This was our 5th cruise with NCL and by far the largest ship we've been on. Prior to this sailing with over 4,900 passengers plus crew, I want to say our next largest ship had just under 3,000 passengers. We've always enjoyed ... Read More
This was our 5th cruise with NCL and by far the largest ship we've been on. Prior to this sailing with over 4,900 passengers plus crew, I want to say our next largest ship had just under 3,000 passengers. We've always enjoyed NCL's style of cruising, but sad to say this time we didn't have the same experience as prior sailings. We chose a Concierge Class family cabin because there were 5 of us, so we thought the 2 bedroom cabin plus the living room area would be a good fit. We were not wrong on that! The cabin was very spacious and the layout was perfect. We didn't get a balcony, but the virtual screen was kind of cool to get a decent view of the outside during the day.
We chose the 9:30-10:00 sign in time and got there around 9:00. There were about 100 people in line already, so we took our place in line and waiting till about 10:00 when the line started moving. Upon entering the registration area, we were directed to the "Priority" area for "Concierge Class" members to check in. Check in took about 15 minutes any by 11:00 or so we were walking onto the ship.
I normally like to do a walkthrough of the ship, starting from top to bottom, to get an idea of the layout, but I kept reading how important it was to make reservations immediately, both for the specialty restaurants as well as the entertainment. Yes, you will need to make reservations for most of the shows and comedy acts, as well as laser tag and go karting. We made our first mistake when we only reserved 3 restaurants. We chose 3 at random because they sounded good, but we really should have spent more time looking at the menus because we ended up canceling two because we just couldn't find things our 11 and 14 year olds would eat. We then moved to make reservations for all the on board entertainment. Again, more mistakes were made, mainly because we felt rushed to choose show times and times for laser tag/go karting. Initially we were going to go with the "unlimited" go kart package, but DO NOT do that, as there is zero chance you'll get your money's worth. The track just wasn't open enough hours to get more than a couple rides in, UNLESS you planned to not go ashore on a port day or if you planned on skipping dinner and/or the evening shows.
After making our reservations, I did a walkthrough of the ship, top to bottom. The ship is beautiful, no doubt about it. It didn't "feel" old and seemed to have a really good layout in my opinion. Let me address some of the areas in more detail:
Joy Theater - Decently sized, two shows a night for the production shows. Plenty of folks walking around taking drink orders. Didn't seem like many "bad" places to sit in the whole theater. BUT, again, make your reservations early or take a chance and wait in the stand by line for space to open up.
Social Club - This is where the comedians performed (most of the time). In my opinion, this area was too small. Almost every other ship we've been on had a lounge area that was around 1/3 the size of the main theater for acts like this, but the Joy did not. But in fairness, some of the comedy performances were performed in the Joy theater.
Ocean Blue - We LOVED this restaurant, so much that we went twice on the cruise. Our kids fell in love with Adrian, our waiter. The food was outstanding, and the service was top notch.
Q - Our first night was spent dining in the Q, the BBQ restaurant aboard the Joy. They offered live music which was pretty good as well. The food was pretty darn good and the brisket was actually better than some of the BBQ places at home. Sides were so so, but again, the service was just incredible. The desserts were WAY too big, but scrumptious!
Buffet - We never ate a meal here, we're just not buffet people. We did snag some of the soft serve and hand-scooped ice cream, and it was of course delicious.
MDR - Savor/Taste - Very enjoyable, we didn't think there was much difference between the two, aside from the obviously different decorations. However, we felt both were VERY loud at dinner time. Breakfast was always pretty quiet here, but we go here before 8 each morning. Lunches were also very good, albeit a little on the loud side.
MDR - Manhattan Room - Same thoughts with this one as for the Savor/Taste. But, we felt this was the loudest of all the MDRs, mainly because it's so much bigger.
Bars - I had the drink package, so I tried all the bars. Often times they were crowded and the more loud and demanding a passenger was, the quicker he/she got served. Can't tell you how many times I waited while people coming after me were served first. I'm just not that person, so it is what it is.
Starbucks - We are Starbucks nuts, so it was nice having all the Starbucks our system could tolerate during the week. Rarely was there a line, but we also avoided it at the peak morning hours.
Local Pub - This was our favorites spot for lunch. We enjoyed the food here, rarely had to wait (again, we don't eat at the rush hour times), and thought the service was pretty good. The menu was varied and had something for all of us. My biggest complaint is you could hear the noise from the Atrium, two decks below, and it was often very loud as they seemed to always have something going on.
Observation Lounge - We REALLY wanted this place to be our "go to" spot for relaxing, but that was not to be the case. It was pretty much non-stop noise from start to finish unfortunately. They did have two smaller food stations on each side, as well as a Starbucks and bar, but it was just always packed and obnoxiously loud in here.
Waterfront - This ended up being our "go to" spot, even though it was outside. It seemed like very few people even knew about this place, as we were often the only ones out there. And the plus is we were just steps away from the Mojito bar, our favorite bar of them all!
District Brew House - Another great spot to relax, and I think it's because people just didn't know it was there. Tucked away in a corner off deck 8, this was a great spot to read and drink a beer (or two).
As for Go Karts, our kids ended up riding the go karts a total of 3 times. They really weren't impressed, as you are instructed not to pass anyone unless you have a very clear path, and if you do pass and it's considered "aggressive" the crew member watching the track will slow your kart down, which happened to every one of us. The "race" then became a "follow the slowest person" event because the track just isn't wide enough to make a smooth and clean pass without coming too close to the person in front of you. And each "race" we had, there always seemed to be that one person who was intimidated and didn't want to go very fast, so everyone else suffered. One other issue is we waited nearly an hour for our turn, even though we had appointments. So, even after all that, if you still want to ride the Go Karts, make your appointments early, as I believe they were completely full by the end of the first night.
Laser tag was pretty fun, and I was even able to join my kids even though I didn't sign up. But again, make your reservations early, they were also full by the first night. At the time of writing, there was no package deal offered.
Disembarkation wasn't too bad. We opted for the self assist as we always like to debark as soon as possible and don't mind carrying our own bags. After all, what are kids for? We did encounter a few crew memeber who pointed us in different directions, but once we found the line, it was just a matter of waiting for the green light. We were off the ship and through custom by 7:35am.
Summary - This cruise ranked near the bottom of all our cruises, mainly because it just seemed like 20 decks with nearly 5,000 people was a bit excessive given that we really didn't get any more interior public space out of it. I would have assumed more public space, not less. But, the food quality and specialty restaurants were way above average, so we don't feel like it was a waste of time. We definitely won't sail on a ship this large again, but we'd probably consider NCL again. However, we just booked our next cruise, and it's with Holland America as it seems their style might more closely meet ours. Read Less