We just wrapped up our second NCL cruise and first on the Getaway, and I have to tell you, it was outstanding! The mixture of experienced crew, new ship, tons of activities, and great food and drink made for a great time for our entire family and we're already starting to look at plans for next summer on the same ship.
We live in NC, so we actually drove down to Miami on Friday and stayed the night at the Hampton Inn Doral since they allow free car parking for the week, plus a shuttle to the port on Departure day. I was slightly surprised to find they don't pick up at the port and return as well, but that was pretty easy to arrange.
We left the hotel on the first shuttle at 10:30 and were at the NCL terminal by 10:55. Porters were there to immediately handle our luggage and we were inside in all of 3 minutes. Possibly the most irritating portion of the entire cruise occurred as we entered the terminal. A lady was asking me to fill out a survey form and trying to shoo me off to the table to handle that and I had to explain to her, finally in not quite so polite terms, that my son using the facilities was a bit more important than me rushing over to fill out her survey. Once I got her away from me, the rest of the trip was spectacular.
We completed all check-in and photos and were assigned boarding group 5. I was a little surprised to see so many folks already in the waiting area, but I guess they were all as excited as we were to get on board and begin exploring. They began boarding at about 11:15 and we were finally called at 11:24, so not much of a wait after all.
We got on board and quickly found the Ultimate Drink Package/Soda Package/Water station and got signed up. After that, we checked our diner reservations, made a few more changes to our plans (very frustrating that you can't change reservations online yourself - you must call NCL to make changes one initial plans are made), then headed up to the Flamingo Grill for lunch and drinks. Lunch was okay, a decent small grill variety, but I did notice the menu changed very little over the course of the week. Following lunch, we headed to Entourage to get the kids enrolled in the Teen Program, then started exploring. The ship is huge, but easy to get around between all the signs, the map they give you the first day, and the fish on the carpet - they always swim upstream towards the bow!
We received the room's available call around 1:45. When we got to the room, luggage was not there yet but we had a chance to meet our room Steward, Caroline (She was awesome!) We arranged for a high floor balcony (regular size, not family) and were pleased to find it suited our needs perfectly. We knew we weren't going to spend much time in the room, but there was plenty of room for two adults and two teens for normal daily activities. The only time space became a premium was when it came time to pack up to leave, so I'd recommend avoiding that in the future. The queen bed is great and the sofa folds down into a slightly larger twin. Additionally, a twin bunk pulls down from the ceiling for the final bed, so easy for us to all get some rest. The bathroom and shower are small, but well laid out, so no complaints. The balcony is a bit on the tiny side, but allows 2 people to stand at the rail fine. We never tried to sit two adults out there for very long, but I think that would get crowded after awhile - just not really set up for that much space with the regular balconies. We were right next door to an angled balcony that had a bit more room, so you are able to get larger balconies if you want them. Also of note, I saw it mentioned somewhere that the balconies are not able to be opened up between rooms, but ours was definitely on a hinge with the ability to lock it open between our room and the angled balcony next to us. No idea if NCL would have done so - we didn't ask, nor did we know the folks next door to us, but it was an option.
My wife and I purchased the Ultimate Dining Plan and made reservations in advance for a specialty restaurant each night. The kids weren't so lucky - we had them with us a few nights, but knew they would want to spend time with new friends at the buffets/dining room/Sheehan's as well, so didn't want to waste the extra money for them. They thought the food was good all in all. They ate in O'Sheehans the first night and thought the Prime Rib had too much fat and the service was very slow, so guess we raised them picky. They hit the buffet most other times, Flamingo Grill a couple times, but no complaints from them worth mentioning.
