(Very....very....very....Long....grab a coffee mug)
If you are not interested in the human component of a cruise review...this wont be of enjoyment to you....
Widow, Early 40's, a foodie. Semi-retired Customs Analyst
My child almost 10, diagnosed with Angelman's syndrome (www.angelman.org ) a rare genetic disorder under the umbrella of Autism, she is non-verbal and with different mobility abilities than your typical 10 year old.
I prepared a pamphlet prior to our trip to give it to the people we meet.......so they have an idea of who she is and not just her differences....
We choose the Spirit on the basis that it was extremely cheap to get to Europe by comparison to fly out of Toronto and the option of "Freestyle" cruising. For other than fun reasons we needed to be in Europe in May....and the Spirit journey was giving me time to make life decisions while at sea and away from my normal environment.....also it was saving us lots of money.
This review is focused on the great time we had, specifically because of the wonderful individuals to whom we were complete strangers and then became great friends.....after the loss of my husband and having a differently able child...I learned that the cliche of "Love as you have never been hurt before, dance as if nobody is watching and live each day as your last" is not really just a saying....
We booked mid-Nov 2011 and from the booking moment NCL was getting 10 out of 10 with me, we cruised before with my late husband, first time with NCL....I was offered a HC room 11129,,( I wanted a lower deck, to prevent bad nights if the seas got rough crossing the Atlantic, that was my only concern as there was not an HC cabin on the lower decks) .....before the last cabin payment was due, the fare dropped twice and so did my balance. Few weeks before departure a group of cabins were cancelled and my consultant called me immediately to let me know,,, even when it wasn't HC (bathroom was just a regular bathroom with a step up) was twice the space 283 sq...so, we switched as my child is able to walk short distances and stand., get in and out of places and so on. Cabin No 6535
We flew out of TO on Delta, great flight, took advantage of the Delta Lounge, allowing my child to play and relax while taking connecting flights,,and me having some munchies and complementary wine.
We booked the Days Inn by the airport in NOLA, the shuttle came to get us about 10 minutes from our arrival to the waiting area and had a good night sleep, place was clean and comfortable. I requested first floor room and was very close to the entrance.
When I arrived at the hotel, I had an email from NCL asking me to be at the terminal by 11 am with contact names of individuals who were to assist me with the embarkation.
We slept in, had the complementary breakfast next door at Denny's where I met some of the fellow CC's members from the RC. We got ready and waited for our cab,,, had to wait a little longer for a van, since I had few extra bags and my daughter's WC took a bit of space. When we met was like we knew each other for a life time already....we have been chatting up a storm since Nov to April.
We arrived at the terminal and were greeted by the Special Assistance crew,,,,,so delightful,, no lines,, just dropped our bags and kept walking, dropped my wine and champagne, got my stickers and went to the registration counter,,,without a single line,, we were on board.
Walked straight to the Windows restaurant, gave my bottles to the waiter to store and chill and went to register my child at the children's place.....what a great bunch of people,,,they WERE expecting us...they had that brochure I created that gave details of my child's condition and sent it to my PCC prior to our departure........Not the norm, but they even offer to keep her if I was interested on the sail away party, we saw the magnificent kids area, all glass in one side to see the sea, lots of divisions and padded areas, arts and craft station, extra clean bathrooms, nice lounge with a large plasma TV,,, just a fun looking environment.
We went to see around the ship,,,later returned to Windows and had lunch,,,by then they brought one of my white wine bottles chilled in a bucket and we had a fantastic lunch, my daughter had the short pasta with meat sauce and I had the fried calamari....more than I can have for lunch, fresh and delish and that became our standard...brunch at Windows while we were at sea.
After lunch,,walked by our room,, which was ready, I had ordered a bar set up for tequila, Vodka, and Rum which was there, and a bucket with a bottle of wine compliments of my PCC. A fridge was placed under the table for my daughter's liquid meds that needed refrigeration, the Spirit doesn't have fridges. We dropped our carry-on and went to meet with the other people that were to be my new friends and 14 days on the water community.
