We arrived on a Cruise Connection bus with no problems. Our bags were removed by the dock porters and we entered the ship quickly and easily. (We did not tip any dock porters). We too, were disappointed in the lobby of the ship, a rather small room with none of the grandeur one see on Royal Caribbean, for example.
We went to the Garden Cafe Buffet for lunch. The selection reminded us of what one might find in a hospital cafeteria...no problem, it was just lunch.
However, we went again for dinner and were thoroughly disappointed! It looked like 'refrigerator night' at our house. Just a lot of stuff, nothing related. Some sort of stew, some pulled pork..with nothing to accompany it, a small oriental type station, manned by a cook who tossed together some noodles and vegetables into some sort of creation. A carving station, and the ever present pizza and hamburger station.
The dessert table was stark! We are accustomed to seeing sumptuous desserts, beautifully displayed and lots of them. Here, there are several sheet cake type items, some mousse type items (also made in sheet pans and cut in squares) and bowls of cubed Jello. Not one cake, torte, cream puff, if there was a cookie, we did not see it. No presentation whatsoever, just small dishes laid out on a counter.
We asked to speak to a manager and were directed to a gentleman called Daniel, the assistant food and beverage director. He listened courteously to our comments, we were not rude or loud and apologized for whatever we felt was lacking.
There is a serve yourself ice cream machine, but the product is tasteless and watery. It looked attractive but we tried twice and gave up.
Oh, but the coffee is wonderful! There is a regular coffee machine and one that makes espresso and all the other coffee goodies, in regular or decafe. Even the plain coffee from that unit is delicious.
After that evening, we did not eat in the Garden Cafe again, except for breakfast, very, very good and an occasional lunch. One thing we found unusual, for a Norwegian ship, they had no smoked fish, herring or anything else one would expect to find, except lox (which ran out after 6 days of a 9 day cruise).
We purchased the $79 Honeymoon/Anniversary package which was a wonderful option. A bottle of sparkling wine and chocolate covered strawberries in our stateroom upon arrival. Canapes delivered to our room one afternoon. Dinner and a bottle of wine at Le Bistro with excellent service. The staff serenaded us with Let Me Call You Sweetheart and presented us with a cake. The food was superb! Then an afternoon Champagne and cake party with a no charge photo. We were not actually celebrating anything, but it was too good a package to pass up and worth every penny.
We did lunch in the Tsar's Palace, but never dinner as it looked like a large ornate banquet hall. Azura was more warm and intimate. We also tried Mama's Kitchen. We never made a reservation anywhere but showed up between 7 and 7:30 and were promptly seated. We were asked if we would share a table and said yes. We enjoyed most of our meals.
The menu was acceptable but no all you can eat crab legs, shrimp or lobster that we enjoyed on the RC and Princess lines. This helped to make those trips memorable.
There was an informal Bridge game for a few days, but nowhere to sign up for it. A little more organization would have been appreciated, so one knew whether or not to show up. Other guests we spoke to on the ship felt there were not enough organized events.
In summary, if felt like an economy cruise ship. The ship is nice, but not lovely. Little things were missing,like the Captain's reception. Only once we saw a carved watermelon and an occasional ice carving. The chocolate buffet was a bust. The offerings were no better that the original dessert bar described above. No extravaganza was it.
We had an inside cabin, which was exactly what we expected. Small and clean. Excellent steward service at all times.
The assistant F&B director, Daniel, spotted us several times and made a deliberate effort to check to see if we were satisfied. Very polite and attentive.
We enjoyed most of the shows...there was something for everyone.
The ports were the usual Caribbean islands, except for Samana, which was grim. Complete filth and abject poverty, rotting garbage everywhere. If you took a tour to a resort in Samana, you missed the 'real' thing.
Disembarking ran a bit late, but we had a place to sit and when our color was called all went smoothly.
We might try NCL again, but not if RC or Princess is offering something comparable. It is hard to describe but there was 'something' lacking and every guest we spoke with felt it also. Everyone would ask if we would ever sail with NCL again. I guess there just was no glamour...anywhere.