We cruised mid January on NCL Spirit. A little background: This is my husband and my 11th cruise, and our children's 7th. We have cruised only on Carnival so far, but because of the itinerary, we decided to make a change.
After reading all the bad reviews about the Spirit, we were pretty apprehensive. We almost cancelled our cruise when we learned that our stop in Roatan, Honduras was now going to be 2 hours later than planned. This stop was one of the main reasons we booked this cruise. I called NCL and was told that we would get a $100 per cabin credit ($200 because we are in 2 cabins) due to this adjustment. I decided to go ahead with the trip.
We live outside of Houston, and so the trip to New Orleans was not bad. We arrived at the cruise terminal parking and took the elevator down to the embarkation area. It was a very easy process; it ran smoother than anything we have experienced yet. We were on the ship about 1 hour after parking. After receiving our 2 More
"children's lifejackets" (I was not thrilled about this, as in addition to the carry-ons we had, we now had to lug 2 life vests with us all over the ship), we went straight to Windows and had a very nice, quiet lunch. Our waiter was fantastic, and made an origami bird for our 12 year old daughter. He told us to ask for him at dinner that night. About that time, our cabins were ready, and we went to the room. I had bought sanitizing stuff as I had heard the noro virus was rampant the week before, and I was not taking any chances. In fact, we noticed that the ship was lined with stations to sanitize your hands. You couldn't go 50 feet without seeing one of their dispensers.
We explored the ship, checked out the kid's crew, and learned there were only 100 kids on board this trip. Because of this, the 6-9 and the 10-12 groups would all be together. My 12 year old was not thrilled, but my 7 year old was very happy as now she would be with BOTH of her sisters.
The weather the first 2 days was COLD. We had heard you could get in the pool on embarkation, but since it was 45 degrees, we decided to pass.
The ship is pretty, but is in need of updating. The carpets are stained, and there is a lot of wear all over the ship. We noticed the hallways are more narrow than the ships we have been on previously, and the tables are set lower (this ship was built for the Asian market originally). We also noticed after the first night that the beds were hard. I left a note for my steward to put the egg-shell crate on the bed. The next time I saw him, he told me he did it. I didn't find out until later that he only put it in one of our cabins, even though I left a note on MY bed to do it, it was not on my bed. I did not sleep well all week. The rooms were also smaller, but the shower was the best we have had! It actually had a shower door.
The food on the ship was typical cruise fare. The first 4 nights I felt there was a good selection, and the food was good. The last 3 nights the menu was pretty weak. However, I did not starve, and was able to find something to eat. We didn't eat at the specialty restaurants, as we have a family of five, and I just couldn't see spending that kind of money. However, if I had received the promised $200 credit, I would have been more than happy to try it. That did not happen, even though I spoke with the manager at the reception desk, and he called the Miami office. I was told no one was promised that credit on our trip. This is not true, as several others on cruise critic were also told they would get the credit. It was pretty disappointing, and it stopped me from spending much on board. I chose to do my shopping in the ports rather than with NCL. I don't know how much I would have spent anyway, as the prices on board were much higher for everything than we have seen on other cruises. The drinks were almost $10 BEFORE the tip. We didn't order drinks.
In addition to this, I had quite a lot of other misinformation. I was told that we could get an adaptor at the reception desk, so that I can use my curling brush. When I asked, I was told they didn't have any more (and I asked this early on the first day). Looks like my hair is now "freestyle" as well. They do have hair dryers, and I did use it, but it is not your normal kind, and it did get hot for me pretty quickly. We were also told by a waiter that my kids could get room service ice cream any time (one of the major things my children like about Carnival is the 24 hour soft serve ice cream). When we called room service, we were told to "pick something from the menu and call again." Towels were also an issue. On other cruise lines we were given beach towels to use. On NCL, we had to get them from the pool deck, and sign them out. We signed out 4, and took them back to our room after swimming. I hung them up, thinking we would use them the next day. Our room steward took the towels, and did not give us new ones. When I asked him later how that all works, he became very defensive and told me my towels were wet and that he took them. I asked about new ones, and he said to get them on the deck. He said to tell them he took them and I would get new ones. So I tried that, and the towel guy said that wasn't the way it worked, and I should get them from my steward.
On the upside, the waiters were wonderful. We had quite a few that told us to ask for them at dinner. We were able to meet nice people, and they were very friendly and helpful. They would do magic, make origami, and tell us about their homelands. One of the waiters was from Jamaica, and my 7 year old teased him to no end. He would laugh when he would see us coming, and come over right away. My daughter nick-named him Muffin (his name is Horace), and he thought it was great, "but don't tell anyone." He apparently told everyone, and so did we. Pretty soon the entire wait staff knew his nickname.
