First, I should state that this was our first cruise. Our daughter and son-in-law went on a cruise 6 years ago (Carnival) and we were not induced to take a cruise ourselves based on the video they brought back. In fact, it pretty much turned us off entirely. WAY too trite and boisterous. However, a little more balanced information from the web and a ‘last call' price for this cruise enticed us to try it. That, and we were both pretty well fried from work and badly needed to get away. This opinion is therefore based on ONE cruise experience, tempered with experience from several land based vacations and conversations we had with other passengers aboard ship who HAD been on several cruises with other lines.
Our cruise started a little rough. Our flights on AirTRAN were terrible, and we arrived in Fort Lauderdale late.There was no NCL representative in the baggage claim area. Nor did one respond to a page. I had to call the NCL reservations office, who had to get a supervisor, who then contacted the personnel at the airport. I finally found one in a different terminal. After we found her, the airport NCL rep was very pleasant and quickly arranged our transfer. It was a little scarey thinking about having to hail a cab from Fort Lauderdale to Miami, but NCL handled things courteously and quickly once a rep was located. There was only one other couple on the bus to Miami.
Embarkation was about what I expected: waiting in one line to wait in another. Complimentary beverages were provided, but not announced. If you didn't know they were there, and weren't close enough to see the table, you were left to wonder where all those other people got beverages. Check in really didn't take too long - it just seemed that way. Maybe 45 minutes or so. We didn't touch our bags after they were loaded on the bus. I had a quick conversation with the baggage handler at the pier that involved a dead president, and our bags were waiting outside our stateroom when we got there. Debarkation about the same. Up too damn early and too much milling about. I read here that this is very typical, and I haven't yet figured out a way they could have handled it. Except to start a couple hours later, maybe. Finding the stateroom was a matter of look around and ask. We were NOT escorted to our room. The room/credit cards were in a wooden rack near the elevator. Please find your own, then find your room. Luckily, I had familiarized myself with the layout of the ship by looking at the deck plans on the web site. It wasn't really a problem. Older folks, or those easily lost might have had a bit of trouble, but there were maps by the elevators and NCL personnel everywhere.
Our cabin (inside forward) was pretty nice, I guess. Our dinner companions allowed as how these were the smallest cabins they had ever been in. You certainly couldn't hold a party in there, but there was room enough to change clothes. I don't know how in the world they thought the optional third person was going to manage. The little couch made into a bed, but if that were done there wouldn't have been room to move. Everything was in good order and clean. The cabin included a TV, a phone, a (220V) blow dryer, a small refrigerator and a safe. The closet was ample for 2 people (NOT 3), but there were only 3 small drawers. The beds had been shoved together as I had requested at booking. The bath was a molded module with everything within easy arms reach. Very easy. Even if you have short arms. Don't plan on getting two people into the bathroom or shower at the same time unless one of them is anorexic.
There was a lunch buffet under way as we embarked, but exactly where it was, and how long it would be in operation, wasn't made too clear. We went there immediately since AirTRAN had not fed us. We had no sooner sat down and had a mouthful of food, when they announced the lifeboat drill. We didn't make it to our assigned station until the drill was over. But, they counted us anyway since we had actually shown up. I suppose if our flight had been on time, we would have had more time to get settled in before the drill.
Without taking time to write a complete paragraph on each of the rated categories, I will make the following assessment: The personnel we had contact with (or didn't, in the case of our room steward) were all excellent. Service was courteous, prompt and usually correct. Our dining room waiter and bus boy were exemplary. Our room was always clean and tidy, the beds turned down and ‘minted' at night and the bathroom always clean and dry. We actually only SAW our room steward a couple of times. We happened to return to our cabin a couple of times at odd intervals to drop off a bag or change clothes. My wife remarked on how clean the bathrooms on the ship always were – particularly since she never actually saw anyone cleaning them. Must have been elves. The entire ship was always spotless.
The problems and shortcomings seemed to be the fault of NCL management. And mostly seemed to be concerned with cost cutting. I will cite a few examples: The ‘ice cream parlor' was only open for two (count ‘em -- it's easy) hours each day. The frozen custard machines were NOT accessible and didn't work anyway. Repairs were ongoing. You could, however, get ice cream for dessert after dinner if you wished. The portions of meat at dinner were meager. One evening I requested my pork chop grilled PLAIN. It was about 3 ounces. The filet mignons another night MIGHT have been 4 ounces. I doubt it. Popcorn and nachos – 1 location, only available from 6:00 pm until 10:00 pm. Afternoon ‘snack' – same thing every day - sliced up sub sandwiches of different sorts with one other little something for variety. If you didn't care to eat at your assigned main dining room in the evening, you had two other choices. Chinese food or the Bistro. Reservations needed and menu limited. NO buffet or café open. No soda pop included. $1.50 per can plus automatic 15% ‘gratuity'. No children's programming on TV. VERY limited selection. Really just ONE movie channel, CNN and ESPN. The other 4 were ships info or music only. Room service (we heard from our dinner companions) was pathetic. You could only request from a VERY limited selection. And ‘no' was the answer to special requests. Only two additional tenders were lowered at the ‘private island'. It took about 2 ˝ hours to get the first crush of passengers ferried over. Quality of meat was not up to my expectations. I have been fed MUCH better beef at an Outback Steakhouse. And better salad. And better potatoes. The last evening, I was served tomatoes that were about half green.
Enough carping. I should point out that the dance company in the main theater performed three different shows in 7 days. Each very well done. The troupe included a pair that danced ballet on a moving deck as well as, or better than, anyone I have seen anywhere. A Russian gymnast also performed at star quality under difficult conditions. Did I mention that we had 25-35 knot winds most of the trip, and the seas were a little ‘heavy'. We reportedly had 10 foot swells one night. The captain had put out the ‘IF THIS SHIP IS ROCKIN', DON'T COME KNOCKIN' sign. The stabilizers were deployed, but there was still quite a lot of motion. We heard there were many cases of seasickness. The only real problem we found with the entertainment was the band that played by the pool. CONSTANT reggae/calypso. VERY loud. SAME thing over and over. Even when there were just playing a tape, it was the SAME THING. And VERY LOUD. It was difficult to converse poolside due to the volume of the band. A word about air quality. All the dining areas aboard ship are NON-SMOKING. The port side cabins are NON-SMOKING. The theater is NON-SMOKING. A large portion of the lounges are designated (with table signs) as NON-SMOKING. We were not bothered much by smoke, except on occasion. The disco and casino were pretty bad when crowded. And, of course anytime there was a cigar within 1000' we had to get upwind. I could write more criticisms, but I think it's time to get to the bottom line. WAS IT WORTH IT? Considering the price we paid (well under half of brochure price) we say yes, it was. WOULD WE CRUISE THIS LINE AGAIN? Probably. However, considering what we heard from other passengers (and read HERE), we might very well try a different line to see if they really are better, like so many of our fellow passengers claimed they are.