BACKGROUND: I have been on 13 cruises including this one. Three of them were on NCL, the rest were Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and the Regal Empress. The other NCL ships I have been on were the Norwegian Sea in July 2002 and the Dawn in April 2004. I cruised with a group of 21 people total. My husband Eric, my son Philip (18 months old) and I were in the same cabin, #5577 inside cabin. My husband and I are 29. The rest of our group had all different ages. Kids were ages 13, 6, 5, 4, and almost 3. Adults were 31, 36, 38, 39, 51, mid-50s, and 60s. Most of us had been on cruises before, on Carnival, RCCL, Celebrity and Regal Empress, so we are experienced cruisers. I am from Brooklyn, NY and my family who was with us lives in Long Island, Brooklyn, New Jersey and Seattle.
EMBARKATION: This was very nice. We waited upstairs in the Latitude/Suite passengers waiting area. They brought out some cookies and coffee and juice at first which was very nice. Then when it ran out, they brought out mini sandwiches and pound cake and banana bread. It was so nice. I have never seen that in 13 cruises at the pier! We arrived early at the pier, about 9:45. My husband parked the car which was easy. Highly recommended. They brought down the Latitude and suite passengers to check in first at about 12:10 or so. It was very easy. They took our pictures for the onboard credit account and the credit card to put it on. We had to wait for my sister and her boyfriend and kids because they added his daughter very close to the sailing date. So they had to pick up the papers and ticket at the pier. So we got onto the ship at about 1:20 or so, but it would have been much earlier if there wasn't a wait for her ticket. So it's pretty quick. Once on the ship, we were told we couldn't get into the cabin until 2PM so we went to Windows for lunch and to make our nightly reservation for dinner for 5:30.
CABIN: The inside cabin, surprisingly, had ample space and ample storage space for all our stuff, for three people. They put a portable crib in it for my son (like a pack 'n' play, but a different brand). They were able to put the beds together and form a queen bed even with the crib in there which was nice. There was also a chair by the desk and an easy chair. The drawers look very small at first, but when you open them you see that they go very far back and we had plenty of space. There are shelves in the bathroom on either side of the sink which is also convenient, and a shelf underneath. The shower is very large for a cruise ship. We were able to give our son a shower in there with no problem. The showerhead is detachable and that made things very easy. We also got towel animals several nights throughout the cruise which was nice and my son liked them. There is one outlet for 110-V but it only holds 500 watts. I had purchased a dual voltage hair dryer and adaptor plug so I used that for the 220-V outlet and it worked just fine. The hair dryer in the bathroom also works well, but the handle gets hot very quickly, so I opted to use my own. The closet also has plenty of space. Not too many hangers though. But we pack all the hanging stuff in a garment bag so we already had our own hangers to use. There are also shelves in the closet and we had plenty of room for all our stuff (and we had a lot!). Air conditioning is also very good in the cabin. The beds are very firm. I felt comfortable but a few mornings I woke up with a backache that only lasted a little while then went away. My husband did not like the bed on the first night and our cabin steward put the egg-crate mattress pad on it and that made it much better.
FOOD: I thought the food was excellent. I had read some bad reviews regarding the food on this ship, but I loved it. We did not eat in the specialty restaurants at all. We had dinner in the main dining rooms every night. On 7 out of 8 nights, we had our large party reserved and ate at Windows with a wonderful waiter named Mark Chisholm. He was the best! His assistant Shirmilla Merzullo was also excellent. They were great with the children and very attentive and excellent service. Wonderful food too. The first night the prime rib was excellent. The lobster tails were larger than they were on both the Dawn and the Sea. The desserts were so good that I ordered 2 of them every night. The souffles are excellent and they have a different one nearly every night. The New York Cheesecake was also very good on the Captain's Farewell night. They always have grilled chicken, steak and salmon available. I took advantage of the steak one night and it was outstanding. On Caribbean night they had delicious crabcakes and a wonderful banana souffle!
Breakfast food was wonderful and plentiful. We had most breakfasts in Raffles. Raffles is better than other buffets I have been to on cruises. The omelette station is a must-have, and the waffle station is okay. Not crispy waffles but still tasted good. Never a problem getting a highchair in the dining room or at Raffles, and we went at peak times. Breakfast in the dining room was good but very very slow service. Raffles was easier. We had room service continental breakfast one morning. I called up for it rather than use the card the night before because we were unsure of the time. It only took 10-15 minutes to arrive which was convenient.
Most lunches were at Raffles. It was delicious and the pasta station was great. Also a wonderful poolside BBQ every afternoon, and also the food at the Bier Garten on deck 13 was great. The best spicy curly fries! Lunch in the dining room on the first day was excellent. But the other time we went to the dining room for lunch the service was way too slow, and the fries were cold. The assistant waitress gave me a look, like I was bothering her, when I asked her for a lemonade.
The chocoholic buffet was the best I've seen on 3 NCL cruises and a must-do! Very chaotic because 2,000 people are trying it at once, but well worth it!
