We went on the March 14th sailing. DW, DD and I joined DW's brother and his family. We all went on the same cruise last year and had so much fun we all decided to do it again. Well we did, almost to the day and we were in the same cabins as last year.
Embarkation The embarkation process was relatively painless. After going through security we were given a form to sign attesting to the fact that we were not sick. After that was the line to check in. While the lines were confusing, there were plenty of NCL staff members to point us in the right direction. While the line was long, it moved very quickly. Papers were given to a crew member, a picture was taken and we were given our room key. There was a short line for the welcome aboard picture and then another short line to get on the ship. We were given a glass of the bubbly, which was a nice touch. As we wanted to go to the Teppanyaki restaurant, as soon as we got on board we made reservations for the seven of us. Per other CC's suggestion we went to the Versailles for lunch.
Room We had 2 adjoining mini suites on the 11th deck. I was very impressed with the room. While somewhat small, it was very efficient in its use of space. All of the suitcases fit under the bed. The bathroom was very nice and clean. There is nothing to compare to sitting out on the balcony in the morning drinking a cup of coffee. Despite the fact we were right below the pool deck the only noise I heard was when the tenders were being lowered.
Restaurants We ate in the Teppanyaki room, the Ginza, the Endless Summer and Cagney's in addition to the Aqua and Versailles. All were good to very good. While none were 5 star dining all met, or exceeded, my expectations. The Teppanyaki room had a $25.00 charge per person. The food was great and the chefs put on a great show. Now whether it was worth an extra $25.00 is another question. Since we don't have a Teppanyaki restaurant in our town I feel it was worth the money.
The Ginza was very good, though the menu had changed in the last year.
Cagney's was good. I had the T-bone and I thought it was ok, I've had better. My companions though were very pleased with the filet. Despite the $25.00 charge I would go there again.
The Endless Summer was somewhat disappointing. It was not our intention to go there. We had originally planned on Versailles that night. Unfortunately one of our companions hadn't eaten that day, went to the Martini tasting and had difficulty navigating the threshold between the balcony and the room. I think you can guess the rest. We saw the line for the Aqua and figured it would be quicker to go to The Endless Summer. We were wrong. Even though it was only ½ to 2/3rds full, we had a 30 minute wait. Once we got seated dinner took about 1 ½ hours. While I have no problem with a leisurely dinner, we are talking Tex-Mex food. (While we were waiting there was the obligatory march of the chefs. I was this close to telling them to get back to the kitchen and finish cooking my meal.) There was a $10.00 dollar charge for The Endless Summer, though it did include a Margarita. Still, the food was ok at best.
My only minor complaint was that the coffee at the buffet was horrible. Fortunately at breakfast at the Versailles you can get cappuccino.
Even though there were 7 of us we had no problems making reservations. Last year every morning a reservation desk would be set up at the Endless Summer. This year there is a permanent reservation desk in the Atrium. The night we wanted to eat at Cagney's the reservation clerk noticed that there were a couple of other large groups at the same time. In order to make sure that there would not be a problem she called the manager from Cagney's who came down to the reservation desk and reviewed everything to insure there would not be a problem. I appreciated the fact that they wanted our dining experience to be as enjoyable as possible.
Public rooms I was pleasantly surprised as to how clean the ship was. Every morning I came across crew members cleaning windows, polishing the brass. The public bathrooms were always clean. Despite its age, all of the carpets were clean and the furniture was in good condition.
This was spring break time and the ship was full yet it really never seemed crowded. While there were lines at the main restaurants, they moved pretty quickly. I never had a problem finding a seat at the bar, regardless of the time.
The library is very nice, with many books that can be checked out.
We participated in the Murder Mystery dinner which was quite fun. Essentially everyone is broken down into groups of 8. Each individual is given a script of who they are, what questions they should ask and what answers they should give. One of the benefits is that dinner is in both of the main dining rooms and tables are held for the participants so there is not a wait for a table.
