This was our 13th cruise but our first on Norwegian. We are typically Royal or Disney when we travel with our now 3 teenage daughters and Celebrity/RCL when cruising just the two of us. Last year we went on The Allure and we were all WOW'd! We wanted to go on this ship again but the pricing was close to double that of The Getaway and so we decided to give NCL's newest ship a try. Our neighbors and two kids also joined us on this cruise. Overall we were pleasantly surprised.
Arrival: We visited family in Florida prior to Embarkation and so we had rented a car from Enterprise. We dropped it off at the Hyatt in Miami (Enterprise has a location there) that is close to the pier. Taxi for 5 with tip was $20 and took less than 10 minutes. We arrived at 10:30 and cruised through check in. They began boarding just before noon. We went to Headliners to buy our Ultimate Beverage package and change a few dinner reservations. The wait was minimal.
Activities: Our first impression was going to the ropes course where we were greeted by an excellent recreation staff. Signing the waivers was so easy and efficient. We were up on the ropes course in no time. NOTE: If you want to enjoy this when boarding wear close toed shoes. This is an amazing activity as you can do it over and over and it absorbs lots of people. Not a lot of waiting around. It is a little scary at sea in the wind, so might be best to try when docked if you are hesitant. The plank is a "must do"! The water slides were never busy and equally as fun. Our kids never got bored on this ship and we were worried coming off a Mega Ship. The pool area is small but adequate and there were plenty of chairs available. Pool side entertainment was fun. The gym was nothing special but had everything you needed.
We didn't use the spa.
Dining: We ate at La Cucina, Cagney's. Le Bistro and Illusionariam. The other nights we ate in Tropicana, Savor and O'Sheehans. This is our "Freestyle Cruise" and we have always loved formal dining and getting to know our wait staff. This is different and I would not say it is better or worse. It was more relaxing eating at different times that worked for us and the variety was nice as well. We also enjoyed wearing whatever we felt like on any given night, felt more like a laid back vacation experience. La Cucina was very good and our party of 9 all enjoyed our meals. Cagney's was good, but not nearly as good as Chops on Royal. The steaks were excellent but the sides were lacking and tasted frozen. Le Bistro was very good and probably our favorite of the three. Dining at Illusionariam was disappointing. (Not the show) It was a set menu including a shrimp and filet dinner. The filet was overdone and it was like a bad banquet dinner in our opinion. The Garden Cafe has an excellent layout but was just OK in our opinion. It lacked the variety and quality of other cruise lines, but not a make or break. We ate lunch and breakfast in the main dining room and it was Very Good. Wish we would have done that all week. OSheehans seems to be the 24 hour dining area which had wings, mozzarella sticks, fries, burgers etc. They also host prime rib night, fried chicken and other alternative dining options. It was fine, we affectionately referred to it as Bennigan's.
Service: The staff on this ship was in one word AWESOME. It is the ships biggest strength. As mentioned we loved the rec. staff but the entertainment staff was also lots of fun. Julie was very involved throughout the week. The kids club staff was the best my kids have ever experienced and truly made their trip so much fun. From the bartenders to the waitstaff they never seemed put out and were more than eager to help. Our cabin steward was fantastic. I would say one of the best we ever encountered. Can't say enough about the staff.
Entertainment: We only went to a few shows including Illusionarium, Burn the Floor, Howl at the Moon and on board comedy. Burn the floor was very good, Illusionarium was excellent and Howl at the Moon and comedy was a lot of fun. Our favorite part of this ship was actually the parties each night in H20. We loved being outside dancing and the fact that it was all ages made it that much more fun. Unlike an indoor dance club that attracts the younger crowd, these dance parties were a blast and our kids could join us on the dance floor. The Glow party was a complete blast as was the 80's dance night that features fireworks. NOTE: The day of the glow party look at your freestyle daily, you can decorate your own t shirts with glow paint for free in the Grammy Experience venue. The shirts were free as was the activity. Made the night! We also enjoyed grabbing a drink before of after dinner each night at one of the outdoor bars. This is how cruising was meant to be, not jammed inside a bar not connected to the sea.
Cabin: We had balcony cabin's next to each other. They were fine although the balcony was very small. The shower seemed larger than normal. The rooms have a blow dryer at the desk and the bathroom has shampoo and body wash. One shortcoming of the ship is the halls to your cabin are very narrow (to late to change that). Comparatively it's fine as we do not spend much time there.
Ports: We typically don't do shore excursions. In St.Maarten we rented a car at the pier for about $90 All In. It was quick and efficient and we wanted flexibility. We drove to Orient Beach and then onward to Grand Case where we enjoyed a low key lunch at one of the many local spots. In St. Thomas we took a cab to Magens Bay. There were 5 ships in port and this once quiet bay was very busy but still we enjoyed the calm blue waters and facilities. We even say a few sea turtles in the water. $8 each way pp and $4 pp entry (over age 12). We stopped in town at the market and picked up a few little trinkets. It was raining the day we were in the Bahamas. We shopped a little but could have easily stayed on board.
Disembarkation: This was very easy. We had breakfast at 8:00 and walked off the ship at 9:00 with our own bags. We grabbed a car service to Fort Lauderdale for $80 (for 5 of us). NLC gives you the choice as to when you can leave as you sign up for various times which falls into the culture of Freestyle Cruising.
Summary: For the RCL faithful I would recommend trying this ship. It has a different vibe. If we were traveling as a couple we would probably take advantage of the Ultimate Dining Package and enjoy 7 specialty restaurants through the week. We took advantage of the Ultimate Beverage Package and for us it represented a great value with plenty of options for cocktails, wine by the glass, and beers. The waitstaff was always happy to serve us and with a few exceptions there were plenty of beverage options. It's always good to mention the type of alcohol you want in a drink when you order it so they do not server the house brand. The break even for the Ultimate Beverage Package is 7 drinks/day which for some comes pretty quick.
The only downfall was the smoke emanating from the casino. We heard others complain about it and the ship's staff trying to find a solution to the problem. My attitude is that if it's a problem in the first month I can't imagine what it will be like in a couple years.