Shalaine's Top 10 to bring on a NCL cruise (or any cruise) when you have kids (Jada-10 & Jenna-3):
1. Lanyards - the purser can punch a hole in your sail & sign card, easier than trying to carry the card around in a wallet/purse. Especially great for kids so they don't lose their card. Also make sure to go to the purser and request that your kids do not have any signing privileges. Also if you can find those small flat watertight containers, that helps for shore excursions so you don't have to bring a purse/wallet.
2. Those plastic bags that you can squeeze the air out of them & mostly the large size (maybe 14 by 12). I organized everyone's clothes separately (tops, bottoms, underwear, swimsuits, dressy items) so everyone got 5 bags (well maybe I had a few extra). This way when you get those weird awkward small shelves, you can shove 2 or 3 bags in each (the lowest ones went to the 3 year old) and you can save your drawer space for other junk items like hairbrushes, itineraries/those daily sheets, sunscreen, etc that needs to be contained. This made packing a snap, keeps your clothes clean in case of spills & most of all, helps you find where your clothes are without digging!
3. Pop up laundry basket you might think I'm a freak, but it is great. Everyone's dirty laundry goes in it and it makes keeping your clothes together a snap. Later on in the week, when they offer the laundry special (I have mixed feelings on this), you can easily sort the kids clothes back into the different bags which makes unpacking a breeze.
4. Extension cord/power strip - we had tons of things to plug in-cell phones, gameboy charger, portable DVD player, etc., and a nightlight, esp. if you have an interior cabinet. It gets pitch black in the interior rooms and you cannot see a thing! Also makes the kids feel better in case they wake up during the night.
5. Wide mouth polycarbonate water bottles. We filled these in the buffet restaurant and I made my own iced tea and drank it all day. Also you can fill it with ice and it stays cold during those shore excursions.
6. Alarm clock you might be into freestyle cruising with no time constraints, but I like making it to shows, dinner, and classes!
7. Spray sunscreen from Neutrogena (we bought 2 pack at Costco), a SPF 45 face cream, bug spray (depending on where you go) a little thing of hand sanitizer, & if you are really crazy like me, a small bottle of anti-bacterial dish soap (for the water bottles) which doubles as hand soap in the bathroom. With current airline restrictions, they might have to go in your checked luggage. Keep them in zip lock bags and you can use those bags on the trip.
8. Portable DVD player keeps the kids busy while traveling & while we dressed for dinner. You can also use it as a CD player.
9. Set of walkie-talkies if you use them, they are great and help you communicate. Note this only works if both people actually turn them on (batteries help too!). If you forget, some cruise ships have them for rent $50 for a week. Yikes! You can buy them for at Walmart for a lot less than that!
10. A good attitude and your camera!!!! Things will happen, some servers will stink, people will hog loungers & go in with some positive thinking; you are on vacation ... make good memories!
Overall a very nice trip; $600 1st/2nd & 400 3rd/4th so I felt we got what we paid for. What I did not plan on (even with my top 10 list) was a boat full of New Yorkers and their New Yorker attitude!!!!
Sun, July 16: Although we've cruised twice before with Carnival, this was the first time we left out of NYC and first with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). We drove to the Pier 90 (right next to the Intrepid) and parked our car right on top of the cruise terminal. It was so convenient!
Check-in was super fast (compared to Carnival) and we were on the Spirit within half an hour, by 12pm. Had to say, so far we were impressed; the buffet-style restaurant and pools were open but we were not able to get in our rooms until 2 pm. OK, so the food looked great but did not taste as great...it was plentiful and available. They also had hand sanitizer dispensers by the restaurants.
Make sure to pack your swim/reading stuff in your carry on so you can start your VK!
I had called NCL earlier to let them know my daughter was celebrating her birthday and bought the birthday package. We got into the room and there were some balloons, streamers, a sign and a cake. The kids were surprised but I don't think it was worth the $30. I should have had Chris watch the kids for 15 mins. at the pool while I threw up a few balloons, sign and streamers and just requested the free cake.
At 3:30, we had the emergency boat drill, and at 4pm we set sail. Then we headed to the pool. We passed pretty close to the Statue of Liberty on the right side. They had a countdown and everyone cheered when we went under the Verrazano Bridge.
