Well now, here we are, back from the Bliss which was overall a good to very good cruise (B+) vacation.
This is my 7th NCL cruise and my 13th voyage overall. As a family of four, we'd always talked about going away over New ... Read More
Well now, here we are, back from the Bliss which was overall a good to very good cruise (B+) vacation.
This is my 7th NCL cruise and my 13th voyage overall. As a family of four, we'd always talked about going away over New Year's and after Christmas. We spent the night before embarkation in NYC: taking in the 9/11 Memorial and Museum (not so cheery but so well done), eating at Patsy's, and enjoying the Yale Club. What follows is a review by category and an associated grade as well as tips/tricks for each section. Take it for what you will and feel free to contact with questions.
Actually, we were contacted the day before saying to arrive at the pier at 1pm. We ended up getting there at about noon and got right on the ship. Honestly -- it was so fast that it was a bit bizarre. NCL ships this size board in zones; and I think it was something like decks 5-9 and 10-17 checking in and entering the ship in different areas of the terminal. We headed first to lunch at The Local which was solid. Because the temperature was in the mid 50s, almost every outdoor public space was open and ready to enjoy. The reason we left late was that the Bliss was docked in a different area of the pier, across from a submarine...meaning that the tide needed to be just right to get this mega ship out to sea safely.
-- Arrive early and pack patience. I think it was a fluke how well things went for us. Probably shouldn’t have been that easy and is more than likely a-typical.
STATE ROOM(s): B
My sister and I and parents enjoyed two, mid-ship mini suites. They are solid and have all the modern trappings of a cruise ship built in the last couple of years: small reading lights and USBs near the bed, good heating and cooling systems, some hidden storage to maximize space. The bathroom is enhanced with a double vanity and a sizable shower with body jets. Overall, though, the layout and feel of the cabin itself is un-discernible from a balcony on the Bliss or any other Breakaway Plus Class ship. Unless you're getting a stellar deal (which we did), there is not a reason convincing enough to book this category. We actually set out months ago to book one room in the Haven which quickly sold out, which was a bummer. Our room steward was exceedingly kind and attentive.
-- Book Sailaway cabin pricing if you're not interested in the beverage package (which is almost laughably expensive if not included in a fare offer).
-- Four people in a balcony/interior will be tight on this class of NCL ships. Check out the family ocean view rooms -- super cool and spacious.
Huge. Modern. Beautiful. Lots to do. Good to very good layout for the +/- 4,900 passengers on board the week. My favorite space, having previously cruised on the Breakaway, is the Waterfront. We took a couple of meals out there during this cruise, enjoyed long walks, and grabbing drinks. The nicest night was as we pulled away from Nassau: about 75 degrees and dry. Make no mistake about it, though, if you're looking for quiet and uncrowded skip this ship or book The Haven. The volume of people, especially in the evenings and nights when the pool deck festivities have come to an end, is noticeable and at times annoying. Honestly, though, one of the things we were happiest with was the amount of help everywhere. Every bar had roving servers; it was always easy enough to get a drink. The ship mostly felt smaller than it was which is a huge credit to NCL.
-- Enjoy and explore in the morning; I know it's vacation but trust me it's worth it to get up a bit earlier to really get to know and behold the ship.
-- Hang out in the observation lounge in the evening/night time (yes, obviously not much to observe out the windows but a really cool space and one of the best bars).
-- Grab a drink and a bite at The Local to observe music or game shows in the over-crowded atrium below.
-- Aft area of waterfront is a great place to stand and hang out as you get into/are leaving from a port. Usually very quiet.
INCLUDED DINING: B
On a ship this size, even with the amount of for-fee dining, there are numerous included choices. I did not once enter the fray of the garden buffet. No thanks. We took 6 of 8 breakfasts in either Savor/Taste or the Local. They were always solid to good. Nice, classic selections. Entrees at The Local are a bit small but certainly enough for breakfast. For lunch we either did not eat or went to The Local and once to Margaritaville. The Local for lunch is really solid and included pub fare. It can get a bit hectic there, though -- I think because of both its location and popularity. We enjoyed four included MDR dinners: 2 Savor, 1 Taste, 1 Manhattan Room. Each night was good to very good. I enjoyed dishes like grilled lamb chops, fettuccine alfredo with chicken, and prime rib. Soups and salads always solid, too. Drinks sometimes could take a little while to get to the table during dinner service. One night we had particularly slow service and the space was super warm -- not ideal. Once or twice we grabbed a light bite in the observation lounge which is a nicer, quieter, and simpler alternative to the over-crowded buffet.
Tips and Tricks:
-- Take you breakfast/lunch (sea days only for lunch) in the MDRs for better food, service, and fewer people.
