NCL Spirit 4/5/2009-4/12-2009
Cabins in Party of 11: 4559*, 4561, 4565, 4567, 4566(outside view)
I was concerned about it being Spring Break, however, we really didn't see any problems. Bourbon St. is Bourbon St., and it will always have that wild and loose fare. We were back at our hotel in the evenings early though, by 9:00. I brought pepper spray just in case, however, I never felt the need. My purse was across my body, like Miss America wears her ribbon, and under my sweater, zipped closed. My husband wore cargo shorts with zip or button closures in the pocket he had his wallet. No one in our party was pick pocketed or felt threatened ever.
We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn(821 Gravier St.) and it was within easy walking distance to Bourbon St. and downtown activities. We walked down to Riverwalk the next day for some Cafe du Monde Beignets and the pier. I have to say though; we preferred Cafe Beignet beignets to Cafe du Monde hands down. Cute little courtyard on Bourbon and other locations. Their sandwiches were really good too! Cafe Beignet is not to be missed. The first night we ate at La Bayou on Bourbon as well. My husband had the Taste of NO and I had the Crawfish Platter. We were both extremely happy. On our return trip we stayed overnight again and ate at Louisiana Pizza Factory. Worth the walk to the end of the French Market. Very good pizzas, our party of 3 chose the Marguerita, Hawaiian, Alligator, and Portabella Mushroom, and we had to come home and try to recreate the chili oil they serve alongside the pizzas to dip/top. Oh, I wish we had a pizza place like this. Cracker style crust and very fresh toppings. We stayed at the Hampton Inn(226 Carondelet) on our post-cruise stay and had a HUGE room. Very nice and easy to get to everything just as well as you could nearly throw a stone from it to the Hilton Garden Inn.
I wouldn't say it was a joke, but there were some laughable parts. The Latitudes(cruised NCL before) line was slower than the new to NCL cruisers. But still, we were on within an hour of being dropped off at the curb. Be SURE you have your NCL luggage tags on before getting dropped off at the curb as they immediately just take them and send them on through. We had our luggage within the hour after boarding, the fastest we've ever had them delivered. We went up to the buffet and ate at the back of the ship and had a great view still of the Mississippi and there were kids already in their swimsuits and onto the pirate swim structures.
Overall Impression of the Ship:
LOVED the details and design. The atrium was smaller than I expected but more elegant. It all looked and smelled new(especially since it had been in dry dock recently) and looked fantastic. The ship was very clean. Pool area is smaller, more cramped, and slippery(more to come as my mother in law broke her foot along with several other passengers who were injured in the same exact spot).
The cabin was normal inside size, beds were rock hard, but love the duvet bedding and starched whites(easy to tell it's clean). The shower had a few stains on the tile, a little rust around the drain, but that's understandable with its age. The Flowbee design hair dryer is a joke, it was only helpful in blowing the fog off the mirrors. Poor lighting in the bathroom and mirrored areas in cabins as well. They NEED to fix the wattage issues. I brought a converter($10 from Walmart) and it killed my expensive steamer and nearly killed my blow dryer. My sister in law told us she just used her blow dryer in the normal US outlet even though it said no blow dryers. I tried mine, it worked fine but with slightly less power. No one had an outage, at least on our floor. My steamer wouldn't work at all in it either, but we also tried it when we got back to NOLA in that hotel and it was definitely a gonner. You could not hear announcements in the cabins. There was plenty of storage space though and the bathroom design on NCL ships is great with the shower door rather than having a curtain give you wedgies when you're trying to shave your legs. ;) I was concerned with being on the bottom floor because I've been on other ships and that floor typically stinks. It was fresh always, and while it was somewhat annoying, the fans in the bathrooms ran constantly. Maybe this is why it always felt well ventilated. I was used to it by the end of the 1st day anyways.
Our cabin steward was great, always ice, he introduced himself, and was friendly always.
Dining: The first night in Windows was fantastic, however the next 3 nights, they were TERRIBLE. Slow, as in 2 ½ hours, missed desserts one night to make the show and then we decided to try Garden Room. From then on, the dining staff was exemplary, and we saw the staff that was in Windows the first night in Garden. They must have moved the A+ list waiters to Garden. Buffet staff was average to bad. I've never been on a ship where employees talked to each other SO much or argued, and passengers had to step out of the way for.