We had lunch one day in the Blue Lagoon and the burgers were delicious. Buffalo wings are tiny and they give only 3 per order so order more. It tastes more like a slightly spicy BBQ sauce than buffalo wing sauce.
SERVICE: This is the one area that NCL has to work on seriously. Let me start by saying that we had excellent service from our waiter Mark and his assistant Sharmilla every dinner we ate in Windows (7 nights). We also had wonderful service from Gusti in the Garden Room the night that we were in St. Thomas. Other than that, the service was lacking in my opinion. This was the only ship out of 13 I have been on, where crew member would actually walk right in front of me no matter where I was or how much I was carrying. I have never seen this on a cruise before. Usually they wait for a passenger to pass them, but on the Spirit they almost tripped me a few times. And I am not a picky person, just that something I have come to expect on cruises is courtesy.
The service was too slow in the dining room at breakfast and lunch too. It seems as though NCL is trying to make everything during the day buffet style, because service in Raffles is much better than in the dining room. Seems as though they are trying to discourage people from going to the dining room for breakfast and lunch. And when it was slow, the dining room was empty! I also mentioned above that the assistant waitress at lunchtime one day looked bothered and ticked off that I asked her for a lemonade.
At the chocoholic buffet, I needed a highchair for my son so they brought one over and then the waitress started to walk away. I informed her that the regular chair had to be moved in order to use the highchair (it would have blocked too much space). Her reply to me was "So then move it!". I found this to be very rude. NCL definitely has to work on service. If it wasn't for Mark and Sharmilla at dinner every night, I would give the service a lower rating.
ACTIVITIES: They had some good ones throughout the day. The "Mr. Sexy Legs" contest was funny, but I would have liked to see more activities like this. Carnival does things like this everyday and I would have liked to see more of it. They had morning and afternoon trivia each day.
The drink tastings were the best. They had 2 martini tastings, a margarita tasting and a beer tasting throughout the week, each one costing $15 a person. We went to the martini tasting (first one), and realized that 2 of us could have shared it because they gave 7 different ones, not full size, but very big for the price! My husband did the beer tasting and sampled 7 different kinds of beer, also pretty large he said. We shared the margarita tasting and sampled 8 different ones, also pretty big. If you get the drink of the day as I did most days, tell them not to give you a souvenir glass. You get the same amount of the drink, but it will only cost you $5.50 instead of $8 or $9!
Casino was nice, we lost, but we always go expecting to lose, so of course no hard feelings.
KID'S AREA: We did not use the kid's camp because my son is too young (under 2), but they did have certain hours every day for toddler play (under 2) with a parent there to supervise. We didn't go to this because we were doing different things. We did use the outdoor area and play there with my son. There is a little outdoor "room" that is gated so that he was able to run around. There are rocking horses, and other toys in there that he loved playing with. My nieces and my cousin's daughters enjoyed the kiddie pool. It is easier to get a lounge chair there than by the adult pool. The kid's outdoor area is very beautiful and nice to have that with the little ones.
ENTERTAINMENT: The shows were very nice. I loved the production company shows with all the singing and dancing. My son liked it too! Dr. Trance was a hilarious hypnotist and I got to go onstage and everyone on the cruise knew me after that. Second City was a comedy troupe from Chicago and I really liked them. However, if you are not into improv comedy and analytical type of comedy it might not be for you. Rebecca Lowe was a wonderful singer on the last night of the cruise.
PORTS/SHORE EXCURSIONS: We did not do any shore excursions with NCL. We did it all on our own. Took a cab to Paradise Point in St. Thomas and rode the cable car to the top. Amazing views and not to be missed! Then we went shopping and then to Magen's Bay Beach, all by taxi. It was great and a lot less money then doing things through the ship. In Tortola, we paid $15 a person to get a 2-hour tour of the island in a taxi. It was great. He did not charge for the children. We got to see Cane Garden Beach which was beautiful. In Bermuda we took a taxi to Horseshoe Bay Beach, then a taxi to Hamilton for some shopping. We watched the Norwegian Crown sail from Hamilton at noon. We took the ferry back to the ship at 1:30 and got there at 2. The ferry cost $4 per person but the baby was free. Bermuda was our favorite port.
DEBARKATION: Very easy. You can do the express one where you carry all your luggage off and get off the ship as soon as they clear customs. We didn't do this, but others in our party did and said it was great and very easy. We waited for them to call our tag color (we were last) and it was still quick and easy. We got off the ship at around 10:45, it took my husband literally 5 minutes to get the car and pull up to the front. We were home in Brooklyn at around 11:30.
Overall this was a wonderful cruise. I was with a lot of fun people and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I think that NCL still has to work on service though. Would I cruise on the Spirit again or on another NCL ship? Sure I would. But there are still certain things about traditional cruising I miss, like the waiters performing several nights in the dining room throughout the cruise. I also miss having more daytime activities and would like to see more of that.