This was an extremely average cruise, and by the time we were done, I felt like our "good deal" had become "a little too expensive." I have written a very detailed review below, but if you want a TL;DR here you go: The service was horrible, the food was one step above hotel catering if you paid extra and right at cheap convention center quality for free dining, the wine is overpriced but delicious, the shows and entertainment are excellent but require extra fees and/or reservations, the spa is worth every penny, the ship is too big for comfort, and the app is garbage. On, and expect to smell cigarette smoke everywhere but your stateroom and the main theater which was super gross.
We booked on a promotion which offered the ultimate beverage package and 3 upgraded dining options at no additional charge (but plus the gratuity for the packages) and we prepaid our general gratuities. More on the beverage package below. The initial cost for 2 adults splitting a balcony room was about half of the cost for 2 adults in an inside room on our preferred cruise line (DCL) for a similar itinerary.
Ship: The ship itself is in good shape and things were in good repair and good working order. The crew could be seen working to clean and maintain the ship daily, which is a good thing. There are eight elevators at the banks located fore and aft, but no easy way to access the center of the ship. Wait times for the elevators could range from a few seconds with empty cars to a 10-15 minute wait. I thought the ship was too big- it was difficult to make plans to meet people and I almost never just "stumbled" on folks I had met at other activities in the evenings- things were just too big. This also means all the relaxation areas were constantly full- it was difficult to find seats on the Waterfront or in the bars at night. The overall decor of the ship is mid-range casino glitzy, if you're into that kind of thing- I prefer classy or elegant. The main atrium, which is not where the LED chandelier in all the pictures is located, looks like a 1990s living room done in taupe and boring. The three story centerpiece with the light was a design mistake- while it is striking to look down from the waterfront interior shops or up from the ground floor restaurants, the middle is open to the casino...and that means the cigarette smoke goes everywhere- into every restaurant, bar, and venue open to decks 6, 7 and 8. Truly disgusting.
Dining: The food is about cheap hotel catering quality for free dining. I was underwhelmed by the quality of the food and there were no innovative or interesting regional offerings or signature cocktails in the paid restaurants. O'Sheehans food comes from the buffet. The upcharge dining at Cagneys was pretty delicious, at Modern Chiaroscuro was mediocre, and at Teppanyaki was very salty (even for someone who loves soy sauce.) Margaritaville isn't work the charge- don't waste your money- it is buffet food on a colorful plate. The buffet had lots of variety for lunch, themed dinners each night, and a standard breakfast rotation with made-to-order omelets, amazing french toast, cold waffles, and the usual assortment of hash/potato/scrambled eggs/bacon/cereal/etc. It closes at the same time as the restaurants, so forget late night nosh or second dessert. Room service has a flat additional charge of $8/order (plus gratuity) except continental breakfast, which is free. The cheesecake was a standout surprise- order it every chance you get if you love NY-style cheesecake, and also the tiramisu. Otherwise, nothing stands out enough to recommend it. The service in the regular dining rooms was slow and inconsistent- we were not impressed. There was always a fifteen minute + wait to be seated as well.
Dining package: if it is free, take it. Otherwise, plan on adding $300-$400 to your tab to enjoy actual cruise-level dining variety and experiences. The service is slightly better and more entertaining in the upcharge dining rooms, but still not to my standard for 'fine' dining.
The alcohol package. So, Norwegian changed the package the week before we sailed and offered to "upgrade" us for $90 more (plus gratuity) to the NEW premium plan. Basically, they marked up all the single malt scotches and higher-end liquors to be $25-30 oz instead of $15-20, moved most of the bold reds to bottle-only (not included on package) or marked up the by-the-glass wines from $10-18 a glass to $15-35/glass. There are a slew of really mediocre table wines at $9/glass and then everything is either by the bottle, or outside the package limits without the new upgrade. This was very disappointing, and terrible customer service considering our booking terms. We used our drink package for traditional cocktails. Do yourself a favor and just order everything a double- trust me, you might get a single serving of alcohol if you order the doubles. If you order all doubles, the package is worth it. If you order all doubles and drink lots of wine and nicer liquor neat (which is not diluted, yay!) then upgrade your package. Definitely visit the Mojito bar and make sure you visit the bar INSIDE Margaritaville on deck 17 for good margaritas- don't be fooled by the crappy "5'o clock somewhere" bar on deck 8- their menu is not the same and it is subpar. The wine on the ship is pretty great, but very overpriced. Sign up for tastings if you can. The Macallan "Experience" tasting is a great way to get 3-4 oz of scotch for 20 bucks and you can order it any time at Tobacco Road. Head's up- the actual tasting is sponsored by Macallan and it shows in the spiel- do your own research before you pay asking price for any of the "special" scotches on sale. I drink whisky all the time- the flight was a great deal, but that's it- the rest is marketing gimmick and markup.
Smoking: seriously, who allows smoking all over ships these days? Norwegian, apparently. Smoking is permitted in the casino when it is open, and the casino is open to all three floors due to the atrium and the rotunda. It pollutes everything. There is also smoking on the forward port side of the pool deck and apparently also in Spice H2O, which totally ruined the adults-only section of the ship. Again, prepare to shell out an additional $200 to access the Vibe Beach Club if you want access to a pool deck that doesn't smell like smoke.
Spa: Beautiful, gorgeous, wonderful. Well worth the upcharge, I spent 2-3 hours here every single day. I can't recommend it enough. The water therapy pool was a lot of fun and surprisingly effective. The sauna, sanarium and steam room were excellent (although the aromatics in the steam room are STRONG.) I didn't really notice the salt room working that well and a lot of the crystals had degraded, but it was warm and pleasant. The snow room was AWESOME but they closed it on our last full-sea day. Kind of lame. I did receive a therapy treatment and the treatment rooms are beautiful, clean, serene and tasteful. The spa was easily the best part of the ship experience.
