I am disappointed to say that Norwegian will never see me on one of their ships ever again. The Spirit is an embarrassment and Norwegian should ditch the "Freestyle Cruising" since they can't deliver on what they promise it to be. This cruise was so bad that the first thing I am doing after I arrived home is writing this.
We took an 8-day cruise on the Norwegian Spirit on May 20th from NYC to St. Thomas U.S.V.I., Tortola B.V.I., and Bermuda. We booked this cruise because it was leaving from NYC so we wouldn't need to fly anywhere and it fit into our busy schedules. We liked the itinerary at first, but when we were at the ports we realized it wasn't the best. We arrived in St. Thomas around 1 in the afternoon and left around 1 in the morning. This sounded great, but everything in St Thomas shuts down at 5 pm. The stay in Tortola was too short. Our time in Bermuda was good.
We live in Queens, NY so our travel to the port was a short cab ride. There were two other More
ships in port leaving the same time we were so there was heavy traffic going to the port. We ended up getting out of our cab on the east side of 12th Ave. and walking to the port. This probably saved us a bout a half-hour of sitting in traffic.
Boarding the ship was easy. There was a friendly bag handler who directed us to the ship (it was a little confusing with the Norwegian Dawn and a Carnival ship in port leaving at the same time.) We were on the ship a few minutes after checking in and having our picture taken for the ID's.
We had an inside stateroom which was roomy and comfortable. The stateroom showers are wonderful! They're roomy with sliding glass doors and have great water pressure. The stateroom itself was colorful and nicely equipped with a coffee pot, dresser, desk and fairly large closet with shelves. The TV was small and very high on top the shelf which made it hard to see, especially when laying in bed. The TV had two channels dedicated to movies, CNN, TNT, ESPN and a few other cruise channels. I will definitely get a room with a window or balcony next time (when I go on a non-Norwegian ship) because not having a window makes it feel like your waking up at 3 in the morning when you are actually waking up at 9 or 10. The cabin walls however are paper thin. You can hear a normal conversation in the adjacent cabins and it's frustrating when you are surrounded by loud people as we were.
The cruise was downhill from there. There were some people in the cabins close to us smoking marijuana without any regard to fellow passengers or the law (this started while we still in the NYC port, I don't know what would happen in international waters). This continued for a few days, I guess until they ran out of dope or Norwegian caught wind of it(no pun intended)and put a stop to it.
Norwegian boasts "Freestyle Cruising" which makes the false claim that you can dine when you want with whom you want. This is a load of bull. It's hard to to dine when you want when there is always a line to get into the restaurants and often a wait to be seated. They even have those stupid little pagers you see at restaurants like Outback or Applebees. On the fifth night we had been in a long line for the Garden Room (that along with Windows were the two main dining rooms with no extra charge)for about fifteen minutes when a hostess announced it would be a half -hour wait for a table for two. We left and went to Windows and got a table after waiting in line again. Every night there was at least a line for a table and we eat at around 5:30 or 6:00. I can't imagine what it is like later. People start lining up before the restaurants even open and the line never seems to go away. They have screens throughout the ship that tell yo uhow busy the restaurants are, but they seemed to be inaccurate. The only upside to this "Freestyle" bad idea is that my wife and I could get a table for two instead of being sat at a table with strangers. However on our honeymoon cruise last year on Royal Caribbean we went to the restaurant ahead of time and asked for table for two and they were happy to give it to us throughout the cruise.
The food on the Spirit was just downright awful with the exception of Cagney's, the steakhouse. However, Cagney's will cost you at least $20 extra per person, plus there are other menu items that aren't included with the extra $20. The food on the ship ranged from bland to inedible. The portions are extremely small. There are two main dining rooms for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a buffet and I think five specialty restaurants, four of which have a set extra price or an a la carte pricing menu. All of the restaurants seem to have similar food, maybe a few preparation differences.
Our first night we went to Le Bistro ($15 per person surcharge), the French restaurant, because there was a 2 for 1 special. My filet mignon came out wrong and over cooked, I ordered the bernaise instead of the fois gras. I got the fois gras. I have never had a tough filet mignon so I would like to thank Norwegian for the new experience. It tasted like a tire even though i ordered medium rare. The service was equally as bad, but I will get to that later because the service on the entire ship is awful and deserves its own section.
We decided to stick to the regular restaurants and the buffet for the rest of the cruise. The buffet was pretty bad. We ate there for breakfast and lunch. The food was dry and had little flavor. I heard a lot of complaints about the scrambled eggs but I don't eat eggs. One couple was rating the on a scale of awfulness (today isn't as bad as yesterday). My wife ate waffles every day. The variety was small and most things didn't look appealing. We were disappointed from the beginning and things didn't get much better. I became convinced that Norwegian tries to frustrate you into buying a good meal at one of their specialty restaurants.
We ate dinner in either Windows or the Garden room. The second night was an optional formal night. We didn't get to dress up because my shirt didn't return from the cleaners to get pressed in time for dinner. Even though I paid for express service I didn't get the shirt back by the stated time. The service was drop off by 9:00 an and receive it by 6:00 pm. Although I walked around at 8:30 in the morning looking to drop it off in time, my stateroom attendant told me to leave it on the bed. I don't think it was picked up in time. I waited until 6:30, but we wore something else instead of dressing formal. Anyway, the food in the main dining room was not very flavorful and there were very poor choices. Every night there was a struggle to find at least one thing that we would enjoy. Again the service was poor, but I will get to that in a minute.
The last night of the cruise, we won dinner for two at the casino. We decided to go to Cagney's, the steakhouse. Finally after seven days on this ship we had a good meal. But, even with the free dinner we paid extra money for the items that weren't included with the $20 surcharge. My wife had a whole lobster and I had a porterhouse steak. The service here was good.
