I should preface this review by mentioning that my primary criteria for selecting NCL over other cruise lines (we really wanted to go on Disney again) is that I wanted a cruise line that accepted 2-year-olds in the kids' club, as my daughter was 2 1/2 during the time of sailing, and my son was just about to turn 6. While Disney has a separate nursery for the under-3 set, NCL allows kids over 2 to play with the "big kids." This turned out to be a stroke of genius, as I'll explain in a moment.
All in all, our expectations for NCL were low, and they ended up being exceeded in most areas.
We've found on past cruises that it really pays to upgrade to a class of service that includes concierge service, and that's what we did for this one, opting for a Penthouse suite (room 9076). The room itself was lovely and laid out very nicely, although it was MUCH smaller than the 1-bedroom suite we had on Disney. I would say that it was perfectly wonderful for a couple, but adding the kids in made things quite tight. My son slept on the pull-out couch and my daughter slept in a pack-n-play that our room steward placed in the living room for us. I was a little disappointed at first because when I booked the NCL rep told me that we had the option for a full-size crib and I thought that my daughter was too big for a pack-and-play. The steward told me that they did have cribs on board but that they had just been found to be "not safe" but some government agency, so they weren't placing them anymore. (Yikes!) Luckily it worked out fine and our steward was incredibly nice in actually removing some furniture for us to make the living room not so cramped.
I found the concierge experience to be fantastic and - dare I say? - BETTER than Disney. Luiggi, our concierge, consistently went above and beyond, from tracking down a spare DVD player to offering to lend me his own personal power adapter. He even let me spend over 1/2 an hour on the phone with Continental in his office on the day before we departed. Worth every penny.
I also greatly appreciated that we were able to dine in Il Adagio for breakfast and lunch with the other suite passengers. It was so nice to have a quiet relaxed breakfast every morning with the lovely wait staff who seemed to really enjoy seeing my kids and making us all happy.
The ship was exactly what I would expect from an older ship that has been recently refurbished. A more old fashioned layout than some of the newer ships, but all was clean and presentable.
I thought the dining experience on the ship was the biggest disappointment. While my kids were delighted to ditch us and go to the kids' club every night, by the last night my husband and I were struggling to find something (anything!) on the ship that we wanted to eat. We tried many of the specialty restaurants, most of which were completely empty all the time. Le Bistro was average, nothing to write home about. Il Adagio was OKAY, probably the best of the bunch, but if you've ever had really excellent Italian food this is only passable. The sushi was decent, although the spicy tuna roll was way too spicy and the portions were odd. The main dining rooms were fine as well, but again nothing special. It actually seemed as though the chefs worked as hard as they could to remove all the flavor from the food. I know that everyone's tastes are different, but as someone who has dined at the top restaurants on several continents, this ship often produced dishes that were only a notch above airline food. I was also surprised at how little the menu changed each night. I am used to other cruise lines where there is a completely new menu in the main dining rooms each night, but not so on this ship.
Breakfast and lunch in Il Adagio were perfectly fine, although it was again surprising that the menu didn't change throughout the week.
What can I say, my kids loved it! My son in particular was begging me to go to the kids' club every day. The staff was very helpful, for the most part. At times, they were more rigid than I think they needed to be, but I guess I'd rather that than the opposite.
The kids' pool was also wonderful! It was just the right size and they loved having the choice of the wading pool or the kids' hot tub. My son also liked swimming in the big pool.
The ports were secondary for us to just the experience of getting away. That said, we came up with some good things for people with small kids. My reviews of those ports are below.
At the private island - HOLY COW. Our visit was cut short because there was a storm coming in and our return tender trip was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. (And I was in NYC on 9/11.) The tender was bouncing around so hard that I expected my husband to lose his grip on my daughter and have her washed away. We were sitting on the top floor of the tender; the folks on the bottom were singing religious hymns. The passengers who were already on board the ship were all out on the balconies, taking videos of the poor chumps stuck in this deathtrap. It took about an hour to unload the tender, people were puking left and right; it really seemed to be an unsafe situation. I have to say, though, that the NLC staff who got us off the ship were incredibly professional and really impressed me with their calm competence.
I loved this trip and wouldn't do a thing differently. I don't know if I'll consider NCL again as my kids get older and the kids club thing isn't so much of an issue, but I wouldn't rule it out completely.