Pre-Cruise-I typically don't write my pre-cruise experience, but mine was interesting. I am a veteran cruiser (30 cruises under my belt mostly with Royal) as is most of my party, there were two newbies in the group. We had a party of 12, ages ranged from 13-49. Some of us were from Fl and the other half from the MD/VA area. We all stayed at different hotels (I stayed in the Doubletree Airport, one family in the new JW Marriot and another in the Intercontinental and still another with a relative). We do the Thanksgiving cruise annually and usually stay together but loyalty programs drew us in different directions this year. Myself, I live in Florida so I drove down (from Orlando) on Friday afternoon with 3 family members from NJ (who had flown in on Wednesday prior). The trip down was relatively uneventful we made it to the Miami city limits in record time but it took another 1.5 hr to get to our hotel (which usually takes about 35 mins). I had made promises to pick up others at the FLL airport. Well getting to our hotel so late put me on 95S late thus arriving in FLL close 9PM (again usually a 35min trip), my nephew and my friend and her children all arrived from Baltimore at 7PM. One other couple was expected to be picked up at MIA airport at 830P needless to say that didn't happen. I ended up not getting back to my hotel until 1030P.
What a truly exhausting day. So after finding food for everyone in my personal party (total of 6), my daughter ask about our passports. UGH! I was so busy worrying about everyone else having their stuff I totally forgot to take our (my daughter and mine) passports out of the strong box. As tired as I was I refused to not make the cruise...my daughter offers to drive back, but she lacked the highway experience and I wanted her to stay and keep my nephew from ordering room service and such...? So my two nieces made the trip back to Orlando with us. 1130P here we are on the road headed back North. We made it to my doorstep in 3.5 hours...no traffic whatsoever. We napped for 1.5 hours and showered and hit the road at 0430A. At this rate I was hoping to get back in time to snag breakfast take a quick nap, return the car and be on our shuttle to the pier at noon. NOT! No traffic going back until we were just outside of West Palm...all four southbound lanes on 95 were closed due to an accident (very light rain-but that's driving in Fl). Anyway we were diverted to the turnpike (took the wrong exit for this originally and finally after 45 mins were on our way). We arrived in Miami, again in pretty good time but much to our chagrin traffic is snarled again. At this point my plan was to just return the car and high tail it back to the hotel and pick up the rest of our party, which is just what we did. Getting there in just enough time to get everyone corralled and catch our shuttle. I now get to the cruise...but this set the tempo of things to come. Arrival at the pier...FINALLY! We had all been waiting for this cruise since May 2009. All papers are together, I was off to terminal B (penthouse) and the rest were off to Terminal C. And thus it begins.
I had what was called priority check in and the only thing priority about it was that we were in a separate room but I could've checked in much faster by going through the line with the others. The priority waiting rooms was pure chaos. There was no order to who was there first and only one person working check-in. Then you had to wait to be "escorted" onto the ship, something I could've done without as well...but ok. It took a total of 40 mins to go through this process. My family had made it on board long before me. After the courtyard tour, etc I finally made it to my cabin and I felt like maybe all the mishaps were out of the way. I chose an aft penthouse over a courtyard because I prefer that back of the ship (stern). I was totally happy with my choice and I loved my butler Ahkmad...though I didn't really employ his services he was always very helpful.
Cabin-Pluses—I liked the fact that the suites had cordless phones that could be carried around the ship. This was great others in my party were always able to contact me. Kudos to NCL. Contrary to what others have said I liked the bathroom set up. The beds were among the most comfortable I ever experienced on a ship (Solstice beds were about equal). I liked having the coffee maker (cappuccino), though again I only used it once. The pull out night stands were a plus too. There was more than enough storage space for two people (I was alone in my cabin).
Minuses—the TV was at an angle that didn't make it easy to watch and it was not articulated as on other ships. The number of available late night viewing options sucked. No I don't cruise to watch TV but if I'm in the room then I watch. It was only there to sell more things. The bathtub was hard to get in and out of (typical though on cruise ships) very high walls. The sensored lights in the bathroom didn't stay on very long. And the controls for the room lights were behind the bed as was the stationery telephone. The hangers in the closet clanked constantly so I laid the unused ones on the floor of the closet. The deck above my cabin was cleaned every morning about breakfast time, causing my balcony to be flooded with sudsy water rendering it not useable in the mornings.
