We have sailed other cruise lines before and chose Norwegian for the first time due to the "freestyle" atmosphere. We are not "professional cruisers" by any means, mainly because we are just working people that live for our yearly cruise and became addicted at Cruise #1. Here is our take on the good and the bad:
Flew into Miami the day before and spent the night at Comfort Inn. (Never want to chance a missed or cancelled flight and not make it on time.)
Embarkation Wow! I think we arrived at the terminal about 11:45 and by a little after 12:00pm, we were on the ship. Incredibly smooth and fast.
Cabin We booked this in October 2007 and chose an inside cabin, as we spend very little time in our room and it is more economical. We chose to "upgrade" and ended up in 8007. Well, this is about as far to the front of the ship as you can get. I am not sure where we would have been had we not paid more. The bathroom was much bigger than we expected and the shower door was a great surprise. Water pressure was strong. Once the beds were together, it was impossible to get around on one side. The seas were rough the first couple of days and that room moved more than you could imagine. Also, there were loud clanging sounds all night, possibly from the chains from the anchor that we must have been right next to. And when we either dropped anchor (at 4:30 am a couple of times) or brought it up, it was impossible to hold a conversation because it was so loud. Even when we were in port and not moving, the room moved. The drawers never stopped opening and closing. We were really shocked that we paid extra for this cabin.
Stewards I know one was named "Anna," but never got the gentleman's name. I don't know if they were just too busy or what, but we only got turn down service on one night. We are early risers and tend to be back in the cabin by about 7:30 -- 8:00 pm. On prior cruises, the steward always figured out our schedule early on and there were times we swore he was hiding under the bed, because we could be gone for 15 minutes and he would have been in there doing something. Not this time. We would leave the cabin at about 5:30 -- 6:00 am and come back in the late morning and the room would still not have been touched. There were times we had to seek someone out to switch beach towels. There were little dials on the door indicating "do not disturb," make up cabin," "turn down cabin," etc., and we always used it, but it didn't seem to make a difference. We would be gone from before dinner for a couple of hours at least and again, only once, was the room turned down. I will say that on other floors, we saw a flurry of activity with the stewards, but that was not the case on our floor.
Excursions In Samana, we took the Cayo Levantado beach escape. It was INCREDIBLE! What a beautiful beach! Plenty of free beach chairs everywhere. And since we were there most of the day, it was nice because there were plenty of shaded areas next to the tiki hut bar and a place we could get burgers and hot dogs for a reasonable price. There was also a straw market area. We still believe that this is one of the most beautiful beaches we have ever spent time on. We heard a lot of people complain about going into the town of Samana, as it was kind of "third world." We recommend the beach.
In Tortola, we chose to just walk around the town. We did some shopping (very expensive compared to St Thomas). We met some really nice shopkeepers and had an ice cream cone at an Italian ice cream shop in town. A very nice day.In St Thomas we had an early excursion to Magan's Bay, so we got to go thru immigration early. It was a very fast and organized process. We got off the ship and had a little time for shopping in the little mall area near the pier before our excursion. Great prices and great shopping. Our ride to Magan's Bay was memorable! Very fast and through the hills. The beach was beautiful, but very crowded. Chairs could be rented but then needed to be drug a long way to find a clear spot. We were at first disappointed that we were only going to be there for a couple of hours, but it was hot and sunny so it really was plenty. It is certainly a piece of paradise! At Great Stirrup Cay, NCL's private island, we were on one of the first tenders and the rain let loose on our way over. When we got to the beach, everyone ran for shelter. The crew was on a different tender with supplies for the bbq. They were very funny unloading in the rain. The weather finally cleared and it was a nice day. It is a very nice beach area with lots of chairs, etc.
Dining Here is where we had problems. It seems "freestyle" means eat whatever you want, when you want, as long as it is within the time frames they set and if you want good food, pay extra. Again, we are early risers and on prior cruises, we always went up to the main outdoor deck (buffet area) and there was always good coffee available 24/7. That was not the case this time. We first went to deck 12 (around 5:00 am) and were told there was no coffee until the buffet opened at 6:30 and that we could try the Blue Lagoon on Deck 7 midship. Off we went. Again, no coffee. We ran into several people also in search of coffee. Finally, one of the staff made some. After that, we started getting our coffee via room service, which was fine, but in an inside cabin, there isn't much room for the tray (not to mention the constant motion of that cabin), but at least we had our coffee. There was some little coffee maker thing in the room, but it was really a hot water maker with instant coffee, which we are not fans of.
We ate at Cagney's and Bamboo. Cagney's was okay. Probably the friendliest server we had was there. The steak and lobster were okay, but for $30 per person, I think it lacked a little. However, we were satisfied. Bamboo was fantastic. Some of the best Asian food we have ever had. The price of $10 per person seemed very reasonable. However, here was the glitch. We liked the little spring rolls (3 small ones each) for the appetizer. We chose not to have dessert, but asked for the appetizer again. You would have thought we were asking for something huge! Two wait staff came up to us and said "you want what??" And we got charged an additional $5.00 each for these three little spring rolls in lieu of dessert. We were a little shocked at that (half the price of the meal).
