Background: This was our 3rd cruise. 1st with RCCL and it is our new favorite. We hated Princess and were happy with NCL. We're an average mid 30's couple from New England
We took a cruise-chartered Bus from 2 hours away. It was well worth the expense as has been our experience. No stress driving through NYC and trying to find (and pay for) parking. No worry about traffic, especially due to the Pats/Giants game happening right when and where our ship was boarding.
The other reviews about the port are quite ridiculous and even the satellite images are misleading. The current port is not a dump! It's in an industrial area, but there's nothing shady or dirty about it. The staff was very friendly and the only negative is the shuttle system which is hopefully going away with the new upgrades.
You park or get dropped off, hand over your luggage, and then proceed through the security line. Yes, you can take 2 bottles of wine per cabin despite all of the "no alcohol" signage. We each put a bottle in our carry-on bags that were run through the xray machine. No problem!
Next, you are given a number (keep it handy- more later) and wait in line to get your ship keycard. Then (passing the photo ops) are in yet another line! This is where you board the shuttle based on the number you were given before. This is incredibly stupid as the shuttle just brings you about 1/8th of a mile max to the ship. It would have taken a lot less time to just walk. I know that's not for everyone, but give us the option. BTW: at the line for the shuttle, they had cookies and tea/coffee.
From there, you board the ship. There's no fancy reception- you get on at a tender station and can either wait forever for an elevator or walk up the stairs like we did.
Like most people, we headed right to the buffet. You can go left or right and - here's a big tip - there's a second set of lines with IDENTICAL options behind the first set. Skip the long lines at the front and head back. In the back, there's also the Jade "restaurant" which is really just another island of offerings in the buffet. They claim to have sushi, but I only saw it one night (the only night we dined in the buffet) and there was no raw fish- it was cooked or smoked and about what you'd get in a supermarket.
The breakfast and lunch offerings, for the most part, didn't change throughout the week.. So, don't feel the need to get a little of everything- it'll be there the next day and the day after that!
The buffet food was decent, but nothing special. I didn't have any complaints other than a lack of variety. Next to the Jade station is where you can find some indian or asian styled food which I found a lot better than anything else being served, and much more diverse. I almost forgot to mention the washy washy crew! They make sanitation fun! What nice people, too. Make sure to say good morning!
The dining room was great- perhaps only because we had the best table mates ever. A couple our age and two older couples. They all MADE our vacation! We looked forward to dinner most, just for their company and antics. The staff was great, too, and weren't afraid to get in on our rowdy action.
MDR food was good, but like the buffet, nothing special. I tried to stick with the themed items for each night, and while I enjoyed it all, I could easily make better food at home. Our waiter was more than happy to bring more than one app, entree, or dessert on request. Sometimes, he just brought out 3 or 4 extra plates of food without asking, and we would share them with the table. Super service!
We ate in the MDR for lunch once. Service was very very slow! But at least you could get a custom salad made to order in the middle of the room. We also ate there for breakfast once- the last day because the buffet was more than full. It's the same items as the buffet, but presented better and served to you.
Everyone complains about how old the ship is and how run down. Whatever! If you stop and stare at something for a while, yes, you notice the nicks and dings or rust and grime. Having a few thousand people each week rampage through the areas with little to no regard for the ship; and to have the ship turned around in a couple of hours before taking on a new load of passengers- it's no surprise. I'm amazed the ship was as clean and well taken care of as it was. I loved this ship and am sad it won't be around much longer. The crew confirmed that she's going to Asia.
Deck 11 is the buffet, gym, pools, etc. Deck 5 is the promenade with 3,4,5 having the MDR at one end and theaters on the other. The middle of deck 3 has the ice skating rink which means you can't get from one end to the other. Keep this in mind when picking your stateroom! We were on deck 8 which made it very reasonable to walk to deck 5 or 11 as needed versus waiting for and cramming into an elevator. The elevators that open to the promenade have a weight limit, which was triggered the first time we attempted to use them with some other hefty passengers.
ENTERTAINMENT & DRINKS:
The shows were great. Erky from Turkey is hilarious. Leigh was amazing, too. And the other productions were fantastic- bands, dancers, whatever. But the ice show was most stunning. Guys- you'll enjoy the ice show, too. Trust me- wink, wink!
