I had a great vacation and will give you my impressions for different aspects. Every section of my review will include my overall impression and then I'll go into detail. If you want the long story short, just read the first sentence or two of each section and you will have a good idea.
My name is Julie (28) and I travelled with my sister-in-law Catherine (29). This cruise was my 3rd one, all with NCL, and my 2nd time on the Spirit.
I saw a great bargain for this sailing about 3 months ago and I put a cabin on hold (luckily since that price was gone a few hours later). My boyfriend has a new job so he couldn't come but my sister-in-law decided to come with me.
TRAVELLING TO AND FROM NEW ORLEANS
In short, it was tiring to travel to and from New Orleans but, for the price to leave from Burlington, it was worth it.
We are from the Quebec City area but flying from Quebec City or Montreal (3 hours away) was too expensive (respectively 890$ and 720$) but flying from Burlington, VT made the trip possible (325$ pp roundtrip). That meant driving 5.5 hours, waiting more than 3 hours at the airport because we had kept an hour for the unforeseen event that may have arise, connecting flight delayed, etc. Luckily, our luggage all came through with us. We were in our hotel at around 4:30pm.
I had purchased Airport Shuttle ticket online and it worked well from the Port to the airport but it was a pain from the airport to the Hotel, we had a long wait (about 45-60 minutes I guess) and the taxi would have cost about the same for 2 people, not worth it but we waited since I had already paid. At the port, it's very convenient and would do it again. The bus was not identified to Airport Shuttle but find the driver and he'll let you in with a proof of internet purchase.
We had a good time and good food; I'll try to stay longer next time.
Holiday Inn Chateau Lemoyne (Hotwire mystery hotel for 59$ + tx) was a good deal. Very nice building, lobby and garden, fair room kept clean but in need of some maintenance (some wall paper to be changed and traces of breakthrough on the balcony door).
Since we had limited time, we just walked in the French Quarter, including water front. It is a lovely city with many streets performers of great talent. We shopped a little, walked the streets and stopped at a couple of places to eat and/or listen to some music. We had dinner at the Cajun Cabin and being French, it was cool to recognize some words in the songs, I liked the place because the food was good, the staff very friendly and the show was fun and included the crowd a lot. We were tired of our long day so we were back to the hotel before 11pm (I know, I know, we should have enjoyed the nightlife more than that).
In the morning, we walked to the Café du Monde for beignets but when we realized they didn't serve 'real' breakfast, we went somewhere else (Café Beignet - not very good). We also stopped at a corner store to buy wine and soda to bring on the ship. I couldn't believe a Jacob's Creek bottle was 8$ (it is 14,50$ here in Quebec and now the exchange rate doesn't make the difference).
We left the hotel at around 11am by taxi to get to the port.
We had some wait since we arrived early but the process was smooth and orderly.
When we arrived, we saw the porters and asked for luggage tags (our room # changed just before the cruise). We didn't know too much how it worked but finally we found where to enter the terminal. We went through security (no line at that time), then proceeded to the corkage fee table and then headed to the check-in area. We were given a number (16) but I should have mentioned that I was Lattitudes Member, they never asked. Check in went very quickly anyway. Then, we had to wait before the embarkation process started. They called people who needed assistance, # 1 blue (Lattitudes), # 2 blue (Lattitudes), # 15 and then # 16. We went to Windows for lunch. Debarkation from the ship was easy, but we had some wait at Customs. I exchanged my tickets for the latest tickets available to independent guests (white). We disembarked when our color was called. I felt they could have waited a little longer since we had to wait at 2 different places before we could get our luggage and then go to customs. It wasn't too bad.
I knew I liked the ship since it was my 2nd time. She is in need of some maintenance (replacing carpets, some upholstery, mattresses, window panes) but it was not that bad, just shows her need for dry-dock (or other maintenance stop).
We had an inside room and even if it is small the layout is good so we never felt it was too small. We were 2 girls travelling with day and evening clothes and we had enough storage (not too much but it was OK). The bathroom in inside cabin is not like in oceanview/balcony cabins, the toilet is not separated in its own compartment, it's more of a regular bathroom but the shower is the same (good size with sliding door).
I have seen no sign of bedbugs or Norovirus. We could serve ourselves in the buffet so it must have been a quiet week in regards to Noro.
