many jokes that were inappropriate for kids or went over their heads so be warned. But we all loved it.
-Cirque Show - terrific and well worth seeing. Get there early for front seats. If in Haven, you get in first and get best seats. Acrobats, jugglers, and feats of strength. We all loved it.
-Comedy Magician - He was pretty boring. Hack jokes. Tired tricks. Wife fell asleep. I'd skip it.
-Burn the Floor - great dancing. My daughter loved it. Son was bored.
Had a blast. Recommend buying the 3 day ferry /bus pass if you intend to go anywhere. BUses are simple and frequent and the locals are very helpful on when to get off and where your stop is.
On Wed make sure to go to Hamilton for the weekly Harbor Nights festival. There is decent food there and plenty of music and crafts. Get the rum cakes too they sell here. Much better (and all natural) than the ones at the rum cake factory in the Dockyards.
Enjoyed the Crystal Caves but I recommend seeing only the Fantasy Cave and skipping Crystal. No need to spend $ on both caves.
Aquarium/ zoo were fun for the kids and a decent bad weather activity although much of the zoo is outside.
Beaches - we loved elbow beach. Less crowded than Horseshoe. And they rent water sports stuff from the booth in the Mandarin Oriental (elbow beach hotel). Mickey's Bistro is right there but it's a fortune and we left after seeing the obscene prices.
Had a great fish sandwich at Woody's a locals spot not too far from the Dockyards. Get the Wahoo on toasted raisin bread with cole slaw and tartar sauce, lettuce, tomato. Yum!
Also had an excellent dinner at Cafe Bolero on Front Street. This was our favorite meal along with Ocean Blue. Delicious fois gras poutine. Calamari was top notch. And asparagus with poached egg and hollandaise was awesome too! Big thumbs up.
We also thoroughly enjoyed Hartley's Helmet dive. We prebooked. They leave from Dockyards area. You go out 1 hour. Then you spend 30 minutes under water in a scuba like setting but anyone can do it. YOu'll see all kinds of cool fish and coral and the guide (captain) is helpful, if a bit eccentric. Andrew, the assistant is a cool guy and helpful too. Highly recommended.
Also - a must - play mini golf at Fun Golf in the Dockyards. Nicest mini golf course we've ever seen and we've played in Ocean City NJ, Wildwood, OC, MD, Florida, etc. Course is a recreation of famous holes around the world like St Andrews or TPC with bunkers and sloping greens. But it's mini golf! Get coupons in the information booth when you leave the ship that are 2 for 1. Loves this place!
In summary, we had a great experience. Our butler was friendly and helpful. Every day we had eggs and juice delivered. Recommend getting room service on the your first day in Bermuda so you can eat on the deck and look out at the island before going aboard. Housekeeping was terrific and made towel animals for the kids. Aside from nickel and diming (expected) and small pools (biggest issue from our point of view), we had a blast and were made to feel special the whole time. Most importantly, the kids had a great time and we all have memories to last a lifetime.