This was our 7th cruise, the 2nd we've taked with our 3 boys (8, 11, 13) the previous one with the family was 5 years ago on Celebrity. We've also cruised on RCCL.
This time we chose NCL because of the Freestyle Cruise concept; prefering not to buy & pack formal cloathes for the family. This was a big deal for us: dressing the family for dinner was a major factor why we haven't cruised with the kids more frequently (we enjoy dinner in a sit down dinning room rather than at the casual buffets).
Overall, we had a great time on the Spirit and would cruise on NCL again.
That said, we quickly found a real downside to the Freestyle concept....service in the dining room. On other cruise lines, your wait staff would jump through hoops for you because they knew there was a nice tip coming at the end of the cruise. Since dinner is open seating, you were essentially guaranteed a different waiter every night without the "tip" motivation so service was inconsistent (NCL charges your account a flat service charge which is devided among the whole crew). The other downside was waiting for a table during peak times in the main dinning rooms (Windows and Garden). On the 2nd night of the cruise, we were told the wait in the Garden restuarnt would be 30 minutes; it actually was 55 minutes. Once we were seated, service was horrible....dirty plates left on the table, water glasses consistently empty, over two hours for the meal.
We were quite upset and complained to the Guest Services desk. To NCL's credit, they put us in touch with the Head Waiter at the Garden restaurant who gave us a standing reservation at the same table for the rest of the cruise. Kenny, our newly assigned waiter, was outstanding and provided service that was as good, if not better, than any cruise we've been.
Previous reviews were mixed on the quality and variety of food in the main dinning rooms. We were pleasently surprised with the food...we found it to be mostly excellent and essentially on par with our earlier crusing experiences. Food in the buffet was excellent as well.
While we generally liked the ship, the rooms were smaller than other cruise lines we've been on. An unexpected impact of this was crowding....smaller rooms translates to more passengers sharing public spaces. This was particularly evident in the main pool and at Raffles, the buffet dinning room where it was often quite difficult to find a table during peak breakfast and lunch hours. In addition, a lot of space on the ship has been dedicated to the speciality (up charge) restaurants. Compared to other cruise lines, this resulted in less open space for other recreational activities.
While the Spirit was a nice ship, we found the RCCL and Celebrity ships we've previously cruised on a bit more upscale.
We loved the Second City shows and the kids got a kick out of the magic act....the variety shows were less then what we had hoped for.
Rest of the cruise was great. Bermuda is beautiful and look forward to returning.