We have cruised before with Celebrity, Royal Caribbean & P&O and until now Royal Caribbean were our favourites and P&O were despicable and we would never ever cruise with them again.
I was worried about the freestyle aspect of NCL and thought that maybe it wouldn't be as special as a regular cruise and would be far more informal in terms of customer service provided however need not have worried.
We booked the cruise with cruise.co.uk for an amazing price and booked our own flights and an overnight stop in Barcelona the night before. This was an excellent money saver and no hassle of flying early morning or missing the ship, with an added bonus of a whole day in Barcelona to sight see.
We reached the cruise terminal by taxi at 12 midday and were on the ship by 12.45pm, we were greeted by efficient and friendly staff checking us in and printing our cruise cards and there were no queues longer than 2 or3 people at a time.
Every person was asked to have their hands sanitized before boarding to try and contain any germs aboard and this continued to my satisfaction all cruise, staff members placed in strategic areas giving hands one quick spray is hardly a chore and is for everyone's own good except the odd dirty few who refused.
We left our hand luggage in a holding area so were free to roam the ship comfortably and had lunch in the garden cafe buffet which was a bit busy and manic but nothing new for the first day until people settle.
Plentiful choice of foods and everyone well catered for. Fruit and salad stations, hot meat Carvery's, pasta as you want it cooked with any sauce etc, breads, soups, cheeses, cold meats and daily specials anything you can think of really. Staff served the food for the 1st couple days just to be sure of no virus outbreaks on board but was back to normal on 3rd morning.
Our cabin on deck 11 was ready by 3pm and was compact but as expected, the bathroom was larger than expected however and lovely sized fully enclosed shower and lots shelves. Wardrobe space and dressing tables, drawers etc all ample for a couple. Very clean and cosy with extremely comfortable beds.
We ate in Alizar restuarant most nights (which was a "free" restaurant as well as Grand Pacific and the Garden Cafe Buffet) and it's the same as walking into a restaurant at home, wait 2 or 3 mins for a table size of your choice and enjoy. The menu was always varied and had an always available section with prawn cocktail, Caesar salad, 8oz sirloin steak, chicken breast or salmon for those not wanting the daily choice. The remarkable thing was it opened until 10.30pm so never any trouble having a proper meal if you fancied eating late. We mainly ate at 10pm as by the time you eat breakfast and lunch you are always so full !!! We ate in the garden cafe too one evening and this was also very good with so much choice available and always hot and fresh.
The speciality restaurants were also very good and were worth splashing out at least once whilst you are on holiday. We were kindly treated to a complimentary meal in Cagney's steak house and the difference could really be seen. The food is brilliant in the free restaurants but was just that little bit more extra special in the extra charge ones. The 16oz T-bone steak and lobster were amazing! For the 1st hour of opening many of the restaurants were 2 for 1 so the price was not too bad at all
We found the beer expensive on board with a pint costing $7.38 with all taxes added, be careful of the 8% spanish tax which was added when the ship was in Spanish waters! However cocktails were pretty much always on offer and mainly buy one get one free so two cocktails for $6.40 or happy hour Martinis for $4.95 which is fair. I bought the soda package which allows unlimited pepsi, 7Up, diet sodas etc for $69 for the entire cruise which was very good value. There was a wine package but I didn't pay much attention to the price and we were also given 2 complimentary bottles so we were very happy.
We stopped in Casablanca, Agadir, Las Palmas Gran Canarias, Madeira and Malaga, We made our own way to the Hassian II Mosque in Casablanca as there wasn't much else to do but we made our way back to ship after a couple of hours as it wasn't the nicest port.
All other ports however were lovely and would not hesitate to return. My partner is from Madeira so that was our favourite day and all our family and friends met us in the Marina and waved us off again that evening.
We went on an NCL excursion in Agadir as I was a bit apprehensive about the port however it was actually better than expected and not as scary as made out to be.
We went to a typical show area and watched horseman with guns and belly dancing and snake charmers etc which was worth the price for an enjoyable afternoon.
The activities on board were very good and varied and we were never ever bored or short of places to go or things to do. The ship is beautiful, not crowded at all and not gaudy as some people make out. It is brightly coloured with a Hawaiian theme but is very tasteful and fun.
The pools were always clean and warm and the ship was kept spotless at all times. There were not many children aboard and they were kept well entertained so no problems there for a quiet time. The Captain was always proudly walking up and down and interacted with the passengers and staff very often which was lovely to see.
The staff we encountered were all amazing and could not do enough for you, I will be keeping on contact with many of them. It was a pleasure to see such a happy workforce, a stark comparison to the staff on P&O ships. Even the bar staff were always playing little magic tricks or jokes to entertain us.
The Shows were all very very good especially Elements and 4Ever which were amazing and not to be missed. We watched every show and was very impressed with the standard of entertainment. The cruise director Karen and her crew were also very friendly and fun.
This is a long review but is totally unbiased and honest and we would not hesitate at all to book with NCL again, the freestyle cruising was very nice without having to think what time is dinner? do i need to dress up tonight etc? We dressed up when we wanted to and it didn't matter if some people did or some didn't. It was lovely to eat at any time too.
Do not let the reviews put you off, this was by far the best cruise we have been on with RCI Voyager a very close second .