Ok, folks, here's my two cents, if it's worth that! We are me, a 46 yo teacher; DH, a 47 yo journalist; and DS, an 8 yo wild man. We've cruised twice before with DCL and LOVED it. We booked NCL because of the dramatic price ... Read More
Ok, folks, here's my two cents, if it's worth that! We are me, a 46 yo teacher; DH, a 47 yo journalist; and DS, an 8 yo wild man. We've cruised twice before with DCL and LOVED it. We booked NCL because of the dramatic price difference, including being able to save on airfare by driving to NYC from Columbia, MD and because DS is a SpongeBob fanatic, so he would still get his character fix. I was concerned whether or not NCL would compare favorably but was pleased with the comparison.
We had a speedy 3+ hour drive from Columbia to the NYC terminal, which was easy to find and navigate. We dropped off our luggage at the "Drop off" section, then circled back around and followed the "Parking" signs to the roof. Considering how much we saved on airfare, we found the $210 to park for the week a fair tradeoff. We passed quickly through security and waited behind two other groups in line for check-in for about 3-5 minutes, then checked in easily. A quick embarkation photo and we were in seats by about 10:30. During the hour or so that we waited for them to begin boarding, DS bought himself a soda package, and I made dinner reservations for Tepanyaki at the tables that were set up in the terminal. When boarding began, we went straight up to Deck 12 and tried to eat at the Garden Cafe. It was such a cold, dreary day in New York that the A/C was a bit of overkill, and DH was feeling very chilled. We relocated to a poolside table which felt a bit warmer. DS got right into the pool with one other little boy and had a blast for at least an hour. I ran down to guest services to make sure OBC's were properly applied (they all were), and then they announced that staterooms were ready.
We were in mini-suite 11504 and were very pleased with it. It's right near the forward stairs/elevators and beneath the spa, which I figured would be very quiet. It's said that Disney staterooms are some of the largest in the industry, so I was concerned how these would compare, but our mini-suite was at least as roomy as the oceanview room we had on DCL. I liked having the bathtub in the bathroom, since I have a little one, and the pullout sofa was extremely roomy and comfortable when converted to a bed. Everything was clean and bright, and our room steward, Leslie, showed up shortly to introduce himself. He was charming and accommodating and emptied the mini fridge for us happily at my request to make room for our stuff. This was our first time cruising in a room with a balcony, and I will never go without again! I spent a great deal of time out there reading or having a drink while waiting for the boys to wake or just for some me time.
We mainly took advantage of the MDR's, the Garden Cafe, and Topsider's Grill, with the exception of the Nickelodeon Character Breakfast, one night at Tepanyaki, and a lunch at Sushi. The food was ok. DH is a fairly picky eater and had some difficulty finding things he was interested in eating. He pretty much stuck with the sirloin steak at dinner. I enjoyed the dill smoked salmon and liked the leg of lamb on the first night, but found the vanilla soufflE a bit eggy. Likewise, a chicken piccata on night three bore little resemblance to any kind of piccata I've ever eaten. The chicken breast was very tender, but then it was as if the chef gave it an egg wash and baked it without completing the rest of the recipe...no breading, no lemon, no capers; just a chicken breast with a coating of egg on it. The beef wellington was pretty good, and the lobster tail and snapper on lobster night was good, if a bit small. The rest of the included meals were ok. We both really enjoyed our meals at Tepanyaki. The chef was really entertaining and the food was unbelievable. I had a seafood combination with lobster, scallops, and calamari, and DS ordered the land and sea: filet mignon and shrimp. Everything was seasoned with a garlic butter that made it all taste fantastic, and the fried rice was a masterpiece on its own. My lunch at sushi was a sushi lover's dream! The chocolate buffet was great to look at, but the actual desserts were not mind blowing, and I found little to get really excited about. Overall, I felt that the food that's included was satisfying and filling, but not much more.
Port Canaveral: We planned to go to Ron Jon's for some shopping and then spend the afternoon at the International Palms Resort where they have a fantastic kids' pool with a pirate ship play structure in it and beach access. This was originally a Beach Break excursion that I booked through NCL, but it was cancelled shortly after I booked it. I planned to take the FREE Radisson shuttle to Ron Jon's, the Cocoa Beach Trolley for $3.10 for the three of us to the resort, and then I guess a cab back to the boat. Turns out the Radisson shuttle was not running, so our transportation costs increased considerably as we ended up taking a cab to Ron Jon's. Other than that, it was a great day. Since there have recently been jellyfish infestations at the beaches in the area, I was glad to have booked the room where DS LOVED the pool. It was a brutally hot day in Florida (97 degrees), so we both spent a lot of time in the water. DH fell asleep in the room before DH and I finished changing into our suits!
