This was my first cruise and I was very pleased with the experience. The ship is very new, this was the inaugural season. I think the best way I can describe the experience is as a combination of the best aspects of a high end hotel, a theme park, and a tour bus. I traveled with my girlfriend (who has been on a cruise previously), and we are in our early 30s. The trip was a 7 night eastern Caribbean cruise visiting St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nassau (with 3 days at sea).
We chose NCL with minimal research (pricing and timing were more of a concern at booking). We were interested in experiencing a new ship and the price of the cruise seemed appropriate (neither worrying us with what seemed to be a budget rate or extremely expensive!), we booked only 3 months prior to sailing. We originally booked an Oceanview room on Deck 5 (I was being cheap) but I called a few weeks prior to sailing and asked about possible upgrades, we were able to upgrade to a BD class (guaranteed balcony) and ended up with a family balcony on Deck 12. The balcony made for a great experience, more about that later.
The seas seemed rough during our voyage, wave heights were reported at up to 15 feet and the wind was regularly up to 30 knots. We had scopolamine for motion sickness and we were glad for it. Once the patches were on and our system had adjusted the motion sickness rarely troubled us.
Embarkation: Embarkation was painless, our tickets told us to embark at 1pm, and to arrive up to 1 hour early. All embarkation had to be complete by 2pm (sail at 4pm). We ended up arriving about 90 minutes early and breezed through the process. You sign a simple waiver saying you're not sick, you setup your onboard account for charges, are issued your room keys (they identify you with the ships security system for boarding, let you charge items/food/drinks to your rooms, and tell you where you need to assemble in case of an emergency). Rooms were still being cleaned/prepared when we boarded (we were early after all) and were open to us by about 2pm. There was an announcement to let us know all the rooms were ready. Our luggage did not arrive at the room until nearly 4pm (it appeared to be delivered in stages, some people had theirs at 2, some like us were later). We explored the ship, ate a snack, got a drink, and generally went a little glassy-eyed by the sheer scale and number of things to do!
Stateroom: We had a Family Balcony (B2 class) room on Deck 12. The room is not huge but not cramped either. We were very happy with the amount of space (somewhat over 200 square feet for most balcony rooms). The balcony is small, but a fine size for sitting and looking out over the water or eating a light breakfast (a simple breakfast of pastries, fruit, cereals, coffees etc. can be delivered to your room at a time of your choosing by simply hanging a tag on your door the night before and is complimentary). The balcony also helped quite a bit with our feelings of motion sickness, having a horizon we could look out at and being able to sit quietly in the sea air was very helpful. There was plenty of space for all our clothes - my girlfriend brought at least 5 pairs of shoes, which should be an indication of the amount she packed for the trip! The bathroom was compact but easy to use, with a shower stall (with an overhead extendable line for hanging wet bathing suits) and an adjustable and detachable shower head. There is a simple indicator system near the door to flag the room as "Do Not Disturb" or "Please Make Up the Room", the buttons turn on a small light above the door to signal the room steward. In all, expect the room to be compact but comfortable. We didn't expect to spend a lot of time in the room but it became a zone of privacy for us, nice to be able to retreat to it. Room steward service was excellent.
Dining: Freestyle dining on this ship, so there are a lot of different restaurants to choose from. Each day you'll get a listing of the restaurant hours, some are open all day (O'Sheehan's), nearly all day (the Garden Buffet), or only for dinner (the specialty restaurants, although the a la carte places are open during lunch as well). Dining was mostly, we found that O'Sheehan's was convenient but the food is mediocre (think nice cafeteria food), it comes out really fast which makes me suspect they have it ready to go behind the scenes, stacked and waiting for people. The main dining rooms (there are 3, Savor/Taste and the Tropicana Room) were quite good, Savor and Taste share a menu so don't expect much to change between them except the decor. The Tropicana Room is one of the few areas with a dress code (but it's minimal, slacks or jeans for men, basically no shorts or cut-offs). We ate in the Tropicana Room twice during the trip and were pleased with the food. The service was excellent in all areas.
The specialty dining really stands out. For an extra fee per person you can dine in a French themed restaurant (Le Bistro), an American or Brazilian steakhouse (Cagney's and Moderno, respectively), an Italian place (La Cuchino), a hibachi place (Teppanyaki), a Geoffrey Zakarian restaurant (Ocean Blue), or the a la carte options (a raw bar, a noodle bar, and a gelato stand). We ate at Le Bistro and were very pleased with the escargot, the duo de canard (duck breast and duck confit), and the coq au vin.
