We were a group of seven people - extended family and three kids ages 11, 13 and 16. We have sailed Carnival three times and found all their cruises to be identical in food, activities, decor, etc. We were excited to try out NCL.
The embarkation process was very smooth. We were on the ship in under an hour. Our rooms were immediately available upon boarding (1:00 p.m.). We ate at Windows (after having the staff STRONGLY encourage us to go to the buffet).
Our rooms were nicely laid out. We had two balcony rooms and one inside room. While I've heard that many people like the layout of the bathroom in the balcony room, with the seperate door to the toilet, I found it very confining. A large person would not be able to fit. The inside room did not have the same layout and it was much more spacious in the bathroom. The doors on the showers are great.
During the week we ate at Windows, Garden Room, Raffles, and Blue Lagoon. We did not care for the dining room food options. The food was not tasty nor did the options appeal to us. One evening one of my kids ordered a PB&J at dinner and it was the best meal at the table.......Not until the last night did I feel that the dining room food quality was worth my money. We were approached at many venues by staff selling reservations to the "pay" restaurants. I think the quality of food offered there should be made available in the main dining rooms. Don't serve us crap and make us pay extra for decent food. I also found the Garden Room to be very dark and VERY NOISY. Raffles buffet, on the other hand, was set up nicely - much better than how Carnival runs its buffet lines. The food quality was average but there was plenty of variety. I did enjoy the freestyle dining. I think NCL is way ahead of Carnival in that area.
We thought the entertainment was excellent. The Welcome Aboard show we could have done without, but we thoroughly enjoyed the On Broadway, Second City and Elements. The cruise director was forgettable, but he entertainment itself was head and shoulders above Carnival's offerings.
My youngest child tried out the kids club and enjoyed it for a few hours. She really loved the kids waterpark area. My teens visited the teen gathering area. There was nothing going on at the time and they never went back.
The ship itself was beautiful. I found the Asian decor very tasteful, interesting and not overdone. I thought the ship itself was clean and the decor and materials of higher quality than what I've seen on Carnival.
The biggest disappointment was in the room upkeep. I found that to be very inconsistent. Our rooms were not cleaned timely. Towels that we left on the floor for replacement were just rehung for us. Bathrooms were not cleaned well, etc. This was a big disappointment and an area where Carnival far outshined NCL. (I even found someone's thong underwear left from a previous cruise when I was packing up at the end......ewwww).
I liked the disembarkation process where you could select your own time. However, there was no notification of this process and I had to go to the front desk to ask about the luggage process. It is here where I learned that I needed to select my color tags, etc. I felt for first-time cruisers who would have had no idea to even ask.
Overall, it was a good cruise but not great. NCL is very similar to Carnival in its food quality. It offered much better entertainment but less so in room cleanliness. I did not find the staff to be overly happy. They looked tired.
I would definitely try NCL again but I don't feel a huge draw over the other cruise line and it would come down to price and ports.