Since we have sailed RCL so many times we have gotten used to being treated very well during embarkation, and during the whole cruise. So we expected to be in with the herd when we left Miami. However, nothing could have prepared us for the unmitigated disaster of the NCL embarkation process. We arrived early, but about the usual time we arrive for an RCL sailing. We waited in line to get in the building, we waited in line at security, we waited in line to get to the desk and check in, and just when we thought we were headed onto the ship... they directed us to a huge "waiting area" that resembled the airport before Thanksgiving. They gave the passengers numbers and then they waited until the numbers were called before they could get into another line to get on the ship.
Is this usual for most cruise lines? The process took over an hour. It has never taken us more than 20-30 minutes to get on an RCL ship and most times it is about 10-15 minutes (or however long it takes you to walk upstairs in the terminal and up the gangway). We were very surprised and disappointed.
The champagne they gave us when we got aboard was nice, but we were still a little steamed, but we kept it to ourselves and we kept our minds open.
The ship was very beautiful, and it had a pretty good layout. There was less to do on the sea days than on the RCL ships. We like the mini golf and walking the mall in the larger RCL ships. We spend a lot of time in the casino, and they had a good selection of games, but we would have liked to have seen a $5 blackjack table that didn't pay 6 to 5 for a blackjack (can you say ripoff?). To me that just seems like nickel and dime stuff.
We heard horror stories prior to the cruise and even from people on the cruise about the horrible slow service in the dining room so we decided to eat in the buffet. Let me tell you, the food was outstanding. It was so good we ate there nearly every night. The entrees were the same as they had in the dining room without waiting for the service. And the crepe station...my god!!!
They had a murder mystery dinner in the steakhouse one night and the cover was actually $5 less than the regular cover charge??? The food was good, but not as good as the specialty restaurants on RCL ships.
We tried to get room service one night and after waiting for over an hour we were told it was sent to the wrong room. (And they accepted it as theirs,???). We got a free bottle of wine for that one.
What else... Oh, we saw our cabin steward a couuple of times during the week and he seemed nice. We had to search the ship for towels and some other things a couple of nights, not every floor but pretty much the whole deck. Jeeez, get it together NCL.
We skipped most of the entertainment but saw the Cirque show which was pretty good. The singing we did hear on some of the show nights was so, so.
In all, the NCL operation seems a little rinky-dink to us, and we probably won't be returning. If the prices were lower than RCL we might consider it, but they are actually comparable so why would we. Unless we win another one... better go enter some more contests. Ciao
PS- NCL's tendering process is a joke. (How could I almost forget that nightmare?)
After experiencing the tender process in Roatan (We were supposed to dock there but there was another ship there when we arrived, Way to go, NCL) we decided to not put ourselves through that again. We took the catamaran excursion to the reef, and it was a lot of fun. The visibilty was bad that day or it would have been excellent.
By the way, they were still calling tender numbers at 11:30am. We arrived at 8:00am. I felt bad for those folks.
(Best Underwater pic - Spotted Eagle Ray)
We did some snorkeling from the beach, a lot of shopping, some drinking, and a lot of relaxing. Every restaurant and bar owner wants you at their place all day, and they will treat you like gold to make sure you come back. We recommend Charlie Brown's place (His name, not the name of the restaurant which escapes me at the moment) near the north end of the village.
Best Underwater pic - Sting Ray
We had our own snorkeling gear so we went to the north sside of the island because we heard it was good, and we found a guy to take us to the reef on his boat, but it was so so. We found truly excellent snorkelling when we went to West Bay (Not West End). We have been all over the caribbean but this was tied for the best (with Caye Caulker Belize). It's funny but we actually ended up at Tabyanna Beach where we were reunited with all our cruise ship buddies.
We normally like to rent a car and do our own thing, but the next time we go we will take a cab to West End and just stay there all day. It is a beautiful beach with excellent snorkelling and plenty of food and drink. This port would have ranked a 5, but there is really not much to see on the rest of the island.
(Best underwater pic - Sea Turtle)