Check in to the ship was a breeze. We are Bronze Latitude members, and this was one of those times when "membership has its privileges", as we were able to avoid some pretty long lines. This was our fourth cruise with NCL. After check in, there was the usual free champagne and mimosa reception and a chance to explore a bit of the ship and have a bite to eat in the Aloha Cafe aft before they announced that our deck was ready for occupancy.
After the announcement, we ventured up to Deck 10 to find our stateroom. We had one of the rooms with the terrace that overlooks the back of the ship. That, along with the fact that our kids had arranged for our room to be decorated and provided us with a cake for our 35th wedding anniversary made the discovery extra special. We also had a bottle of wine with two glasses waiting for us, compliments of a niece. What a nice surprise!
The staterooms that face the back of the ship are a pretty good size (as staterooms go), with the lanai (balcony) just about the same size as the room. They gave us one deck chair and one lounge and a table, although I think you get more chairs if there are more in your party. We added the desk chair from inside and our friend's stool from across the hall so the four of us could sit out there and enjoy the view.
That being said, I don't think I would book the same location again. True, looking out the back gives you a different perspective than viewing from the side, but on the other hand, you get to see what others have already seen. Most importantly, though, is the fact that you do get some diesel fumes emanating from the smokestack depending on wind conditions. I hadn't counted on that. Also, people eating along the back rail of the Aloha Cafe could observe you standing at the rail of your lanai, and you could, in turn, observe those on Decks 9 and 8 standing at their rails as well. The point here is that you don't have a lot of privacy on your balcony unless you move in closer to the stateroom. In the final analysis, it was wonderful. We weren't there a whole lot, and it was nice to have it to return to. On a side note, I don't believe the rocking motion at this location while underway is any worse than on other parts of the ship (at least not on our trip, and we were supposedly experiencing the effects of Hurricane Felicia)
Our steward, Joseph, was very attentive and always had a cheerful greeting for us whenever we saw him. My wife especially enjoyed his towel animals left on our bed. For some reason, this was the first cruise where we experienced that. The only misstep we experienced was that there was someone's leftover milk in a glass in our minibar, which indicated that an accounting hadn't been taken. We had to make sure to tell him that we wouldn't be responsible for charges for anything missing. Joseph made sure it was straightened out right away.
My wife loved the bed. I hated it. The pillowtop on the mattress is way too soft for my bad back. I suppose I could have asked Joseph to do something about it, but this was our anniversary cruise, so I didn't want to disrupt anything.
We weren't overly impressed with the Cruise Director, Doug. He comes off as being phony and full of himself. I guess he was a singer in a former life, and although he has a wonderful voice, he left the impression that it's all about him. He was even promoting his two CDs, which were available for purchase in the ship's store. Shame on NCL for permitting this! Also, I didn't appreciate one of his little ditties he had on one of the ship's TV channels about the "top dumb questions that people ask him". Kinda makes you wonder if one of your "dumb" questions will be featured on the next sailing of the ship.
And while I'm on the subject of entertainment, I would have to say that the shows were only mediocre. If you sail with NCL for any length of time, you tend to see the same shows time after time. For instance, the magician, Bob Trunell and his wife were both on the Jewel when we cruised in Italy 2 years ago. His routine hasn't changed much in all that time. The same goes for Second City. Although there were different cast members this time, we had seen some of the same sketches before. The variety show the crew put on the first night was lame, and not up to the very well-done performances seen (usually on the LAST night) on our previous cruises. The two "Hawaiian Ambassadors", Kekai and Malu were very good, and added a nice dimension to the cruise. Malu's talks on the back deck of the Aloha Cafe each morning about the ports of call were very informative and are not to be missed, especially if you are venturing out on your own.
Malu also conducted a free lei making session that my wife attended that she enjoyed very much. She said there were over 100 people there. Reportedly, NCL brought in 20,000 fresh orchids for this. She made a beautiful lei that lasted throughout the trip and the two days we spent in Waikiki Beach afterward. I attended a health clinic conducted by one of the fitness staff that really was a pitch to undergo a "body composition analysis and metabolism assessment" for which they charge $35. On a related subject, don't expect to attend any yoga, pilates or spinning classes without paying a fee. Years ago, all this stuff used to be included with the cruise.
We were very impressed with how the PoA is furnished. It's tastefully done with an "America" theme, so lots of red, white and blue, stars, etc. and names like "Liberty", "Jefferson", and "John Adams" throughout the ship. As expected, everything was very clean and the service very good and attentive.
The Aloha Cafe food was exceptional for a buffet. It gives you an opportunity to try different things from different cuisines from all over the world. We ate here quite often, especially breakfast, because service in the dining rooms takes too long if you're anxious to get off the ship and explore. That's not a derogatory comment...just stating a fact that eating in the dining room will take longer, so plan accordingly. Anyone who does not take the opportunity to sample the different foods offered is missing out on a wonderful experience in my opinion.
We only ate in the Liberty, Skyline and Jefferson Bistro dining rooms - once each during our stay. Like Birdnutty stated, the service in Liberty was very slow, but I found the food very good. Skyline is where we experienced Kwoc and Kasper, and both the food and service were excellent. Our biggest dining disappointment came in the Jefferson Bistro, which cost extra to eat there. The room is beautifully decorated and the table settings look very impressive, but you're not allowed to eat off of them. What's up with that?? Not only was there the usual charge to eat at this restaurant, but some items were ala carte after that. I had the lobster, which was one of those items, and I can't say it was the succulent dish that you get back East. In fact, it was rather chewy. My wife ordered both her onion soup and green salad without cheese, and both came with cheese. They serve you rolls individually with tongs, but the bread presented was nothing special and not even warmed! The menu stated that the crêpe suzettes would be prepared tableside flambE style, but it arrived unceremoniously, and just looked like a dish of melted ice cream. Three separate couples were celebrating wedding anniversaries at nearby tables and the wait staff would come around and sing the same "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" each time. (We were also celebrating our 35th that week, but that's okay, we're good.) Overall, lots of fluff and no real value for the extra charges at this restaurant.