I read A LOT of reviews about NCL and The Spirit before we cruised, and found the most helpful reviews were those which highlighted the best and worst of their experience. Therefore, I will summarize my experience using the same rating categories on Cruise Critic with the hope this review will help you have a great cruise... just like the one we just came home from! I'll also highlight those things I found very special and would recommend.
EMBARKATION: It could not have been much easier (unless they just let us walk on the ship). HINT: We did arrive fairly early before any lines may have formed. We arrived at the SEA-TAC airport about 9:30 a.m. We asked an NCL sign-holder where to find the buses where we could buy our own ticket (and not have to pay more by booking through NCL). We found the desk for this bus inside the building near the door next to the #1 luggage pick-up station. You can buy a Gray-Line one-way ticket to Pier 66 at Bell Street for $12 p/p. More
After you get your ticket, be sure you ask around and get the right bus line to stand in, because we stood in the wrong line at first. The bus came about 10 and we arrived at the pier about 10:45 a.m. We went straight through the lines to get our boarding pass... and then about 11:30 a.m. they started letting people board. By about noon, we were on the ship and soon after in our room. Lunch was available at the Raffles buffet and at the beautiful Windows restaurant. HINT: Go to Windows, it was not busy and the service and food are great! I enjoyed the skirt-steak.
PUBLIC ROOMS: This was our 5th cruise, and our 5th cruise line, and The Spirit is the most beautiful and clean ship we have enjoyed. I liked it better than the Disney Magic which is also a beautiful ship. The Windows restaurant had a great atmosphere: Grand and lavish. The Garden restaurant is beautiful and elegant. The lobby is expansive and impressive. The smaller restaurants are intimate and detailed well (we tried the Teppanyaki and Le Bistro). The 24 hour snack bar (Blue Lagoon is small and a LOT of foot traffic has to walk through the small dining room). The Galaxy of the Stars is a nice place to view the cruise from the front (forward) of the ship. The Kids Club in the back (aft) of the ship looked great. I think our kids would have loved it (if they had been with us). I enjoyed the library and game room. The pool area is really beautiful and if you get good weather, you will enjoy the deck. Though our ship was full (I was told there were over 2,000 people on board with another 950 crew -- the ship did not seem crowded or packed.)
CABIN: We are not big on cabins for cruising -- and being on a budget we try to get the lesser priced rooms. When we booked we could not get an inside cabin, so we took the lowest priced outside and ended up being upgraded one floor to Deck 5, Forward, on the left (port) side. It was fine. Our room had a porthole, and you really cannot see much from these -- so if you want a view, be sure to get a higher category room with a picture window, or a balcony.
FITNESS/RECREATION: I used the bicycle machines and the hot tub. They are just what you might expect. Good enough for a simple workout. The gym is small with stair-climbing, bicycle, and treadmill machines. Weights are also available. I'm no health nut, so this place was fine for me. There are four beautiful and large hot tubs/Jacuzzis by the pool.
DINING: For me, this is the most "important" part of the cruise. Neither my wife nor I are people who just eat for the sake of eating. We enjoy the flavors and variety of different foods. We were not disappointed. In the Le Bistro, you pay a $15 p/p service charge and can order from a simple menu of about 5 different appetizers, main courses and desserts. We enjoyed the filet mignon. The chocolate fondue is REALLY RICH... deep dark chocolate with some milk added for a creamy texture. Fresh fruit is served in a carved out pineapple... there is lots of chocolate, so after you finish the fruit you can stick your face in the pot and suck out the rest! The service throughout the ship was great and it goes a step up in the specialty restaurants. The Teppanyaki was ok... the food is very good, but I was not all that impressed. If I could do it over again, I would have skipped the Teppanyaki and tried Maxims. But even though not the greatest, it was still worth the extra charges (you pay a-la-carte prices in Teppanyaki - I tried the fish combo and my wife had the filet mignon -- I'd recommend the filet). In the main dining room, the food was wonderful as well. APPETIZER SUGGESTION: Tuna tartare; melons in vermouth sauce; fried calimari. MAIN COURSE SUGGESTION: I especially liked the Beef Wellington and the Seafood Risotto. The beef items always seemed to be well prepared throughout the main restaurants. DESSERT SUGGESTION: The desserts on the ship are marvelous. Chocolate-Pecan cream cake, which was more like a brownie, but was just wonderful. The toffee-coffee parfait cake was also wonderful. If you like