We were on the NCL Spirit's 6/28/08 cruise going to Puerto Rico, Tortola, and Samana. We are a family of four from Long Island, sailing on the Spirit for the second time; the first time was two years ago, which went to St. Thomas, Tortola, and Bermuda. We were disappointed that the Spirit had changed the itinerary from St. Thomas to San Juan, due to some mechanical problems. We wanted to take an excursion to St. Johns, since the last time the excursions going there were all booked. Puerto Rico turned out to be very interesting, but more about that later.
Embarkation: The embarkation was from Pier 88. The fee for parking at the pier was $240, paid upfront. It was chaotic in the beginning because we never received the cruise tickets from NCL! We had to get on line where ONE PERSON checked our names from a printed list. We were not alone. There were a lot of people on this line. (I don't know why NCL didn't include the tickets in the packet they sent out. It would've been so much easier!) Afterwards, we got on yet another line to be photographed and issued the keycards. Being a Latitude member, we got a shorter line. After waiting for a while, we boarded the ship, which was around noon. (NCL had fixed the dent on the front of the ship from the accident that happened on the Memorial Day Weekend. The ship looked as good as new.) We were greeted with drinks in champagne glasses. It was a nice welcome. We had a wonderful lunch at the Windows restaurant and were ready for our cruise!
Room: Our room was bigger than the other inside staterooms. There was actually legroom on the floor in the evening when the beds were set up for sleeping. The closet had plenty of hangers but not enough shelves. Luckily I bought along a collapsible closet organizer. It came in handy for putting away t-shirts, swimsuits and other necessities. You need an alarm clock. There were none in the room. (Of course, you can always arrange for a wakeup call.) The safe in the closet worked and came in handy. After we emptied out our luggage, we put them under one of the beds. Our room stewards were Nemencio and Tito. They always kept our room clean and bucket full of ice. NCL will charge you for opening any water bottles in the room. We brought our own. The nightly towel animals on the bed were cute, but we lost the novelty from seeing them before. The bathroom was a nice size. There were three little knobs on top of the outer shower door for hanging clothing, but they weren't very easy to use. I brought along my own suction cup hooks, which were easier to use. (Yes, I remembered to remove them on my last day!)
Although the room was bigger, it wasn't maintained properly. On the second day of our trip, the sea was rather rough. While putting on my sneakers to go to the gym, one of the closet panels fell and hit me on the head! It left a nasty bump on my temple. When my husband and I went to the 7th floor customer service area to have someone look at the closet, the rep just wrote down what happened and told me where the medical office was located, which was deck 4. When we got there, the doctor told us that the office would not be opened until 8:30 AM (we were there at 8:10 AM). I asked him if he had any medication for my bump and he gave me two packets of aspirins. I'm not sure if anyone came to check the closet, because it fell again, but this time, my son was able to catch it before it fell on anybody. He and my husband took a closer look at both closet panels and found out they weren't put on the track properly. They were able to fix them, but it made me very nervous every time I had to open the closet. The bump on my head went away after a few days, to be replaced by black and blue mark. So, you see, I have a souvenir from NCL!
Food: In my opinion, the food was outstanding, even the non-specialty restaurant like Windows! I tried making phone reservations for Le Bistro and Cagney's as one reviewer had suggested, but the lines were always busy. I ended up standing on line at Deck 7 where the reservation desk was located. You can only make reservations one day in advance, unlike our previous trip where we were allowed to make reservations for the entire week. Also, they won't let you make reservations at Windows if you have a small party -- it's on a first-come-first-served basis, whereas before, we were allowed to do this. This rule is perfectly fine if you go early or late in the evening for dinner. It can be frustrating if you go at the popular dinnertime. The wait time can be as long as one hour. The specialty restaurants now included La Trattoria ($10 fee), whereas it was free before.
The Captain's Night was on Sunday and we ate at Windows. We had lobster tail and beef wellington. It was so good; we asked if we could have seconds. No problem. Our waistline progressively got bigger with each meal! Le Bistro and Cagney's (both have added fees) had fantastic selections. Their menu selections and quality of the food were worth the extra expense. Chocolate Buffet was on Friday at Windows from 11:00 pm to midnight. Get on line early; otherwise you won't be able to get any tables. It was a smorgasbord of chocolate galore! A glass of champagne to wash the sweets down will cost you $3.50 plus tip. We all went to sleep with smile on our faces!
Looking for seats can be a challenge at Raffles or Blue Lagoon, but we did always find one. Sometimes we had BBQ, which was set up by the poolside. The food was varied and tasty. You just need a little patience to get to it. The lines moved fast.
Shore Excursions: San Juan, Puerto Rico - we took the El Yunque Rainforest Drive tour. We were in an air-conditioned van that took us through lush forest full of bamboo trees. Unfortunately, we didn't see any local parrots. We climbed the Yokahu Tower and saw some spectacular views! The tour guide made other stops so we could take more pictures and to walk around. We were lucky that it didn't rain until we were heading back to the harbor. Even then, the rain didn't last that long. The tour ended at Old San Juan where the modern buildings lined the streets. The harbor was within walking distance. We wanted to walk around, but there were simply too many people! Three ships were docked at the same time. Instead of eating at a local restaurant, we end up back in the ship.
