Embarkation: This was a fiasco. It was a complete zoo, and a wonderful way to remind you that you are going to be crammed into a boat with 2000 people. We encountered this at 12:30 pm at the height of all organized bus transfers and other large groups arriving. So, since we drove, my wife and 2 yr old son dropped off our checked baggage and left to drive around the lower 9th ward for a small self guided katrina devastation tour. When we got back at 2:30, it took less than 15 minutes to get on.
Overall experience on the boat: Our interior cabin was probably typical and neither special nor bad. The bathroom was very usable. It was very nice for what it was. There was never any problem with our stateroom. However, I did find the beds somewhat uncomfortable.
Superbowl Sunday: Great setup in the theater, but the signal kept cutting out. This ruined a few key moments of the game. But the boat did everything they could, and I was glad to be on the boat for Superbowl Sunday as opposed to watching from home. Also, the feed was from ESPN and we didn't see any superbowl commercials. Instead we got lame ESPN international commercials.
Meals: The food was sometimes ruined by the service. When service was good, the food didn't sit too long under heat lamps. When service was bad, the food sat. Freestyle cruising means entering the dining whenever you please. However, the meal service was not freestyle. You took your food as they brought it out, and it always took way too long between courses to get the next course of food. At no time would they bring anything out if someone might have still been eating their salad. So, everyone would wait. Service in premium upcharge restaurants was very personal and excellent, and truly freestyle. The buffet's quality of food was much lower than the dining rooms.
Ports: Never really enough time... Costa Maya was great and we booked an excursion through costamayaexcursions.com. But this was probably the most inexpensive port. Mauhauhal (the little town) was nice and cheap to get to and back.
Guatemala was raining and so was Belize: this is why I say BOOK YOUR OWN EXCURSION. NEVER go with the ship. You could always do the exact same thing as the ship for less money, and if it was bad weather, then you didn't have to go. We wasted $110 on the Bacab Jungle tour because it was bad weather, and completely AWFUL. But when we brought rain gear and took a jungle waterfall tour in Guatemala, it was awesome. Because one was appropriate in rainy weather and one activity was completely ruined by rain, it's best to wait on the weather that day to book an excursion.
Gambling: The ship's casino has a much worse casino edge than any land casino. The rake at the poker table (which was always $1/$2 no limit) is much higher, the craps table has some worse payouts. The blackjack is continuous shuffle, and they have ultimate texas holdem (the casino game). Overall, I came out ahead gambling, but I wouldn't say the gambling experience was that great. Real casinos offer better minimums, better poker rooms, better slots, and better table games. However, it was still enough fun. But they didn't go all night at all. When I couldn't sleep because of the uncomfortable bed and the large sea movement, they closed a table on me.
Disembarkation: The worst process of the whole cruise. They are VERY strict at the port that if you don't have 9:30 tag, then you don't get to get your luggage (even though it's RIGHT THERE). In order to make the process more "orderly" or "easier" for everyone, they actually are just complete jerks. But customs was a breeze, and once we were allowed to get our luggage we were not delayed after that point. My advice: either do express and carry off your luggage, or sleep in and just get off the boat at 10:30. Don't try to get off before your luggage tag time. You'll be told you can't get your luggage. Personally I'd rather it be a free for all. Isn't that what "freestyle" is about?
So, overall, this was a nice experience. But there were a lot of little problems: (speed of service at meals/ superbowl cut out / casino's edge very high / hot tubs not hot enough at times / disembarkation / Cozumel port day cut short. Also, the advertising and marketing is false. Despite the name, freestyle, you actually don't have much freedom when you do anything on the ship. If you arrive late to an activity, forget it. You can't join it in progress. You can't ask them to bring out your steak with your salad. Rarely would they bring coffee at the beginning of the meal. You can't cancel an excursion if it's raining. Also, it's mandatory / "automatic" tipping. So, just be prepared that it's going to be $200 in tips for 7 days.
I can't compare this to other cruises, but I would not pay this much for this same cruise again. I would pay more for a nicer ship, and I would pay less to go on Carnival.
I'm not sure why I had to pay so much for our 2 year old son to go with us. The child care was a charged service most of the time except during the early evening. And because they had planned activities, I wouldn't call the babysitting "freestyle". Eventually they relented and let our son just watch a movie. They only had about seven 2 to 5 year olds on board. And very few kids in general. Less than 2.5% (less than 50) of the cruisers were children. The teen club was so empty, I (a 32 yr old) went up and played Wii a couple of time all by myself.
It's not that this was bad ship. I actually really enjoyed myself. But almost at every turn you were running into something that was a small problem. You could work around it, and it's probably something you'd always run into, but NCL wasn't the cheapest one out there. They shouldn't be this problematic.