This is our 6th cruise, but first and last on NCL. We are a group of 15, with 7 kids spread in every age group. For a ship that boasts Free Style and great kids program, we were truly let down. Our embarkation took 2.5 hours, and exceptionally long process.
The cabin size is good. However, there were 2 higher shelves that were so dusty. One of them had bottles of water and chocolate bars. The candy bars were full of dust. I have no idea if previous occupants left them, or these are from NCL, which they charge an arm and a leg. I left them untouched. Our room's safe kept breaking down. But it was quickly resolved each time. There was plenty storage space.
The first night we decided to try the specially restaurant. Cagney was fully booked by 4:30pm (we just got on the ship like 2:30), so we had to try Le Bistro. The food was absolutely awful. A few of us ordered Escargots, and we could only force ourselves to eat 3 of out 6. The dinner took 3 hours. Half the restaurant was empty, yet the service was so slow. We ended up missing the only show that evening.
Day 2, we signed up the kids for the kids program. My daughter was the only child among our group that is 5, which is the cut off age for the next age group. She wanted to be with her other friends, who are 6. But NCL would not bend the rules. My daughter ended up staying with the toddlers, and cried so hard I had to take her out. By noon time, we had to pick them up for lunch. All 7 of them refused to go back. It was so so so busy with so so so many kids (about 20 in 2-5 age group, 30-40 in 6-9, and 20 in 10 and up). The kids begged us not to send them back. Our dreams to enjoy some private times did not come true. Later on, we saw only toddlers being checked in. So, if you have kids, and think this is the cruise with lots of kids programs, it's not. They may have programs, but the kids have to be willing to go.
Around 3:30pm, we decided to make dinner reservation. To our surprise, we had to line up 40 minutes to find out that we could book the whole week's reservation, not just the day after. This was only the second day on board, and all the reasonable-hour reservations in the non-charging dinner halls were booked up. We ended up with 5 reservations, 4 of them were 5:30, and only one at 8:30. Either we eat at 5:30 or we eat after 9pm. They only took 2 reservations for each time slot, which I didn't understand until later. I asked whether they were saving the space for walk-ins. They told me I can walk in, but the chance of me getting 2 tables for 15 people is very little. I'll most likely have to wait at least 30 minutes and up. We gave up on the idea of walk-ins, so much for free Style cruising. Every night we dined, the restaurant was half empty. One night when we were at Salsa, half empty, a couple came in, and was refused a seat. They wanted to speak to the manager, but they waited over 10 minutes without anyone returned, they left. Another couple came in, was told they had to come back at 8:30 (it was around 7:00 at that time). We didn't understand why they would not seat these people. So our waiter told us that it's because their galley cannot fill the orders. Customers are already complaining that dinner is taking 3 hours. If they fill the whole dining room, it will take them 4/5 hours to eat. How very true. Most of the time we started our dinner at 5:30, yet we still couldn't catch the 7:30 show. One night our kids asked us to skip desert in order not to be late for the show. The waiters all seemed very busy. I couldn't say they were being lazy, yet all our foods were served cold, except the ice cream, which was served warm. The children's ice cream was always served half melted. I had asked for horseradish twice, and both times my roast beef was completely cold by the time I got it. (and we were at different dining halls). The service was slow, but the quality of food was okay, would have been better if it's hot. We never had scallop or shrimp on the main course menu, only tiny pieces in the seafood cocktail. The lobster night was not great either. It was so tough, that no one wanted seconds. I think they may have done that on purpose.
Day 3. Do not take their excursion to Disney or Orlando - rent a car yourself, and it would be much cheaper. The rental company ran a shuttle bus from 4 to 8pm to take us back to the ship after we drop off the car. The office closed at 5:30pm, but the shuttle ran until 8pm. However, we didn't know about this service until we got there, we were planning that we had to walk back if we couldn't get a taxi. We found Thrifty to be the closest one to the pier. However, it's still not a walking distance though. It wasn't as troublesome as we thought it would be. The kids and dads ended up spending the 6 hours at Disney down town, Laser Quest, while the moms went shopping at The Orlando Premium Outlet, which is only 5 minutes away from each other. It worked out really well if you don't want to spend $$$ to have only 6 hours of playtime.
