We need to begin by saying that we originally booked the cruise with a deck 5 cabin (5050). Just a few days before embarkation, we got a call from a woman we now refer to lovingly as "the Upgrade Fairy." She offered us a deck 12 penthouse suite for only $200 for the entire cruise. We jumped on it, and that was the beginning of the best cruise we have ever been on.
OUR CABIN (12030)gave us VIP status at every step, beginning with embarkation. We were escorted by our concierge, Patrick, to our cabin, and it was spectacular. We had 3 floor-to-ceiling windows - one facing to starboard, the other two slanted, so we could see down the full length of the ship forward. We also had a queen (maybe king?) bed, a seating area with a coffee table, an eating area, an espresso machine, several closets and many drawers, a large flat screen TV, a DVD player (DVDs available via the butler), a bathroom with two sinks, a shower and a tub. We also had access to Cagney's Steakhouse, an extra-cost specialty restaurant, free of charge for breakfast and lunch. When we arrived, there was a bottle of champagne, a bottle of mineral water, fresh fruit, and fresh flowers waiting for us. The butler brought canapes every day at about 5 p.m., and periodically refreshed the fruit and flowers.
Food was generally excellent in all venues we attended, mainly the Versailles and Aqua restaurants (main open dining rooms). We also ate once or twice at the Garden Grill (deck 12 cafeteria)and the Blue Lagoon (deck 8 casual/burgers, fries, etc.) The Indian curry was particularly good at the Garden Grill. We did not go to any of the extra-cost restaurants, except for free breakfast and lunch at Cagney's.
ENTERTAINMENT was very good. We especially enjoyed the ship's troupe of singers and dancers, although they had some microphone problems, which made nearly all the entertainment too loud. We also enjoyed Dr. Scott Lewis, the hypnotist (yes, we bought the DVDs he was selling), the two comedians, the singer, the acrobats, et al. The Star Theater is generally comfortable, although there were way too many broken seats. We were pleased that we didn't have to worry about getting a seat most times.
PORTS were generally fun, and we were able to snorkel and swim at the Mexican ports. Guatemala and Costa Rica's excursions required long bus/van rides, so we skipped them. We wandered around the port areas at those locations, and used Internet cafes, bought T-shirts and coffee, and generally soaked up atmosphere. It rained cats and dogs in Cartagena, Colombia and we had to cancel a sightseeing trip. We got a refund after just a bit of haggling with excursion staff. Some brave souls we knew ventured out, and we later heard harrowing tales of flooding, mud, and slipping and sliding vehicles. The Key West stop was very disappointing and provided the one black mark on an otherwise great trip. We like to snorkel, so we asked and followed the advice of the excursion desk staff. What they should have known and didn't tell us was that the weather this time of year (Dec. 4th)is often cool and windy, with choppy seas -- not the best snorkeling weather. It was only AFTER we got on the catamaran and beginning to sail out of port that the crew told us that the sea temperature was 69 degrees. They offered to rent us wet suits for $10 each, which prompted a fellow passenger to grumble that this was the first time in his experience that he had to pay for wet suits. We chose not to get in the water, since we were already chilled just from the ride out to the reef (we were both wrapped in towels), although many others did get into the water. We spent a miserable three hours on this excursion, and when we complained to the excursion staff and our concierge, we were told there was nothing they could do. We also wrote by fax to the Customer Relations Dept. at NCL, and, after about a week and a half, have not received even the courtesy of a reply, much less a refund.
THE PANAMA CANAL transit was amazing. We had a "Nova" film about the canal shown in the theater in advance, and a Canal Ranger was on board all day providing a running commentary on what was happening via the TV ship channels. It's an all day event, beginning at about 6 a.m.
SHIPBOARD ACTIVITIES were OK. We joined a trivia team and played every day at sea. The cruise director, Ray Carr, ran the game and added much amusement with his great sense of humor. We were surprised that Bingo didn't seem to get much interest on this voyage, and at least one game was cancelled for lack of players. We also enjoyed a martini tasting, which was fun and educational. We saw many people playing shuffleboard on deck 7, and the children/teen program seemed to be busy.
THE POOL was nice, with a band playing most of the afternoon. I would have preferred it a little quieter, but that's a matter of taste. The design of the pool area left something to be desired. Loungers were plentiful, but none in any shady spots, which were all taken up by tables and chairs. Thus, we had to be in unbroken tropical sun and used plenty of sunscreen. Also the loungers are on tiers surrounding the pool, requiring walking up and down just to get to the pool itself.
We enjoyed a couple of opportunities to dance in the Spinnaker Lounge and the atrium, and we participated in the "YMCA" gig.
We found most of our fellow passengers to be friendly and outgoing, and very much enjoyed meeting people from all over the US, UK, and Canada. I'm sure the others were nice, too, but we do not speak German, Danish, or Chinese, so that limited our contacts with the international passengers.
There's more, but how much can you stand to read? All in all, a wonderful trip, which we'd repeat -- this time with some rain gear.