SET THE STAGE......two people, one male (veteran cruiser) and one female (first time cruiser). I've sailed on large ships previously, namely RCL's Liberty of the Seas and CCL's Freedom, but nothing quite prepared me for the EPIC.
EMBARKATION....quick, painless. We arrived at the pier about 1:00 P.M. Dropped off our luggage to the porter (along with a $5 bill tip. Entered NCL's building. Walked right up to an open agent who greeted us with a warm smile and a quick check of our documents. This took all of about 5 minutes, from the time we entered NCL's doors until we were being handed our ID cards.
We were greeted by festive music, smiling crew (all of whom welcomed us aboard), and a ship as opulent as I had ever seen. My partner was just floored. She couldn't keep from saying everywhere we looked and walked "AMAZING"!. I know the ship is new, but its was super clean.
WE grabbed a quick bite at the Garden Cafe. Even with 4,000 passengers deciding to the the same thing, we had no problem finding a place to sit. And, there were no lines at any of the food stations. Again, we immediately noticed the happy, friendly and helpful staff helping us find a table and whatever food/drink we were looking for.
The food was fresh and flavorful. It IS a buffet. But, it was a VERY GOOD buffet.
Time to find our cabin. Just remember the general location of your cabin on the ship (mid, aft, fore) and remember that even numbered cabins are on the side with the reddish carpet, and the odd number cabins are on the side with the blueish carpet, and you're good to go. It took us all of about 5 minutes to understand and master this layout.
CABIN.....about the same size as any other balcony cabin, except it had a "wave" type of shape to it. We were immediately greeted by our Steward, Patrick. He introduced himself to us (already knowing our names....very nice touch). And told us to let him know if we ever needed anything. My girlfriend asked if she could have a bucket of ice. He took our bucket, returned 2 minutes later with a full bucket of ice. He would do this twice/day for the remainder of the cruise without us asking him. He also made certain we had extra towels (after we requested them at the first sea day). He kept our room spotless and neat, almost like magic as we usually didn't see him anywhere near our room. In short, he was great.
No problem with the bathroom. One person could shower, while another used the toilet, or used the sink. You can fit two in the shower (yes, we proved it). Very comfy bed. So much cabinet and drawer space my GF couldn't fill it all (and she tried). Balcony is about the same size as any other cruise cabin balcony....perfect for two.
Loved the sail away party by the pools. Matter of fact, we stayed out there dancing, meeting new people, having fun until we were well out to sea and observing the sunset.
RESTAURANTS...Let md just say, I don't know if I'll ever be able to do anything but Freestyle again. We never waited for a table, regardless of which restaurant we decided to eat. We could dress the way we wanted, eat when we wanted, anywhere we wanted. THAT is the way to cruise.
I already spoke about the Garden Cafe. It was always good, regardless of whether we ate breakfast, lunch or dinner.
If our only choices were the Garden Cafe buffet, or the MRDs, Manhattan and Taste, we would have been very pleased. The food (and the service) were the best I had experienced on any cruise ship.
We also ate at Cagney's (good steaks), La Cucina (Italian) and Teppanyaki (a step above the typical hibachi restaurants). But, while all were good, we liked the MDRs just as much.
ENTERTAINMENT....as far as I'm concerned, there is none better at sea. We loved every show we saw (Blue Man, Cirque, Howl at the Moon, Legends). All were top notch and about the same quality as what you'd spend $100/ticket for in Vegas.
Even the entertainers in the main lobby were excellent. Just as a side note, the evening entertainers who played in the main lobby were called "Twice as Nice". They were a husband and wife team, both extremely talented. Matter of fact, the husband (and singer/keyboard player) was a founding member of the "Stylistics" and wrote the song "If You Don't Know Me By Now". That's the quality of entertainment that was all over the ship.
PUBS...we mostly stuck to "O'Sheehan's", which overlooked the main lobby. You could also get bar snacks there. I think we got a Chef's Salad (hard to mess that up) or artichoke dip and chips.
It was a good place to meet up.
POOLS...they aren't for swimming but just getting wet. The water slides are where we had the most fun. We were like the kids going down them. We had no problems finding deck chairs on deck 14 and at Spice H2O, so that's where we usually were on sea days.
CASINO...if you've seen one casino on a cruise ship, you've seen them all. This one wasn't any different. I stayed in the "non-smoking" part of it and never had any issues. I actually won money, too.
I was thankful that NCL didn't go the way of a lot of recently built ships...that is, turn them into a mall at sea. There were areas you could shop, but they weren't the main focus of the ship as they are on other cruise ships.
In short, this is my new favorite ship. From the helpful and friendly staff, to the opulence of the ship, to the great food and entertainment, we will sail her again, soon.