We recently returned from our Alaska Cruise on the Joy from June 15-22nd. We have two girls age 7 & 11 and also had my mother-in-law with us (but in her own inside cabin). Overall we had a fantastic time and many of the critiques that I've read about the Joy were not a problem for us. This was our first NCL cruise, previously traveling on Holland America and RCL.
1. Splash Academy - My daughters LOVED SA and asked to go to it frequently. They had a mixture of free play and scheduled (theme) activities. They are firm about the pick up times but as long as you set an alarm it wasn't a problem. The staff had fun names like "Purple" and "Crayon" so that the kids could remember them better. They were always friendly and kind.
2. Onboard Amenities: We participated in quite a few amenities but did not go on any of the slides or in the pools. It was TOO cold. My youngest asked several times but since we were wearing coats and gloves I figured swimming was not a good idea (note we live in Phoenix). We did the Speedway as a family first, each taking one child in a double go-cart. They have specific times marked as "family" for the 2 seaters. They cost the same ($15) but there are less laps (5 instead of 10, which doesn't count the first warm up or last slow down laps) and they keep the speeds lower. My husband went on his own 3 more times as a single rider and really enjoyed himself. He said the single cars are allowed to go much faster and the steering was easier (harder on the double cars).
The mini-golf is nothing special, super tiny and a pretty dreadful course *but* my kids LOVED it and if you pick a sunny day/port it makes for some beautiful photos and fun memories. We actually did the course two different days, it was a fun time filler.
Spa - I am the only one that used the spa, I had a massage. The spa doesn't have any extra amenities which seems an error in planning, if they'd had a thermal spa my husband would have joined me too. The locker room has an amazing view and includes a Sauna (with windows looking out) and a steam room, but they're small and that's all. My massage was great though! They had coupons to get discounts throughout the week, so look for those.
Food - I preferred the dining rooms to the Garden hands down. Partly because I am gluten free and it's easier to have your needs met in the dining rooms. Once they identify you as GF you're flagged in the system and they look out for you. Taste and Savor were my favorites and I found the wait staff delightful and helpful. For those of you that are GF the options are limited but they do have GF noodles, GF waffles (toaster type) and GF bread. And they can adjust many but not all recipes to suit.
We ate at Cagneys once and it was good, but not the best I've had by far. We frequently eat at high end steakhouses and their filet's don't compare, but they were okay. I would have been disappointed to have paid extra, but our meal was comped after a room fiasco.
Also regarding seafood, there is no seafood buffet as shown in prior photos. Tues was seafood night and there were clams but the only crab were a few skinny legs in a seafood soup.
Rooms - This is where our experience was less than fantastic. Our first room was a mini suite on the 9th floor directly above The Cavern, which we discovered was a BIG problem the first night right at 7:15pm. The music was so loud and the room so poorly designed that it literally sounded and felt like we were *in* the Cavern. The floor shook and vibrated and the sound was overwhelmingly loud. We couldn't hear the television or even the phone ringing. We immediately called down and Guest Services came up to confirm that it indeed was a horrible level of sound. Interestingly it was worse in the room than the hall. They were unable to move us as the boat was full, but after two nights we were re-located to a Balcony room where the people had never shown up in Seattle or in Ketchikan (they missed the boat and didn't want to catch up).
Room #2 - Although a smaller room we were thrilled to have quiet nights, what a luxury! We were in room 13350 which was towards the back and we had no complaints about this room. Both rooms had a murphy bunk and a pull out couch for my girls (close to the bathroom) and we found the main bed very comfortable (on the firm side how we like it).
Television - There are action, comedy, family and drama channels that basically show several movies over and over. The family channel is not appropriate for smaller children, but the movies were right for my kids. There are also pay options for films.
Shows - We saw Footloose, Elements and the Magic Show. All were great, especially for a boat. Be warned that in Elements they release "snow" (soap) from the ceiling at the end, so you may get wet/soapy. Footloose was well done and they warned us that it was rated PG 13 (prior we'd only seen PG). Most of it went over my kids heads, but there were a few swear words that they recognized.
Getting on and Off - Easy boarding, we were in the 10:30 group and got on the boat around 11:15. On port days it was also easy, limited lines. The longest wait was for a cab into town at Victoria. We did the Port Valet program so started lining up around 7:30 to get off the boat (you have to get off between 7-8 for that option) and we easily got an Uber and were at SeaTac by 8:30.
That's all I can think of now, feel free to ask any questions.