The Spirit has a restaurant open all day that serves late snacks called the Blue Lagoon. What a disaster this place is. You have to be seated before you can order and there aren't many seats, especially when it's the only place open. They have hamburgers, hot dogs, soup and a few other items, most of it fried. My wife got a bowl of chili that I hope was spoiled. It tasted so bad wouldn't serve it to an animal. I didn't believe it could taste so bad so I took a bite. It didn't even taste like meat. I really don't know what it was, but it was bad. I think it was spoiled. On the last day we went there because the poor buffet choice left us hungry. I am still waiting for the cheeseburger I ordered. We were so frustrated by the end of the cruise that complaining just frustrated us more so we left the Lagoon still hungry.
To finish up the food portion that I could complain about in a book, I would like to add that Norwegian plays a seemingly round the clock presentation on the television, hosted by Brooke Burke, that tries again to sell you on this "Freestyle" idea. The movie states that all of the restaurants open at 5:30 for dinner, but most of the restaurants, including one of the main dining rooms, opened at 6:00 on our cruise. I'm only saying this as one of many examples of the details that Norwegian ignores. When they were trying to sell future cruising on board they were boasting that the difference is in the details. It certainly is.
The service on Norwegian is just as bad. I attribute this to Norwegian's poor "Freestyle" idea. There is a $10 per night and per person charge (I think it's a little less for kids) charged to your account that is split between the restaurant staff and housekeeping staff. Bar and casino employees get tips on the spot. You don't see the same waiter every night and the tip is automatic, so the server has no incentive to provide good service and it shows. The staff across the ship were poorly trained inattentive and at times rude. They seemed to be overworked, and there were clearly staffing shortages throughout the ship. Often we were finished with dessert before our coffee came because the beverage waiter was bringing coffee to six or seven tables at a time. I have worked in service for a large portion of my life and I could tell the staff was not happy. The freestyle concept gives them all an equal share in the tips (at least on each level, e.g. all the waiters get the same proportion, busboys get their share etc.). Why would some one go the extra mile if they will not be compensated? I don't blame them entirely, them seemed disgruntled. I felt bad lowering the tip portion by $40 at the end of my cruise, but I will not pay for poor service. If i hadn't worked in service myself I would have lowered it more. I think that a lot of the problems are the fault of management and not necessarily the staff. I wanted my displeasure heard though.
My wife and I don't usually take advantage of the activities, but they seemed to be the usual. Games, bingo, dance themes etc.. The shows were pretty bad with the exception of Alfred and Seymour. We were expecting some old guys doing schtick, but they were two funny black guys. Their shows were hysterical. They interact with the audience and embarrass people who walk in late and leave early. I think most people enjoyed them, I know I did. There was a guy named Brian G who did impressions. Most of them were pretty bad. His impression of Butthead sounded like a five year old doing an impression of Butthead. It also sounded like he had music tracks of some of the voices playing behind him. It was billed as comedy, but it was pretty sad. There was also a comedy troupe that launched the famous careers of Dan Akyroyd, John Belushi and a few others. I don't think they've had anyone funny in their troupe since those guys left. We walked out.
The shore excursions seemed to be fairly standard also. At each port they had tours, snorkeling and diving, golf outings, shopping etc... In St Thomas we booked, through the ship, a kayaking and snorkeling tour in a lagoon sanctuary with some local guides ($75 per person). The guides were were really friendly and knew everything about the lagoon. They tried to make sure everyone had a good time and got to see natural wonders of the lagoon. It was more of a relaxed and educational excursion and it was a lot of fun.
In Tortola we didn't book anything through the ship. We found a guy who gave the same exact sightseeing and swim tour that the ship sells and it was less than half of the cost. We were on the road with the same tour buses from the ship and swam at the same beach. In Bermuda, we took a taxi to Horseshoe Bay Beach (again not arranged from the ship). It was gorgeous with pink sand and good snorkeling right off shore.
The casino wasn't the best either. Most of the tables use a card shuffler that I didn't like. I prefer the dealer to shuffle. THE HOLD-EM TOURNAMENT IS A RIP-OFF!!!!!!!!!! I entered the no-limit poker tournament when I arrived on the ship for $60. I was never told that once the tournament began that people would be able to buy more chips. When the tournament began we were all given $4000 in poker chips and they told us that during the first round, if you had less than $1000 in chips you could buy back into the tournament for another $60 in cash. That didn't really bother me because in no-limit you can lose chips pretty quickly and only the weaker players needed to do this. As the end of the first round approached, the casino announced that anyone can but an additional $4000 in chips for another $60 cash. This outraged a lot of us especially at my table, table 1. Why were we trying to eliminate people if they can buy so many chips again ($6000 in total). The dealer supervisors were walking around telling us we don't have a chance at winning if we don't buy more chips. That is untrue, I had a chance to win until you started selling more chips. Some of the money went to the jackpot, but it only increased by about six hundred dollars even though a lot of people bought more chips. It would only take 10 people to buy more chips for the pot to go up by $600. there were over 40 people in the tournament. This scam was only designed to rip us off.
Disembarking was easy. We used the express option and carried our luggage off of the ship. There were cabs waiting.
Overall, my wife and I were very disappointed with this cruise. Any highpoints were quickly overshadowed by the poor food and service. My wife has been on many cruises and this was the most unpleasant for her. This was my second cruise and I hope it hasn't scared me away from cruises forever. The Spirit suffers from poor food and service. The shows aren't very good and you have to pay extra for a decent meal. It seems like they try to nickel and dime you the whole way through. I thought it was rip-off. My experience on another cruise line left my expectations too high for Norwegian and the Spirit to fulfill. I would not recommend this ship or Norwegian to anyone that I like and would want to stay friends with. Less