Sailing out on New Orleans was an added bonus to the cruise. We had no idea we had booked the cruise in the middle of Mardi Gras. We arrived in NOLA at 10:30 pm Saturday night and took the hotel's free shuttle to our hotel near the airport.
We had arranged for Airport Shuttle to pick us up from the airport and take us to the pier (which cost $30pp, r/t), so we had to take the hotel's shuttle back to the airport the next morning, which was no big deal. After presenting our shuttle documents to the transportation personnel, we ended up on the NCL charter bus. I am assuming some of the others on the bus may have booked that through NCL, but I'm not sure. We were just glad to be in a vehicle bound for the pier on the first bus departing the airport which was at 10:30 a.m. Our driver was amazing with her knowledge of New Orleans history and current events. We ran into a couple small traffic jams because of Mardi Gras parades, but were still at the terminal around 11:30, and were on the ship by 12:15!! As you have read, embarkation is a breeze.
We grabbed a quick bite of lunch at Raffles and then headed back off the ship, through the Riverwalk Mall, and into the French Quarter. About 5 blocks from the pier we were able to watch a parade and to catch tons of beads!! It was such a treat for us to be part of Mardi Gras. Probably a once-in-a-lifetime event for us.
By the time we got back on the ship, our cabin was ready and our luggage had arrived at our door. We were in cabin 6535, which is an "end" cabin and is much larger than the standard inside cabin. We prefer an inside cabin because of the ability to nap during the day and sleep-in in the mornings. We were absolutely blown away at the size of our room! We all left our luggage out for the week, had a fridge (which I had requested via email to the ship coordinator prior to sailing) and still had lots of room to roam around!
We had also pre-requested egg crate tops on the beds (in the same email) which were there for us. There were no top sheets on the beds, just the fitted sheets and cotton duvet covers. I asked for top sheets, but I don't think they knew what I was talking about. So we got by without them. The sheets, by the way, were REALLY soft and beds were comfortable. We all slept like babies all week, being rocked to sleep. The temperature was easy to control in the room. Once we had it set, we never had to adjust it again.
We went to the kids club area right away and enrolled the boys in their groups. DS12 was able to purchase a soda wrist band for only $16 for the entire week. He did not get a refillable cup, and when he did order a soda, it was in a small drinking glass...but for $16, that was OK.....he just got refills.
This leads to my one, single complaint about the entire cruise.....the availability of beverages. If you were not ordering drinks from the bar or were not eating in the buffet or dining rooms, it was difficult to find something to drink. At breakfast in Raffles, they did have water, milk, coffee, hot water for cocoa or tea, and 3 fruit juices. For lunch and dinner: water, milk, tea, coffee. The bottomless soda cup was about $50 for the week and all you could get with that was soda. I would have gladly purchased the cup if you could get soda, juice, and lemonade as readily available as the soda was. My advice: take a travel cup or large water bottle with you on the ship along with some Crystal Light or Green Tea individual serving packets if you are not a plain water or iced tea drinker. A glass of juice from the bar was about $1.50. You are allowed to carry on any non-alcohol drinks from port, too. I did the margarita tasting at the Bier Garten for $15 one day. We got 6 or 7 different margaritas that were each about 6 oz each. Enough to make us all "happy and chatty".
When we enrolled DS15 in his group we purchased a Teen Passport booklet for $34.50 which had 20 coupons for virgin pina coladas, smoothies, etc. A HUGE bargain. The banana smoothies were great...some bars used a whole banana in each serving. No leg cramps for us while hiking the rain forests!
DS15 was on a mission to meet kids his age early in the trip so he could hang out with them all week and he did so easily. He had a great time...met a lot of kids onboard from New Orleans, out of school for Mardi Gras. I was pleased with the teen program. The teen leaders would compliment us on DS15 if we happened to run into them.
DS12 stuck with Mom and Dad the majority of the time, and we enjoyed that, too.
I had several questions pop up during the cruise and always found warm, friendly service at the reception desk. Walked away with prompt answers every time. Tip: I stopped at the desk a few times between dinner and the show to get a sneak peek at the next day's Daily. Was nice to review while waiting for the show to start.
There were a couple of surprises on the Spirit even though I had researched the cruise to death. No Acrobatic Family show and the Chocolate Buffet was at 11 pm, not mid-day as in past cruises.
