Eight of us sailed on NCL Spirit out of NY on 8/13/06. There was a mom with two pre-teens in one cabin, three female friends in another, and two friends, male and female in the third. We all had balconies. We travel together regularly and consider ourselves to be seasoned cruisers.
Let me say this first: two years ago we were on the Dawn, and loved that cruise so much that we decided to try NCL again. Mostly we cruise on Carnival.
Embarkation was the smoothest I've experienced in NY. As past passengers, we were seated separately and we able to board before the others. Unlike the experience of other reviewers, no one came around with any refreshments, and they would have been welcome. However, we were pleased to be on board so early.
It was the first time I was able to sit down for a meal without crowds or confusion on embarkation day. Too bad the buffet food wasn't better. Throughout the cruise I found it to be repetitive and mediocre.
We were allowed in our cabins after 2. I was sharing with two other women, and so was concerned about space. There actually was ample room for all our stuff, but the beds are a bit lower than the norm, so only medium and smaller sized suitcases will fit under them. One of my cabinmates had a huge one, but luckily we were able to squeeze it into the closet. Otherwise, honestly, I don't know where we would have put it.
In the evenings, the little couch became my bed, and once opened it blocked the way to the balcony. To get to the bathroom I practically had to crawl over my friends, as the desk was at the foot of my bed with no room to spare.
Last year on the Carnival Glory, I also shared a cabin with two others and we had plenty of room to move around. Also the pull out bed was horribly uncomfortable, although our steward did everything he could to make it better. The biggest downside for me was the inability to take a little nap or just stretch out during the day.
Here's how I'd rate the food: 1) Specialty restaurants (I tried Le Bistro, the hibachi section of the Japanese restaurant, and the Italian restaurant): very good to excellent. 2)Dining rooms: fair to good 3) Room service: fair to good (portions small, sandwiches soggy. Soup good, grilled cheese very good) 4) Poolside BBQ: good to very good 5) Raffles (buffet): poor to fair. If you're into fried food The Blue Lagoon is open 24/7 and you can get all the grease you could want. But it's almost always crowded and the service is less than stellar.
Speaking of service - most of the crew we came in contact with seemed seriously ticked off at the world. Except for exceptional service in the specialty restaurants, the kind of treatment we've come to expect on a cruise ship was almost non-existent.
For the first time, I purchased a soda card to give me options other than water. After breakfast, the free beverage machines only dispensed ice, water, and a horrible iced tea. No fruit punch, no lemonade. Well, the soda card was a real eye-opener. As soon as a server found out you had it (and therefore wouldn't be signing a bill or adding a tip) they became sullen. I experienced rolled eyes and sucked teeth after asking for a soda. Yes, really.
And on the private island, when one of my friends showed the server (who was hawking $10 cocktails) her card and asked for a soda, the woman actually pointed toward the bar and said, "you can get it there yourself". Unheard of!
I also think that NCL tries to squeeze every possible dime out of you. In the photo gallery you could never just buy a photo. There was always some special package which included things you didn't want, just to boost the price. The embarkation picture, which should have cost about $7-$8 could only be purchased with a leather frame for $20. A silly picture of me with a guy in a fake tuxedo, taken in the waters off the private island was presented as part of a package including various sizes of the photo. I just wanted one little picture, not half a dozen. Again, it could only be gotten by purchasing the whole lot for $20. After than I wouldn't even allow my picture to be taken; it was just too aggravating. T
he kids didn't enjoy the activities in the day camp. They said they were more geared toward the younger kids. Last year on the Glory they had so much fun we never saw them.
Excursions: in Port Canaveral, a large group went to Island of Adventure, but I went with one friend on an airboat ride in the Everglades and we loved it. Had my picture taken (for only $5!!) holding a baby gator. Also ate fried alligator tail - delicious -- tastes just like calamari.
In Nassau the two of us went off again on a mini-sub ride, like a glass bottom boat, only better. The entire seating area is submerged, so you get to see quite a bit. On the way to the sub, on another boat, we also got a little guided tour, saw Oprah's house, etc.
The morning on the private island was wonderful. The only difference this time (we were there also on the Dawn) is that the floats weren't free. But at only $10 for the day it was worth it. Don't know how much the family-sized ones cost. The BBQ on the island was very good.
We're not into the shows, so I can't report on them. Evenings at sea we were mostly in the casino, which was fairly large for a ship. We never expect to win, and weren't disappointed!
Disembarkation was as easy as embarkation. Three of us who were cabbing it together opted for express disembarkation, which meant taking all our luggage with us. We got out before 10, found our driver immediately, and I was home, sitting on my couch before 10:30.
After the cruise I spoke with my travel agent and she told me she'd started hearing lots of negatives about NCL, including a story about crew in Hawaii quitting in the middle of a cruise! Maybe the rotten service and attitude of so many of the crew had to do with the way THEY are treated. I don't know.
But, I do know that I will probably not book another cruise with NCL unless I hear that things have changed.