We sailed from Southhampton, England (not an option for embarkation port) and did the Western Mediterranean. Embarkation began as a nightmare....they did not leave enough time from the passengers to get off the ship from the previous cruise that arrived that day and us to get on. Once on the ship we all had to wait in the atrium for a "welcome reception". It was awful, having about 2,700 people in an atrium, we couldn't go to our rooms because they were still being cleaned since they did such a quick turnover. Once in our room it was obviously a quick turnover because it really was not clean, soap scum still on the sink, etc. Overall the cruise experience was "fair". The crew was very nice and the ship itself was fairly new so it was in good shape. As for NCL's "freestyle cruising" it's a crock! They pride themselves on freestyle cruising as dress comfortable and have the choice to eat at a variety of restaurants...not really. After a long day walking around on a shore excursion you want to be comfortable and relax at dinner, maybe even go in a nice pair of shorts....no shorts allowed, or tank tops, etc. So right off the bat you still have to wear pants and skirts/dresses, how is that different from anyother cruise line? Also, there are only 3 out of like 10 restaurants that do NOT have a cover charge, and two of those have the same exact menu and the other is the buffet. So there really are not a plethora of dinning options unless you want to pay more, above the several thousand you already paid for your cruise believing most all food was included.
NCL did offer the traditional theater shows each night, none of which were really worth rushing to, maybe only one good one. They did offer a comedy show from Second City a few nights which was good, but that was the ONLY decent entertainment through out the cruise. There was a serious lack of interesting or entertaining options to take part in while at sea. The "adult" pool and children's pool were in the same area right next to each other and there were always kids in the adult pool and hot tubs and always kids running around the area. There were kids and teens running around the WHOLE SHIP...the WHOLE cruise. Shame on the parents for not having control over their children, but also shame on NCL for not having and enforcing rules about parents being with their kids or running, and ALWAYS being in areas that were designated adults only. This by far made the cruise unbearable.
The food was mediocre at best. Since we mostly ate at the buffet since it was the only truly "freestyle" dining option, they didn't vary the selections very much. There was never anything special from the different ports or cultures. We did go to 2 pay restaurants, Asian Fusion and Sushi which were both good. The food could have been A LOT better, as of the 5 cruises I've been on this was the least impressive.
NCL adds a $10 per day, per person service charge, as well as adds 18% gratuity to any drink orders. I whole heartedly believe the crew and servers deserve to be tipped, but I wonder just how much of these automatic service charges are going to these poor people who work so hard. We always tip those who have served us on a cruise, as we still did this time even though we were charged. I think this service charge is ridiculous and added GREATLY to the overall cost of the trip (don't be fooled if you think sailing with NCL will be cheaper when shopping around, it all adds up!). Also, things that sounded interesting to do while at sea...there was a fee to participate!
Overall, the cabin was nice (we had a suite on the 11th floor, which by the way you could hear all the kids running around above us), the food was mediocre, there were far too many kids that were running a muck, the "freestyle" dining is not what it is advertised to be, they charge you for anything and everything and the ship was not very well laid out. After a bad experience on NCL years ago we decided to give it another shot, and are sorry we did. We watched Royal Caribbean and Princess cruise liners sail by us and longed to be on them instead.
FYI we signed up for shore excursions for every port since we were unfamiliar with the area and didn't know if there would be anything right out of the port to walk to. Well, to do "Rome on your own" which is really a bus ride into Rome, dumps you there and picks you up at a designated time was about $110, no tour, direction, guide, nothing. There are usually always shuttle buses that take you to the center of town of the port the ship docks at. If you want to explore the area on your own take advantage of the FREE shuttles that THEY DON'T TELL YOU ABOUT beforehand. We did have a couple of great tours and guides in Rome and Villefranche (Nice, Monaco, Monte Carlo) so those were worth doing shore excursions for.
Ultimately, if you can book Holland America, Princess or Royal Caribbean...STAY AWAY FROM NCL!!!