I will first start out with what was good:
1. THE STAFF at Sushi, Teppanyaki, Chin-Chin (all treated our 7-year-old son like a little prince), Cagney's for breakfast and lunch (at dinner, I got a backed potato with NO butter and sour cream on the side like I requested while the table next to me got offered all of the accoutrements to include chives, bacon and cheese.) The bartenders and staff at Magnum's, Happy Happy, Washy-Washy Guy (some ppl found him annoying, I thought he was happy-go-lucky and did his job well for someone who has to stand by the Garden Cafe doors daily and spray hands of sometimes grumpy passengers.) Our room steward and butler were great (although this time, we really did not ask much of our butler.)
2. Evening entertainment--Cruise Director, Jamie DeSousa and Assistant, "Sinful Sin" were great--very personable and passionate about their jobs and making sure cruisers had a good time. Band on The Run was OK--but that may be simply because my hubby and I are not huge fans of 70s music. Comedian David Naster was funny and seems to be an intelligent and caring individual as he did daytime presentations on Bullying and another on the heavy subject of Sickness and Death. Good stuff. Soul Duo was great--and Cirque de Bijou was also a great show.
NOW, for the bad:
1. In 2010, we took the same Alaskan cruise aboard the Norwegian Star. The original Spinnaker's lounge on the Star was converted into a Deluxe Owner's Suite and our stay there was awesome! Lots of room--large living area with separate bedroom and a spacious bathroom. We went for the aft-facing "penthouse" this time, spent close to the same amount and received a lot less for our money. We have cruise on Norwegian 4 times to include this trip and I want to say this room by far was of least value for our money. It was not much bigger than a regular balcony suite, really. Upon our first few minutes there, I noticed a horrible urine smell coming from the toilet. I thought maybe our 7 year-old son missed the mark (as he sometimes does at home) and I cleaned the floor around the toilet to alleviate the stench (yep--cleaning toilets on my vacation--LOVELY--) to no avail. The smell prevailed throughout the rest of the week to the point of my dreading to go into the toilet in my own room! Our room was made-up, turned-down and cleaned on a daily basis so I doubt that it was the steward and cleaning crew's fault that the bathroom just STUNK. Around Thursday/Friday timeframe, I noticed the same smell lurking around the hallway of the 9th floor. Yuck. So, either ALL toilets were not being appropriately cleaned or there was indeed a plumbing problem on this ship. Note to Mr. Sheehan--We PAY TOO MUCH for a room to smell like URINE! Gross. FIX THE PLUMBING! I'm sure your multi-million dollar home does not smell!
2. I've seen on other reviews that the quality of the food in the "free" places such as the Garden Cafe, Tsar's and Azura was lowered to drive people to the specialty restaurants. This is indeed true. In 2010, I remember getting meals in the main dining rooms aboard the Star and not thinking they were half bad. The food at Azura was OK but the food in Tsar's Palace was atrocious. Greasy, tough steak, minuscule, over-cooked lobster tail, peas and carrots that looked like they came out of a can, luke-warm mashed potatoes--just gross. Waitstaff seemed confused (my mother in law waited 10 minutes for a refill on her coffee) and overworked. All-in-all, they did the best they could with the mess they've been given. Another note to NCL's CEO--WE DID NOT JUST FALL OFF THE TURNIP TRUCK! To lower the quality of your food in the main dining rooms to drive us to the specialty restaurants (where more fees apply) is an INSULT to the intelligence of those who know better (and we do.)
3. The Splash Academy kid's program is a joke. Never have I seen a more jacked-up schedule for a kid's program in my life of being a mom. Again, I've seen other reviews on here and I am relieved to know that we were not the only folks that had issues with this place. Inside the Splash Academy is a jungle gym--which is only available for use during "Freestyle Freeplay" hours of which there were only 17 logged for the ship's itinerary. 9 of those hours were in port (correct me if I am wrong, but I think most parents would jump at the opportunity of getting off the ship WITH their kids in port) and 5 of those hours were EARLY in the morning (7am-8am--IT'S SUMMER VACATION, PEOPLE!) This left a grand total of 3 hours of Freeplay during "normal" hours--with only 2 hours on one sea day and a WHOPPING 1 hour on the second sea day!
While I appreciate the effort of the program to provide some educational games and structure for the kids, any mom of a 7 year-old boy with ADHD (that is under control, BTW) would attest to the fact that BOYS LIKE TO RUN and BURN OFF ENERGY. There was either Freeplay or the kids were placed into groups (with no supervision for conflict resolution...my son relayed some kids saying some pretty ugly stuff to him and as a result, wanted to go back even less.) Normally, he would have just walked away from the situation and have done something else--but wait--THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE TO DO!! So the kids played a game while the "counselors" sat around yip-yapping by a window. If the child did not desire to play the game (as not every kid likes every game), too bad. They could not run in the jungle gym-they had to take it or leave it. This usually ended in a call to our mobile room phone that our son "wanted to be picked up." On Thursday, there was ONE hour of freeplay and the rest of the activities were dedicated to the "circus" the Splash Academy was putting on. So, if your child did not care to participate in their "circus", they were out-of-luck. We could take him to a Martini-Tasting, yet another jewelry shopping schpeel and Bingo, though. Really exciting for a 7 year-old.
The center was also closed on sea days (for our convenience) during 12p-2pm and 5pm-7pm. Here's a clue for them: MOST PARENTS value a quiet kid-free meal now and then. Splash Academy was closed during prime dining hours so as a result, parents with small children had to plan around the staff's schedule! Whose vacation is it, anyway?? So much for Freestyle! The center was OPEN during port hours (which was ridiculous to me as I, for one, would not leave my kid on a ship with people I don't even know while I went out to explore and I'm willing to bet people wanted to take their children off ship as well) and OPEN during late night hours with the stipulation that if they deemed they did not have "enough kids" by 11pm, the center would close. My husband and I did not stay out late--but if we decided to rage at the White Hot party, we probably would have gotten a call.
When I have to plan my son's entertainment around a spa appointment or my husband has to plan it around a beer tasting ON VACATION, that's a problem! My suggestion to the staff and to the manager who does the scheduling:
1. MORE Freeplay hours! Kids like to RUN and burn off energy with other KIDS!
2. Be OPEN during PRIME DINING HOURS-_EVERY DAY!
3. LESS Port-Play hours to avoid burn-out of the staff because MOST parents take their children off the ship with them!
4. Allow parents time to PLAN a late night out by having an advanced sign-up list for this type of thing. WORK TOGETHER with your Cruise Director and plot out which nights parents of young children would most likely stay out late and then offer a "Parent's Night Out" option maybe instead of every night--every other evening or something like that--where it's all (staff) hands-on-deck with late-night games (AND FREEPLAY!)
5. ENGAGE the kids! Know their names....get to know what makes them tick. THEY ARE ALL SPECIAL AND DIFFERENT AND SHOULD BE CELEBRATED FOR BEING THIS WAY--NOT PUT INTO A BOX where they are dubbed "disruptive" for not wanting to play a game! I swear the restaurant staff and general cruise ship staff did a much better job of engaging our son than these folks did!
That's my two cents. I'd have to say that b/c of Splash Academy, my husband and I did NOT sign up for the next Cruise Credit program as we did in the past and will be looking at Disney unless NCL decides to pull their heads out. We were faithful NCL cruisers until now and even brought other friends and family members along for (several) cruises. Collectively , we spent A LOT OF MONEY--too much to be burdened by inconvenient inefficient scheduling on part of a YOUNG (probably underpaid) and clueless staff of a children's program.