The Chocolate Buffet is a must, even just to look (yeah, right!) The fruit & candy sushi was so cool and the chocolate dipped fruit was great. Be prepared for long, slow moving lines. Take the time to people watch.
We went to every show. The production shows (On Broadway & On the Radio) were good entertainment, Chanz: very talented and energetic. One show was NCL staff members (waiters, room stewards, bar tenders, etc) performing their country's native dances. We were glad we went to see that, was a good inside look at one part of their cultural history. Second City was OK. We didn't laugh throughout the entire show, but the parts where they were poking fun at cruisers and cruising was hilarious. Our favorite show was Jeff the Juggler (Juggling and other Bad Habits). Must be a new addition to the line up of shows. Amazing talent and was equally as entertaining. Laughed more at this show than Second City. Stay seated after the Juggler show!!! The NCL staff perform a preview of their "Fountains" show and it is absolutely hilarious! I thought my husband was going to fall out of his chair laughing so hard. We are STILL laughing. I wish the teen group would have attended this show. That night was the night they all ate in the dining room together at the same time as the show. Maybe ask if they could take the kids to the show that night. The teens would love both shows (Jeff the Juggler & Fountains).
We also went to Henry's Pub for karaoke a few nights and to the Spirit Idol show (the only time we ever went into the Galaxy of the Stars). The Stardust is awesome with it's stadium seating layout. Not a bad seat in the house but no place for drinks, except on the floor.
DH and I participated in the Murder Mystery Dinner. The thing I enjoyed the most was the people we met that night. You divide into groups of 6 and each get a role to play (no acting, just dialogue). Several clues are introduced throughout the scripts and then everyone has to decide or guess who the killer is. They took us to Windows where we got to order off the menu and eat while solving the murder.
We found the food to be great. Ate in the dining room 5 nights where the food was presented beautifully. The four of us loved everything we ordered, which was quite a variety each night (except the night when lobster was on the menu!). The portions were small, but we found that to be an advantage. Several times I could not decide which appetizer to get, but had enough room to order two. By the time the main course was finished, we always had room for dessert to finish off the meal perfectly. (Don't miss the Crème Brulee on lobster night).
One night we ate at La Trattoria (a specialty restaurant with no up-charge). Don't know which was better, to food or the service. Amazing Italian fare. Took me about 5 seconds to make our reservation via phone call from our room the morning prior at 7 am, sharp).
The last night we decided to go casual and try the buffet for dinner. It was just as difficult to make selections there as off the menu in the dining room. Was a wonderful meal and we walked away over-stuffed. (Was probably the peanut butter pie that put us over the edge!)
For lunch while on board, we ate at the Bier Garten for burgers, brats, & sauerkraut; the poolside BBQ stand which had different venues each day and was all very good (Mexican, BBQ, etc.) And last but not least, the Blue Lagoon, the galley style cafe on deck 7 between the casino and grand atrium. They had amazingly fast and delicious food 24/7. The stir fry rice and noodles were so great, but their hamburgers were awesome! DS's stopped in many times for a "snack".
We did not book any of our excursions through NCL. Wise choice for us; saving a lot of money and IMO, getting MUCH better, more intimate and individualized experiences. In Roatan we did Fins & Flippers; in Santo Tomas we hired a cab driver; in Belize we did the cave tubing and zip lining; and at Cozumel we went to Paradise Beach. I will post information on the Ports of Call boards for those interested in any of those activities. The only down-side to going on our own is the delay in getting off the ship. If you pre-arrange privately, make sure you bump your time back because passengers with "yellow tickets" (NCL shore excursions) get off first. It was a bit annoying waiting to disembark while a never-ending steady flow of yellow ticket holders filed their way through the crowd to get off first but as another poster stated: Leave your "Me First" attitude at home. There are 2000 other "Me Firsts" on board that NCL has to accommodate. Considering that, I think they did a great job.
Overall, we give our NCL 2/3/08 Spirit Cruise eight enthusiastic thumbs up!!
P.S. If you are not currently enrolled on your sailing's Roll-Call on this website, I strongly encourage you to take a look. We set up a CC meeting Monday morning to meet and put faces to the member's posts. It was SO nice to meet these fellow CC members! Was great to run into them throughout the week. We continue to post on our thread after the cruise which is just as fun as doing so before the trip.