Background: We are a couple in our late 20's/early 30's (no kids) and this is our 5th cruise but first time cruising with NCL. After having recently done two cruises with Princess I must say that we were happier with our NCL cruise. Our itinerary left from Los Angeles. Since we live in Phoenix, we did not fly and we did not stay in a hotel before our cruise as we were able to drive from Phoenix to LA and spend a night with family before heading for the ship. Embarkation went very smoothly and everywhere in the terminal and as we boarded we were greeted by friendly people and everyone always answered our questions clearly and without confusion. We received our luggage within 2-3 hours of boarding the ship. Our stateroom was nice and clean. We booked an inside cabin but were upgraded to an ocean view for the same price. The washrooms on this ship were better than we had had on previous cruises (larger showers), at least with Princess & Royal. Our room steward did a good job and we always had everything we needed for our room.
Ship Information: There was only one main pool. It seems like on a ship this size there should have been more than that. There was the indoor pool at the spa but you had to pay to use it so we opted not to do that. Although I was disappointed by the lack of pools, the pool area itself was well maintained and there seemed to be no shortage of spots to find a lounge chair. We often went to the front of the ship or to the promenade deck which also had lots of lounge chairs to relax and get away from the party-like atmosphere at the pool area. Finding a spot that was to your liking was never a problem. It was often crowded down by the pool but we just tried to avoid the crowded areas during the middle of the day and instead use the pool and hot tubs in the morning (when you can have the place practically to yourself) or later at night. The pool areas seemed to clear out by around 6pm. The main atrium of the ship was beautiful and all around the ship was tastefully decorated and well kept. There were no rooms/bars/public spaces that were disappointing (except for the market cafe which I will comment on later).
Dining: For me this was one of the highlights of the trip and my husband agreed. The food was much better than our two recent Princess cruises. We also liked the freestyle dining as this allowed us to pick which restaurant and type of food we wanted for the night and we could eat whenever we wanted to. We tried Ginza/sushi twice and enjoyed it both times. This is one of the dining rooms that charges extra. For me, it was well worth it. Plus the first night we had a coupon for half off so it was not so bad ($15) for the specialty restaurants. The only "off" part of the food on this ship was the Market Cafe which is the buffet area off of the pool deck. To me, this was downright depressing. It reminded me of the dining hall at volleyball camp when I was a kid. Rows of tables like a cafeteria, stainless steel milk dispensers and small cafeteria-like chairs just to give you an idea. The food was not good in the Market Cafe. We tried it once and then avoided it the rest of the trip. My recommendation is to eat breakfast either outside on the deck (made to order omelettes and waffles) or eat in the main dining room (Versailles). We had excellent service and extremely good food in Versailles, Aqua and Ginza. We tried La Trattoria and Endless Summer one night each. These two restaurants were good, not great. If you are from the southwest or are accustomed to eating good Southwest food then you will find Endless Summer just so-so. It reminded me of the Mexican food we used to eat when I lived in upstate New York. Living in Phoenix and having lived in New Mexico, we are now somewhat of Mexican food snobs and thought Endless Summer was nothing special (not bad tasting food but just not GREAT Mexican). La Trattoria was also good but not great. I had a MUCH better Italian dinner the last night of our cruise at Aqua. Most of the meals we had in Aqua and Versailles were top notch and exceeded my expectations. We never had bad service except that service was somewhat slow the two nights we ate at Ginza (we were told that one of the waiters was sick so they were shorthanded). There were always burgers/hot dogs/chicken by the pool but no pizza. One thing we really missed was the pizza by the pool (market cafe had it but it was not good). Princess always had the best pizza by the pool.
Entertainment: Entertainment on the ship was great. We went to a magic show and a dance/acrobatics show which were both excellent. The comedian (Peter Sasso) was very good and we went to see him twice. We also really enjoyed the band that played in the main atrium each night. The music on the ship was great.
