My prior cruise experiences have all been on Carnival and I am an "active" traveler who also occasionally enjoys a little "downtime". If that also describes you -- I would recommend Carnival. And now I will tell you why.
Embarkation was a mess but that was at least, in part, due to the weather which I do realize is not something any cruise line can control. There was also apparently some sort of security "breach" and so our entire terminal was shut down for a period of time while we stood outside, without cover, in pouring rain and high winds.
Once on board (around 2) our cabins were immediately ready. I was traveling as part of a small group (9 of us) and my cabinmate and I immediately dropped off our small carryons in our room and were immediately greeted --by name --by our steward, Noyman. Every time we saw Noyman we were greeted by name and our service from him was excellent.
We managed to have a minute to grab a quick bite at the buffet AND a drink before boat drill. Drill was standard for such and held at our inside meeting points due to weather and the crew member in charge of ours did her best to entertain us during the drill.
Our group did something we've learned to do in our cruises together in the past and picked out a bar waiter early on to sort of tend to us all week. Ours lucky guy this week was Edwin and he was UP to the challenge. I highly suggest you try our tactic of an up front nice extra tip if you want good service on this ship while the current crew is onboard. It's the only way you will get it! Bar/restaurant service on this ship is VERY SLOW which is something I am not used to since I know they want to sell you as much as they can! I found this "slow" service to be the norm in every aspect of bar/restaurant service all over the ship -- from getting drinks, getting food in main and specialty restaurants, and even in the refilling of buffet trays and silverwear, etc. It seemed almost as if they were understaffed. Perhaps this is due to the fact that we were the first "full" cruise for this ship after its repositioning.... but I'm getting the feeling it is the norm based on other reviews.
EDWIN however was phenomenal. If you are going on the Sun in the next month or so please look for an Edwin on the bar staff and tell him "Stacee and her friends" sent you to him --then maybe you can get the kind of VIP service that we got from him, too :-) He was perhaps the best single crew member I have encountered on any ship anywhere. Too bad he isn't on a cruise line I think I will choose again anytime soon.
We heard others complain about the slow service too -- it was a frequent topic on the ship.
Shows were okay -- don't miss Elvy Rose if you get a chance. She has a stage presence that is so much fun you won't care about the rest of the quality of the show. Comedians were also good.
There didn't seem to be a lot going on on this ship and that just doesn't match my needs. This cruise may be perfect, however, for people who want a slooooooooooow paced week. Not a lot of pool games and it was hard to get enough people to participate in them, too... that may have been peculiar to our specific sailing (you really can't predict "who" will be on your ship) or it may be that it's the type of crowd that NCL draws. I'm just not sure about that.
It was rare to hear the voice of the cruise director (some may like this) on the loudspeaker and the "Freestyle Daily" had at least 2 misprints while I was there including an advertised special of a free t-shirt with a bucket of beer on the first sea day. We were told by our bar waiter that day (it wasn't our Edwin at that moment) that the t-shirt special is never on the first sea day that it is usually on the last but they didn't have it then, either.
I very much prefer the way that Carnival does "fun" on a ship -- but with the option for quiet at the Serenity pool area. Sometimes I felt like our poolside fun was probably bothering other passengers. The one time we got a conga line going it was a pitiful 9 or 10 of us max.... so sad. The most people I ever saw dancing on the pool deck was perhaps 12.
I had heard about the White Hot Party thanks to cruise critic reviews and other places -- otherwise I don't know how you would have known it was going on. I kind of felt like I wasted my cute little while sundress on a party that no one knew about. Fun drinks in glasses that flashed and a few people wearing white and slightly more entertainment staff on the dance floor than a typical night in the disco was about the only thing different from any other DJ night in the disco that I saw. Great service that night from Edwin again, though, made the night more enjoyable.