We then got ready for the drill,,,that was quick, easy and well organized. We were tired and after few introductions, went to our room, two of my suitcases were there already, but one was held at the naughty room, at 6 I went to collect the bag,,,, I had 3 bottles of my child's medication,, so they held that suitcase,,,I show them the liquids inside the stored cooler and they didn't bother to open the bottles.,,,walked around for a bit and by the time we got back to the room, the other suitcase was there.
We agreed to have dinner, got ready quickly leaving a real disaster in our cases...dinner was awesome, new friends, and great food. A group of single friends traveling together...4 guys and a girl welcomed and embraced us as one of them from the moment we met, El, Geoffrey, Bill, Christoforo and Scott. Great people from all walks of life,,, I end up spending a great deal of time with them,,, and remain friends... Geoffrey was the guy my daughter fell in love with...the smiles and giggles were instant to the moment she saw him anywhere on the ship, he called her "My perfect girl". Scott a Flight Attendant ( http://www.penguinaroundtheworld.blogspot.ca ) was the guy responsible for our daily Happy hour get together, Bill.......the politically correct guy with good jokes under his sleeve.... came to visit me here in Toronto few months ago and don't want to jinx it, but hoping for another trip for some of us soon.
That night we left to rest and like magic..my cabin attendant had put everything away........I was thankful and showed him my appreciation in a monetary manner at the end of our journey and made an effort to keep a tidy room so I can entertain in my cabin and share some drinks....some of the Carols can testify to that ( We had about 6 Carols).
In the morning I had a quick breakfast and fed my child,,,our informal MM was at 10, I dropped my daughter at the centre and went to the meeting,,great meeting everybody and putting faces to the posts...then we went for lunch I had a great fresh Club Sandwich....nothing but laughs and getting to know everybody else...a wonderful experience. Picked up my child, fed her a great pasta lunch, she had also the Portobello stuffed, she paid full fare,, but ate every penny of it. After we went to the place which became our hang out..DECK 13....!!!!!!!!
Great afternoon of drinks and laughs, I ordered a bucket of beer, but didn't drink that as there was a 2-1 that afternoon on a girly drink rum based and had two rounds shared with Bill. Hanging out with Dusty and Charleen....a terrific couple who are your new age Gypsies.. http://justmoderndaygypsies.blogspot.ca time just flew.
We left the Deck 13 to get ready for another great dinner, lots of hugs, laughs and instant personal life story sharing...after dinner we saw the show, fun, fun,,, the WC seats on the first row, were being reserved for us,,,and all I can say is WAAAOOOO,,, I didn't need to ask for it,, they just held those two seats,,even if I came in late from the restaurant NCL abilitations at work.
Tuesday 17th...we are in Miami, I had planned to go down to SoBe and beach the day with my girl, met two other solo cruisers and we took a cab down, had a great time at the beach, I know SoBe like the back of my hand...so walked down some cat ally after spending some great time at the beach and showed them where to get a real Cuban sandwich soooo big, they had to share, walked down the SoBe strip doing a little tour of the "rich and famous" and hot spots in Sobe... like Versace's old house.
I took that opportunity and bought the rest of my wine,,,I estimated a bottle per day, between dinner n lunches.....got back to the ship, and got the stickers for all my bottles...my calculations on savings by bringing my outside purchased wine was over 200 dollars.
One of the guys that went with me to the beach was an astronomer Gary an older gentleman who carried a box around giving "Free Sextant Lessons"........What a wonderful guy...full of life stories, and super funny innuendos....... he called me about a month ago when he was near Buffalo chasing Universe events, but couldn't make it to my town...we actually met the night before at the Marahini's Lounge and I welcomed him as I was welcomed earlier by other solo and couples...
The other solo guy was Ray a retired private bank investor counselor-turned writer who was travelling to Spain to fly to Ibiza and fix his girlfriends mother's house. He wrote a piece on his blog about the trip and said the nicest things about my child..( http://raysbrain.com/adventure-spain-ibiza ) ....we still keep in touch.
I also met a fantastic couple...Dave and Carol Covin...Carol is a writer and Dave a retired IT guy (I think) and a proud grandpa...this is Carol's blog, (http://www.networkedblogs.com/blog/new_grandmas_rock )....
we were together in SoBe sunbathing watching Gary buried himself in the sand while Ray flew a kite and played with my little girl..
