Embarkation: From the airport booked a shuttle and shared with two other couples (big savings); check-in was simple - dropped off our luggage at the terminal building entrance; had the pre-cruise registration ready and was good to go.
Cabins: Booked an Inside Cabin on deck #10 (aft), a tad small at 146 sq ft but well laid out and quiet; the bed/mattress was very comfortable. Cabin was equipped with a small fridge, a combined his/hers closet, room safe and TV (not able to view your room bill and the daily dinning menu). The bathroom layout will be a slight problem if you are over 6ft tall as the toilet sits at an odd angle and very close to the wall. In the shower you are supplied dispenser soap and shampoo but NO other amenities.
Dining/Food: The ship offers a variety of restaurants but the only free (no extra charge) ones are the two main dining rooms (Indigo & Summer Place), the Garden Caf buffet, and the small light menu at Blue Lagoon. Let me start with breakfast: Blue Lagoon is the place to go for a quiet cup of coffee but has a limited menu; I loved eating breakfast there and watching the ocean. The buffet for lunch is filled with many choices, but you will need to hunt hard for a table or go a little early (11:30 12:00 noon). For dinner I opted for the FREE main dining rooms and rotated between the two; the food was average with some nights better than others. For a special treat I ate at Le Bistro-French and paid the $20PP charge; it was well worth the price for a special meal, and it was the best meal I had on the cruise. I also tried the Italian (La Cuchina) FOR A FEE fare, but it was average; had as good or better in the main dining rooms for free. Be aware that drink prices are very high, so look for the daily special or ask for the house vintage. Overall food was average, perhaps a little weaker than other lines (except for Le Bistro). The wine package is pricey.
Public Rooms: This ship is very well laid out and is just the right size (in terms of passengers) but does need a facelift. I never felt crowded even with a full ship; the ship is designed with the 6th and 7th decks as the main hubs of activity, i.e. shops (located in the aft area), lounges (loved Bar City), reception, etc. Walking through the casino had the standard smoke smell but not strong. The gym was not open 24hrs, and the spa etc came with a price. The usual classes for a fee were offered. Note: internet service prices are $.75 per minute with three packages offered.
Entertainment: Most excellent, in the evening, you have three areas to hang out and listen to music, a piano player (Bar City), a guitar player in the atrium who rotated to the piano bar and a very good band at the Spinnaker (deck 13). I enjoyed all the music venues and the ship seemed to offer a lot of variety. The evening shows were SUPERB! From the hilarious magician to the Four Seasons show, I attended every show and was very pleased (I usually never go to every show). Karaoke is alive and well and offered at various times to try to accommodate all dinner seating guests, along with other fun shows/entertainment to include the wildly popular dance with the staff/stars contest.
Activities: A variety of activities are offered throughout the cruise, such as the very popular trivia, which is offered at various times, a very interesting visual game, bingo, the not-so-newly-wed game and many more. A number of athletic activates were offered such as volleyball, 3 on 3 hoops, table tennis, rock climbing - this ship will keep you going and going. The entire activities staff was very accommodating and Julie, the cruise director, was marvelous.
Excursions: I did all the excursions on my own and went to great lengths to find a good variety, so take a search for my blog. There was one MAJOR snafu in one port: NCL had listed that the time in port at Huatulco from 8am-5pm - this was reflected on the NCL website and our tickets; the night before we arrived in Huatulco, it was posted on the Daily News that the time to be back on board ship was from 12:30pm. This was a huge shock to me and many other passengers as we had received no prior warning although apparently the stop was always scheduled from 8 - 1:00pm. Lack of communication at a large scale continues to prevail everywhere.
Disembarkation: This was my only truly unpleasant experience: initially the ship computers failed, which caused a huge delay & then that was followed by another issue at US customs which seemed to be more of a nuisance than anything else; standing in line for over 2 hrs is unacceptable regardless of the reason/s.
Overall Thoughts: The cruise exceeded my expectations in every way. The ports are great, the staff on the ship was wonderful, and seeing the Panama Canal and experiencing the marvels of engineering was a memorable experience. Great ship - start packing now! www.cruisinbob.com