SAIL DATE: February 26, 2006 from New York
ITINERARY: Sunday - sail, Monday - at sea, Tuesday - Port Canaveral, Wednesday - Miami, Thursday - Nassau, Friday - Great Stirrup Cay, Saturday - at sea, Sunday - back to NYC
PRELIMINARIES: We drove our own car to the NY Ship Passenger Terminal where I dropped my family off (second level) and parked (third level). TIP: have them get a porter and go in rather than hang out in the cold. Check in was a little confused because I had not received luggage tags, tickets, etc. I had booked through Travelocity and and called them several times but they assured me that it "was all done by e-mail." I did pre-register with NCL. After being given some blank tags and writing in my cabin number and giving the bags to the porter, we got through security checkpoints by having them refer to passenger manifest. TIP: make sure you have a pen with you in line to fill in forms, etc. Lines looked long but moved very efficiently and we actually didn't mind since we were having fun.
Embarkation was very smooth and we went right to our room. First order of business was checking out various areas and then going to emergency drill. It was frigid and although we were prepared, others weren't very happy at all.
PORTS OF CALL: Port Canaveral: have always wanted to see Kennedy Space Center and this was perfect opportunity. AVIS bus picked us up at ship (there are other rental car agencies but they were further from port and didn't stay open as late) and I picked up our pre-reserved car. We were in KSC in 20 minutes. Family all had a great time and could have stayed second day (they will validate your ticket for next day but we of course had to leave). Highlights were CLOSE-UP tour (worth the extra money), Apollo Center and IMAX.
Miami: old home week for my wife and I since we lived in Florida for 2 years. TIP: if you are not doing an excursion, sign up for $18 BusHopper to South Beach/Bayside/Port. We went to South Beach, walked around surf, sightsaw, went to Bayside (great band by water with tropical drink bar right there and shops).
Itinerary had changed (we weren't aware of it although others had been). Nassau went from Friday to Thursday and GSC from Thursday to Friday. This turned out to be disappointing (see below).
Nassau: Kind of a dud stop in our opinion. We thought about going to beach, etc. and that would not have been a bad option (despite a brief shower in the AM, afternoon was not bad). We ended up browsing through shops in the kind of run-down area near port, buying some Bahama Mama fixin's and then considered going to see Atlantis but changed our minds and went back to ship to hang out by pool, drink beer and win the trivia contest. This turned out to be a real good decision since we avoided taxi/ferry fare, weren't that interested in seeing Atlantis (aquarium, big resort, look but can't use pool/beach) and the pool on board was not crowded and the weather was just right. Friends got referred to Cabbage Beach but found no food, no bathrooms and left after 15 minutes since they have younger kids and that wasn't going to work for them.
GSC: Had a great time. Lots of people but just enough room, lines weren't too long, weather was great, etc. Older son parasailed, younger son swam/floated, wife hung out/hammocked, friends snorkeled. Tenders were adequate with some waiting but not objectionable. Only regret is that it didn't last longer. I have seen a couple of posts saying that this switch had happened to them. Most credible but unsubstantiated reason I heard is that 5 ships were scheduled for Nassau and they can only handle 4 so some switching was done. TIP: Do a little exploring away from main area and you will find some solitude if you are looking for that. TIP: Souvenir market only takes cash. NCL stuff is OK with card.
SHIP EXPERIENCE: VERY NICE! Comments I have read about nice decor, etc. are right on. Very classy ship and we had EXCELLENT service - very friendly, attentive, etc. Ellen Guhring's review (see below) was from the cabin right next to ours and we had the same stewards (Myrna, Harrod) with the same results - very clean rooms with nice towel sculptures (NCL staff shows you how to do that during the week) and very friendly.
We had four in one room (one upper bunk, two lower beds, one rollout bed between lower beds) and it was fine. As is typical, we spent little time in room, went right to sleep when we were there and found the beds adequate. The duvet covers were actually very nice and much improved over many places I have slept while on business trips. Bathroom was spacious in my view and shower was GREAT, even by my wife's high standards. There was no odor problem from the bathroom. TIP: Bring your own soap, shampoo, etc. since what they give you is fluid in dispensers. Towels were nice and water was very hot with good pressure.
We were on Deck 11 (inside stateroom since we booked kind of late). No noise problems at all from Raffles, etc. which other reviewers had mentioned. Engine noise, rocking, etc. not an issue at that level. Others have mentioned smaller furniture due to Asian history but I would not have noticed it if someone hadn't told me and I didn't find it to be a problem at all (I am 6 feet tall, 190 pounds) but rather consistent with a cruise ship cabin expectation. Storage was not abundant but we piled four suitcases on the sitting chair/ottoman, used the closet and drawers and found it to be fine. Room safe and lots of hangers were in closet, ice bucket was always full, there was a coffee maker/coffee/cups/glasses at all times. TV was small and not a great picture (dark) and there were some good movies on but again, this was a minor item for us. Location of our cabin was perfect since we could go right down the stairs to the arcade where our younger son spent most of his time and right up the stairs to the Raffles buffet for food/top deck access. NOTE ON ELECTRICAL SITUATION - one 110V outlet in room (500W) and two 220V outlets (one Type F "Schuko" plug and receptable with side grounding contacts, one Type G rectangular blade plug). The Type F plug will work with Type C and Type E plugs as well. For more information, go to this website: http://kropla.com/electric.htm#plugs. I charged digital cameras batteries, GameBoy, etc. with my 220V gear/plug converters/adapters and had no problems.
