Port of Embarkation: We flew in the afternoon before to Miami, and stayed at the Clinton Hotel in South Beach. We loved this stylish little boutique hotel just 2 blocks from the beach. It was super convenient, and right in the heart of everything, yet because it was a couple of blocks from the beach, it was very quiet at night when we wanted to sleep.
We got way too tipsy (ahem, perhaps more than tipsy) off of the mojitos at Sea Cafe, so we decided to skip a fancy dinner and instead went to Puerto Sagua, this great little Cuban diner. The ropa vieja was to die for. I just wish we'd known how big the portions were we easily could have shared.
The next morning, after a nice walk on the beach, we checked out and took a cab to the port (about $25) around 11-ish. From the time the cabbie dropped us off and we handed our bags to the porter to the time we stepped on board and were handed a glass of champagne, it was less than 15 minutes. Seriously. I have never experienced such a smooth check-in. Nice job!
Cabin: For such a short, port-intensive cruise, we decided that a balcony wasn't necessary in fact, we spoke to several others on the cruise who had balconies, and they never used them the entire time. We decided to save money and get an inside cabin, particularly because we sleep so well without any natural light. We knew we would want to fall asleep right away when we went to bed, because the itinerary was packed with ports and we wanted to be as active as possible. The cabin itself was fine. Very small, but that's to be expected. It did smell like cigarettes when we first walked in, but all I had to do was mention that to the cabin steward and he took care of it right away. The next time we entered, it smelled like lemons and we never smelled the smoke again.
Food on ship: Overall, I found the food to be quite good, although perhaps a little bit slipped from the last time we'd cruised NCL. But still very good.
We had lunch on embarkation day in the Palace main dining room. We'd planned to go to the buffet, but ran into 2 Cruise Critic friends who suggested we avoid the crowds and dine with them instead. We really enjoyed getting to know our online friends over lunch, although the lunch itself was really nothing to write home about. It was good, but not terribly memorable.
Dinner on the first night was much better. Fantastic, actually. It was our 5th anniversary that night, so we got the Anniversary Package ($79 includes dinner for two with wine at Le Bistro, a bottle of sparkling wine in the cabin, chocolate-covered strawberries in the cabin at embarkation, canapes delivered on the last night, an anniversary cake, a cake and sparkling wine party that we skipped because it took place at 4 pm on the day we were in Nassau, and an 8x10 photograph of our choice). We'd never tried any of the specialty dining rooms on NCL before, and I can wholeheartedly say that we will definitely return to Le Bistro next time we cruise. It was delicious and the ambience made our special night very memorable. For appetizers, we both had the French onion soup, and then the sea scallops (melt in the your mouth tender). He had the beef tenderloin and I had the rack of lamb. For dessert, we had the waitstaff send the anniversary cake to our room so we could have the chocolate fondue instead. Excellent choice!
The second night was Lobster Night, aka Dress Up or Not Night. We ate in Crossings main dining room. For appetizer, I had a watermelon and fried feta cheese salad, which was SOOOO good. Very unexpected. He had a caesar salad. Then we both had the ginger crab bisque soup, which eas excellent. Our dining companions (a mother and daughter we met from Cruise Critic) warned us that the lobster was just a tiny tail with a small piece of fish, so we all ordered a second tail. I must admit that it was not the best lobster I'd ever had, but it was still lobster. And it was still good, just not great. All in all, this might have been the least memorable dinner of the cruise, although the ginger crab bisque was amazing.
The third night we ate at Crossings again. I had a chilled melon mint soup, which was very interested. For my main course, I had the monkfish, which was very tasty. My husband had the salmon, and he enjoyed that. We skipped dessert, because we'd been eating so much this weekend. LOL!
We ate breakfast in the buffet on debarkation day, and in Palace main dining room on Great Stirrup Cay day. We ate our anniversary cake for breakfast on Nassau day.
Entertainment: Welcome show was fun. The comedian (Tim Kaminski) was hilarious in both the welcome show and his comedy show. However, they announced that he was leaving the ship to get married, so unless he returns for another contract sometime, I guess this part of my review is superfluous. The dancers were quite proficient in the Miami Sound Machine tribute medley on the first night. The singers were OK, but the dancers were quite good. Unfortunately, we missed Soul Rockin' Nights, the Broadway-style show on the second night, so all I saw of them was their little 5-minute thing on the first night.
Ports: Nassau was a little underwhelming, but probably part of that was that they switched our stingray excursion from the morning to the afternoon without telling us. Well, not their fault. If we'd booked through NCL, we would have known, but booking independently, they have no way of letting you know. Fortunately, the people at the docks were friendly and they helped us figure out what was going on. But it through our planned itinerary for a loop, so we had to switch everything around and explored the historic downtown and the fort in the morning, which meant that we had to skip our planned trip to Arawak Cay for the Fish Fry. But that's OK, because we discovered a totally untouristy (actually, we were the only people in the restaurant) hole-in-the-wall on a quiet street called the Pepper Pot Grill. DELICIOUS! It was hands down the best meal we had the entire trip. We both had the codfish and ackee special, which was this spicy fish stew served over rice and beans with plantains. My mouth still waters thinking about it. Yum! Then that afternoon, we went to Blackbeard's Cay to swim with stingrays. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip! The rays were super friendly and so soft.
Our favorite stop, though, was Great Stirrup Cay, NCL's private island. What a great little beach day! Just a perfect way to relax. The water was cold at first, but if you snorkeled and stayed underwater mostly, it was fine. There was tons of fish. The BBQ on the island wasn't fantastic, but it was included in the cruise price and was quick and good. A perfect snack in between bouts of snorkeling.
Debarkation: Very smooth. As soon as we were ready, we just walked to the gangway and maybe waited about 10 minutes total to get off the ship.
Downsides: NCL's stateside customer service is somewhat lacking. Nobody seems to have any clue what's happening. One person tells me that there was an error on the website and even though the Everglades tour isn't showing up, it's available. The next person tells me that she's not sure why someone would tell me that, because the tour operator has stopped offering the Everglades tours on the 3-night Sky trips. Of course, we find this out after we've already booked our airfare for later in the afternoon, so we go about renting a car to do it on our own, only to discover once we're actually on the ship that they ARE offering the Everglades tour on debarkation day after all. But seriously, if that's our only complaint, then there really isn't anything to complain about, because we still got to go to the Everglades anyway.
All in all, a great weekend escape! I'm ready to book it again!
In the afternoon, we went to Blackbeard's Cay and swum with stingrays. The water was very cold (it felt significantly warmer the next day on NCL's private island, Great Stirrup Cay) but we still had a great time. The rays were so soft and friendly. At first I was a little leery but soon let myself go with the idea and had a blast. Definitely worth the money (we booked with a private tour operator rather than going through the cruise line so we saved $20/person, yet came and went on the same ferry as the group from the ship, anyway).