3rd cruise, 1st on NCL. We won't sail with them again, as the plus of freestyle cruising did not overcome the many negatives. This review is detailed, so I've summarized by category, and then gone into details.
Ship: Tacky and Impersonal.
The ship is gaudy in decor, with tropical touches throughout. We were in Alaska. I realize they can't change the ship by port, but classy always works, and they would have done well go with that. There are very few areas to sit and watch the water or read or just relax, and most of those are in large public areas. The Spinnaker lounge has nice seating, but its a huge area and often filled with loud activities such as Bingo. The view isn't as good in the Star Bar, but it was quiet- when we were allowed in. The two pools and four hot tubs are all adjoining, and I prefer private smaller separate areas (Royal C Solarium was outstanding in the past). Our inside stateroom was fairly spacious and there were lots of nice storage spaces. The shower door stuck, and the lack of conditioner was a let down. We were on Deck 5, and I'm not sure why, but it was often significantly colder than other Decks, which was fine with us. It also smelled sometimes like a restroom, which was horrific.
Food: Sub-par in flavor, eccentric in variety.
Buffet- The buffet had lots of options, but none of them were good. Dry roasted chicken, flavorless over-cheesed pizza with soft crusts, and school cafeteria grade hamburgers. For your best choices, stick to the fresh items like fruits and salads, or the items that don't suffer from sitting for so long, like the soups. The chocolate buffet fills the room, but duplicate items abound, and none of it was worth a second helping.
Main Dining Rooms- poor food and apathetic service made us feel as though they were pushing us far too hard to eat at the specialty restaurants. The low points were the wilted shrimp Caesar, the hamburger, the soggy chips, and this horrible mushroom filled pasta topped with three cheeses, including cheddar, that was both terrible to view and to taste. The highlights, such as they were, were the French Onion Soup, the Salmon/Shrimp Sandwich, and the Asian Firecracker roll. Special requests, no matter how minor (extra raspberry sauce with the cake) were met with blank looks, leaving us to guess as to whether or not they would be accommodated.
Specialty Restaurants- Cagney's Steakhouse/Teppanyaki: Better than the dining room, but perhaps not worth the $25 charge/pp.
Cagney's: We ate here twice and enjoyed it. However, I'll caveat by saying the second time wasn't prompted by the fabulous experience during the first. Rather, we couldn't face another meal in the main dining room. The appetizers were quite good, I liked the shrimp cocktail and the crabcakes. The wedge salad was good, the lobster bisque was not. I had the filet both times, and the first is was medium instead of medium rare, but still tasty. Dessert was a let-down, as the sampler plate only hit a homerun on 1/3 options, the brownie. I ordered a full serving of that the second time, and it was quite good- however, you'd expect more than a chain restaurant gooey brownie dessert for the price.
Teppanyaki- Edamame app was fine, didn't like the salad, enjoyed my shrimp/filet main course (though again, the filet was not medium rare, rather medium/medium well) and the butter or oil seemed a bit heavy. The green tea cake looked like a Twinkie gone awry (is that even possible) and I only had a few bites.
Service: Tired and Uncaring
It was abundantly obvious that most of the crew was sick of Alaska and ready to go. Some of them readily confessed to this fact, while others simply made it known by the way they did their job. Only our room steward Myrna was consistently friendly and bothered to ask and learn our names, but she dialed it in in other areas such as the towel animals, we only got one. The others said hi in the way that lets you know they are only doing it because they must. The dining room service was impersonal to the extreme. I realize you have a different table each night, but you could still chat briefly with your guests about the cruise to see if they are enjoying it. The spa was flat out rude when they let us know it was fully booked all week, offering no sympathy or options. The excursion desk left a VM at 11:09am letting us know our 11:20am excursion was partially cancelled- of course we were already well on the dock at that point. Overall, the pampering experience you hope for on a cruise was non-existent.
The announcements could not be heard in our cabin, so unless we got up and opened the door, we only heard muffled chatter. Thus, we had to plan our day using the guide, which was not well done in my opinion.
I realize the cruise wants to make money, but more free activities should be offered. I don't want to pay an undisclosed amount for a fitness class, or $5 for a game of bowling, or $15 for a salsa tasting, I just want you to give it to me as part of the fare. Make the fare higher if you must, but constantly weighing the cost puts a damper on my vacation. Also, the library was open 24/7, but you couldn't get to the books unless the person was on duty, which was only 4 hours a day. Is book theft that big an issue on the ship?
We saw two shows- Sharkbait and Second City Comedy, both had several flat moments.
Our best activity was the Pub Crawl ($25/pp) which got us 5 drinks, an hour of time with a staff member who actually tried to have fun, and a way to meet some of the less sedate cruisers on board. Definitely the highlight of our activities on board.