Background: DH and I are both 50. We are experienced cruisers having sailed 31 times between us. We have sailed Carnival, RCCL, Premier, Commodore and Windjammer. This was our first NCL cruise.
Embarkation Day: We live about 5 hours from New Orleans so we chose to drive to the port that morning. We arrived a little before noon. Check-in was very fast and efficient. We were on the ship in about 15 minutes from the time we entered the security line. There were signs everywhere stating that the cabins would not be available until 2 so we headed to the buffet to grab a quick bite before exploring the ship. The doors to our hall opened promptly at 2. We dropped off luggage and while DH napped I walked around the ship. The Spirit's decor reflects her beginnings in the Asian market. Her public spaces are well maintained despite showing the wear and tear of her ten years in service. The boat drill was very efficient and short. We chose to eat at Windows and found the food good and More
the service adequate. I attended the Welcome Aboard show which featured a very funny magician/comedian. The Cruise Director, Ray, introduced his staff. At first both DH and I found him to be annoying but as the days passed he grew on us. By the end of the cruise we both agreed that he was one of the most enjoyable CD's we could remember. He did a great job under some trying conditions (more on that later).
Day at Sea: DH and I mostly slept and tried to find our way around the ship. We are not "sun-worshipers" or gamblers so we listened to some of the lectures (DH really enjoyed the one on watches) and enjoyed the entertainment at the various venues. Loved Champagne Charlies. Also attended the Meet and Greet. I did go to the production show which featured music from Hairspray, Mama Mia and other very recent Broadway shows. It was stressed all week that the current production group would be leaving at the end of the week as their 6 months contact had ended. While I have seen much more elaborate shows on other lines the talent was good and the show entertaining.
Roatan: We were late arriving due to rough seas and strong headwinds. We had booked a tour of the island through the ship. We had been to the island once ... two weeks before Hurricane Mitch. Our guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining. We were late getting back to the ship and missed our reservation at Teppanyaki. I rushed in as soon as we got back and they allowed us to switch to a later time and didn't charge us for the missed reservation. Our dinner there was one of the best meals we had the whole week.
Guatemala: We chose the Quiriqui and Dulce River Tour offered by NCL. We took a bus to the ruins. Our guide, Carolina, spoke excellent English and educated us on the history and culture of the country as we drove. She asked questions periodically and rewarded correct answers with little trinkets such as Mayan bracelets. The ruins were amazing and Carolina explained the history behind each monument. We returned to the bus for a drive to a resort on the river where we were fed lunch. We boarded a boat for a trip down the river, past the town of Livingston, out into the ocean and back to the port. The tour lasted over 9 hours and we felt as though we had gotten our money's worth. Back on board our 6:00 departure time was delayed until well after 10 while we awaited a mystery "delivery". By 10 there was a large group standing at the rails waiting to see what we were waiting for. When the truck arrived everyone watched them unload the boxes and gave the workers a cheer when it was done. We had a wonderful dinner at Cagney's.
Belize: We tendered into Belize City. We had once again opted for a ship tour of Altua Ha and the Ole Belize River. We board a small open boat and skirted the shore to the opening of the river. Once on the river our guide Anthony pointed out various flora and wildlife. We were able to see crocodiles, monkeys, bats, dolphins, iguanas and various types of birds. We stopped in a small village for lunch before getting on a bus for the ruins. Again, our guide was excellent and told us so much about the country, everything from politics to education. The ruins were very interesting. We finished the night with dinner in the Garden Room.
Cozumel: We have been to Cozumel many times and decided to make it an easy day especially after two hard days of hot sightseeing. We had to tender into Cozumel since the two downtown piers were in use by the Carnival Conquest and Carnival Valor. We could see Freedom of the Sea and Voyager of the Sea down the coast. Cozumel was very crowded with all five mega ships in port. We did the shopping we wanted to and returned to the ship and took a nap. Dinner was at Windows. Around 6 the captain made a shipwide announcement that we would be encountering bad weather on our way North. We had gale force winds and 15 foot swells starting at 10pm(Friday night) and continuing until 2pm Saturday afternoon. The staff and crew handled it very well although I was a bit disconcerted to see them closing all the heavy doors. The crew put on a great talent show in the main theater.
Sea Day: Did not get up until almost 11 since we didn't sleep much the night before. Mostly just sat and watch the ocean until the weather passed as many of the activities had been rescheduled for later in the day. Spent the afternoon packing. I did venture into the casino where I won about $50 on a penny machine. We went to bed early since we were planning on getting on the road early the next morning.
Debarkation: Did self assist and it was virtually painless. We waited for the announcement (never heard it) but could see the gangway from our room and left when we saw people leaving the ship. We were on the road by 8am and home by 1.
Odds and Ends:
Cabin - 8002 is an oceanview in the very front of the ship. Many people we met didn't even know the rooms on the 8th floor are there. You walk through the photo gallery and there is an opening by the elevator. You go through there to get to the rooms. The room was clean, our steward, Sandro, did a great job and there wasn't alot of noise. The only bad part about this room was the location during the bad weather. I didn't mind the rocking and rolling but the jarring of the impact as the bow hit the water was rough. Don't get rooms in this area if you are prone to sea sickness as the motion is very evident.
Food: Speciality restaurants were superb. The food in Windows and Garden Room was good but the portions were tiny. More than once I heard fellow passengers referring to the ad(I believe its a MasterCard ad)about the tiny elf food. Buffet was pretty standard fare. Our favorite lunch spot was Blue Lagoon. The hamburgers and hot dogs are great. I ordered the macaroni/cheese from the children's menu one day.... loved it.
Staff/Crew: Very professional, friendly and accommodating. Cannot think of one unpleasant incident.
Freestyle Cruising: This was our first experience with freestyle. I had mixed feelings about it. While I like eating when I want to I missed establishing a rapport with the dining staff and the feeling of knowing my waiter would have my coffee ready with my dessert and DH's ice tea waiting for him when he sat down. Many times the staff seemed disorganized and on several occasions we never got parts of our order. More than once I saw diners leaving their tables without dessert/coffee because they got tired of waiting. We were also traveling with a group of 24 and freestyle is, in my opinion, not the best choice in that situation. The group has cruised together in the past and one of the things everyone enjoyed was eating dinner together and discussing what everyone did that day. In order to do that we had to make arrangements in advance and our dining options was limited to Windows only. While our tables were usually near each other there was one time when we were not close at all
Kudos to the staff for the way spring break was handled. NCL had brought in extra security and I didn't see many problems. The children's program seemed to work well also. It was announced that there were only 81 children on board but seemed like less since we never saw them. They also announced they were expecting over 500 children the next week!!!!
All in all a good vacation.... very port intensive. We had to rest up when we got home. Will we sail NCL again? Probably.... just not with a group. Less