We dropped Jada & Jenna off at "Kid's Crew" where they had a birthday party for Jenna. Chris & I were in such a hurry after the drop-off that we got stuck in the doorway trying to leave. Chris beat me out the door by shoving me which resulted in a scratch on my leg. We were so psyched about our first sunset at sea.
We had dinner at the Garden Room. Service was really slow, would recommend Windows if possible. You can look on these flatscreen TVs around the ship for wait time for the open restaurants. We ended up at the little 24hr Blue Lagoon which served decent fried rice. Seating was tight and a the teenagers tended to hang out there late at night.
Have to admit, people were right. The waters out of NYC are a little choppy, but not too bad. The rooms are a little cramped and the beds were a little hard. Although the room looked clean, when we moved the beds to gether, we found dirty socks underneath. A warning about the underbed cot for little kids: Jenna rolled off the cot in the middle of the first night and got stuck under the bed. We solved this by using the life preservers as buffers.
Mon. July 17: We sent Jada & Jenna to "Kid's Crew" in the morning and then in the afternoon we took them swimming. NCL does not let you keep the kids in the day care all day like Carnival. You have to pick them up for lunch and dinner. However, the kid area was nicer and better equipped--ball pit, play structure, etc. Charlie's Daycare was on the back of the ship, so if you have kids, try to get rooms towards the aft.
The ship had a little water park with two water slides, a wadding pool, and hot tub just for the kids. It was a Buccaneer theme so there was a hull of a ship, rocks and a huge crocodile. There was a kids hot tub!!! It also had an arcade where we spent a lot of money...a quarter at a time. Jenna was so tired after she zonked out before dinner. Lobster night she perked right up! The lobster tasted frozen but if you plan on only a few dinners in the fee restaurants, don't do it on Mon. night.
We were not thrilled with the food, even the dinners. It was a huge disappointment since that is a large part of why we cruise. Everything looked great, but nothing really tasted that good. It was our first "optional formal" night and we took a family portrait. Jenna dressed in her Cinderella dress because that night Kid's Crew had a prince & princess party. There was a different theme every night. Jada's group had Survivor night. We found one of 2 towel friends that night. Kids both had a great time.
Tues. July 18: We arrived at Port Canaveral, FL. We were delayed one & half hours getting off the boat. They kept moving the location of the exit gangway. Everyone was complaining&little do we know that same day the Princess Crown tilted over (I think listed is the nautical term).
If you are going to Disney, get the NCL shuttle to Disney from the shore excursion desk and buy tickets at Disney World. Do not let them pressure you into anything else. You can also buy tickets online (http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/index?bhcp=1) and pick them up at will call. However, the line at the transportation center wasn't long at all! This was the best option since if there were any delays (Disney is an hour away), the ship has to wait for you. NCL also offered a transfer + ticket but I did the math, they charged you an extra $37/adult & $13/child that was an extra $100 for no reason! Pays to do a little research and not just book shore excursions for convenience.
Since we only had 5 hrs, we did Magic Kingdom. We used fast pass and scanned our ticket for Space Mountain, took the ride and got right back on after we got off! Caution, use fastpass early! Hubby hated it since we were in line for most of the day, even with fast pass. He called it Disney-hell. I thought Disneyworld should be called Disney-Wait instead. ; )
That night, we went to see a show by Brian Dean, the Hilarious Hypnotist aka Dr. Trance (http://www.doctortrance.com/faq.php). He picked about 20 people from the audience and put about 15 of them under hypnosis. Here are some of the highlights: One girl was convinced she won bingo, another guy was convinced he was a lifeguard and "Bingo" was Norwegian for man overboard. They were given (fake) money and had to hide it somewhere safe. One guy was shoving it down his pants! The girls Then they all danced like the Village People to YMCA and at the end of the song, they snapped out of the trance and couldn't figure out how they got paper money in their clothes. It was hilarious!
Weds. July 19: We started off the morning with breakfast in bed to avoid the chaos of the buffet line. We got off the boat with only a slight delay. The ship was docked right in downtown Nassau.
We took a taxi to the Ardastra Zoo & Gardens (http://www.ardastra.com/) about 15 mins. drive. The taxi driver gave a quick tour along the way. They have some flamingos that (kind-of) marched and the kids got to take pictures with them while doing their best flamingo impression. Jada kept an eye on the tall flamingo next to her since she was convinced he was trying to bite her. We also got to hand feed the lorry parrots. If you have kids, I recommend this place. It is slightly dumpy and getting a taxi back was a bit of a hassle (the bus also stops close by) but we had fun.
