NCL Transfers - Airport to Port / Check-In We were at baggage claim for 10 minutes without seeing an NCL rep. Carnival reps were in clearly identifiable uniforms. NCL reps were only recognized if they were holding up their notebook with the NCL logo. NCL reps had no clue that our itinerary was changed. American did not deliver our bags to baggage claim for over 40 minutes. We were then gathered up into a waiting area, and then left with no explanation. I tracked down an NCL rep and was told they were waiting for more customers. I asked how long the wait would be and was told he had no idea. I suggested they take the 20-30 of us to the port and return for the other customers. He said they cannot go without a full bus no matter how long we wait. NCL was losing money as we would have had more time on the ship for a sail-away drink or two. I then asked how he could not know the wait time since he knows exactly what customers he is waiting for, what flight they are on and when the flight is due in. He explained that the customers were at baggage claim but he had no idea how long it would take for their bags to be delivered. We finally were escorted to the bus. We were told we would not see our bags again until they were dropped off at our staterooms. I mentioned to one NCL rep that we wanted to bring 2 of our 4 bags with us, and we were told to bring those bags onboard the bus. We noticed very few people doing this and I asked another NCL rep. He told me that all bags would be taken off the bus for us to claim at the port before turning them over to the porters. I left a 3rd bag for placement under the bus and brought the 4th bag onboard. I found that the overhead bins could only fit a purse. I put my bag in the aisle, as did a number of others - a safety hazard but not one NCL cared about. We sat on the bus for 15 minutes while the driver and 3 NCL reps tried to figure out how to get the bags on the bus, with no explanation to us.
Once at the port, the driver got off and closed the door. After all bags were removed, we were allowed off of the bus. The driver said thank you as we got off the bus. As I walked past him, he grabbed me by the shoulder, showed me an empty palm, and said "I said thank you". I kept walking as I did not want to give a tip until I knew I had my bags. The bags were scattered all over. I brought 2 bags over to the porter. He did not come to the customers. He just threw the bags on a cart and looked for a tip. Our flight arrived at 12:25 but we were not at the port until after 3:00. If we had taken a taxi, even after the long wait for our bags, we would have been at the port by 1:30.
We got in line for check-in and were surprised that the line was not moving at all. I asked an NCL rep what was going on and was told that computer system goes down at 3:00 to send information to the US government, and would come up 15 minutes later but they made no announcement to the many in line about this. Once the system was up, the check-in was quite fast. This was the first they told us that Hurricane Earl forced us to skip St. Maarten and St. Thomas, and instead go to Cozumel and Roatan. The NCL rep looked for our key cards and told us we must have checked-in at the wrong terminal. We definitely were at the correct terminal per e-Docs. We were directed to go upstairs where we would be given our key cards. We were given the key cards along with a letter telling us we were late for the pre-departure drill and would need to participate in a make-up drill the next day. We were finally onboard. We were able to get into our cabin and put away our carry-on bags. We went to grab a LATE lunch and we were told we had to go to the pre-departure drill, which we thought we had missed. It was nice to not have to get and put on our life jackets and stand outside by the lifeboats. The vacation was off to a bad start but things would get better.
Cabins We had a family deluxe balcony. It was just fine for a couple. The shower with tub was huge for a cruise ship, with excellent water pressure / temperature. The sink was not great but was not at all a problem. I do not think the bathroom would work if we were with kids or if the room was shared by teen brother and sister. The best bathroom layout we have had was on Disney Magic, where there is a separate toilet room and separate shower/sink room, each with an actual door. Cabin steward service was excellent, as long as we remembered to switch between Welcome, Make Up Room, Turn Down Room, and Do Not Disturb - which had to be done outside of the cabin. There is A LOT of storage space. There are hangers in one closet (near the bathroom) but none in the other closets (near the balcony). The room was always cool and comfortable, without our leaving a card in to keep the electricity going when we were gone.
