Embarkation: The embarkation process went very smoothly. Lineups were small but were handled very efficiently. There were no tedious waits, and there was staff to help out during every step in the process. I arrived shortly after noon, and our stateroom was made available at around 3:00 p.m. with our luggage arriving shortly thereafter.
Public Rooms: The public rooms were all very well-designed and operated. They were all clean and well-lit at all times during the day. One of the most impressive rooms was the Windjammer Cafe, which offered buffet-style meals through the day. Featuring a panoramic view with full-sized windows, the experience of dining while overlooking 180 degrees of ocean was awe-inspiring. Another key feature was the Royal Promenade. Housing a dozen or so stores, boutiques, bars, and cafes, the Promenade was the glorious main artery of the vessel. During the evenings, it would take on themes (including a special appearance from the original Police) to host dance parties, parades, and public events attended by hundreds of vacationers.Cabin: I visited a number of cabins during my visit, and they all seemed very comfortable. We had four people in one 200 sq. ft. cabin, and it formidably rose to the challenge. Two double-sized beds were complimented with two retractable bunk beds located directly above. The beds were very comfortable and always well-made by the staff. We were encouraged to reuse our bathroom towels, but the one or two that we had replaced were folded into animals and hung from the middle of the room. Some of the friends I met onboard had larger cabins that were well-suited to spending awake-time; however, our cabin was too small to do anything but sleep. It never bothered me though, as I was out for nearly the entire day, popping back only to change or to shower.
Fitness and Recreation: I can't rate the fitness facilities seeing that I never visited them; however, I heard from my mother that they did they job. As for recreation, there was a basketball/volleyball court that was always in public use. Folks were always there for pick-up basketball. Pick-up volleyball and the scheduled dodgeball tournaments were also extremely population. The courts were in quite good condition. Fortunately, we never had to meet the challenge of rain during our cruise, so I can't comment on their ability to dry the courts.
Enrichment: This is pretty simple. I can't give them any less than two stars because there were some helpful seminars (like digital photography, towel-folding, and nutrition). And I can't give them any more than two stars because their library facilities were merely average and there weren't any particularly engaging intellectual pursuits. Enrichment is evidently not a focus of the NOTS.
Rates: The NOTS rates deserve three stars because they were pretty much to be expected. Costs were reasonable for cruise lines. Bar drinks cost money, but the RCI drinking age was 21, so I didn't partake. I bought a beverage card on my first day for $20, an excellent purchase as I provided for free fountain drinks throughout the cruise at any location. A rather nice bottle came with the card. The staff took photos constantly, and they were on sale for anywhere from $5 to $20. Food and activities were all paid for, and I incurred very few miscellaneous costs during the trip (the only items on my bill at the end were my shore excursion costs and fees for internet usage).
Dining: The food was excellent. In short, there was enough selection to please any palate, but not so much as to confuse you. I had breakfast and lunch buffet style at the Windjammer Cafe nearly every day, and the food was pleasant. There was not much variety from day to day, but the selections present were more than enough. I didn't participate in the à la carte options in the main dining room for breakfast or lunch. During dinner, I ate with my family every evening in the main dining room. The food was excellent and superbly presented. Each meal was arranged with a starter/appetizer, a main course/entree, and a dessert. The food was very flexible. I always ordered a salad in between my starter and entree, and the kitchen staff was always able to accommodate special requests on the spot. My brother sometimes required smaller or modified portions, and I asked for some vegetables or sides to be substituted (I don't like zucchini). The wait staff made it happen with a smile. Overall, the dinner was impeccable and left me more than satisfied after every meal. The dishes were all well laid-out and came relatively quickly. The signature pieces were very well done, and although there weren't anything to write home about, it did the trick very well. The steak and lobster were all comparable to the restaurants at home.Entertainment: This cruise was fun. The mornings and afternoons were rather relaxed and low-key and a very appropriate warm-up for the evening (or should I say cool-down from evenings prior). The entertainment life kicked off with a show in the Metropolis theatre right after dinner. The theatre was impressive and the shows doubly so. The first night was a comedic Welcome Aboard act. The second night had a very well produced tribute to broadway shows. The third night was for me by far the most entertaining. NOTS brought in Kenny James, formerly of Star Search, and he sang an amazing repertoire of Motown classics. The performance was as deep as it was funny and entertaining, enticing the entire audience into laughter, cheer, and song. The standing ovation at the end was an amazing testament to the show. The fourth night featured the always entertaining Love and Marriage game show. The final night was a farewell show with a magic performance. Our Cruise Director Kieron was amazing and MC'd all the major events. Once outside the theatre, the bars, lounges, and Promenade aboard the ship came live. Sounds of jazz, disco, and rock'n'roll brought all sorts of folks together. Line dances (YMCA anyone?) were particularly popular. Indoor and outdoor special events took place every night. One particular highlight was an outdoor buffet for which the first 45 minutes were allocated (and rightfully so) for guests just to take pictures of the 41 varieties of chocolate dessert. NOTS was truly a ship where you could dance the night away, every night, all night long! Perfect score!
