First a little demographic info- I went on this cruise with my husband, 11yr old daughter and 8 yr old son. It was our fourth cruise as a family, the first 3 were 4 day Disney Cruises (same itinerary as this one), so that is our point of comparison.
Overall, we enjoyed the cruise, we all agreed that it was relaxing and pleasant, and our favorite part was the food and the shore excursions. Compared to Disney, the main difference is the lower standards, below what we'd expect to be the minimum standards for a cruise, especially for such a well-known brand as NCL. On all our Disney cruises, we never saw a single thing out of place or done incorrectly, and on this cruise there was plenty to find fault with.
I would attribute most to new-ship and new-staff glitches. The positive comparison with a Disney cruise is that it seems much less crowded. Though the ship was completely full, there were never crowds and rarely were there lines, so it was more relaxing and less of a kid-oriented theme park atmosphere. Speaking of kid-oriented, we heard from the cruise staff that usually this ship would have 150 kids but because of the kids sail free promotion, there were 450 children on board. Very little accommodation was made for children. At restaurants, we always had to ask for kids menus and it took them a long time to locate them. During the port days there was almost nothing for families to do on board, only the pool, which does get old after a while. Our kids didn't mind, because they're old enough to enjoy what we like to do, but for little kids it would have been difficult to keep them amused. Something as simple as having some board games for families to use in one of the lounges during the day would have really helped. Below is my opinion on some shipboard categories, based on my family's observations:
EMBARKATION: Very easy, we arrived at noon and there were no lines at all, we were on the ship by 12:30. We immediately noticed that the ship was very warm, the a/c appeared not to be working. We went straight to Le Adagio, and the custom made pizza and pastas were delicious. The pools were closed, so there was little to do while waiting for our stateroom. My husband had gym clothes on, so he spent the hours working out in the gym, which was pretty well cooled, while we wandered the ship looking for a cool place to sit. Our room was ready at 2, so we could put down all of our carry-ons and change clothes. At 4 we cooled off in the pool until the 4:30 safety drill, which was fairly quick and well-run.
AIR CONDITIONING: At noon when we embarked it was sweltering hot all over the ship, and the pools were closed until 4pm so there was no way to cool off for all that time. The air conditioning was not working again after we left Freeport, so there were a few more hours of excessive heat then. At many other times on the cruise, in various restaurants and venues, the air conditioning was not working. The worst was the Kids Crew rooms. The A/C was never working well in the kids crew, so it was really sweltering hot in there. The heat added to the kids' discomfort, making it really unpleasant, they said it felt like jail. We had planned to leave our kids there so we could have two romantic dinners to celebrate our 15th anniversary but they were so miserable because of the heat that we had to cut short our plans.
DINING: Le Adagio is free at lunch, and the pizzas and pastas are excellent. We went there for dinner as well, and really enjoyed the antipasto cart, and the chocolate apricot torte. Crossings is really nice, with blue toned decor and great views. We loved the food, and appreciated the Cooking Light options available at every meal (also available at Palace). We had 2 dinners and a breakfast at Crossings, and the service was great every time, and the food was invariably excellent. I had heard that NCL food is better than Disney Cruise Line, and I agree completely. Disney's food is all made assembly-line style so it wasn't usually really fresh or warm. The NCL food seemed to be more custom-made and the ingredients are all fresh and high-quality. Room Service: We had breakfast delivered the first morning, it was on-time and delicious, and everything we ordered was brought. Buffet: The lines moved quickly and there are action stations, so you can go directly to what you want. Le Bistro: We went there for our 15th anniversary dinner, and the setting was nice and romantic. It was Dress up or Down night, so we fit right in in our dressy clothing. The food was pretty good, I had the vegetable napoleon which was delicious but tiny. The desserts are amazing, we shared the creme brulee, hazelnut chocolate cake (the best!) and strawberry mousse. However, our romantic dinner was utterly ruined by the family that was seated next to us. They were in swimsuits, 4 adults sat at 1 table and put their 7 children, ages 3 to 8, ALONE at the table next to us. The parents paid no attention to their children, just letting them run wild, and it was just appalling. The unruly toddlers were screaming, climbing on the windows, and rolling in the aisles, they almost had hot food spilled on them by the waiters a few times. It was just awful, I think the maitre d would have had better sense than to seat them next to us when they knew we were celebrating an anniversary. The staff did come out and sing us Let Me call You Sweetheart, and they gave us a special cake. That was really cool. Palace: we didn't like it as much as Crossings, the decor is all mauve and seems dated. We went there for lunch and a waiter didn't come to our table for about 20 minutes after we were seated. The service was inattentive, they rarely came to see us and got the orders wrong. We definitely prefer Crossings.
KIDS CREW: Open 5pm to 10pm. They didn't have a lot of activities to do, so compared to Disney's it doesn't even come close. My kids begged not to go, so we only made them attend for two 2-hour dinners. It was organized and safe, however, so that was a good thing.
