Background: On this trip were myself (29 years old), my wife (30), and our daughter who is 16 months (well 17 months as of today). This is the fourth NCL cruise for my wife and I, first for our daughter. This is our first time to sail out of Boston.
Arrival At The Port: Quite easy. Despite the report from others that you have to get in line with your luggage before getting a porter, this was not the case for us. We showed up a little after 1 and unloaded our bags from the car and were met with a porter who took our bags. Quick and easy. We had a friend drive our car and park it at my office so we did not park at the port. We were then directed inside where we got into the Latitudes line which was quite a bit shorter than the "regular" line. The downstairs of the terminal building was quite hot and stuffy. They really should pipe some AC down there. We checked in and got our keys. We got a chuckle because our daughter's key card had a corner cut indicating she was too young to buy alcohol. Once you check in, you are directed upstairs. This area is air conditioned and it is quite refreshing compared to downstairs.
Getting On The Ship: We headed onboard at around 1:50. I love the feeling when you first set foot on the ship. It is like all the stress of the world has been lifted and you are finally on vacation. Upon boarding we were greeted with smiles and cold "champagne". The wife opted for the orange juice that was also available. Since we had the diaper bag and another rather large carry-on we headed right to our cabin to get rid of those before lunch. Upon arrival to deck 11, we were greeted with closed fire doors and a sign that said the cabins would be ready at 2pm. No problem, it was 1:58 at this point and at exactly 2pm they opened the doors.
Cabin: We were in a balcony cabin on deck 11. Category BA, cabin 11018. We had stayed a couple doors down on our previous Spirit cruise (11010) so we knew what to expect from the cabin. Since our 2006 cruise, the carpet had been changed and the bedding had been upgraded. There was a "Pack 'n Play" in the room for our daughter. We hadn't requested it but it was there. We brought our own because we figured our daughter would rather have the one she is used to. We asked our steward to remove it and he did right away.
Almost immediately we noticed that the balcony door was very hard to open. VERY hard to open. I could open it but my wife barely could. We waited until our first sea day to report the problem because on embarkation reception/guest services is usually busy with various requests. Once reported we were pleased with the response. It almost seemed like this became the number one priority on the ship (even though I am sure it wasn't, it seemed that way). They tried lubricating the door and this did not work. They ended up having to replace the door (yes, apparently they have spare balcony doors onboard) which fixed the problem. I was very impressed by the response! We received several calls to make sure everything was still okay with the door.
Even though some work was done to the cabins during the Spirit's latest dry-dock, some things were obviously missed. Much of the tile in the bathroom was discolored or otherwise damaged. Not a huge deal but something cosmetic. Other cabin negatives, I noticed quite a strong sewage smell at times. This isn't something I noticed last time I was on the ship. It wasn't a huge deal but I thought I would mention it because some people seem to have a major problem with odors. And for some reason every time we would shower, the carpet under the wall that was shared with the shower stall would get wet. We didn't notice this until late in the cruise and reported it to guest services.
Public Spaces: Absolutely beautiful! I love the Spirit. The Asian decor is understated and elegant. All was just as I remembered it from last time I was on the ship (except for the added cabins, the move of the arcade, and the "Celebrity Disco" changing to a teens area). The Grand Centrum is such an amazing space. Grand, high, airy. Just so nice. The Stardust Theatre has been redone with new seats since my last cruise on Spirit. They are very comfortable.
Dining: I noticed that there were very few "little ones" in the main dining rooms. This I imagine (and was confirmed later in the week) is because most with small children opt to dine in the buffet. Our daughter is quite good in public settings and is able to sit still through the longer dining room meals. We did not dine in any of the specialty restaurants. Most of our meals were in the dining room, although later in the week we opted to "buffet it" for dinner because we didn't want to have to do the getting ready for dinner routine (especially after the rocking and rolling on Thursday).
The food for the most part was exceptional. All dinner entrees I had were fabulous. The highlight of the week for me was the "Surf and More Surf". It consisted of lobster tail, shrimp, scallops, muscles, and another kind of fish. Lobster tail, which seems to get a lot of chatter here, was available 2 nights in the main dining room on this 7 night cruise. Breakfast was standard breakfast, nothing stood out as being either amazing or terrible. Lunch was a little more hit and miss. For the most part the lunches we ate in the MDR were good. Some missed the mark a little but by no means did I go hungry.
