We've recently returned from the 8 night Spirit cruise to Bermuda, Tortola and St. Thomas, June 2 sailing. We're two mid-50's females and my two teenaged daughters. First time on NCL for all of us, having traveled RCCL, Celebrity, Premier, and the old Home Lines before. We had one balcony cabin and one inside cabin for the kids on deck 9, mid-ship. Overall we had a very enjoyable vacation, but I have to say I'm not too sure I'm a fan of Freestyle, especially dining.
Embarkation: We drove from the mid-Atlantic area to NYC in the morning. Must say it was easier than I thought. I was worried about driving in NYC but had no problems, and people at the port were nice and helpful, even when I dropped off the party in what was supposed to be the pickup spot. Only one ship in port that day helped I'm sure. For some reason we were delayed quite awhile, sitting around waiting to check in. I have heard that it was the fault of debarking passengers, but I don't think that NCL did as good a job as they could have in informing us what the hold up was. They really need to get microphones or bullhorns for the ladies walking the aisles trying to shout instructions over the din. When we finally did get in line for check in though, it went pretty smoothly and quick. Be ready to have your hands squirted with sanitizer before you even walk up the gangway however.
Cabin: Both the balcony cabin and the inside cabin were fine and seemed to be adequately maintained. As others have commented, the beds were rock hard however, even with the requested egg crate foam padding added. Sleeping was fitful a few nights. Storage was tight but ok for the 8 nights. This was the first time I've had a balcony, it was great ! The balcony itself was nothing special, room for 2 chairs (very comfy) and a plastic table, but the fresh air and ability to step outside whenever we wanted was fabulous. I'm probably spoiled now forever. The inside room seemed rather larger than other insides I've been in, and laid out well. Bathrooms were fine. The balcony bathroom was divided into 3 separate compartments for the toilet, the sink area and the shower. I didn't like that, as it seemed to make things a bit more crunched and it was no real benefit to us; only one person in there at a time anyway. Inside bathroom was not divided like that. The shower has a glass door and was pretty roomy, very nice. Water pressure was fine, and plenty of hot water. Cabin stewards did a fine job, no complaints there.
Ship: The ship is very beautiful. There were plenty of classy asian decor items around, and it was all very pretty and different. I understand this is unique for an NCL ship. That's too bad, it really is a pretty ship. Public rooms were nice, the theater is very good, with stadium seats and plenty of room. The lighting and sound systems there were good too. We didn't spend too much time around the pool, but it did seem pretty crowded. When we wanted to sun ourselves, we headed to the very rear of the ship, on deck 10 or 11 behind the Raffles terrace. Rather quiet, easy to grab a snack or drink from the buffet or bar there. It overlooked the excellent children's pool area, which was kinda nice.
Other public areas were fine and the ship is laid out well. Had no trouble finding our way around after a day or so. The elevators are pretty slow however. I was very impressed with the Galaxy of the Stars room, very nicely decorated, very large and a nice place to view where you're going. Do be sure to take the spiral stairs there down to the bridge viewing area. Thats kinds interesting, not so much the bridge but the little museum type displays in there of the ship. Quite interesting. Be sure to take a photo of Leo!
Dining: This is where we decided that Freestyle doesn't appeal to us much. Although it was convenient to not be tied into a set dining time, for all intents and purposes, we found ourselves ready to eat at approximately the same time each night anyway, and of course, it was always when 70% of the rest of the ship wanted to eat too. That made it hard to get reservations in the speciality restaurants, and even in Windows and the Garden Room we had to wait with beepers a few times for about 30 minutes. I find I miss the same table and waiters each night too. Also, service was very slow on many nights in Windows and the Garden Room. Although the staff was very nice, they definitely seemed to be overworked and not enough of them to go around. That certainly takes away from the overall experience. Food was not bad, not terrific though. Portions were pretty small so be sure to order extra or at least one of each course. The cold soups were always excellent, as were the bread, rolls, and pastries. Food in speciality restaurants was better, and we especially liked Shogun and the Tratoria. Cagneys was fine, but the extra $80 for 4 of us didn't't quite seem worth it; or maybe it was just the difficulty we had in getting reservations, which we didn't manage until the last night.
Which brings me to another downfall of the Freestyle concept. Because we had dinner reservations at Cagney's for the last night, which took us all week to obtain, we had to miss the show that night, which was only one time. Making the dinner reservations the day before, theres no way to know what the next nights showtimes will be. When you do find out, its too late to change the reservations, unless you want to cancel them altogether. With traditional dining, it seems to me that the show times are better coordinated with the dinner times.
Do be sure to enter the lottery for a chance to dine with the Senior Staff. We were chosen, and the 4 of us had drinks and dinner with Staff Captain Kjellin. That was really one of the highlights of the time on the ship. Captain Kjellin is a very charming and engaging man, and we had interesting conversations ranging from global warming to how much the ship cost to build to stories about life on the ship. Even my jaded teenagers were charmed. Don't miss it if you think you might be interested.
Ports: Bermuda is Bermuda, beautiful but we did have some rain. We didn't take any ship excursion, just the ferry into Hamilton and then poked around the dockyard for a bit.
Tortola is beautiful too, but the taxi rides do require nerves of steel! We felt like we were on an amusement park ride at times. Girls swam with the dolphins and then we went to Cane Garden Bay. Nice, normal Caribbean beach.
St. Thomas; we arranged an independent tour then did shopping. It is a very developed and crowded island, at least near the town. Quite different from Tortola. I haven't been there for 20 years and it has changed dramatically.
Entertainment: Pretty good overall, on par I'd say with RCCL. The first production show was better than the 2nd one. Sharkbait was very entertaining. The musical groups in the various lounges seemed just fine, and the mix of music styles was pretty good. My teenagers of course enjoyed the discos and clubs. I can't comment personally on them.
Disembarkation: this was the best I've ever encountered. We did not bother with express although NCL really pushed that I felt. We just waited in our cabin for our color to be called, we were the 4th color, and were called about 10:15 am. No lines; No problem finding a porter to help, no problem finding all of our luggage, a breeze thru customs, and the porter carted our bags all the way to the car on the rooftop parking. Packed up and drove off very easily.
All in all, a very nice time. I'm not thrilled with Freestyle, but it was worth a try and it would not put me off NCL again if the itinerary and price were right. I'd recommend the Spirit to anyone who was interested in a more casual experience, and leaving from NYC is always exciting.