I found the food to be fine -- just getting it was slow. Enjoyed the Brazilian Restaurant and the Sushi one and had friends that liked the French one so well they went back a second time... but I'm very easy to please in the food department so I'm not a good "food critic". I didn't like that the ice cream was counter-style instead of self serve but that's my only complaint and it's pretty minor. Just meant I didn't get any icecream but no harm there! The pizza was okay but you pay $5 for it. However, they will deliver it to you ANYWHERE on the ship so that kind of made up for the $5 charge.
The ship public spaces were nice and must be where ALL of the fairly recent dry dock time was spent. Except they forgot to upgrade the sports bar. It could use some flat screen TVs and a system that allows for showing more than one sport at a time on the many TVs.
Now to the cabin... where I didn't spend much time, of course, but where I do still prefer a nicer space. Smaller than I am used to for a balcony cabin but size generally typical. VERY ample storage space. Glad there were only 2 of us even though our cabin advertised as "sleeps 4". Mattresses VERY firm and rather uncomfortable. Bed linens okay. Not easy to sleep on the very firm mattresses, though. Couch (which was a sleeper, but we didn't use that feature) seemed kind of in the way in our cabin. I can't IMAGINE if someone had 4 people in that cabin -- you'd have to be in there 2 at a time. I did like having a coffee pot in the cabin - if Carnival has that I haven't been in a cabin that was blessed with it. Our steward kept the coffee coming for us and it was nice to be able to enjoy our first cup on the balcony without having to pay the $1 service charge (and that's not the tip) to have a pot delivered to the room.
No self service laundry which means no iron down the hall for touch ups although I heard that you can get one brought to you if necessary. I never tried that, though, just went with the wrinkled and carefree "I'm on vacation" look!
The only time I did call the guest services desk was when I was looking for pool towels (ours hadn't made it to room yet) and they told me just to go check them out poolside so that we wouldn't have to wait because they were "very busy". She did say that if I wanted she would send to room but it would be about 15 minutes and she didn't want to hold us up (so it wasn't like she refused). We were about to nap and were just wanting them for later but since the staff did seem overwhelmed most of the time on our trip we opted to not have them delivered then. By the time we woke up, we found our Noyman and he got them for us straightaway.
I enjoyed a pedicure in the spa, with Michelle, and it was very nice.
Private island was what they all seem to be -- esentially a sea day with sand. They close buffet fairly early, though! 2pm, I think... so watch out... and if they run out of food, they run out and you're out of luck.
What made our beach day much fun was... yet again... EDWIN! He had our buckets of beer ready before we even got off of the ship and all we had to do was sit in our chairs. I did go parasailing -- if you want to do this take some cash off of the ship with you to tip the operators for some extra time in the air. You can for sure parasail cheaper elsewhere but it was still fun if you want something to "do" that day. Island was under renovation/construction while we were there and I'm sure it will be a nicer place when done. Nice, realaxing day. If you take one of the later tenders back to ship, though, be prepared to wait a while for them to see if they can coax a few more people on.....
Disembarkation -- OH MY what a MESS! We had utilized the Radisson Resort at the Port for a pre cruise hotel stay and parking and we were warned by our driver (Donnie, he was great) that NCL's disembarkation was akin to the end of a football game -- people everywhere -- and that the NCL ships were much harder for them to manage than the other cruise lines. I found this to be oh so true! I had chosen my luggage tag to be "first off" and ended up waiting on the sidewalk with my friends who had chosen "last off" time. Because of this disorganization I actually missed my 2PM flight. I have cruised Carnival out of Port Canaveral and I was sooooo impressed with the "ease" of that port (versus Miami) but this cruise -- it was like we were in an entirely different port. So I have to believe that NCL's disembarkation process was the root of that.
Overall, I enjoyed my week. Some others in my group were so disenchanted they said they'd never cruise anywhere again at all. However, I am the type of person who will make my own fun -- if I vacationed in a cardboard box I'd make it fun! That all being said, my next cruise won't be with NCL -- the "Freestyle" for me translated into "blah" and I just, personally, prefer more action! I think if you want to simply meander around slowly and take 2 hours for a meal and are the type looking for slow, easy, relaxing vacation this may be your style. It's just not mine.