This December was our second cruise. Last year we sailed aboard the Grandeur of the Seas on our honeymoon. My wife and I enjoyed the cruise so much we agreed to sail again on our first anniversary. We chose the spirit because it departed out of New Orleans which is only two hours away by automobile and fit our anniversary date. The ports of call were appealing and the idea of "Freestyle Cruising" seemed like a great idea.
We arrived at the port just before 1pm. There were many people in line but moved quickly. The process went smoothly and we were greeted with a smile and the check-in staff was very friendly. Although we were told our balcony stateroom would not be ready until 2pm it was in fact clean and ready for us when we opened the door at 1:30pm. The attendant greeted us warmly and told us he would bring up our luggage promptly. By 2pm we had 3 of our 4 pieces of checked luggage. Our attendant brought up the forth piece by 3pm which was quite a feat due to the large number people arriving at once. We were off to a great start.
The ship was beautiful, clean, and appeared to be well maintained. After exploring the decks and Muster Drill my wife and I met dear friends at the Galaxy of Stars for a drink and to watch us depart. It took about an hour to get our drinks. We were told they had some sort of computer issue. When the Spirit embarked it vibrated quite a bit. This happened every time they used the thrusters. The big problem we experienced in our room was on three separate occasions there was no hot water, two of which I reported. The last time we were told that a valve had been turned near the pool. (Strange and frustrating) I only gave three stars because of this.
The food in the Windows and Garden Room was somewhat disappointing. First I noticed was we were never offered tea during any of our meals. The meals were well presented but lacked taste. Most of the desserts we very good and we were offered coffee after dinner. One thing we missed from our previous cruise was no entertainment in the dining room. All in all I not completely sold on "Freestyle Cruising". We found two exceptional servers we could request daily. We dined at Cagney's one night and it turned out to be our best meal. My wife also had a quiet dinner for two at the Le Bistro and it was good. We ate normally breakfast and sometimes lunch at the Raffles Buffet which was good but no one ever offered us refills as was done on our previous cruise. The chocolate buffet was excellent. I was able to take pictures before they opened up the line. This is something that NCL should continue.
Most were very friendly but there were a few who were not. I think part of the problem was due to some not being proficient in English. One person who stood out was in a white uniform that literally stepped over me on three different occasions at the buffet and didn't even acknowledge me. I don't like prepaid gratifies as this may not be a good incentive to provide excellent service. Give me envelopes at the end of the cruise instead. I always give higher percentages for excellent service.
One the main reasons we chose this cruise was the ports of call. We were not disappointed. We knew Roatan was primitive so we chose the Coral Cay Excursion. It was perfect for us as we wanted to just relax on the beach and unwind. The shrimp buffet was good and music likewise. Santo Thomas we took the fortress excursion. The country side was beautiful and people very friendly. We were disappointed to learn that the fortress was rebuilt in the forties and was not original. You can great deals near the dock. The people gave us a great send off as we departed. Would we go back again? Yes! In Belize we went cave tubing. I highly recommend it! When we arrived in Cozumel we learned all water sports were cancelled. No one would tell us why and the excursion staff was un-organized in helping guest changing their plans. We later learned a Tropical Storm was the culprit.
We had high expectations before we boarded and felt let down. While the live music we listened to in various parts of the ship enjoyable, the shows in the Stardust in our opinion were just average. We enjoyed the acrobat family from Australia the most. The cruise director was full of energy and did a good job. There were more activities on our last cruise. Only two nights did anyone make animals out of towels.
The Tropical Storm was not NCL's fault but they should have told us why our excursion was cancelled. On the last night of our cruise there was a fire in the engine room. Being an engineer when I felt the ship shake and heard a message overhead I knew it was big. Normally when there is failure you only notify the necessary personal. To the credit of the crew they did everything right and the Safety officer was completely honest which everyone appreciated. Disembarking from the ship was smooth and without any problems.
Bottom Line During last half of the cruise service seemed to improve. If NCL will pay attention to small details they can turn a good cruise into a great cruise. I have already booked a cruise for Dec 7th 2008 on the Freedom of the Seas. Maybe we will you see there...