I was a little apprehensive getting ready for this cruise after reading of the on board virus outbreak and lukewarm reviews from the sailings immediately prior to ours. While the virus was unfortunate, anyone who reports to have had a less than fantastic time aboard this super fun ship simply has a character flaw.
This was my 17th and favorite cruise by far. We have sailed the others - HAL, Costa, Carnaval, Celebrity, RCL etc, and not only do we favor NCL cruises but this particular ship and staff provided us with such a memorable vacation experience.
The highlights: the Cruise Director Dan Dan. Cruise Directors can make or break one's cruise experience. This gem of a guy (haha) was born to be an entertainer. He was HILARIOUS. From his pre and post-show monolgues, to his MCing of super funny adult game shows, his dance numbers on the piers and his sunny dispostion at all times while amongst us passengers at the many ship venues, he had the ability to motivate, exhilirate and make those 9 days one long party. I cant say enough about this special guy. The food was fantatsic. While other ships have meager offerings after 11pm, there is a buffet, restaurant and/or room service open any time of the day and night. Room service is complimentary except between the hours of 12am and 5am then the service charge is $3.95. Otherwise the service is lightning fast and the options are plentiful. I cannot comment on the specilaty restaurants, which were always packed, but I heard repeatedly them was a wonderful expernience. The two large main dining rooms - Magenta and Grand Pacific - provided delicious food, the portions are not remendous (which I prefer) but you can order as many menu items as you like. My only gripe would have to be the service - a little unpolished but the staff is very friendly and humble, gracious and accomodating. Some waiters and still in training but they aim to please and please they do. The Garden Buffet was fantatsic with a variety of stations at each mealo and there were smaller buffets available at any time of the day and evening at both the bow and stern of the ship's 12th floor. Lots of seating, lots of great views. We had a balcony cabin on level 10 and while it was similar in size as other balcony cabins we have stayed in, storage space is a bit lacking an the lighting over the vanity mirror is a narrow beam of spotlight, but we made do very well. Our cabin steward clould nbot be more pleasant and called me by name from day one. Very nice and thoughtful. The nightly shows were EXCELLENT. Nothing cheesy about these shows. The cast singers and dancers are young and vivacious, always smiling and belong on Broadway. The specialty acts included a very funny stand up comic, a comic/magician (very innovative and a nice change from the standard magic act), the most wonderful and sexy aeralists I have ever seen (they brought the house down), and 6 members of the famed Second City comedy troup from Chicago (which produces many of the cast members of Saturday Night LIve). The Stardust Theater was packed every night but on the night of the aeralists and Second Cuty performances it was standing room only.
The ports of call were very good. I can't comment on the excursions becaue after so many years of cruising we wing it at each port and replicate many of the pricier excusrsions at a fraction of the cost without being told what to do, when and for how long. The snorkeling at Coki Beach in St. Thomas was wonderful. For anyone taking this cruise, in Samana, D.R. there is an excursion to Cayo Levantado, a private beach of the coast. If you are interested you must book an excursion there through the ship. The locals cannot take you as the ship contracts with the tourist bureau to have full rights to transportation to the private beach when in port. So on our own we could not go to that beach. But luckily, we asked a local of our options and please take note: You will see a huge hotel to the left on a cliff. Walk in that directions follwing the path that hugs the coastline and after a 10-15 min walk you will find yourself on that hotel's private beach which you can use as well for free. And we did! It was gorgeous and toffered typical beach amenities: rental of water gear, a beach bar, just bring your own towels because the chairs are reserved for hotel guests. We opted to eat lunch at the white cliff side chinese restaurant that you see as in front of you soon as the tender leaves you in Samana. Its a steep walk up residential streets but the views are breathtaking, the food is very good and the prices are very reasonable. What was a bleak day for those who did not have a shore excursion planned in Samana and could not figure out what to do, turned out to be one of the best days for us. But all the days were great days! The ship's gym is huge and we worked out every morning to work off all those tempting and truly delicious desserts (nothing pre-fab here). On sea days there was plenty to do, even events that sounded boring such as Art History since the age of Cave Man was terrific and really educational (even tho its a tie in with the on board art acutions which I would not recommned you take seriously).
Overall the cruise is a big 10 in my book and the value absolutely could not have been beaten with any other type of vacation.