Embarkation was incredibly smooth. We showed up a little before 4, so I think we missed the crowd. No line much more to say about that.
Cabin We had an inside cabin on 5. Yes, it was small, but we knew that going into it. Despite hearing the contrary from others, we were actually very impressed with the storage in the bathroom. I've stayed in many hotel rooms and felt like there was no place to put your things. There were two shelves below the sink, a counter that wrapped around to the back wall of the room, and three small self-suspended glass shelves above for additional items. There was also adequate storage for our clothing. Three drawers and several open shelves. The closet was also well stocked with hangers, but we did bring a few of our own along which helped out. We unpacked all of our clothes and the suitcases were stowed away under the bed for the rest of the trip. Please keep in mind that there were only two of us in the room; I could not imagine having fit another person and their things in the room. One negative was that only one person could really move around the main part of the room at once. I also think they need more lighting around the closet and accompanied storage areas.
Our room stewards were great! Everything was very clean each day. They always had smiles on their faces and were so friendly. Even if they were at the end of the hallway they'd smile, waive, and tell us to have a great day. I was extremely impressed with their positive attitudes and really set the mood for our cruise.
Food I had heard a lot of mixed reviews prior to taking the cruise, which now makes me wonder if we just had good luck or if I just don't like finding things to complain about (but I am a very particular person and I don't think that was the case) I am someone that enjoys eating at fine restaurants and I do have high expectations and everything for us was at least good, if not wonderful! The only other cruise I have taken was on the Carnival Elation and the food on this trip was incredibly superior in my opinion. I also felt the servers and bartenders were much friendlier and had more personality on this cruise. The staff in general was very enthusiastic and seemed to be happy to be on the boat. Smiles were everywhere and that's contagious.
We ate breakfast and lunch for the most part at the Garden Cafe or the Great Outdoors buffet. The selections each day were basically the same, but there was a great variety in the first place. I was very happy with the salad bar at lunch. There were several types of greens and great topping choices. We tried to eat fairly light at breakfast and lunch in anticipation of a big dinner each night, so I definitely didn't try everything that was available, but what I had was good. The only thing I didn't like about the Garden Cafe was how crowded it was. We preferred to start there and then move out to the Great Outdoors area. Much less congested!
We did have a quick bite at the Blue Lagoon one day. We ordered from the kids menu having chicken tenders and mac and cheese. Both were good. However, we did order Buffalo wings as an appetizer that tasted OK but NOT like Buffalo wings. As bizarre as this sounds I have a sneaking suspicion that they used tomato soup instead of Buffalo sauce. I say this because, well, it tasted like chicken in tomato soup and that was the soup choice on the menu.
Dinners We weren't able to get to the reservation table before 5 the first day, so we chose to walk around to the restaurants we wanted to go to and just make reservations at the front podiums. We felt this was a good opportunity to learn the ship. With only five nights available it was hard to make a decision. We decided to pass on doing any of the Asian restaurants because those cover charges didn't seem worth it to us when compared to what you'd pay to eat at a restaurant with similar items on land. Reservations for La Cucina was very full right away and we had to take a 9:15 reservation which was not our first choice, but we were on vacation&what else did we have going on? We had no problem booking the times and days we wanted for Cagney's and Le Bistro.
We ate at Cagney's the first night. We both chose the filet and lobster which was a $25 per person cover charge (the standard cover charge was $20) and it was definitely worth it. I know the cover charge thing is often a source of complaints but we knew about them going into it and we were prepared to pay extra for some meals. The quality was great and I would have expected to pay around $60 (or more) for that entrEe on land. When you add in the appetizers, salads, etc. $25 was truly a bargain.
Our second night was technically lobster night so we picked Indigo for an early dinner. We did not wait for the table at all and were quickly escorted to a great table in the back by a window. For being a main restaurant the atmosphere was very intimate. We split one order of lobster and one order of Beef Wellington. Both were good quite as a good at Cagney's, but if they would have been I would have been annoyed that I paid $25 the night before. The meat was tender and that made me very happy. (On the Carnival cruise I took every time we ordered steak it was like rubber!)
On night number three we ate at La Cucina. The couple next to us was incessantly complaining about the cruise and the service at the restaurant when we got there which ruined the ambiance. (The man actually called a ship officer over to his table, proclaimed this was his first and last cruise, and then told him they needed to slow the ship down because the ride was bumpy! Yes, he was serious.) Dinner was more enjoyable after they left. I will say that the service was the slowest at this restaurant, but the wait staff was running around like crazy and were friendly. So I don't know if I would classify this as bad service, just slow. Plus, I obviously was dining with someone I wanted to be with, so having a slow dinner would not have upset me. Rude servers or bad food? Now that would have left me with complaints. All of our food was good, but I think the carbonara pasta side was especially tasty!
We were able to make same day reservations at Mambos for the fourth night. The food was good, but it wasn't my favorite dinner. I had a seafood skewer entrEe that was fine but the fajitas were definitely better.