Cruise Director: Joke?! What little I could understand of him was not funny or cute. He acted like a young, drunk, Dudley Moore from Arthur. His accent sounded fake anyways. And his wardrobe was a joke. Paul Scully I think was his name. The only thing memorable about him was his cocky and "move out of my way" attitude throughout the ship. My husband saw him sunbathing by the pool with the passengers.
Spa Staff: I've never utilized a ship spa before, and what a treat these staffers were. I had the mani/pedi/ankle-foot massage for $99 on Guatemala day. My appt. was for 11:00 and they were 10 minutes late because the emergency drills ran late and the after meeting with the captain. I could care less, I didn't have anything planned as I just stayed on board that day for a much needed break on my feet. While my specialist was taking care of me, one of the ship's staffers came in and had whispered something in my ear. She said she was sorry for their tardiness and offered me a complimentary massage on Friday(Cozumel) day as well. I really, said nothing to deserve such treatment! The massage was well worth it on Friday as well, a FULL massage! The only time they asked me if I was interested in buying anything was the day I had the mani/pedi, and it was, "Are you interested in buying any of the oils or scrubs?" When I said no thank you that was that. J And even though they told me I could leave on Friday, I insisted on at least tipping the specialist who worked all of the fluid build up out of my feet and ankles in her heavenly way!
There was a lot of socialization between staffers that made us feel uncomfortable. I've never been on a ship where so many staff walked and talked among the passengers with each other and didn't at least acknowledge the passengers. We had to move out of their way on several occasions DAILY. They were unapproachable as well. We were on the Star in '06 and they were slightly better. I wonder if NCL doesn't have a standard in place fleet wide???
What activities? Seriously, we never heard announcements, and they were not well advertised in the dailies. My sister in law went to Bingo one day and she waited for 20 minutes for them to start. The CD was still yapping with his buddies and she finally got fed up and left since there was no one even selling the Bingo cards. Someone finally asked about a Galley tour, and this was an 'on board $55 excursion'! What?! I've never heard of any line charging for the galley tour. 'But wait, it gets better, you also get to tour the LAUNDRY facility!' This actually sealed the deal for NCL, we decided we wouldn't even be looking at their itineraries or deals the next time we booked a cruise. It was nickel and diming the whole cruise. We brought a few games with us and played several nights and waiting for debarkation and had a blast.
The Broadway review was 'okay', I've seen better. On The Radio was definitely NOT my kind of show. It was impressively high energy as they never paused, but I don't like medleys like that. The comedian was great, husband was crying he was laughing so hard. We had a few in our party go to Second City and walked out because it was staged improvisation and "stupid". The magician was so so, again, I've seen better on a cruise ship. We didn't make it to the staff follies, as we didn't care much for the staff, we didn't really care to watch them seek applause, especially the CD.
I have to say, NCL's buffet has greatly improved from 3 years ago when we were on the Star. However, there is still no continuous soft-serve ice cream machine, limited selections, and I've had FAR better on Carnival. Where was the pizza? Dessert bars were poor basics like jello, custard, dry brownies. We LOVED the food mall type offers on Carnival Valor, and this didn't even come close. The Blue Lagoon removed the chowmein from its menu, which was a daily staple for my daughter on the Star. We tried the fish and chips and spinach dip. The spinach dip was AWFUL and but the fish and chips and tartar sauce still were fantastic. If they could some how move the Blue Lagoon fare into the buffet, it would be a busier place I'm sure.
We didn't eat at any specialties and they seemed hard up for reservations. The food in Windows and Garden(same), I was pretty pleased with. My selections were really good. I would have liked to see the smoked turkey in the always-available Caesar salad to not be cut up lunchmeat, but it tasted good. Since there were so many in our party(11), we offered everyone tastes, so we all got to try just about everything on the menu. I was surprised how good some of the chilled soups were to begin with! The peach was SO good. I've had others that tasted like flavored milk, but NCL did a great job with these. I tried my sister in laws tuna tartare and it was very good. My favorite entrees were mushroom risotto, vegetable tempura, pecan crusted snapper, grouper with lobster, monkfish, salmon, prime rib, ..... The only very odd thing to us, was that they put pickles in the beef stroganoff. Otherwise it would have been good. The desserts were fair.
