The weather reports had grown more ominous with each passing day. A powerful storm, a Nor'Easter, was forming and would be barreling up the coast just in time for our departure from the port in NYC. Speculation flew on CC. Would our ship sail? DH got on the horn to his father, a former merchant mariner. He, unfortunately, agreed with the more frantic of the posters on the boards. The Spirit would never sail in the middle of such a powerful storm. A storm that was promising to be the worst of its kind in 10 years. Driving down to Connecticut on Saturday to meet up with the friends who we would be traveling with, the weather reports grew more menacing. This storm was going to be perched, roaring, directly over NYC at the exact moment that we were to depart. There was no way we were leaving the next day. Or was there?
When we awoke Sunday morning, it was just beginning to rain. As we traveled I95 south towards the City, the precipitation became torrential, slowing our approach and raising our anxieties....
The directions were clear from Connecticut...we only had to really pay attention to getting onto the Henry Hudson Parkway (9A South) from I95. After that, it was follow the signs. Despite our premonitions we could just see the Spirit, the only ship in port, towering above the terminal buildings. A cheer went up in our car. No matter what, we were nearly on vacation! We arrived at the terminal at about 11:30 and stood around for about 45 minutes before we went through security. We almost ended up in the giant check-in line until we noticed the sign for Latitudes! It pointed us to the left and away from the masses! There was no wait and we were quickly checked in, given our room cards and were on the ship.
The crew member that swiped our cards, informed us that lunch was being served in Raffles. That would have been fine if we weren't in the leading edge of a Nor'Easter, with rain coming down, winds whipping, and the temperature in the 40's. We opted to eat at Windows instead (since we'd done our research at Cruise Critic and knew that this restaurant was open as well). Nearly having the restaurant to ourselves, we were seated by the gorgeous windows that give the restaurant its name. We figured that we'd never be able to sit there again (and we were right) so we enjoyed the experience of looking out over the harbor despite the mounting weather.
We weren't allowed into our room until 2:00, so we passed the time, getting the lay of the ship. The Spirit really is a lovely ship. We've read comments that state the ship is on the small side, and it is compared to the ships being rolled out today, but compared to the Majesty (the only other ship we have traveled on), we felt as though we had acres and acres to explore. The Asian influences are everywhere. The casino is huge and gorgeous. The reception area on deck 7 is lovely with its glass-walled elevators whizzing up and down.
After dropping off our carry-on bags in our cabin, we headed to deck 12. The pool area looked amazing as we ran by it...trying to keep as dry as possible as we dashed to the Galaxy of the Stars to watch our departure in comfort. We'd have to check the pool out later...in the sun...hopefully. The Galaxy of the Stars is on deck 12 FWD and is a great place to be when you're departing in the eye of a storm. It is also a key place on the ship as that is where you have to go to find the staircase leading you down to the bridge. We enjoyed watching the captain and other officers at work...and getting an eagle-eyed view of the crashing waves.
Slowly we became aware that the Spirit had cast off her lines and we were inching away from the port. Storm? What storm? We were leaving as scheduled. Even with the rain careening off of the windows, we slowly could make out the figure of the Statue of Liberty. First just the faintest figure in the distance, but growing as each moment drew us closer to her. I have to say, even in the murky gloom of the storm, sailing past the Statue of Liberty with her torch alight is a breathtaking experience. The band then led us in a countdown as we sailed under the Verrazano-Narrows bridge. 5...4...3...2...1...we're on VACATION!!!!
We hung out for a bit, enjoying a fruity cocktail and ended up meeting a fellow CC member by chance. Suzimack and her lovely DD. We had a lively conversation about the storm and our predictions, before heading back to our cabin to see if any of our bags had arrived. Yep, one bag had arrived, so we began to unpack.
We were in a balcony stateroom and I felt some disappointment. The room isn't as large as I expected. We felt as though we were in each other's way quite a bit due to the way the room is set up. The storage space is somewhat lacking (4 tiny drawers accompanied by shelving in the closet). I knew that the Spirit doesn't have refrigerators except in the suites. So I wasn't surprised not to have one, but I missed that feature.
However, the bathroom was impressive. It is divided into three distinct spaces with the shower on one side and the toilet on the other. Both have sliding glass doors. The center is occupied by the sink which has glass shelves on either side of the mirror in addition to a shelf that runs under the sink for storage.
We enjoyed having a balcony for the first time (once the weather cleared) but on that first night and the following day, it was a fairly useless amenity.
Our second suitcase arrived before dinner. By this time, unpacking had taken on the feel of an amusement park ride. I was literally bouncing off the walls as I made my way from the bed to the closet. Weeeeeee!
