This was my first cruise. I read a ton of reviews on it before booking it. I thought a 4 day cruise would be ideal for a first go, and it was pretty cheap, maybe because it was hurricane season, but luckily we didnt encounter any!
I stayed at the Epic hotel, which is awesome. I love Kimpton hotels and stay at them as much as possible. There was no way I was going to pay the 20+ dollar a day port parking rate, so I just goggled port of Miami parking and found some for 10 bucks a day with free shuttles, it was about a 15 min ride from the airport, but well worth the 40-50 dollar savings.
Embarkation was fine, no problems, except that my attempt to bring some booze onboard was squashed. I'd try a camel pack bladder taped to my body next time, would probably work since plastic wont set off a metal detector. shhh....Rooms were not ready until 2pm, so everybody just wandered around with their luggage until they announced it was ready...Drinks...wow, wasnt expecting to pay 10 bucks per drink, but thats what they are for mixed/frozen drinks. They had a 'deal' for beer-buy 5, get 1 free, for the price of 25 bucks. Also, they add 15% to every drink order-its in the fine print at the bottom of the ticket you sign, which also has a spot for "tip," which I didnt realize until about my 4th drink..So from then on, no additional tips.
The first 2 stops were pretty much the same. Get ready to be bombarded by people trying to sell you stuff or a service. The beaches are covered with people wanting to get you to snorkel, rent a chair, jet ski, drinks, etc...which got really annoying after the first 3 minutes of it. In freeport we decided to get a ski, which was like 60 bucks for 35 minutes, mainly because the GF has never been on one. Nassau, we took the 3 dollar each way water taxi. There was a 'free lance tour guide' who talked to us as we rode to Paradise Island, which at the end was eager to collect tips, but he was informative. There is a free/public beach on the opposite side of Atlantis, which was nice..but again, bombarded with people wanting to sell/rent you things.
The private island was nice, finally some free chairs. A little bbq, which was nice. Nice fish out towards the rocks. We got about 10 min of rain, but it passed quickly.
Recommendations: If you want to snorkel and have gear, bring it! 30 bucks to rent it on the private island. I'd even consider going as far as to bring small fold able lounge chairs, as they rent for 10-15 bucks each time you want to get one. Also, they give you 2 goofy striped towels for your cruise, which if you loose will be 25 dollars each, so keep track of them.
Soda was available for 7 bucks a day for unlimited refills, which surprised me that they wont give free soda. The only free drinks are water and iced tea. I didnt pay for the restaurants, the free ones were a nice change of pace, a nice sit down, though the food was just 'okay' and with small portions.
The comedian, Tim Kiminski was freak'n hilarious. We saw all 3 shows. The final variety show was not to be missed. The bonus there was they had 'happy hour' prices, 2 for 1, so 2 drinks were like 11 or 12 bucks during most of the shows. I'd show up around 15-20 min early to get good seats.
Finally I was a little angry to see the 12 bucks per day, per person gratuity charge added at the end. Worked out to be 96 dollars. Maybe I'm a tool, but I told them to remove it, which they wernt happy to do. It goes to the housekeeping and kitchen staff they said. I told them, by means of the form I had to fill out, they could take the 200 bucks I spent on overpriced drinks and give it to them. I tipped our steward directly, as he did a good job and even remembered our names when he saw us in the hallways. We got towel animals the last 2 days, which the GF really dug.
I think the cruise was good, the staff was always happy to help and talk. However, they were sometimes over happy to offer drinks every 3 minutes while sitting out by the pool. The room was fine, it was an interior, which I didnt mind. They really need to upgrade the TVs though, a small 16" or so tv. They should throw at least 20" flat screens in the rooms, instead of the boxy small tvs they currently have.
I would cruise the ship again, and NCL again, but I have no real desire to see Freeport or Nassau again. The private island was a nice retreat.