We just returned from a week at NOW and it didn't take long for the real world issues to make us realize how wonderful it was. I am writing this from a family perspective, so I can't comment on the experience for couples, singles, etc.. We traveled with our four children (13,12,10,8). We had stayed at an Iberostar all inclusive in Jamaica and thought that was terrific, but this eclipsed that.
What separated this resort experience for us was the incredible generosity and kindness of the staff to our whole family, especially our kids. There was always plenty to do, which allowed us to either have fun withour kids, or relax on the beach while they had fun somewhere in the resort. In particular, JC, in entertainment, made a special connection with our kids and made the vacation special. We also loved Kelvin at the pool bar, Ysabel in entertainment and Jose Manuel at the Castaways beachfront restaurant. But across the board, EVERYBODY was incredibly kind.
The resort itself was beautiful and well kept. Yes it shows a bit of wear and tear, but I'm not sure how it wouldn't given the number of visitors traveling through. We would return to this resort again without question. I would agree that the food was mediocre, but I don't go on vacation for food, I can get that at home. I go on vacation for the beach, pool, weather, and drinks on the beach or at the swim up bar, and in all those areas we were not disappointed.
As to the Preferred Club upgrade, we did it - not sure it's worth the money. It is great to be able to enjoy breakfast and lunch at the open air castaways, but beyond that I'm not sure it's worth it. Anybody could have gone to the private pool area as they didn't ask for your room card, and the service on the beach didn't seem all that different in the preferred section.
All that said, I would highly recommend this resort for a family vacation. Thank you to all the staff who made it such a terrific time for our family.