This was our second cruise on the Spirit. Our first journey was an 11-day cruise over Thanksgiving in 2006 with two inside staterooms on deck 6. The latest was an 8-day, ending today (8/26/2007) in NYC after calls at Bermuda, Tortola and St. Thomas. On both cruises we had two inside cabins, side by side on deck 8. We are a family of five including two teenage daughters and a 4-year-old son. This review takes into account our collective experiences, which will be particularly helpful to those who are looking at whether the Spirit is 'right for them.'
Overall Experience We would recommend NCL's almost 10-year-old Norwegian Spirit to others. It was a family-friendly crew on an equally impressive deck plan. We are particularly impressed with the family-related activities on board and the included-in-the-price "Charlies" kids club. Our teens were equally happy on board and were never bored with the programming offered by the Spirit staff. We suggest that you read the history of the Spirit, as it was originally a Star Cruise Lines-flagged vessel titled the Superstar Leo. Geared for the Asian market, this ship has many interesting features such as lowered railings, Asian artwork and Eastern colors. We cruise a lot and have no other ship to compare it to.
Embarkation NYC's piers are full of history, so I normally overlook the dated and unfashionable deco nature of the surroundings. Clearly, the greeting teams in NYC are friendly and fast. Whether you're rolling up in a taxi or a minivan (my situation), provided you're in the right hand lane and are parked, you've got instant service with a smile. We dropped off all tagged luggage, were easily parked ($180 for pier parking on an eight-day cruise) and in the line with our documents within 15 minutes. The line, x-rays and check-in was about a half-hour with a one-cruise granted Latitudes club membership. We're not big on ship photographers, so we bypassed the photographer as quickly as possible. Once aboard, we were kindly greeted by every single staffer. It was not until we sat down to dinner that we recognized a crew member from last November. All but four dining room staffers left the Spirit since then, mostly joining the Dawn and new Gem teams. Still, we were very pleased with the level of service we received during our first hours on board.
Stateroom We had two inside cabins that were not joined by a door. Spirit has very few joined rooms. The turndown services and other normal steward activities were nearly always completed when we weren't there. What little we saw of our stewart was very positive and pleasant. Always greetings with a smile. One major complaint, though, was that we arrived to a distinct odor in the room. We requested a nonsmoking room and I think we were ignored. No dose of air freshener would work on getting out the smell we experienced. Also, the bathroom smelled of mildew even though everything appeared clean. On the positive side, the showers aboard the Spirit are 'real' with sliding or hinged shower doors and easily enough space for any adult. We visited other staterooms and the smell wasn't evident there. The beds were comfortable, albeit small. I'm short, so the bed size wasn't a concern for me. Rather than a top sheet and a cheap blanket and comforter, Spirit has a wonderful alternative 'top sheetspread' (we don't know what to call it) that combines a top bedsheet with a thick comforter all in one. At night, it is a noisy ship with relatively thin walls and lots of guest chatter in the hallways, but it didn't keep us awake.
Food/Food Service Spirit has three main flavors: very casual (Blue Lagoon and Raffles), casual (Trattoria and, to some degree, the sushi bar) and finer fare that includes the main dining room, Windows, and a family of upcharged restaurants such as Le Bistro. With the exception of the sushi bar, which we loved, we ate in Windows and attached ourselves to a specific waiter and asst. waiter who we met on the second day of the cruise. The head waiter can make arrangements for you to be assigned to a specific waiter if you ask. This is contrary to NCL's doctrine of Freestyle Cruising, but it worked best for us. Summing up the food: You get what you expect. Raffles is a crowded free-for-all, complete with spilling plates and line-butting guests. Our experience was to eat there as few times as possible. The guests had no problem bumping my 4-year-old out of the way. Blue Lagoon is great for late night fries, coffee and wings... and we were impressed with the go-getting staff there. Windows' food was our favorite dining experience, though. The menu, the dining service and 'feel of a dining room' is expected of any ship's main dining hall. Windows delivers on that promise. Our only complaint was that the propulsion system was loud in Windows. It shook the far aft seating to the point of jingling teacups while at sea.
