Departing from New York in winter (should be spring but THAT was nowhere to be found during the ENDLESS WINTER) is an interesting experience to say the least. Was looking forward to seeing the Statue of Liberty so I bundled up and walked out on the balcony to wave - Caribbean here I come!!!!!
We sailed through two large Nor'easters - one southbound and one northbound - and encountered 30 ft waves, 80 mile an hour winds and a rocking time was had by all. I was not bothered...this old seadog has great "sea" legs! But I was afraid my grandson would roll right out of his top bunk in our 2 bdrm family villa! My daughter wasn't feeling great the first morning so I missed the CC Meet and Greet and the cabin crawl....the way the ship was reeling and rocking it probably would have been a "CRAWL" LOL!
I am a very seasoned cruiser and have broken the 100+ milestone so I am pretty tempered about what to expect. Since my kids have grown and left the nest, I can treat myself to 5 and 6 star ships and have done that for quite a few years now. It's also far better pricing on the high end ships for singles so it's a bargain I can hardly refuse to partake of. I was a bit concerned about coming downmarket on this sailing and my Travel Agent Extraordinaire advised me to take the Haven. It was absolutely worth it!
A little harrowing at the drop off point, where our driver, Raymond from NYC Rich Limos (MMMWAH! the best service) handed over the luggage to anyone who would take it - no preferred handling at this point. From there - smooth sailing (not so much the first 2 days literally ;-) - mention Haven and you are escorted to the priority line and no waiting and then to the private room for snacks and then to Cagney's for lunch. With full bellies from a wonderful lunch - we went to our villa - it was lovely with the perfect amount of space for the 4 of us. Plenty of room for the 4 and 1 year old to explore and play and nice private sleeping quarters for them! There was a bottle of "champers" chilled but I think the room had not been "prepped" completely as there was no daily schedule, no book detailing the services available, no ship map. Room is a little tired and in need of sprucing up - drydock soon may take care of that - bathroom was great but housekeeping was good but not meticulous. Spots on the glass, bath salts not refilled without asking and a bit of a sewage smell from the toilet. Leaving the glass door opened when not in use helped but to be fair I kept forgetting to mention it. I had the same issue on Oceania last June on the Marina in the suite.
Our butler Jeffrey was wonderful - and very attentive to our needs....he promptly removed the mini bar and filled the fridge with milk for the little one and soy milk for me for the Lavazza coffee maker (which I am in the process of purchasing because it was amazing). Some things were a shortfall, but overall a solid performance on the part of the cabin team! The best part of all was the Haven courtyard and even during the bad weather, the pool was always open and warm and my 4 year old wouldn't get out of the water. He learned to swim there!!!! The people were friendly and gracious and always a pleasure to congregate around the pool and chat. Appetizers in the afternoon were better than the ones serviced on O or Azamara! Such variety and very generous! The pool attendant was excellent - always happy to bring lunch breakfast snack dinner drinks happily. He was SO busy all the time but always a smile and never any issues!
The concierge service was fine but not spectacular - mostly because there was a problem where my grandson was injured in the pool - he cut his hand in several places on a broken stair - and although there was much apologizing and comments about whatever they could do to help, when it became infected and he had to go to the doctor, we were charged for the doctor visit. I think that it could have been handled much better than that. Some information was not always correct but he was always available to chat. The fact that there is true 24 hour butler service is excellent.
I was very impressed overall with the service and ambiance of the Haven, but where it differs from a true 5 or 6 star ship experience is that you are still subject to "nickel and dime" effect that you don't get on the better quality ships. I was prepared for that and was not surprised but at the price per diem a few more inclusions would have been appreciated.
I was also pleasantly surprised with the food - it was not at Azamara, Oceania or Seabourn standards but it was good. Sometimes very good. The breakfasts were excellent - we mostly ate at Cagneys for breakfast and lunch, but the buffet was pretty decent. The Italian restaurant had excellent pizza and served gluten free pasta so it was great for me. They did a good job on my dietary restriction for the most part! The Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant was suberb! Seafood was well done.....amazing for frozen foods! Kudos on that.
The evening entertainment we saw was shabby. Not impressed at all....but my grandson liked the shows so I was happy to escort him each evening for show and an ice cream from the buffet afterwards.
The arcade was way too expensive - there should have been a package. Bar drinks seemed well poured for the premium stuff, but pricing differed from bar to bar .... strange. The kids program was ok but there was little interaction and we ended up just taking the little one to play - Cookie (in the infant room) was engaging but there was little she could do other than chat with the parents. The Nick breakfast for $20 per person was great to meet the characters but the breakfast was disgusting and totally not nutritious and was a waste of money for adults who HAD to accompany the kids. It was really just a big photo op and was impossible to get the picture you were supposed to get free for coming and paying. The best deal onboard was the SpongeBob Welcome pack - blanket, pillowcase, nightlight, cup and backpack for $35.00. It was setup in my grandsons room for night time and he was thrilled!!!!! Sorry NCL - you aren't competing with Disney. I didn't even see any of the characters walking around.
Didn't do any shore excursions - we just got off the ship and did our own thing. We did book the transfers to Cayo Leventado but couldn't go because we were at the sick bay for antibiotics. That was a ripoff because they were ship tenders that went to the island and what difference did it make if they took you to the port or to the beach? Coral World was fun for the kids - couldn't do the beach again because we got a little too much sun in Saint Martin. If you are going to the beach off the water taxi - walk down to the end of the boardwalk where you can get a chair and 2 beers for $10.00 (maybe less) and some great roti. If you go to the first section - it's more expensive - LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION!!
The main pool is nice but really cold and people save the chairs early. I am a reborn chair hog! I can't sit in the sun for hours on end baking myself to a toasty brown because I have to protect the facelift!!!!!! LOL Life changes when you get old! :-)
In summation - I would consider traveling on NCL again if I was going with my grandkids. I still prefer the small ship experience as a single traveler with priority on itinerary and unique sailings. I would probably look to Celebrity or Princess as well for family travel but on the whole NCL put in a solid performance and did not disappoint overall!