Activities/Casino: Unfortunately we cannot comment much here as we did not do much in the way of activities. Our main goal on this cruise was relaxation so we did not participate in bingo, casino, trivia, gameshows etc. Although it did seem like there was ALWAYS something going on. We don't have kids but talked to some people who did and the kids program seemed to be very good. It reminded us of our cruise on Royal Caribbean which also seems to be very good for families/kids.
Shore Excursions: We booked the following excursions for our trip: Acapulco Sunset Sail, Ixtapa Canopy Adventure, Town, Country & Tequila in Puerto Vallarta and the Land's End Boat Tour in Cabo. First I will talk about our scary situation in Acapulco on the Sunset sail. It left at 5pm and there were two other couples on the sail boat along with us. We left the harbor and were to sail out into the bay (or just out of it) to see the sunset. About the time we got all the way out, the weather started to get bad (lightning, storms approaching). The men piloting the sail boat did not immediately head for shore (even though the Mexican naval ships that were out there at the same time were hightailing it back). Basically we got walloped and we had to literally crawl down into the cubby on the sailboat in order to seek refuge. Looking back I definitely placed too much trust in the tour company. I assumed that they would have policies in place to keep their passengers safe. There is no way that they should have their sail boats go out when the weather even looks ominous. Or at the very least, they should head in if there is lightning. It's too dangerous. If any elderly people had been on the boat with us at this time, this story could have had a very bad ending. It was not at all unlikely that we could have been blown from the boat or struck by lightning or hit something with the boat (the storm was SO BAD that we could not see anything around us and we had to hope that the man sailing the boat could "guess" at which way the pier was - seriously). We could tell that the crew sailing the boat (three men) were also very scared by the look on their faces, their voices and their actions. After we were down underneath and protected from the rain, they threw the life preservers at us and told us to put them on. I thought that there was a chance that we would be blown off the boat or even die that night. We did eventually make it back (to a different pier than we had left from) and the tour operator owner came to pick us up in his personal vehicle. The drive back was scary as well because every road was turned into a river. It was a very scary experience. Representatives from NCL were waiting for us when we got back and they wanted to make sure we were okay and had us fill out incident paperwork. My advice based on this experience is to own your own safety. Don't assume that these tour operators are looking out for your safety because safety outside America is not the same as safety in America. The Ixtapa Canopy Adventure was fun however safety was also a concern for me on this excursion. The equipment was safe and they did provide training at the beginning but as we moved our way from station to station on the canopy tour, my husband and I were left at the very end of the line with nobody left from the tour company to explain how to hook on for the various stations! I refused to move until someone came over to explain to us each one which they probably thought was annoying but I was not satisfied with their level of attention to our safety. The tour we did in Puerto Vallarta was nice but a little slow. We were taken on a tour of a Tequila Factory and through a small town and then walked around the city of Puerto Vallarta itself. I would recommend something active in Puerto Vallarta. In Cabo we booked the land's end boat tour and scenic stop. It was nice but keep in mind that this is the most popular tour so it will be loaded with other passengers. Passengers who booked a tour through NCL were whisked off on a tender boat on the opposite side of the ship as people who did not book tours. At the end of the tour they send you on a van back to town. We walked from there to the beach and lounged in the shade for free at the Melia (we were just told to order drinks which we had no problem with!) The kayak tour looked like fun in Cabo.
Disembarkation: We chose express disembarkation which means you carry all your own luggage off the boat. We had to wait in line about one hour to get through customs on the boat. Even though it was a bit long we had no problem understanding the process since there were always people located about the boat ready to help us. The wait time was due to the number of customs agents (only 10 for the boat).
Summary: Although safety was a concern for us on our excursions, overall we liked NCL and would cruise with them again. For us the two biggest pluses for the cruise were the dining and the fact that we always got straight answers from the crew when we asked questions. We have been on cruises before where we could not get straight answers from the crew and the crew themselves didn't always know what was going on. This was not the case on NCL and we appreciated their customer service in this arena. On the negative side, it seems they were always pushing drinks which was a bit annoying but not too big of a deal. The market cafe needs an overhaul and it would be nice if there was a second free pool. Overall a very nice experience and we would cruise with NCL again.