My husband and 4 children, ages 11,15,18,21 took this cruise at the end of June. It was my fifth cruise on my third cruise line. This was our first time on NCL. I have to say, unfortunately, it will also be our last. The 15 and 18 year olds had a wonderful time. They pretty much had the run of the ship with their friends. They did not participate in any of the teen club activities, but made friends on their own and found things to keep themselves occupied. My 11 year old was looking forward to the kids club activites, but because I could not give her permission to come and go as she pleased (she was able to do this at 9 years old on Princess after I signed a permission slip) she opted out of the club all together for fear of being "stuck" there with me not knowing that she wanted to be signed out. NCL's policy is that all children 13 and under must be signed in and out of the club at all times. No exceptions. My 21 year old was bummed not to have any kind of activities or get togethers for young singles. He went to the two "singles-mingles" that they offered and they were both in a bar with 40+ year olds.
There is nothing FREE about Freestyle Cruising. To me it means "let's charge for what we always included and make people wait in line to get it". I tried 3 separate times for over a half hour each time to get into one of the two "no added cost" specialty restaurants. They were booked each night, and they only took reservations for that night and the next night, meaning I couldn't even book it for further into the week. The food in the main restaurants (Versailles and Aqua) was nothing more than mediocre and you will have to wait in line to get it. The Versailles dining room is on deck 6 aft, and it vibrates and shakes as if there is a freight train going through it. The water glasses were so HOT when they were placed on the table, that the water could not even be poured into them right away. Same goes for my salad plate. Every single time I ate there it was hot. Wilted salad is not something I enjoy. Courses were brought before previous courses were finished. The buffet service was brown, hot, and plenty of it. The best piece of chocolate I had all week was the brownie the AIRLINE gave us with our dinner on the way home! We ordered 3 bottles of wine over the week. They lost the last one in the wine storage area and you would think that we were trying to get something for nothing despite the fact that we could show that we had just purchased it the night before. If you take this cruise, order wine by the glass or finish the bottle. We had the waiter, busboy, wine steward and matre de at our table no less than 5 times that night, each with the same insinuating questions. I finally just said, bring us each a glass of wine and charge me and be done with it!! The best food we ate was the poolside barbecue they had at lunch every day and the fish and chips offered in the Blue Lagoon. There are 3 specialty restaurants where you have to pay an additional charge. They were largely empty.
We arrived into every port of our cruise late, with no apology nor explanation from the Captain.
We never met our room steward by name, never had clean wine glasses put in our room after we used the first ones for the bottle of wine our TA gave us, and had to turn our air conditioning unit back on every time he left the room because he would shut it off on us. I believe this lack of service and attention is because NCL automatically adds 10 dollars per person to your bill per day for your room steward and dining room staff. Forced tipping in my estimation is not tipping at all. It is subsidized wages. I would rather a line charge more for the ticket and then stop forcing me to tip for service that is sub par. On every line that I have been on where tipping is truly "To Insure Prompt Service" the waiters, busboys and cabin stewards have given service the likes of which have made me tip way ABOVE the guidelines offered by the ship. By the time we were done tipping 15% for every can of coke (at a buck and a half a piece) and 5 dollar beer... then got hit for an automatic 15% at the spa, this was easily one of the most expensive cruises we have ever been on.
Tips and specialty restaurants were not the only thing that was a new charge to me. This ship charged for it's spinning classes and for the help of the trainers in the gym on board. The gym equipment on this fairly new ship is in terrible repair and could even be considered dangerous.
There were very few pool games on the deck in the afternoons, and the canned music was EXACTLY the same every day, starting with Madonna's Holiday and going through a CD or Tape. The live music at the pool was very good though. The shows were not the spectacular Vegas type shows of the other lines. There was one that had a very impressive laser show to start it off, and an excellent juggler comedian, but they had other acts that people actually got up and walked out of. This ship does not have a casino, so if you are not interested in the show, there isn't much else to do at night. There seemed to be a huge void between about 10:15 and 12pm every night where nothing was going on at all. There are no midnight buffets, no grand buffet at all, and the chocoholic's buffet is done while most people are at Fanning Island. We never even got to view it. The other ships I have been on usually had an "adult humor" show around midnight to offset the PG 13 shows they have for the masses after dinner. This one did not. The disco does not even open until 10:30 or later each night.
One last thing. I have NEVER had a professional photographer actually step in front of me as the one from this ship did to keep me from taking a picture. He just said, as he saw me focusing "I'll be selling these pictures and I can't let you do that". Ships photographers are known for being every where, but these were rude and totally put off if you would not stop what you were doing to pose for them.
In closing, I felt as if we waited in line more than we ever have before and got far less for our money on this ship. The reason we chose it is that NCL is the ONLY cruise line that goes to Hawaii in the summer, and traveling with so many children, we were forced to go with a school vacation. We left here with the intention of trying to book a Boston to Bermuda cruise with NCL while we were on the ship, as they offer great discounts that way, but after a day on the ship, we had already decided that there are too many cruise lines out there that are willing to work for our vacation dollars. NCL is not one of them.