Great Stirrup Cay: It was a great day! The tendering process was a bit confusing as crowds crammed into the stairways and inched down the halls only to be turned around and redirected to a different exit when the tender boat we prepared to board filled up right before we got there. Once seated on the tender boat, all was well, however, and we were able to find some loungers near the hippo slide on which DS had a fantastic time. After riding it a few times, DS and I headed to the water where I rented a yellow float and pulled up a beach chair. We took turns paddling around on it, and DS enjoyed climbing onto a big raft tethered to a post in the middle of the water. DH, not much of a beach guy, took an early tender back to the ship, and after a couple more hours, DS returned to the hippo slide where the motor had failed, so everyone waited while they reinflated it. Then they had to wait for the water pressure to build back up in one of the hoses, and finally, DS rode it a few more times. Finally, DS and I shopped, ate barbeque (which was very good and not at all crowded), and headed back. I am obsessive about reapplying sunscreen, and while I saw many people back onboard badly burned, DS had not a spot of red on him. A couple of spots on my back that I missed got a little red, but I could live with it.
Nassau: We booked the Blackbeard's Cay Stingray Adventure directly through Blackbeard's for me, which was a little cheaper than doing it through NCL, with only a beach day for DH and DS. In the meantime, DS changed his mind and decided he wanted to swim with the stingrays after all. It was a short and interesting catamaran trip on the Coral II with a guided tour by the captain and first mate that took about 25 minutes until we reached the island. Once on the island we were sent directly to the bar to check in and pay our balance where an additional $10 got DS upgraded to Stingray Adventure status. This was a fantastic experience with plenty of opportunities to touch, feed, and hold the rays and snorkel with the fish that populated the little lagoon. Refreshments and shopping were available there, and I was excited to buy a conch shell that you could blow like a horn, as I teach Lord of the Flies in my 8th grade language arts classes! Definitely an excellent adventure.
Fitness Center: This is a high priority for me, and NCL's fitness center was first rate. It's set up with all LifeFitness equipment including elliptical trainers, treadmills, exercise bikes, and a couple of rowing machines for cardio, several benches and a full set of dumbbells, and a satisfactory variety of resistance machines, including a double pulley system. I always worked out at 6:00 AM, when they open. There was no wait for equipment at that time, and there were never any classes then in the exercise studio where a supply of stability and Bosu balls were available for core training. I was able to get a great workout, and I know I will miss having that fantastic view of the ocean when I get onto my usual elliptical at my gym here at home. I even got to see dolphins leaping out of the water on day two!
Pools: I did witness some of the chair hog issues mentioned so frequently on the boards, but I only had trouble getting a sunbed myself on a couple of occassions. Since I try not to bake in the sun, most of the time I was happy to settle myself at a table under the covered area while DS played in the pool. He LOVED the slide, and even though the body of the family pool is pretty deep, he either played near the steps or put on his life jacket, as he's not a confident swimmer. As mentioned before, the jacuzzis are very hot, but once you get used to them, they feel great.
Splashdown Kids Club: Sometimes the checkin line would move very slowly, and the staff could be a bit ineffecient about moving it along. I was also surprised at how unfamiliar they seemed right up to the last day with my son's name, while the Team Nick crew got to know it right away. They had some pretty good activities, particularly the pajama party on the last night. DS really liked the big climbing structure at the back of the kids' room, but he rarely got to play in it. They frequently closed it off, and when it was open it seemed he was always there when it was the little kids' turn to play in it. I did like, however, that they didn't have movies/TV playing constantly and many activities got the kids up and moving.
Nickelodeon Activities: These were great! DS loves costumed character, so we attended every meet and greet opportunity as well as the character breakfast which was on day three. The Nick Live Poolside! events were fun and well attended, and DS got slimed, even though he didn't answer his question correctly. On the final afternoon, they moved Slime Time Live! into the Stardust Theatre, and the show was great fun. We attended two of the arts and crafts sessions where DS colored his own bandana and canvas tote bag and then got to participate in a fashion show to display his artwork. The Team Nick crew was fantastic, fun, energetic, and really great with the kids. This was definitely a highlight of the cruise, which was gratifying since it was one of the main reasons we chose this cruise.
Arcade: The boys spent a lot of time here playing air hockey, Hydro Thunder, and trying their luck at the claw machine. They were very lucky, and DS brought home 11 little stuffed animals in his Nickelodeon tote bag! I even enjoyed a game of Guitar Hero on one outing.
Lounges: We enjoyed an evening of karaoke at the Fyzze Lounge and a family afternoon of Wii. DH and I had a bartender pour my martini into a glass balance on his forehead at Shakers Bar and chatted with a delightful elderly couple from New York. DH enjoyed watching his beloved Bruins win the Stanley Cup amid a crowd of rabid Boston fans in the Fyzze Lounge and even provided the victory soundtrack of "Sweet Caroline" and "Dirty Water" on his iPhone to be played to the celebratory crowd through the karaoke setup. I really enjoyed the group Modal Magic both at Fyzze and poolside.
Gift Shop: I found the kids' selections to be a bit meager, but the souvenirs were plentiful. They had a good assortment of ornaments, which I like to collect, and the apparel was nice. On the last couple of days they had some remarkable sales, so hold out until the end before you purchase.
Overall: We had a great time and were sorry when it was time to leave. I would definitely rank NCL right up there with DCL, and DH felt the same way. As we were lining up to disembark (very easy, BTW) DS asked when we would return! Not soon enough, if you ask me. Read Less