The Maitre D' at windows was also wonderful. On other trips we rarely spoke to the Maitre D', but this one was very friendly. He was also from Jamaica, and he found out my daughter is collecting dollar bills from the different countries we visited. The next morning, he sought us out, and handed my daughter a $100 Jamaican bill. Where can you go on a cruise that the waiters tip YOU???
Other good things were the art auctions, the talk by Dr. Jim on the Mayans and on Global Warming, and the shows. The shows were pretty typical for cruise shows. We enjoyed 2nd city for both their performances, and they also put on "Quest" a very funny, audience participating show, just for adults. The best show by far was the family of acrobats, as the 11 year old son carried the show. He was really amazing, and a nice kid, too. He and his sister played at the kids' crew with my children. The crew talent show was really amazing. Chantz was also a performer, and he did jazz, tap and singing, and was very good, but that is not my type of thing.
The kid's crew staff was the best we have had. They were almost all American or Canadian, and were better able to relate to the kids. They had some very good programming, including cookies with the captain! The one complaint I have about the program is that it wasn't open nearly as often as other kid's programs. I am not one to just "dump off" the kids for the day, but I would have liked to see it open on port days in the afternoon. They also only had one "Kid's Crew Dinner" which didn't correspond to the evening activity we wanted to do (Dinner Mystery Theatre), and so we opted to not do that. They also didn't have the "family party" the first night of the cruise, which is something my children look forward to.
The ports of call were also one of the highlights. Roatan was beautiful, though we stopped at 3:30, and our island tour was cut short because of darkness. It also rained for a short period, and so we didn't go to the iguana farm, nor did we get a chance to see the beach.
Guatemala has a wonderful rainforest, with beautiful waterfalls. We took the nature trail, and swam in the falls. A bit cold, but refreshing! We also took a city tour, and were able to see how they live there. A very poor country.
It was our 3rd time to Belize, and we couldn't believe the progress they have made in the three years since we have been there. Definitely turning into a tourist trap, but the natural beauty of the country is still there. We went cave tubing there and had a very good time. The walk through the jungle was difficult for a few of the older people on our tour, but we were able to go through 2 caves. My 7 year old was cold during the trip, and didn't enjoy it as much as the rest of us.
In Cozumel we had to tender, but we didn't mind as we had no tours booked. This was our 8th time there, and we like to just make it a beach day. There was a $1 store where we picked up trinkets for the kids and their friends.
As for the Sea days, there seemed to be always something to do. Usually we have time to play cards or read a book, but I just didn't have time! I think I need a vacation from my vacation. Sometimes there were several things at the same time, and I just HATE to choose.
The trip was good for the kids, and they had a wonderful time all week at Buccaneer's Wet and Wild. The first sea day it was closed as we had rough seas, and cold weather. Some of the others on the trip did get sick the first day. However, it was seasickness, and not the norovirus.
The chocolate buffet was gorgeous, but the looks were a lot better than the taste. Some of us ordered turkey one night, and it was not very good. My husband did have a steak (and we don't normally eat steak out), and he said it was one of the best he has had. The prime rib was pretty fatty. The lobster was good, but a fairly small portion. I didn't mind the small portions, as when I eat a five course meal, I like to try things. I was full with just the "smaller" portions.
Freestyle cruising worked well for our family, as we could go any time we wanted to, and if we were not hungry, we would wait. We only had to wait one night for a table, and that was for about 5 minutes. This includes twice that we met up with another family and had 9 in our party for dinner. We paid close attention to the dinner boards to see what was busiest, and we went to the other dining room. We also liked not having to dress up for dinner. But even with these benefits, we still prefer the traditional seating, and getting to know our waiter. Plus we enjoy the "singing waiters" of the other lines, and with freestyle, they don't have a chance to do that. I also felt that dinner was pretty drawn out compared to other lines.
Debarkation was very smooth; we were off in less than half an hour. On other trips it has taken up to two hours. We are not sure what the difference is, but being able to stay in your room until 10 a.m. was nice. We didn't even pack until that morning, as we did "express debarkation." That way we could leave whenever we wanted.
A few last notes: No bedbugs, no norovirus, great food, and great waiters. Almost everyone on the ship (except reception) was very friendly and helpful. The passengers on the cruise were very nice, and seemed to be more of an older crowd than we have seen. My husband and I are both in our early 40's and we thought we were some of the younger ones on the ship. Our room steward was not as good as we are used to, and there were no "sample packets" in our room. There was also no "Welcome Aboard Party" with the captain. Freestyle 2.0 had not yet been implemented on our ship.
As we were leaving, my husband told me that I booked the wrong week. "Why?" I asked him. "Because you should have booked THIS week, and then we would be getting ON, instead of OFF." I am not sure if we will cruise NCL again, but we certainly had a good time! Less