sherbet, try the Kiwi flavor -- it was really nice. They may change the menus, so you can check each day at the restaurants to see the menus before the meals are served. They did have special 2-for-1 prices for Le Bistro and Shogun, (the Asian restaurant -- we did not try that one) but only from 8:30 p.m. -- 10 p.m. HINT: If you eat in a main restaurant before 6:30 p.m. you will probably not have to wait -- we never did. There are a number of large flat-screen monitors around the ship that tell you how full each restaurant is. So if the line-graph gets to yellow, you better head to the restaurant, or plan for a wait. SUGGESTION: The Chocoholic Bar was held on Friday afternoon. We could take pictures at 1:30 - 2:15 p.m., and then you could go and eat from the bar from 2:30 - 3:30. We waited in line before the doors opened so we would not have to wait in line after it started. It was worth it... and from what I saw, the people at the end of the line also had plenty to eat... but you will want to see it before the hoards devour it -- it is beautifully displayed in the Moulin Rouge showroom. SUGGESTION: Raffles buffet is best as a quick-bite if you are in a hurry. But otherwise, why eat steamed food, when you can get it served fresh from the kitchen. There were some entrees like the smoked pork and fried fish at Raffles that were tasty. But a lot of the food was just your everyday buffet filler. Desserts at Raffles (just like all around the ship) were very good.
ENTERTAINMENT: First, the best was Jane Powell. I loved her show. My wife and I went to the first show at 7:30 p.m., and I liked it so much I went back to the 9:30 p.m. show and was very pleasantly surprised to see a totally different show. She has a great voice with tremendous vocal range and style. "A+." The rest of the entertainment was downhill, in my estimation. Adam Ace was a funny show (his humor is about one-half frenetic activity and one-half bathroom humor. He does refer to sexual organs often, so parents may want to be careful.) The other comedian was not even funny (in my estimation, and we walked out). The production company was just ok... and to be honest, I really did not like it very much.
The plus side of entertainment was in the bars and lounges. I enjoyed the duo, called Pryme Tyme; and the soloist, Ariel. The ship's band is very good, as were the other singers and instrumentalists. I don't dance, but if I did, I would guess the music was very good from these people. The "singing conductor" (Steve Hite) who comes on the ship for a short show in Skagway is worth it - I enjoyed him.
SERVICE: Our room stewards were pretty anonymous, but did a great job. The whole ship's crew was polite, well-trained, and always ready to serve. I don't remember ever having any better service on any other ship.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: SUGGESTIONS: In Juneau we took the Tracy Arm Glacier Excursion. This was the best excursion I have ever been on. You get on a smaller boat (catamaran) and it leaves for Tracy Arm an hour before the ship leaves Juneau. This little boat must go faster than the Spirit because we had plenty of time to see the sights in Tracy Arm before we linked up with the Spirit later. The boat's captain stopped along the way to see a humpback whale. The naturalists on board were fun and informative... and most all the sights were so gorgeous. We came right up to a waterfall where a light spray went over the ship. We saw bald eagles, harbor seals with their pups and a young brown bear. But the highlight was the up close view of Sawyer Glacier. HINT: If you only stay on the Spirit, you will see the Sawyer Glacier from a distance that depends on the ice flow that day. Our little boat got up to about 1/4 mile from the north side of Sawyer Glacier and we saw two large calvings (when the glacier splits off a large segment of ice or iceberg). It was a great sight and sound, and our boat was rocked by the waves caused by the glacier's calving.
Our other excursion was the Canoe and Rainforest adventure in Ketchikan. We enjoyed this very much as well, even though it was raining -- but that's why it's a rainforest! Downside: Prince Rupert -- not much to see or do. If it is a pretty day, you might enjoy the short walk to the park that overlooks the dock and enjoy the view of the harbor.
Other than that -- there really isn't much. The cruise line has to stop at a "foreign" port because of some legality.... but they apparently can't all go to Vancouver or Victoria. So this might be a good day to relax on the ship and check out a book.
OVERALL: This was a joyful week to celebrate our anniversary. Not everything was "perfect" but it was a special week. The Freestyle approach appeals to me -- I liked my other cruises, but the freestyle eating and other amenities fit our habits. It was nice to be able to eat when we wanted and where we wanted. It was also simpler than the other way of cruising. I believe that most people will have plenty to enjoy on the NCL Spirit. Bon voyage! Less