Hello-We are back and almost settled in! We spent 4 days in New Orleans, Louisiana, (NOLA), for Mardi Gras so my review will also include the time spent there both before the cruise and after. I have a feeling this will be long and it may not flow like other reviews, but this is my take. My other half (OH) and I are both mid 30's. This is my, (our-my OH and I), 7th cruise on NCL. We tried Carnival once after our first NCL cruise and after my OH had cruised on Princess (and liked Princess), and did not enjoy Carnival, so I will say we love NCL. However, this was our least favorite NCL cruise. Now, that said, we still had an AWESOME time. We arrived in NOLA Saturday before the cruise in the morning, rented a car and took out our GPS, (which we received for Christmas and instead of naming her "Lola" from the movie RV, we named her "Nola" as the first major place we would use her would be on this trip in NOLA. We booked the smallest car available as many travel gurus say to do as they often run out of the small cars and upgrade you for free. Well, that is what happened, we were given a mid size car with leather, power everything and were very happy! We used Avis. Off to explore NOLA. We were on the Sun last year for the same cruise and spent some time in NOLA then, we traveled to similar areas as we did the previous year. A lot has changed and a lot is the same. Still many trailers in front of houses, but a lot more construction going on. Many lots were still vacant and many homes were still just sitting there damaged, sad in my opinion. We stayed 2 blocks from Canal Street in the Central Business District at the Holiday Inn Express on Carondelet St. It was a great hotel, we were very happy with the price, the condition and location. We walked down a block to the parade route on St Charles. We had a great location and the parades were a lot of fun. It was very cold that night, but being from Wisconsin, it was warmer then home. Well many beads and beers later we headed to Bourbon St. Another great time, lots of people and fairly clean fun. One recommendation I have made to people over my many trips to Mardi Gras is to go the first weekend, much tamer and easier to get around. After a fun night on Bourbon St. we headed back to the hotel to crash. Hotel had free breakfast that was very good. We then got the car and I dropped off my OH at the pier and I went to drop the car off at the Canal St. rental location. Avis then dropped me back off at the pier, I tipped the driver a few bucks. My OH half went to check in and we forgot in NOLA they have you go through security first, unlike Miami where you check in first then security, so it worked for dropping off the bags but no advantage to get in line to check in. No big deal. The line was not that bad, maybe 20 minutes for security, the Latitudes line was minimal, we had only 2 couples in front of us. Check in was very fast and we were then on the ship in 5 minutes.
We headed to lunch at Windows; we were seated at the back along the windows and had a great lunch. We gave our serving team some beads left over from the Mardi Gras and they were very happy, I wish I would have brought all the beads we left in the hotel room that morning to hand out. To comment on lunch, it was good, I do not remember what we had, but we ate all of it. Rooms were ready after lunch and we headed off to see ours. We had an interior on deck 9. It was exactly what I had read about and seen in pictures. Room was clean, for some reason we had egg crates on the mattress so both beds were just fine. I did order a refrigerator for items we needed to keep cold. It was in the room and already cold. Storage was plenty as most reviews have noted. Since we were spending a total of 5 days in NOLA we had a lot of extra clothes. Our stewards were night and day from each other. Elizabeth was awesome and always was happy to see us; the gentleman steward never introduced himself and was not overly friendly. We tipped Elizabeth extra and told her it was all hers and not to share. One tip my OH wants to make sure I pass on is to hang t-shirt type shirts on plastic hangers from home and then put the dressier shirts over those t-shirts. It was easy to pack in the luggage and then we pulled them out and hung them right up in the closet. This worked perfectly! Unpacking was quick and easy and we were on our way to see the ship.