Food is very subjective and very personal thing. All the comments are only in my humble opinion and from the comments I got from my roommate. The food ranged from good to excellent in the main dining room, my only complaint is that many items were way to salty (and one entrée that we both found inedible but we decided to simply go to the buffet for a quick fix).
Breakfast We had breakfast in the dining room 2 times and it was good. The menu selection was very diversified. I had the smoked salmon on a bagel (untoasted bagel, I think it's the way to eat a bagel in the US but I am used to a well-toasted bagel so that wasn't my best meal but it's totally personal opinion), French toasts that I ate with fruit on the side (very good but order a double order if you eat only this because they serve what is equivalent to about 1-1.5 toast). I didn't care for their orange juice (tasted like orange punch to me), the grapefruit juice was better.
I had breakfast in the buffet once and their waffles were alright since they make it fresh in front of you. I also had sliced fruit and country potatoes that were quite good. I'm not much into buffet so I didn't go often and avoid them on port days since it is usually too crowded for me. On port days, we ordered room service. You have to take one of the menu, fill it out (limited selection of mostly cold items: cereals, fruit, toasts, pastries, juice, coffee) and leave it on the door knob the night before (before 2 am). Delivery was on time except one time (they were 10-15 minutes early but it was OK with us). I prefer room service on port days, was more relaxing than the buffet.
Lunch We had lunch in the dining room on a couple of occasion and it was very good with a good selection. At lunch, it's easy to get a table by the window and we enjoyed it.
I had lunch at the buffet only once and it was OK but I don't like buffet too much. I had couscous, salad, fruit and dessert. The food was decent (good). We also had hot dog and fries on sailaway, hot dogs were very good, the fries were cold but what else can we expect when we eat on a windy open deck?
Dinner We had most of our dinner in the dining rooms (Windows or Garden). We thought the service in Windows was better. On Thursday night, we had the vegetarian entrée and it wasn't edible in our opinion (a cabbage leave stuffed with unflavored couscous and something that looked like pureed potatoes and veggies that was fried). We went to the buffet instead of ordering something else. Other than this one dish, everything was good to excellent (most were in the very good category) but most items were too salty and the soups were usually the worst in this aspect (they would have been excellent otherwise). I think they should go easy on the salt and people could easily salt their dish themselves if they prefer it this way.
Catherine loved the chilled soup and the one I had was excellent but I try to eat something lighter as an appetizer. I loved that they had some fruit appetizer on the menu most nights (I love fruit as you can see), most of their bread and salads were also excellent. My favorite entrées were the duck and the pork. Almost every night, I ordered steamed veggies with my entrée since there are not much veggies served otherwise. I thought the portions were decent, definitely not huge but with all that food, I was stuffed.
We had a 50% discount coupon for the first night and we went to Cagney's. They seated us in a back room where there was a small group + people at the other table talking with them. I asked the waiter if we could be seated in the main room and there was no problem. We were not seated at the best table but it was still better and service was prompt since we were close to the kitchen. Everything was excellent. I had the Rib Eye steak and Catherine had the New York Strip loin. We had the shrimp cocktail and the bisque (too salty again).
On Wednesday, we went to La Trattoria. It was a change from the dining room and the food was good but not up to par with the main dining room. I had the antipasti, minestrone soup (extremely salty, couldn't eat much of it), ravioli (it was a first for me and I didn't like it, the marinara sauce was excellent though) and the tiramisu. I saw a Strawberry Cheese Cake that seems so good that I asked one to go, it was no problem. I ate it the following day and it was very good but was not as thick as most cheese cake I had before, it had almost a mousse texture.
Late night snack I didn't go to the Chocolate Buffet which was held Friday at 11pm (same time as Quest).
I went only once to Blue Lagoon and I had the potato skins, they were not the type I'm used to (more of a moon-cut fries) but it was excellent.
SHIP ONBOARD ACTIVITIES
I enjoyed the shows I saw (David Dimuzio - juggler and Chant - musician, signer, tap dancer). I also liked Brandon Lauron who sang and played guitar in Henry's Pub, people were having fun signing along. Other bands were good too.
There was no acrobat family on this cruise, they may have taken a vacation or their contract is over, I don't know.