All in all, the specialty restaurants were great! We ate at Cagney's the first night and were immediately happy we'd already had reservations set up to repeat with Cagney's later in the week. Both had the 8oz filets and they were amazing. Second night was Moderno. We'd ate at a Moderno on a previous cruise, so brought the kids and knew it would be great...we weren't disappointed. We asked for a Waterfront table ad had no problem getting one. Reservations were at 6:30, sunset was about 6:50, so couldn't have arranged it much better than that! La Cucina didn't seem to get many great reviews, and I'd say it didn't WOW us, but it wasn't bad food by any stretch. This was the first restaurant we experienced dueling wait staff, so the service maybe helped make up for some of the lack of WOW. Great job recommending some wines and other options with the menu that maybe could use a little improvement. Teppanyaki was next, another kid favorite and great meal overall, just louder than I really wanted. There were a few times when it seemed the chefs were just making noise because they were told they had to...didn't really fit in with their show. It is what it is though and we still went back later in the week for this one as well. We ate at Le Bistro on my wife's birthday and this was the low point for restaurants for us. We had reservations at 5:30 (opening time), and after waiting about 8 minutes, were promptly lead through the empty restaurant to the corner table behind a pole. I'm fairly laid back so didn't gripe, but after sitting for another 10 minutes without even being served water, I was about to get up and leave! If it wasn't for the fact I didn't think we could get in for dinner any where else, we would have left. Finally got the waiter's attention and that seemed to get the ball rolling after that. Food was very good. Had the kids with us and luckily one of them doesn't like escargot, so we had four orders to split between three people, good stuff. Duck, Filet De Boeuf, Coq Au Vin, and Filet De Porc were all very good. Fondue for two was fun, although surprised when the chocolate came out cold. Didn't have time to ask if that was normal as we were off to Legally Blonde. We repeated Cagney's and Teppanyaki with just the two of us. Second time around at Teppanyaki, still loud overall, but there were only four at our table for whatever reason, so the chef gave a great show, but also offered anything we wanted from the menu, so between the four of us, took him up on some extra shrimp and lobster :)
Food bummers - no 24/7 ice cream available. You must pay extra for Gelato. Room service pizza is $5. Sushi and Noodle bar are all extra as well...one area where it would be nice to have it all truly all inclusive!
Can speak to ropes course, water slides, adult pools/hot tubs. Can't speak to kids pool area, climbing wall, bungee, Vibe, Haven, etc. What we did was fun. Lines were not that long to get on anything even though they claimed the cruise was fully booked. No issues doing anything as long as the activity was planned to be open and the winds didn't preclude it's operation (zip line and plank closed a few times due to winds out of limits).
Spice H2O was great adult's only area. Wait staff did a great job letting kids know they were not supposed to be back there until after 7pm. Great wait staff, two hot tubs and a ton of deck space/lounge chairs. Never a problem getting a spot.
Main pool - there are four hot tubs there, two marked adult only, but the staff doesn't do anything (that I saw) to keep kids out of the two adult-only tubs. Parents were sometimes helpful, but not nearly as often as parents should be. The main pool says kids under 12 must be accompanied by an adult, but nobody is verifying this. Even still, on the sea days, it was crowded, but chairs were available if you were patient...but beware the early risers claiming multiple chairs at 7am or earlier and not showing up until noon. The staff was great about pulling towels if you asked them, but they aren't monitoring despite what the NCL propaganda suggests. We always tried down by the pool first - there were always chairs available on the upper sun decks as a last resort.
Nightly Dance Parties were a blast. It was weird having the kids in H2O after 7pm and effectively in the Night Club, but if you can get past that, it was great. Awesome DJs, great theme parties (GLOW was a welcome change from White Party), and lots of fun. Makes it a bit tougher to get up the next morning though! Bliss nightclub was fun as well - kids allowed there until 11:30. Kids at the H2O parties allowed until 1am unless accompanied by a parent - but nobody was checking.
Legally Blonde/Burn the Floor - both were great, although I was a surprised to hear how bad the sound was for Legally Blonde. Many times when the volume was too loud or too quiet to her the performance. We didn't do Illusionarium, but heard it was great from those who did. Drums/Percussion for Burn the Floor were outstanding!
