This was my 3rd cruise, and my partners 2nd. Our previous had been on Princess, so we will do some comparing here. Also this cruise had ALOT of children on board, so we'll give some tips on how to avoid them :)
We live in CT and sailed out of NYC. We took the metro north line to grand central and then walked from there. It was a little bit of a hike, as we each had just a backpack (with 2 bottles of wine in each) and a small suitcase, but we managed just fine. We walked back afterwards as well. It's about a 30 min walk.
Embarkation was quick and easy. About 30 mins. They did charge us for each of our bottles of wine-$15 each, but still a good deal. We bought cheap wine, and paid the fee and it was still cheaper than paying for a bottle on the ship. And we're not picky! We were on the boat in no time, and headed straight to Tsar's for lunch!
We had an inside room. The beds were separated when we arrived, but we left a note for the room steward and they quickly fixed it. We also asked for the fridge/mini bar to be cleared so that we could put in some wine, which they also did. There were plenty of drawers, shelves, and hooks everywhere to keep all of our belongings. We didn't plan on spending much time in there, so the size was not a problem at all for us.
The ship itself was nice. clean. Had basically 4 main floors: 6-for food; 7-for bars and theater; 12-for pool and spa; 13-more bars.
Dining-We ate mostly in Tsar's. Although we liked the decor better in Azura, the views are much better from Tsar's as there are large windows on each side and off the back. Because of 'freestyle' seating, we were never asked to share a table, and were always given a table for 2, usually right by a window, with very little wait, if any. That was GREAT. The food however, wasn't always the best. The mahi mahi the first night was rather dry and that set us off on the wrong foot. We are vegetarian/pescatarians and found that there weren't very many options for us on the menu. The "Vegetarian Special" was often something that we didn't understand and weren't willing to try. The fish was sometimes accompanied with a meat like sausage, and the pasta often with meat. The scallop appetizers were always great, but other than that, nothing really wow-ed us. Lobster was not on formal night, which was a little odd. The breakfast and lunch menus were always the same, there were no daily specials, and you could get many of the same things in the garden cafe (their buffet). But--in order to stay away from the kids and the crowds we often choose Tsar's. Overall-it was okay, but we were unimpressed.
As far as activities on the ship. The nightly entertainment in the Stardust Theater was great! Jean Pierre, the comedian/magician was awesome, and did a 'close-up' show during the last sea day, which was nice. Le Cirque Bijou, as we had heard, was fantastic! The production cast plus the Duoartmotion dancers made a great combo. The typical newlywed and couples games were funny, as on any ship. The 'Idol' night was rather poor. Most of the cruise staff organized activities during the day were filled with kids. However, we did do (and win) the digital scavenger hunt....we got two decks of cards, which we gave to some kids. Dance classes were good, but usually only about 30 mins. We had 3 sea days total, and there was always plenty to do.
There were kid's clubs and teens clubs. From the reaction during the crew show, the kids really loved their youth staff. If the kids weren't in there they were mostly at the pool-which we did NOT visit! We did sit out on deck 13 one morning for a few hours. There were also kids wandering around everyone, many eating or hanging out in the bar/lounge areas. Many unattended tweens and teens.
Because there were over 1,000 kids on board, plus, knowing that our first and last sea days would probably not be beautiful weather b/c of our proximity to to nyc, we decided to get a pass for the thermal suites or the 'chill out lounge' as they call it. This was a GREAT idea. Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and our favorite... the thermal chairs. It was $120 for the week, but well worth it to get away from the crowds (aka, kids). It was hardly ever busy and we made use of it almost every day.
The service overall was okay. Everyone did what they needed to do and were nice about it. But we didn't notice anyone really going out of their way. Towel animals were very fun.
For the ports/excursions... In port canaveral, we have family that picked us up and we spent the day at epcot. It was crowded, but great. Dinner at Grill's Seafood in Port Canaveral---a GREAT meal!
Great Stirrup Cay was nice. We waited until open tendering, which was fine, we were in no rush... there's only so long a person can sit at the beach out in the sun. So, if you don't mind waiting it's great. we went from about 12-5 and by 4ish the island was cleared out and there was plenty of room.
In the Bahamas we did the Seahorse Sail and Snorkel. It was nice. We met some nice people on the boat and did some cruise comparing! You could see Atlantis in the distance. It was not too scenic otherwise. The snorkeling was in the middle of a cove/reef. Tons of fish, which people were feeding. Some nice corals. If you're a first time snorkeler, it was nice. However, we've done some snorkeling in Aruba/ Bonaire, and this just didn't compare!
Disembarkation, we had the same theory as the tendering... wait it out, and go whenever we wanted! We carried off our own luggage so we could leave whenever and not have to wait for our color to be called. We left our room at 9am and were out on the street by 9:20. So easy.
Now to compare-last year we had been on Princess and we had a much better time overall. Clearly-our ports on Princess were much better, but putting that aside.... The dining on Princess was MUCH better. There were nights when we just didn't know what to pick because there were so many options, and every meal was great. This trip, there were too many times when we didn't know what to pick because there wasn't anything that looked good at all. The activities on Princess were longer, for example, the dance classes were usually about an hour, and these ranged from 20-40 mins. Also on Princess, they usually plan so that after 2 country line dancing classes, they have a country line dancing night, where you could try out your new skills. Nothing like this happened on Norwegian. The spa on Norwegian was nice, however the services were too expensive for us. Princess seemed slightly more reasonable, and had some daily specials.
In the future, if given a choice between Princess and Norwegian, we would go with Princess. However, the convenience of NYC is really nice for us. We've been advised to try Royal, and most likely will soon.