Background: This was a Spring Break cruise that I took with my grandson who was almost 14. We went at this time because it is the only time he doesn't have any sports activities scheduled. He had been on one previous short cruise to the Bahamas with his parents, which he didn't like particularly because the Kids Club restricted him from leaving if he didn't like the program. I am a bronze Latitude member as this is my fourth NCL cruise (out of a total nine cruises) the others having been with my husband who now refuses to fly because he hates the hassle at airports.
My grandson's break lasted from March 27th to April 7th, and therefore we left the cruise in Venice to fly him home for the first day of school. So we did not see the last couple of ports.
Travel to the port of Embarkation: I flew from BWI to Miami (where my grandson lives) and the next day we flew from Miami via Madrid arriving in Barcelona on March 28th. I arranged my own airline tickets and did not use the cruise ship air.
Hotel information: Hotels were arranged by a travel agent. We stayed in the Hotel Reding which was a small hotel in the area near Plaza Catalonia. We spent the rest of the 28th after we arrived and the 29th on the Bus Turistic (the local Barcelona hop-on hop-off bus). I bought the tickets on-line and picked them up at the airport. I recommend the Bus Turistic for an overview of Barcelona.
Ship Information: This is the former Price of Hawaii which has been re-purposed (and re-staffed) for the Med. It was the first Med cruise for the ship.
Stateroom: We were on deck 4 just about in the center of the ship. It was a handicapped room (although I didn't ask for one), and was huge. We were right next to the medical center - the last room in a very short corridor and it was very quiet with very little motion felt compared to what other people reported experiencing. It was also quite close to the gangway at any ports where we got off on the 4th deck.
There were two beds, each with a little bedside table, a dresser with a stool (but no drawers) a closet which had a hanging rod which could be pulled down to wheelchair height, and also had shelves, shelves next to the closet, couch which could make into another bed, a table with three chairs, and a TV stand which had the TV on top and also three drawers, the mini-bar and the safe in the base. The bathroom, in addition to the sit-down shower had a mirror that could be tilted for a wheelchair person, but not much in the way of shelf space. My grandson had to put his toilet kit out on one of the shelves. Drawer space was also lacking.
Dining: The Garden Cafe (the buffet) was really quite good and had a good variety of food. For dinner, they had tablecloths and silverware on the tables and would seat you after you got your food. At breakfast, they had cranberry juice (which is what I want to drink and which the buffet has not had in the past). I thought the buffet on this ship was excellent. They had a number of special areas including one with pizza. My grandson also had hamburgers at the Grill a couple of times which he said were good.
The only non-extra price regular special restaurant is the Tapas Salsa Restaurant (Tex-Mex), as they've added a charge to the Italian Restaurant. We ate at the Tapas Salsa the first night and it was OK, although I found the service a trifle disorganized. I was given a soup which was listed as black bean soup, and found meat in it which wasn't mentioned on the menu. I did not try the Blue Lagoon this time, because I heard people complaining about the service there, but we liked it on the Pearl.
The only large restaurant (556) was the Grand Pacific and it was billed as the more formal restaurant. It was usually the one open for breakfast and lunch. I was afraid to try it for dinner with my grandson who only had bluejeans to wear. I did eat there for breakfast and lunch several times, even though it is hard to get to. It is on deck 6, but you can't walk directly back on 6 because the kitchens are in the way. You have to walk back on deck 7 and go down a half flight of steps to get to the person in charge of seating. This is more convenient for the people on the upper decks as they can just take the aft elevator down.
The Alizar dining room only seats a little over 300, and frequently had long lines because people do not understand Freestyle, and kept making reservations that they did not need and which couldn't really be accommodated.
They were saying 6 pm for 4 or 6:15 for 2. That is totally not necessary and bollixes up the system. If they go up to dinner at 5:30 or six and just go up to the desk and say 4, they will all sit together at a table for four. They don't need to make a reservation. And they really CAN'T hold a table for 4 that maybe won't show up at 6:15 after all. They only need to make reservations for large parties where the tables need to be set up.
At some times the service was a bit slow, but other tables were quite quick, and we did have better luck with sharing than we had on our last NCL cruise. They only put us at a table for two when we asked to share once.
They had a large menu of options for every night which included a salad, an appetizer and several entrees. My grandson had the steak every night. There were also the daily specials, which I usually had. My perception is that the menu has been pruned and there are not quite as many options as before.
I bought my grandson a coupon book which was $30 for 20 drinks - cokes or fancy non-alcoholic drinks (his key card had the corner cut off so they would know not to serve him alcohol). This was a much better deal for us than a soda card as he usually only has a couple of cokes a day.
Children's Clubs - since the teens were allowed to check in and out on their own, I registered my grandson, and he liked going up there and playing video games. He also utilized the golf area and did some shooting of hoops. They also had computers up there that the kids could use. He spent about $40 on the games. I had to go with him to the Casino to get change as they wouldn't give it to him if he was on his own.
Entertainment and Activities: We didn't attend any shows, nor in fact did I do any activities. I think my grandson might have done, but he's fairly laconic about it, so I don't know exactly.
Shore Excursions: I took only one ship excursion and that was the one for Burano/Murano in Venice. This was a good tour, although somewhat loosely organized. Because everything in Venice was by boat, they issued stickers to us and took 30 per boatload. They took the first boat to Murano (the shorter distance) and the second boat went to Burano and they they switched. They should have done it the other way around.
All the other shore excursions involved more walking than I could do comfortably, so I arranged a private car and driver for the day in Rome and Naples, but NOT through the ship.
Disembarkation: We got our passports back from the desk (where they had to have them to get visas for the various ports), and walked off the ship in Venice and went to a hotel there. Since we were one of the few to disembark here, there was almost no formalities to go through. We went to the Santa Chiara Hotel which is in walking distance of the port, and right at the end of the Number One vaporetto line where we could take in the whole length of the Grand Canal and out to the Lido. From here we flew back to Madrid, and then back to Miami.
Summary: I was happy with the cruise. They hadn't changed the decor of the ship to match the new itinerary, and some of it was a little garish for my taste (I liked the Pearl better), but in general I think this will be a satisfactory way to do a Med. cruise. Although the personnel was new to the ship and many of them were still learning, they appeared anxious to please.