Spa We didn't use the spa, but our young son had his hair cut in the salon. He loved it and the staff enjoyed having a youngster join them.
Drinks Expensive, but well-made if you're ordering mixed drinks. We opted to take our favorite wines and pay the $15/bottle corkage fee. Note that if you plan to sneak liquor aboard, it will probably be found. Be honest. Anything but wine will be held until the end of the cruise, so don't plan to take it. Be prepared, too, to be approached often by the wait staff. They are aggressive, especially at the poolside and in the theatres. We didn't drink much, so our bar bill was modest. Others, however, spent hundreds and may wonder how it happened.
Entertainment Very Good. It would be excellent, but the NCL-produced shows need to be rotated more often. Both NCL shows were very similar (changed names, but same music and similar choreo) to the shows we saw last year. The hired entertainment including Sharkbait (juggler comedians) and other talent was fantastic. Most shows were appropriate for all ages. You can expect the traditional Broadway review and On The Radio fare coming from NCL on the main Stardust Theatre stage. The dancers were top notch and the massive Stardust itself is a wonderful venue. NCL Singers included phantom singing backups, though, and it made me wonder whether much of it was live or Memorex. All late night shows included warnings that they were "adults, 18 and over" shows... and they were a scream. We had a great time with both Sharkbait and Second City late night in the forward Galaxy of the Stars Lounge. Henry's Pub, a knock-off British Pub, featured acoustic throwback rock and roll singalong music. Champagne Charlie's was the resident piano bar and harmonic showcase for the 55+ segment. Overall, NCL gets an A+ over our many RCCL voyages. NCL did a great job of supplying entertainment for nearly everyone on board. Much of it simultaneously.
Excursions We normally taxi it when we hit the islands, but we did take a Virgin Gorda excursion to the baths and found it worth the price... just to get to know the surroundings at the port of call. We normally don't pay for an excursion on any particular island more than once. Overall, we find that the NCL excursions are overpriced if you have a basic knowledge of the port you're visiting. Also, excursions by their very nature mean that the experience will include crowds. If you want to eliminate crowds, make a taxi driver your friend at places like St. Thomas and ask the driver to take you to a place that's nice... but won't include the ship's excursion crowds.
Pools There are two pools: Tivoli and Buccaneer's (children's). All of the pools' common walking surfaces were very slippery. We lost count of the number of guests who fell. This was a big issue for us, as we heard many complaints last year about this same problem. It was worse on this trip. Also, the kids' playground area around the Buccaneer's Pool (aft) had dangerous fixtures in it that should be immediately replaced. Our son ended up in the ship's medical center after a broken part resulted in a fall that cut his lip. Our recommendation is to watch children carefully, sternly keep them from running and promptly tell staff of anything sharp that you find on kids equipment. Pool surface aside, the deck plan and outside seating on our sold-out voyages were pleasant experiences. The chairs were comfortable. We always found a deck chair and families were quick to offer seats to us if we asked 'whether these chairs were being used.' On the last day of our cruise the captain did an inspection of the children's pool area and made many upgrade orders, so perhaps the problems will be remedied shortly.
Internet Service Pricey, slow, spotty and inconsistent. Not worth the price of a package unless you enjoy the frustrations of being at sea, burning up your vacation time, only to find that the page you're trying to log onto won't even load. Also, the internet service manager was more interested in seeing the shows in the nearby Galaxy of the Stars lounge than helping people like me who needed a voltage converter for my laptop. If found him to be practically worthless unless prodded to help me.
Disembarkation Purchased liquor was placed inside our stateroom on the last night of our vacation to put alongside our carry-ons. Checked/tagged luggage was outside our room before 2 a.m. and was quickly taken to the ship's protected staging area. When we woke up, we particularly enjoyed being able to leave our carry-on bags in the stateroom and have access to our rooms until our tag color was called. We had a relaxed breakfast on our last morning aboard. We were among the last to leave the ship, but were in no hurry. NYC's porters were wonderful. They took our luggage all the way to our van that was parked on the parking deck next to the ship. The porter gratuity is $2/piece of luggage, or your preference.