Balcony rooms looked GREAT! I tried to get one and there weren't any available but if you can get one on this ship, go for it. You can also sign up for wireless computer access as well as onboard cellular service using your own cell phone. You will pay pretty stiff rates compared to land but for those who need it, it is available. I chose to go no e-mail/no phone for a week and loved it.
FOOD: We did not try any of the speciality restaurants (although we talked about it and others told me they were very pleased with them). RAFFLES was good, especially at breakfast. Lunches/dinners were OK - food was hot, variety adequate although by end week you will be somewhat tired of it, table cleanup was OK (better at some times, slower at others) but overall you could pretty much find something you liked, have a good meal and move on to your next activity. Lines did get a little crowded/confused at times but again, nothing you couldn't deal with.
WINDOWS was our main dining establishment and we found it very nice. Engine noise was higher closer to the big windows and the ceiling was lower in the part nearer to the entrance as others have noted but neither were objectionable. In fact, we liked both experiences (near entrance and near window) and found the GARDEN ROOM which we tried once to not be as enjoyable (same menus).
BLUE LAGOON was a BIG favorite with my wife and younger son especially, although we all ate there at various times, especially late night. TIP: Wonton soup, hot dogs and fries were all great.
CHOCOHOLIC BUFFET was outstanding with ice sculptures, "sushi" made of chocolate and candies, fruit, etc. Try to come early and take some pictures before you eat it because it was something very special.
ACTIVITIES: Tivoli pool was fun but could get crowded. It is salt water, heated (84 deg F) and chairs were never a huge problem. All of the positive comments about Buccaneer's Wet and Wild are true although definitely for younger crowd/parents with children. Arcade (Deck 10) was great and very convenient. Kid's activities were uneven (teen stuff was OK for 14 yr. old, 10-12 program was weak for my 11 yr. old). I felt that the younger kids activities were stronger and the teen program (contests, video games, hanging out, etc.) was OK, not great. 10-12 yr. old program seemed a little childish for that age group. I would like to see ship "insider" tours, maybe some fun language lessons, some free arcade time, etc. to make these programs stronger. I suspect that the weeks with more children (the following week had 700 kids coming onboard) might be better since there weren't that many children in either program during our week.
Entertainment was actually a big disappointment. On our previous NCL cruise, shows were lots of fun even though talent level (singing, dancing) was only OK. Talent here was much better but productions were boring. We heard this comment a lot. I kind of felt bad since the performers were pouring their heart and souls into the show and they all seemed to be very talented but the overall effect fell flat. The Second City Improv group I didn't find all that funny, both in their main show and in their "adult" appearance. I prefer standup so maybe it is me but it just didn't rate highly with me.
We didn't play but the casino looks new, has lots of games, slots, etc. There is a library, internet cafe, game rooms that were all very nice. We went to German class, napkin and towel folding, etc. and found them to be fun. Bingo was standard. Game shows were not as good as we remembered them, particularly "Newlywed game," but OK.
Bars/nightclubs were good. Galaxy of the Stars was nicest, I like Maharini's (inside casino) as well as Henry's Pub. Champagne Charlie's and Shanghai Bar (sports on TV) are in high traffic areas. Sitting by the pool and ordering Foster's was perfect.
We didn't really like the cruise director (Julie Valeriote) - she came across as forced and not really natural. While I am sure this is a tough job, our last cruise director was cynical and kind of a wiseguy but it actually played better than her attempts at being cheery.
DEBARKATION: Very smooth except for some glitches with getting the gangway lined up as we docked and people who refused to listen to directions and clogged the exit areas, which prevented the customs officials from coming on board as quickly as they otherwise would. TIP: We bought liquor over the exemption limit and thought it would be 10-15% duty but it turned out to be $3 per bottle flat. Remember that as you compare prices. We got off on Pier 92 which was much less fancy than the not-very-fancy Pier 88 we had embarked from. It was kind of chaotic but we got our bags, paid our duty, got a porter to take the baggage to the third level where our car was parked and got out very easily.
SUMMARY: great vacation, very enjoyable cruise, special ship. We are "Freestyle Cruising" fans and love to be able to eat when/where/with who we choose. Resort casual is more our style as well. People we met were great (ranged from high powered lawyers to software company owners to mechanics and computer technicians, lots of NJ/NY and quite a few other VTers!). Itinerary fit us very well, especially Canaveral, less so Nassau. Already looking at other NCL cruises for next time!