Another solo cruiser was Kathy...she is a very warm and funny individual who would also hang out with us until the wee hours of the nigth.....we were feeling loved...everybody was just great.
Note about your wine...it will follow you by request to any of the venues...regardless of the time...I shared bottle of champagne with some of my CC RC friends one nigth at the Blue Lagoon and that was after the Galaxy was closed....we sat down and I asked the waiter to bring us a bottle from my listing and he did...it took him some time to get it from the main cellar,,,,but he did. I was also able to request a couple of beers from the bucket I ordered on Deck 13 bar while I was in the Karaoke bar.
Back from SoBe.....We didn't attend the deck party, went to rest and got ready for dinner. I shared my table with Charleen and Dusty and the rest was us solo cruisers......Another great night....my pictures will tell the story of our eating experience...that was lobster night....they weren't big,,,but after eating your first lobster...they walk around with more lobster in a tray in case you want more. After dinner and the show we just hanged out at the Blue Lagoon...just sharing good old stories, having so much fun that even ( Food and Beverage Director Ivo Belev) stopped to chat with us..... Too bad I wasn't able to get a kitchen tour.
Our first sea day, was the official MM which I missed...late night the night before... After eating brunch...I went to take my child to the center...I still had my reservations leaving her as she wasn't familiar with them and I wasn't watching her..,but that day,,the head counselor waited for me to have a "talk" they wanted me to have fun, to enjoy my cruise and for my child to do the same, they gave me a beeper and told me that I only needed to get her to be fed,,,I was almost in tears when so much emphasis was put in the fact that they wanted me comfortable, they also offered me DVD's if I wanted to borrow them to play in my laptop from their library.
At the end of the cruise I gave them 70 dollars to be pooled between them...really nothing for the wonderful job they did...but this was bringing my overall DSC to almost 400.. I calculate another 50 between the bag handlers and WC assistance......still nothing by comparison of services received......My child was there for few hours not every day...but never wanted to leave....getting all stiff on the floor...or hugging the girls....a loud way to communicate she was being well treated.
I left the center and the Latitudes party was in place...as I walked by a lovely girl Lonie who was travelling with her parents John and (another) Carol asked me to join them,,,,nobody asked me for an invitation...and I just sat down with them a had a glass of champagne while listen to the cruise director thanking everybody for choosing NCL....glad they offered the drinks,,,,as she is just awful.
As I was keeping my Eastern standard time,, and we were taking 1 hour off every day after the first sea day,,,this allowed us to stay up late, watch the shows and mingle...my daughter was one of 5 to 10 children on the ship.... the playground was never crowded,,,we slept in every day, so breakfast was skipped by her, I ran to the buffet in a couple of occasions and got some lox, half of a bagel and SC for my cabin to eat it while watched TV until she was ready to get up...then I will take her to Windows and she had brunch every day...after I will take her to the center at about 1pm, and I will go and be with my new friends, played trivia, mingled, sun tanned and laughed, few days I enjoyed the hot tubs, and so did my daugther...after the trivia I would pick her up to get ready for dinner.
The spirit has children's pool with couple of water slides.....Pirate themed..when was temperature permitted, she went in the water....because we had 14 fabulous days of sun..but with chilly air in the Atlantic.
Now...to the sea lazy days....there were three friends travelling together...with whom I got very close...Barb, Carol both retired educators and Jerry...God knows what he does........never asked him.....for the rest of the journey we spent a lot of time together...whenever we wanted company in Deck 13.....and I can say that those days just flew by...filled with laughter and good jokes.....inspired by the FS cruising we did what we wanted, when we wanted, with whom we wanted and there was always great choices of friends to spend time with....Carol and I are very chummy-chummy.. she also came to visit me in Toronto last July...another life time friend....the older sister I never had. Jerry and Barb touched my heart with kindness as we were all widows and had emotions to share...I call Jerry my favourite old man loving him like a Dad....we keep in touch on the phone these days.
I shared few drinks with my friends and then went to pick up my child from the center and spent time at the pool and hot tub with her.
