We did a western Caribbean sailing from Miami on Jan 3, 2010. There were 7 of us altogether in 2 cabins. My wife and self and three kids (12, 10, 7) as well as my parents. For us it was our first cruise, my parents had been on many cruises over the years (Princess, HAL, Royal Caribbean and others) but their first on NCL. We were attracted to this particular cruise because of the ports, price for kids, and the fact that it looked family friendly. We were very impressed with all areas of the cruise and had great fun and tremendous adventures while in port. My parents felt that the service and cleanliness of the NCL were comparative to other cruise lines and in some cases better. We were so pleased with the activities. While not a perfect cruise, we were pampered and well looked after. One thing that did affect things was that it was unusually cold for most of the cruise (this coming from people from quite far north in Canada)- which did hamper some of the activities. The sea was not very rough most of the time but it did rain, was windy, and not very hot.
We spent a few days in Miami before the cruise. We returned our car rental and caught a couple of cabs to the port arriving quite early (by 10:30). Friendly porters greeted us and took our luggage. Because we were early we were through security quickly and then on to check in. We found the lines somewhat confusing inside and the person who looked after the line we selected was slow and not very friendly. We were ushered upstairs to a waiting lounge. After a period of time there was an announcement letting us know things were delayed getting the ship ready - we had to sit for quite awhile as we did not start boarding until noon. Once we started boarding it was quick. We went to Azura for a leisurely lunch- uncrowded with great choices. We did a walk around the ship until rooms were ready and got hot chocolates from the buffet. There was not much to the deck party for sailing, but the weather was cold and windy so that effected it.
We booked 2 adjoining mini suites. We found them very roomy. There was lots of cupboard space and a decent sized closet. The privacy curtain was very nice and helped keep noise down between the parts of the cabin. The main bed was extremely comfortable - we loved it. The hide a bed was adequate for kids but larger teens and adults might not find it large enough or comfortable enough. The bathroom was divided in three with glass doors - we wish they were completely shaded so one could use the toilet while someone else used the sink. There was good water pressure in the shower although the tub was a little small. The TV was in the sofa bed area and was mostly NCL channels with a movie channel, couple of news channels and a sports channel (or 2?). There was a mini fridge, a coffee maker and a safe with more storage space around a desk. The deck was large and we loved having it. We had the stewards open up the dividing wall to give us lots of space. We had 2 chairs - 1 reclinable - and a small table.
The food was very good. We ate at the main buffet a couple of times for lunch and breakfast. At key times it is very busy but the food was excellent. In the morning there were make your own omelet stations and a fresh waffle area. There was lots of fruit and pastry items. We liked almost everything. The only thing was because there lots of us we had to go all the way to the secondary buffet, The Great Outdoors for seating. We discovered that the buffet down there had almost everything that the main one did (including omelettes) but without the crowds. For lunch there were fresh pasta stations, sushi, soups, sandwiches, various meats, salads - tons of choices. We always ate at busy times - so it was always hot and fresh. We ate at Azura twice for breakfast. It was a little slow but with excellent and varied choices. The waffles with blueberry sauce was exceptional. We tried Blue Lagoon for one breakfast, two lunches and a snack - it was often overlooked but a really well done sit down restaurant. It did get busy at times and could be slow but we especially enjoyed it for a casual sit down lunch -with great appetizers (we enjoyed the tomato soup, wings and potato skins especially). We once also tried the burgers on deck which were very good with salads,corn and other choices. For dinner we mostly ate at Azura. With a party of 7 we would make sure we made reservations (we waited 45 minutes the first night of the cruise- although they gave us a beeper so we could wander the ship). The menu changed and was excellent. There often was something disappointing when ordered but more often than not we enjoyed things. The lobster night was great, we enjoyed most of the fish dishes, and the pastas. The service was exceptional. We switched to Tsars one night - it was harder to get into and we preferred the service at Azura - although the menus are identical. We tried two specialty restaurants. Teppanyakis was fun with good food although a little expensive with a family -but as a treat it was fun. It took 3 days before we could get a reservation - so try early. On the last night we ate at Tangos. The lobster taco was good, the portions were huge and the service was great. It came with a small drink (a rare free thing).
The kids club was a hit with our kids. It was very secure (they kept adults from wandering through) and our kids kept wanting to pop in even if they only had a little time. The evening events were well done. Even on the day Great Stirrup Cay was cancelled they quickly came up with lots of events for the kids.
The spa was expensive and often busy, but my wife had a massage and I went for a shave. Very relaxing although they are always trying to sell things and take note that a gratuity is included but they leave space to add more - my wife did not notice this and so it was very expensive.
The shows that we saw we enjoyed. The kids club takes the kids to some shows- if they don't it probably is not family friendly. The 70's show was OK but not for kids. Cirque Bijou is exceptional - a Cirque d'Soliel knock off and well done. The Cats Pyjamas were very entertaining and we went to their encore the next night at Spinnakers. We missed the comedian and skipped the country singer.
Around the ship there was a fair bit to do. This ship does not have all the bells and whistles of some ships but we did enjoy the golf driving cages, the giant checkers/chess sets, the sports court, the pools and small waterslide, the library and the shops. We would have liked more information sessions such as a lecture about the ports etc, but the only things like that were sales presentations for things.
There is no place for a port review for Great Stirrup Cay, so I will mention it here. The weather was poor and deteriorating so we only had two hours on the island before being ordered back to the ship. However this made it easy to find space on the beach! The water was clear and warm. The little shops were cute and it looked like there were nice walking paths (we were part way down one when the order to return to ship was given). The seas were getting rough tendering back and so getting back on the ship was a challenge but the crew was very good at getting us safely on board one at a time (was tricky to get off).
Once on board we never had a complaint about the crew. Some were exceptional- the assistant manager at Azura quickly learned about some diet concerns and always was looking out for us and helping us out. Our cabins were always clean and any requests were quickly looked after. The pool staff was on top of kids safety issues a couple of times and looked after stuff.
One thing I would have changed was the mandatory gratuity charges. I thought it was a little excessive to charge all the kids the same as adults as $12 a day per person adds up very quickly with a family.
For disembarking we booked a tour and airport drop off. We met at the theater for that. Weather concerns and the speed of customs officials meant we ended up waiting for more than a half hour. The lines to get off were long but moved quick. Because NCL could not walk us through, our group was given thorough instructions on how to disembark and meet up at the end. These instructions were repeated and we all made it.
We enjoyed our first cruise and found it to be a great family adventure.