On the positive side: service was excellent throughout the ship. The staff was efficient and accommodating. The ship and the rooms were kept impeccably clean. The ship layout was easy to navigate. The color coded carpet for port and starboard really helped, as did the clear labeling of floors and the maps available at frequent intervals. The interactive computer boards didn't always respond.
The entertainment was also great. We really enjoyed the Blue Man Group, Second City, and Howl at the Moon. We appreciated that you could make free reservations for the first two, since on a ship that large, there could have been long lines. I thought the movies in the Atrium were neat, but they made our fellow travelers seasick. We never did watch a complete movie, but the playoff football games were fun, and the free popcorn was a nice touch.
The freestyle dining worked well for us this time. We had no waits to be seated in the two main dining rooms. The music in Manhattan was lovely, service was great, and the food was generally quite good. The buffet in the Garden Cafe was huge, with every kind of buffet food I could think of. O'Sheehan's had fun pub food all the time, food was plentiful poolside, the fresh pizza was delicious, and hard and soft serve ice cream were available almost all the time.
We were rather disappointed in the food in the dining room, though. There were plenty of options, but there weren't as many elegant choices as we've had in the past. No beef Wellington, plain lobster, filet mignon, oysters Rockefeller...the really luxurious items. Some of the dishes were not exactly what I expected - shrimp scampi without garlic or butter? Norwegian really pushed the specialty restaurants with the surcharges, and to get the best dining, I guess one needed to pay extra. We didn't - with three Japanese and dozens of Chinese restaurants right in my little village, why pay extra for them on board? We did have some excellent a la carte sushi, so I imagine the specialty food was pretty good.
The cabins? The circular design was attractive but just as cramped as most regular balcony rooms. We had several choke points in the room, and the couch stared at the closet door, but it was okay. There was lots of good storage. People have written a lot about having the bathroom right at the entrance. It was pretty weird, but I can see how it saved space, and also provided flexibility using the facilities. It was okay getting out of the shower into the main entrance, as one could lock the cabin door and use the flimsy privacy curtain, but with translucent walls, there was little privacy in the toilet regarding sight, sound or smell. When we had our friends over, it was quite awkward.
The featured activities - rock climbing wall, bowling, water slides - were nice to have aboard. I enjoyed trying the rappelling and rock climbing for free, and $5 for bowling seemed okay. We were not travelling with children, but there were many on board, and they appeared to be having a wonderful time. The weather was on the chilly side for me, but you wouldn't know that from all the kids splashing in the pool and spinning down the giant slides. The music poolside was quite loud, but that kept the festive atmosphere going. We took two excursions, and they were both fine.
We were pushed through the casino more often than we'd like. We hate smoke, so that was annoying but not unbearable. I thought the smoke purifiers worked pretty well.
Our main complaint is that there seemed to be a lot less available for free than on past cruises, and few deals to be had. There weren't as many dance lessons, demonstrations, or contests as we're used to. There was nothing much scheduled from 3 to 6. The art auctions only offered champagne the first day. There was no Chocoholics buffet, always featured on our four previous Norwegian cruises. There were no two-for-one drink specials except in the specialty restaurants. There were no laundry deals till the second to last day. There was no Captain's party or Latitudes reception. We felt pretty disappointed by the things that were not offered. Instead, the things that cost extra - casino, bingo, spa, and specialty restaurants- were heavily promoted.
It was a good cruise, and we had fun, but I think we'll try another cruise line next time, and read lots of reviews before we book.