I am a seasoned cruiser who traveled with my husband and two children, ages 5 and 12. We experienced very good weather and calm sea conditions throughout our 7-day trip. I truly feel that the weather plays a big role in the overall temperament of the guests. I generally pop a Bonine tablet daily to prevent seasickness, but took only one tablet on the entire cruise.
Embarkation was quick and easy. We arrived at the pier by cab about 11:00. There were no lines or waiting. Comfortable seating conditions with water, juice and snacks available for the guests. Embarkation has come a long way over the years. Disembarkation was just as easy.
The ship was a bit smaller in size than we were accustomed but very clean and well maintained. We had no trouble navigating around the ship and actually found the floor plan to be fine, contrary to some others postings. We had an inside corner room on deck 8, which was as expected and adequate for a family of four. I must say that I heard little, if any, noise from the abutting cabins or coming from hallways. There was always plenty of seating available in the dining rooms, lounges and shows but the pool area is small and the area often crowded. The designated kids pool was very small and certainly not to the standards we expected. Fortunately, there were few children on board during this sailing. I cannot imagine the chaos in this area if a good number of children were present.
My children loved the Kids Crew or club facility and made a lot of good friends. In the evening my son would often come back to the room dressed as a pirate, mickey mouse, etc. The staff made it fun for the kids. The kids crew facility is open free of charge during the hours of 9:00 to11:00 and 2:00 to 5:00 and then 7:00 to 10:00. This schedule is basically for sea days and changes during port days. I honestly felt that we spent too much time running around signing our kids in and out of kids club. This made it nearly impossible to get through some of the activities and shows or to just relax. Other cruise lines offer more continual and flexible hours. As such, I favor other cruise lines childrens programs over NCL.
The Freestyle Daily provided a good selection of entertainment options. I found the entertainment to be fine. I simply elected to attend those shows and programs that I thought would be of interest to me. If I wasn't enlightened, I always had the option of leaving and moving on to the next area of interest.
I did take advantage of the Latitudes special massage/facial combination for $99 on the first day on the ship. Frankly, it was a huge disappointment. I'm not sure if it was the particular therapist or whether it was the way she was trained that was the problem. I felt that the massage was ok but the facial portion was terrible. There was no continual soothing motions or attempts to focus on pressure points. I have had much much better facials elsewhere for much less money. I did not have the heart to tell the young therapist about my displeasure but I would be hesitant to use the spa for this service again.
The food and dining seemed to be the big area of discussion on this ship, given that there were many dining options. Mainly we ate at the buffet or in one of the main dining rooms. There wasn't always a great variety of food in the buffet area but it was adequate, hot and fresh. The pasta bar in Pacific Heights was good as were the tapas or appetizers in Las Ramblas. The sangria in Las Rambles was the best I have ever had, really! We did dine with friends in East Meets West on the final evening onboard. The portions were decent size and the meal was good but, frankly, I saw no significant reason to elect to dine in one of the cover charge restaurants as opposed to the main dining room.
We had a great time on all of the island stops. I had preplanned private excursions in Roatan and Belize that were highly recommended by fellow cruise critic members. They are well worth mentioning again.
In Roatan we spent the day at Fins and Flippers Resort. This is a private resort that has only been in operation for about a year. The staff a Fins & Flippers meets you a short distance from the pier and takes you via pontoon boat to their private island. It is literally a five minute ride by boat. Once you arrive at the resort you have exclusive use of their private beach, pool and bathhouses. There is a charge of $20/adult and $10/child (under ten). The resort facilities are well maintained and the landscaping is beautiful. This place is truly paradise! I believe because they are relatively new that they do not get the exposure of some of the other highlights in Roatan. The beach is more of a lagoon area with calm waters but the snorkeling out at the end of their long pier is wonderful. We were able to rent equipment right at the resort for only $8.00.
In Belize we had pre-booked a horseback riding tour at Smugglers Run Plantation. I can honestly say that this was one of the best excursions I have even taken. I plan to do a more complete write-up under the Belize board heading. As planned, Cathy and Trevor from Smugglers Run met us at the pier and we were taken via van to their private farm or plantation. This is certainly not your average farm or riding stable. The grounds are well maintained and the place is spotless! Our horses, selected based on our riding capabilities, were ready and waiting for us. After a quick briefing on how to guide the horses, we took a nice long ride through some of the plantation trails. Our guides were quick to point out plants, tree and animals of interest. The trail ride was challenging but we never felt that it was beyond our capabilities as beginners. When we returned to the stable we had the opportunity to see some of the younger horses and new foals in the pasture. Cathy had a home cooked meal of chicken, rice & beans, potato salad, fried plantains, fresh-squeezed limeade and key lime pie waiting for you when we returned. They drove us safely back to the pier and we had plenty of time for some shopping.
I had strictly planned to shop in Cozumel and did just that, much to husband's dismay. I like the variety in the jewelry shops and did end up buying a few pieces of nice jewelry. My daughter and I shopped and my husband and son rented a scooter and toured the island. It was a fun day for all.
In summary, the service on this cruise was wonderful. I felt that the housekeeping staff, servers, busser, activity directors, etc. did a fabulous job. I never once questioned the auto-gratuities. These people work very hard and deserve all of that and more. I would certainly sail with NCL again as there were no significant problems, but likely not on this particular ship. Other cruise lines and other NCL ships offer better options for families traveling with children.
My personal pet peeve . . . the hot bowls at the ice cream bar. The serving bowls at the ice cream bar were always hot. I don't mean warm, they were fresh from the dishwasher and very hot. By the time you arrived at your destination with your bowl of ice cream you had a bowl of soup. NCL how about some chilled bowls at the ice cream bar! At a minimum room temperature would help.