First of all, I've read other people's reviews and I will preface this one by saying I'm relatively easy to please. As far as embarkation goes, for me it was quite smooth. I will say that I'm handicapped and that may have helped me out in this. Some people did, as they usually do, have to wait a while.
As for the bags not being in the room, this is a normal occurrence. Bags on NCL always show up around 4 to 5pm. I'm accustomed to this and have no problem with it. I took the time to get acquainted with the ship and also several Cruise Critic folks that I ran into or should I say ran into me. I don't blend. I'm easy to spot in a crowd and people knew who I was without being introduced. I also enjoyed a few adult beverages in my little jaunt around the boat. Hint: Buy beer by the helmet and wine by the bottle. It is a little cheaper.
My room was great. I had a handicapped room which is quite spacious. I've also seen the smaller rooms and they would have been fine for me as well.
As for the food: The only complaint I HEARD was that in a few cases the food was cold. This was due to the fact that prep and serving areas might be far away. My cure for this is the omelet station in the morning at the Garden restaurant. They will cook it right there for you and it is hot. They cook it your way. Now, here's a secret: Seating in the Garden Restaurant is limited. If you want a seat, take your plate to Mama's Kitchen which is always almost empty. Another place, if the weather is conducive, is out back on the deck. There is always a place to sit. There is also food right there, just a little less of a selection.
Azuras and Tzars were both lovely places to eat. They had a good variety and the service was very good.
Tangos had wonderful food, if you like Mexican food, which I do. They have wonderful lobster tacos. The wait staff in all of the restaurants remembered me and were very polite. They all spoke wonderful English.
The Blue Lagoon: I have to say that I did have one disappointment here. It's not as bad as all that. They didn't have any Shepherd's Pie or Chili. I was heartbroken for a minute and then found some new favorites to eat. They still have wonderful fish and chips. They have a great cheeseburger. Their tuna melt is at lunch only, but it is good.
In the casino be sure to get signed up for your casino card and they give you a little booklet with some benefits in it. If you use your card while gambling, they were not charging for the drinks. This will save you a chunk if you are lucky when you play. Now, you can play for as little as 2 cents a play, so it doesn't have to cost you a fortune if you don't have good luck. My wife lost about $300, but she made up for it in free wine. She broke even and I came out ahead on both ends.
Beer tasting: The little guy doing the beer tasting was very friendly and knowledgeable. My team won both contests and I won both beer chugging contests, so we got some free goodies. At $15, it was a bargain.
As for NCL's shore excursions, I can't rate them this time, because we did all private tours. I do know that there are advantages both ways and if you are new to cruising, I would usually say do the NCL excursions and you will have no problems. At least I've never had one problem with an NCL excursion in the past.
The weather was good overall. It was cold and raining in Helsinki and it did rain one day in Russia. Other than that, the weather was outstanding.
NCL's choice for ports of call: I can't praise NCL high enough for their choices. In Copenhagen we did a hop on hop off bus and got off to eat. Now, if you want to eat cheap in Copenhagen, it is hard to do. I did see one inexpensive Chinese street vender. I ended up in sort of a Greek place and had a Gyro. It was a bit weird, because there was no pita bread with it, but dang, it was great to eat. Oh, if you want diet soda in Europe ask for like a Coke Light. Burger King is very expensive. A Whopper Meal Deal is about $25 US. I paid $5 US for a "large" Coke. Their idea of a large is 20 ounces. That was $4 for the Coke and $1 VAT tax.
We got back on the bus and stopped at a fort and walked around and then walked back to the ship.
Next stop was Warnemunde. Now, if you want to go to Berlin, expect two to three hours each way to get there and back. To me, I would need a week in Berlin, so we went to Rostock on a private walking tour instead. A lovely lady name Sybil was our guide. Her English was great. She took us to four lovely OLD churches one was built in the 13th Century. We walked down the main street and then a lot of beautiful side streets. The first place we went for lunch was packed and we would have had to wait for an hour. We went back up to the main part of town and had a lovely lunch at Ratskeller's. I don't know why, but we were the only ones there. The waiter was helpful, and the menu was bilingual (it had English interpretations). For the adventurous, they have what they call a half-meter sausage. It is 19 inches long. We took the train back to Warnemunde and I had a nice German beer at a beer garden and got back on the ship. On this tour my wife and I were accompanied by three wonderful couples. I couldn't have asked for better company.
