Background Information - This was our first cruise on NCL. We have been on 3 cruises with Carnival and were satisfied with them, but we wanted to try different cruise lines to see which one we like best. NCL offered good pricing on this 7-day itinerary, so we gave it a shot.
Embarkation - We arrived at the pier around 11:30. The lines moved fairly quickly and once we got to the counter our check-in process took no more than 5 to 10 minutes. We then waited for our group number to be called to board. We we finished checking in they just started calling group 1. We were in group 12 so I figured we were in for a long wait, but it went by very quickly...maybe 15 minutes at the most. Getting on to the boat took another 10 minutes so we were pleasantly surprised at how smoothly it all went.
Stateroom - We had an inside cabin on this cruise. We have had both balcony and inside rooms on previous cruises, but we decided to go with an inside cabin on this cruise to save more money for excursions, etc. The room was small, but that was to be expected. The bathroom was nice, I especially liked that the showers had glass-sliding doors instead of a shower curtain. Storage space was adequate, but you could tell the drawers were old because they squeaked very loudly. You would not want to open a drawer if another person was sleeping as it was very noisy. We kept having problems with the safe. We would enter the code and we would get a "Ser" error, which required a staff person to fix. One time when it did that it locked shut so we couldn't remove our belongings, another time it locked halfway so the door remained open without locking. We ended up just leaving it so the door would remain open so we would have access to our items. We were able to shut the door so it looked like it was locked, and luckily nothing was taken. Also, the walls between cabins are very thin. I could hear our neighbors conversations very clearly and they were not screaming, just regular volume conversations. I found that to be very distracting when trying to sleep as it was very noticeable. Based on this I would definitely not book an inside cabin on NCL again. I don't recall having this issue on other cruise line's inside cabins.
Ship Info - I thought the ship itself was just ok. Some of the common areas were nice but nothing spectacular. I thought the Market Cafe dining area resembled a standard cafeteria. The lighted border above the food stations was pictures of food like tomatoes and oranges, which I thought was tacky. I would have liked more common sitting areas around the inside of the ship other than in a couple of lounges/bars. They had seating integrated into the windows, but they were mainly used for waiting purposes. These window seats didn't have any tables for drinks. I didn't like how they had the photo area set up as it was also a main thoroughfare for people to get to the main dining rooms. It made it difficult to browse the pictures as you were trying to avoid being run over by those trying to get to the dining room. Also, the seating in the main theater (Stardust) was awkward. I liked that the views were mainly unobstructed, but the seats were uncomfortable and very close together. There was no room for drinks and no room for people to get through your aisle without having to climb over people or ask them to stand. The balcony seating was slightly better but there weren't very many seats available as a few rows were reserved for suite/villa guests. The balcony seats further to the back didn't have a very good view of the stage, either.
Activities - We didn't participate in many activities. It seemed like quite a few required an extra fee, and the others were typical cruise fare like trivia contests, etc. I thought the selection was limited but we were happy enough lounging around the decks since the weather was nice.
Service - Overall I thought service was poor. We didn't have any specific terrible experiences, but it felt as though they were just going through the motions and doing the bare minimum required. On past cruises it felt like the staff was willing to go above and beyond to accommodate you, but on this cruise I had to flag down a couple of waiters for drinks on the decks and our room steward service was very inconsistent. Our towels were never fully replenished, and there were smudges on the bathroom door handles and mirrors that were never cleaned from the trip before us. They looked like greasy fingerprint smudges. They were pretty noticeable, but they obviously didn't bother me too much because I mainly wanted to see if they would ever get cleaned (which they didn't). After waiting to get into the main dining room, once seated the service was pretty slow. For only three courses dinner would take, on average, an hour or more. The service in the up-charge restaurants was better, so it almost seemed like the service was slower to help persuade you to pay more for the other dining options.
Dining - I think food is very subjective, but for me the food was tolerable. The up-charge restaurant food was noticeably better than the main dining rooms and the buffet, but even then it wasn't remarkable. I was not at all impressed by any of the desserts, as they all seemed like desserts you could buy from a box in a grocery store.
Debarkation - We did the self-debark which went very smoothly overall. My biggest complaint with this process is that the declaration documents were not provided until the morning of debarkation, and even then we had to track down somebody to get one. As we were in line to get off the ship, I noticed the staff was passing out these documents. It seemed really disorganized to be passing these out to people as they are standing in line when they should have had this info filled out already. It is as if they wanted you to fill them out as you were waiting in line with all of your luggage while still moving to keep the line going, so I found this to be irritating. On all of my prior cruises they gave you all of the necessary documents the evening before debarkation.
Summary - Even though we had a nice time at the ports and on our shore excursions (not to mention the beautiful weather all week), I found the overall service and atmosphere on the ship to be very underwhelming compared to previous cruises. There were no complementary toiletries available in your stateroom bathroom (other than the standard hand soap, shampoo and shower gel), no robes to use in the cabin or around the ship (other than the spa which costs extra), no mints with turndown, lots of extra fees for various activities, etc. These are all very minor and in no way diminished our overall vacation experience, but I would be hesitant to ever book with NCL again.