This was our 11th cruise, 3rd on NCL.
Embarkation. We took a cab from Penn Station to the pier that was less than 10 minutes and about $12 with tip. We arrived at the pier at 1:00. Security was no problem. We were sent to the corkage fee table to pay the $15 for our bottle of champagne but they did not consider our bottle of Port to qualify as allowable wine so they kept, it, gave us a receipt and we retrieved it the last night of the cruise. We knew the Port was a long shot but enjoyed it the last night. We are Latitudes members so we chose the Latitudes line which was MUCH shorter and were on the ship quickly.
We went to Windows for lunch (as recommended by our CC colleagues) and it was very nice, peaceful, not crowded, and gave us a nice introduction to food on the ship. Overall, it is my opinion that the food has improved on NCL in recent years.
Cabin was ready at 2:00. Bright yellow is everywhere but we adapted quickly. The balcony is small but two chairs and a small table met our needs for balcony breakfasts, pre-dinner drinks, and late night PJ sitting. Luggage started arriving as we were preparing for the muster drill. Bed was comfortable, bathroom OK, nice having the shower door to separate it from the sink area. Not much counter space. The room's storage was limited but there are nice shelves in the closet that served the role of drawers and lots of hangers. Only one nightstand. Lighting was good and easy to use with bedside controls. We had booked a balcony guarantee at the last minutes and ended up in a BA class on the 11th deck. Great location. Cabin was a bit noisy with the ceiling creaking when the ship moved. Took a while to get used to at night since we had quite a bit of movement. Small loveseat and a small desk with a chair were the cabin seating. We had ordered bar set up for our cabin in advance of the trip so a bottle of vodka and a bottle scotch were delivered later the first afternoon. This allowed us to have pre-dinner cocktails, early morning Bloody Marys, and late night drinks on our balcony. Prices for the liter bottles were reasonable. Did not use the coffee maker, though it was there.
Sail-a-Way. Sailing out of NYC is something all cruise lovers should experience. There is nothing like it. We has good weather and sailed into the head wind so very little wind at the front of the ship where we sipped champagne as we sailed under the bridge on our way to sea. No other cruise ships in port which was disappointing.
Meals. We love tables for two....so we love Freestyle dining. Not that we don't like meeting new people, but given the choice, we like dinner with just the two of us which NCL is able to provide with no problem. Did not have to wait for tables but that may have been the luck of the draw. The overall quality of the food seems to have improved since our last NCL trip a few years ago. Keep expectations in check, though, they are cooking for thousands. We had dinner at Cagneys the first night and enjoyed it. Reservations were easy to make via phone once we go to our room at 2:00. 50% off for dinner 8:30-9:30 at all specialty restaurants all week and we had reservations for 8:30, Good meal. Loved the onion strings and filet. Atmosphere OK, good service. Had dinner at Le Bistro the second evening (first optional formal night) and enjoyed it again. DH had the duck which he thought was wonderful, my fish soup was also very good. Sorry to see Le Bistro no longer has the fruit fondue. Had dinner other nights at Windows and the Garden. Both were fine. Service was mixed but nothing unacceptable. Raffles buffet was better than most other cruise buffets we have seen. The variety, salad bar, lack on one big line, etc. all made it work quite well for lunch. The "snack" was unimpressive but you didn't have to wait long for the next meal option. The pool bbq was good for burgers and hot dogs with fries. Enjoyed it several times. Blue Lagoon was always busy. Used it for late night or late afternoon snacks. Food OK, the potato skins were odd-potato wedges with cheese. Service good here. Room service breakfast was great. They would call before delivery if you hung your order out the night before. Only place to get tomato juice easily and it was good quality tomato juice. We were only one deck away from Raffles so it was easy for us to complement the room service breakfast with croissants and hot food from the buffet.
Ship. We thought the ship was well laid out. Loved the wrap around promenade. Lounge chairs with pad available frequently. The Galaxy of the Stars was a nice lounge and laid out in a different way with a round of seats by the windows separate from the main seating area. Champagne Charlie's had the unfortunate location in the atrium so music and drinks had to compete with lobby noise. Hardly ever found myself waling by the shops which was nice but strange given their desire to have me buy stuff. Never felt pressured to buy drinks but wait staff were around when you needed them.
Passengers. Passengers were much younger than we have seen on other cruises. Many strollers and kids under 5 that I have ever seen on a ship. Given the stop at Port Canaveral, many families were taking advantage of the Disney option. I'll take kids under 5 instead of packs of drunk or bored teens on a ship any day and given the kids pool area aft, they were not much of an issue. The freestyle dining did cause you to see more young kids in the dining rooms later at night as on other lines with set seating, families with kids are encouraged to take the early seating. The first optional formal night had more folks dressing up. We dressed up with a cocktail dress and suite/tie and fit is just fine. The second optional formal night was not well promoted so fewer folks dressed up, we still dressed up and felt OK. It's all about Freestyle.
Casino. Casino was good size for a ship of this size. I did OK on the $.25 slots but I know that is rare.
Disco. It was the best 80's night ever on a ship. We like to dance and given we are in our late 30's, we love the 80's and usually on ships an 80's night is lousy. First it was separate from the 70's night so that helped and they played the PIXES! I have never heard the Pixies played on a ship.
Shows. We loved Second City. The act was young and fresh and mixed standard cruise humor in with improv. We used the "Best Seat in the House" option. There are 8-10 sets of chairs and tables in the front of the room with ice buckets. You have to spend $25 during the show to use these chairs. We ordered a bottle of Proseco and enjoyed ourselves. Not something to do every night but to do it once was fun and given what we spent other times on individual drinks, a bargain. The jugglers were wonderful (Sharkbait)….I know jugglers…..My DH wanted to go, I was not too sure, but they were two guys about 30 years old, graduates of Ringling Bros. Circus Clown college (which is quite impressive) and were quite funny. Late night comic the first night was OK.
Ports. We considered this a cruise to nowhere as we were not excited about the ports but wanted to be at sea. We did not get off the ship at Port Canaveral and considered this our pool day. We sat by the pool, had a bucket of beer (Sol-Mexican beer the same price as Corona and a bit more "vacation"), and had a nice day on the ship. We got off the ship in Nassau. They told us via the Freestyle Daily that because it was election day in Nassau the day we were there, no alcohol would be sold in town until 6:00. This was not great news since we like having a few beers in town. Also, as we were getting ready to leave, they cancelled out evening beach party at Great Stirrup Cay and we were staying in Nassau until 12:30/1:00 a.m. We walked around town, had lunch at Skans (sp?) downtown, a diner we had read about in Frommers. Good food. That night, we skipped dinner and went to Senior Frogs…..felt old but who cares, we are on vacation! Not much else looked open. We did go to Great Stirrup Cay the next morning and had a nice day on the beach. We headed left after getting off the tender and went to a smaller beach. Quiet. Could still rent floats there and a short walk to the bar. We did not partake of the BBQ and headed back to the ship once they asked folks to leave the water and start heading back. It is a nice island and serves its purpose well. NCL was the first to develop this concept. Had a good time. We should have left the ship on an earlier tender and left the island a bit earlier, too.
Debarkation. We opted to stay in our room, post room service breakfast until our color tags were called. Given our experience, I was surprised how long it was for them to get through express before calling our color. There must have been issues in the terminal as we waited on the stairs after our color was called for quite a bit. Once out, we crossed the street to get a cab and got to Penn Station at 11:20. There were two other ships in port that morning which was great to see.
Overall a great trip. Relaxing. Ate well. Did lots of reading. NCL is great for its Freestyle Dining options.