Howl at the Moon was fun as were the on-board comedians. They even had a few folks from the crowd come up to play the drums to accompany the pianos. Didn't do the Grammy Experience.
Not sure if this is every week, but the Disney Fantasy sails the same course from St. Martin to St. Thomas that we did...and their fireworks kick off at 10:40pm. The Getaway was just in front of the Disney boat (and our waiter said this was common), so we watched their fireworks, then ours at 10:45. NCL fireworks won! Although I may be biased since I only heard ours (synced with a soundtrack).
Wine Lovers - had reservations, but elected to cancel based on some poor reviews and too many other fun things to do on board. Maybe some other trip.
Casino - not a big gambler, but we did hit the slot machine for a Cruise Critic Slot pull which was great! Recommend it for your Roll Call as well. Tried to teach my wife how to play craps, but without being willing to lay out a lot of money in the interest of learning, it's not easily taught.
We thought the staff were great overall, but when you started talking to them, you could tell they were tired. We spoke with a couple different folks who said they were working 10-12 hours days easily, 7-days a week, for up to 10 months. We also noticed many of the same people all day, every day, so I believe it! For example, the Teppanyaki chefs are the same guys up knocking out the omelets on the morning buffet lines. That being said, we never ran into anyone who wasn't willing to help, get something, or do whatever needed to be done to make the trip better. There have been a few complaints about them not smiling all the time - we didn't notice that very much, but when they were walking by, I did notice a few that were on a mission maybe and didn't smile or say hello, no different than most places thought in the grand scheme of things. Senior crew were very friendly and expecting feedback. We did a Meet and Mingle with Cruise Critics folks from our Roll Call on first Sea day and were introduced to many of them and were given a card with all of their extensions to call if anything came up. It was great when we wanted to let them know about our great bar staff or room steward later in the week. Additionally, during one of our dinners, some of the staff were going around conducting an informal survey of how things were going on the cruise and what needed some work. We definitely gave out more Hero Cards than any complaints about staff and I'm sure it will keep getting better as they get all the bugs worked out on the new ship. Oh, guess it's also worth mentioning that we did see many of the staff at the nightly dance parties letting off a little steam, but still smiling and helping even when off duty, they deserve much more credit than they've been getting so far!
NCL gives you the opportunity to decide when you want to depart the ship. If you want, you can keep your luggage with you and walk off as soon as the gangway allows - we grabbed the first non-connection tags (8:15) and were able to get off the boat at 8:20am. Very painless. I walked through Guest Services area at 7:20 and it was pretty full with folks waiting for the all clear though.
Not bashing NCL as we do this on other cruises too, but we looked on our own first.
St Martin - Booked a 4 1/2 hour sail boat tour on the Random Wind. Outstanding day of snorkeling, paddle boarding, jumping off the bow/Tarzan swing, all you can drink and a great lunch as well. Highly recommended!!
St. Thomas - took a cab over to Megan's Bay (tip: get off the boat by 8:15 to beat the crowd that very quickly follows! We had seats, shade, paddle board and kayaks already in use when the main groups start arriving and the beach gets packed. Also allowed us to leave a bit earlier and beat them back to the port for some shopping/pool time on board). Taxi fare was $8pp each way. Since we arranged our own taxi, he was more than happy to make so me stops for great pictures on the way back from the beach (we pre-arranged a return time with the driver when he dropped us off)
Nassau - did the ship's Blue Lagoon Island Beach Day. Awesome to see the Dolphins so close, may do a Dolphin swim with them next time. Beach was okay, but had no desire to do the Atlantis thing and didn't want to just sit on the ship, although that's not a bad idea at all. Was very surprised that they claim you get lunch, but by the time you arrive, you need almost immediately eat before they close down the lunch line. We weren't hungry, but you know how cruisers get about their food options!
We had a great time and loved every minute of it. The kids are still almost constantly texting all their new "friends" about how much they miss their boat time. Highly recommend it!