This was our first time on NCL and I can honestly say we enjoyed it very much. The traffic getting into the terminal was pretty heavy (about 11:45) and I'm sure it only got worse. There were only 2 ships in town so I'm really sure it's a nightmare when there are even more ships there. The embarkation took about 45min-1hr from the front door to being on the ship. Not too bad I thought, torture for my 6yr old...Lunch buffet was waiting when we got on and you can go to your rooms at 2pm.
Rooms: the room we had was 9081 9th floor inside in the middle crossway. Definitely nice, out of the main traffic and not near anything very loud. The cabin steward was very nice and when he found out my DD liked the towel animals he made 1-2 a day for her. The room was clean and seemed bigger than other inside cabins we have been in. The shower was a very nice size with glass doors (unlike other cruises). T.V. for those who have to wait around for everyone else to get ready for dinner consists of CNN,ESPN,1 cartoon channel 1 movie channel and TNT. The rest is ship stuff.
Dining: We definitely love the Freestyle thing, go when you want where you want. There are video boards telling you which places have a wait and which do not. The food was good, typical cruise fare is a fair assessment I feel. The presentation was excellent but you felt you were missing something when you tasted it. The portion sizes I would describe as sensible to small. If you had all the courses, bread soup salad main course & dessert you didn't leave hungry. But if you are a main course kind of a person you are going to be disappointed. Ill give you an example, main course of lobster ravioli & shrimp dish consisted of exactly 2normal sized shrimp and 2 normal sized lobster ravioli and 3-4 stalks of asparagus. The service was good, sometimes a bit long between the soup & the main course (close to 1/2 hr one night) but that might have been from my DD ordering off the kids menu. I don't think they have the kids food accessible easily in the main dining rooms. (or they were just slow). Room service: Heard of 3-4hr wait times. I called one morning and was told pretty much to forget it, that they had no idea when they could get it to me. The next morning I was told a half hr wait which turned into an hour.
Raffles: (Buffet) Good food, sometimes tough getting a table. Choice of pasta, stir fry, caesar salad and 1 other station that changed daily otherwise it stays the same the whole week. BBQ by the pool most days with ribs, burgers and a taco bar on other days.
Specialty Restaurants: We ate at the free Italian one, it was good and worth the effort to make a reservation at. We also went to Cagney's steakhouse. I had the fillet mignon which I found to be cooked perfectly and a nice tender piece of meat but it was lacking in taste (had no seasoning at all I think). It was worth trying though, especially since I had learned from the boards that there was 1/2 price times. Here's the deal.. It's 1/2 price for the specialty restaurants up until 6:00 on port days only! You will not find this information advertised anywhere on the ship. They do tell you that you can only reserve any of the restaurants only one day in advance. If you are interested in doing the specialty restaurants you HAVE to be early the day before!! Or you aren't getting in. Also keep in mind that kids camp is closed everyday between 5-7pm so if you go for the early special there is no camp or baby sitting available.
Dress code: No shorts in the dining room seemed to be it. Even on formal nights. Jeans & jean skirts were ok, t-shirts no problem either. I counted on wearing a suit 2 nights and found that I really should have packed more casual. I don't really have a problem with this, I just wished I would have packed for it.
Cleanliness: Everyone got their hands sprayed whenever they got off and on the ship. There was hand sanitizer at every place you would eat and someone standing there to make sure you used it. I also saw someone get told not to refill their waterbottle at the juice fountain (awesome). that's how the norovirus gets around. I did talk to one person who had the norovirus the 1st 2 days (possibly got it before she came on) they quarantined her and gave her a shot she said. That was the only one I heard of. If there was a mess anywhere it wasn't long before a staff member was there to clean it up.
Entertainment: I'll put this in the "Typical cruise fare" category. My DW felt there could have been more/better activities to do during the day. At night we saw only 1 production show and the hypnotist who was very good. Looking back we should have tried to go to more but got pulled other directions. Which brings me to the..
Casino: Very nice, biggest one I've ever seen on a ship (originally built for the asian market). Nice variety of table games and machines. They ran 2 Texas Hold Em tournaments and 1 Blackjack tournament during our 8 day cruise. The Hold em tournament was a 1st hour re-buy and an add on at the end of the first hour. So don't go in thinking it's only going to be $60 to play. The top 5 got paid and the winner got over $1000. The blackjack tournament only pays the winner. The rest get t-shirts & hats ect.. Be aware of this, I saw 1 guy rebuy 6x @ $15 to try to make the final table not knowing that only the winner of the tournament got cash.
