I just want to preface by saying I am nowhere near a seasoned cruiser as many CC users here. I have been on four previous cruises, all being Carnival, so we wanted to try something different this time. All our Carnival cruises have been enjoyable and memorable and we were expecting NCL to be of a higher caliber cruise line.
No sweat here. We flew into LAX and had a reserved shuttle take us directly to the terminal center. Dropped our luggage off with a porter and went inside the terminal. First we had to fill out a brief health history form and it was annoying that there were not enough pencils for everyone as 10 people had to share two working pencils. Got in line and we were ready to board within 20 minutes. Already better than our last Carnival cruise where we had to wait hours for our zone to be called. So far, we're liking this Freestyle Cruising! Too bad the pros end here.
After our five hour plane ride in, we all wanted to get into our staterooms and get cleaned up. Unfortunately, we were informed none of them were ready yet an hour before sailing. Fine, to the buffet it is.
We had an inside room to cut costs. They are a decent size if you just need a place to sleep and keep your belongings. Our friends had a non-functioning safe in their room and the staff never fixed it after it was mentioned to the front desk on day one.
This is where we were really disappointed. The food in the main dining room, Versailles, was way sub-par. Food was bland and the sizes of the food were small and I'm not talking about portion sizes. It seemed like some things were shrunk with a shrink ray, e.g. pea-sized scallops and mini-mini spring rolls the size of a small pinky finger. And where was the filet mignon and lobster tails I'm used to getting once during the week in Carnival's main dining room? Oh, you're going to have to pay an extra $35 in one of their "specialty restaurants" to get that. It seemed everywhere you went, they nickel and dimed you for extras. You want fresh squeezed juice at breakfast, that'll be $2.50 plus tip. I like the idea of the specialty restaurants, but they better be spectacular if I'm paying a premium on top of my cruise fare. We went for the all you can eat sushi for $15. I would consider it good if I was only paying $15 at a restaurant, but I was paying $15, on top of what I'm already paying for the dinner I passed up on. Service was good but slow. There were only two sushi chefs for the whole restaurant so it took about 45 minutes to receive our order. My theory is they make you wait during dinner times to get you to have more drinks while waiting. After that, I was done with trying out any more specialty restaurants. My friends went for steaks at Cagney's but we passed on that. I myself can grill a pretty good steak and I've been disappointed many times dining at expensive premium steakhouses. We just had a feeling we would be let down here. My friends had reservations for 8:00 and were not seated until 8:30 when most of the place was empty. "Would you like to have a drink in the Star Bar while you wait?" So much for not having to wait when dining at a specialty restaurant. Needless to say, they were disappointed. They did not get their entrees until 9:15 and everything was either overcooked or undercooked.
This is where I was pleasantly surprised. The production and talent were all very good (except the "Shout" musical where I had a nice mid-evening nap). This is the one aspect where NCL outshined Carnival hands-down. I would highly recommend seeing the shows every night.
The staff and crew were all friendly for the most part. Our steward was friendly but never really made an attempt say more then hello and smile. Not a big deal as he did a good job making up our room twice a day. There were a few standout servers on the boat that remembered us every time they saw us which was nice.
A disaster. It took an hour-plus to wait in queue getting off. Nothing "easy" about it as they claim.
We probably will not sail another NCL cruise in the future, except maybe the Epic if we feel compelled to check out the hype. I would rate NCL on the same level as Carnival and don't see any reason NCL would be considered in a higher class than Carnival.