Background Info: This was a last minute cruise to take our 4 y/o grandson on to see where Nanny goes when she says she's going cruising again. My husband went along this time. This was my second cruise on NCL, the first a 13 nighter the end of 10/08 repositioning from New York City on Spirit, which was a quite different experience hands down, after being "Loyal to Royal" for 7 previous cruises since 2005.
Travel to Port of Embarkation/Hotel Info: We flew from PA via USAir (another story in itself, not recommended) and stayed at the airport Comfort Inn Suites about a mile away (free/points). I would not recommend this hotel as there were "interesting people" hanging around the entrance and lobby. Their "pool" was down the street at another hotel. The hotel itself was cheesy and smelly; i.e. stains on carpets, gunk on caulking in bathroom which looked like vomit, drains clogged in sink and bathtub, odors unrecognizable, etc.
Embarkation: We took the shuttle to the port arriving around 11:30 and promptly went inside and registered, which took about 5-10 minutes. It went quite smoothly. Note to anyone taking a grandchild onboard: Make sure you have parental consent form signed! (We did.) Our grandson got his own card with the corner cut off. I must admit that the entire staff made our grandson feel welcome while on the ship.
Stateroom: We had a balcony cabin on deck 9 port side. The balcony is quite spacious, more so than Spirit, but instead of a sliding door it had a regular door and porthole on the other side. The dEcor of the room was a quite bright pink sofa bed (for one) which, when made up at night, had a huge dip in the middle with a mattress of about 4 inch thickness at most. This stateroom did have a safe, hairdryer, 2 robes (thin) and a small fridge. The bathroom had a circular shower curtain, but not much room for essentials shelfwise. This was also the case as far as storage for clothing so we basically lived out of our suitcases which fit under the bed. As for the shower, we had to be very careful before getting into it as the water is either lukewarm or scalding hot with a fine line in between. We were provided with shower cap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner and some sort of eye cream on the first day, but never replenished the five days. Enough said.
Dining: We ate in the dining room two nights on this trip and the only thing that was truly hot was the soup. As for snacking in the afternoon or late evening, forget it unless you like hot dogs and hamburgers, which were plentiful on this cruise. There was nothing available (that we could find) between about 1:30 and 3:30 and after 10 we found nothing. Most of the foods available at the buffet were unrecognizable as well. We did not eat in any of the "extra" venue restaurants so we can't comment on those, but...I believe that the regular choices, without you having to pay extra, leave a lot to be desired; hence, the reason they have the pay for restaurants I would imagine if you want anything good to eat, but I can't imagine how much better they would have been. No ice sculptures to be found. No chocolate fountain except behind the counter at the ice cream counter which they got for you (on Spirit it was free flow).
Children's Clubs: We did use the services for our 4 y/o GS after 6 p.m. for about an hour and a half. There are portholes up above for you to monitor what is going on without actually going into the room and disrupting the activities. We checked on our GS several times and he seemed to enjoy it.
Entertainment: I guess if you like magic shows, then this is the cruise for you and yours. There was no dance floor that we could find anywhere. If you like the usual bingo, then this is the cruise for you. As for the casino, throw your money into the wastebasket before going and you will be further ahead. They kept going around and opening the machines, doing something for a second or two and closing them again (mostly after someone did have a lucky streak per se). The only "jackpot" that I heard was won was on the first night ($4,000) and never again did I hear any actual winners. In fact, one woman approached me on one evening and asked if I, too, thought the casino was a joke and I told her most definitely. We only went in there to pass through it on a few occasions and on the few occasions we actually played, it was definitely not what I called entertainment.
Service: We met our room steward on the first day right after boarding. It was the last time we saw him. We had towel animals on the first two nights and none after that. We also had to always ask for beach towels to be replenished. Language barriers were quite evident. There were not too many people who worked on board who understood what you were asking them. It was very frustrating, although not surprising.
Shore Excursions: We chose to only take one NCL excursion on Grand Bahamas called Beaches and Caves. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and the $130+ we paid for the excursion would have been way too much for what we got in either case, rain or shine. Nassau is Nassau..what can I say? We did take a taxi to the beach next to Atlantis for $4 each and the weather was sunny, but the waves and the beach were nothing for little kids. There was a step-off about 5 feet into the ocean that got deep quite quickly and the undertow was horrendous. There was the usual Straw Market, Diamonds International, perfume factories, etc. and very few people shopping. Guess the economy has hit everyone. Our next stop was the private island for NCL, Great Stirrup Bay. We tendered and were told up front to be back to the ship by 3:30 instead of 4:30 because of a "frontal weather" coming in. The front never arrived until about 6 p.m. if you want to call it such. The beach itself was nice, although quite rocky and lots of coral in places. As for the snorkeling, one woman said she saw exactly 12 fish. I guess we saw more near the beach without snorkeling. The barbecue consisted of...you guessed!...hamburgers and hot dogs and the assortment of fruits. Free water! Hurrah! But forget the iced tea. Enough said.
Debarkation: We chose express service, keeping our luggage with us rather than sitting it in the hall the night before. We got off the ship around 9 a.m. and walked right off. We hailed a van, which already had 2 people in it. We started to leave for the airport (so we thought) and found ourselves circling the port again so that he could find some more people to fill the van while about 100 other taxis were waiting for patronage. After my husband complained we finally got to leave.
Summary: Although for some this may have been a "cheap" cruise. For people who were experiencing their first cruise, I would love to know whether they would do it again...I certainly wouldn't have. I will stick with what I know...RCCL has a better product hands down.