Stay out of the “snarky” comments as both lines have loyal passengers.
You kind of hit the nail on the head, being a first time NCL cruiser, you’re not afforded much in the way of “perks”, as you get with Royal being Diamond.
Embarkation will be determined by how early you get to the pier. If you want to get on early, get there early. That said, regardless of how early you get to the pier, you’ll still board after the disabled, Haven, Platinum passengers. My advice? Don’t sweat it. Get to the pier around 1-ish. That way all the initial rush to board will be over and your wait (if any) will be minimized.
Your cabin is nice....mini-suite with large balcony. I had one of those on both the GEM and the Escape. Nice, big bathroom and big balcony.
I’ve sailed on the Allure, Harmony, Liberty and Anthem on Royal. I’ve sailed SS Norway, Epic, Gem Getaway (2X), Breakaway (once but leaving next week for #2), and Escape.
So, more or less able to do a direct comparison. Understand, there’s a reason I sail NCL more than Royal. But, have spent a goodly amount of time sailing both lines.
I give the entertainment on NCL the edge. Not that RCCL’s entertainment is inferior. I just like NCL’s more.
Royal uses the concept of having everyone spend time inward, where most of the activities happen. NCL has what they call “The WaterFront”, which encircles the ship and has many al fresco dining options as well as many bars and seats/couches to just relax and watch the water go by.
You won’t find Merry-go-Rounds on NCL like you do on Royal. But, NCL has Ocean 678, which are the decks 6, 7 and 8 where most of the entertainment and specialty restaurants are located. You’ll find the casino there, too.
NCL’s Spice H20 is comparable to Royal’s Solarium. Spice H20 is where the parties happen on NCL. You’ll see the Glow Party and I believe the White party there. It’s on the back of the ship with a large screen, its own bar, and it’s actually adults only there during the day so you can get a lounger and read a book or watch a video on the big screen. However, it does not have a roof like Royal’s Solarium does. So, it’s a good weather hang out.
Food is generally subjective. I think they both do a good job in the buffet. I do like Royal’s Park Cafe for a quick bite. But, NCL has O’Sheehans, which offers food 24 hours. It’s pub food, but it’s good pub food.
I like NCL’s Atrium, especially overlooking it from above (while sitting in O’Sheehans having wings and a beer), as that’s where they daily happenings are taking place. Plus, it has a 2 story screen that they show movies on, which makes of a good time eating pub food and having a cocktail as you watch the movie. Surrounding that area are adult bar games like a pool table, darts, etc. It’s just a great place to hang out on sea days.
Specialty Restaurants are subjective, too. But, I’d say each line’s specialty dining restaurants are comparable. They all offer good food with exemplary service. I would put NCL’s MDR a step above RCCL’s. That’s mainly true because NCL has FreeStyle down pat. Show up to one specialty restaurant and get seated in a few minutes, or if the wait is long, go to another and be seated.
MDR on NCL usually has seating immediately and the food there is quite good, too.
There are no “dress your best” nights on NCL as they do on Royal, per se. They have a “dress up or not” night. I know there’s been ongoing debate on the Royal forums regarding how to dress properly on “dress your best” nights. You won’t find those debates on the NCL threads. NCL sort of takes the tactic of, if you want your picture taken wearing your Sunday best, go ahead and dress up. But, if you don’t (and most do not), no one will judge you.
NCL is pretty liberal when giving out “perks”. By far the most popular is the drinks package, where the drinks are free and you pay only the tips. There are also other perks, like 250 internet minutes (depending on how close you are to a repeater, your WiFi will be quick, or dismal), Specialty Dining Package (usually 3 restaurants on a 7 day cruise), excursion credits, free/reduced airfare, etc.
Those are the big difference I can think of right off the top of my head.
Oh yeah, it was easier for me to get to Platinum on NCL that it is to get Diamond on Royal. Platinum on NCL gives you 2 specialty dinners for free, free bag of laundry, priority embarkation/disembarkation, 30 free internet minutes, and some other stuff that I can’t quite remember off the top of my head. They’re worthwhile perks, though. And, while I can’t quantify this, it seems I get priority seating at the Specialty Restaurants being Latitudes Platinum.
Have fun. I think you’ll enjoy your first NCL cruise.