I love freestyle & will chose NCL over other lines for that reason. I do not want to be told when to eat or to be forced to eat with strangers.
I found NCL to be comparable to RCL. Other than the dining times & the rock wall, I didn't find much of a diffrence.
Formal night is OPTIONAL. That means it exists & you can dress up if you chose but you don't have to. On my last NCL cruise I wore a knee length sequined cocktail dress & was one of the most underdressed women on the ship. I don't understand those who bash the line saying it's for low class folks.
I have always wondered why NCL gets such a bad rap. As a veteran cruiser and a travel agent it makes no sense to me. Of course for several their ships were all ones purchased from other lines, thus didn't have a real theme. Now they have mostly ships built for NCL and with the entrance of the Gem they can pride themselves on having the youngest fleet at sea. Another issue that may make a difference: NCL is the pioneer of cruise lines: first to sail the Caribbean, first to have a private island, first to offer specialty dining, and of course first ot feature any form of freestyle dining.
I have also noticed NCL has the biggest cross section of cruisers. the line seems to appeal to middle America, not just middle income America, but many living in the mid section. there seems to be a certain type of cruiser that wants to try NCL but they are cruise snobs and expect to get something NCL doesn't offer.
Of course, as we are getting ready to cruise Princess I have been reading lots of Princess threads, they seem to be getting blasted right now. too many people can't accept cruising has changed over the years, if one wants the old style of cruising they will have to pay for it. I am talking Oceana, and upwards.
My only gripe with NCL is the optional formal night, because we happen to enjoy when everyone dresses up. It's kind of cruising tradition. Other than that, I like NCL. I just returned from a 10-day Princess and would take NCL any day over them!