We flew into New Orleans 3 days early so that we could enjoy the city and explore. None of us had been there before, found getting from the airport to the hotel very reasonable and simple by taxi. We stayed at the Wyndham La Belle Maison and enjoyed it immensely; it was located in a great area a few blocks up from Harrah's and blocks from the French Quarter and the Warehouse district. We found New Orleans to be fascinating and easy to get around using street cars, and it's very walkable.
We took a taxi to the cruise port - it was rather confusing when we got there trying to figure out where to drop luggage or get in line, if there were signs or instructions I didn't see any. We followed the crush of people and handed our luggage over to a stevedore - however, my mom, who had never traveled like this before was still looking and walked past him (and past the do not enter sign) into the area where they were collecting the luggage - he yelled at her and grabbed her brand new suitcase, throwing it up on the luggage trolley with it's pulling handle still out. Most of us didn't realize what had happened until it was delivered with a bent and no longer retracting handle to her stateroom later that night. A complaint was filed and the ship's carpentry department tried to repair the damage, but the best we were able to do was unbend it enough to retract it, it will always have a weak spot. So we found that part of the port to be somewhat confusing and less than friendly. Other than that it was a pleasant facility with a nice area to wait to embark - but our only waiting was in line to check in, then we were right on the boat.
We loved the Spirit right away. It's true everything you've read on the other reviews - this ship is beautiful and in a class by itself. As it was originally in the Asian market it still has nice artwork and decor touches throughout the ship. There are beautiful star windows into the main reception area and a stained glass star at the top of the atrium was a nice touch as well. This ship felt very classy. We had a balcony cabin, while mom and our friend had inside cabins right across the hall from us. We had purchased the anniversary package and had a bottle of sparkling wine and chocolate covered strawberries waiting in our room, so we invited everyone over to enjoy!
The cabin was a little smaller than in our previous cruises, didn't have a refrigerator (we knew that from reading reviews here) but the steward kept the ice bucket full throughout the cruise for us. There is a little less space to put stuff away and not the vanity area we found in other NCL ships - but there is a mirror and nice lights over the desk so that works just fine. The hairdryer in the bathroom is an odd box with a hose coming that puts out sort of hot air - but it did the job. The bathroom was nicely laid out with a surprisingly large shower, and it had lovely cheery tile work throughout that I really liked. All in the all the decor was much less garish than it sometimes seems to me! I thought that part of freestyle 2.0 was the inclusion of bathrobes in the balcony rooms, but we were not provided any until I asked. However, there was no problem getting them after asking, and they were nicely sized and very comfortable.
The public areas were great. I thought we'd spend a lot of time in Henry's Pub, and if it had been just my husband and I we might have. A good sized space, room to play darts, and you can have fish & chips in addition to pub drinks. My kind of place! The Galaxy of the Stars lounge had a really nice touch - there is a glass wall that goes nearly to the ceiling separating the main lounge from a row of seats right by the windows. So you can be there when something is going on (did I hear bingo?) yet not be participating in it, you can just be enjoying the view. We were surprised how many of those fabulous windows were fogged, and one was actually completely spider webbed - kind of scary! But there was a great spot to pretend you were driving the ship, where you could view the monitors as if you were on the bridge, and a spiral staircase from the lounge leading to the bridge viewing room, which was just fascinating.
The main dining rooms were both nice, although I personally liked the feel of Windows better. It wasn't as loud as the Garden Room, and has those really impressive windows. Le Bistro didn't seem as classy to me as I recalled, it's kind of squeezed into a smaller space, and having La Trattoria be part of the buffet that gets closed off is obviously not ideal. However, we loved our meals in both of those locations - friendly staff and really good food. Yes, even escargot in Le Bistro! Neither of us had tried it before, and it was actually quite good! On our next to last night it was featured on the Windows menu and my husband actually got it again, much to my Mom's horror - she wasn't sold on it like we were. Cagney's also wasn't in as great a space as it has been on other ships, but the service and food were wonderful as expected. FlambEed bananas foster for dessert works for me any time...Only one night did we have any sort of a wait at the dining room, and that was at Windows at around 6:30 pm on the first night lobster was on the menu. We only waited around 10 minutes, so it wasn't bad. There are monitors throughout the ship so you can see how long you might have to wait. Normally we eat late and don't have a problem, but with Mom along we found ourselves eating more at prime time, it was still fine.
The casino was big for a cruise ship, although the short ceiling was a little unnerving. The front of deck 7 actually splits into two levels, with the art gallery above and the casino down below. Up in front of the casino is Maharini's nightclub, which is a really cool space with a dance floor and nice sectioned off seating areas all around. The spa was much nicer than I expected, given it's location along the side of the ship. We made sure to get up there on the first day and take a tour, and were pleasantly surprised to find out that we were able to use the sauna, steam room & aquaswim free of charge. Sadly, we stayed too busy and I didn't get back to use the facilities! But they did look inviting. I also loved the ship's library and internet cafe. The internet cafe is sort of the lobby to the library, so they are both decorated as a nice reading office sort of space, and you can sit at the computers and look over the screen out the window - way nice!