ENTERTAINMENT: We went to the Broadway show the 2nd night. The set was very minimal and dated, it didn't change throughout the show, and it looks very '1985'. The dancers were energetic, and the 2 female lead singers were excellent. The piano bar-type music is very dated and cheesy, I can't imagine enjoying it unless one was very drunk. Simon-Cowell-like quips kept coming to mind, and it was hard to keep a straight face when thinking of what he would say. It was reminiscent of a Saturday Night parody. We didn't go to any of the nightlife activities, since we turned in each night by 10pm. There was very little to do during the day, we didn't go ashore at Freeport and after the pool we just watched TV in our stateroom. Bingo was quite fun, we did it the first evening and kids get free cards when adults buy one, so we all enjoyed it. I recommend attending the shopping talk. If you cheer loudly when asked, you get prizes, my daughter won a very cool Del Sol t-shirt that changes color outside.
SPA AND FITNESS: The spa is nice but not very modern. It is different than most spas in that it's all open so you can see out the windows while getting treatments. We bought the $10 Therma Pass on the 2nd day, which allowed us to use the spa locker room, steam room and sauna. It was nice but not of the upscale quality of most spas I've visited, either on land or sea. The fitness center is GREAT! Both my husband and I worked out there daily, the machines are new and work well, with great views of the sea. The gym is very large and has everything we needed to work out. We took the Spinning class with Antonio one morning and loved it.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: We went ashore at Nassau. We shopped on Bay Street for a while, the only good bargains appear to be jewelry. We bought some cool stuff for the kids at Del Sol. We went to the Starbucks off Bay Street, it was a wonderful oasis in the city, it's a big room with lots of couches, very nice bathrooms, and all the usual Starbucks drinks and snacks. The Starbucks is right across from the taxi stand, we got a wonderful taxi driver and it was just $4 a person to Paradise Island. We had booked the Dolphin Swim ourselves since it was much cheaper that way, so we had to get to the marina on our own to take the boat to Blue Lagoon Island. We got to the marina 2 hours early, and it's across the street from Atlantis, so we wandered around there for a while. It was nice and cool, so we shopped and looked around. Many areas are free, so it's a fun place to spend a few hours. We had brought sandwiches from the ship buffet, so we just went to the deli and bought sodas, then sat outside and had a picnic by the yacht marina. The Dolphin Excursion was the best part of our vacation. We took the 20 minute boat ride to the island, which is just beautiful, with gorgeous water and flowers everywhere. My daughter and I did the Dolphin swim, it was a 20 minute orientation, then we got in the deep water with the dolphins and played with them, followed by the foot push, where 2 dolphins propelled us across the lagoon like a rocket, it was exhilarating and 'totally awesome' in my daughter's words. My husband and son filmed and took pictures, which came out quite well. We also bought 1 5x7 of the 2 of us and the $58 video (overpriced but worth it!) Great Stirrup Cay was wonderful, we bought swim masks at the Straw Market and the kids saw tons of tropical fish. We also rented 2 kayaks and boated all over the cove, it was really fun and beautiful. We liked this island even better than Disney's Castaway Cay, it's bigger and the BBQ food is much better. The only drawback is that the BBQ area is constantly under attack my swarms of seagulls. It was just like THE BIRDS, they swarmed down and took people's food, and efforts to keep them away were unsuccessful. Everyone went to the left upon arrival so we went right, to a more peaceful beach. The quietest beach is in front of the Boat Shop to the right, and the one to the right of where the tenders land had the most exotic fish. I didn't even have a swim mask but I could see them all perfectly since the water's so clear.
SHIP MAINTENANCE: The lack of A/C at boarding and after Freeport was the biggest problem. On our deck, 9, there was a strong mildew scent at midship, so we had to walk through a very stinky area every time we went to our cabin. The pools were closed at boarding and in the mornings for a while, I wonder why they had to be closed so often.
STATEROOM: We had an outside stateroom. Compared to Disney, the quality standard is much lower. Everything is plastic, unlike the teak and marble construction even in our inside staterooms at Disney. Our queen bed was in the middle, with the kids on bunks on top of us, one on each wall. It was kind of weird but fun. On Disney the couch turns into a bunk bed so the adult bed was more separate. The bedding is VERY comfortable with lots of down padding and plenty of pillows. The sheets are soft and upscale, we're used to 1000 thread count and didn't find these scratchy or uncomfortable. I think the room stewards are very overworked, I heard some passengers didn't get turndown service. We only had a towel animal on Wednesday night. When we first got to the room, the floor wasn't vacuumed and there were some candy wrappers on the shelves, it didn't seem as spic and span as I would expect. The rooms are also very humid, we all awoke with puffy eyes in the mornings from the humidity, and our clothes we hung out to dry the first day after washing in the sink never got dry, not even on the 4th day. So if you're thinking of washing clothes to re-wear them it's probably not a good idea.
STAFF: All staff members were very friendly and helpful. We did notice that they weren't enforcing the rules. Kids were swimming in the adult pool and splashing and making noise. When we told the staff members, they did nothing about it, so they had to ask another staff member to help. In terms of conveying a luxury vacation experience, the fact that the staff members, even at dinner in the nice restaurants, wore t-shirts, was jarring. It gives the cruise a 'summer camp' atmosphere that didn't fit with the upscale settings. They wear black shirts to advertise Monte Carlo night and then white shirts to promote the White Night party.
All in all, we had a great vacation and the ship's flaws didn't detract from the fun we had together.