-- We enjoy wine with dinner and did have the UBP included in our fare. Once, somewhere during the first few days of the trip, a waiter left us with a bottle of wine which, per glass, is included in the UBP. I asked a few nights later and a different waiter was eager to accommodate and left the bottle. It makes sense, really -- it’s easier for them, anyway.
-- Try the North/South red blend wine: it’s a Mondavi family signature pour done exclusively for NCL. I thought it was really solid stuff.
-- If you want to go to your MDR reservation earlier (we did twice), just show up and ask. They were accommodating.
SUPPLEMENTAL DINING: A-
Good stuff here. You can really tell the difference between the food quality, service, and overall dining experience between included and supplemental dining. We really “blew our tops” and ate at the following:
Food Republic - Didn’t eat a ton here just popped in on a whim. We saw Captain Roberts here twice this week with his family -- kind of fun! I enjoyed a salmon sushi roll, we had some pad thai, and chicken skewers. Good stuff overall. Pricing is per item and is not so cheap.
Margaritaville - Excellent. Usually open noon to five. Flat $15/pp. Nachos, quesadilla, and key lime pie were just so good. Solid value. Would return. Really worth a visit.
Le Bistro - Our favorite of the trip and food made better because of some first-rate service. I got the veal medallions and don’t even remember what I started or finished with but do remember they were all excellent. Used our first of three included meals here.
Cagneys - Very good. My fillet looked a bit odd and over-done but tasted fine. They now have candied, thick-cut bacon which really induced the meat sweats before the main event even arrived. Lobster bisque was not the New England version I’m used to. Second of three meal swipes.
La Cucina - Not so great. My dad and sister didn’t really like their meals, service was sporadic, my pasta dish was just OK. Third of three meal swipes.
Q - Awesome. Wasn't so hungry so just got dinner and no starter or dessert. I had the pulled pork and I thought it and its little sides were awesome. Really cool concept here in a large space that could be utilized more during the day. On early sea days they should do a light food sampling so people would be more inclined to spend the money to enjoy dinner here.
-- That bang for the buck goes the longest if you do get the two appetizers that are included with a meal swipe from the package at every specialty restaurant.
-- Look at your itinerary and book warm weather nights when you can enjoy your meals out on the waterfront.
-- You can still drink at the Margaritaville Bar if you don’t eat there. They have some signature drinks only served there included in your beverage package -- same too for the little bar at Le Bistro.
Excellent all around. We saw:
Beatles @ The Cavern Club. They have several shows a cruise each focusing on a different sound and time in Beatles lore. Get there at least 30 minutes early to secure a seat -- plenty of drink service. Really good take in (and, included!).
Six. So good! Only been aboard the Bliss for a couple of months and I understand it’ll be on some other NCL ships soon, too. Pre-Broadway show about the life and times of the six wives of King Henry VIII.
Jersey Boys: Also excellent. Pretty much a full-length production show with every sound, light, set, and special effect you’d behold on land.
Numerous other musical acts throughout the ship were also very good. Mostly, the same people played the same places every night. The only one I didn’t really like was the country group, Southern Broncos. They needed some more contemporary music in their lineup and they sounded just okay, anyway. We did no bingo, game shows, trivia, or the sorts.
-- Book stage shows before you get on the ship (available I believe 90 days out).
For main stage shows, bring a drink in with you. One of the only areas on the ship where there was insufficient drink service.
-- Be advised that the Beatles show is not the same every night it’s scheduled -- so go multiple times!
ON-BOARD ACTIVITIES: B+
The race track and the laser tag were a ton of fun. Wish we did the laser tag a couple of more times. Be aware of extra fees. Neither of these activities are walk-up-and-play so, remember to make reservations (as soon as you get on the ship). I give a B+ here because honestly, aside from this and the water slides, there’s not a ton to do in the way of enrichment or other noverly cruise programming.
Spa: My dad, sister and I did each get the super expensive thermal spa suite pass. Clocking in around $280/pp for the eight days, the pass comes with access to numerous therapeutic rooms and a killer spa pool with numerous treatment jets. I probably spent about an hour and a half a day here in order to make it worth it. If it was a warm-weather-only cruise, I may have skipped this pass in favor of a similar one to the Vibe Beach Club. Only midday on sea days was the suite exceedingly crowded. Eating dinner later most nights, we found using the suite between, say, 5:00 - 6:30 p.m. was a good strategy. Really liked it overall but it is super pricey.
-- Book thermal suite pass before getting on the ship to save between $30-40 (we didn’t…)
-- Upon embarkation, head right to The Social to book laser tag, go-karts, Prohibition/Happy Hour Musical, and comedy shows. Bring a print-out of current plans so you do not double book things accidentally.
-- Opt to book both Go-karts and laser tag at night -- it’s much, much cooler with the lighting
-- Don’t accidentally book a double go-kart session if you’re looking to take your own kart out for a spin. Double sessions are still $15/per cart but you are only given the ability to do four laps instead of the standard eight (we did this…yikes...still fun though).