That evening our table mates included Dave and Carol and after the show we went to the Galaxy of the stars for some shoeless dancing which I must admit,,my child really enjoyed...maybe not the typical and accepted place for a 10 year old,,,,but then after all she is NOT your typical 10 year old...and to end the nigth...back to Marahini's for more jokes and laughs.....and boy were there good laughs....even my daughter's Dora doll was in Marahinis!!!!!!
Sleeping INNNNN ...YESS..AGAIN..this was one of those days when we got up around 1 and went to windows...and hanged out all day....Beautiful day on the open ocean.....we enjoyed it very much taking advantage of the pools
Dinner was good as always...but tonite were were tired and after dinner watched AFV DVD I had....we girls needed a rest.!
Another glorious day of sun and fun,,,which included Martini tasting and progressive trivia. This brings us to the nigth of the 20th..the eve of my b-day..after dinner and a little bit of mingle I went to my cabin,,,to decorate it and then to the Internet room to connect at mid-nite ES time with my older children....Carol Covin helped me with the decorations and after talking to my kids..off to a happy sleep!!
The 21st is here...my B-day. Previously on the RC since I LOVE b-days I advertised my b-day and wanted as many people to sit in a big table with me......well I GOT my B-day wish...and also received the most beautiful gift I could....the gift of friendship,,,,and even a wonderful "B-day letter" with an inspirational wish that had me in tears at midnight.....
Well,,,our journey continues with lots of fun...and after another day at sea of doing nothing at all.... time went by between trivia and Happy Hour...tonite is the White Hot Party.....and we did just that....with a full tummy of great food...we party the nigth away...
Well today is a day of taking it easy and an early nigth as we are in Ponta Delgada in the morning,,,tonite we had beautiful sunset......as if the sky was coming down on lights......look for the pictures........
We got to Ponta Delgada and Lori one of the girls in our RC did a wonderful job making arrangements for a private tour with Pedro ...here is his contact info Pedro@azores-tours.com what a fantastic day...great sightseeing, the landscape in PD is phenomenal.
We drove by the city of Villa Franca do Campo ...a town with more churches than we can count....also almost more cows than people....Villa Franca is a town very green with crops of sweet potatoes and corn, also oranges and pineapples (in greenhouses) for export. Grapes, bananas and cattle....and believe me LOTS of cattle.
Our second stop was the Chapel of Our Lady of Peace an authentic Marian sanctuary constructed on a mount from where you can see the village and the volcanic hole,,,which is also a balnearium. The story says that a statue of Mary was discovered on the hillside where this chapel is now built. A priest brought it down to the church, and the next day, it had vanished. It was back at the same place on the hillside. Interpreting this as a sign from God that Mary wanted to be in this place, a chapel was erected there in her honor. Goosebumps in my arms as I climbed all the steps...worth the climb specially for the exercise challenge for my little girl.
One more stop over panoramic views put us on the Calderas of Furnas lake.....remarkable to see nature do as it pleases and humans taking advantage to make delicious meals. After the stop in Povoaï¿½Ã£o.. we stopped for me to take my usual "directions sign picture" ........after....... a quick stop to have a drink from grotta,,a naturally Carbonated Spring water....they had it with a little spout to filled your own bottles and guess what the name of the Grotta was??? GROTTA DA CANADA.... I wanted to leave a Canadian flag right there.....
The area had couple of dramatic accidents by tourists who trying to get pictures fell in the furnas and died of horrible burns....caution must be observed!
He took us for lunch,,,including lots of bottles of vino verde, so much food that we couldn't finish it,,,,,after that happy lunch...one last look at the panoramic view of the lake,,,group pictures and off to the Tea factory...bought some tea and thennnnn to my favourite place...finally what I waited for years........the liquor factory....there I bought 3 bottles of Liquor of maracuja,, (passion fruit) only available in the Azores,,,one of the most delicious liquors I ever had.....and with that stop..we ended our great tour.
We kind of planned our own tour...Pedro made stops which were not on schedule and was happy to do it....Lori did a great job in contacting him to add more people than originally planned....we end up with 2 Vans and a car......what a wonderful day!!!
The nigth ended sharing with my table mates who went on different tours our experiences of the day....and sharing a bottle of my liquor which I was able to smuggled (Guilty as charged) with them. NCL kept two bottles until the end of the cruise.
