My wife & I have just finished our very first cruise with NCL. We actually chose this cruise because swapping some unused Timeshare credits for a balcony cabin on a brand new ship that was sailing to the Eastern Caribbean in January, seemed like a wonderful idea.
Firstly, the boarding procedure at Miami was smooth & seamless. We had spent a few days at Pompano Beach close to Fort Lauderdale prior to the cruise and had rented a car from Enterprise. When we returned the car, we were delighted to find that Enterprise (also National & Alamo) provide a free shuttle bus from MIA to the cruise port - what a bonus. We went straight into check in from the bus and onto the ship.
Our first impression of the ship was it was very busy & noisy (entering through the casino did not help alleviate this impression). After a short walk around and a trip to the buffet, it was announced that all cabins were ready for occupation.
Our cabin (10268) was a standard mid-ship balcony cabin. First impressions were that it was very nice and by the end of the cruise we could find no real complaints. The bathroom was functional and the shower was excellent. We drank the water from the faucet every day and our cabin stewart (Bart) was pleasant, friendly and efficient. We are simple people to please and our request for a bucket of ice (twice a day) was fulfilled to perfection.
After settling in we began a quick tour of the ship. The Bliss is a very beautiful ship with wonderful artwork. The room hallways have a relaxing ambiance about them whilst the common areas of the ship are tastefully decorated. I preferred this to the new HAL Koningsdam on which we sailed twice last year.
Included in our trip was the Ultimate Beverage Package and the No Service Charge Package. As non-drinkers the UBP was wasted on us. We later found out that NCL are including the UBP with almost every cruise they sell - and it showed. A large proportion of our fellow cruisers seemed to be in a constant state of merriment or intoxication. This was most evident around the pool area where blasting loud music was ongoing from after breakfast until dusk. If you are thinking of cruising on this ship and want a quiet, peaceful cruise, then look elsewhere. Having cruised with Carnival previously on 2 occasions, the Carnival cruises were like a Sunday School outing compared to this. If you like loud Hip-Hop or Rap music, then this is the cruise for you. If you want a quiet dip in a pool or hot tub then forget the NCL Bliss.
The main pool is 6' 8" deep all around. It was a salt water pool with nowhere to stand up which meant having to tread water or hold on to the side when not swimming. Despite the Caribbean sunshine, the pool was not that warm. Also you will be lucky to find a space around the pool as loungers seemed to be reserved with towels and personal belongings from the moment it opened. Although we didn't try the water slides, we heard a few people telling others that they had become stuck in the slides and had to be rescued. The kiddie pool was reasonably busy and seemed colder than the main pool. Without purchasing a Haven Package, you are limited to this one area for a cool swim. There are other areas for hot tubs (Spice H2o) but they were ALWAYS crowded as well.
Having just mentioned the Haven Package, we did bid $450 per person for the Haven upgrade. Our bid was unsuccessful. In the unlikely event that we ever cruised NCL again, I would make certain that we cruised in a Haven cabin. Because of the enormous amount of space assigned to Haven guests (and the location of that space), I actually felt like a 2nd class citizen on this ship. Good forward viewing locations are extremely limited on the Bliss. The Haven has its own pool area (which couldn't possibly have been as busy as the main pool), its own main dining room etc.
Dining on the Bliss was inconsistent. We ate twice in the Manhatten dining room. The first time we had a quiet corner location and the second we were right in the middle amongst young families. The rest of the time we ate in either Savor or Taste. We loved this concept of dining. Eating here was more of an elegant dining experience as opposed to cafeteria style. The food was better than I had been led to believe and some dishes were excellent. The soups were often lacking taste and I would recommend avoiding them. Salads and other appetizers were quite good. Main courses varied from excellent to just OK. A weakness with Taste and Savor is that the luncheon menu did not vary for the whole week. The Garden Buffet was spotlessly clean and served typical buffet fayre. Two exceptions were the brisket and suckling pork meats which were to die for. Both were knockout. Desserts are my wife's favorite part of meals and she was disappointed by them. We did not try any specialty restaurants (we never do as the MDR food is usually good enough for us) but other cruisers we talked with said that the specialty restaurants were either great or poor.
Entertainment on the Bliss was again inconsistent. Many seemed to enjoy the game show style of entertainment found in the Atrium area but for us the highlight of the entertainment was the Broadway version of the hit musical "Jersey Boys". We had pre-reserved spaces for the first performance on Wednesday evening. Even with a guaranteed spot, we wanted a good seat (which is on a first come basis) so we began lining up about 45 minutes before the show started. We selected seats about 7 rows in the middle from the stage. Talk about lucking out. "Frankie Valli" was looking and singing directly to us. We enjoyed the show so much that we waited in the standby line the next night and again got great seats off to the side. Both shows were full. This, however is another problem on the Bliss. You really need to pre-book entertainment as soon as you can. Friends told us that they couldn't get slots to ride the Go-Carts and their grandkids were bitterly disappointed. The other entertainment that was outstanding was the Beatles tribute band. We saw them once in a small and very crowded Cavern Club and again on the main stage on Friday night. Other venues were a little bigger than the Cavern but would still get crowded. The Country band, the comedians and the two other bands were alright. We, personally, did not enjoy the musical "Havanna" although it was well produced with good scenery, sound and lighting.
We were first time visitors to the three ports of call on this cruise (St. Thomas, Tortola & Nassau). Overall, I was disappointed. Tortola was a giant building site following a devastating hit by the hurricane. The other two were a constant badgering by vendors. Personally not our cup of tea.
Finally the complaint that seemed to irritate people the most - the elevators. There is a back bank of 8, and a front bank of 8. Both have 4 elevators either side of the hallway. You have to press the call buttons on both sides to get both sides of elevators to work. Finally when an elevator arrives you find yourself stopping at multiple floors because all the call buttons have been pressed. Then, at busy times, you get into elevators going in the wrong direction, because it is quicker to go down when you want to go up because elevators often arrive full to the brim.
Even though the Bliss is a beautiful ship, we felt that it is way too crowded with very few opportunities to escape the hoards and find a quiet place. NCL seem to have a dedicated group of followers but, for us, this cruise was the first with NCL and will probably be the last. Next up is a Transatlantic on the Celebrity Silhouette in April.
Very comfortable, well designed.