Chantz is a very talented young man (only 20 years old with a voice that has maturity in it. He also tap dance and plays trumpet).
David Dimuzio is a GREAT juggler and he also has some humorist skills in his own way (I won't tell you why, you have to see him if he is on your cruise too).
The Crew show was very nice too (better than the last one I saw), the Cruise director is a very good guitarist (IMHO but I am no expert what so ever) but other than that, I didn't like him much, he acted like a rock star more than taking care of the passengers.
I found the day activities and the late-night entertainment a bit lame on this cruise. It was the first cruise that I didn't know what to do at certain times. It might have been a mix of these reasons (some are not NCL fault by any means):
- I had a cervical sprain the week prior to the cruise and I still was on medication what meant I couldn't drink much. Therefore, wine/margarita/smoothies/martini tastings were out for me (I usually enjoy one of these on a sea day every cruise). Also, I refrained to work out in the gym for this same reason.
- The crowd was older on this cruise than on my previous cruises out of New York. I would say less than 5% were younger than 35 years old and less than 30% were younger than 45. On my previous cruises, there were many older teens and young adults and Maharini's night club was alive every night, not on this cruise. Only 2 nights were there people dancing + the last night but it doesn't count since our group of 6 was the only one dancing!!!
-The DJ in Maharini's acted like he wanted us all to go to bed early (except one night where there were many people enjoying themselves). If people were having fun on the dance floor, next song would be so different (hip hop for this older crowd?!?!?!?) that people were getting back to their seats.
-No pool activities at all on the last sea day.
-Rougher seas and cold wind on the first sea day (not as rough as one night on the Dawn out of New York but still choppy).
I enjoyed the art auction on the last way. I still think about a painting I should have bought but I didn't bid… too late, someone else took it. But it's OK, I don't have much money to spare since we just bought a house and I have to buy a new car in the next month or two.
The Quest was fun but I guess I had too high expectations and it didn't meet them. I participated a lot but I don't think watching would have been very fun. We didn't stay long at the pool party, didn't seem very fun to us but we had our drink served in a pineapple and this gives me an automatic Island vacation feel so it was worth it.
I would say 95% of the crew members are the nicest people on earth. The other 5% were more pushy or rolled their eyes if you didn't want to order dessert at the same time as you ordered your appetizer, soup, entrée (we didn't want to order something we wouldn't eat) but they were the minority (most of them being pushy bartenders) but nobody was rude, inefficient or anything of the like.
Our room steward did an excellent job and was very nice to us when we saw him in the hallway.
PORT OF CALL - ROATAN, HONDURAS
We shared a taxi to West End with a couple and it was 12$pp return. It's not a very touristic place yet and we enjoyed it. We walked around, enjoy the scenery and then stopped at one of the beach bar for a local beer and a great sunset. We talked to other people there and had a good time. The beer was about 1,50$-1,75$ US at this place, good deal (but ask for change in US dollars, they first gave us Lempiras and this is not a currency you could convert easily back home).
PORT OF CALL - SANTO THOMAS DE CASTILLA, GUATEMALA
I heard many good things on these boards about 'Go with Gus Tours' but I had a different experience. We worked it out and we finally had a good day but I know it was more expensive than what it should have been.
I had e-mailed Go with Gus twice with no answer. I wrote to the other address (there were 2) and explained that I heard good thing about his company on CC but didn't get a reply (we wanted to go to the Banana Plantation Tour). He replied saying he had already replied (I doubt of this since I check my emails daily, including the junk mail bin just in case). He said he would take us on a Banana Plantation Tour.
We saw Gus near the Terminal entrance and he said we were the only ones for this tour and he would try to find other people. At this time, I told him that if he couldn't find other people, we were open to other tour suggestions. We came back to his booth 15 minutes later, as agreed and we had to wait about 15 minutes more. During that time, I realized that they advertised the Banana Plantation Tour at 35$ per person (while we were asked 45$ per person, as per their internet rate). I asked for a 10$ pp refund but then he told me that it was another Banana Plantation, not the same quality tour as we would get (Yeah, right…. I didn't believe this one). He didn't find anyone else to go with us. I told him we could go on another tour, that we are not difficult people but he said it was alright, that he would give us the tour anyway (then, I felt that the 45$ pp was OK if we got a private tour instead of a group tour.
