BACKGROUND - We cruised on the 5/17/14 sailing. This was our 5th cruise, 3rd straight NCL (Sky and Gem). We have done a Princess and a Costa before but try to avoid them since learning that they are a part of the Carnival Corporation. Absolutely refuse to take Carnival. We love the Freestyle Concept. We are easy going, easy to please people. There were 5 of us in our group (my wife and I, 3 yo, 7 yo and my Dad) and we had two inside cabins. I have to laugh at the negative reviews I read about how the food is horrible, the ship is too loud, too crowded, an employee didn’t smile at me, the smoke ruined my cruise, blah, blah, blah. If these things ruin your vacation – please stay home. If you’re going to compare the food to your absolute favorite restaurant back at home, then yes, you probably may experience some disappointment.
EMBARKATION / DISEMBARKATION was smooth. We were given number 10 and probably had to wait for 20 minutes or so. Check in was easy with no problems. We had return flights booked for 1230pm so we picked the Green Tag (one of the earliest departure times). We had breakfast in the O’Sheehans and waited comfortably until the line in the atrium dissipated.
CABIN – we found on prior cruises that we are only in the room to change, for the kids nap or to sleep. So we book INSIDE cabins. We were put in 5195. This room was right underneath Headliners Comedy Club. We were expecting the worst and were ready to complain since they had show’s going to 1am or later. But we were pleasantly surprised that we hardly heard anything the entire trip. It was probably the worst on the last night. This cabin was far bigger than I expected. Everything about the room was great. Beds were extremely comfortable. Our room steward – Jonah was great.
SHIP was stunning and had the latest technology. Everything was shiny and new as expected for a ship that is 4 months old. The Waterfront is a neat little secret that didn’t seem to be used that much. We found that Sugarcane Mojito Bar had some really comfy outdoor seating and it was nearly always available. Also, the Waterfront was great for watching the fireworks. There was probably a dozen of us that watched the fireworks from the Waterfront compared to the 3,988 that probably watched it from Spice H2O. We used the NCL app for texting, dining menus, etc. Nice feature. They have touchscreen monitors located throughout the ship if you needed help finding a place, making a reservation, etc. Very handy and easy to use. Yes, I smelled smoke near casino and by the pool but it really wasn’t that bad.
RECREATION options were awesome. Ropes course was spectacular. They did have a neat Course for little ones that you could walk thru with them. We probably did the course almost every day. Never a long line (if one at all). If you do walk the plank, zip line or the drop waterslides; remember what time you did it so you can find your picture (sorted by date and time). The waterslides were awesome as well. The Drop waterslide was pretty intense. Worst wait was maybe 8 people in front of me. There was a man at the top of the Red/Orange slides from St Lucia that was great – he was awesome with my son. Some inconsistencies with how they measured height. My son was right on the border for height requirements for the Purple/Orange/Red slides. He did the Red/Orange ones with no problems but was turned away from the Purple one which was far tamer. The kids Splash area was fun. My son loved it. They had a neat rock climbing wall, spider web tower, bungee jump. The miniature golf course looked pretty neat but people were walking all over taking pictures of the ropes course. I might be guilty of that. Sorry if I ruined someone’s cruise for interfering with their miniature golf game.
DINING – We didn’t try any specialty restaurants. We ate quite a bit at Taste/Savor, O’Sheehans, Flamingo Grill and the Buffet. Overall, I found the food to be good. I ordered the Striploin and was expecting it to be 1/8 of an inch thick like all the steak I have had on previous cruises. It was a good sized steak – probably ½ inch or more thick. Tasty and cooked as requested. Some dining venues did seem to take a while – sometimes an hour plus. Service was fine. We dined once in the Tropicana Room and it was a neat venue. Watching the servers made me tired. They all work very hard. Daily menus can be displayed on your cabin TV which helped determine where we would eat. They did have kid’s menus which was great. Daughter tried the PB&J and LOVED it. I felt the buffet options were somewhat limited. The Flamingo Grill seemed to be a quiet secret too. Good place for breakfast (buffet style with an eggs cooked to order station). Overall, I was happy with the food.
