I cruised many years ago (Caribbean) and it was the first time for my boyfriend, first time for both of us on NCL. I spent a lot of time researching this cruise versus the Royal Caribbean similar version. Here are my observations and tips.
1. The free style dining is good in that we never ate dinner at the same time however I miss the spectacle and the comaraderie from the old days. My biggest complaint is that the food wasn't great in the Taste/Manhattan all inclusive restaurants. Both offer the same menu and the service was good but the food was just so-so. Nothing to get excited about at all. The buffet was edible and I can't say much more other than that there was a lot of it but it was always very crowded and hard to get your food and find a table before your food got cold. Okay for breakfast or lunch but I would never eat there for dinner.
We ate in only one specialty restaurant, the La Cucina and it was very good. If Norwegian would up the food quality in the main dining rooms (since I know they can do it), my review would go up considerably.
2. Embark and debark both were fine. We waited until 2pm to board and although no one really told you where to go or what was available it was okay. We kept our bags and had set up airport transfer in advance so that was also easy.
3. Cabin - we had a balcony cabin mid-ship. The BAD was that there was exhaust from a kitchen pouring over our balcony so we could never use it. We couldn't even leave the door open because the smell was so bad. Beware of the location of your cabin when you book a balcony. I would have never thought about this before.
The controversy about the shower/toilet - silly. The shower was nice and the glass is frosted. If you travel with someone you are not comfortable being somewhat undressed in front of then get your own cabin. The bed was comfortable and the cabin long but narrow. You could practically sit on the bed and wash your hands but I was okay with that. What can you expect on a cruise that holds 4000? My only other criticism would be lighting was poor for the ladies who need to see to put on makeup and there was no hair conditioner or body lotion. They only provide shampoo and body wash in the shower. Had I known I would have brought my own as it was very drying on the skin.
4. Shows - Blue Man was fantastic and Cirque Dreams superb! We also saw a band in the Jazz club that wasn't jazz but played good dance music, Graffiti Classics - fun, a solo guitarist outside of one of the bars, a jazz band in the atrium area that was good, Legends (not very good in my opinion), and the Beatles impersonators - pretty good. I paid the few extra dollars for the premium seating at Cirque and we stood in line which was worth it to me. The show was fantastic and even better when they dragged me and my boyfriend on stage to be part of the act.
Overall I would probably not cruise on NCL again:
1. Food was just okay and I didn't feel I should have to pay to eat in the specialty restaurants.
No one told me until the last night that I could purchase an entire bottle of wine and they would pour for it me in any restaurant or bar so I bought individual glasses at a higher price.
2. The ship itself wasn't anything that made me say WOW. It was nice and clean and the staff mostly friendly but there was nothing exciting about the layout.
For us it was a good trip but exhausting trying to cram so much in to so little time. We both work out at least 4 days a week and I had been increasing my miles in preparation for the tours. If you are not in shape I don't know how you would ever last on the excursions. Lesson learned. If I cruise again I'll skip the tours, enjoy the ship more and just get off to hit the beach.
If I want to see Italy I'll go to that country and allow time to see what I want at my leisure and not try to cram so much into so little time.