On the plus side. Great itinerary and ship. A nine day cruise going to the Southern Caribbean from Miami is wonderful.
Ship's Areas: For the kids, Buccaneers Wet and Wild water slide pool is a great area for the little ones. Besides the kids pool, the ship has one large pool instead of two smaller pools, which can give you a bit of area to move around in. If you like lap swimming, there are two in-place lap swimming pools that are fun and hardly used. Ship common areas are well laid out, and movement is free flowing. The casual dining room gets crowded after 8 a.m. or so in the morning when trying to find a table, but folks are friendly and don't mind sharing. The Promenade deck wraps totally around on deck 7 outside, which makes for a nice place for lap walking.
Embarkation/Debarkation: Easy. For the 9-day cruise, the embarkation is painless because the previous 5-day gets in early on Friday morning, and the ship departs at 7 p.m. for the 9-day, so there is a large window that that allows the check-in process to be spread out over several hours. Freestyle debarkation was a nice feature, you can still use the ship's facilities including pool and Jacuzzi tubs, then go back to your room for a quick shower and just hang out until your color tag is called. They call the rooms for debarkation from top of ship to bottom, except for folks that need to make flights. The ship was supposed to arrive at noon, but got in at 9:40 a.m.., debarkation started at 12:40 p.m. Didn't return to the same dock when we parked our car, so they provided a free bus to travel the ½ mile from dock 10 to dock 5 where our car was. We skipped the wait to get on the bus and just rolled the luggage down the street. Nice to walk. I did see one problem, they didn't enforce the policy of allowing the only the group called to depart and I saw several people leaving before their time (I could tell by the luggage tag colors and room number written on the carry out booze), causing a bit of a jam.
Kid's program: Not too good for the 10-12 year olds. With the ship hitting so many ports, we kept our 10-year-old with us most of the cruise, but on one of the few times he was in the kids camp, the activity was "free play." We picked our guy up early, and found out that 20 kids and one staff member were in one 20x20 room playing a game where the kids were throwing a rubber ball at each other. Don't know what that was supposed to be, but all those kids cooped up in one room was a bit of a surprise to us. He didn't care much for the kid's program, which is a departure from other non NCL cruises we have been on.
Freestyle dining: For those unaware, you don't show up at a set time or table, just when you are hungry at the main dining rooms between 5:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. In theory in sounds great, but in reality the execution is clumsy and slow, resulting in long waits for seating, between courses, and cold food. The food quality is cheap anyway, so having to go through so many hoops to get it is a joke. Trying to feed hundreds of people a five course meal when they want it just doesn't execute well. We never got the same waiter/waitress twice, so you don't have the chance to build that nice relationship you normally do with fixed seating. The wait staff is so busy trying to service several tables different courses at the same time, that they really have no time to chat. At times the wait was over 30 minutes for a table, and dinner can take over 2 hours to get all your food served. You end up eating a great deal of bread, because the courses can take over 15 minutes after you finish the previous course for the next one to appear.
Food Quality: Bad everywhere except for the restaurants you pay extra for. Food was worst of any cruise I've been on. Buffet was like Golden Corral. Lobster was 3 tiny slivers of lobster tail that must have been 2 ounces each, everyone at our table was giggling after the waiter left. Steaks are thin. You can't get half and half for your coffee, just Coffee Rich fake creamer. That's all they have, even at the coffee cafe where coffee costs $1.50 and tastes just like the same coffee at the buffet. They just nickel and dime you on the food.
Speciality cover charge restaurants had food you would find for free in the main dining rooms of Carnival or Royal Caribbean. We had dinner at the Bistro restaurant and it was nice. You can only make reservations one day in advance for the specialty restaurants, so getting in can be hard for a particular time.
Freestyle Cabin Service: Our Steward and helper had several rooms to take care of. It's hard for the guys to get into the rooms, because with freestyle, they can't exactly pin down the time that folks are dining and the rooms will be free. Not a problem, because they still kept the room spotless, and nights where they couldn't turn down the beds, fresh towels and a copy of the handout for the next day was just fine. On port days they always made the room up, and had the towel animals made up for our son.
Ports: Barbados is docked, Grenada -- Tender, St Lucia -- Tender, Antigua -- Docked, Tortola -- Docked. Tender service is fast and efficient. If you want to get off early, they announce getting tickets at the Celebrity disco on deck 12, then they call groups before 9:30. No problem getting off early. On days the ship docks, you can normally get off early before the official arrival time. Very efficient.
Comments onboard from frequent NCL cruisers is that since Star Cruise lines took over 5 years ago, the quality has really gone down. This was our first and last NCL cruise. There are so many good competing lines available, and no need to settle for a substandard product.