My previous cruise experience was on Carnival in 1999. It was a short 3 night cruise, and I found the food to be excellent, and activities enough to keep me busy. However, I was single at the time, and did not find that cruises were suitable for single people.
Now that I'm married, I figured a cruise would be good vacation for my wife and I. She would like the relaxation of the cruise, and I would enjoy the activities at each port in Alaska. We enjoyed it for the most part, but left with a sour taste in our mouths regarding certain things.
Embarkation: It was a bit tedious, but probably no worse than flying. I don't remember this process too much from my Carnival cruise, but it didn't seem as bad back then. Although long, at least the lines moved, so we didn't spend too much time standing. Once inside, we didn't see our bags until about 8pm, although we didn't depend on anything in them, so it was OK.
Food: Read the title of the post. By far the worst part of the ship. The buffet was atrocious. When we boarded, we were told to go there and have lunch, and we were scared we were going to be run over because we were standing between rubes and all the food they could eat. The quality of the buffet was worse than my college dormitory. The restaurants were a little better. The recipes were good, but you could tell that the quality of the meats and vegetables were not up to par. On the second night of our cruise, I puked up the Beef Wellington. We did not attempt any of the "specialty" restaurants, because we did not believe the food would be any better for the extra money. If you were hungry late at night (most of the time we weren't, for obvious reasons), they had a late night cafe which served chicken fingers, hot dogs, and other stadium type food. (Note: Most ball park food is better) All in all, this was a major disappointment, as the reputation of cruises is that the food is great. This did not live up to it.
Service: Overall it was ok. I do not look for having my feet kissed while on vacation, so I am usually not critical of the service. Wait staff was good. Bar staff was a little too exuberant, but when the drink waiters passed by too many times without you ordering, you would not see them again. Good thing about Norwegian is that they have a big selection of beers. Room attendants were good. Unlike Carnival, they don't make a point to say hello every day (fine with me), but when you needed something, they got it for you.
Destination/Shore Excursions: Alaska was great! We did fun things and saw a beautiful part of our continent (Yes! Canada too.) Of the four stops, we booked 2 shore excursions. Each shore excursion had an itinerary change when we boarded, then one ended up being cancelled altogether. Do not let this deter you from visiting Alaska. My other complaint was that the shore excursions did not allow us to spend some time walking around the port town, relaxing, having a drink, or whatever. Do your research before you go. The best part of my trip was kayak fishing which I booked independently. Feel free to refer to my port information before making any decisions.
On Board Activities: Another disappointment. They had some good entertainment, music, and activities, but their timing was terrible. On our first day at sea, there was NOTHING! (I guess they figured we were all old and needed to rest up for jewel shopping at the port.) Then, at our stop in Prince Rupert, which was in the evening from 4pm to 10pm, they decide to schedule a whole lot of shows, as well as their "White Hot Party". On our last day at sea, the only activities appeared to be sales of the junk they didn't sell during the earlier part of the cruise. Besides that, other activities included a jazz brunch ($7 fee), beer tasting ($18 fee), and wine pairing ($15 fee). Get it?
Disembarkation: Something they got right. I remember Carnival corralling us into areas before leaving the ship. Here, they allowed us to choose our disembarkation time. The problem was that certain disembarkation times were too popular. Because of that, some passengers decided they would leave when they wanted to (a popular theme among them, just the first time mentioned here), which made it a bit more difficult. The good thing was we could sit in our rooms and relax until it was time to leave. Also, if you are flying, do not get the airport transfer from the ship unless you are travelling alone. Seattle regulations set the taxi fare at $35, which is cheaper than 2 people at $25 each.
Result: I will try other cruise lines before cruising on Norwegian again.