Embarkation: 4.5 StarsNCL has online registration that includes e-tickets. You just print out the forms and have them checked at the pier inside the main building. At check-in I used the Latitudes line - it was very short and moved fast. NCL does not take the top registration form away from your e-docs, rather they photo copy this form on a machine that is shared with a number of other check-in agents, so our only wait was for our check-in agent to get his turn at the copy machine. Then you go upstairs in the main terminal to hand in your pre-registration form and will get your actual room key card, you then have a very short wait (2-3 minutes) to get your photo taken and then you board the ship. I arrived at the pier at about 11:00am and was on board in less than 35 minutes, everything moved very fast. Note: you will get your room luggage tags along with your e-docs, if you decide to use these instead of the ones sent to you in your cruise packet, make sure you print them on heavy duty paper and laminate them with packing tape so they do not fall apart during the luggage handling.
Cabins: 4 StarsOur entire group had Inside Cabins, they are a little smaller than other ships I have sailed(143SF), but well laid out and THE QUIETEST cabins of any ship I have ever sailed, it was GREAT for sleeping, plus no announcements were piped into your cabin, big kudos to NCL for their soundproofing. The cabin was equipped with a small fridge, a combined his/her’s closet which I did not like as I enjoy the separate closet arrangement, and an easy to use room safe. The storage space was adequate, however my one issue was with the bedside tables – they don’t have any drawers and are flimsy and open ended – which made them pretty useless for the usual nightstand storage. There was a TV and it showed limited programming but a good selection of relatively new movies throughout the cruise. Additionally, I missed the TV feature (on newer Carnival ships) of being able to view my room bill and the daily dinning menu. The cabin bathroom was nicely laid out however; the “Commode” will be a problem if you are over 6ft tall as it sits at an odd angle. The shower was spacious (for a cruise ship) and it had a door instead of a curtain, which was also nice. You are supplied dispenser soap and shampoo but NO other amenities such as toothpaste, shaver, etc. (NCL should consider supplying the toilet accessories as they add a very nice touch). Be warned that the dispenser shower soap is not the most effective method of cleaning – bring a shower puff or your own soap! Our cabin steward was fine; he did the basic twice a day cleaning and had a few smiles in the hallway. Overall, nothing special or out of the ordinary about room steward service. Two members of my party complained about the bed mattress and said that it was the hardest and most uncomfortable of any cruise ship (this was a younger and an older person’s assessment), personally I thought it was adequate but could use improvement.
Dining/Food: 4 Stars“Freestyle” cruising is the concept that NCL promotes and the idea is that you can dine wherever, whenever. What you need to know is that all this “Freestyle” comes with a not-so-free price tag. For free, besides the buffet and the two main dining rooms (which have identical menus, just different decor) you have a choice of an Italian and a Spanish/Mexican Tapas restaurant (I did not eat at either the Italian or Tapas place as my research had indicated they were both just “ok” at best). For a cost of $15-$20 + per person you can eat at your choice of five specialty restaurants (Le Bistro-French, Cagney’s-Steak house, Chin Chin-oriental fusion, a Sushi bar and a Japanese Teppanyaki place). Depending on what you order in these restaurants there may be an additional charge for the “upscale menu”, so your bill could be $40+ per person. I ate at Cagney’s the first night because I had a 2 for 1 coupon. We made reservations the minute we walked on Board and had no issues getting our time slot for 6:30pm.
The food was very good but the service was extremely slow – we finished our dinner at around 9pm! Later it was explained that the staff was short handed that night but I thought almost 3 hours for a party of 6 was out of control. At the Latitudes party my daughter won a free dinner for two at Le Bistro, so our group ate there one night during the half price happy hour and the service and food were excellent – we were in and out in less than two hours. The other 7 nights I ate in the Tsar’s dining room because it had a nicer view – huge picture windows where you could see the sunset and twinkling lights of the ports as we departed. I found the food and service to be excellent - I would not hesitate to recommend eating in the main dining room every night; save your money for other things! After/between normal dinner dining hours there is a very nice (and free) small restaurant/snack area called the Blue Lagoon (a waiter will take your order and you order from a limited menu) – they serve great hot wings and fresh fish & chips. During dinner hours they serve the Tapas menu. Additionally, the Blue Lagoon is also a great secret for a quiet breakfast. Even though the breakfast menu is limited, I found it to be the perfect setting, never crowded and chaotic like the buffet. The buffet on deck 11 was excellent – the selection of food for every meal was great.
For breakfast they have waffle and omelet stations as well as a variety of breakfast items, excellent lox and Eggs Benedict that some members of my party swore by. For lunch they had a variety of hot items, a sandwich bar, salad bar, make-your-own soup and stir fry stations, make-your-own pasta station, pizza and calzones, burgers and fries and sushi. Soft serve ice cream with toppings is also available and free daily – a nice touch. In the buffet, the food islands organization and display is done well – hardly ever felt crowded or had lines. However, a huge negative of the buffet on this ship is there are no trays to carry your food, this is a major inconvenience, as you cannot carry more than one plate at a time and certainly not a drink so you have to get your plate, set it down and pray that the wait staff does not take it while you go back for a drink. Unless you are eating with others and ask them to watch your plate, this becomes a big hassle and many passengers felt the same way – I would often watch some passenger’s plate while they rushed to the drink station. In addition, the seating area tables are very close together and you get to hear everyone next to you. Per the Freestyle dress code, no jeans or shorts are allowed during dinner in the main dining rooms (they enforce this so be forewarned), but jeans are allowed in the pay restaurants (money always talks). I would say about 75% of the passengers were nicely dressed during the evening hours.
When I walked by the buffet at night there were people eating in shorts. Also, at the buffet, shirts are required – no bikini tops or shirtless men allowed. Another negative of the Freestyle concept that I do not like is the wait staff rotation. They are rotated nightly between stations in the main dining rooms, so if you want to sit at the same table hoping to get the same waiter two nights in a row it is impossible. I personally do not like this; I like to get to know my waiter and vice versa; it makes for a smoother and more pleasant dining experience. To insure that my party of 6 was always seated together for dinner, a non peak dinner time (same time every night) was reserved with the maitre d’ on the first night. The first two dinner seatings, although we had a lovely table with a view, we found the service to be just average. On the third evening we found a waitress team (“Vi” from the Philippines) that was head and shoulders above others and we demanded to be seated at her table from then on. Of course, our demand was met with a smile from the maitre d’. As a matter of fact, the service from the maitre d’ was probably one of the best experiences we have had on a ship; all our demands were met with a smile and “no problem;” she even visited our table nightly to check on us. Perhaps it was because it consisted of an all-female team? Note: if you enjoy wine with dinner, be prepared for sticker shock as the wine prices are high. NCL did not offer the buy five get one free, instead it was buy nine get one free – not exactly an amazing deal by anyone’s standards.