This was my 5th NCL cruise, but my first one in the past five years. I have to say, I am a bit disappointed in the ship experience compared to the past few trips. 15 of my family members sailed out of Manhattan a few days before Christmas. The age range was 3 to 77: many were first time cruisers.
We had balcony rooms: they were small but comfortable. Some of my family expressed disappointment to not receive a towel animal each night. A few of us had problems with stopped up bathroom lines and their rooms were right by the panels they has to work on. The smell wasn't great but they received complimentary wine at the end of the trip as an apology. The room stewards were extremely polite and friendly. My daughter got sick during a particularly rocky day at sea and he was very attentive when I called for a new comforter and laundry service.
The restaurant staff was very helpful to reserve seating most nights in the main dining rooms for my entire family. The food quality wasn't as good as I remembered it to be on past cruises: we often sent back entrees and reordered meals. The service was often slow. Perhaps it was in part due to our large party size but we noticed the slow service even during lunch when the dining rooms were emptier. We ended up eating at the buffet the last few days due to these reasons. My cousins paid to eat at the churrascaria one night and were disappointed by the quality and meat. The chocolate buffet was excellent. Breakfast in the buffet was always good: it was nice to get a custom made omelet and my sister enjoyed a freshly made fruit/ veggie juice each day (for a price).
The entertainment on the ship was fantastic. With young kids in our party, it was great having Nickelodeon activities on the ship. There were character meet and greets most nights, which, unfortunately, we could never make since it conflicted with our dinner reservations. However, we booked the character breakfast, "Pajama Jam" for my 4 year old and my 10 year old cousin. The breakfast food was junk food that would put most kids in sugar heaven. They both had a blast and took pictures with Spongebob and friends, Dora, Diego, etc. My daughter also also enjoyed other activities like story time and arts and crafts and pizza making. Also, since we were on board for Christmas, they had Santa visit and thoughtfully provided gifts for each kid. I must commend the guy in charge of the Nick activities. I think his name was Neil, from Australia. Every time he saw my daughter he made a point to chat with her at length, taking note if she carried a different stuffed animal each day and asking her questions- she loved it.
The ship performers were fantastic and put on a great show each time. There was also a juggler and magician that performed well. The cruise director Matt was engaging, the assistant director, Dan Dan was hilarious and both shocked us with their awesome vocal skills at one of the last shows in the Stardust Theater. One of our favorite performers was a singer that performed every evening in one of the lounges, Leo. He sang and played guitar and was the highlight of our evenings.
We spent four total days at sea, which we found to be too much time. We looked forward to the ports. There weren't very many excursions in Puerto Rico for young children so we used this day to stock up at CVS on water and soda. In St. martens we went on the See and Sea Tour. A few people felt seasick on the sea part of the tour where you go below deck of a glass bottom boat. The water was beautiful. Our bus tour guide delivered a lot of dry jokes with no comedic timing. My cousins went on the Segway on the beach tour and had an amazing time. In St. Thomas we went to Coral World and then spent some time at Coki beach. The sea Lion show was nice- Omar the sea lion was adorable. Coki beach was beautiful- fish swam at our feet and some of us had the opportunity to snorkel. Our last port day was spend at Cayo Levatando, DR. It was a fantastic beach day. There were plenty of beach chairs and they served alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks in coconuts and pineapples. Several of us had the opportunity to rent kayaks.
I paid extra for a yoga class on the ship- my sister paid for a Pilates class. Both classes weren't particularly well taught but it was a good opportunity to continue our regular fitness practices. I received a Swedish massage from the Mandara spa which was very relaxing.
Aside from the entertainment, we were not impressed with the ship. I cruised on the Gem's sister ship, the Jewel about 7 years ago and enjoyed it much more back then. However it seems the culture of NCL has changed during this time. All specialty restaurants have a charge, which are higher than the past. Restaurant servers are less attentive and food quality is lower. The state of the bathrooms were less than desirable for some of my family and we had heard that several other people had worse issues than us.
I've been pretty loyal to NCl for the last 10 years but i think for our next cruise, we will try a different cruise line.