Bars- there's a few of them, but my two favorite places were the sky bar above deck (a bit hectic) where you can get some of those fruity drinks and have fun outdoors and the Pub. I had a Long Island iced tea above deck as we said goodbye to long island. It was strooooong! The mango tango and future drinks were kinda weak. For $6-$9 they were decent. Not a deal, but not a ripoff.
If you want beer- scratch that- GOOD beer, then you want to hit the english pub on deck 5. You can find a few steals here! Get the Sam Adams Imperial White, Sam Adams Double Bock, or La Fin Du Monde. They're only about 6 to 7 dollars and 9-10% abv. Great flavor, lots of alcohol, and the same price of that disgusting Fosters oil can. The pub has about 40 beers in all from $4.25 to $20 for a 750ml of Chimay blue. The second highest priced beer is $6.95. By the end of the cruise we knew to go to the pub and get a strong beer and then head to dinner with it.
Minigolf was fun- we did it twice. The gym was ok. The first morning, very early, I enjoyed the sauna all by myself. There's a steam room next door. Both are in the rear of the gym bathrooms and free to use whenever you want. Unfortunately, there's no coed version, so I couldn't have relaxed with the spouse if I wanted to.
Any "class" they offer is really just a sales pitch for something on board. We tried the Chinese herbal remedy class and it was about 20% about herbs and 80% about selling the acupuncture treatment onboard. But it was a rainy day with nothing else to do, so, whatever. napkin folding was a demo, not a class. It was entertaining.
Note that the 2 day transportation pass must be used on concurrent days. Also, if you're just going to take the ferry back and forth to Hamilton or St George each day, it's a lot cheaper to just buy those individual tickets versus a pass. We got the pass, took the 4 ferries and 1 bus ride and we could have done it for $10 cheaper each than buying the all-included pass.
If you're going to be traveling all over the island, then by all means, get the pass. For the first time visitors, you'll probably just visit the two larger areas I mentioned, so use the ferries and forget the whole bus fiasco. Some ship mates complained about rude bus drivers, we only went on one and the woman was very very nice.
Speaking off- we did a lot of walking around Hamilton and we happened into a very bad area. Very run down. Far from tourists, shops, and police. We happened across a gang of rough men sitting around a convenience store. - - And they said hello and wished us an enjoyable vacation. I was expecting to at least be asked for money. If that scene had played out in America, I think the outcome would have been fairly dreadful. All in all, the people were incredibly friendly.
The snorkeling (Tobacco bay) was fun. I saw lots of fish including some huge parrot fish of multiple colors. Also some live fan coral and other amazing sea life. I had put my bag down and ants swarmed it without my noticing. When I put the bag on, they bit me unmercifully. They are very small, fast, and angry! Beware!! After an hour or so of painful itchiness, I was so desperate that I ripped off a piece of aloe that grows pretty much all over the island and smeared it on my legs. The itching immediately stopped.
Everyone warns not to get a scooter because they're so dangerous! We didn't and let me tell you- being a pedestrian is FAR more dangerous than being on a scooter. Other than downtown, there's rarely sidewalks and the locals speed right by you on the already narrow streets. Heaven forbid you come across a bridge like we did- we decided to turn around and take a 15 minute detour than cross that bridge. I would have felt safer in traffic than being passed by it.
The last, partial, day in port- we stayed at the wharf. Always a good idea to stay close to the ship. The fort was fun and all the little shops were nice to pass the time. The brewpub was ok. Being a beer geek, I'm a bit more critical. Half of their beers were good, the other half below average. Take note- the frog and onion has free, open WiFi. No need to purchase the WiFi around the terminal. Just head to the pub, grab a beer, and update your facebook with sandy beaches and blue water. This was the only place on the island I found open WiFi. I'm sure a few restaurants would give you their password, but that's a pain.
The ride back was pretty rough. The weather wasn't that bad, but the ship was certainly moving in all directions. I've found this typical of cruising out of NYC. Seas are just not calm. I can deal without any drugs, but I certainly had my sea legs when getting home.
Customs was pretty much nonexistent. They didn't even ask any questions, just looked at our list and passport, smiled, and let us pass. So, if you wanted to bring back something... perhaps that belong in a humidor... don't hesitate.