Afterwards we went to Pirates of Nassau (http://www.pirates-of-nassau.com/) but rushed through it since we wanted some time to browse the shops. It was OK, not great. Very crowded and touristy. Chris planned on buying me a David Yurman ring but they didn't have the one I wanted in my size. They didn't offer any discounts either we did better at Saks, even with sales tax!
The boat left at 3pm and we arrived at Stirrup Cay, NCL's private island, at 7pm. Since it was raining, we stayed on board. Kids were at Kids Crew. It was Pirate night for Jenna. We ate at the sushi bar at Shogun, which was good but cost extra. The sushi menu was pretty limited but fresh. Chris & I saw a comedy show by Second City Chicago (www.secondcity.com) which was funny. We also saw the second show they had in the Galaxy Lounge but it was not as good. Afterwards we took the tender (ferry) over to Stirrup Cay for a quick stroll since the weather cleared up. It is a great beach but not much more. Basic facilities and BBQ/buffet food was provided. They should have had a place for people to wash their feet before getting on board since the boat was covered with sand!
Thurs. July 20: The next morning, we went early to the Stirrup Cay to enjoy the beautiful beach. If possible, bring your own snorkel gear. They might have some for sale in the gift shop but I wouldn't count on it. On the Island, it was $25 to rent for the day if it was available. We had our picture taken with a waiter dressed in a tux & swim shorts. Oh, I also had a massage on the beach which was awesome! Around 1pm, it started to rain so we packed up and headed back to the boat.
That night we had our first great meal at Cagney's Steakhouse, one of the restaurants which cost extra. Everything was delicious! After dinner Jada & I went to see a show by the Blackstreet Boyz two comedians/DJs/hip-hop dancers (http://www.everythingbutthemime.com/alfrednseymour.html).
Fri. July 21: Almost half way to NYC. Highlight of the afternoon was the Chocoholic Buffet. There was a huge line but it moved quickly once it opened. It is worth to go a little early and wait. The kids received a free t-shirt they colored in and then had Cookies (and picture) with the Captain. After seeing his picture, with the anchor tattoo and pack of Marlboro visible through his chest pocket, I was glad I didn't see what he looked like until the end of the cruise.
Hubby wasn't feeling well but we had a nice dinner at Le Bistro, the last of the "fee" restaurants. I got selection of three meats which was hung on what looks like a bell with nails coming out of it. They poured cognac over it and lit it on fire. The extra cognac dripped into a bowl of rice under it. It also came with 6 dipping sauces. I wish I took a picture of it. I am still sad I didn't get the chocolate fondue. After dinner we went to another Dr. Trance show, this time adults only. It was even funnier than the first one!
Sat. July 22: We arrived in NYC at 9am. We had to wait until they called our floor to disembark. Parking was about $160. Well worth it. We hopped in our car and were home by 11:30am.
We bought the romance package since it was our anniversary. I had some problems with it so I wouldn't do it again nor recommend it.
We attended some of the seminars/classes however I found they were all scheduled at the same time or weird times so I miss a bunch of them. We attended a fun one about sushi making & etiquette, hip-hop dance, and the hypnosis talk.
Some ship highlights: Galaxy of the Stars, beautiful & there is a little winding staircase in the back left and you can walk down and see the bridge. Back of the Casino is Maharini's Lounge which really gets going at night. Celebrity Disco is hard to get to but you have to go there at least for a look. Spa was good but as usual they try to get you to buy all this stuff. I would wait for one of those pick 3 mini-services for $99 deals or do the massage on the beach. The yoga class was pretty good but a little hard with the swaying of the ship. The golf cage was usually empty but hot during the day. There are some clubs there for you to use.
The 3 great meals we had on NCL all cost from $12.50-$25 extra per person. I read on some other NCL reviews (not for the Spirit) that if you ate between 5:30-6:30 the cover was less...I would ask about it since the food is much better in those restaurants.
NCL is known for "free-style cruising" which means you get to eat where-ever & when-ever you want. However, left to their own devices, people tend to eat at the same time. This made lines long and trying to catch the shows harder. The waiters do not get tipped directly by you so they don't try hard and service is slow.
The amenities, entertainment, and facilities at NCL were better but in the end we liked Carnival better for the service, food value, and organization.
Wish you happy cruising!