I waited a few days to write my review because I wanted to give myself some time to think about what I wanted to say and how to say it without offending the NCL fans on here and needing to pull out my flame retardant suit. I am one of those who believes that any day on a cruise is better than a day at work, so went into this cruise with that mindset - we'd have a good time no matter what.
The bottom line is that we won't be rushing back to NCL any time soon. All I've been able to say to friends and family who ask about my cruise overall is that it was OK, but definitely not great or worth the $$ (our bar bill alone was twice what it has been on past cruises, and we actually drank less than we did in the past). We loved the ports, found the ship itself to be in decent shape, and met some nice people. However, the negatives outweighed the positives for us. 2/3 Embarkation:
A total breeze. We got to the pier around 1 pm, no lines, no waiting, no problems. OK, one problem, but not a huge one, just annoying. My passport was amended after my wedding to change to my married name and I pointed this out to the people at registration (I had completed all my forms and our reservations in my married name, and that is the name that appeared on my key card). I didn't realize until two days into the trip that the folks at embarkation had registered me under my maiden name, which made things confusing when we made dinner reservations in the specialty restaurants. Again, no biggie, but a minor annoyance. 2/3 First Night:
Luggage arrived promptly, stateroom was clean and neat, and the bar set up I had ordered was waiting for us. The only thing missing was the fridge I had repeatedly requested for my medication. I never did receive it - so kept my medication in the ice bucket (thank goodness out room stewards were good about keeping that full). We, like others, loved the fact that we could get food from the Blue Lagoon to eat while watching the Superbowl in Henry's. Even with my beloved Pats losing the game, we had a great time with the people in Henry's.
2/4 Sea Day:
We started our day with breakfast in the buffet, only because we slept too late to hit Windows. There is only one word to describe it - terrible. The food was bland, cold, and unappealing. The bread was stale (something we found throughout the cruise in all the dining rooms). The only good thing we found was the omelette station, but the lines there were ridiculously long.
After breakfast, we decided to head on deck for a walk then hit the pool. Holy windy batman! Our first day at sea was really breezy, so much so that lying out by the pool was a challenge (everything, shoes, towels, drinks blowing around). Here is where the first of our negatives comes up. Other than bingo and lectures on shopping or spa treatments, there wasn't much of anything on board for planned entertainment or activities. While I am happy to just curl up with a good book, DH was bored out of his mind. This isn't a problem when the weather is good since he's happy to relax in the sun by the pool, but he basically spent the day sleeping in our stateroom.
We had dinner this night in Le Bistro, which was quite good, both in terms of food and service. The chocolate dessert was to die for. Sadly, eating here first ruined the main dining room for us for the rest of the cruise. Here is another negative - there is a vast difference in quality and flavor between the food served in the specialty restaurants and the main dining room. While I never expect much from buffet food, I do expect good meals from the main dining room and have experienced them on the other cruises I've taken. After reading lots of reviews on here about how bad the food in the main dining room is, and reading the rebuttals, we went in with an open mind figuring that the food just couldn't be that bad.
Sadly, those who criticized the food in the main dining room were right. The food was bland, dry, served luke warm at best, and of lower quality than what was offered in the specialty restaurants. For example, a shrimp cocktail at Cagney's (where we ate another night) featured 4 jumbo shrimp with tasty cocktail sauce; while shrimp cocktail in the main dining room featured 3 medium size shrimp (the pre-cooked ones you can buy at the grocery store in the freezer section) with bland cocktail sauce. similarly, fish served in Shogun was flavorful, while fish served in the main dining room was dried out and tasted freezerburned. The overall quality of food we received in the specialty restaurants was much more similar to the food we enjoyed in the main dining rooms on our past cruises.
After dinner, we hit the casino, which we did enjoy, and hit a few lounges to listen to music. The ship seemed to be really quiet at night - it felt like most guests went to bed by 11 - but we managed to make our own fun between the casino and the lounges. It would have been nice to have had a few late night shows thrown in, especially since the shows they did have generally were scheduled such that you either had to eat at 5:30 to make a 7 pm show or wait until 10pm to eat dinner after the show. This, however, is a problem that we've found on the other cruise lines we've been on, so is not unique to NCL.
2/5 Roatan: I call this Roatan, although it really should be called another sea day.
We started our day with breakfast in Windows, where DH's meal arrived at the table a good 20 minutes before mine and our waiter can best be described as surly. When my food did arrive, it was cold. Not a great start to the day.
Life did improve, however, since the weather was a bit calmer and we got to spend some time out by the pool. I also took advantage of the long day at sea to engage in one of my favorite activities - a trip to the spa for a facial and massage. I was sorely disappointed from the start, when they handed me the most threadbare robe (I've sent robes in better shape to my rag bag) - talk about taking away the whole comfort and relaxation factor! My services were typical cruise ship services - decent and overpriced - but the lack of warmth and friendliness from the staff (along with the terrible robe) really stood out.
