We drove to Miami, spent one night in a hotel and had the privilege of parking our car free in the hotel lot for a week. The free hotel shuttle took us to the port at the hour requested. The cruise was the best at times - it was the worst at times. Let's get to the best first, it won't take much ink. Check-in was quick and efficient. Then the line stopped moving. The problem was caused by the photo staff who had blocked the entire entry with two photo stations. You could no longer bypass this exercise and were forced to watch each agonizing photo process. On board, a luggage station was available to check your carry-on bags so you don't have to deal with them during lunch in the crowded Garden Cafe. A practice all cruise lines should adopt. The required "Abandon Ship Drill" is now most pleasant since you are no longer required to drag your life jacket along. The room steward and his assistant were exceptionally pleasant, accommodating and unobtrusive. Our room was "category guaranteed" which is something of a gamble, but it turned out to be fine even though the porthole was small. The stewards always kept our room neat and fully equipped. Hand sanitizers are available at the entrance to all dining rooms and specialty restaurants. Additionally, a staff member, equipped with a spray bottle of sanitizer, is stationed at the entrance to the Garden Cafe to ensure no one gets in without a squirt. A very good policy. You are also greeted with this important service upon boarding the ship after a day of play on shore. (I'm not writing about shore excursions because we didn't take any.)
With seven "Specialty" restaurants, it's no surprise food in the Summer Palace and Indigo is mediocre at best. There was no lobster on "Formal" night and shrimp cocktail seems to be a distant memory. The "Jumbo" Shrimp Scampi was a joke. It consisted of six small shrimp, each coiled into a circle that would fit under a quarter. The embarrassingly thin cut of prime rib was laughable. We were also surprised by the Garden Cafe's offering of Beef Wellington which was made with GROUND BEEF enclosed in pastry sans pate'. My wife loved the creme brulee offered only one night but she said it was the best ever. The nightly Chef's Specials were not even remotely special servings of chicken, fish, chicken, lamb, chicken, fish and guess what? CHICKEN. We didn't try the overpriced specialty restaurants but I suspect that's where all the good food now resides.
Marketing is now in your face all day and night and you quickly tire of hearing the shrill bingo and art auction announcements. At breakfast you are handed a flyer to attend an Asian lunch for $20. At the table another flyer offers a Gospel Jazz Brunch for only $15. Fresh orange juice is also for sale and a tour of the ship is offered for a fee. Several onboard lectures were offered also requiring a fee. The increasingly aggravating photo program now blocked the gangway to ports causing long delays while you are sentenced to watch someone have their photo made with some large feathered mascot.
Many features we've enjoyed on our previous eight NCL cruises are rapidly disappearing. Gone are the Jean-Ann Ryan Dancers AND the house band of professional musicians. The current dance troupe performs to CANNED music. Live music is limited to a small loud band playing poolside and late night in the Spinnaker Lounge plus two piano players who rotate in the same lounge and a guitar player, solo in another. Additional items you will no longer find are hand lotions in the bath and that all time favorite nightly chocolate on the pillow. In my opinion, NCL's cost cutting program has labeled them the K-Mart of cruise lines.
Disembarkation went smoothly and a $45.00 taxi ride took us to our car at the hotel in Hialeah.