I was on the 18 Aug sailing from New York to Bermuda and my first trip on NCL. I am a solo cruiser and given the high premium of being on a brand new ship, I took a studio room designed for that purpose. I have just returned from this trip with some very mixed feelings.
Firstly embarkation was relatively easy, 45 minutes from curbside to being onboard the ship, not bad at all given we are 4200 guests. A warm welcome by the check in staff gave me a good feeling this was going to be a good experience. The cabins were made available at 1pm and at 130pm my bag was delivered to the room. Lunch in Savoy and some lively conversation with the wait staff.
We departed Manhattan at 4pm after the safety briefing an sailing out of New York is something all aspiring cruisers should do once in their lifetimes. It is spectacular and many glasses held high to the lady on Ellis Island as we passed by. Dinner in the main dining room proved to me that earlier reviews of the food on NCL versus other cruise lines were without any merit and the service was equal to many other lines. I think NCL could do well by employing a beverage staff who know their wines rather than relying on the already overworked waiters to do both tasks. My chosen wine was not available but no problem, I chose something else.
Having made a very long journey to get to the ship I took an early night to bed and was unable to sleep because of the room temperature. At full heat the room was freezing cold and I ended up during the week with a bad cold as a result.
Day 2 was a sea day and breakfast in OSheehans was good. The only cruise line that asks you if you want more juice and as much as you liked I thought was a neat touch. The service was typical of what I experienced all week, excellent and efficient and very concerned to confirm you were having a good time. The staff on NCL are every bit as good as the premium lines which came as a pleasant surprise.
I decided to spend some quality time on top deck with a good book and discovered that all 4200 guests were crammed into a tiny available space. Half the top deck is covered by an aqua park and heaving busy. Not one single seat was available to sit and I found nowhere onboard for quiet relaxation. Even the library is next to the room where people play cards and is the opposite extreme from relaxing. I would have spent time in my cabin if it were not for the artic temperatures.
What makes Breakaway different from the rest in the Waterfront on Deck 8 which is a masterpiece of design. Restaurants have inside and outside covered space so you can choose to dine in or out. How come no other line did this before is amazing but it works well. So I chose to spend time here reading my book and NCL spoiled it by playing music through speakers everywhere.
The first of the shows was held that evening and was beautifully produced by an excellent crew. This was Burn the Floor and I saw 4 shows during the cruise. All good but none to my particular taste including Rock of Ages which I have to say could be replaced by something more memorable.
Day 3 we arrived in Bermuda and the island redeemed itself by being beautiful and well worth the visit. This cruise is unusual in that it spends 3 nights docked at the Royal Dockyard and if you like to be in 1 place with your own floating mega-resort you will love Bermuda. You can buy a 1/2/3 day pass which covers buses and ferries and is good value for money at 15/25/35 dollars respectively. You don't need to buy this from the ship. There are booths outside that sell the passes and no problem.
Back onboard and following the Rock of Ages show about 1000 people are looking for a place to dine at the same time. They gave me a pager for a space in the main dining room and got a seat about 40 minutes later. However the wait staff again running around like maniacs and trying to get a bottle of wine almost an insult to their suffering.
I didn't get the impression of being nickel and dimed any more than with any other line and have no issue with the daily 12% auto gratuity. The staff earn their money and work hard for it.
I had two contacts with guest services, the first to ask when the special laundry offer would be made available. I had learned this was 24.95 for a full bag of laundry and they told me they had no idea about this and if it happened it would be 30 dollars. On my bed the following morning was a 24.95 offer for a full bag of laundry. My second contact was to ask if they offered transportation to Newark airport on arrival in NY and they said no, only to La Guardia. On the disembarkation form were times for NCL departures to JFK/LGA/EWR and when I enquired I was told it was now too late to book. This annoyed me as being unprofessional for such a service based company.
So my overall view of NCL as a first timer is very mixed. Their staff in general are excellent and try very hard, the food is perfectly adequate and at times, really very good. Steak in Cagneys is one of the best pieces of meat I have ever eaten anywhere.
And yet I have this nagging feeling that this cruise wasn't anywhere near as good as I have enjoyed on other ships firstly because there are too many guests onboard and no real thought has been given to folks that want to have some quiet downtime. Once I get through my antibiotic course for a chest infection, I will start looking for a cruise that fits my needs. I also have in mind that paid about the same for an inside studio as I would have done for a balcony on a older ship so this is not good value for money.