This is the first time that I am writing a review; I hope that you will bear with me. I would like to start by telling the readers something about myself, so that they can have an idea about the perspective from which these observations were made. I am 56 years old and have been cruising for over 30 years, having taken more than 25 cruises. Other lines on which have sailed include Celebrity, Cunard, Holland America, Oceania, P & O, Premier, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. Other than cruising, I have traveled extensively throughout the world (except for Asia) and I have passion for food (cooking is one of my hobbies).
On this trip, we were a group of four adults, including my legally blind, octogenarian mother who cannot stand for long periods nor walk long distances.
Now, on to the review.
Boarding Manhattan has never been one of the best embarkation ports. But on this occasion, we arrived at the pier into a scene of pandemonium. The ship had docked late, so literally thousands of passengers were everywhere, standing on zigzagging lines and even sitting on the floor wherever they wouldn't be trampled. Despite the fact that I was told on the phone by NCL that a wheelchair would be available at check in, none was, and there wasn't even a place for my mother to sit. When I went to one of the tables and told the NCL representative of the situation, she said "I'm not responsible for what you were told. There's nothing I can do about it". When I asked her to give me one of the chairs that were behind her table, she said no. I had to take it over her objections and told her to use her radio to report the situation to someone who is responsible. Finally, after about 20 minutes, someone showed up with a wheelchair. From that point, boarding went smoothly.
Physical Condition The ship is beautiful. As I am very fond of the traditional designs of ships such as Oceania or Cunard, I didn't think that I would like the modern design of NCL. But the mixture of dark wood and color was extraordinary. Also, being practically new, all of the furnishings were still in pristine condition. Everything appeared very clean and well maintained. Because, NCL nearly doubled the price of the tickets for the holiday sailings (as compared to the same itinerary from two weeks before), we only booked balcony cabins. In comparison to some lines, these were on the small side, but well laid out. And the large showers were very much appreciated. Fortunately, opening the divider between the adjoining balconies added to the spaciousness of both cabins.
Entertainment The entertainment on board was the best I have seen in years. The big shows were terrific and even the small shows were good: talented singers and dancers and funny comedians. The casino was above average: spacious with plenty of tables and a variety of machines in various denominations. But, call me old fashioned, the computerized Roulette machine went too far!
Food The range was from horrendous to very good. In the main dinning rooms, the food was dismal. There was an inedible vichyssoise that tasted as if made from skim milk and potato flakes; many hot entrees were served barely warm at best; and the inattentive service ruined the few good dishes. A sea food platter that was tasty (and served hot) was cold by the time the requested tartar sauce was brought (fully 10 minutes later). On the other end of the spectrum were the upgrade restaurants: good food and excellent service. But it seemed as if the food that was included was deliberately bad to make you pay for the upgrades. Even in the buffet at breakfast, the orange juice was so diluted that one was compelled to pay the extra price for the fresh squeezed juice that was being pushed.
Service While cheerful and friendly, the service was poor. Calls to the room steward were slow to be answered. If one slept late and didn't leave the room until after 10:30, the room was not made up until after lunch. Many staff didn't speak English well enough to comprehend simple requests. Yet, in the upgrade restaurants, you couldn't ask for more attentive waiters. This contrast made the service in the main dinning room seem even worse! Another example: Somehow, we were not given our bill on the night before disembarkation. When I went to the desk on the next morning, I couldn't get another copy. This was distressing. But, there was one shining example of good service. We lost a wallet that was found and returned within 30 minutes. This was impressive.
Overall There were lines for everything. Even with reservations, there were lines to be seated in the restaurants. Even at off-peek times, there were lines for boarding and disembarking in the ports. There were even lines for the nightly special deserts and the extra charge OJ in the buffet. In my opinion, Free Style meant that one was free to stand on line and pay extra to get what one should have received with the price of the ticket. Given the price paid, especially after all of the extra charges, I would rank this NCL trip at the bottom of my list for value and only in the lower end for overall quality.