The ship itself was quite nicely appointed. There were still some areas that are NCL gaudy, but overall it was appealing. The location of the stairs and elevators are abysmal. The smoking wasn't as bad as I was prepared for I bought personal air purifiers for my daughter and me but we didn't use them.
At this point I'm breaking the review. On the first day of the cruise I thought that I could see myself cruising NCL more and perhaps RCCL less, but that quickly changed and I don't think that I will ever cruise NCL again. For the most part cruising is cruising with a few differences here and there. For me service stands above all other things on a ship. You can amenity me to death but if service sucks I won't be returning and I had a time with the guest relations desk throughout the cruise. As Christmas presents for some my family members I purchased their cruises (One balcony stateroom, 3 studios and a penthouse for myself). Prior to boarding the cruise I wanted to minimize the expense of some of the young adults in the group by prepaying for their gratuities. My TA offered OBC to two of the group members additionally (due to difference in price of cabins). I also pre-purchased Bon Voyage packages for the three teens in our group. My TA mentioned that there would be cards in the room informing those that I purchased things for informing them of the gift. This was not the case. Sunday afternoon I went to guest relations and asked about the service charges, the gifts and the additional OBC. They had no information about the purchases and wouldn't be able to do anything about it until Monday when corporate was open. Ok...not a big deal until Monday comes and again I'm not given any answers. Tuesday still not a word and so on until Thursday morning I was notified that everything had been verified and the accts would be credited as such...hmmm, didn't happen until Friday morning. Last day of the cruise...this is absolutely unacceptable. I spent a portion of every day at the guest relations desk trying to work out one problem or another. Though the staff members weren't rude they weren't helpful either. Probably not a deal breaker for most people but it was enough for me to recognize that NCL is only interested in the dollars and not ensuring that pax are happy. They had no problems charging my card the three weeks prior to sailing for these items but they couldn't ensure that they got the info to the ship in time for my party to enjoy the purchases. Don't misunderstand other ships have made errors but they have been faster at the resolution and the guest relations staff certainly tried harder to rectify situations.
Back to the review...the younger members of the party thoroughly enjoyed themselves. My daughter is a cruise "hater" though she does this cruise because it's a holiday. She actually walked off the ship happy. So that was a plus beyond all other things. My nephew (a cruise novice) made a bunch of friends and explored every nook and cranny of the ship...never a dull moment for him. As for some of the adults we were not so pleased. It was hard to find quiet places with ocean views to chill (outside of our balconies). Granted I had access to the courtyard and I was informed that I could bring friends with me, the location was not desirable (very windy and cold).
Food---I don't cruise for the food I never found that cruise food is any thing but average. I consider myself a bit of a foodie. But I do look for variety without having to spend a lot of extra money. Not the case on NCL...the specialty restaurants we visited were great and enjoyed by all, the food however, in Taste and Manhattan club left nothing to be desired and the fact that the menu remained constant over the entire cruise was disappointing. The Epic club wasn't much different. People have raved about O'Sheehans...I was not impressed. Understand I'm not trying to be overly negative just honest in MY opinion. The spinach dip and the mozzarella sticks were stand outs at O'Sheehans, but that's about it. Service in all the restaurants was extremely slow.
Entertainment---I didn't see BMG as I had seen them before and wasn't impressed. I did enjoy the late show for Second City once, they were good. I enjoyed Fat Cats (became our favorite venue), tried to get into see Howl at the Moon but the venue was small and always super crowed. We missed most early shows because dinner was sooooo long. Cirque was worth the money and we sat upstairs much better view. I didn't do the mystery lunch (as I had done similar shows on other ships and didn't care for it), others in my party did and enjoyed it. Didn't do much else, there were a lot of venues but limited showings and times for most things.
Ports of Call-Eastern Caribbean (overdone) not much to say except St. Marten had an extraordinary amount of peddlars compared to previous trips. I vow never to do another E. Caribbean cruise again. We did the Blue Lagoon excursion in Nassau (overdone too) and it wasn't worth the ride over.
Debarkation was fairly easy comparable to other lines.
Overall the cruise in and of itself was good because I wasn't cooking, cleaning or washing and I was at sea (my favorite past time). NCL is not for everyone and I am one of those that it doesn't suit. I'm sure once this is posted there will be specifics that I have forgotten. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I did take pictures but they are much like everyone else's or of family members in various poses.