I am going to make my review simple and short... We are starting a tradition of going on a cruise for my husband and my birthday (yes, we share a birthday) and this is our second year doing so. September is the perfect month in my opinion to cruise. It's cheaper, the crowds are smaller, and the weather is just right. Last year we sailed RC without the kids (we felt they were still too little). This year we chose NCL simply because the children (ages 3 and 5) were able to sail for free. I was a little wary after reading other reviews of this ship, but thankfully, we went with a good attitude and an excitement of simply being on vacation and the cruise was GREAT.
We live in central Florida, so the trip to Miami was easy. I have family who live in Miami, so we did not have to use the port parking area. Getting on the ship was a breeze. Be informed of what you need and you will have no problems. The people who have problems are the ones who do not know the rules for documentation. *Make sure the names you give are the EXACT names on your documentation (including last names for children). Once on board (around noon), we took our champagne and OJ and went to Crossings for a sit down lunch. Service was fast and the food was good. After lunch, we headed straight to our stateroom on deck 8. It was perfect for what we paid. We don't unpack our suitcases, so storage space was not an issue. The two fold down beds were perfect for the kids and the suitcases slid easily under the main bed. *Take a small air freshener for the bathroom to help with the unavoidable smell from the toilet when opened.
The next day at Grand Bahama Island, we took a taxi (preplanned through www.smilingpat.com) to Lucayan National Park and toured the caves at our own pace and then headed across the street to BEAUTIFUL Gold Rock Beach. There were times during the day when we had the whole beach to ourselves. It was perfect. *Check high/low tide times if going to gold rock beach. You need to go close to low tide. Also, smilingpat taxi did not make us pay the $40 per person for our 2 children.
The next day we shopped briefly in Nassau then used the ships pool (which was almost completely empty because everyone else was still in Nassau). *To avoid some crowds, choose a day to stay on the ship when in port.
On Thursday we visited the ships private beach. We did not get there til around 10:30am and were still able to get 4 chairs and an umbrella. The BBQ served it's purpose and the beach was very nice.
Getting off the ship was easy. We chose to carry off our own luggage and left at 9am.
More tips: *If you like tequila and/or margaritas (or want to try!) you MUST check out the margarita tasting at captain cooks bar. We had a very good experience with the bartender there. She treated us very nicely-our pocketbook as well : ). There are also martini and beer tastings available on the ship. *There are many games available in the library to take out. This was nice for our kids, as well as my husband and I! *"Plan" your activities in the morning with the daily planner newspaper so you can choose a perfect dinner time, ect. *Don't miss the comedian, the newlywed game (even if you have seen other versions before on other ships), and don't miss the quest game. Very fun. *The Kids Korner is fantastic. We chose to spend the days with our children, feed them at the buffet for dinner(fast and easy), then drop them off around 6pm and they would stay til about 10pm while my husband and I ate dinner, played darts and wii, and checked out the bars, shows, and games. The Kids Korner was free 6pm to 10:30pm, so this schedule worked perfectly for us. The staff there was wonderful and the kids very much enjoyed the activities. They stayed past 10:30pm one night and the total was only $8 for the extra time there. Overall, the cruise was fun and relaxing. We went with a good attitude and did not run into ANY problems. The staff are nice if YOU are nice!!!!!!
I read complaints of no cookies, and room service problems, and no towel animals...be informed! Cookies are for suites, it says ON THE MENU to give room service an hour, and the towel animals are made if children are in the room. (if a lack of towel animals is going to make or break your cruise...just stay home and make your own!) I have pictures of Gold Rock Beach at www.myspace.com/jilliammiriam enjoy!