This cruise was number 17 for my wife and I, our 4th with NCL, and a very special one for my wife and I. It was our 39th anniversary, plus our two grandchildren sailed with us as a high school graduation gift. They had never cruised before and have been counting the days since last October. They had no idea the great time that was in store for them.
We left Massachusetts around 8:00am on Saturday morning, and arrived in New York a little after 11:00am. It took us another hour and a half to go about five blocks top approach the ramp to the pier. The police seemed powerless to help due to the traffic gridlock. We finally arrived, gave our luggage to a porter, who seemed to instantly appear when we opened our trunk, went through security, and entered the Latitudes line, which was far shorter than the other. After about 30 minutes we were on the ship. We were greeted on the Promenade Deck by a gauntlet of about 14 or so smiling NCL crew members. After depositing our carry on luggage in our stateroom we went to Raffles for lunch. Passengers were milling about everywhere, but managed to find a clean table by the window.
As far as the condition of the ship was concerned it seemed to have fresh paint almost everywhere. I checked and didn't see hardly any rust, as I have seen mentioned on some reviews. The interior was spotless. Yes, the carpet was a little worn in some areas, but didn't affect us in the least. Our cabin steward, Anthony, warmly greeted us and went over and above in helping us solve some little glitches. Cabin was neat, clean and in good working order. (Except for that remote everyone kept mentioning) He made it a point to talk to our grandchildren each time we saw him. Really made them feel special. Although we did give him a little extra gratuity at the end of the cruise, we never ever felt pressure to tip daily from anyone.
The ship was fully booked and the public areas were very congested, once again no problem for us, we just navigated our way around with a smile while bumping into people. We went up to Deck 13 forward to watch us leave N.Y. It was VERY WINDY but a nice day. No matter how many times you go past the Statue of Liberty in your life, you are always inspired. My grandchildren had never seen it "in person." After we cleared the harbor, we returned to our stateroom to unpack a little. With four people in a cabin, space was very limited, but we seemed to find a spot for mostly everything. Even with Freestyle we found that once again we packed too much. The pull out bed was not able to be used by anyone, just a small matt with wooden slats. Anthony came to the rescue with another twin size mattress. No problem, just put it on the floor, just like camping! We would have preferred to have another pullman upper.
Our first two days were spent at sea, a nice time to just relax and unwind. We love sea days. We did find, as mentioned in other reviews, that deck chairs around the pool were impossible to find, but managed to find some nice spots starboard side, aft, on Deck 13. The only problem is that you could not hear the band. Just spending time relaxing in the hot tubs with a cold drink was a great way to begin our cruise. My grandson said "It just doesn't get any better than this." In the evening we came up to the hot tubs again when everyone else was eating and had them all to ourselves.
Dining-We did not do any of the cover charge restaurants. We ate mostly at Windows, The Garden Room, La Trattoria The Blue Lagoon, deck Bar-B-que and Room Service. Each morning we had a (as my granddaughter called it) pre-breakfast of coffee, juice, danish and fruit. Then we went to either Raffles or Windows for our "big breakfast". Had a good selection of almost anything you would want.. Never had to wait long for cooked to order omelets or eggs. It was sometimes crowded but always found a spot by the window. As far as the quality of the food we found that it was good-very good and many times excellent. Sure there were things we did not like, but I won't blame NCL. We found that for the most part the selections changed each day and that ample choices were to be had. For lunch you could choose from a salad bar, other cold salads such as Caesar, pasta, potato, etc. Also there were hot items, a carving station, selections of rolls, sandwiches made to order, a stir fry with fresh vegetables and taco bar. For dinner they added pastas. They also offered one hot and one chilled soup each day. While the deserts were not as plentiful you had a selection of about 6 or 7 items and 3-4 selections of hand dipped ice cream with toppings which the served from lunch until after dinner (more than we have at home) Since they only offered iced tea during the day, we brought along individual servings of Crystal Light and larger plastic bottles. The Blue Lagoon (open round the clock) offered cooked to order burgers, cheeseburgers , fries (great) chicken wings and fingers, fish and chips, chili, fried rice, potato skins, mac and cheese and hot dogs. The only drawback was that when traffic was at its peak there was a huge flow of people going by. Room service at night was ok, the grandkids got a kick out of ordering (and eating) almost everything on the menu.
We found that the service was a little faster and better in Windows than in The Garden Room. I have no answer as to why. We just found that to be so for us. The service was not as slow as we had expected usually spending about an hour and a half for dinner. We went at different times each night and the most we had to wait was about five minutes to be seated. Some of the dining room waiters/waitresses were not as friendly as we would have liked, they seemed to have a lot of tables. Never felt as if we were being rushed. However most were very outgoing and made our dining experience very pleasant. The menu changed each night. On two occasions the dining room menu did not appeal to us, so we ate elsewhere, that doesn't mean good selections were not offered, it's just that we didn't want what was on it. Not the fault of the cruise line. Just a word here about complaints. The old saying is true, "you can't please everybody all the time". With over two thousand plus passengers on these ships not everyone will like the same thing. If we look hard enough we can surely find things to complain about, and yes we had a few issues which bothered us, but we dealt with them the best we could and it did not in any way deter us from having a great cruise. In the past we have had some negative experiences on other cruise lines, but we had to learn to look for the positive things. Some things are the fault of the cruise lines and some things just can't be helped.
