This was my second cruise, my first being Alaska with Holland America back in 2000. Overall, I was thrilled with my experience on the Norwegian Spirit and I would definitely consider traveling with them again.
We embarked in New Orleans, and it was quick and painless. My only problem was that I discovered early in the morning on the day of our departure that the ticket packet mailed to me by Norwegian contained lots of supporting documents but no actual tickets. I had filed the packet away in my suitcase after I received it in the mail, assuming that it was complete. In retrospect, that was a dumb mistake on my part. On the morning of our cruise I was reviewing the information they sent me, noticed a curious lack of ticket-like documents, and called the 1-800 number. The Norwegian rep was rude and argued with me about the packet's cover letter. She insisted that the letter instructed me to download the tickets from the Norwegian website, but once I read the letter to her she had to concede that no web address was given. In fact, the packet's brochure began with the bold-faced words "This packet contains your tickets." Finally, I asked her to stop arguing with me and simply tell me how to solve the problem. She directed me to the appropriate web site, the receptionist at my hotel let me use her computer, and we proceeded to the ship with our tickets in hand! So, even if your letter doesn't tell you where to go online, check www.norwegian.com/edocs to download your ticket. Once we got to the port, the people were great and we were on the ship in no time.
We stayed in a level CC stateroom (one with a picture window), and we were very happy with our accommodations. Nothing fancy, but plenty nice enough. We didn't spend a ton of time in our cabin anyway! Our stewards were very polite and efficient. We always had fresh ice, but we only got one towel animal in the whole week! Maybe the crew make more of an effort with those when they know there are kids in a cabin (no kids with us).
The food was great. I am not a fan of buffets, but Raffles was fine for breakfast and great for a quick lunch. We ate in Windows and in the Garden room, which were both wonderful. My favorite meals were the mahi mahi at Windows and the duck a l'orange that I enjoyed at Le Bistro. Room service was only OK for breakfast (tiny portions and a very limited selection), but good for lunch. They will bring an excellent personal-size pizza to your room, which you'll appreciate very much after a day of hiking Mayan ruins in 90 degree heat!
On my first day at sea, I enjoyed the 50 minute Swedish massage at the ship's spa. It was amazing, and very much up to snuff so long as you take into account that you're on a cruise ship and not a luxury resort. I lingered in the sauna afterwards, which was amazing. It's tucked out of the way so I was the only one to even walk by the door for over an hour, and the sauna has one wall made of windows so you have an amazing view of the ocean from there.
The pool was nice - I spent an afternoon laying out. There were plenty of lounge chairs. My only complaint was that our cruise was at the beginning of Spring Break season, so all the hot tubs were jam packed with drunken 21 year olds. They loudly monopolized the hot tubs all day, every day. Norwegian probably can't do much about this, though.
Our ports were great. We had a brief visit to Roatan, arriving at 4 pm and leaving at 8 pm. I participated in a dolphin encounter booked through the ship at Anthony's Key resort. It was absolutely amazing, and I highly recommend it.
I booked two shore excursions in Santo Tomas. In the morning, we visited the Las Escobas waterfalls for a wonderful hike and swim. It was early, 8:30 am, so the heat hadn't set in yet and it was a very relaxing and scenic walk. In the afternoon, we did a tour to Livingston. It was eye-opening and fun, with great shopping and friendly locals. My only problem was the heat - a constant theme through the rest of our trip. Every day it was over 90 degrees with at least 90% humidity, and everywhere I went seemed to be short on shade or breezes. It was just hotter than I had expected. It made for less energy and a greater need to crash at the end of the day and go to bed early.
In Belize, we visited Xunantunich. Although the site was amazing, I cannot recommend this tour. After 2 hours of driving clear across Belize to the ruin in a bus that looked fine but stank terribly (I determined after 1.5 hours that the air conditioning was leaking some gassy fume that was making me sick), we arrived at the site. Our guide led us to a small museum there and talked for about 20 minutes about the history of the place. Then, we approached the ruin. My friend and I were excited about climbing to the top, and given the heat we wanted to get started ASAP before we lost our energy. I asked the guide what time she wanted us to reconvene. She responded, "This is a guided tour and I have not released you yet." I was floored, but I apologized for misunderstanding. She then proceeded to essentially hold us captive in the sun for an HOUR AND A HALF expounding further on Mayan history. Of course, everyone who visits such a site is interested in its history, but this was really overkill! She then shocked our entire group when she "released" us for a meager FIFTEEN MINUTES of time for free exploration. Have you ever literally run up and then down a Mayan castle? I have! I invested my entire day at port in this excursion for 15 minutes of time to experience the ruin as I pleased.
In Cozumel, I visited Tulum. It was gorgeous, and there is a great (but small and crowded) beach there. We had over an hour to explore on our own after the guided portion of our tour. I took photos of the ruins, dove in the ocean, went shopping and had time for an incredibly strong margarita before we were due back at the tour bus. The tour guide through Sun and Fun tours (booked through the ship) was Raoul. He was possibly the best tour guide I've ever had. He was knowledgeable, courteous and very funny. I can't recommend him highly enough!
I used my cell phone to keep in touch with my boyfriend back home while I was on this cruise. There's great reception on the ship, but it's extremely expensive at $5/minute for T-Mobile customers. Instead, I called from the ports for an average of $1.50 to $2.99 per minute. It's amazing what starts to seem affordable when you're on a cruise! All of the ports had wonderful cell phone reception. I also used the ship's internet cafe, which was great. You can buy a package and get internet time for 40 cents per minute.
I did not participate in many on-board activities because I was exhausted every night due to my active shore excursions. I did attend the Second City improv comedy show, which I loved. My friend participated in the Norwegian Spirit Idol competition, which was very well-attended and a lot of fun to watch. There were come talented singers on board!
So far as the crew goes, 95% of them were wonderful. They were energetic, efficient, courteous and seemed to enjoy working for Norwegian. I spoke with several about working conditions on board and they all had positive things to say. This is in stark contrast to Holland America - the crew on that cruise told me freely that they were treated little better than slaves and I witnessed blatant mistreatment on several occasions there. It nearly put me off cruises altogether. But Norwegian seems to treats its people well, and I appreciate that.
I do regret to report that 5% of the crew on the Norwegian Spirit were extremely rude to me. I wonder if this occurred because I look rather young. I am an attorney in my early 30s, but I was frequently mistaken for one of the aforementioned Spring Breakers by my fellow cruisers. I wonder if some of the crew made a similar assumption and felt comfortable disrespecting me as a result. Here are a few examples: ordering a latte at the cafe only to have the barista mutter "Jesus Christ" and roll his eyes before making my coffee, and having a photography staffer publicly ridicule me for asking for a photo cd. In the latter incident, the crew member involved decided to refuse to wait on me after I asked for a $15 photo cd instead of a $20 5x7 enlargement. He insisted that "the printer was asleep because it was a Saturday afternoon and he was too busy." No explanation as to why a 'printer' would need to be called in to burn a cd. It was clear that he was making it up just to give me a hard time. He kept rolling his eyes at me and making exasperated gestures toward the people in line behind me. He then said it was too late to give me any photos at all - no cds, no enlargements. No matter that he told the man in line in front of me to pick up his enlargements at 9 pm. I still don't understand why he was so rude - I was doing my best to be polite - but he ruined my final day on the cruise and made me feel horrible.
Overall, Norwegian was great. I loved the ship, my cabin, the food, the spa, the ports and all but one of my shore excursions. I highly recommend this cruise, but if you're a younger adult be prepared to stand up for yourself with a few testy crew members.