The Spirit theme is really neat and different, as others note, it has an Asian flair, which is fun. The one thing I felt different from other reviews is how she is aging. I felt she was pretty tired looking. While she was very clean, most things were pretty worn, many, and I mean many windows on the ship were, how do I say it, glazed over? Not from sea salt, but seals were broken which caused them to have a glazed/foggy look. So when at the buffet sitting at a window tableside you were unable to see out of it. This was in many other areas of the ship. When using the fitness center, the treadmills face the ocean, many windows again were fogged over. We also noted some windows that had water in between the 2 panes, it was odd to me. I am not a picky person, heck, some may think I am, but these are things I noticed. My favorite ships are the Jewel, which is hard to compare to Spirit and the Dream, which is easy to compare. The Dream, being older was in much, much better shape IMO. Back to my view of the Spirit, carpets and chairs were worn, stained, and torn, many of the window treatments were also stained, how, I do not know, but were in need of a total cleaning or replacement. She just felt old to us. We also did not like the flow of her. You have to stay Starboard if you want to get from bow to aft on many decks, not a problem, but the first few times we walked around we hit some dead ends. We did like the Centrum area as it was rather fun compared to the Jewel or Sun, a lot of activity and a fun hub to people watch. Further walking the ship we loved the pool area, well laid out and a fun theme. Deck chairs were never a problem, many of the passengers stayed out of the sun. The hot tubs were about 100 degrees, the TV tells you the temperature of the pools and hot tubs. The spa was a bit cramped of an area, but was never crowded. The men's steam/sauna were never busy so it was a great place to relax for a few minutes. I used the indoor lap pools once, and unfortunately was swimming with what someone left in the water instead of going to the bathroom to leave behind. I got out and told the staff, I showered up a few times and by the time I came out, that pool was drained. Sick side note! My OH won a free spa massage, OH enjoyed it and was offered a few products and declined and that was the end of the sales. Though, if my OH bought about $150 worth of items, my OH would have received a free full body massage, so not a bad deal. This was the first cruise were there was a male masseur, Nelson. My OH and a lady we met said they received the best massage ever on a cruise since it was from the male. So, if you are looking for a strong hand massage, go to Nelson. Back to the tour, we tried to hit every part of the ship, we went up to the Celebrity Disco, it does not look like the area has been used in years. A neat dance floor, but perhaps too hard to get to so they do not use it.
The Bier Garden and jogging track are up there, makes for an easy walk around the top. Some deck chairs and the golf net, basketball court and a helicopter pad are up there. The deck is very underused and a fun place to walk at any time. We hit the rest of the ship, the aft terraced area and Buccaneers pool area, a totally cool small water park, the kids on board seemed to love it. Speaking of kids, there were hardly any on this trip. From one of the childcare staff members, she said there were about 70 on the ship. (She said the following week there were to be about 400). There is another hot tub back there and a great place to watch the sun set as at night, it is not that busy. The video arcade is huge and was almost always vacant, they have an air hockey table if you are looking for a little fun. The casino is pretty large and was never that busy. They had several $5 tables and craps were $5 as well. A ton of slots to chose from and I played just a little of each. I bought the $15 worth of chips promotion for $10 and was able to use that money to gamble the whole week. I played black jack and turned that $15 into $100 and then played on and off all week from that money. It also covered many of my incidental expenses on shore, a few dollars here for taxi, internet on shore and such, so, over all I was very happy. I did not buy any souvenirs as we have been to these ports before, so I was not spending a lot on shore. In back of the casino is Maharinis Night Club. This was our hang out for every night of the cruise. I will tell more about this area later. Around the corner from the casino is the Art Auction area. This is the first ship I have been on where they have a specific area for this. The chairs for the auction are set up all the time and the gallery has a large amount of items on display at all times. I really like the set up. I did attend a few of the auctions, the auctioneers Erica and Justin were very cool and easy to chat with. They were very knowledgeable about the art and were not pushy! I did not purchase anything, I like to learn about the artists and such so it was fun. I am not a fan of Park West at Sea, the prices IMO are a bit higher then similar items when Fine Art of Cruising were on board. Also, I did get lucky and win a free piece of art from the auction. I chose not to accept the item as they wanted $45 to send it to me at home. Last year when I won a piece it was $35 to send it home and it was framed! Park West wanted another $205 to send it to me framed. Again, the auction was fun, but the free piece was not worth it to me! The reception/Centrum area was a main hub for things. They had the Shore Excursion desk there, a cafe, and the reception desk. The pursers/reception agents were all very helpful and nice. Always had a smile, even when dealing with a few, (not many), crabby passengers. Dinner reservations were very easy. I will touch on the reservations in a bit. There was a cafe area around the corner, hard to notice it, and this is also the area where they took the pictures at night.
