This is my fifth overall cruise and first with NCL. All of my previous cruises were with Carnival to Caribbean destinations, so the majority of this review will be a comparison to those trips.
This was my first time sailing out of Boston. I loved not having to fly to the port as Boston is just a two hour drive from home. Luckily we have friends in the area with extra parking space, so we were able to leave my car with them and take the T to the port which was very easy. Once at the port, the check-in process was a little chaotic. We got there a little after noon. We started by standing in a long line that nobody really knew for sure what it was for. It turned out to be a line for dropping off luggage with the two porters collecting bags. This was the first port I’ve ever been to that had a wait for the porters. We didn’t pre-print our luggage tags so I had to ask around to find out where to get some. Eventually I was directed to a tiny desk with a paper sign that would have been impossible to notice on my own. The line moved relatively quick, however, there were plenty of annoyed travelers who didn’t find out until they got through the line that they didn’t need to wait if they weren’t checking any bags.
Security was relatively quick and there was very little line here. We were then directed to the check-in line which seemed exceptionally long. While we were standing there, we were in communication with a couple that was joining us later but left an hour after we did. They arrived at the port while we were in the check-in line. While we were waiting in the check-in line, they were waiting in the luggage line. They eventually got through, but when they got to check-in, they were instructed to go to another check-in line that had almost nobody in it. They managed to beat us through check-in despite leaving an hour after we did. We finally got to the front, but when we got there we were directed to another line where we had to wait even longer.
Overall, the process was a complete mess and very disorganized. Once at the desk, the agent seemed busy and flustered and was not overly friendly like the Carnival agents usually are. We eventually made it through and made it on board just in time to grab lunch in the Venetian before it closed at 2.
This is the largest ship I’ve sailed on, but it’s basically in the same class as the others. I really enjoyed the placement of the lounge chairs on the upper decks, as they were spread out and located in many different small areas rather than the sea of chairs I’m used to seeing on the large Carnival decks. I liked the “quiet” hot tub at the front of the ship, but didn’t use it too often because it was often very windy up there.
The common areas were interesting because many of the hallways actually went directly through them rather than around them. For example, if you are on the 6th deck, you need to walk through a bar and then the casino if you want to walk to the theater. I would have expected there to be a hallway that went around everything, but this is not a complaint, just an observation.
It is somewhat evident that this is an older ship, but they did a good job with the renovation so it still has a new feel. My biggest complaint is with the location of the kids water-park. It is located at the back of the ship on a top deck. This is prime real-estate that should be used for adults. Kids don’t care where their play areas are, so it doesn’t make sense to have them in the area with the best views on the ship. On Carnival this space is reserved for the adults –only deck where it stays quiet and has hot tubs that are away from the large crowds.
The cabin felt very small but this could be because the beds are larger than I am used to. We had an interior cabin so we weren’t expecting much. There was essentially no floor space, but we spent almost no time in the cabin other than to sleep, so it really didn’t matter to me.
I have very mixed feelings about the dining. I came in nervous because of the fact that they have so many paid restaurants on board, I found it hard to believe they would put any effort into their free options. My fears were confirmed on the first four days of the cruise. The food was mediocre at best but downright bad most of the time. This was extremely disappointing to me as I have never been disappointed with carnival’s food. I always tell everyone that my absolute favorite part of cruising is the food, so this was a big blow to have such low quality meals.
I say that I have mixed feelings because by day 5 things started to get a lot better. I started to enjoy the food and by day 7 the quality was excellent. For the final dinner I ordered two appetizers and two entrees and finished all of it.
I’m not sure what changed, maybe it was just a bad batch of food, but overall I can’t give the food a good rating because it was so bad for most of the trip. We ate all of our dinners in the Venetian or Aqua (the two free options) and ate most breakfasts and lunches in wither the Venetian or the Garden Buffet.
Lastly, I’m also not a fan of freestyle dining. I love having assigned dining with an assigned waiter. It’s great meeting new people and sitting with them every night. Carnival does it right by offering your choice of anytime dining or assigned dining. I wish NCL would do the same rather than forcing everyone to take the freestyle option.
The service was another huge disappointment to me. On Carnival I was always used to every member of the staff that I interacted with regularly knowing my name by the end of day 1. I was also used to them smiling and being generally friendly. This was never the case on NCL. My room steward did not greet us until day 3, and the staff in the restaurants were slow and unfriendly. They almost never smiled and they kept us waiting forever for every meal. It’s amazing how much of a different feel there is when the staff is friendly. It really gives the entire experience a better vibe, and this was big downer on a regular basis.
BERMUDA / ITINERARY
The itinerary is essentially the only reason I decided to take this cruise. Leaving from close to home, having multiple full days at sea, and having a long 3 days stop in one awesome port made this entire cruise worth it. It was great having the time to enjoy the port rather than hectically jumping from port to port for 8 hour stops for 4 days. Even though it was rainy on and off the three days we were there, I still loved every minute of Bermuda. The beaches are all amazing with perfect blue water and they are all free. The public transportation is the easiest I have ever used and you can get anywhere on the island within an hour. The locals are friendly and not all trying to sell you stuff like they do in the Caribbean.
Other than the beaches, we took a trip to the aquarium / zoo, and the caves. The aquarium / zoo was an unbelievable value. Admission was only $10 and the zoo was incredible. It had exhibits from all over the world, and many of the exhibits allowed visitors to walk through the habitats so you were essentially walking around with the animals. From the zoo, the caves are only a 15 minute bus ride away. These are a little touristier than the aquarium / zoo, but still a very cool trip.
While on the island we also visited the frog & Onion brewery & pub which is the only brewery on the island. It is walking distance from the boat and the beer is excellent. They also offer free Wi-Fi to customers which is a nice perk.
I would love to return to Bermuda for an extended visit and enjoy the many beaches it has to offer. We had a chance to visit horseshoe bay which is the most popular / touristy beach on the island, but it wasn’t too crowded because it was raining on and off that day. We also visited Elbow beach which was awesome because there was almost nobody there. With around 50 beaches on the island, there’s something for pretty much every beach lover, and I’d love to go back to explore some more.
I admittedly did not see as much of the entertainment as I would have liked, but I did make sure to see as many of the comedy shows as I could. Tim, the comedian, did a really good job, but I wish there was more than one comedian on board. For a seven day cruise it’s very difficult for one person to have enough material to have original material on a regular basis. Carnival always has at least two comedians on board, even for their 4-5 day cruises. I was also a little put off by Tim ending his shows on a touchy feely note. I don’t mind heartfelt messages sprinkled throughout the show, but I like to leave a comedy show bent over laughing. That never happened, but his actual comedy was excellent. I also saw the second city improve and sketch comedy show which was excellent. The magic show was decent but after seeing magic shows in Vegas it probably wasn’t a good idea to go to another on a cruise because there isn’t any way it could have lived up to those standards.
We were in no rush to leave as we didn’t have anywhere to be and didn’t have a flight to catch. So we slept in, took our time at breakfast, and carried our own bags off when we were ready. The line was long but that was expected. My only surprise here was our trip through “customs.” There wasn’t one. There were two customs agents collecting declaration forms but they weren’t even looking at them. Mine was upside-down when I handed it to him and he never turned it over. I guess we could have brought back whatever we wanted.
Overall, this cruise was worth it for the friends I made, the relaxed itinerary, the destination, and the ability to leave from Boston. I do not plan on sailing with NCL anymore, as the value is much better with Carnival, but I would still call this cruise a success.