We had made a reservation for Cagney's the moment we got on the ship (knew to dial 7555 for the reservations desk thanks to CC) so we headed down at 7:30. The storm was already having its way with our fellow passengers. Cagney's was only about half full and we were tucked into a back room that we had to ourselves. We had the waiter doting on us, probably in part because we were the only occupied table in the section. He had a party of 12 cancel moments after we sat down! DH's veal chop was fantastic. I had the NY strip and it was cooked to perfection. We were too stuffed for dessert but our waiter insisted that we get dessert to go so I walked away with a carefully wrapped bowl of mocha brulEe. When I found room for it later, boy was it yummy!
After dinner we decided to head to the casino. When have you ever been on a cruise ship where the casino wasn't packed the moment you hit international waters? It has been said that the Spirit's casino is large by today's cruise ship standards, a detail made even clearer by the fact that the casino was two-thirds empty at 8:30 in the evening! The little white motion-sick bags were already perched between the slot machines (where I lost a quick $20). DH had a little better luck on the craps table. Although the rolling of the ship kept making the dice fly off of the table!
We decided to do a little exploring and made our way to the Grand Atrium. You could hear the bottles rattling against each other in the Duty Free shop with each wave that crashed into the ship. The cables on the elevators were wildly whipping against their metal tracks with each shudder. Hmmm...it was going to be an interesting night.
And, boy was it. It wasn't so much the rocking; it was the intense vibrations of the superstructure as the ship crashed through the waves. Closet doors were loudly rattling, drawers opening and closing, glasses tinkling and an overall shaking of the walls and bed. There was no sleeping tonight as these violent eruptions occurred at random intervals every 1-2 minutes. We weren't frightened, just exhausted. It was an earthquake that lasted for six hours! After a fitful 2-3 hours of sleep, we awoke Monday morning and tuned the TV to the ships navigational channel. It informed us that we had experienced a Force 11 storm (a hurricane is Force 12). There had been 60+ knot winds and 20-30 foot seas. There would be much napping this sea day...
Monday, the seas calmed...if you can call "calm" a Force 9 gale and 20 foot seas. We went up to Raffles for breakfast. I was surprised to find it full. I didn't think a lot of people would be eating that morning. Apparently there were more hearty souls on board than I had anticipated. Raffles is the buffet, and it was large, but fairly typical of buffets in both offerings and quality. I had two complaints. First was that the waffle station is in the middle of a long station. If you wanted to opt for waffles, you had to endure going through the entire line of bacon, sausages, eggs, etc. to finally get to it. On the Majesty, it's a separate station and I found that to be preferable. The second complaint is one I guess that I will have on all NCL ships going forward. That is the lack of trays in the buffet! This is ridiculously inconvenient! I've read that they made this change because they think it helps move the lines faster, but is it really more efficient to have the passenger have to get into the lines over and over again? I heard people say that they ordered room service and kept the tray to make their lives easier. I'll have to remember that for our next cruise!
We spent Monday primarily exploring the ship. It was still too rough to get in that much needed nap, so it was better to keep moving! We attempted to attend the martini clinic, but it was cancelled because there weren't enough participants. We then experienced the only other negative on our trip. The lack of service at Champagne Charlie's. Four of us tried, in vain, for over 20 minutes to place an order. We even went to the bar and stood in a growing line where we were thoroughly ignored. In disgust we finally gave up and went to Henry's Pub where the service was wonderful and DH got a "perfect" dirty martini. Henry's Pub became the place to go for the rest of the cruise for a pre-dinner cocktail.
That evening we had dinner at the Windows restaurant. It was "Dress Up or Not" night and that meant Beef Wellington and spiny lobster tails. We waited in line for about 10 minutes and were promptly seated when we got to the front. Everyone enjoyed their meals, but weren't "wowed" as we had been at Cagney's. One thing I find odd is this practice in the main dining rooms of wanting you to order your dessert at the start of the meal. It's a strange practice and I can't imagine that it saves that much time. On a positive note, when I ordered a second glass of wine, our waiter suggested that I get a bottle as I could then drink from that bottle on subsequent nights. It was an excellent suggestion as it saved me a little bit of money and that bottle followed me around for the rest of the cruise.
When we got back to our room, we noted that the seas had calmed considerably. We were looking at 4-6 foot seas! We opened the sliding doors of the balcony and what a surprise! The temperature had risen 30 degrees! It was a balmy 70 outside. We finally got to enjoy sitting on our balcony.
Here comes the sun!
After a much needed peaceful night of blessedly uninterrupted sleep, we awoke to sunny Port Canaveral. We could see NASA off in the distance as we made our way to the port. DH saw a manatee in the harbor as we docked.
