(Apologies in advance… I tend to write very detailed reviews, mainly because I find those the most helpful when researching and want to return the favor. The promised pictures will also be forthcoming as my sister hasn't uploaded them yet...)
I think other than the staterooms, which are a bit too small, the rest of the ship is fairly well-designed, although it’s a good amount of walking with only 2 sets of elevators (forward and aft), rather than 3. The ship is still in very good condition, other than some buckling of the carpet in the elevators and an awful trash smell in Bliss lounge.
I liked how big the Garden Café was, but found it annoying that sometimes there were different dishes served in the areas closet to the outside (further from the “main” entrance area)– it felt like you’d have to wander the entire buffet to survey all the options, at which point your food would be cold. However, we took advantage of the overflow seating in La Cucina, one deck down, for breakfast and lunch. It’s a fantastic view over the front of the ship and most mornings, we were the only people down there! They had the beverage machines set up down there too, so you didn’t have to walk back up to get your drinks – very nice!
I loved Spice H20 and even on the sea day, didn’t find an over-abundance of chair hogs, although most were taken by 11am. On port days, it was very easy to find a lounger back there. The pool in Spice is very small, but there were never that many people in it, so I don’t think many people minded.
The water slides were fantastic and a major selling point for me! On embarkation day, we went right to the water slides and actually saw Kevin Sheehan, CEO of NCL, up there surveying the ship! I recognized him from Undercover Boss, but couldn’t think of anything to say to him in my swim trunks, inner tube in hand. Very surreal! A staff member said he was only onboard that day, not for the full cruise. The Epic Pluge (“toilet bowl” slide) was awesome and even my parents tried it a few times! The lines for the slides was never that bad, although definitely longer when in port in Marseille (felt like many people didn’t leave the ship for that port).
We didn’t have any problems with the casino being too smoky and trust me – we would have heard from my mother if that wasn’t the case. If you are sensitive to the smoke though, it’s always possible to cross on deck 5 or 7 to get from aft to front of the ship or vice-versa. I just really didn’t find the casino to be as big of an issue as it’s made out to be. There is also a staircase mid-ship between decks 6 and 7 and escalators in the same area between 5 and 6, which is convenient.
Once design aspect that I think is an issue is the entertainment spaces though. Epic Theater is taken up each night with Blue Man Group or Legends in Concert and the other entertainment venues aren’t very well-designed in my opinion with columns blocking views and uncomfortable bar seating. My sister and I didn’t mind much as we’re not typical “nightly show” fans, but my parents are and were disappointed by the venue layouts and entertainment options, which I’ll get into later…
This was my major concern with having my parents try NCL for the first time from Celebrity, but they said they were very impressed by the food. I thought it was better than I remembered from the Gem and the nightly regional specialties were a nice touch and the ones I tried were delicious! My favorite surprise was that if there is a dish that includes shrimp on the menu, you can ask your server for shrimp on the side (if they’re accommodating), which happened at least 3 times. The shrimp were very well-cooked too! I actually enjoyed the lobster entrée on embarkation night (
), eating the full double portion I ordered, and the Thousand Island dressing for the garden salad was so good! Desserts were usually pretty “meh” but the Chocolate Decadence is fantastic – don’t miss it!
I preferred Taste to the Manhattan Room because it seemed quieter and had a lighter feel to it. However, my parents preferred the Manhattan Room, so that’s where we dined on most nights. Be warned that if the Motown Revue event is going on during your dinner in the Manhattan Room, turn straight around and go to Taste! The volume was so loud that you literally could not hear your server or anyone at the table without shouting. The live entertainment on the other nights wasn’t nearly as loud, so I don’t know what the heck was going on with that.
We never had a wait for the main dining rooms as a part of 4, but frequently got seated at tables for 5-6. It looks like they may have too many large tables, so each group gets to sit with a few empty chairs. Around 7-8pm I did notice that some couples were waiting, so tables for 2 might be in high demand around that time. My parents missed the traditional seating of Celebrity, where they’ve met new people, but my sister and I would definitely prefer to not talk to strangers at dinner, so Freestyle cruising is for us!
The Garden Café food was usually always very good (other than hockey puck biscuits), but it would be great to have more items change for breakfast. Other than the type of eggs benedict (which was normally salmon), the other items each morning were identical – not that we went hungry by any means though! The chocolate croissants are my favorite.