Our First Port of Call: San Juan Puerto Rico. Have been to San Juan many times so it wasn't a new port for us, but it was for our grandchildren. They were both very excited when we first spotted land. NCL had a good choice of excursions but we chose to do the free trolley around Old San Juan and the go up to El Moro to visit the fortress. You can catch one of three trolleys through the City right across the street from the ship. Went back to visit Barrachinas for a Pina Colada. On the way back my wife and granddaughter took a horse and buggy ride around Old San Juan. Security was good around the ship, checking our cards and picture ID before you entered the pier, and then as you boarded the ship. That evening we had Italian and spent time up on deck for the a Country Western theme night.
Second Port of Call: Road Town Tortola, BVI .This was our third visit to Tortola. Our grandchildren had been looking forward to doing the Dolphin Swim at Prospect Reef. We booked online directly with Dolphin Discovery. First we did some shopping at the market past the tents and found it to be a neat little place. Took a taxi ($.4.00pp) to Prospect Reef about 4-5 minutes away. What a great time we had seeing the dolphins interact with everyone. (If you want to go in as an observer, you must book it with Dolphin Discovery since the cruise lines do not offer that no charge) We saved a little and the kids spent a little more time in with the dolphins. Then the same taxi driver came back for us and answered lots of questions we had. We returned to the ship about 45 minutes before final boarding. Note: As you leave the pier, be prepared for taxi drivers asking you to take a tour, just politely say no and they will leave you alone.Years ago this would have bothered me, until one of our cruise directors said, "put yourself in their place, this is the only way they can make a living in some of these islands. I heard several good comments about the independent tours. Go online to the respective websites for each countries Department of Tourism for information. Agree on a price and make sure you are back to the ship on time. If you are not on a ships tour, they will leave you.
Third Port Of Call: Samana, Dominican Republic. We chose to do the Cayo Levantado Beach Escape offered by NCL. Took a tender right from the ship. If you go independently you will need to go to Samana and then to the beach by boat. One of the nicest beaches I have been to. (except our favorite, St. John's, Trunk Bay) The water was clear, warm and beaches were clean. My wife and granddaughter had their picture taken with a sea lion. Cost $8.00 (Don't try to take your own picture, they frown on it and will stand in front of you. Lots of vendors around the island, bargain with them to get a good price. Also lots of places to get drinks and a small buffet (on your own)
NCL had a good choice of shore excursions, some a bit pricey, some not. However there is only so much you can do in the short time you are in port.
Shipboard activities: We didn't get too involved in the activities except for a little bingo and a short, short, stint in the casino. However there is enough to do if you choose. Check the Freestyle Daily.
Entertainment: One of the reasons we have chosen NCL in the past was the clean shows. They have a few adult shows later in the evening) Chantz Powell, an up and coming jazz and blues performer, did some great numbers from Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra amongst others. Also plays trumpet and did some tap dancing. The magician/illusionist Richard Burr and his wife Jossete did some pretty amazing tricks with cards, coins, and dollar bills and some acts on stage. The NCL Production Company put on several great shows. The first "On Broadway" featured selections from Broadway musicals, and "On the Radio" doing numbers from the fifties up too the present. The International Crew Show the last night was really excellent. We saw some of the crew performing dances from their native countries. The show opened up with our Cruise Director Darin doing Hendrix's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner which brought the crowd to their feet. Being Memorial Day weekend he recognized all the veterans in the audience. Finally the officers and representatives of all the departments on the ship filled the stage to bid us farewell. Note; Did not go to see Second City, my wife and grandchildren did and were not impressed at all. Walked out. Have heard negative comments. Time for a change NCL. Some of the Theme nights in the various venues included "Rock Night" a "New Years Eve Party" and a 70's Disco Groove Party" all held in the Galaxy of the Stars Lounge. Needless to say they were all very well attended. Also many various musicians from pianists, to Amar the ship's orchestra, could be found throughout the ships lounges.
Our Last Two Days At Sea: Spent on deck and doing some napping and more eating.
Crew: Most of the crew were very friendly and outgoing. I don't get upset if a few crew members don't say hi to me. For the most part crew members from all departments smiled and greeted us. The bar waiters/waitresses were just doing their job, selling drinks! They were there when you needed them. It never bothered us having them ask if we wanted something. We just smiled and said no. Photographers were ever present, but again just say no and they will leave you alone.
Arrival in New York and Debarkation. We were up on deck early to see our approach to the City. Passed Naval ships as it was Fleet Week in New York. Didn't even feel our little "Fender Bender" and didn't know until we saw it on the news! Our debarkation was easy, did not do the express route. You could choose what time you would like to leave the ship by what color tags you asked for. Hung around up on Deck 12 until we got off. Got off the ship around 11 ish. Clearing Customs/Homeland Security was very easy for the four of us. The officer was very courteous, asked us if we had a good time. Took less than five minutes for him to check our passports/birth certificates and picture ID's, My son picked us up and was once again caught in traffic as many others were also, and it took him over two hours to get up the ramp to the pier. That was the most stressful part of our vacation. More traffic control needed from NYPD.
With the rise of all the internet agencies sometimes it is hard to find a "good match" for you and the type of cruise you would enjoy If you are new to cruising and don't have a chance to talk with an experienced agent you can end up being greatly disappointed. It is very important to research to find the level of amenities, service and quality of food that you would like, and then pay that price. Many times one will choose a cruise line for the price alone and not take into consideration what lifestyle they would enjoy. As for us we know what we want, to just get away, relax, have a change of routine, and enjoy the sea.
In summary I would say we all had an outstanding time on the Spirit. Like Freestyle. I will continue to cruise with NCL but leave my options open for other lines. Been to Bermuda on the Majesty twice and now hope to sail out of Boston again when the Spirit takes over that itinerary next year.