Tortola, BVI - we took the Best of Tortola tour. There were too many people booked for this tour. Instead of sitting on one of the air-conditioned vans, we end up in an open-air bus. This turned out to be a blessing, as I was able to take some wonderful, and CLEAR pictures and videos! There were number of sharp turns on the narrow streets, but our driver was very careful, so we didn't have the roller coaster effect that other reviewers wrote about. The tour ended at the Cane Garden Bay Beach. If you want to sit on a beach chair, there's a $5 fee. Everyone brought along the ship's beach towel. You must remember to bring them back; otherwise NCL will charge $25 to your account for each missing towel. (Each person gets a beach towel in the stateroom.) Lunch is included on this trip. I had BBQ chicken, veggies and rice, along with fruit punch. It was delicious! You can choose from several menu options that the driver will ask you at the beginning of the trip. If you need to use the bathroom, go there first. They ran out of water to flush later in the day.
Samana, Dominican Republic - this is the only port where we had to take tenders. Here we took the Caves & Mangroves Exploration & Beach Escape tour. We had to wake up early for this trip because we were to meet at 7:45 AM at the Stardust Theater. (I arranged for a wake-up call the night before.) An open-air speedboat that could sit 40 or so passengers took us to the mangrove reserves at the Los Haitises National Park. Along the way, we passed through "Bird Island" where several species of migratory birds lived side by side. Our guide was an engaging fellow named Elvis who memorized everyone's names! He made the boat ride (which was far longer than I expected) a lot of fun. We got off at the cave where Taino Indians left their drawings. It was very interesting, but the place was very dark. The only source of light came from an opening at the top of the cave and a dim light that came from Elvis' flashlights. (You cannot use flash photography in this cave.) The floor was also very, VERY slippery and there were a lot of rocks, so you had to be very careful where you were walking. Elvis explained the history and significance of the drawings. Afterwards we headed for the beach at Cayo Levantado. The trip going there was very memorable. The speedboat was going AGAINST the current so it was VERY BUMPY and WET all the way! They caution against pregnant women going on this trip. It's true. The boat rode up and down the current at a high speed, and we were slammed up and down on our seats! It was very exciting (especially for the young ones), but I was glad when we finally arrived at the beach. Here the beach chairs were free and you can walk around at your leisure, to shop or to buy drinks/food. (My teenage daughter and I found very nice bracelets here!) When you are ready to head back, the boats are available to take you to the ship.
Entertainment: The first night's only entertainment at the Stardust Theater was at 9:00 PM. The show featured the comedian Peter Sasso who was very funny, but we heard the same jokes before. Instead of HA-HA-HA funny like the first time we heard it, it was more like ha-ha funny! Most of the shows at Stardust were at 7:30 PM and 9:30 PM. There were singing and dancing (wonderful!) and The Second City (which we didn't attend.) By far the best show was the master illusionists Richard Burr and his wife, Josette. DO NOT MISS THEIR ACTS! Burr, a passionate magician, will inspire you to try your hand at a deck of cards. (He holds 5 Guinness World Records for the Art of Magic!)
Miscellaneous: Gym was always full in the morning. Of course, you can exercise with a ball, dumbbells, mat, etc, but the room was small and crowded. I ended up using the gym only couple of times.
Pool - forget about it. Never got to use it. Never got near it. The only time we were there was when they had BBQ.
Ping Pong Table - Spirit had four tables. Bring your own paddles. Theirs were worn down.
The professional photographers on this trip were everywhere and very aggressive. They love taking individual pictures, as well as group pictures. (They especially love taking children's pictures!) They don't give you much notice before they start shooting, which annoyed me a great deal. They were also at all the ports wearing costumes, stopping each family with individual and group shootings. This caused a lot of delays going to our destinations. One 5X7 was $15. There was a special on Friday where you can buy 3 and get 2 free. Look for the notice in the Freestyle Daily.
There were also a lot of children on this ship. The majority of them were well behaved. A few caused minor problems. It appears that some parents felt they were on vacation, so they stopped being parents and let their children do whatever - freestyle! Our room was right underneath the children's pools, but they closed this area in the evening, so we didn't have any problems sleeping at night. The room was very rocky, however, because of the location of it at the back of the ship.
As I stated earlier, the sea was rough in the beginning. We found a lot of barf bags everywhere in the ship in case anyone needed one. I wore my sea bands and still felt woozy.
Disembarkation: On our last day, we had leisurely breakfast at Windows. My son wanted Egg Benedict but they didn't offer it on the last day. They also ran out of cranberry juice. It was still very nice. I savored my last meal where I didn't have to cook. We arrived at pier 88. At 9:30 AM, we carried our luggage and got on line at Deck 7. It took a while to get off the ship. Two years ago, all we had to do was hand in our US Customs Form and we were on our way. This time, we had to show our passports, along with the form. (The line wasn't bad, just unexpected.) We got to our car and were home by 11:15 AM.
Bump on my head not withstanding, we all had a wonderful time. I would've gladly given this review another star had someone from NCL ever bothered to asked me how I was doing! I don't think we will be sailing on Spirit again. Maybe its time we try another company. We'll see.