KIDS CLUB wasn’t as personal as our experience on the GEM. There were 300 kids on this sailing. We only got to know the people who worked the front desk. Schmegal was a hoot. Our kids loved it though – always wanted to go back. The Big Top show was well done.
ENTERTAINMENT – after going to the Welcome Aboard show which gave previews of the entertainment, we all decided to skip Legally Blonde and Burn the Floor. We also skipped the Illusinarium. Might be one of my regrets, sounded like NCL invested several million dollars into this venue. Can’t comment on that. We spent quite a bit of time a few feet above our room watching the comedians/dueling pianos. Exceeded my expectations – one of the comedians was a former cast member of SNL. The Howl at the Moon shows were hysterical too. We tried reserving the comedy club one night but it had no availability. So we showed up like 15 min before show time with no reservations and were seated with no issues. Glow party was a hoot. DJ was great, created lots of energy. Cruise Director Joel and his staff were great. Didn’t see him often around the ship or get a chance to talk to him like we did with Julie on the GEM. Perhaps due to the size of this ship. Joel has lots of energy, excellent dancer; made me tired just watching him.
PORTS – for me, the ship was the destination. I’ve seen Nassau before. Wasn’t expecting much with St Maarten/St Thomas. In St. Maarten, we took a taxi to Mullet Bay beach ($9 per person each way). Since it was a pretty good distance away, it was nice and quiet. Great, low key, beautiful beach for swimming with the kids. We easily found two chairs/umbrella for $12. They had a couple shacks that served food/beers/etc. Prices very reasonable. Then we did a short walk to Maho Beach where we watched some planes land and take off. Easily found a taxi back to the ship. In St Thomas, we went to the shopping district and walked around. Seemed like 90% of shops were jewelers. Then we took the kids to the butterfly garden which was right next to the pier. Got lots of neat pics of the kids with Butterflies on their shoulders or in their hands. Kids liked it a lot. In Nassau, we took the 7 year old to the Straw Market and let her buy some trinkets. I think my wife was a bit apprehensive about the constant pressure and anticipated aggressiveness from the vendors while looking around. But if you make eye contact, say “no thanks”, smile or you stop to talk to them; the vendors are actually quite pleasant. In the ports, we were almost always positioned next to the Disney ship where I saw lots of people looking and pointing at our ship. In Nassau, we were next to a dumpy/dated looking Carnival ship. I was always proud to walk off the Getaway and exchange stories with people in port.
MISCELLANEOUS – fitness center seemed small. I woke up early to go and never had a problem finding a treadmill. When I left, it was full. Whoever designed the jogging track was an idiot. Terrible place for it. I had to tell me kids several times to get off the track as they wandered out there because they saw something shiny. My apologies to any jogger whom where that may have ruined their cruise. Loved the way the sorted photos. If you want to buy any, don’t wait until last day as it was a bit of chaos. I agree with others, sometimes the popular events that were held in the atrium were overly packed. Moving to theater or some other venue might be better. On the GEM, Bliss / Spinnaker had lots of quiet comfy seating – I missed that on this cruise. Yes, there is a nickel and dime feel but in no way was I ever pressured or felt obligated into buying something. Nor did I feel the need. The complimentary dining options satisfied everyone's cravings. Nickelodeon has some wonderful TV shows that my kids absolutely love but I feel like they aren’t capitalizing on it. If they had some characters from Team Umi Zoomi or Paw Patrol, my son would have connected more. Instead they use “Double Dare” type stuff (which dates back to my childhood) and some other characters I never heard of. There is A LOT more to Nickelodeon than SpongeBob and Dora.
OVERALL - my wife liked the GEM better, probably because it was a smaller ship. I, on the other hand, think this ship was hard to beat. All of us were out cold every time our heads hit the pillow exhausted from the day’s awesome activities. Take the negative opinions you read with a grain of salt. Go, relax and have a great time.