Norwegian Spirit - June 24, 2009 Boston to Bermuda
Just got back from a week on the Norwegian Spirit sailing from Boston to Bermuda. I sailed with my wife and two girls (10 and 15) in a cheapie cabin (inside cabin, deck 6 forward). We also sailed with my in-laws (an older couple in their 60's). This was the first time taking my girls, having sailed 4 other times on the same cruise in the last 5 years, first on the Majesty and then on the Dawn.
Prior to this cruise, the last couple of NCL cruises were substandard at best. The Majesty is an older, smaller boat that was really showing it's age by the last time we sailed on it and the Dawn had some of the worst service I've ever seen. When being told that the Spirit was now on the Boston to Bermuda run, I was cautiously optimistic. The boat is much bigger than anything I have previously sailed on and it appeared to have a very nice selection of food and entertainment. To be honest, after the last cruise I really wasn't planning on sailing NCL anymore. The last couple of cruises were that bad. However, we decided to give NCL a last try after reading up on the Spirit and reading a few reviews on this site. I am glad we did.
The cruise was just about perfect. First of all, the weather was perfect every day. The worst we had was 30 minutes of rain sailing outbound and a 5 minute rainstorm while on the island. The rest of the time, we had no issues. Sunny and 80 on the boat and mostly sunny and a hot 85 on the island. Even though it was 85 on Bermuda, just be warned that the sun is HOT and if you are walking around, you WILL feel it. The good news was that we always had a nice breeze and just enough clouds to give you a break from the heat.
I was a bit nervous after hearing that the boat was 100% full but was very surprised that there were no lines at any of the onboard restaurants. The longest wait was 10 minutes during prime dining time at Windows (the main restaurant on the boat). The rest of the time we were seated immediately.
The pools were always accessible and it was even possible to score a couple of lounges without searching for hours. There was a good mix of families and young / old couples on the boat. No swarms of kids taking over the pools and hot tubs and no packs of drunken college kids either. Just a good mix of people.
The service was outstanding throughout the cruise (unlike the last couple of voyages). All meals were delivered in a very quick timeframe and the wait staff had outstanding attention to detail, even offering non-menu options for my very picky 10 year old. It seemed that they were really trying to please the guests this time around. The waiters at poolside were attentive without being annoying (you could always find someone to get you a drink but you weren't being hounded every 3 minutes).
The cabin was NCL standard. Nothing fancy but it was clean, had comfortable beds (too firm for the inlaws but they were provided with a foam egg crate to soften up their bed) and all the other basics such as coffee maker, TV, etc. I will tell you that we were doing this on a budget and opted to keep all of us in a single cabin. This means that we had a bunk bed on one side, a single on the other and mattress on the floor between the lower two beds. During the day, the floor mattress was stowed under one of the beds and the upper bunk was folded against the wall. To say it was tight was an understatement but we were using the cabin simply as a place to sleep and clean up in the AM. The main priority was to save money. We made it work with minimal issues, your mileage might vary quite a bit. If money was no object, a second ajoining room for the kids would have been the way to do it right.
With regard to the food, we had zero issues. Windows served up great food every night, each night having a new menu with very creative dishes and outstanding service.
We really enjoyed Shogun which has an Asian Fusion type menu (although the vast majority of the dishes are Chinese. This was a "premium" restaraunt and carried a $15/person surcharge. Well worth it in my opinion. We ordered a second entre during our meal there to share amongst us, the staff had no issues with this at all. When they accidently topped off my glass of mineral water with "regular" water, the maitre'd immediately came over and insisted that I accept a second bottle at no charge. When I reviewed the invoice at the end of the meal, I also found that they had credited the first bottle of water as well!
We also dined at Cagney's steakhouse and enjoyed wonderful filet mignons. There was a bit of a wait after we were served the app's but the waitress informed us that in order to cook the steak correctly, it took a bit longer than a regular steak. Fully expected and no worries at all...
My personal favorite was Henrys. An old school British pub with great atmosphere, a nice range of beer and free soft pretzels and popcorn. Unlike the "sports bar" on the last boat which was just a regular bar in the corner of a busy cafeteria with a few sports pictures on the wall, Henrys is the real deal. It was off the main lobby area and during most of the day was alway pretty quiet. A very relaxing place to get away from the sun and noise topside. When ordering beer by the glass, the bar tender always made a point of shaking the glass with some ice first to chill it. I though that was a pretty nice touch. The only downside to Henry's was that after 9PM they fired up the karioke and it got pretty loud and crowded. They also had a good number of teens singing and (in my opinion), kids really shouldn't be present in a bar.
