This was the 7th cruise my wife and I took on NCL, but the first with the "Free Style" concept. We're 60-ish and basically planned on using the ship as our destination. We had originally planned a shore excursion (zip-lining) in Roatan, but were informed prior to the cruise that we would be arriving late at that port, so we cancelled our plan. In Belize, we had planned to go cave-tubing, but had to cancel because of a bout of food poisoning - more about that later.
We drove from the Houston area to New Orleans for our cruise on January 6, 2008. The directions to the port were excellent and parking was convenient, right at the pier. The embarkation process went smoothly. As we boarded the ship, our hands were sanitized and liquid disinfectant dispensers were prevalent throughout the ship to fight noro-virus. As advertised, the cabins were available at 2 p.m. Our cabin was what we expected - functional, but the bathroom was larger than on other ships and instead of a shower curtain, there was a glass shower door and a relatively large shower.
The first night, we went to dinner in "The Garden" restaurant, one of the non-surcharge restaurants. The food was OK, but not as hot as we would have liked when it arrived at the table. This became a theme throughout the cruise - lukewarm (or worse) food. The next morning we had breakfast
at the buffet. The omelet station was good and the rest of the food was standard buffet fare. Lunch was at the Blue Lagoon, which had a limited menu, but decent food. As opposed to other cruises we had taken, the second night was "lobster tail" night rather than one later in the cruise.
The public rooms on the ship were nice - good sight lines in the main theater and typical solid NCL entertainment - 2 feature acts and 2 revues. We were sailing during the LSU - Ohio State championship game and the broadcast was provided in several locations on the ship.
On Tuesday morning we went to breakfast in "The Windows" restaurant. Although there were not many people in the restaurant, service was slow and to be kind, I call it indifferent. After we got our coffee and juice, the waiter and busboy disappeared. We sat for about 20 minutes when I went in search of someone who was seating passengers and asked if she could check on our food. Shortly thereafter, she returned with our food, which was cold and no doubt had been sitting in the kitchen for some time - the hash browns were gray and hard. It was back to the buffet. On Wednesday, we tried lunch in Windows with similar results. It seemed that the food was not being held at high enough temperatures and/or prepared properly.
In the meantime, we had been participating in various activities on the ship and meeting lots of really nice people. The cruise director's staff was personable and dependable. They showed up for activities promptly even on days when the ship was in port.
On Wednesday evening, the cruise became the worst of times. In the midst of the putting tournament, it was time to exit to the rest room quickly and thank goodness, no one was between me and the toilet. The next stop was the infirmary, where I found that gastrointestinal problems were fairly widespread on the ship. We also found that because of noro-virus concerns, if you have GI problems, not only will you be quarantined, but so will everyone else travelling with you. This means that your access card will be tagged and you, your spouse, etc. will not be allowed in the restaurants or be able to go ashore until you get medical clearance. Thus, we missed our stop in Belize. Since my GI distress was short-lived, I'm convinced that I had food poisoning because of poor food handling. We wanted to speak with the hotel director to tell him of our concerns about food handling and he did his best to try and blow us off, but we were persistent and finally got to see him. He appeared to listen, but who knows.
Incidentally, GI problems continued on the ship. The "chocoholics" buffet was cancelled and passengers couldn't touch anything in the food areas. If food hadn't been a problem, this would have been a very pleasant cruise. Our cabin steward and stewardess were great and provided service above and beyond the call of duty.
We used the "Express Disembarkation" option and were able to leave the ship quickly. By 8:15 a.m. Sunday morning, we were driving out of the parking garage and were heading home.