The cruise experience, "finally" you are saying! The average age on this cruise was rather high IMO. This is not a bad thing, in fact it made for easy travels at night. Truly, the ship was pretty dead at about 9 pm most nights. Once the early show was over, if they offered 2, it was quiet on board. But when it came to any of the night time parties on ship. It was very, very dead. However, we meet a lot of fun people on board and partied with them all week. The first night we ate about 8 and there was no line for Windows. Meals on the cruise were all pretty good. The menu seemed the same as last year this time so it was easy to pick out things we enjoyed. We tried the Garden room one night and found it too be too loud. Service in each dining room was efficient and we were done with each meal in about an hour. The wait staff was great to chat with if they opened up. Some just served and were cordial, some were really fun and we had great chats. For our cruise we learned that if you wanted to eat at 530-7 it was packed, I mean packed. We had to wait on formal night for 30-40 minutes, no big deal. We did not dress up, but 75% did. We learned from the demographics on the ship, that if you wanted to eat after 7 there was no line at all! In fact it was pretty dead. We normally eat late so this was perfect! We did celebrate our anniversary in Le Bistro, we had reservations at 9:30. WOW, I told my OH, being the romantic I am, that I booked out the entire restaurant. There was not another person dining in the restaurant. Not even finishing dessert. It was pretty cool. (No, I did not book the restaurant out, but it got me brownie points). Dinner was enjoyable, we always do Le Bistro as "our special night", but I miss the steaks they had offered in the past and I think we will need to switch to Cagney's in the future. We love Le Bistro for the Chocolate fondue, which we had for dessert. We each had the ribs and beef tenderloin, they were good, not outstanding. My OH had a Caesar salad and the French onion soup, I had another appetizer I can't remember and the frog leg soup. (OK, it had a fancier name, but I cannot remember it). The frog legs were tasty, yes like chicken, but the soup base was not to my liking. Service was superb as we were the whole place and we had an enjoyable meal. We ate the buffet for every lunch after embarkation. Never did go back to the dining room for lunch, not sure why. We had the stir-fry for most lunches, they were made to order and were excellent. Mixed in some salad to keep the weight off. After dinner or a snack we tried the crepes, and they were great. Desserts in the main dining room were pretty good, at the buffet they leave a lot to be desired. The Blue Lagoon was great for snacks after the nightclub, I would imagine at any time, but perhaps a few cocktails helped! Blue Lagoon had great snack type food. We had a CC meet and greet! That was a lot of fun! Thank you "beads" for setting it up. As other reviews mentioned, some ship higher ups showed up and I had a conversation with them. Orhan the F & B manager was great to chat with, he is newer to the ship and always out in the dining areas checking on things. The M & G is a great way to meet your fellow CC'ers, so go! Darrin, the cruise director showed up, he was OK to chat with. Seemed rushed in conversation and was in a hurry to get out of the meeting. This turned out to be the impression of Darrin I had the entire cruise. He was jovial when on stage, but loved to stay in the back ground a lot. He was not at many of the shows to introduce acts or even there after some shows to talk about the nighttime activities. His assistant and back up staff were very poor at their jobs IMO. They were not at all lively, or even comfortable in talking about the tasks they were doing. They seemed down right nervous or unprepared to talk in front of a lot of passengers. While a cruise director and the staff does not make or break my cruise, I do expect them to be friendly and interact more with the passengers. This was really lacking. Weather- was outstanding, Mother Nature was on our side the whole cruise. The seas were smooth almost always, I kind of missed a bit of the rocking.
