This was my first cruise with NCL. We chose it because of the amazing ports in which the ship called; Bergen and Alesund Norway, Shetland Island, Faroe Island, Iceland, Glasgow, Belfast and Dublin. The ports did not disappoint! They were beautiful.
Ship: The overall ship was in pretty decent condition considering this cruise was supposed to be a dry dock instead. Overall the ship was well maintained, some minor carpet and painting things that needed to be updated. The overall design of the ship was poor - no hallways (so you had to walk through the restaurants, bars, lounges or casino to get to other places). If you want to go to Seven Seas restaurant on deck 5 aft, you need to go either to deck 6 or deck 4 (on starboard side only) to get to it. The buffet design was a mess (only one buffet line) and entrances on either side of it plus minimal seating. Many of the spaces on board were dark feeling either due to lack of natural lighting or dark interior colors.
Room: We were in an inside cabin on deck 4. There were only two of us and found that the room was fine in size. In retrospect I think I would have enjoyed an outside view or balcony better, we assumed that we wouldn't be spending much time in the room because of the ports and all the activities on board, but we found ourselves in the room more then we thought. We only had minor issues with the room (one day the toilet was stuck in vacuum mode, the shower track broke off and needed to be replaced, and a light that was out that was never replaced by crew). our room stewards were friendly and good although the last couple nights we noticed that our turn down service was skipped (the service hours were 6-9, we were usually in the room until 7:30 getting ready). This wasn't a big deal for us, so we didn't talk to anyone about it.
Food: As previously mentioned the buffet was a mess. It was constantly busy in there and the design was so poor. One sea day, I saw two women just sitting on the floor eating since there were no more seats (and none in the adjoining overflow restaurants nearby). The women were mad. We always found seats in the outside areas around the restaurant, we just always dressed for cold weather in case we had to eat outside. Otherwise we usually dined at the 4 seasons dining room as it was closer and more convenient for us to get to. The menu is the same as the other dinning room anyways. We didn't do any of the other pay restaurants as the menus didn't appeal to us. The food in the main dining rooms for dinner were fine, they have a side menu that is the same every night, which was nice to know those staple foods were there. My partner only ordered off that menu once (out of 14 nights) and found all the dinner food to be good. I on the other hand am a vegetarian and had many problems with the menu. First it wasn't laid out quite well - many of the descriptions left out main ingredients and there were no notations of vegetarian food (minus the main course where one every night would be labeled vegetarian). On three occasions I ordered something of the menu that didn't state it had meat/seafood in it but did - even after letting my servers know that I didn't eat meat. After this I would always ask my servers for clarification on what did have meat in it and they would nervously get the manager to come explain the menu to me.
Crew Service: Overall we found that the service from crew was inconsistent especially in the dining rooms. Although I liked the freedom of freestyle dining the one thing we missed was the service and interaction from the servers. We did have a few servers that were good - they followed up when we didn't like a dish, interacted with us well and were friendly. Most of our servers did their job but didn't interact with us - they asked the usually questions about our day but didn't make eye contact, didn't take time to get to know us. I think part of the reason is that we had different servers every night and the other part is the automatic service charge - the servers aren't motivated to get to know you or serve you well as they probably won't serve you again in the cruise and they already have their tips so their is little incentive to do more then the minimum. We recognize that they do work hard, but it takes little effort to smile, make eye contact or engage in conversation.
Entertainment: Overall we felt the entertainment was inconsistent as well. I didn't find many of the activities in the daily interesting and those that we did they really weren't great. We did a couple of trivia games, they were fine but nothing overly special. We played bingo which was fine. We went to do one of the Wii events one day and it didn't even run due to a movie that was scheduled a half hour beforehand still running. We actually ended up playing a lot of cards on the sea days as there was very little else going on. The Assistant cruise director Nikki was great, very outgoing with the passengers and lots of energy. The rest of the cruise staff seemed pretty unhappy most of the time and didn't interact with us at all.
The stage shows were hit and miss as well. There were some great entertainers brought on board in the second half of the trip - mostly a contortionist, a pick pocket expert and the MacDonald brothers (from Scotland). These acts were excellent and very entertaining. The other guest entertainers were good, not really our style. The permanent cast of dancers/singers were a mix matched group - normal dancers, singers, a ballroom pair, a lyrical/acrobatic pair, and a guy that did the silk rope. The dancers were fine and the silk rope guy did great. Their shows were amateur at best - the singers sang out of their range and destroyed a couple songs (I nearly walked out of the broadway review one because it was that bad). The acting was poor, the set design and costumes were also again amateur - I literally felt like I was at a high school production.
Shore Excursions: We did excursions in the first 5 ports; Bergen, Alesund, Lerwick, Thorsavhn, and Reykjavik. Our tours were all great, very informtive and great tour guides. We had two minor problems the first in Bergen - the bus that we boarded off the ship had been recently vommitted in, although they still boarded us and made us wait for 10 minutes while a housekeeper was called to clean up, they credited us 10% refund which I thought was more than fair. The second issue was in Iceland on the golden circle tour - our guide gave us unclear directions for where we were eating lunch and we asked around with waiters and they either ignored us or 'didn't know' where our bus table was. We ended up being 5 minutes late, and my partner and I were left with only single seats at different tables. The waitress was not impressed and gave us a hard time when we asked to be seated together and finally the tour guide stepped in. He first tried to persuade us to sit at the empty seats separate but we refused as we had payed $170 per person for this tour and we should be able to dine with each other. The finally found us a place to sit together but the tour guide then acted very distant with us the rest of the day. The tour was great otherwise but it really dampened our experience. We didn't get much help from Shore excursions when we got back to the ship and we still had 3 more ports with no excursions booked, so we decided to do the remaining ports on our own (which actually saved us money and we got to see more).
Disembarkation: We found that getting on and off the ship was a mess. Big lines, slow security, and disorganized routes. The one day in Iceland the tide went out and we needed to embark on deck 5 up a steep ramp - this was no fault of NCL but wasn't a pleasant experience for most. We also felt that the shore excursions meet was disorganized - you go to the stardust theater and wait until your tour is called, and then you proceed to stand at the exit for 10 minutes while they check your tickets and give you a sticker. Meanwhile many of the tours were late and sometimes you couldn't find a seat in the theater so they would send you to the balcony. The one day we were in Scotland, we disembarked on deck 5, but the line circled the atrium, went up the center stairs and all the way back through dazzles on deck 6. We waited for 20 minutes to get off the ship, and when we got down the stairs, there were all these people cutting in line - which was all observed by the guest service crew members and they didn't do anything.
Overall: We chose this cruise for the ports of call and we very much enjoyed them. The rest of the experience left much to be desired. Would I cruise NCL again? Only if it was a port heavy cruise with ports of call that I couldn't get with another cruise line. I really love the idea of freestyle cruising but in practice it meant that we had lacking service and had mediocre entertainment.