Just okay -- and, honestly, not a ton offered (which is why the C+). By the time we were about 45 days from the cruise, there were only 22 excursions available between NYC, Port Canaveral, the Private Isalnd, and Nassau. Kind of a bummer and I know space is limited but I had a thought it may have been a tactic to keep people on the ship to spend money. The offerings felt insufficient for an expensive and exciting holiday cruise. Not great.
Port Canaveral: Well! We were supposed to arrive at noon on the first day, stay overnight, and depart @ 6 p.m. the following day. Turned out the ship didn’t dock and wasn’t cleared until sometime closer to 2:30 p.m. We had booked the Kennedy Space Center excursion which we read great things about other than the comment that there simply isn’t enough time to see things with a five hour tour inclusive of the half hour-ish transit time. Though we were told the tours would be extended because we were late, we had to inform the excursion folks that the Center closed at 6 p.m. regardless. Because we’d only have a couple hours there, we decided to opt for a full refund. The refund process was hassle-free. The second day the four of us took an Uber to a local golf course to play. This was not organized through the ship. It was a nice day -- despite a poor round of golf!
Great Stirrup Cay: NCL is (and has) put a lot of money into this little slice of island paradise. It’s actually right next to RCL’s island, which is kind of cool. The night before we were expected to arrive at 8 a.m., the excursion desk told me we’d be in by 6:30 a.m. and offering tenders by about 7:00 a.m. We wisely planned for this and were on the first tender over. Speaking of tendering, NCL really needs to figure out a way to extend a dock so this practice isn’t needed anymore. It was fine going both ways but it just seems like kind of a pain still, with all the other money they’re spending. Perhaps environmental and geological reasons prohibit it? We booked a Small Cabana on the Cay which we loved and was more than big enough for the four of us. Things got super crowded there that day because we also shared the space with the older, smaller NCL Sun out of Florida out on a shorter voyage. People were actually fighting over chairs. One family approached the small cabana next to us and asked the people there if they could pay cash to split it with them! Crazy. NCL actually did set up additional food stations with basic offerings in shaded areas to offset the large buffet lines. Not much comes with the cabana! We did get bottled water and towels but no light snacks like in previous iterations of this excursion. Not too bad getting back on the ship. Think we were there about 7:45 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Nassau: I don’t know if it’s just me but I think the area around and just outside of the cruise terminal has deteriorated tremendously in the last decade. There’s not much to do; though it feels safe enough, it doesn’t really feel all that clean or inviting. We did the Blue Lagoon Island Beach Day. Getting there was a bit hectic with super long lines weaving in and out of other lines from excursions from the other three ships in that day. I really like this place -- and a lot has changed for the better since my last visit there in March of 2017. We got there and actually purchased a supplemental pass to the adults-only Serenity area. It was $140 total for four people. Totally worth it. Breathtaking beach, unparalleled service, private and extensive lunch buffet, complementary Bahamamamas/mimosas, access to snorkeling equipment, bottled water. We took the last shuttle possible back to the pier to get back on the Bliss. It was a very nice day and even nicer to be away from the rest of the crowds. This place felt less crowded and better-run than NCL’s private island.
-- Check in with the excursions desk on the first day of the cruise or so. Online, no small cabanas were available. When we went to ask they became available. This could be the case for other offerings, as well.
-- Be advised that we had a mighty difficult time getting an Uber/cab at Port Canaveral on the second morning. Uber surges were x4+ for a while and the wait for a cab was like half an hour. Eventually the surge fell to x1.5 and we ordered. Not sure if this is because the ship had already been in and docked the day before or what...but it was equal parts annoying and unexpected.
-- Look into booking that Serenity retreat @ the Blue Lagoon Island Beach day. NCL does not offer a special excursion for it like other lines do. Book the NCL one and then add the cost in that you’d pay there and it works out to about $110/pp for the day.
It was good. We were in no rush so we opted to get off last. Customs was kind of fun with those new face recognition machines. Luggage was where it should have been. Walked a block to order an Uber to head to our train departing from Penn @ 1 p.m..
-- Don’t rush off the ship if you don’t need to! We had a really nice morning. After breakfast, we enjoyed about an hour and a half sitting in the observation lounge catching up on work and correspondence now that we were back in cell coverage.
NYE: Very fun. Parties everywhere. We hung out a few different places and ultimately ended up ringing in the New Year on the top pool deck. The tray-passed champagne for everyone, as well as hats and crowns, were a nice touch.
Cleanliness: Crew and management was super and appropriately sensitive to winter germs, especially on a cold to warm water cruise. For the first couple of days, the crew took additional precautions including serving people at buffet lines, eliminating menus from cocktail longues, and sterilizing passengers' hands in numerous public spaces. Read Less