We also ate at Impressions. It was also very good. Making reservations wasn't too bad. We ate early so we didn't have much problem. It was a challenge getting the reservations people to answer the phone at times and it was hit and miss finding staff at the main reservations desk on 7 during the day. The rest of the time, we ate in the dining room. Here is where we were disappointed. The food was not great, really not even good. It was never hot, most times barely lukewarm. There were nights that it was hard to find something we liked on the menu. We ate at the buffet on 12 one night and found it was sub-standard, to our taste. Again, the food was never hot. Even breakfast was cold. There is something wrong about eating cold french toast. This was something we were not used to. On other cruises, the buffet food was edible. We did not find this even remotely appetizing. The Blue Lagoon had great won ton soup and burgers, but if you want lunch, don't go until at least 12:30 as they did not serve any lunch until that time. (There were times we were ready for lunch at around 11:45, but that was not an option there.) One time, we went in around noon, sat down, and the girls that worked that area were talking to each other. I went up to see about ordering and she told me to "sit down." Then, she proceeded to finish her conversation and then went about changing the menus on all the tables before she came to us. We ordered a burger and fries, but were told the cook was busy making fried rice so it would be about 20 minutes. Of course, being hungry and wanting hot food, we waited.
At the specialty restaurants and the dining room, we didn't have a long wait at dinner, because we chose to eat at 5:30, which is not really "prime time."
It was our feeling that NCL makes the "free" food less appetizing in order to steer you to the pay restaurants. That kind of defeats the purpose of an "all inclusive" vacation. We don't mind paying for a specialty restaurant once or twice on a cruise, but do not feel the need to pay for a decent meal every night. As far as "freestyle," we always wore resort casual (capri's, khaki's, etc) to the dining room on other cruises (put your clubs away -- we never did that on "formal nights") so we didn't understand the difference. The freestyle thing just wasn't what we expected. Having to decide the day before where you might want to eat the next day and then go make reservations, etc., just wasn't our cup of tea. It is a personal preference and we realize others like this and respect everyone's own desires. This is just OUR feeling. And when we arrived home the night we got off the ship, we put a pizza on the Pizza Pizzazz and you would have thought we were dining in a five star restaurant, we were so happy to have something hot and with flavor.
Activities Bingo, bingo, bingo. And expensive bingo, at that. Our first day at sea was a little rainy, so we went. Way too expensive. But, if you are a bingo fan, it is available all day, every day, it seemed. We saw some of the evening activities on the TV channel. The crew talent show was painful to watch. We wondered how the people that were there in person reacted.
We did meet several prior NCL cruisers who all said that this cruise seemed different -- that it seemed NCL had cut back a lot and that most of the crew seemed very standoffish at best. It was a relief to realize it was not just us.
Oh, and the laundry. We were never offered the "fill the bag" laundry service. On our last day at sea, we took our clothes to the laundry facility (one deck up). It seems they had big problems with their laundry on this cruise. Our clothes were stuck in a machine full of soapy water. After two calls and 25 minutes, a crew member came and pried the door open, giving us our soaking wet, soapy clothes and telling us to try another facility a deck up. (It was HEAVY carrying this -- think "Amazing Race" -- "run honey -- you can do it, just a half mile more"). We ended up having to go up two floors, but finally finished. We saw mass chaos in the laundry facilities, as we were not the only people this happened to. It was not a fun experience.
Disembarkation We were told we had to do the express, as we had an 11:30 flight out of Miami and nothing else would be available to us. It was pretty fast, but make sure you get plenty of rest before, as you have to haul your luggage a LONG way, up and down the escalators several times during the journey. I needed a second shower when that was finished. The Miami airport was a nightmare in that several cruise ships had docked that morning and the lines (had to go through several of them) were very long. But then again, the Miami airport is not a favorite place for most people.
All in all, we still had a wonderful vacation and the ports were fantastic! We just feel that NCL is not for us, based on this experience. We never felt that "special" and "welcome" feeling we have had before. The majority of the crew did not seem to acknowledge the presence of passengers most of the time. Pedro and Candy, the cruise directors were always visible and friendly, though, and always at Bingo.
We love cruising and will definitely be going again, but not on NCL. It just wasn't for us.
We have been accused on other boards as "too picky" and not knowing how to have fun and in search of only perfection. Not true. We ended up laughing about most of it (and probably will until that American Express bill comes with all the OBC charges, when in desperation for a decent meal, we went to the pay restaurants.) We are not picky by any means, but feel that we pay our hard earned money for a vacation and don't like feeling like we are an inconvenience to the staff and don't like eating cold, unrecognizable food.