We have cruised on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess, Holland America, and Carnival - so this time decided to try Norwegian's "Freestyle Cruising" for 2 reasons: 1) we wanted to experience more freedom and casualness in the cruise atmosphere; and 2) the Norwegian Spirt sailed out of NYC, a 3-hour drive from our hometown in upstate New York, thereby avoiding the most annoying and expensive part of the cruise process - airfare and hotel!! What we would have spent on airfare and hotel was instead spent on a longer and more enjoyable cruise!
We loved the 2 sea days on either end of the cruise - a chance to unwind, read, sleep, gamble, have a facial, play Monopoly - whatever - and by the 2nd day out, the weather was getting much warmer! The ports were great, especially for shopping (St. Thomas, St. Maarten), and we enjoyed mini-buggies on Barbados and the America's Cup Yacht Race on St. Maarten!
The ship is well laid out and planned. Although smaller than most, our stateroom was more comfortable than in larger ones, because of how it was laid out (lots of storage space and the bathroom is separated into 3 areas with doors - shower, toilet and sink - loved that feature!! Our Cabin steward kept the room clean and delivered the extra towels we asked for with no problem.
The ship itself is lovely - and the personnel are very friendly and accommodating. There were virtually no lines at the main desk if you needed something (unlike the Royal Mediterranean cruise we took last July, where the lines were staggering!!). We ate in each of the specialty restaurants as well as the main dining rooms. The food in each was good (the best being Cagney's and Le Bistro, and my husband loved the sushi in the Shogun). Raffles buffet was excellent, with loads of choices, especially for breakfast - much more than on Royal or others we've sailed!
Our only disappointment was in the gambling arena. The ship takes in a large amount of money during the 10-day cruise in Casino tournaments (specifically Blackjack), giving out nothing until the last day of the cruise (figure $10 per person per round - 6 people per round with about 5 rounds per tournament day). The winner got $500, and the 2nd place person (me) only got a tee-shirt and a bottle of champagne! Also, they take in tons of money for Bingo ($49 for 4 games on one of those machines), yet the prizes are $300 each until the last day (jackpot was $1750)!
They do seem to be concerned about getting all the money they can from the passengers during the cruise, as they charge a lot for everything! From the reviews I've read, NCL is like that overall.
We really enjoyed not having to "dress up" for dinner if we didn't want to, nor dress formally on the "optional formal" nights. The only things banned from the dining rooms after 5:30 are shorts, torn jeans and bathing suits, so you can be very comfortable. Also, we could eat when we were hungry - not at 6 or 8!! There was very little waiting for a table for two.
Overall, we enjoyed our first NCL cruise so much that we booked another on the Dawn (out of NYC in March 2007) while we were on the Spirit! - better rates and on-board credit.
Oh, and as for the entertainment - the hypnotist was hilarious. The "Second City" comedians were awful. I heard that the specialty singers were good and the cruise dancers/singers were not so hot!