Background Information - We are in our 30's and traveled with our family of four (two elementary aged children) as well as my husband's parents. This was my 6th cruise, but my first NCL freestyle cruise. I have worked at an all inclusive resort in childcare, as a singer/dancer, and in the office. I do go on cruises with high expectations.
Ship info. - This ship was much different than others we've been on. It was much more basic. Everything was kept very clean and in good working order, it just wasn't at all grand. So many of the spaces just seemed cramped and crowded. I think maybe it was designed to have an intimate feeling? The crew, though, was just outstanding - very professional, courteous, and helpful.
Entertainment Troubled Annie was spectacular. Also, the comedian/ magician show was hilarious. I hadn't laughed that hard in a long time. I didn't see Tim's show, but heard it was very good, too.
The singer/dancer shows were just OK. I've read other reviews that compared it to Broadway. I'd compare it more to a good high school production (but not the content). The first act of the first big show was so disgusting, I nearly had to leave. It was just sexually suggestive "dance moves". After the first few numbers, it did get somewhat better. My 8 year old asked me afterward why those ladies were dancing in their underwear and I didn't really have an answer for her. The next show with the singers/dancers was a country show. Some people can do country, some can't. It was just flat out uncomfortable to watch. Just stick to a good genre for the talent your group has. The cirque show was good. The Irish dance part was pretty cheesy. For some reason, they used music that had the taps worked into it. Every once in awhile, the dancers feet wouldn't match up to the music. Kind of like the lip-sync version of dancing. The performers were clearly talented, but not used to the best of their ability.
Activities - So much of the daily activities handout was just a big advertisement of things to be bought - bingo, raffles, pictures, jewelry, etc. There were several non-organized entertainment options that were fun like shuffleboard, giant checkers and chess, a board game room (which has a nice selection of games), and tennis/basketball court. The slide was most definitely the best part of the pool area for us. One odd and easily correctable thing was that to get to the children's pool/ jacuzzi, you had to walk right through the smoking section. And if you were to sit and watch your kids, you had to sit in the smoking section. Yuck.
Ports - Costa Maya turned out to be fantastic. MAYA CHAN, more specifically was fantastic. Wow. This was just the best day of any cruise I have ever taken. A group of us formed on CC and got the group rate for the day. Everything was included in the day. Everything - taxi, drinks (cokes, mixed drinks,water, smoothies), lunch, snacks, snorkeling, rafts, bikes, kayaks - everything. The owners and all who worked there were super nice. They limit the number of guests per day so it is not crowded at all. Wonderful day.
Roatan was nice, too. We ventured out and went to a beach resort for the day called Blue Bahia. This was also a very nice day. They specialize in scuba and also took us out snorkeling. My in-laws and younger daughter had a very nice time relaxing on the beach - all by themselves!
Dining - We just aren't into the whole freestyle thing. I found their printed times for the restaurants (example 5:30 - whenever)like the answer of a smart-mouthed teenager. Not exactly helpful when you're looking for what's available when you're children are hungry - are you open or not? IMO, not having a set dining time for the main dining rooms really made the service suffer. While the food in the main dining rooms was pretty good, the service was generally slow. I really prefer having the same waiter every evening. The main dining rooms were really more like a banquet hall than a fine restaurant, but they were acceptable.
Le Bistro was fantastic! I can not say enough good things about this restaurant. The food was some of the best I have had and the service was great, too. We also went to Chin-chin and Mama's Italian. I thought it was a great alternative. The buffet, though crowded as expected, did have a very good variety to choose from and was quite good.
Stateroom - We were in a basic outside stateroom. The bed was very comfortable and the amount of storage was more than adequate. We had two adjoining cabins, which I believe is an option unique to NCL. It was not much more money for a family of 4 and offered a great deal more space. Our younger daughter thought the bunk that pulled down was really neat.
Children's Clubs - This was a highlight on our last cruise. We were surprised by how much our kids loved the kid's club and all of the activities. But here's the big problem that tainted the entire cruise for me. On the first sea day, my husband went to pick up our daughters after about 3 hours in the kid's club. When he got there, they DID NOT KNOW WHERE OUR DAUGHTER WAS!! She is 6 years old! It turns out, she had been in the bathroom crying for over 2 hours. Sickening. The worst part is that they did not even notice that she was missing. I spoke with Sarah (in charge of the kid's club) and she was very apologetic about the whole situation. But what could really be done at that point.
Another point about the kid's club. So many of the activities are from 8:30 to 10:30 at night. I understand that they try to make it so that the parents can enjoy the evening activities, but it is just too late. The kids are so exhausted. During the pirate parade a couple of them were even asleep.
Disembarkation - This was a pleasant surprise. Getting to choose what time you leave was fantastic as was waiting in any common area you'd like. I would say the people working in the Miami terminal were just flat out rude, but that doesn't really have anything to do with the cruise ship. Several of the workers thought it was their job to stand in the middle of the room and yell at us to keep moving when we were in line. Really? Don't we all know to move forward when standing in a line?
To sum it all up, this is a nice ship, just not for us. My in-laws, being first time cruisers, thought everything was great. Parts of our vacation were fantastic, just not much of what we experienced on board. Our most important criteria for a cruise is great shows, great restaurants, and great childcare (specifically one that doesn't lose your kids) and this ship didn't really meet those needs. We're still searching for the ship that fits for us.