We chose to go to Le Bistro on the last night. We had purchased the Anniversary/Honeymoon package which included this dinner with the house wine. We upgraded to the Valley of the Moon Syrah which was our wine of choice on the trip. For $30 a bottle it was a great buy. I highly recommend trying this wine! The food was great. We both had the rib and steak duo. Both were tender and tasty. The service was very attentive. We were in for a special treat at the end of the dinner. Three servers came to our table and sang Let Me Call You Sweetheart and presented us with cake as part of our package. (The romance package included a champagne and cake party but we were told not enough people purchased the package on our cruise, but they substituted it with a complimentary cake and champagne at our restaurant of choice.) They put a cover on the cake so we could take it with us and choose desserts from the menu which I thought was very intuitive on their part. Of course we wanted desserts from the menu, although we were too full to really eat them!
Entertainment & The Bar Scene The only show we saw was the Second City. We found it funny and entertaining. I have been to the Second City in Chicago and felt this was of the same quality. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys improv comedy.
We also enjoyed seeing the cover band in the Spinnaker, as well as watching other people do Karaoke. The best mojitos on the ship were at the Spinnaker. Most cocktails were $5.50 which we felt was a fair price! The drinks weren't any more expensive than going out to a nice bar in most cities, so I would have to disagree with those who say drinks are really pricey on the cruise. Actually, we went out in Miami the night before the cruise and paid $9 for our mojitos.
Bliss was a neat place. We bowled once. They played fun music at night but it was really dead the couple times we were there. That was the one thing that surprised me about the cruise. The nightlife options were good, but the crowd that was on our cruise didn't seem to be out and about at night&or at least we were in the wrong places at the wrong time. I did talk to a bartender on the last night and he said they normally would expect much more partying on a five day cruise than what they saw on ours. It was nice to never have to wait for a drink or deal with crowded bars, but it also would have been fun to meet people.
We had a few drinks at the Bar City bars. It made me laugh when I first saw this area because the NCL website lists Magnums, Shakers, and Maltings as separate bars which they technically are but they're all connected. The taps don't work at Maltings and according to the bartender they never have. I had my only truly bad service experience at Maltings on the last night. The regular bartender took a break and I ordered a beer from his replacement. He brought out the beer, poured it in a glass and took our payment. I looked at the bottle and saw it was the right brand of beer, but not the right beer. I told the bartender and his response was that they didn't have the other one and walked away. I wanted to complain and refuse the beer but I didn't feel like dealing with it and we had reservations for dinner shortly thereafter. Plus, I was trying a new beer either way so I didn't mind trying the one I ended up with. If it would have been something I knew I didn't like, I would have handled things differently. I had kind of forgot about it but then while dining someone at the table next to us ordered the beer I had originally ordered and it was promptly brought to him!
Ports We docked downtown in Cozumel and had made no plans in advance for the city. We just walked around and explored for a few hours and then had lunch at Casa Blanca by the city square. Our waiter Alex had a lot of character which made the lunch fun. A man asked us our names and came back at the end of our dinner with a little painting with the name of the restaurant and our names on a Mexican girl and boy. It was $5 to buy it, which of course we felt pressured to do, but it was a very nice memento so we were glad to pay for it. I'm sure not everyone would appreciate this, but we thought it was a nice touch. Just down the road from the restaurant we stumbled across a mini-golf course. This was a fun way to spend the afternoon. They give you a walkie talkie to radio for beers while golfing- ingenious!
We did the Belikin Brewery and city tour in Belize City through NCL. We were told they normally do the city tour first and then the brewery tour after that. That makes sense. Our group did the opposite. The brewery tour was enjoyable, but sitting on a bus for two hours after spending 45 minutes tasting beer was rough. Luckily, we were able to make a much needed bathroom stop at a very dilapidated bathroom. Belize City is very poor and run down, so the city tour was very depressing. It was of course interesting to see the sites and learn about the history, but I wouldn't classify the city tour as fun.
Misc. Notes The pool was pretty crowded. If you don't mind not being by it, there are much less hectic places to layout and relax. I preferred the sun deck and the area by the rock climbing wall. It was not worth to me to get up early to get a prime lounging location by the pool, so I don't know how early you'd have to get there to do so. I was a little annoyed that many passengers would just leave there towels on their chairs after they left. This made it hard to determine if they were planning on coming back or not. I did see a staff member picking up towels from abandoned chairs so it didn't get totally out of hand.
We liked having the option of stopping by the game room to play a quick board game but it would have been fun to have a place to play games in a more fun, bar-like setting. The game room is very sterile and quiet, but it's not like the games available all require intense concentration.
The gym was nice and the equipment was of course brand new like the ship. It wasn't particularly large, but it wasn't overcrowded either. I wanted to take a spin class but the class schedule was very limited and at $10 a class it didn't seem worth it to me.
The ship was a little tricky to navigate because so many levels are utilized for restaurants. If you're directionally challenged, I would recommend getting familiarized with the ships layout online before the trip. Maybe I missed it, but it seemed strange that there wasn't a printed layout in one of the books in our room.
We did the express debarkation and literally walked right off the ship, stopped and talked to the customs people, and were free to go.
Overall, we had a great time. I was a little skeptical after reading about sub-par service and food on NCL and my expectations were exceeded by far. The Freestyle dining concept is very couple friendly and it would be hard to take a more traditional cruise after this one. It was especially nice to be able to wear what we wanted to dinner and to feel like we were dining at real restaurants, not in a large ballroom.