Here is the exact description of the tour, directly from his website: Banana Plantation Tour See how the Chiquita bananas that are enjoy in the US are grown, harvested and packed. 2 1/2 hours tour Price per person including entrance fee $45.00
The driver didn't speak lots of English but enough to get by so it was ok for us, we thought the tour would be held by the plantation people… WRONG. We drove about 20 minutes, we stopped on a small street near banana trees and the driver wants us to take a picture of him and then we walk around for about 10-15 minutes (more 10 minutes I think) and he shows bananas and bags, and a guy in a tree but there were no real tour or any explanation given and he drove us back to the pier. I told him the tour was supposed to take 2.5 hours but he said Gus told him only the Banana Plantation and back since we were only the 2 of us).
When we came back to the pier, I was pissed off but Gus was gone with his Humanitarian Tour. His staff was very nice though. One guy couldn't believe we were back already. I was very emotional (I can't help it) and told him how much I was disappointed. I told him we were not difficult people and asked if he could arrange something so we have something to do that day, I said a ride to a nice beach and back later in the day would be ok, or almost anything else he could offer. He made a arrangement with another company that sells tours (it cost him only 5$ pp, nothing to us) and we had a boat ride to a resort. There was the bay view, a pool, food and beverage service (overpriced… 8$ for a burger with fries).
The banana plantation driver came to the resort and offered a city tour for 30$ for the 2 of us (we refused) and then for 20$ and we accepted (Catherine really wanted to go - if it were me, I wouldn't have given one more cent to this company).
The city tour was nice and the guide very, very knowledgeable (I don't know from what company but they operate a small white and red boat next to the ship). People in the van had paid about 40$pp to go to some falls and the city tour. They definitely took advantage of us when we compare but it's ok, it's a learning experience and we still had a good day in the end. The City tour included some very poor areas, the guide was telling us about the good and bad things about his country. We even saw 2 little girls handling coal with bare hands and no mask; poor girls… I wonder if their parents know they will probably die in their twenties suffering from lung problems.
PORT OF CALL - BELIZE
We had booked an excursion with Cavetubing.com and this activity was the highlight of our trip but I don't know if I should recommend this company because of a problem other people had with them.
That morning, I waited nearly half an hour in front of the tender tickets desk to ensure I would get the first tender available and we did (it was a matter of making or missing our excursion). After looking around for about 5 minutes, I found the excursion meeting point. From there, we were escorted to a van that took us to the park (1 hour drive). We joined a group of people and walked through the jungle (our guide was very knowledgeable and it was a very nice easy walk). We 'boarded' our tubes. The river was nice and the caves impressing. It was great. When we walked back to the entrance (5 minutes I would say), a driver was looking for us and told us to hurry, that we had to go now. I couldn't understand why he would rush us to such an extent. I really needed a bathroom stop first but we didn't even take the time to change into dry clothes to accommodate him.
When we entered the van, one man was very stressed, saying he would miss the last tender. Their ship was leaving way sooner than ours. After a fast almost scary ride, they made it… with only 4 minutes left for the last tender. This is the reason I don't think I should recommend this company even if we had a great day. We were not on the same group going on the river, it was normal we would arrive later and they should have thought about this and send another van for us to make sure the other people would get in port on time.
We had lunch with the driver (it was included in the 66$pp fare) and then we did some shopping in the tourist village (near the tender). I bought a bottle of 'One Barrel' rum for 7$, it's very good and you can sample it first.
PORT OF CALL - COZUMEL
We did some shopping in Cozumel and then we joined 2 people we met on the cruise and headed to a free beach (it's free but I guess you are supposed to eat and/or drink to use the facility but it was OK with us, we wanted a relaxing day so we had a couple of drinks, tortillas and guacamole, swam a little and enjoyed the sun). It was a very touristic place but after 3 days of exploring, we wanted something relaxing.
We enjoyed our cruise and would definitely do it again if the price was right. In fact, I have another cruise booked, again on the Spirit, and 3 of the 6 stops are the same as we did this time but it's OK, we will simply choose different excursion, there are so many different things to see and do in every port.