O’Sheehan’s is another great food option – the chicken pot pie is fantastic as is the strawberry pound cake dessert! They had some take-away items packaged in plastic containers like salads and sandwich wraps (also available on Deck 5 at the Atrium Café), but I wasn’t sure if those were for anyone to take or what. Most of the servers at O’Sheehan’s seemed very detached though, like they were being punished in that role, and sometimes it was hard to get a server’s attention to order, depending on where you sat.
Another gripe I had was the wait for free appetizers at Spice H20, which are promoted as being available after 6pm. There were 5 appetizer options – spicy popcorn chicken, pork noodles (very spicy), chicken satay, sweet potato fries, and beef empanadas. My sister and I asked to order one of each and the server kind of sighed and rolled her eyes, I guess disappointed that we weren’t buying a drink. It took 25 minutes to get the food, most of which should only need to be deep-fried! I liked everything but the popcorn chicken (too greasy) and pork noodles (too spicy and one-note), but didn’t appreciate the attitude and wait. The second time we ordered appetizers there as a family, we waited 20 minutes for all of them except the popcorn chicken, which took 30 minutes! Whenever we asked what the holdup was, they always said, “Oh, it takes a long time, they have to make the food individually.” I’ve never heard of popcorn chicken taking 30 minutes to prepare anywhere! The food is good though if you have time to kill (and order a drink).
…the Spice H20 servers were the only staff we had any issue with though. All the other NCL staff were great, including our room steward, I Gede, and our server in the Manhattan Room, Jose Diaz. We filled out STYLE cards for them (one is provided in your room, you can request extras at Guest Services), but found it annoying that there’s no drop box for them. You have to wait for someone in Guest Services to take the completed STYLE cards from you, which apparently get mixed up with blank ones because we got a stack of blank ones with one filled out one from another passenger!
As I mentioned before, my sister and I aren’t big fans of typical cheesy cruise ship nightly shows, so Blue Man Group was a good option. We booked the 10pm show on the one sea day and it was enjoyable. Silly and light, but definitely something to be experienced at least once!
I also booked Legends in Concert for my family and I may be alone on this, but found it to not be that great. The impersonators do a good job of looking and singing like the rock star, but the choreography was laughable (most dance moves consisted of snapping) and the visuals were just sad. It really made it seem like a nice high school production. Our “legends” were Rod Stewart, who only had once dance move of swinging his microphone stand into the air, Madonna, who is apparently a trashy prostitute, and Elvis, who must be fat/Vegas Elvis who doesn’t move/dance and only sings the later ballads. Back to Madonna… my parents were deeply offended by her on-stage antics, which even I found to be a bit extreme in a sexual way, including giving a lap dance to an audience member on stage and pushing his head into her breasts. If that’s family-friendly entertainment, that’s a pretty liberal family! I love Madonna, but she never acted that trashy! After the show, she took some provocative pictures with audience members, which I’ll have to post later.
My parents were also offended by Los Locos Ole, one of the Europe-specific entertainment options on this sailing, but I didn’t attend, so can’t really comment. They mentioned jokes about the male anatomy and a sweaty performer wearing a wig, putting that wig on an audience member, and then sticking the wig down his pants. I guess it’s something Celebrity wouldn’t have on their ships.
My parents stopped in for Brenda Cochrane (singer), but said it was too loud and my sister and I watched part of Howl at the Moon, but didn’t find it that appealing. I know both shows had their own fans though.
My parents were very turned off NCL based on the entertainment, which I tried to explain was very different than the other NCL ships, but they might be best off sticking to what they know/like on Celebrity.
In terms of the other entertainment options, I was disappointed that there was no trivia, except during the time when the ship was in port (and thus most people couldn’t attend). The nightly entertainment consisted mainly of live music, upsell/sales events (Flatten your belly! Zen your way to weight loss! $24.99 watch sale!!), and usually one theme party/performance in Spice or Bliss. I understand that most people collapsed after getting back on the ship in each port, but something as easy as holding trivia in the evening would have been appreciated. The theme party/events usually weren’t very well-attended, which could have been due to the venue (Spice H20 on some windy/chilly nights) and the exhaustion of the day. The White Hot Party took place on Friday after the Cannes port and was very well-attended, although most people left by midnight.
Last crazy rant about the cruise director… Cannes is NOT pronounced “CANS” – that would be like pronouncing Illinois as “Ill-in-noise”. Marseille is NOT pronounced “Mar-sell” either. It’s like they purposely refuse to pronounce any ports the right way. Okay, rant over, sorry!
Next up, the PORTS!