TV The TV in the rooms had CNN and ESPN. Prior to reaching Mexico we also had the Cartoon Network and TNT. In addition to TV, they showed films on 2 channels. There were about 30 different films that were shown. Last year it seemed that every time I turned on the movie channel they were showing "Balls of Fury." This year every time I turned it on it was "Ghost Town", which was a step up. None of the films were 1st run; most had already been released on DVD. Other channels had a bow cam, along with a channel concerning our position, current weather, etc. Other channels had information about shopping in ports and shore excursions.
Drink prices The drink prices were in line with resort prices. A call drink would be about 5.50 plus the automatic tip that was added on. While drinks were not cheap they weren't quite kangaroo bar prices. (A kangaroo walks into a bar and orders a Martini. The bartender pours the drink and says "That will be 20.00." The kangaroo pays him and sips his drink. The bartender mentions that they don't get many kangaroos in the bar. The kangaroo replies that "At these prices you're not going to.")
A must is the martini tasting. It costs 15.00 but you get 5 different martinis. I was impressed that the used Bombay Sapphire for the classic gin martini. All of the liquor used was top shelf. No doubt this was the best deal on the ship.
As has been stated in previous reviews the drink of the day runs about 10.00 including tip. While around the pool the staff has a tendency to push the drink of the day, they will take no for an answer and will move on.
The wine selection is good. If a bottle is not finished, they will cork and will fetch it the next night. There is a pretty hefty mark-up on the wine prices, though the more expensive the wine, the less of a mark-up. The mark-up on inexpensive wine can be double that of land prices. It seems that the wine was not as extensive as last year, with more moderately priced wines.
Casino As I live fairly close to Laughlin I didn't spend much time in the casino. They had the usual table games along with some newer slot machines. They will keep track of play and if you end up with more than 25 points, at the end of the cruise they will deduct a dollar from your bill for every point. The trouble is that it takes a ton of playing to get a single point.
Ports Cabo San Lucas DD and her cousins swam with the dolphins this year. (Prior to our leaving the ship I had told DD that we couldn't afford for her to swim with the dolphins so I had set up an opportunity for her to swim with the squids. She did not think this was funny) I was very impressed with the set-up. Everyone was broken up into groups of 5-7, which each group having their own dolphin. Each group was in the water for 30 to 45 minutes so there was plenty of time for everyone to interact with the dolphins. After that we went to CaboWabo for the obligatory drinks.
Mazatlan As there were 5 women in our group and 2 men, obviously shopping was the main goal. At one of the stores we asked for a recommendation for a place for lunch. The owner suggested Arre Lulu's. He may have gotten a kickback but that's ok because we had a great lunch. Of interest is the fact when you walk into the Senor Frogs store there is a small table with a bottle of Cuervo Gold and small shot glasses. Wal-Mart take note- if you offer me free tequila I will shop there every day.
Puerto Vallarta Again shopping was the main goal. Again we had a great lunch a Paradise Burgers. I had my obligatory tacos, beer and tequila.
Staff The vast majority of staff was very friendly and helpful. Unlike last year, our room stewards never introduced themselves. That being said I we needed anything we would write them a note before we left the cabin and it was done by the time we got back. For example, I pressed some button on the TV remote and it would no longer work. I left a note for our steward and when we returned, it was fixed. The room stewards were always available, but never intrusive. All of the wait staff were friendly always more than eager to go out of their way to help us. Our Captain this year was Gunnar Hammerin. (I got to tell you, this sure sounds like a made up porn name.)
Activities and shows Being a morning person I never made it to any of the shows or evening activities last year. This year I slept in and made it to the Second City and magician show. Both were very good. The theater is very large with good sight lines. The seats are somewhat small and close together with little knee room.
There is plenty to do on the ship. There are always lectures and presentations to attend. In fact once the cruise was over I realized that there were many activities that I missed.
Disembarkation This process was almost painless, much better than last year. Last year after they called your luggage tag color you had to wait in a very long line to get into the Spinnaker Lounge to see the customs officials and give them your custom forms. After that you could leave the ship. This year only non-US citizens had to go to the lounge. Everyone else could wait in their cabin. Once your color was called you went to the gangplank, left the ship and picked up your luggage. On the way out of the "warehouse" there were 2 customs officials who took your custom forms and you were off. About a half hour to 45 minutes after our color was called we were on the road.
Summary A good time was had by all. We are already planning which cruise we will take next year.