We are a couple in our 50s, and we live in South America. This was our sixth cruise, and we weren't very sure about it at first because of some bad reviews of NCL we found on the Internet. But the itinerary and the prices were good, and we decided to take the risk. We chose a balcony cabin.
Housekeeping was very good.
NCL has two kinds of dining: two main restaurants, and the so-called specialty restaurants. In the latter you have to pay a nominal fee ($15-20 per person). We decided to try first the main restaurants, and on the first and the second days food was good. But in the following days, the quality of food in these restaurants dropped, and was below average. So we decided to try others -- Le Bistro and Il Addagio -- paying the extra. Both were excellent.
On the last day we discovered another specialty restaurant, where you don’t have to pay extra: Pacific Heights, with lighter meals. It was extremely good.
NCL has a system called FreeStyle: You don’t have a fixed time for lunch or dinner. You go when you want (obviously, in the specialty restaurant a reservation is highly recommended), and you dress as you like. When we heard about that system, we didn't think it was going to be so good. But after seeing it in action -- before on a Princess cruise and now on NCL -- we have found that it really works. As we said, there was a big difference between the food of the main restaurants and the others, but in all of them service was outstanding, with well-trained and very nice employees. We always had perfect attention from them, and got very good tables. The ship has a lot of tables for two persons, and it is not difficult to be alone as a couple if you don't want to share part of your vacation with others. The tables for two were very well placed, close to the windows, so you could watch the sea while having lunch or dinner.
For lunch, we went to the buffet Garden Café. The food was only average, but is good to control weight. Our “real meal” was dinner.
We like to dress up, and on the formal night we found a lot of people well dressed (dark suits and ties, dresses, but no tuxedos). But we found that even in a "smart casual"way, people were properly dressed.
We saw a lot of children, but practically all of them were well behaved. Some babies were always crying (we can't understand why parents take a cruise with babies). The atmosphere was relaxed and quiet, and during the night the ship was silent.
In what seems to be a universal rule nowadays, NCL charges you $10 per person per day for tipping. We don't like this practice, more similar to a tax than to a tip. But we have to accept that on this cruise, everybody did his job well and deserved it.
There was a company of dancers and singers that performed three times. For us, these were the best shows we have seen on Caribbean cruises for many years. Other forms of entertainment were good, but we found that they were not always properly placed. For instance, there was a good pianist, but he was in a miserable corner in the Atrium , close to the Reception and Information Desk, with a lot of people and noise. We found another pianist and singer placed close to the pub, so any time the connecting door opened, the noise of the pub came out and you couldn't hear him. We missed the string quartet found in other cruises.
Any time we could, we went to cyber cafes in the port of calls But we also bought a card for $55 that allows you 110 minutes of access on the computers of the ship's cyber cafe. On this ship (and for the same fee), you could also connect your own computer from your cabin. The connection was fast.
Ports of call
Disembarkation was very well organized and swift. It took us half an hour after we were called.
- Samana, Dominican Republic. This is a new destination. The only tour attractive to us was to Cayo Levantado, a beach with a good reputation. But the tour was unavailable. So we wandered the waterfront, went to a market and to a cyber cafe. This place didn't seem to be completely safe, though in a few years it can be a really fine destination (we know other beaches of the Dominican Republic, and for us they are among the best in the world).
- Tortola: Wonderful destination. A sleepy town, a very nice island, and a superb beach (Cane Garden Bay).
- St. Thomas. Its good reputation is well deserved. This was our third time here, so we only did some shopping, went to Paradise Point -- a high point reached by a tramway, giving you the best view of the harbor and the cruise ships docking there -- and went to a beach we didn't yet know (Morningstar Beach), which was outstanding.
- Stirrup Key: This is a private NCL island, similar to the ones owned by other cruises lines. Excellent water and fine beach.
We liked this cruise. We are not sure we would repeat it, because of the food. It is not fair to make you pay more if you want to eat well. But if the price and itinerary are good, perhaps we would chose NCL again, accepting from the beginning that we will have to pay extra for the good restaurants. With that exception, the rest of the many things you have in a cruise were fine for us, considering what we paid for them.