I too am sorry you were disappointed, but I have to tell you, the 2 year rule is the case on all cruise lines and many have a 3 year old min. so don't blame the line. All lines are very strict about their child care rules, even to the extent that a 12 year old can not stay with his/her 11 year old sibling if the break off is 11 and visa versa.
As for being charged 12 to 20 dollars for the specialty restaurants, most lines are now charging $30. These restaurants have been added to keep the price of cruising down. I bet you were a little bored because of your son not being able to do much. Wasn't it nice you got to sail with him and you were charged nothing for him?
Everyone says you can't stop eating on ships, this isn't a true as it was 10 years ago as cruise rates have remained rather stable so food has been cut back. I agree, but this certainly isn't just NCL. Celebrity was our choice 2 years ago for Thanksgiving week and we too were surprised nother other than serving mediocre turkey was done to remind us of Thanksgiving.
I have yet to be on a ship with really great shopping but I do think NCL has about the worst. The specialty restaurants are not booked prior to boarding, but with this being Thanksgiving week I am sure they all filled up quite quickly. Again, this was our experience on Celebrity, we could not reservations even though the price was $35.00 per person.
Unless the service is totally below par and I mean totally $10 a day is minumum anyone should give. We are happy to have the charge automatic. With freestyle cruising it would be impossible for you to give a fair amount by handing envalopes. You would have to find the wait staff from each breakfast, lunch and dinner plus everyone else that deserves extra in order to tip those who work hard so most can have a good cruise.
Shore excursions do sell out, again you are talking about one of the busiest weeks of the year. It is hard to know what you mean by minimal? If they were sold out you couldn't have experienced any of them. We do always book ours on line prior to cruising or when we arrive on the island. I hate to burst your bubble and come down so hard on you, but several things jump out here: 1, you didn't do any homework prior to cruising so were not prepared for the experience, you didn't really want to spend much money, so extra charges blew you away and last but not least, you may be part of the 10% that isn't cut out for cruising. Not everyone is, so don't blame NCL. Some issues that are brought to the attention of this board are NCLs or other lines fault, not one of yours has anything to do with the cruise line itself but more the expectations you had about cruising.
Hope your next vacation is more to your liking. NMNita