Kids Camp: My 6yr old daughter absolutely loved it!! Lots of games and activities and of course the ball pit!! All the counselors were great and would say hi to the kids and remembering their names if they saw them in other parts of the ship. We tipped them at the end of the cruise as it is not part of the general tip that goes on your bill. They made up envelopes for themselves that they leave on the desk for you to take if you want and they split it between them all. I do hope the envelopes I saw on their desk at the end were from people giving them back and not from them being left there. However my biggest complaint of the whole cruise was this: the camp only had a limited number of beepers and only for the children who were in diapers. They want you when you sign in your child to put where you will be on the ship. Most times I truly didn't know. I really wanted to just write NCL Spirit in that column!! I'm not getting off in the ocean!! How much would it really cost them to have extra beepers???
Itinerary: Excellent, we loved the 3 stops we made. Although the 2 1/2 days on the ship were a bit long on both ends. Going down you were ready to get off the ship by Monday and coming back you are looking to get off on Saturday. Not bad, but we just weren't used to that many sea days and I think they really could have made this a 7day cruise. St Thomas: We went on our own here, researching what we wanted to do with our 6yr old on the message boards and came up with Coral world/Coki beach. the taxi ride was $9pp each way (price regulated by the govt I'm told). There was a coupon in a handout booklet that was given out at the gate of the pier that saved us a few bucks. Coral world is an aquarium with some birds and you can touch some stingrays and starfish ect. They have a fairly reasonable snackbar and lockers you can rent for $3. The locker and changing room came in very handy when we walked over to Coki beach which is right next door. (they close at 5pm though). Coki beach was a bit crowded and we didn't explore it much because we didn't walk over until about 3pm. Most people on ships tours were starting to clear out by then. the snorkeling was awesome!! 10 feet from shore you can see fish. Great for the little ones who are new to swimming or can't swim yet. The difference between going on your own here and going through the ship was minimal, maybe $3 which I tipped the cab driver with anyway. The difference was we weren't on any time schedule. The ship didn't leave until 1am so why get rushed off the beach at 3 or 4 pm? I felt pretty safe on our own as this is an established port and everyone spoke english.
Tortola: Not many things for us to do with a 6yr old who's new to swimming with the ship excursion choices. Luckily we did our homework on the port message boards. We took the ferry over to Virgin Gorda. The ferry was $30 for adults and $20 for kids 5 and under. It's about a 10 min walk out to the left of the port, just past the shops. Ask anyone and they will tell you where it is. The ferry times can be a little confusing but we caught a 10:30 over to Virgin Gorda. The ride was scenic and about a half hr. You get off and they have an open air taxi waiting to take you over. I would definitely not recommend walking. I would estimate it to be about 2-3 miles away. The taxi is included in your ferry fare anyway. You can read more about the Virgin Gorda on the message boards but the short story (too late I know) it's 2 beaches on either side of a maze of natural boulders. Very cool, somewhat crowded, rocks are wet and sand covered, many people with minor scrapes coming out. Wear water shoes or sandals but be aware footing can be slippery. Very picturesque place. Beach water had a bunch of rocks & shells, DW actually got cut from waves with rocks & shells on her leg, very minor. We caught the 3:30 ferry back (more like 3:40). We had to be back on the ship by 4:30. Docked at 4:10, made it to ship at 4:20. Cut it close for my taste but we were not alone, there were probably about 50 of us from the ship on the ferry. If I were to do it again I would probably try to leave earlier and come back earlier.
Samana: If you read this and take anything away from this review take this...BOOK THROUGH THE SHIP FOR THIS PORT!!!! It was one of my favorite stops, beautiful, lush & green looking port, we booked the Cayo Levantado beach excursion and it was incredible. like gilligan's island with a bar and lounge chairs. The sand was soft and there was snorkeling not too far out. Drinks served in a freshly cut coconut or pineapple. You can see the ship in the distance. Some shopping and food, there was a guy walking around with a monkey and parrots you could take pictures with (starting at $8 if you want them, you don't have to buy it if you don't like it. They show the pictures to you at the end on a computer screen). The ship must rent this island for the day so don't try to go on shore and have someone take you, they won't let them dock!! Also other horror stories heard about how people got taken to a waterfall and they wanted more money for them to take them back!! Others taken to a very dirty broken glass filed beach. If you don't speak Spanish you are in trouble too, it's not like the other stops!!Trust me and stick with the cruise excursions here..
Overall we had a great time, enjoyed NCL and would sail with them again. Some of the things in this review may sound negative but they are more observations and tips than they are complaints. Do your homework on the message boards and believe my it pays HUGE!!!