Ports of Call:
Costa Maya: My husband and brother in law went diving with Ocean Safari so my sister in law, a few more in-laws, and I all went and hung out at the beach in front of Luna de Plata. They had Italian food on the menu, but if you wanted Mexican tacos or fajitas, just ask. They brought shrimp and beef fajitas out to my husband and I on the beach and they were fantastic. My mother in law had shrimp tacos and couldn't finish them. Fresh guacamole and chips also came with the dishes and we were very happy. There is a volleyball net on the beach too my husband and his siblings took advantage of. All they ask is you buy a drink and use of the chairs/loungers were free. There were kayaks to rent, and the beach was somewhat protected, not a swimming beach, but plenty of quiet spats to just wade and cool off in.
Guatemala: I only got off to go to the flea market there on the pier. My husband and his family went to the waterfalls to go hiking and loved it. Odd little port.
Belize: I'm not a huge fan of Belize(yet). We went to Lamanai this time and the excursion offered by they ship was great. Lots of time at the ruins unlike the Altun a Ha excursion we took with Carnival last summer. The trip along the river was informative and nice, but it was overcast so we didn't see any crocs this time.
Cozumel: The guys went diving with Blue Angel Dive Co. so my sister in law and I took our time getting off the ship and went to Paradise Beach($14 per cab there, same back). Yummy food and relaxing, clean beach, and reading time. We like to relax like that while the guys like to cram in as much as possible. I think they would have loved this beach as well though with all they have to offer: $10 all day wrist pass for floating climbing wall, slides, trampolines, snorkeling, and more!
Debarkation: This was the first time we decided to debark ourselves with all our laundry. They were late getting the first passengers off the ship so we stayed at the back of the ship with our luggage until they called the second to last color off. I understand NCL's attempt at having a freestyle debarkation, but it really needs to be worked on. By the time we got to the customs line they were already allowing new passengers to board. So, it's a FAST turn around time. Hailed a cab to our hotel to drop off luggage, but our room happened to be ready(1:00pm) so we were able to go in and drop our bags off. We met everyone else in our party for lunch and sent the first group to the airport.
Okay, the stairs out by the pool are dangerous and something needs to be done. As you come down the steps, you lose the rail and the steps width changes. My mil tried to catch herself, and she does not drink so this was not a few too many oopsies. Her foot caught the stair just right and she immediately could not put any weight on it. My father in law ran to get help and they brought her a wheelchair. The next day she went to the medical center and it turned out her foot was broken. The ship took care of her well, however, the investigator of the incident kept writing down things my mother in law didn't say or changing the times. So, she kept going over her statement and correcting the investigator's mistakes. They took pictures again. And then she caught more mistakes he wrote down. He would write the mistakes AS she's reading over his shoulder. NCL let her keep the wheelchair and a pair of crutches until she got to the curb at debarkation, but then she was on her own. They didn't even have crutches for purchase! They also only gave her a phone number and caseworker to contact once back to the states, and refused to give her any kind of medical record or case number. So, her insurance company has the lovely job of fighting this for her. This created a HUGE problem for my mother in law though! IF they had just given her some kind of medical note saying she injured herself on board or during her trip(not admitting fault), she could have gone straight to the airport and gotten on a medical necessity flight back home. Instead, she had to sit in her wheelchair in her hotel room for 2 days in NOLA, which is NOT wheelchair friendly. After MANY calls to American Airlines customer service, they finally got a hold of someone who said they could get her on the next flight and with proof of injury that she could mail in, she could be reimbursed the expense of changing her flight which had started at $130PP, and then 5 minutes late worked itself up to $250PP. As it was, her one-day earlier flight ended up having an emergency landing in Las Vegas because of an equipment fire on board. She was told to be prepared to go down the slide. It was actually laughable at this point. She didn't end up having to go down the slide, but firemen in full uniform garb and masks came on board to assist.
We've decided that NCL is probably not the cruise line for us. After their failure to supply my mother in law with any kind of documentation that would have greatly helped her get home and to her own physician quicker, and the lack of expected customer service throughout the ship, we just aren't convinced NCL would could provide a safe and satisfactory vacation for us.