The next day was a day of not much activity...and our last formal night,,,,,this nigth we were to take the group picture...I took a million of pics trying to get my little girl to pose,,,,,to no avail.. That means we must take another cruise!!! Still grateful to Ray who took the ones I have and some funny videos.
After the pics were taken....I enjoyed a nice sunset in the Aft Hot tub by the children's pool and ordered from the MDR the meal of the evening....ate very late and just relax......I had a hard day ahead of me tomorrow....the anniversary of my husband passing...
The day we crossed by the Gibraltar rock the sun was shinning and we were able to see ALL the landmarks in the afternoon. My good friends did all they could that nigth to help my sore spirit bounce back,,,,,and THAT night we had the hardest laughs ever.
The crew was introduced and did the Norwegian crew show which ended with the crew standing by the hall while we exit the Theater. The Hypnotists did a great show at the Galaxy of the Stars which it was hilarious, unfortunately...that was the same nigth of the chocolate Buffet,,held in the MDR...by the time I got there..it was over (bad NCL planning) Coincidentally...that nigth I walked into my cabin to find a Monkey shaped towel hanging from my ceiling.....ever sooo cute.
The next two days were spent in denial,,,,not wanting to admit that the wonderful Spirit journey was almost over....but even when sadness was lurking,,,we still had fun,,,,with our usual Trivia playing, and even Karaoke night. Two days later we were in Barcelona,,,debarkation was again a breeze, the Special assistance crew did everything to make us feel very, very able to do all we needed to do.
I didn't want to say Good-bye to my new friends and I didn't,,,as it is not
Good-bye....but....Until we meet again.
I suggested a girl's lunch.....and I end up missing it......that day my daughter just didn't want to get up...
Our RC didn't schedule a gift exchange but I took some Canadian key chains and bottle openers as gifts to share.
Other great points,,, the main dinning room will send your dinner from any evening to your cabin,,as I said we did that one night,, read the menu and ordered the dinner to be sent on the last order,,meaning just before they close the restaurants as I wanted to eat late....we arrived to the cabin and the room service was arriving,,just timed perfect.
The shows.........Loved the new dancers,,,,such an energetic and dedicated group...who paid attention to my child to the point that one performance I had to hold her down so she wouldn't climb up the stage following them......so well trained by Nathan......just a fantastic job.
I didn't have a chance to eat at the surcharge restaurants....which I know I will in my next cruise....but being a foodie and having a previous cruising experiences with Crystal ...didn't agree with the comments about NCL food being compared to chain restaurants.....I know it's not Michelin rated but not chain either... The service...the company we kept made every meal just great....none of the meals we had left a complaint in my taste buds......Its not either the case of ''you get what you paid for"......and if that was the case we ripped off NCL...then again....just my personal opinion.
The waitresses team was very helpful, the would always bring my child's meal with my appetizer...so I was able to make sure she ate and then I enjoyed the rest of my meal at the same pace as the rest of the table.
No real down points,,, by mistake I left my Internet logged in,,, and I am still arguing that charge,,,not really their fault, also the beeper I had for my child was accidentally packed in my handbag in my suitcases and they wanted big money for the device,,,needless to say.... at about 2 am the morning of debarkation, I produced the beeper with the help of the guys carrying the suitcases to the storage area.
I wont deny it..like in every aspect of life...there are people than don't do what they are supposed to do like the Cruise director,,,she was a real rotten apple.....so I separated her from the rest of the wonderful people that treated us so well, the night of the crew presentation,,, I asked her why the kid's counselors were not participating....she looked at me as if I had 2 heads and said "They are not part of the presentation" in a very rude manner.
Then the girl in the sales department....is a waste of NCL's salary.....so I filled the forms for my next cruises 250 deposits and put it in the box outside the sales office,,,,and got my credits for it without dealing with that airhead.
Wouldn't allow individuals that don't like their jobs to ruin my good time.