My other main haunt was the Bier Garten overlooking the pool deck. Not a lot of German touches but it was a nice place to hang out and enjoy the views. I also liked how they had canvans tents over the entire area around the bar to keep you out of the sun.
If you are into a bit of drinking, I would strongly recommend the pub crawl and the martini tasting. Both carry a $15/person charge but you get a lot of beverages for the money and you have a great time to boot.
One downside that I noted was that regular domestic beer is now $4.95 a bottle, up a dollar from last year. Still cheaper than what you can get charged in other bars but more than I would have liked to paid.
As far as the others in my group, the two girls had a great time. There is a kids pool with water slides and a kiddie hot tub at the rear. They enjoyed that quite a bit (also liked shooting baskets and taking some golf swings). When the kids pool got a bit crowed with younger ones, they moved up the to the main pool and loved it as well. Unlike other cruises which had the main pools closed quote a bit due to rough weather or other issues, the main pool and hot tubs were open 24/7. There was a dedicated club for teens which looked very nice from the outside (it had a "no adults allowed" sign at the door), a nice arcade and plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained. From what I saw, it looked like there was an outstand little kids program (ages 3-7).
Entertainment was great. We really enjoyed the Second City improv troop (same group that launched Belushi, Ackroyd, Tina Fey and a bunch of other stars) and Richard Burr (a wonderful magician).
The boat itself was immaculate and the crew seemed driven to provide outstanding customer service. Other than that, there is not much I can add except to say that NCL has won us back. If this cruise had been a repeat of the last two, it would have been our last. Instead, we hope to return sometime in the future and do it all over again.
With regard to Berumda, we have been there five times and it never gets old. The weather has always been great and the people are the best. I've spoken to a bunch of folks that have sailed the caribean and to a person, they all say that nothing else out there measures up to Bermuda.
As this was the first time for our kids, we kept it pretty simple for the three days we were in port. Day One was spent at Horseshoe Bay (the most famous of all the Bermuda beaches). It is recommened because you can get there on the bus and it has a full beach club (showers, food and beer are all availabe). The beach was beautiful and the water was crystal clear and around 82 degrees. Bring a dive mask and snorkel or you will miss out on some wonderful views of fish and reefs.
Day 2 was spent taking the water shuttle to St. George. After showing the kids the town (it was very quiet since there was no boat in the harbor that day), we walked a mile or two to Tobacco Bay which is a nice secluded inlet with some great snorkeling. It does have a place to change and get a drink but be forwarned that there are no showers.
After drying off, we hopped on the bus and went to the best bar in the world (the Swizzle Inn). Had a nice lunch and a pitcher of rum swizzles. After that, it was back to St. George to catch the water shuttle back to the Dockyards.
Day three was back to Horseshoe bay (our in-laws could not make it on Day 1 so we agreed to go back there with them). The girls had no problem with this and we spent all morning enjoying the sun and surf. We also took the girls to Gibbs Hill Lighthouse. For a small fee, you can climb approx 200' in the air and venture outside onto a very small catwalk to see pretty much the best view imaginable. Just note that if you have a fear of heights, this may not be for you.
After going back and cleaning up on the boat, we did some shopping at the Dockyards and explored the fort and the dolphin encounter located within. If you have a few hundred extra dollars you can swim with the dolphins for a few minutes. Otherwise, you can walk right up to the side of the pools and see the dolphins up close.
One thing I would strongly recommend is to save a bunch of money and use public transportation. For $28/person (less for kids), you get a three day pass that can be used for all buses and water shuttles. The service is outstanding and both bus and water shuttle offer a great way to see the island.
Only a couple of downsides to the visit. The first is that NCL no longer sails into St. George. I much prefer nice, quiet St. George to the Dockyards. While the Dockyards is ok, it is on the very tip of the island and really doesn't offer much once you have checked out the fort and shops. That is just my opinion and others may feel differently. The last night there, we went out at 9:30PM and the place was pretty much dead.
The other downside is that the boat arrives at 11AM on day 1 and leaves at 6AM on Day 4. Previously, the boat would arrive first thing in the AM so you had a full day to explore. Now, after waiting for customs clearance and getting in line to debark and purchase your bus passes, the day is is half over before you can even start sightseeing. It used to depart at 11:30 AM so you actually had a good portion of the 4th day to do some last minute shopping, swimming or sightseeing. By leaving at 6AM, you really don't get any land time on day 4. With the new schedule, you actually end up with only 2.5 days on Bermuda instead of the 3.5 you used to get.
Anyway, that pretty much wraps it up. I was very pleased with the entire package and will have no problems doing it again sometime in the future. Given the previous two cruises, this was the last chance for NCL and they delivered!!