Day 4. Our private island beach day was cancelled due to weather. We ended up in Nassau earlier. My last cruise on Princess, the private island day was cut short due to the weather, Princess served half price alcohol for 2 hours to make up the disappointment. However, NCL did nothing of the sort. They ran additional movies and bingos.
Day 5. Bahamas was beautiful. Atlantis was worth seeing once. The Dig may be free at night, but it would be hard to see any fish in the dark. We paid $29 for adult and $21 for children. Taxi was $3 one way each (you need to bargain). The taxi driver got bonus points from the hotel when convinced us to take the hotel tour. I cannot say it was well worth it because Aquarium in other big cities is much better for the same price. However, you have to at least see it once and judge it for yourself. The worst thing about Bahamas is the vendors in the Straw market. They were rude and pushy. Our 3 girls picked out a seashell necklace. We wanted to buy 5 of the same kind, but the vendor only had 3. So we had to walk away. She started yelling that we wasted her time and messed up her stuff then the next vendor jumped in and started yelling that we cannot do this to her girlfriend, that they don't take this kind of crap from cheap tourist. We were so scared. We only spent about 5-10 minutes of their time, and tried on 2 necklaces. We thought it's only those two but we were wrong. They were only friendly at the beginning. Most of the stuff is made in China, with the exception of straw bags. The pricing is extremely high. I live in Toronto, and we have great dollar stores. I can get the same necklace for a $1, and they sell it for $12 after extreme bargaining, they would lower it to $8, but nothing less. You'll get insulted if you try any lower.
Day 6. Freeport. We went to the Lacanya(?) beach. The taxi ride was $5 each way. You can buy snorkeling tours and all sorts of water sports in the market. However, with the $10 taxi ride, worked out about the same price as the excursion from NCL. Half of us went snorkeling and half went to the beach. Once again we got the attitude-vendor when we enquired about hair braids. They wanted $120 for the whole head, $60 for half a head. We ended up asking how much is ONE braid. It was $2. We started walking away, we could hear them say we got to make a living too you know how much do you think $2 is worth? $2 is a big deal to you? I ended up turning around and patiently told them that $2 is very expensive since other islands are not one-to-one in their currency. She was surprised at that and told all the other girls that other islands are cheaper, and no wonder they find most of the tourists so cheap. She ended up giving me $1 a braid. We got 8 braids on each of the girl's head, and that just about cover the entire top. 14 braids would easily cover half of the head, and they would of charged me $60.
Last day. The disembarkation was ok, went quite smoothly. Us being Canadians were out by 11:30.
All in all, the free style cruising was way below my expectations. My other friends who travelled on other NCL ships before said the dinners weren't this slow. I cannot generalize, but only say DAWN is ridiculously slow in the dinning rooms. I am used to the real exotic feel down in the Caribbean, which we didn't get any during this trip. There was minimal fruit carving decorations. No ice-carving demonstration due to weather. The only juice they served was apple, orange, cranberry and punch. You can get that during breakfast no problem. However, you cannot order that in the restaurants. Only children who order kids menu got a juice. My older son (age 10) ordered regular dinner couldn't get a juice from the waiters. They said they would have to charge him. This would never happen on another cruise line as all the waiters bend over backwards to please you. On other ships, our dinner always came with different kinds of exotic juices, pineapple, mango, papaya, etc. It's just not the same. There is lots of room for improvement but I doubt anything will happen since during a slow season, they already have 100% occupancy rate there is no need to improve.
The best part of the cruise was the shows. They were high quality. I enjoyed almost all the shows, except the magician was a bit cheesy, but still lots of fun for the kids to watch.
If this were your first cruise, it would be fine because you have nothing to compare it to. It's a cheap cruise, so it's cheap all the way through. I will not return to NCL. I would rather pay a couple hundreds more and get real pampered.