Service: I can't possibly provide a holistic perspective of the ship's service, as my primary interaction was with my dining room staff, the assistant waiters, and the head waiter. They were incredibly personable and efficient. The dining room featured easily the best wait service I have ever experienced in my life. I never saw the room steward, but as far as I could tell he or she could not have done a better job. Another perfect score!
Shore Excursions: I definitely recommend the two shore excursions I took. At Cozumel, I went on the Palancar Reef Snorkeling excursion. It was my first time swimming in the salt water, and I was very surprised at just how salty the ocean was. Nevertheless, the experience was fantastic. We caught a glimpse of a manta ray as well as a colony of barracudas while swimming. Our guides were fantastic, and there was free soft drinks, water, beer, tequila, and diet tequila for all! My second excursion was the Cave Tubing and Aerial Trek excursion. We travelled via bus to the middle of the Belize rainforest, and the tour guides Umar and Eddie, were endlessly entertaining, retelling the island's fascinating history along the way. We named ourselves Umar's Group (I was going for Ninja Turtles but got turned down), and the first half of the day saw us zip-lining through the rainforest. The lines were very long, and we had to wait about 30 minutes in line while trekking up the hill (my two recommendations are to bring plenty of bug repellant and to make good friends with the folks standing next to you in line). About 20 mosquito bites later, I was flying up to 100 meters at a time at up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour through the rainforest. We stopped for a delicious Belizian meal in the rainforest and then hiked for about a half and hour to a cave entrance. Hopping into our personal flotation tubes, we traversed the jungle river and a number of rapids to enter the cave system. Thanks to an impressive lapse in judgement, I got caught in an impressive undertow and hurt myself quite formidably in an effort to get out. Nevertheless, the rapids and caves were truly an experience. You're going to have to see it for yourself, but take my word that it's well worth it.
Value for Money: The whole cruise was a fantastic experience. There were very few unexpected charges, and the items that came at a premium were reasonably priced. I paid $49 for my snorkeling excursion and $135 for the cave tubing and zip lining.
Teen Programs: Since I imagine it will be largely adults reading this review, I won't go into too much detail into the teen programs. It's very difficult to rate the quality of the programming, as the teen experience hinges more on the fellow teens than the program itself. The facilities for teens were impeccable, and I wound up spending a very large portion of my time in the Living Room, the Fuel Room, and the private teen deck in a great location at the very rear of the ship. It is very grudgingly that I give the teen program a rating of four since my experience was easily one of the best of my life. The most appropriate thing I can say is just see for yourself. If you're a teenager, just be outgoing, and I promise you that you'll have the time of your life!
Childrens Programs: My little brother spent plenty of his time in the children's programs. There were activities available throughout the evening to entertain him, and he seemed to be at no shortage of fun. All the staff were very friendly and helpful.
Overall: NOTS was my first cruise, and most definitely not my last. Every hour of every day was a highlight of my trip. It was amazing. Seriously. Just go. Happy Cruising!
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