What potential and what an Epic disappointment! It would be interesting to understand with an investment of this magnitude how NCL could get so much wrong.
In short, if you are under 5'6" (beds), smoke (ever present in public areas), enjoy a ship that is constantly rocking in the wind and waves, and enjoy the smell of biomass (food/poop) being burned while on deck - than this is the cruise for you! We had a good week, attributable to being together as a family and the ports of call.
I will recognize that NCL got a few things very right with their approach. First, the entertainment was fantastic. The Blue Man Group, Second City, the Comedic Magician were all extremely good and better than any other entertainment we have found at sea. The Cirque Dreams was ambitious, but did not work for us, and I'd say avoid the expense. Second, elements on the ship such as the pub were really great spaces for a quick bite or a game of pool and bowling. It felt like being in a real pub and was never too crowded. The kids also really enjoyed the water slides, and given we were traveling in September the lines were not too long.
But the list of what was wrong is longer than we have space for in this blog. I'll note a few things that have not been so strongly covered in the previous posts. First, the ship really sways and rocks which is shocking given the newness of the ship. We have been on a number of cruises, and were shocked by how consistent this was. Apparently it is not so much the waves (seas were 3-5 feet during our cruise) but the wind. If you are prone to any type of sea sickness this needs to be considered.
Second, I applaud the environmental efforts of reducing impact of waste. The burning of biomass needs to be modified. Several times while on the pool deck, the smell of burning poop was everywhere. It seems as if this could be scheduled in the middle of the night, but right at departure from Roatan on a moonlit night? It is off-putting to say the least.
Third, while I love the idea of freestyle dining, I think there is much work to do. The variety of the food was non-existent from day to day. Several of the listed 'free' restaurants were simply clones of each other. It is also unclear on why the Chinese Restaurant - typically one of the more economic dining options - was not included in the free list. Seems like a lot of paperwork to pay $2.50 for soup, etc.
Boarding. I found the boarding process to be about the same as every other cruise we have been on in the last two years. We waited in line to check in, we were ushered to a waiting room where we waited thirty minutes, and then we could board. Staterooms were not available until 2. Disembarkation also was normal and took about 30 minutes. There were also two things during check-in that could not be addressed at the desk and required me to go to guest services. And based on the line, this was true for many people. So after another thirty minutes, and only partial resolution, we could get under way. I had several service requests that went completely unmet during the cruise. I had been assured that I would be provided a bed extension (I am 6'6") and it never showed. Also, given the bed issue and that the cruise ship was nearly empty, we asked about a cabin that had longer beds. Was told that this was noted, and right at sailing someone would get back to me. Checked at sailing, and was told that they might need a few days as some passengers may have missed the boat, and I'd hear in a couple of days. Nothing.
Staff. Impersonal, particularly service in the restaurants. Dealers in the casino and a few bartenders were the exception, but given we paid to eat in several of the premium restaurants I had expected more from the servers. I also must take issue with some of the humor - which tended to the 'blue' end of the spectrum during Bingo events with kids. In particular, hearing a joke about the masturbatory habits of Kat the bingo girl from her roommate, and how a women was topless during last week's 'Quest' game were eyebrow raisers. Further, the open criticism of the passenger that raised it as an issue given their child had witnessed it was entirely inappropriate and unprofessional.
Summary. Go see Blue Man group and Second City in one of their many locations and take your cruise dollars somewhere else!