Housekeeping: Our experience was awful. Our housekeeper rarely came by the room and often explained to us she would have to finish our room the next day because she ran out of time. She refilled washcloths and pulled the sheets straight- and usually removed the dirty dishes- but that's it. When we wanted towels, pillows, refills for the coffee maker, or anything else we had to call and ask for it. This includes missing refills for toilet paper and tissues. There were never fun surprises at turndown. DCL now uses the bed blankets for the 'animals' to save on waste with clean towels- we were luck if our beds were made. The blankets were "put away" by her after the first night and we never saw them again (even when they were needed.) It felt like cheap hotel housekeeping, and we did not tip extra.
Ports and Excursions: Meh, this was a rough itinerary. We went to Portland (Maine), Bar Harbor, Saint Johns (NB) and Halifax. Other than Bar Harbor, none of these towns are really ready to accept cruising visitors and they are not easy walking towns unless you like to climb hills. Halifax was definitely my second favorite port but I wish I hadn't disembarked for Saint Johns. I look forward to returning after a few years as they grow their cruise market. The lobster in every port was well worth finding.
Entertainment and Activities: The shows are fantastic, but they cost extra and/or require reservations. Reservations don't work well with free-style dining. My travel partner had good luck walking up to shows and waiting for cancellations to see things- I don't have time to wait around for stuff like that. I can't recommend the Wine Musical enough- it was amazing!! It also cost $30 (including tip) per person, so there's that. All of the 'fun' stuff in OSheehan's costs money. Bowling is $6.50/person (not per game.) Outrageous. Skiball, table hockey, pool, mariokart, and basketball range in price from $2-$5/person. The ropes course got rave reviews from my family. The minigolf was frustrating at sea (but hilarious- make it a drinking game!) and usually closed in port. The pools and hot tubs were always crowded except late at night or early in the morning. There were plenty of sunny chairs, but I think that is because we were in cold-weather ports the whole time. The water slides received great reviews from my family.
At the end of the day, you're still on a cruise ship and that is awesome. We accepted the lower service and expectations as the cost of booking a cheaper cruise. I may sail Norwegian again, but it will be to sit in the spa. The entertainment was pretty great, but the reservation system was difficult to work with given the lack of assigned dining. I got tired of getting charged for every little thing (six dollars a person to bowl. Seriously- A PERSON.) and it was frustrating that things were always crowded. I never really found a 'space' for me to hang out in like I have on other ships and adventures. Personally, the extra cost for that sense of personal service is really a worthy investment. Your personal travel style will greatly impact whether or not this bothers you.
Overall, the cabins are average and nothing special. They lack the consideration touches from DLC with the privacy curtain between the sitting area and the sleeping area, and the lightswitches are laid out for a single bed. The balcony is a nice clear wall, but the chairs are tiny and uncomfortable. Armless chairs are preferred for lounging.
Beds: The beds were comfortable enough but the linens were too short, so we were constantly getting up at night to retuck the sheets around the mattress, and we had to flip the comforters every night so the opening for the duvet was at our feet, not our heads. We had the bed split into two singles. There was about a three inch gap between the two beds. There are bedlights on each side, with a USB port on each light- a nice touch. The rooms were a nice decor- lots of blues and browns.
Power: There were three outlets on the desk (plus one if you unplug the coffee maker) and one in the bathroom. The only USB outlets are on the wall by the bed. Don't forget to bring a blank key card or similar to keep the power on while you're in the room without risking forgetting your own key as you walk out the door.
Storage: Smallish closet with tons of hangers, no drawers, four half-shelves (one of which is consumed by the safe) and one full-length shelf across the top. The desk has one deepish corner cupboard by the minifridge with one shelf and a very shallow cupboard under the TV that was unsuited for any storage. There are two drawers under the bed which we used for clothing. Our housekeeper was annoyed by this...too bad. We moved the extra linens into the suitcases under the bed. Bathroom storage was above average- deep cabinet under the sink and four narrow shelves plus counter space by the toilet and two narrow wire shelves in the shower. There were also two hooks on the bathroom door and two more by the cabin door. The walls and ceiling are magnetic- bring heavy hooks (25 lb hung from ceiling = great for jackets, wet swimsuits, bags, etc.) and didn't leave marks.
Amenities: Nice! Coffee maker in room (although our housekeeper never refilled it- we had to call every night) + 2 cups and 2 wine cups. Mini fridge, can be emptied (annoys the housekeeper though) and holds 4 bottles of wine upright. No shelf, though. Hair dryer at desk- works great. We were able to request 2 robes, but we were told only because of our Spa pass. (We did not stay in a spa room- we added the week long pass. In hindsight, for the cost, should have booked a spa room.) The in-shower gel, shampoo/conditioner combo sucked. No lotion was provided for us, and we had to request extra towels.
Unless you love NYC, this is a difficult and inconvenient port to embark and disembark from.
I did a self-guided walking tour courtesy of Google maps in Portland and thought it was a charming city. It doesn't feel quite ready for cruise guest yet, but as the only port with Lyft/Uber on this trip it was the easiest to explore on your own.
Hands down my favorite port. Walk up the hill right away and then work your way back to the ship for a charming experience.
My least favorite port- I should have stayed aboard. The city was under construction, there is no infrastructure to handle cruise tourists, and the port is inconveniently far from the city center.
My second favorite stop. The harbor walk is gorgeous, and there is a lot to do within the city. Still not lyft or uber, which makes getting around a little bit of a hassle- don't forget to leave time for the surprisingly long walk back to the ship.