Our arrival in Roatan was delayed until almost 4 pm. I heard conflicting stories about the reason - some said that we had new engine problems (there was a terrible vibration for quite a while that day) while others said that we were slowed down by the winds (which I'd believe). Our shore excursion (and many others) was cancelled and there were no alternatives to book. The ship was cleared at about 4:15. This left just 1 ½ hours before sunset, hardly enough time to take advantage of Roatan's reputedly wonderful snorkeling. I understand that this port was substituted due to Costa Maya's destruction, and I appreciate NCL trying to provide an alternate port, but in the end given the engine problems plaguing Spirit, it seemed like a waste.
This evening we dined in the main dining room. I've commented on the food above so won't repeat that. The service was fine but not stellar and we met some lovely people from New Orleans.
2/6 Santo Tomas Cristallo
We started the day with breakfast in Windows. I'm happy to report that we had much better luck this time in terms of food and service!
We arrived here right on time and were off the ship in a flash. Sadly, the excursion we had booked for here (an ATV tour) also was cancelled. Instead, we went to a local resort and enjoyed their beach and pool for a few hours, then did some shopping at the port.
We really enjoyed ourselves here - and loved the fact that the local people all came out onto the pier to send us off at the end of the day.
We had dinner this night in Cagney's. It was wonderful - great service, wonderful food, a nice atmosphere - definitely worth the upcharge and on par with the extra charge specialty restaurant on our last cruise with RCI.
Had to be up REALLY early here due to the excursion we booked, so another quick and terrible breakfast in the buffet. We were off the ship a bit late (presumably thanks to the rain and the fact that this is a tender port) but our excursion was waiting for us.
We had booked an excursion to Lamanai that included what was billed as a river cruise. It turned out to be a high speed ride through the river on a speed boat - which disappointed DH since he had planned to use the cruise to photograph local wildlife - but was a lot of fun anyway. A quick warning to anyone thinking about this excursion who isn't in the greatest physical shape, you'll spend about 2 hours hiking through the jungle to see the ruins, and the guide we had was determined to do it at lightning speed. One woman on our trip was having a terrible time keeping up, so DH, another couple, and I all hung back with her to help her through the trails and keep her from getting lost. Overall, this was a really nice excursion and our guide filled us in on all sorts of interesting local facts, but go prepared for some exercise!
Unfortunately, this also was national election day in Belize, so the bus ride to and from the river took longer than usual. This meant that we had no time at all to shop or wander around before we had to catch the last tender of the day back to the ship. However, we did get to see democracy in action in Belize, which was interesting.
Since we couldn't get into any of the speciality restaurants before 10 pm (and we had tried booking a day in advance) we wound up having a lovely evening watching the sunset and the stars come out from our balcony, then just grabbing a bite at the Blue Lagoon (loved the fish and chips there) and having a late night snack of room service pizza (which also was quite good).
We awoke to yet another beautiful day, had breakfast in Windows (again, much better service than the first day) and headed ashore. We decided to just rent a Jeep and explore the island ourselves, then do some shopping, which turned out to be a great way to spend the day. After returning the Jeep, we made the obligatory stop at Carlos & Charlie's for way too many margaritas and boarded the ship in a pleasant state of margarita haze.
We did not have reservations, but because we were dining quite late we had no problems getting in for dinner at Shogun and were quite pleased with both the service and the food.
2/9 Sea Day
Another windy day, and a cool one to boot, but we filled the day with packing, reading, etc. The BBQ offered by the pool at lunch time was wonderful.
We had our last dinner back in the main dining room and, about half way through, wished we had just skipped it. When my husband asked the waiter how he liked working on the cruise ship, the waiter proceeded to tell us that it was like being in prison and to tell us how much he disliked it. Not a very uplifting conversation. When my husband mentioned something about the casino, the waiter proceeded to tell us that the only gambling he does is cock fighting, which is legal in his home country, and then went on to describe the fights. Not the best dinner conversation.
We went up to the Galaxy of the Stars to participate in Rock Night - which was a bit of a disappointment in terms of musical quality. We quickly made a dash to Henry's for karaoke, where the talent level was much higher!
So, our cruise came to an end. It was quiet nice to be able to relax in our stateroom while waiting for our color to be called rather than being herded into a theatre like on other cruise lines. We got off the ship with no problem (other than the mild heart attack we had when we saw our final bill), although finding our luggage was a bit of a challenge (bags were spread all over the room and not grouped by color like they were supposed to be).
Our cab driver back to the airport ripped us off - she threw our bags out of the back of her van, hopped in and sped off without giving us our change (which resulted in her getting a $15 tip).
Our flights were a mess (not NCL's fault, just more bad weather) and the airline lost our bags (they just got to us late last night).
Over all, this certainly wasn't a terrible cruise, and I might consider taking this same cruise again if it still was the only one running this itinerary - just because I liked the ports. However, if location (we needed to go out of New Orleans) and ports weren't the primary concerns, I wouldn't go back to NCL. DH and I both felt that we did not get good value for our cruise dollar. The only way to get truly good dinners was to pay extra, drinks were more expensive than on other lines (and the soda card was frustrating - on other lines there were waiters in the buffet who would get soda refills for you from the bar, here you had to leave your food and head out of the buffet to the bar yourself, and when you asked anyone at the bar for a soda you got attitude), service overall was lacking (I, like others, attribute this to the built in gratuities), spa services were more expensive than on other lines, and we just felt like all we did was pay for extras.