Background: Young professionals without kids. Previously cruised on Holland America to the Mexican Riviera and loved it
Embarkation/Disembarkation: Our bags were picked up by a man who said he'll appreciate any 'quarter you can give me'. I had no change and told him so. He said "it's ok, i can wait right here while you go get some change" and he was serious. In response I told him not to bother with the bags I'll carry them myself and he then backed down and said it was ok. Getting on the ship a bit slow and disorganized. They had a lot of trainees at the check-in possibly due to the beginning of season. In a few cases we had a hard time understanding some of the staff due to inadequate English language. Getting off the ship was really smooth and painless. We carried our own bags and were able to get off the ship in 10-15 mins.
Ship/Cabin: I didn't find it too fancy, which was actually nice. I thought it was classy in a way with wooden-looking finish. The cabin was really small especially shower (we were in an inside cabin). All the areas were clean. Their gym is really well equipped with all the newest cardio equipment.
Staff: I didn't feel like our waters/stewards/reception staff were going an extra mile and some actually were 'snappy'. Cocktail waiters were worse than hacklers in Mexico trying to get people to buy overpriced and watered down drinks. It was really bad on the 1st day and then got a little better. Again, a few times we had trouble communicating with the staff due to bad English.
Food: We did not pay extra fee to eat at the restaurants, and instead ate at the main dining room (Seven Seas and Four Seasons) and buffet. All I can say is yuck! The food was way below my expectations: totally bland, overcooked, greasy, and just some really bad combinations. Compared to our previous experience with Holland America, NCL food did not even stand a chance. I can't speak for the other restaurants, but their selection did not look that great either. For as much as food matters on a cruise, they really should put more effort.
Entertainment: The main shows were really entertaining and enjoyable. Really talented group of dancers and singers. NCL comedian was not really funny; Talked about his weight a lot and how the crowd wasn't getting his jokes. Magician/comedian (Jean Pierre) was really funny and did pretty good card tricks, but nothing outstanding. Piano players and the Caribbean singing band (Roots Link) were also pretty good. As far as other activities go, I thought the choices were really limited and targeting 40+ or teens. For people our age there was really nothing to do except for eat and watch the evening show. Frankly we got a little bored towards the end of the trip (I mean we watched Ratatouille twice in our room :)
Ports: We loved all the ports especially Roatan and Belize. You can really see how people live there and get a feel for what it's like. Some people on the cruise did not like to see all the poverty, but I think that it's a really good experience and really puts things in perspective. I thought it was truly amazing! We didn't book any excursions on the ship because you can get much cheaper rates on the shore. The high-light of or trip is tour of Altun Ha ruins and tour of the city in Belize which cost us $65 for two people. It is definitely a must. All other ports we just took taxis to the beach and spent the day on the beach. Amazing and warm water and soft white sand.
Overall: NCL customer service and staff at the port did not seem to know what the policy about brining your own wine on board was. We called ahead of time to ask if we can bring wine on board and were told that it was fine as long as we are aware of $15 cork fee which is charged when we bring the wine to dinner or open it in our room. Ok sounds reasonable. We took 7 bottles of our favorite wine with us in case we want to have one every night. At the check-in, a woman said we have to sign a charge receipt stating that they are aware of the 7 bottle we are brining. We asked if this will be charged now or when we actually drink them. She said will only be charged when we drink the wine. Ok sounds reasonable. When we get on the ship we find out that the charge is added automatically whether we drink the wine or not. We were given an option to give the wine for storage until the end of the trip or pay all of the corkage fee. What?! After some negotiation we finally talked them down to just charge us for the bottles that we drink. Somebody should really get their story straight! So basically don't bring wine on board because it's a big pain.
I think Holland America had really set the bar high for as and we kept comparing the two the entire time. Freestyle? - Unimpressed