Food Manhattan Room - Expect to wait in line if you arrive after 7 PM. You will be asked if you are willing to sit with others, but they just group you by arrival time, not by similar ages, etc. The service, food options and food quality was definitely poorer than what we have had at MDR on Royal Caribbean. The steak was fatty. The dress code was not enforced. The live band music was nice. Taste - Same exact menu as Manhattan. The full week's menus can be checked out on your cabin TV. However, they even had the menu posted outside the restaurant all day one day showing lobster, only to change it at the last minute. Service again was slow. The room is really basic. O'Sheehan's - We ate here numerous times: breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. One side is for eating, the other side is intended more for drinking but you can order food there. Service was pretty good. Everything we ate was pretty good. Only complaint was no BBQ sauce with the chicken tenders. Biggest crowd was for NCAA Football on the BIG screen. Pizza Delivery - We ordered at O'Sheehan's late around midnight and it took 30 minutes. The pizza was much larger than needed. It was cheesy but very bland, yet was better than the cardboard pizza at the Garden Cafe. Domino's learned their lesson about tasteless pizza and hopefully NCL will too. For a $5 charge, I expected something better. Garden Cafe - It seemed busy all of the time, but you never had a long wait even for made to order omelets. We always found a table, as they were quite quick at cleaning up. Hash-brown patties were great. Pretzel rolls and all of the breads were quite good. Soft-serve ice cream was not close to Dairy Queen but still good, except the 2 outside units were never in operation. Hard ice cream was good - regular and sugar free chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, at least 2 sherbert flavors, an occasional rocky road, coconut, butter pecan - but nothing like Cookies & Cream, Cookie Dough, Chocolate Chip. Spice Grill - Nothing different from what you get at Garden Cafe. Spice Bar - Has a small menu of satays, sweet potato fries, etc. La Cucina - The food would have been good for an MDR but was a bit lacking when paying a fee. Service was good. The room is really nice and quiet. They gave us a great table for two by the window. Moderno - The service was very good. They will sing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" if you are celebrating an anniversary. The filet and garlic beef were the best options. The pork ribs were not the Chicago BBQ style I am used to but had a really excellent taste to them. Cagney's - Excellent! It was so good we went back for a second night. Of special note are the HUGE shrimp cocktail, the filet and gratin potatoes. By far the best service we had on the ship. The place seemed half empty each night.
Soda Package We were not given the stickers when we got our key cards. We were given the stickers at a bar by just mentioning that we had bought the package. Days later we found a letter in a rack in our cabin that we were supposed to turn in for the stickers. Bartenders require you to remove the lids from the souvenir cups you get. If you ask for a glass, you may need 2 as they are a bit small. They were never consistent in terms of ice - getting none, way too much, or something in between. If we had the drink cups, we sometimes had to show our cards but usually did not. Diet Pepsi was fine but I prefer Diet Coke. Diet Sierra Mist was from cans, which sometimes they had to go get. There was no Diet Mountain Dew, not even in the vending machine in the video arcade. Restaurants will ask if you want refills, not automatically provide them as you may get at a TGI Fridays.
Pub Crawl We attended the Sunday Pub Crawl and the Thursday Reunion Tour. You could sign up at the last minute. It started at Maltings, with a red-colored peach-tasting shot. We then went to O'Sheehan's. They asked for a few men to volunteer for a contest, followed by a few women. I won't give away the contest except to say it may embarrass some women. We were then given a tequila-tasting shot. Stop 3 was the Atrium Bar for another guy/girl volunteer contest that is good for guys who can inhale beer. We were given another shot. The 4th stop was Bliss. We had another peach-tasting shot, followed by being brought onstage for a group karaoke. We went up to the 15th floor to the ping pong tables outside of Spice. We were given a mixed drink on ice, which we drank while playing flip-cup (drink a shot of beer, turn over the cup, put it on edge of table, flip it so it stands up, repeat the flip until it works). Ryan was the NCL pub crawl leader. He did a great job of getting people involved and making sure we had fun. He would yell out "pub" and we would respond with "crawl". He dragged us out after the pub crawl to Howl at the Moon, and stayed out with us. We saw him numerous times during the week and he always had a pleasant hello for us. We won't be surprised to see him as a future Cruise Director. Mike, the assistant cruise director spent some time at the pub crawl. We saw Mike (looks like Bob Saget) much more than Silas who is the cruise director. We are in our early 50's. Most of the pub crawlers were in their 20's. One of the young ladies dropped out half way through the crawl. Many of the younger attendees did not stay out once we went to Howl. The Reunion had a larger crowd but not many from the first night. We could not go to Bliss due to a teen event. Instead, we did a guy volunteer contest that was not as much fun as the karaoke. The group split up after the crawl. We were told that previous cruises had nearly 150 people attending a single crawl. It was fun and gave us a chance to meet people.
Shopping Marketplace on 15 (pool deck) would have racks brought out daily with Epic and Nickelodeon attire. The stores on 7 had your usual jewelry, cruise attire, and an Epic store. One of these stores has bulk candy hidden in the back. Toiletries, suntan lotion, etc. are for some strange reason in the "Sandbar" on 6 which sells liquor.
