July 2014 - Norwegian Breakaway to Bermuda
In the last 7 years, I have been on 11 cruises now. I've sailed with Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, and now NCL. I found the décor to be fine, but rather bland. Lots of expansive walls with not a piece of art or decoration. Everything was generally kept very clean and tidy which is always nice.
As for the stuff that matters more, I have mixed opinions. The main buffet areas left me with a very back in highschool vibe. Basically 2 long runways of food on two sides with the galley in the middle. This makes for longer lines, and a lot more congestion while trying to get your food. Most of all the last cruises I've been on (all newer ships) have more or less stations to really break things up. Now If you've never experienced anything else, I think you'd be far less likely to comment on it, but knowing the other ways it's done, it made for some frustrating times.
Also along the lines of food/dining. As most know, NCL introduced freestyle dining. I suspect the pitch here is don't be a slave to a schedule while on vacation. Come and go as you please. There is one MAIN dining room similar that you would see on all ships, then a few more. However these are just for location as they all have the same food. For me, quite frankly this equated to SIGNIFICANTLY less service. Waiting forever to get a menu, waiting forever to get drinks (a couple times not even asked). You have zero sense of that appreciated customer service that if you're a regular cruiser you've likely come to appreciate. To the point where your servers know your name, what you're drinking, and bread you like, etc, etc. Now if you want to get in and out, no pleasantries, then no worries, you might not mind. For us though, service is a big deal. It was bad enough, that my girlfriend has emailed them to have some service gratuities refunded. Even the cabin steward stuff is different. Typically you're used to having your room made up through the day then turn down at night. Well because they don't know your schedule that's not really happening here. Our steward a few times mentioned to us that he leaves at 3. So If for whatever reason you're in and out of your room before then, it's not happening.
Aside from that, a few cool things. The water slides are pretty cool, The irish pub is great as the Atrium is open below, and there is lots to do in there on sea days or bad weather times. The casino is MASSIVE if that's your thing as well.
End of the day, would I cruise NCL again? It would 100% be based on convenience, lower price, and the itinerary would have to be idea. At that point I'd give it another shot. When I first started cruising, like many people you're not sure who to go with. They are all different in their own way, but for ME, Royal offers the best of all the worlds. Celebrity is amazing for refinement and a modern look, great food, and more of a luxury feel, not a TON of families. Carnival although not AS party ship as in other years is still the more "fun" type atmosphere. Princess, unless your a senior, or approaching so, it's not for me, and Royal seems to balance it all. Where does NCL fit in there. Without specific criteria, I thin it would say they sit somewhere between Carnival and Royal. We don't have kids, nut the NCL had some great programs for them, and there were TONS of young kids on this ship. A vast difference from Celebrity reflection we were on a few months earlier.