The Spirit is a wonderful ship,,,,the crew makes it that way...Greeting me by name as I entered every nigth the MDR was very nice. The Special Needs department is just fantastic....from the moment I got off my cab and they saw me with the WC....all assistance was OFFERED and provided without even me having to ask. Jose the SN coordinator told me that if I choose to eat at the buffet he had put a note,,so they will assist me with my tray and food selection while I push my daughter's WC and select our food...we ate twice in the buffet for breakfast and as I rolled in the greeter immediately said "Please wait here Ms. AJ.......let me get someone to assist you with your tray"....I liked the fact that they knew my name....
I know is very difficult to think of a relaxing-doing-nothing holiday with a child who has different abilities....I was reluctant to leave my child at the centre....Today I am 90% ready to book our next TA journey with NCL.
I am looking into the Epic...Its a Nickelodeon ship...the less children on the ship,,,gives my child almost a 2-1 ratio of attention from the counselors. It can be done...they even offer after hour babysitting until 1:30 am so I could mingle at the piano bar or lounges for a per hour fee that I am afraid to say what I think of it so they don't increase it..... I am looking into a way to connect with the Solo travelers on the Epic so I would be able to have others in my position to share daily activities when a partner is needed like dance classes.
I would book the Epic Studio to have access to the solo cruisers activities and lounge but too small for us. I am what I call myself a semi-solo cruiser with a little squirrel as a cabin mate. But that is not going to detour me from enjoying all the wonderful experiences we can have at sea with NCL....I met wonderful people....the RC was the key to success with excursions, happy hour, wonderful dinner and entrainment companions that left me wishing for more......
My child enjoyed this journey more than what my expectations would near and to me.........that alone is a reason to come back again and again to NCL.
It was my first time in an inside cabin.....and I loved it......I was able to sleep in almost every day in a dark room.....with no idea of time.......and the FS cruising gave me the ability to eat when I wanted.....and do whatever wanted...when I wanted............and as the advertising reads......."or not".
The NCL theme song still plays in my head......"Come with me let's go....cruise like a Norwegian"
Notes I learned on how to give yourself "suite treatment" on an inside:
- I picked up fresh fruits every day and kept them in my room in a little basket I brought from home
- Ask for double or triple order of chips at Windows at lunch even if you don't have the club Sandwich....great for munching while watching TV in your cabin..just bring extra large Ziploc bags for storage(or small ones if you don't want to pig out)
- Pick strawberries and pineapple skewers from the buffet..I am not fan of chocolate covered but that's also a choice and bring them to your cabin before dinner
- Buy a 10 dollar flower arrangement on your embarkation day....once on board ask your room attendant for a vase.
-If celebrating an anniversary or BD,,,bring your own decoration..10 dollars at Party Packagers can go very far and do a nicer job than what is charged by the cruise line. Saw one BD package and would have been disappointed to pay 25 bucks for it.
- Bring your child's favourite snack....I had few containers of Gummy bears....by the end of my trip I was able to get some from my cabin attendant but I think that was because he saw I ran out of the ones I had and DONT FORGET to bring a Fabreeze plug-in.....your room will always smell nice.
I know it would be nice to have all this done for you as a perk.....but when travelling on a budget....you will be glad you did the little "work" when you are enjoying your cabin....specially on a TA
It took me too long to write this,,,,,,if there is any questions....I am happy to answer specially regarding different abilities.
I met a lot more wonderful people of whom I don't have good pictures..like Frank & Elaine, Carol & Cliff, Mark & Lori, Marcel & Cheryl, Lucy and her husband, Peggy and her husband, Joan, Ozzy John, and even more people that I never got their names,,,like the lady who hand-crafted a stuffed bear with a crochet dress and bonnet for my daughter as a gift,,....shame on me
At this time I just want to THANK EVERYONE on the wonderful time which you all contributed to make......The love and respect received for me was the ultimate experience.
Here is a link of the pictures., including funny shots at the end..........for which I must thank Jerry and Ray for taking many pictures of us and sharing them with me by USB drive and CD when the trip was over, as I lost my good camera on my last connecting Delta flight into NOLA......
There are notes at the bottom of the pics (not all) with the dishes names and the people on them.
In order to enhance my review....please read these much better and more detailed wonderful reviews of the ship and services from two of my cruise mates..
"Don't forget to Laugh...Love and Live TODAY.....for tomorrow is not promised"