Entertainment Blue Man Group was a lot of fun. However, if NCL wants repeat business, they need to replace them with another high quality act some time in the future, as this is not something many will want to see twice. We did not go to Cirque Dreams, due to negative comments we heard onboard about the show and definitely the food. Second City was really good. They had different shows. We went multiple times and just walked in. Jim Belushi's son Rob was in the cast. We are from Chicago and they did some Chicago name-dropping: Twin Anchors, Shenanigans, etc. Legends in Concert was fun. Elvis was the best of the three. I hope they bring more current performances in the future. How about a Bono, Kenny Chesney, Gwen Stefani? Jeff Hobson, the comedian/magician was funny but not for the kids. None of the shows required an overly early arrival or wait in line - but be careful that you know which line is for those with reservations and those waiting for a seat. We went to Fat Cats one night and there was nowhere to sit. The room is not meant for standing. You have to enjoy sitting and listening to Blues. I would have preferred a Country band playing music you can sing and dance to. Howl at the Moon was so good we were there every night they performed. They rotated amongst 3 gentlemen so there was never a break. They played drums and sax, in addition to piano. The later at night, the more adult the show becomes, like "The Alice Song". They do tend to play the same songs each night, unless you make requests that come with a tip. Numerous game shows were held throughout the week. There was Newlywed Game, 55 to stay alive (a take-off on Minute to Win It), and others. Quest was held the last night at Spice. It was fun but nowhere near what we have seen on Royal Caribbean in terms of attendance, participation or humor. Movies (Blind Side, Star Trek, Mamma Mia) could have been more current but it was great watching a movie during the afternoon at Spice or inside at Atrium / O'Sheehan's. Wildfire Duo at Atrium was okay. The violinist was better than the guitarist/singer. Bernie Martini playing piano at the Martini Bar was good. He looks like an older version of American Idol's David Archuleta.
Excursions Cozumel - We took the Fury Catamaran, which we did 2 years earlier. The crew was fun. The snorkeling was excellent. We saw the largest school of fish I have ever seen. The beach was a lot of fun. The negatives: food at the beach was extra and the margaritas were very weak - at least the Dos Equis were good. Carlos & Charlie's in town was loud and the place to party. Roatan - We went to Tabayana Beach. It reminded me of a cruise line private island except you could not charge your drinks to your cabin. The beach was very clean. The water was incredibly calm and clear. This included a BBQ lunch. The bus ride over was in a not air-conditioned van but with the windows open it was sufficiently comfortable. The return ride (you can go back every ½ hour) was an air conditioned bus. There was a little bit of shopping at the pier. Nassau - We just visited the shops on Bay Street and got back on the ship to use the water slides when there was little to no one in line. We purposely blew off Atlantis because we expected a huge crowd as we thought Oasis was going to be in port, but she was not.
Pools Water was too warm. Pools were always full but no more than any other ship we have been on. There are rugs on the pool deck and constant squeegee activity. I still would recommend wearing something on your feet due to the HOT deck. We never had problems finding chairs. Bar service was not annoying but was easy to find when desired. Spice seemed to be overly quiet unless a movie was showing and I never saw kids there. The Epic plunge turns you around in circles. It virtually stops at the bottom before dropping you down the end. The green slide is fast. The purple slide has a bit of a steep drop at the end.
Other We bowled at Bliss. It was $5 per person for shoes and one game. We are not pros but something was definitely off based on our scores. Ice skating was only the first night. We did not do it, as we thought we would have more chances. I never saw batting cages.
NCL Transfers - Port to Airport We were not given the option to use the BAGS service. We probably could have if we asked but it sure seems like NCL wants full control of your luggage if you are using their transfers. As we exited the port terminal, one NCL rep told us to go to a specific bus, and was promptly overridden by a second NCL rep. We got on the bus and left promptly. The bus made only 2 stops at the Miami airport. We were dropped off at Terminal E, not at Terminal D.
American Airlines We arrived at the Miami airport about 5 hours 20 minutes prior to our departure. One agent told us to stand in a specific line to check-in AND check bags, then made announcements that the very same line was only for customers who were already checked in. A second agent helped us attempt to check-in only to find that their self-service units would not do a check-in more than 5 hours in advance. She sent us to the "Main Cabin" line, where she said they would check us in. The agent at the start of the line there refused, simply repeating "5 hours". We got in the line anyways. We did not get to the counter until it really was within 5 hours. They checked us in, collected our bag fees, and put bag tags on our bags. They told us to bring the bags "over there". We walked over to the clearly marked Bag Drop, where a very rude agent told us we were in the wrong place and he had no time for us. We finally found a place on the opposite side from the counter where we gave our bags to contract staff. This was quite different than one-stop processing we have enjoyed with other airlines.