I had been skeptical about taking a cruise over spring break, but having a daughter attending University in NYC it seemed like a great way to spend time with her and do a bit of traveling at the same time. Did I mention she also had a birthday during this time frame? Looking at ship availability and NYC departures - she voted NCL and the Bahamas.
Flying in a couple of days ahead of time, I stayed with friends prior to meeting my daughter at the Pier. I know better than to try and catch a ship when completely jet lagged.
This was my 6th NCL Cruise, her 2nd with. The first on the Jewel for both of us. Checking in at the Latitudes desk was a breeze as was dropping off luggage. Less than 15 minutes, including security, and we were on the way to the ship. My daughter's suitcase was outside the room 15 minutes after the rooms released. Mine took a tour of the ship prior to arrival outside our door. I promptly notified the desk and the suitcase (perhaps I should buy one that is not black?) was located. One of the pursers checked back with me several times to make sure that everything was all right.
Our cabin was neat and clean with great cabin steward service. Our schedule varied widely; our steward managed to clean-up, turn down and otherwise keep the place organized in spite of my early hours and the daughter's rather late night forays. Our cabin was midships and parallel to the line of the ship rather than the standard set up. It was comfortable for two people and not rated for more than two. The small desk was useful. Both the shower and toilet area inside the bathroom had sliding glass doors - much nicer than open or curtains. It was noisy early evening with music from the main atrium. That was less noticeable than some elephants traversing the corridor on deck 9 over our heads a few times.
Meals - being on Deck 8 meant the Blue Lagoon was just right around the corner which made it all too easy to stop in for coffee, tea and an extra piece of cheese cake or three. The service there, with only one morning as the exception was always prompt and friendly.
The buffet has a great selection of vegetarian (including vegan) entries - more than any other cruise line to this point. Foods are clearly labeled. The wait staff were all knowledgeable about ingredients: including getting items that otherwise weren't available in the dining room but were on the buffet. This gave me the best of both worlds - service and excellent stir-fries, curries and some of the best Indian breads I have had in a long time. Both the Tsar and the Azure are good dining venues. I would recommend making reservations if you want to eat at a prime time.
The only specialty restaurant we tried was the Teppanyaki. My daughter (now aged 19) really enjoyed the show. They also did a great job of noting food preferences and allergies prior to starting any of the cooking.
The ship (according to the hotel director) had over 1200 passengers in the 21 and under category. Never the less, as someone who spend a lot of time relaxing in lounges, there were no issues with screaming, running, loud or otherwise inappropriate behaving youngsters. There seemed to be plenty of activities during sea days for the younger set while the college age crew had both formal and informal spring break activities.
We didn't do any formal tours, rather traveled on our own in Port Canaveral. Grand Stirrup Cay was interesting from a photo and environmental status. Nassau doesn't currently have much for museums if that is your interest (the slavery and emancipation museum is currently a frame only pending renovations, the Art Museum is open on Sundays 1300-1600) but you can have a good time at the Pirate Museum. Like many other cruise ports - there are a lot of stores devoted to tourists with the usual suspects of t-shirts, made in China gee-gaws and chain Jewelry stores.
The fitness area was clean and kept strictly to the posted hours which didn't seem to be a problem since I could always get a treadmill at 0600. The attendants were knowledgeable and showed great patience for a few cruisers who just couldn't quite get the coordination required for the elliptical. Plenty of both towels and cleaning supplies on hand. Of note to those who like sauna's/steam baths. You can spend the money on the high priced version run by the spa. Or you can use the one inside the fitness area for free (available from 0600-2300 every day).
The library didn't have as great a book selection as some of the other NCL ships and no paperback swap shelf. The library chairs are lined up in rows, uncomfortable, and without side tables. The card room was standard. The extra card room/game room on the 12th deck has been turned in a Photo Studio.
Not being a casino or bingo fan - can't provide any enlightenment but it looked like people were having a good time.
The main shows emphasis is on aerial performance - both a great Russian duo and several of the NCL dance crew combined for their extravaganza performance. Having seen "Elements" on three different ships, I was delighted with a different show.
The rest of the music was heavy on classical rock, modern rock and other loud varieties. I miss classical, but this is spring break and the selections seemed right for the majority of the passengers. The teen (19) reported that the DJs were good, there was plenty of dancing; and that the beer/wine in international waters functioned well.
Over all, it was good value for the price. We both had a relaxing vacation. My daughter was able to spend time with other college students in the evenings, I met more than a few other parents along for the ride. I found the service and support people willing to go the extra distance from getting non-alcoholic drinks at some of the member receptions to serving food that wasn't strictly on the menu.
Debarkation was not quite as smooth. Getting a good breakfast and walking off the ship was painless. Spending more than 30 minutes in the customs line had not been on my list of *things to do when getting back to NY* but that is not under NCL's control. We did the walk off with luggage which I really appreciate. I would rather leave the tip money for my cabin attendant than pay it to a porter for 5 minutes worth of damaging my bag.