There are a lot of fun things to do on this ship - a pool table in Galaxy of the Stars, ping pong tables just below Raffles Terrace, shuffleboard on the promenade deck and darts in Henry's pub come to mind. There is also the sport court and the golf driving nets, the jogging track, and of course the pools. The main Tivoli pool is beautiful, I loved the pool area. There are statues and beautiful tile around the pool itself, and then deck chairs all around that. There are also the 4 hot tubs and a gazebo covered stage area. The kids' pool is surrounded by 3 tiers of decks with chairs all around it going down from Raffles terrace, the bar at the back of the ship. We really enjoyed sitting there in the evening for karaoke and looking back out at the wake from the open deck.
Sadly I didn't make it to much of the entertainment - with my husband, my mom and a friend along there were a lot of different directions to head, and I kept missing the shows in the evening! I enjoyed the white hot party and a second city improv comedy show held in Galaxy of the Stars, and I liked the one show I saw in the theater. I wish I'd seen more. My mom saw a few more shows than I did, and she enjoyed them all. We did go to the art auction - I confess to being lured by 1) a raffle and 2) free champagne. It was fascinating, and we ended up bidding on a small piece (although we ultimately lost out). The appeal of the art auction has always been lost on me, but I really enjoyed the gallery and staff on the Spirit.
As far as ports and shore excursions - we had a ball. Personally, in future cruises I will look for them to be spaced out a bit more, this itinerary has a sea day, 4 port days, and a sea day - by the 4th port day we were wiped out. However, we loved every stop. We had a pretty good onboard credit, so we all the excursions we took were ship excursions - we have never had problems and have enjoyed the trips we've booked through the ship.
In Costa Maya we took a tour to the Kohunlich Mayan Ruins - fabulous, beautiful site, where we got our best look at howler monkeys up in the trees! I was grateful to have paid the small tax ($4) to use my videocamera, have some wonderful memories filmed. The guide told us it was the first time he'd seen them back there since Hurricane Dean. The port area in Costa Maya was beautiful, but unfortunately our excursion was so long that we were running back to the boat when we got back and didn't get a chance to enjoy it. Nice shops, restaurants, and a lovely pool.
Next we stopped at Santo Tomas de Castillo in Guatemala - I was so charmed by Guatemala, I could happily go back and spend time there. We took another excursion to ruins, visiting Quiriga. Again, beautiful and very impressive, and our guide had amazing knowledge of the meaning of all the stelae at the site. It poured rain on us there, which made for a long bus ride back to the boat - next time, we'll remember ponchos. There is a wonderful warehouse at the dock that is full of local vendors selling crafts (a great place to bargain; the vendors were persistent but not obnoxious or threatening - you had the feeling no one wanted to risk losing their spot there). Half of the warehouse is devoted to an area where you can watch local performers (dancers, drummers, musicians) and to the local tourist board, where you can get your passport stamped. It was a great place to explore after we'd changed out of our wet clothing. And the sendoff from Guatemala was wonderful, performers waving on the docks and dancing and singing.
Our next stop was in Belize - we took an excursion on a speedboat up the New River to Lamanai - yes, more Mayan ruins. This was a hoot - the speedboat trip was so much more fun than I expected, just speeding up the river. The guides were incredible, though, at seeing wildlife and interesting plants along the side of the river, and stopping to point things out. We saw turtles, crocodiles, and an amazing array of tropical birds - just what I'd hoped for in Belize! At the Lamanai site itself we had a nice buffet (when they tell you the salsa is hot - yeah, they mean it!), saw more impressive ruins, as well as howler monkeys and an anteater! There is an temple there that is equivalent to 11 stories high - we didn't climb it, but our friend did and said the view was amazing.
Finally we stopped in Cozumel. After all those ruins, climbing and hiking, we were wiped out and decided to just relax on the beach - the Playa Mia Deluxe beach break. Open bar, all the water sports equipment we could use, buffet included, beach chairs & hammocks - it was a perfect morning. It did seem odd to us, as late risers, to hit the beach at 9 am and be heading back in at 1 pm, we were just getting warm and relaxed! But we enjoyed it, and then had a ball at the shopping area near the dock. Got many, many souvenirs here.
Disembarkation was a piece of cake. We chose to go fairly late, as we were staying one more night in New Orleans and were in no hurry. There were lines to snake through once we got back into the port to get our luggage, but from there through customs was probably only 10-15 minutes - much faster than I'd expected. We were in the 10:15 group to get off the ship and were getting in a taxi right around 11:00.
We stayed our last night at the Drury Inn, which is also nicely located right on a street car line. After a little more exploring and shopping in the city we enjoyed the rooftop pool and hot tub, followed by the complimentary cocktail hour in the lobby - very nice! After a little detour to Harrah's (around a 6 block walk) we tried to get to bed early & were up before the crack of dawn for the included hot breakfast buffet. Then we were off for a cab ride to the airport for the trip home.
I would recommend the Spirit for anyone looking for a fun and active trip. It is not the newest or biggest ship and doesn't have some of the flashier things (ice skating, bowling, rock climbing) you might find on another ship, so if you will miss that you might want to steer clear. But even for being slightly smaller it's still a huge ship. There was lots of private space available and you didn't feel crammed in with a huge crowd on the ship. There were lots of organized things to do (alcohol tasting, towel animal folding, trivia contests, bingo, etc) if you were so inclined. It was a busy and fun filled trip, and I want to go again and make myself relax a little more!