I have been taking an average of 1 or 2 cruises a year for the last decade or more on various cruise lines. If you had asked me previous to this cruise what was my favourite cruise line I would have undoubtedly responded NCL. I had been on the Sky and the Epic previously and LOVED both cruises even though they were very different from each other. I liked the relaxed atmosphere with the freestyle concept, had encountered excellent entertainment (a big thing for me) and good quality food and drinks onboard both ships. Of course the specialty dining kicks it up a notch (love Le Bistro) but I could always find something good to eat even in the no charge restaurants. Another plus is the staff usually seem quite happy on NCL ships, something I appreciate. With my last cruise on the Pearl, this opinion has drastically changed. Don't get me wrong, I had a nice time onboard the Pearl despite it's shortcomings. I try and make the best of all my vacations but it could have been better.
The food was OK, the entertainment...well to be honest...very poor with the exception of the piano man (very funny and talented) and the soft rock/pop/folk singer who performed in the atrium most evenings who did a great job and had a large selection of tunes you could choose to make a request from. I found a few things very annoying and it has tainted my impression of NCL. Number one, shopping deals advertised in the newsletter were not available in the shops but swapped out for more expensive items, for example, the $10 t-shirt sale became the $20 t-shirt sale because they said they didn't have any $10 shirts even though the shop had just opened and the deal was advertised. I ran into quite a few fellow shoppers who were quite annoyed by this and felt it was a scam on NCL's part to get you into the shops. Number two, watered down drinks. I don't know if this is because they now have an "all you can drink" option onboard their ships but I did not purchase this deal. I am not a huge drinker but I do like to have wine with dinner and a few cocktails at showtime. I purchased one of the ships wine packages, reasonable prices and decent wines so I am ok with that. The cocktails I purchased in the piano bar however were pitiful. I paid full bar menu prices for a Mojito that literally had maybe a quarter of an ounce of rum in it if that. Quite possibly there was no alcohol or the bar had forgotten how much they had already watered down that bottle. It was mostly ice and soda water with a few mint leaves and a packet of sugar in it. I think it was the worse drink I have ever had on a vacation...EVER...ANYWHERE...terrible. The same evening my girlfriend had a frozen cocktail (supposed to have alcohol it it also) that tasted like a milk shake...disgusting. Needless to say, I felt totally ripped off and those were the absolute last drinks either of us ordered onboard. Wine is fine, skip the cocktails entirely. Oh, and the corkage fee to even bring a bottle of your favourite wine onboard...ridiculous. Number three, where's the kids area? When I looked on the NCL website prior to booking there was a waterslide listed and pictured under the ship profile. Well, 2 months later when we sailed, it was gone baby, GONE. Not a huge issue for me since I was not travelling with kids and I can skip the waterslide this one time..lol...except, this meant a lot of unhappy kids (and parents that had booked prior to the removal or notification that it was going to be removed) and a very crowded pool deck and hot tubs chocked full of kids. Needless to say I stayed away from those.
Ok, the last thing that irked me and totally put me off NCL may or may not have been their fault but ultimately it is their responsibility. On our return to Miami we needed a ride to the Ft Lauderdale airport and was going to just grab a cab or shared car which is what we usually do. When we exited the cruise terminal we were approached by the "NCL shuttle operators" wearing an NCL shirt to buy a ticket on the coach. I asked how much and it was about the same as a shared car so was going to pass when the women who were agents said "the bus is leaving right away" I asked when and she replied "within 5 minutes so you need to hurry if you want to catch it". My girlfriend an I looked at each other and shrugged thinking it might be faster since it was departing right away and we wouldn't have to wait. What a mistake! We bought our tickets, rushed over to the bus and loaded our luggage and got on...and we waited...and we waited some more....and we waited. Well, there were only about 6 or 8 of us on the bus at that point and I guess they wanted to get more people so they didn't leave. It was about and hour we waited and by this time we were all fuming and one of the other couples were going to be dangerously close to missing their flight time. Finally after us telling them they had to leave so everyone could make their flight did they finally begrudging pull out. I don't know if that couple made their flight but it was an added stress to the process air travel and not a very nice end to a vacation. Be honest people...give a correct departure time. NCL needs to do something about their ground staff or the companies they let represent them.
So, all in all, not a horrible trip but one I don't care to repeat. I have been on much better vacations for the same price and honestly, I don't want to give my money to a travel provider that is skimping and scratching to get extra money out of us at every turn in what I personally deem to be sneaky tactics. I had a much better time on my last Carnival and RCI cruises that were about the same price. NCL, you will have to really do something special to make me want to give you another try. I am actually sorry that I took this cruise not because it was terrible but because I am now a bit disappointed in NCL and I wish I wasn't.