I consider myself a veteran cruiser, having worked for Carnival Corporation in various brands over 10 years ago and also sailed on mainstream and luxury cruise ships around the world. I decided to try NCL after my in-laws and friends had sailed on other NCL ships/itineraries.
The online check-in & shore side arrival was actually very smooth, as I arrived around 1:30 and the lines were reasonable with plenty of agents to make the process smooth. I think they can eliminate the next step of retrieving your cabin keys and incorporate into the check-in.
The whole Freestyle Cruising aspect was actually very nice with the arrival glass of champagne for the adults... What about the kids or people who do not drink alcohol? Need to work on that process. You enter the ship in what is the photo gallery and forced somewhat to circumvent around to the main atrium. That WOW first impression is now completely lost. For being a relatively new ship, I was disappointed in the overall decor of the public lounges and cabins. I realize that the ship previously sailed in Hawaii and carried a Hawaiian theme to it, but some of the public areas evoked a Caribbean theme, so I couldn't place myself in the proper mood. We were booked in an outside balcony on deck 10. The hallway carpet looked old and not well kept. Once inside the cabin, it was worse. The entire cabin area looked like it was 20 years old with old cabinetry that was starting to fall apart and a TV that the only thing missing were rabbit ears... Someone posted that the ship was recently renovated? WHERE? On deck 7 was the casino, coffee bar, duty free shops and the Stardust lounge. You had to walk through the casino and the smoke to get from one side of the ship to the other. Not very well planned out for families with kids or people allergic to smoke. At least on other cruise ships the casino sits off to one side of the ship and allows for people to cross without going through. Having walked through the casino on several occasions, it was relatively small (1-craps, 1-roulette, several card games and the one-arm bandits off against the walls.
Freestyle dining was ok...We dined in both the Palace and Crossings Main Dining room. Towards the end of the cruise, they were handing out pagers as if we were at Chili's or Macaroni Grill. The food and selection was actually very nice until my daughter found hair (2 strands) in her food. We called the maitre'd to complain and they made a very poor excuse that they were actually from the shell of the lobster. I'm from Miami and have fished for lobster and never come across that. They politely apologized and sent out another plate of food sans hair. That evening a fruit basket was in our cabin, hmmm I wonder why. We also ate at LeBistro and Cagney's, paying for the extra service and upgraded menus. We were not disappointed, with both nights being very excellent. I would pass on Cagney's as the prime rib and Strip Steak were featured in the regular menus. The French Onion Soup and Escargot in LeBistro were very good. The rack of Lamb which was excellent was also an item that was found in the regular menu. My wife had fish which was excellent. Did we just pay more for the fancy china/linens? We did not try the main restaurants for Breakfast as we preferred the buffet lines which moved relatively good if you were not in the mood for an omelet or anything out of the ordinary. My kids enjoyed Waffles or Pancakes which they were able to get from Il Adagio without any lines.
I guess I got what I paid for. Would I sail in the Sky again...? NOPE. Would I sail on NCL, maybe....?