I sailed on the Western Caribbean tour the week of Thanksgiving. This is my 7th cruise -â€" 2nd on NCL and I would give them a solid "B+". The holiday week probably changed the normal demographics of my fellow travelers somewhat. I met a lot of multi-generational families celebrating the holidays. The "children" ie mid 40's seemed to enjoy the atmosphere of the ship. The "parents" 60's + complained frequently about the lack of service and poor attention to detail. If you are a traveler who likes to slip the Matre D some cash to get preferential treatment and your idea of an excellent vacation is to be pampered by the staff then stop reading now because we have nothing in common and we probably won't like the same trips.
The overall atmosphere of the ship was casual -â€" in line with NCL's freestyle approach. A decent percentage of the guests did "dress up" in the evening -â€" however at the shows one might see someone in swim trunks and a tank top seated next to someone in a fancy dress. NCL does a good job getting folks on and off the ship for the early morning shore excursions. The most I ever waited was 5 minutes. A pleasant change compared to other lines I have sailed. The quality of the food available in the main dining room (dinner), buffet and market cafÃ© was average. Even though there were daily changes to the menus in the dining rooms I felt like after 5 days I was pretty much eating the same food. Service was prompt and on par with my expectations at the "free" food venues. I ate one meal at the Tex Mex "pay" restaurant and it was a step up in taste and quality but I had to ask repeatedly for more water, sour cream, etc.... I heard positive things about the Pay Steakhouse and Pay Japanese restaurant. In fact several people I met on tours went 100% the pay route for dinner based on feedback they had received prior to the trip. The entertainment was hit or miss depending on your particular taste. Second City does a pretty good scripted comedy show -â€" however 30+% of it I remember from another NCL cruise 2 years ago. I enjoyed the hypnotist and the "Elements" show -â€" but found the "musicals" to be lacking in content and honestly talent. The more "adult oriented" shows in the nightclub were entertaining. They offer the normal "newlywed game", "who wants to be a millionaire" type -â€" and then added a great adult themed show with the hypnotist and a less successful non scripted Second City comedy review. There were plenty of lounges to sit with your old and new friends for a drink. It is a plus if you like jazz or piano as you could always find a lounge with that laid back atmosphere. I much prefer the pub vibe -â€" big screen TV blaring Rock music and regrettably there was only one such place on the ship and during certain times of the day it hosted karaoke or a singer doing a Simon and Garfunkel best of show. The bar staff was pleasant and attentive. Drink prices are exorbitant (as expected) but most staff gave a generous pour - even more so the next time if you threw them a couple of extra bucks as a tip. As a negative I did not find much to amuse myself during our two sea days compared with other lines I have sailed. I have zero interest in shopping, spa treatments, art and bingo. They had ice carving and towel folding demos that attracted a crowd.... Luckily the weather held and we could sit outside and enjoy the sun those 2 days. The atmosphere on the pool deck was good. Most of the time you could find a chair in the area you wanted to sit. They had an area near the pool with live entertainment. They had a hot tub area in a quite zone (ie no kids). They had a kids pool area and then some nooks that were in the shade for those people who forgot to lather up the first day. They had an excellent kids program and those kids that were out and about on the pool deck were well behaved and adequately supervised by parents and staff.
The overall condition of the ship was good -â€" The stateroom, towels and linins were clean. My steward did a good job keeping everything fresh. However the carpet on the stairs was worn at the place where everyone pivots to descend to the next level. The lights in my vanity stopped working for 3 days and most annoying to me - fellow travelers left drinks/plates of food around the pool deck and strong winds blew the trash all over. Wait staff routinely just stepped over the blowing cans and went about their business. Most of the deficiencies seemed to be esthetic and not functional. I had read previous reviews that getting on-board the ship in Tampa was a nightmare as they were new to this terminal. They seemed to have mostly worked out the bugs on embarkation-â€" We got through the rather long line in < 30 minutes. However I saw some older people struggling as you were required to first queue up in the hot sun to go through security and then once again inside to get your sea pass. They need some strategically placed chairs for these folks to sit on. I can not say the same for the debarkation process. It was a nightmare. I was in the last group to exit based on my 5 pm flight time. There was no organization to exit through customs. Porters had their own line and for a "tip" one could grab a porter and jump the rest of the line. People just followed the porters and then when they could not exit through the porter only customs checkpoint they just tried to merge with the other folks who had been patiently waiting in line for 30+ minutes. The well being and happy atmosphere quickly vanished as people cut the line and pushed their way toward the exit. Since I was on a bus and in no hurry I waited in the line and it took me nearly 45 minutes to get through customs.
I was slightly disappointed with the variety of shore excursions in Rotan. I want to "do" something -â€" not shop or sit on a beach. I chose the Jolly Roger Catamaran and Gambalia Park tour. We had a big group so they split us in half. Our half went first to the park. I had read other reviews so I was prepared for the $3 locker charge as they do not allow lose articles (bags, purses) into the park. I brought bug spray -â€" but the bugs were not bad that day. I was expecting to stroll along a jungle path and see monkeys and other wildlife in the trees. Instead we were shown an area with Birds in cages, a clearing with monkeys on perches (one could be placed on your shoulder if you wanted) and a building with mounted insects. Then we had 15 minutes to look around the area. I felt sorry for the local craftspeople trying to sell their goods as our entire bus queued up to buy food and no one even stopped to look at what they were selling. Our guide had a great personality and turned this from a boring stroll to a decent morning. The catamaran portion was pretty typical. Decent snorkeling, friendly guides and rum, rum and more rum on the way home. I did not get out and explore Rotan much on my return -â€" there were a few shops at the pier selling the normal tourist stuff but from my vantage point on the bus there did not appear to be a lot to see. I recommend the snorkeling but would skip the park and do the zip line or some other option.
In Belize I did the cave tubing and rainforest trip. It was a long (1+ hr) bus ride to get through the city and to the venue. Not a whole lot to see on the way -â€“ but it did give you a flavor of the city and surrounding areas. The guides on all my organized tours were great -â€“except for this one. He was completely apathetic. Only one time did he even try to talk to the bus. When we got to the park he disappeared. This venue is really crowded and more directions on where to meet would have been nice. We finally convened -â€“ were split into groups of 8, got our hard hats, lifejackets and tubes and started our 30 min walk through the rainforest to the start of the tubing. The local guide who took us through was terrific. He told stories about local happenings, pointed out interesting flora and fauna and made everyone enjoy the downpour we were walking through. Once we reached the river we linked tubes -â€“ your feet under your neighbors arms and started in a line through the cave. As I mentioned before this is a VERY popular trip and the cave was full of groups. Our guide did a good job with spacing our group so we were not on top of another group and could hear his comments. The cave was interesting -â€“ there was a nice waterfall, and some cool rock formations. Once we exited the cave our guide allowed us to free float the last 30 or so minutes. I noticed some guides kept their groups linked together the entire time....that would not have been as much fun. My one regret is I had not brought money to tip the local guide I only hope that the monies we gave to the guide on the bus were shared. We had about 30 minutes after the trip to look around at local crafts and eat at a buffet (included). I spent about 30 minutes walking around Belize when we returned -â€“ the shops near the pier were pretty typical. I really can not comment on the city itself.