First, a disclosure: Our basic cruise was free, a "perk" from our local casino. We did upgrade our room to a balcony room and we had to pay the fees, taxes and insurance also.
We are an older, unmarried couple and we've been together for about 2 1/2 years. My late husband and I cruised 4 times with Holland America and my boyfriend and I have cruised once before, with Carnival, which was his first cruise. We had no idea what to expect with NCL, but we knew it had to be better than Carnival!
We drove from Pennsylvania to Miami, because the airfares were astronomical. Our only problem with the whole embarkation process was finding a parking space! The garage that we had been told to park in was filled. We were to embark through Terminal B, so we stopped and left our luggage with the agent. We were supposed to park in garage C, but it was filled. All the garages were filled, until we got to the last one, garage G. We finally found a parking space and luckily there was a shuttle bus back to the terminal. From there, embarkation was a breeze and we were on the ship in a very short time.
We did have a balcony, which was nice because we were able to just sit outside and relax. The room felt cramped because there was only a narrow walkway between the bed and the counters. The couch was too close to the closets, which made dressing awkward. On the plus side, there was plenty of closet and drawer space. We really disliked the set-up of the "bathroom" area--separate enclosed areas for the shower and toilet, with the sink in the bedroom. We didn't find the bed grossly uncomfortable and we slept okay. The best thing about the cabin was our steward, Carlos, who always greeted us by name, kept our room clean, and every night made us a towel animal!
We didn't eat at any of the specialty restaurants, which I now regret, but at the time it seemed like we were paying for something every time we turned around! I agree with some of the comments made by others about the buffet--long lines and very difficult to find a table. The food was okay but it seemed like I ate almost the same thing every morning for breakfast--I am not a big fan of eggs so I ate waffles or pancakes every morning. I wish they had supplied small bowls or cups for syrup. We ate breakfast one morning at Taste, which we rechristened "Slow Joe's". We waited 10 minutes for someone to take our order, then we waited over 30 minutes for our food to arrive. Other people were seated, ordered, ate and left before we got our food! We ate dinner there one night and had a much better experience. We ate at the Manhattan Room twice. The first time, we were asked if we would share a table with others and we agreed, so we were seated fairly close to the stage area, where a band and singers performed during the meal. We also got to meet some very congenial people and it was a very pleasant experience. O'Sheehan's disappointed us every time we ate there. The worst was the lunch time when they forgot to serve my meal, until we were able to flag down our waiter, who thought it was funny. I wasn't very amused. Overall, I thought the food quality was okay, but nothing to rave about. Oh, and there's a bakery that sells items from the "Cake Boss" bakery--sorry, but my baked goods are much better!!
We never went to the pools--too crowded, no chairs and too many kids. I found out on the next to the last day that the pool at the other end of deck 15, near Bliss, was "adults only" but we had things planned for the last day and we didn't make it there.
We didn't go to any of the shows that you had to pay for. We did, however, go to hear the blues group, "Cruise Machine" in Fathead's lounge. They were awesome! If you like blues, go to hear them. We went four or five nights and enjoyed it tremendously.
Most of the parties or events seemed to be planned to cater to younger people. There was one evening when they played music from the 50s and 60s but they only did it for one hour, then they went back to playing the modern stuff. Another evening, in the atrium, they played salsa music and people danced. That was entertaining for a while, but not enough to make us stay for the whole event. The "White Hot" party sounded like fun and it was listed as adults only, but again, it was geared toward young adults and there wasn't enough seating. Also, I know that there were several people there who were younger than 21, which was listed as the minimum age for admission. I wish they would realize that there are many people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s who would like to have some place to go in the evenings where they could hear familiar music and dance.
We had a couple of massages and other spa services and they were really very good. We also bought the length of cruise pass for the thermal suite, which we enjoyed.
Disembarkation went well and much faster than they had anticipated. We were off the ship and in our car by 9:15 in the morning.
Our cruise with Carnival was worse as far as the food and service were concerned, but I think my cruises with Holland America were better. I much preferred having a set time for dinner in the same dining room each night, with the same waitstaff who learned your preferences and really made you feel pampered.
Overall, we enjoyed our vacation but we felt that there were several things that could have been better. Be prepared if you drink pop (soda)--they charge about $2.65 for 4 to 6 ounces. I think if they are going to charge you that much, they should give you at least 12 ounces!
We have another cruise with NCL in November on a different ship, so we're hoping that some of the things we disliked won't be a problem then.