Ports- In Honduras we got off the ship and walked around a bit, we used the internet at a place about 5 blocks from the ship. It was high speed and $3 an hour. One of the coolest things that happened while walking, we ran into some kids and one had a monkey! I asked if I could take a picture of the monkey and the kid said "here" and put the monkey on me! It was totally awesome. In Guatemala, I just got off the ship and walked in the shopping center, used the internet and got back on. One reason we took this itinerary was because we just took it last year and wanted to enjoy the ship. This was great as most people get off in port, so we really could enjoy the pool and such. Side note-many of the activities planned while in port are not well attended, so if you do the various activities, people may or may not show up. I did meet a great lady from St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, Trudy, she became my buddy at these events. She even beat me at shuffleboard. Trudy had some great stories, she is 78 and was quite active. I got her back the second day of shuffleboard and she also played a mean game of ping-pong! In Belize, we had planned to do ATV riding, well, my OH partied too much the night before and we never made it. I did take the tender into Belize and walked around then headed back to the ship. You did not need a tender ticket starting about 9:15, so that was cool. They did have a lot of tenders and this was the easiest tender there I ever had. In Cozumel we did go to Playa Mia! We had a lot of fun, took a taxi and were there early, spent the whole day. I liked Playa Mia except for the rocky beach, they said they are working on clearing it out. The water and weather were awesome. We met some great ladies who were on the Carnival Conquest, we hung with them and shared a cab back! The ships entertainment was a mixed bag! I did not see the first night show, as it was a repeat of last year, Chantz Powell. Kind of a Jazz, tap dancing mix, since we saw last year (and did not enjoy as much as our mothers who went on the cruise with us last year), we skipped. Cameo Rascal was a juggling acrobatic family from Australia, they put on a great show. I enjoyed it a lot more then I thought I would as I have seen many jugglers in the past. They had a fun twist to the normal show, I have never seen anyone juggle in the dark and the son who is 11 was awesome at it. I would say see this one for sure. Second City, wow, this time they were hilarious! I have seen them many times on my cruises and they are always ok but this troupe was by far the best. They had the whole place laughing all the time. They were just as good at the show they put on later in the week at the Galaxy of the Stars. The NCL Production Company, (NCL PC), I am torn on my opinion. The shows were a mix of so-so to enjoyable-to outstanding fun! I miss the Jean Ann Ryan Company, those shows were always outstanding! The first show they did was On Broadway. The show was overall enjoyable, the dancing was pretty good, the show was lively and we enjoyed it. The next show On the Radio was not may favorite. The singing did not overly impress me, the costume changes were well done and the choreography was a bit off. Now, where the NCL PC shined was when they led the parties in Maharini's. They are an awesome group, very fun to talk to, down to earth and really got the people in the club participating. We even met up with them on Bourbon St. Sunday afternoon. I may be incorrect in what night was each theme, so forgive me, but the NCL PC led the activities in Maharini's. The first night was Fire and Ice. A fun mix of games and dancing where you could win free drinks. We met a lot of people that night and made some great friends. One night, they were there for a show, which was a Latin theme, not many people showed up and the show never got started. The DJ who was very good, for some reason though kept playing Latin music and the dance floor was dead for over an hour. Darrin, the CD was there and IMO should have taken a lead to get things going, instead he sat at the bar drinking. OK, I am human, he is allowed to drink, but when he sees the dance club dead, either step in and get things going, or hang out at the crew bar. The NCL PC also led the Bier Fest on deck 13. Reuben, who would make a great cruise director, was outstanding. He kept that party alive at all times. Now, back to a comment earlier, this ship was dead at night, the 50 or so people that were there had a great time. The NCL PC crew also led the Ship-N-Males show. This show had various crew and staff perform a "Chip-N-Dales" type strip show. This was a hoot! The crowd at Maharini's was busy this night. The two "Hostesses" of the show were outrageously excellent! I still am laughing at the performance the Diva's put on. This show is not to be missed. Ladies, the strippers deserved more tips, and do not forget the Drag Queens/Hostesses. Many comments I heard from people was they were not sure whether they were men or women, and if they were men, they looked outstanding. They were awesome! Side note from some of the friends we made on the ship about the Ship-N-Males show, many of the NCL crew/staff were at the show and pushed aside many of the guests so they could have a better view. Note to NCL, make sure your guests are taken care of first! Side-side note-during the week they have pool games and guests play various members of the staff/NCL PC/Second City in a game of volleyball in the pool. The winning team gets a free beer for each player. Well, needless to say the guests always lose, c'mon, you have paying guests, either offer no prize, which is fine, it is all in fun, or give those who play a beer! If it were not for the paying guests, there would be no opportunity for games! Island party night was fun on the deck. They do the Ms. Norwegian Spirit Contest, this was a hoot. Again, not too many people were there, but it appeared that all who were there had a lot of fun. Quest, wow, I have heard about it on the Royal Caribbean Boards and was excited to see it on NCL. This show was definitely a do not miss. It is not as risqué as I was thinking it would be, but again, it may have been the cruise passengers this week. But it sure was a lot of fun. Second City hosts the show and they again do well to get people involved. We made many friends and hung out with them each night. The thing we love about Free Style is the fact that we can have dinner with any of the new friends we meet during the week, we took advantage of this. My OH and I had to defend NCL to many of them, they felt it was pretty laid back or some even said boring. We kept saying it was the passengers on this week that were pretty mild and not typical. Many people said the food was ok, nothing special, I kept saying that we are looking forward to 2.0 as it sounds as if the food will improve before our Dawn Cruise in October, (though my OH and I felt the food was consistently good). Side note-one of my best friends is a Shore Excursion manager on Carnival, we got to meet up with him in one of the ports, he said the passengers on his ship the last two weeks were pretty seasoned/laid back. So that helped me with defending NCL. I was a bit surprised at the mellow passengers on this cruise. I really thought that with the cruise coming back on Sunday before Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday, there would be a lot of people who would take the cruise and stay for the festivities in NOLA. I was wrong, I am still not sure why, perhaps that is too long of a time for people to take off of work. Debarkation was very easy, we had the bags sent off the night before and we were the last color called, which is what we wanted. We enjoyed breakfast at the buffet, side note, (I am not sure of the exact name of the department), but I think it was the department of Health was on board checking out the operation in the buffet. I did not hear what they were saying, perhaps they were there for an inspection and there will be a report soon from them. There was no NORO outbreak that I know of on the ship, so that is good. Overall review of the cruise-we had fun and had to make a lot of it happen. Every cruise is what one makes of it and what you decide to do, we had a blast, it was just not our favorite ship. We are looking forward to the Dawn in October from NYC. To finish the review- we stayed in NOLA for Mardi Gras. This is the first time we have been there for the final weekend through Fat Tuesday. We got an excellent rate at a hotel I booked about a year ago, it was the Royal St. Charles, on St Charles Ave a block from Canal Street on the parade route. This hotel was awesome, great price, very clean, nice room, comfy beds and did I say on the parade route. We were able to rest a bit in the room and head down when the parades arrived. The parades were all a lot of fun, some parades were packed, some the crowd was thin. Mardi Gras is wild, people are wild, and the city is wild. As I stated earlier in the review, I enjoyed the first weekend of Mardi Gras in the past and if I go back it will be for the first weekend. The second weekend and Fat Tuesday is packed, we felt safer walking on the side streets then in some areas of Bourbon St. Police were everywhere, but the party was wild. You can read online about some of the violence during Mardi Gras this year.
Happy Cruising! HoopTroop