The food at La Cuchino wasn't quite as good, I got an Ossobucco (veal shank) that was acceptable and my girlfriend tried one of the flatbreads (the vegetarian one) which was good but hardly amazing. Service was impeccable, and when asked about dessert I told the waiter "Nothing for me, thank you." and actually received a plate with "Nothing" written on it in a strawberry sauce, it was pretty funny (he got a good tip!).
Teppanyaki was quite good, and if you're familiar with a hibachi style restaurant you know that the chef normally makes the food preparation a performance. With the Japanese places near where I live this is normally quite a display of skill and flair but on the ship it leaned more towards comedy (might have something to do with the chef not being Japanese, he was from the Philippines). He had us laughing quite a bit with his antics though, so we were quite happy (he got a good tip too!).
Moderno was excellent, a good variety of items, regular visits from the servers. If you've been to a churrascaria before you'll know what to expect and will not be disappointed. The noodle bar (Shanghai's) was excellent, items are ordered a la carte and made to order. The pot stickers, char siu, and chow fun were great. The gelato was very tasty, but with few places to sit nearby and no outside trashcans there was generally a build up of empty pastry boxes and wrappers at the tables. We did not try Cagney's or Ocean Blue.
Entertainment and Public Areas: Deck 15 contains two pools (Main Pool and Adults Only). The Adult Only pool was a salt water pool, arranged with two shallow areas (only a few inches deep) flanking a deep section (over 6 feet). Lots of people would sit in the shallow zones, the deep section was typically nearly empty. The pool is not huge but large enough to sit and enjoy and splash around a bit. The pool faces a stage where music is regularly played and on the far side is a bar to provide drinks. There is a good-sized area for kids next to Main Pool (wading pools, fountains, etc.). There are also a set of water slides, one kids slide, two medium helical slides and a pair of free-fall slides, these were a lot of fun and the lines were generally short. In the aft section of Deck 16 is Spice H2O which during the day is an adult only area with hot tubs, deck chairs, a waterfall pool area (tiled area with overhead waterfalls, not very deep but shady, cool and nice to relax in), and a bar. At night it becomes a dance area and stage for shows.
Deck 16 contains the mini-golf (this is a free-for all since it's self serve with the clubs and balls and the kids run rampant) and the ropes course access. The ropes course was quite good, but with the high winds it could be pretty intense at times if you're not clutching onto your harness.
The theaters were great, we saw the Burn the Floor Dancers which was a great show (I don't usually go for dance shows but the technical skill and energy level of the dancers was incredible). The headliner's comedy shows were very entertaining but the show you absolutely do not want to miss is the dueling pianos, the banter and music riffs are fantastic.
There's also a small bowling alley, arcade, the casino, a cigar lounge (bring your own lighter or borrow one, the paper matches they give you are a joke!), an atrium where trivia sessions and presentations are held, a play center for very small kids (Guppies I think it was called) and a day-session academy for older children (Splash Academy). The bathrooms were very clean and the ship overall was very well kept up.
Excursions: We booked two excursions: parasailing on St. Thomas and the Atlantis Aquaventure on Nassau. Unfortunately for us the parasailing terrified me (I don't do too well with heights but I wanted to please my girlfriend, haha, oops) and made her very motion sick. The rest of the people on the boat had a blast, so if you're not prone to motion sickness and ok with heights you'll likely have a great time. We purchased the photo package so we have about a 100 photos of me looking terrified and her gradually going from smiling and waving to pretty green around the gills!
The Aquaventure was a mixed experience. It's not cheap, and getting to the park is not smooth. We ended up in a crowd of several hundred and were herded along to small buses after 15-20 minutes of people milling about, getting their wristbands, looking for where to go, etc. The stay in Nassau is not too long, arrived at noon and had to be back by 6:30. The park itself closed at 5 pm. Considering the time it takes to get there and the cost we would likely not do this again. The park itself was a lot of fun, but overall not worth the steep price.
Disembarkation: Not quite as smooth as getting on. You can grab a color coded luggage tag the day before and place your luggage outside the room the night before arrival. They'll call the codes down in stages but we understood that we needed to be out by 9 am and our color was not called by 9. Instead we just joined the massive queue of people waiting to get off. Once they were able to open both fore and aft gangways the line moved quickly, luggage was waiting in the color coded areas off the ship, and customs moved very smoothly. You can carry your own luggage off starting at around 7:30, next time we'd probably choose this option rather than waiting. The breakfast buffet is open on disembarkation day.
Overall we were quite pleased with the trip and I wouldn't be surprised if we end up booking again with NCL in the future.