Background on us: early 30 somethings who have cruised before on Carnival, but never on NCL
We drove from Tampa to Miami and stayed the night at the La Quinta East, by the airport. Used an online code (they did ask for id, but I said I didn't have any and they let me keep anyway). I paid about $65 for the room, which includes free parking and free shuttle to the port. It was a little crazy getting on the shuttle, but as long as you reserve the shuttle as soon as you check-in, it should be okay. They have several times, but they do fill up fast. We did an 11 a.m. departure and made it to the port by noon.
Took about 30 minutes to get through security and check-in. We were on the boat by 12:30. Since we couldn't go to our room we ate lunch at Summer Palace, the sit down dining room. Most people were being directed to the Garden Cafe (buffet style), but I didn't want to deal with a large crowd. Food was fine, service was fine. There was hardly anyone there.
FOOD We did not choose to eat in the pay restaurants, we stuck to Summer Palace and Indigo (the free ones). Dinner was a nightmare the first night. We didn't make reservations because we thought if we did a 7:30 meal the room would be cleared out; we had to wait for almost 30 minutes for a table, then we had the worst service of the entire cruise. It took close to 2 hours to eat dinner, which made us miss the show that night. We ate at Summer Palace.
We quickly learned to come as close to the start of dinner as possible. The food is faster and the service is better. Compared to Carnival the dining room food was sub par. The portions are very tiny, but the food was okay. It was not the highlight of the night like is on Carnival though. We huge surprise was the the quality of the buffet, the Garden Cafe. We actually choose to eat dinner there several nights and always at lunch there. Hands down beats Carnival's buffets.
You MUST do the chocolate buffet. Get there early; there is a line.
The Blue Lagoon was a nice surprise. It's open 24 hours, but the only late night option. It was a home-cooked type menu.
ENTERTAINMENT I had heard NCL has some of the best entertainment and I agree, sort of. The dance productions were unimpressive. They did have a 2 acrobats that were pretty good, but they only did some cameos in the shows. The Geisha show was AWFUL, very boring to me.
I heard a lot about the juggling act Sharkbait and they were entertaining, my second favorite act on the ship. The comedian wasn't bad. My FAVORITE was the "Second City," an improv group. I highly looked forward to all of their shows.
You also must go to the adult night shows, "the Liars Club" and the game show right after that. Very funny!
ROOMS We had an inside cabin. It was small yes, but really as long as it's comfortable (which is it was) I don't ask for much. There is NOT an iron and it's hard to get one so bring your own! Also bring an alarm clock and pen and paper. We had room service remove the items from the mini bar and we put water and soda in there that we had brought.
PORTS We booked all of or excursions through private companies after doing research on the message boards. I really enjoyed these ports. Though you need to book something in advance for the Dominican Republic. St Thomas and Tortola you can find things to do once off the ship. (Tours for about $20 pp).
SUMMARY I was over pleased with the ship. Overall service was good (though not always in the main dining room, but that only happened 2 nights). The food was good, (much better at buffet than main dining room). Entertain was very good (though not much going on after 11 p.m. except the casino). The average age on the ship seemed around 40s, so a little bit older crowd than expected.
Would I cruise again with NCL or on the Pearl? Yes if the price & ports are right.