This is my second cruise on NCL (1st one- NCL Spirit booze cruise out of NYC), but my first experience with the "freestyle cruising" concept.
What worked: 1.Port em/disembarkation: they were fast and efficient. I have never been on a cruise where you can check in at 10 AM. 2. People cruising: some of the friendliest people so far- even the kids were great and well behaved. 3. Ports of call: If you are going to go on a Western Car. cruise, you must see Mayan ruins. The excursions are top notch. 4. Price: the price for the location, ports, excursions was right. 5. Gym: better one I have seen so far.
What did not work for me: 1. Food- I get it...and other reviewers know how it works. Yes you can eat when you want and with who(which you can now do on other lines as well), but the food is one level above cafeteria. Breakfast is the best bet. If you are eating in Windows, order two entrees and eat the one you like better. Or order a steak- they have to cook it to order so you know it is always fresh. The trick is that if you want better food you have to pay for it. So if you cruise for food- this is not for you. 2. Steward service...not what I expected. Room was formatted for queen bed when it should have been two singles. Found items from past cruisers. The bed was uncomfortable AT BEST. A chiropractic hazard! Had to pad the mattress with my quilt- and they never asked me why or what they could do about it. 3. Location of cabin- BE CAREFUL. This is a smaller, older boat. Modern boats have better soundproofing. Spirit does not. When you book- take a close look at the floors above and below you. Ask where the anchor is in location to your cabin. I had an inside cabin on the 11th floor- as I prefer sleeping on higher floors. My cabin was right below the service area of the Raffles Court. So between 10PM-1AM and 5AM-7AM you can hear the service crew cleaning, banging, dragging, spilling, knocking...well you get the idea. My friend can sleep through a parade and was started on several occasions.
Which leads me to... The "Nickel and Dime" cruising- you can do what and when you want, but if you want some quality- you are going to pay for it. $10 drinks, $5 sodas, $12 Yoga class? Better food 10-25 dollars more. At the chocolate buffet, a waiter was standing there with champagne glasses- I thought they were free but they were $5. Which also leads me to The Gratuity Hypocrisy"- On other cruise lines, you have relationships with stewards and waiters and will tip them accordingly. You can even take off the gratuity charge and tip what you like. On NCL- you never really forge relationships with wait staff, but yet are charged a $12 gratuity free equal to other lines which much better service? Shouldn't tipping be freestyle? When I asked to reduce it, I had to specifically write why. Why? Best bet- on the second day of the cruise- ask the front desk to remove the charge and tip accordingly. If they refuse- adjust it to what you wish. If asked why- tell them it's "freestyle tipping".