This is not a "destination cruise" in my opinion. In fact, I referred to it as a "cruise to nowhere" whenever I described it to anyone. Port Canaveral held little interest for us. I know some people went to Disney & Seaworld, but we didn't feel there was enough time to do those excursions justice (especially given the price). We debated touring NASA, but decided that was a tour for when Florida is our destination. Cocoa Beach is a short trolley ride away, but after reading dubious reviews, we crossed that off of the list. We planned on taking a cab to Jetty Beach, but as the winds were a bit brisk, ultimately, we decided to stay on the ship. We took advantage of the wonderful, sunny weather, and grabbed some rays while the ship was nearly empty.
That evening we ate at LeBistro. We had eaten there numerous times on the Majesty and have long loved the mushroom soup and the escargot. We were not disappointed. They have changed the menu and the duck and the tenderloin and beef short rib were enthusiastically enjoyed.
The sun was setting as we set sail from Cape Canaveral. In chatting with fellow passengers we heard that a few pax had disembarked at Port Canaveral and opted to fly home because of the storm we'd passed through. Presumably they were sick or scared or both. They'd made it through the rough part and were now going to miss the rest of a very pleasant vacation.
The following day we arrived in Nassau. We were one of four ships in port and I loved that the NCL staff not only put up a little canopy like the RCCL ship across from us, they also rolled out a red carpet an a couple of fake trees so when we got back on the ship, we were greeted in style! We were only in Nassau for about 5 hours. Not really enough time to do anything. We hit the Straw Market and Senior Frogs. We ended up wandering back to the terminal and taking a 2 hour taxi tour of the area. At $25 per person, it wasn't a bad deal, and our tour guide, Renaldo was very friendly and informative. We learned that Nassau is on the island of New Providence, that all beaches in the Bahamas are public (even if the island is privately owned), and that Sylvester Stallone is about 5'5". What more could you ask?
Great Stirrup Cay was great, especially in the evening. Think party atmosphere with tiki torches blazing, snack food and plenty of beverages flowing. The only downside was listening to the Caribbean band play the same set that we'd already heard about five times. We were excited to make it to this island as we had heard that the ship only goes there about 50% of the time. After watching the tenders bob like corks in the 4-8 foot seas, I understand why! The following day started with a sprinkle, but cleared right up. Unfortunately strong winds cancelled all sea activities. You could only snorkel with a snorkel vest on and they weren't providing them. Since DH is prepared for anything, he of course had his own and was therefore the only person that was able to snorkel.
While we did enjoy what little time we did have in the ports (when we left the ship), this trip was really about being on the Spirit...and relaxing...and not being at work. However, I wouldn't recommend this particular itinerary to people who really want to explore and island hop.
Friday the seas got a bit rough again, but really nothing compared to Sunday and Monday. We went to the Chocoholic Buffet for the first time ever because it was held at 1:30 in the afternoon. On our previous sailings on the Majesty it was always held at midnight. What a novel idea to hold this popular buffet when people are awake! It was held in Windows, and you definitely want to get there early. We got in line about 20 minutes before it was to start and the line already had at least 100 people in it. The display of chocolate was impressive and we agreed that the chocolate cheesecake was our favorite of the items we sampled. The champagne served in a chocolate-rimmed champagne flute wasn't too shabby either!
Our final dinner was at the Gardens restaurant and we all agreed that it was average at best. But one so-so meal out of 18 or so isn't bad!
I have to admit I've gotten spoiled on the Boston - Bermuda run. The Majesty docks in Boston between 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning. So by the time you've awakened, and grabbed some breakfast, it's time to head home. I have to confess, we're the "the trip is over, so let's get home" type of people.
The Spirit didn't arrive at the NY pier until 10:00 or so. I have to admit that I didn't like dawdling so much, but it was hard to complain as we arrived to sunny 70 degree weather! Wow! We were finally able to take the pictures of Lady Liberty that I'd hoped to take when we set sail a week ago. What a difference a week makes!
As we were on deck 11 we decided to skip express debarkation. Why fuss with dragging your luggage around if you don't have to? We were glad that we did. We were called about 15 minutes after the express folks and with less aggravation. We zoomed through customs (all they did was take our declarations without even glancing at the passports clutched in our hands) and were driving away from the pier about 15 minutes after we left the ship.
This itinerary is about enjoying the ship, relaxing, and relishing that you're on a cruise. We found the Spirit to be a lovely ship. The crew was as friendly as we've experienced (we even got to visit with a friendly waitress/ jr. bartender who remembered us from the Majesty in 2006) and the food consistently good to excellent depending on the venue. We would definitely be more than happy to cruise on the Spirit again.