The next day was an at sea day. We did laundry. Hint: Women are vicious over the washing machines and dryers. Either get there early in the morning, do it the night before or do it later in the evening. They have machines on Deck 5, Deck 9, Deck 10, and Deck 11. Each laundry room has soap for sale for a buck and each one has an iron and an ironing board. The machines are free to use and as a hint, bring fabric sheets.
Russia: What can I say? We did a private tour in St. Petersburg with Anastasia. The lady who owns the company, her name is Anastasia. We had a small problem. When we booked the tour there were originally five couples on it. One of the couples had a health emergency and had to fly back to the states. Instead of making us pick up that couple's share, Anastasia did the right business thing and let us pay what was agreed to as if that couple had come. In other words, each couple's price didn't go up. Good business move on her part.
We had a lovely guide named Illyana. She went by the name of Helen for us because she thought that would be easier to say. Our driver's name was Serge. He kept us out of three accidents with his driving skill. The first day was in St. Petersburg and we went to four churches and the Hermitage. The second day we went to Pushkin and also Peterhof. I can't remember all of the places that we went, but it was well worth the money. Our guide was well versed in history, art and civics. Our driver's English was limited, but his driving skill was great. I highly recommend Anastasia's Tours. You will get to eat some lovely Russian food too.
The three couples that went with us on this tour were great company.
Helsinki: Well, the weather was cold and wet so we didn't venture too far from the boat. It was all right with me, because there wasn't anything that I really wanted to see there.
Stockholm: Cobblestone streets in all of the countries, but Stockholm's were the most memorable for me. It seem as though we walked twice as far as we really did. I don't know how people drive on those streets. They are all rough. Okay. Enough complaining. Down to the good stuff. You can walk all over Stockholm. I'm a cripple and even though I'm slow, I walked all over Gamla Stan. The streets are narrow, but the shops were all quaint. There was no shortage of restaurants. Most were quite expensive. The couple that accompanied my wife and I suggested a pizza. We found a little pizza joint that was out of the way and had a pizza and three beers for about $40 US. The pizza was good and the beer was local. What more could a boy ask for?
We did see the changing of the guard. Hint: Get there 30 minutes ahead of time, especially if you are short. We ran into a couple from the ship that we knew and both of them were short, but they still got to see it.
Now, when the boat sails, get up to the Spinnaker Lounge and you will see the most beautiful sight on the trip. Not saying what it is. I'm sure you can find out, but just don't miss it.
The last two days are at sea days. Good time to rest from all of the walking. Good time to do a little laundry. Good time to hit the beer tasting on the last day. Enjoy the people you've met on the ship. Go have a lovely dinner with them and relish the trip together.
Disembarkation was very smooth. Finding luggage was easy. Getting on the bus was a bit chaotic, but count to five and it will be fine. If you aren't in a big hurry, and let's face it, it doesn't do you a bit of good, it will go fine.
The bus driver was very knowledgeable about the sights on the way to Gatwick.
Now, some basic hints to make your trip easier. Get an over the door shoe holder for the bathroom. It will hold makeup, deodorant, contact lens cleaner etc., sun screen, toothpaste, and whatever else you want for the bathroom. Get a stickup thing for your toothbrushes that releases easily. Get a stickup air freshener for the bathroom. Don't be in a hurry getting on or off the ship. It won't make any difference so just go with the flow and you won't get stressed out. Everywhere we went almost everyone would take US dollars. I did convert about $50 per country and carried one Visa card. Still have money left over.
I think the common areas on the ship were all very nice. Get a little pocket map of the ship. It really helps until you know where everything is. Also, don't be afraid to look at the ship maps on the walls or if all else fails, ask. The crew are very helpful.
The room stewards did a good job keeping our room nice and clean.
There will be a Cruise Critic Meet and Greet on the first full day at sea. The captain, the hotel director, the entertainment director and other ship officers will be there to answer your questions. They all speak English. Everyone on the ship speaks English. Granted some better than others, but their English is better than my Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese, or Romanian.
The Lattitudes Meet and Greet was a little unorganized, but quite nice. The wife won a book on the give away.
Overall, we had a ball. Now, if you understand that they are feeding a couple thousand people, plus a thousand crew members, and view it that way, I think you will find the food great.