The buffet was decent, typical buffet fare. We had a couple breakfasts in the buffet and it seemed my wife always had a hard time getting her eggs done right. This was the case last time we were on the Spirit. In that case, we both got omelets that were WAY under done. This time around she had trouble getting her eggs fried the way she wanted them. We did not have this problem in the MDR which is where we ate most of our breakfasts. Buffet lunch was fine and the few dinners toward the end of the week we had at the buffet were decent as well. The one little surprise at dinner time was the shrimp cocktail. These are large shrimp unlike the baby shrimp cocktail which is always available in the MDR. I think the bottom line is you will not go hungry at the buffet but for really good food opt for the MDR.
The only other dining venue we ate at was Blue Lagoon. VERY good. Greasy "comfort food" done right. The wings were fabulous. It really wasn't a buffalo sauce. It had a nice sweetness to it with just the right amount of heat. Hard to explain but it was so good.
Onboard Activities/Entertainment: I really didn't see or participate in much onboard. It is tough with a 16 month old. You tend to nap when she naps, sleep when she sleeps. The vacation becomes more about spending time together and planning around the schedule of our daughter. With that said, I was able to sneak out to see Jane L. Powell aka "The Chocolate Goddess Of Love". I had seen her once before on the Dream and I think she is amazing. Not only does she have a very unique and powerful voice, she is funny and entertaining. When I found out she was on our sailing I knew I would have to find a way to see her show. It did not disappoint. We all were able to see some of the lounge type music onboard but my daughter was in bed by 9 so our options for entertainment were limited. But the extra sleep by napping when she naps and sleeping when she sleeps was great.
Under Two Zoo: NCL has organized kids activities/child care for kids 2 and older. For the under 2 set there is the "Under Two Zoo". It is a room at the entrance of the child center which has toys and mats for those under 2 to play (while their parents supervise). Our daughter really enjoyed it. When she was getting restless we would go to "the zoo" and she would have a great time. It was a great help for us because we didn't have to pack a bunch of toys. And while there was rarely any other children in there when we were there, my daughter met a couple of other little ones.
Staff: The staff was amazing. They all went out of their way especially when it came to our daughter. She was so spoiled all week long by the attention paid to her by the staff. From those who cleared tables in the buffet all the way to more senior staff, they all seemed to stop to pay her some attention. She was treated like a princess for the week. All who met her remembered her name. This made the trip so special not just for our daughter but for my wife and I as well. Our interaction with the staff was just as pleasant. This cruise it felt like they took more time to make sure everything was alright. They were very attentive in the dining venues and I didn't pass one member of the staff anywhere on the ship that didn't wish me a good morning, or afternoon, or evening. Or ask how the cruise was going. The two stewards who were in charge of our room did an amazing job all week. We had an incident with a sippy cup spill at 9 one night and our steward immediately changed our sheets (all with a smile). My daughter loved the towel animals. She loved ripping them apart even more (they didn't last more than 5 seconds).
Shopping: Shopping onboard consisted of your standard duty free items, jewelry, the ever popular Bijoux Terner (everything $10), gift shop type stuff and photos. I bought some booze from the duty free and the pricing is great. 1 liter of Crown Royal and 1 liter of Tanqueray for $34 total. $17 a liter is quite a bargain. We also bought some photos. 8x10s were $24.95 each. On the last sea day from 6pm-10pm they had a special where if you buy 4 at regular price, you can buy 2 more for $5 each. Yes, I know the photos onboard are overpriced (some might call them a rip-off). We bought them though. We usually don't, but the formal shots came out so good and it was our first cruise with our daughter.
Weather/Sea Conditions: The ride to Bermuda was so smooth. I usually get a little sea sick the first day at sea but this was not the case with this cruise. It was just so smooth and calm. Weather in Bermuda was gorgeous the entire time we were there. On the way back it got rough on Thursday morning and that is when I started feeling not so good. Wife was also a little "green". But the rocking and rolling didn't seem to phase our daughter one bit. She went on like nothing at all was different than it had been days before.
Bermuda: My wife and I had been to Bermuda before. It was for only part of a day though. This time we were hoping to check out more of the island. That didn't happen....but that's ok. We ended up spending most of our time around the dockyard venturing over to Snorkel Park to use the beach. It isn't a great beach. Not very big, obviously trucked in sand. But it is very calm, very clear water, and there is an abundance of fish. If you are looking to hit a close beach, it works.
Health Concerns: Like on previous cruises they remind you about norovirus and to report any "issues" immediately. Unlike previous cruises they also included information about the H1N1 flu. As usual, there are hand sanitizers everywhere and they spray your hands as you get on the vessel.
Cruising With A Toddler: If you are cruising with an under 2 year old I have some advice: take the Freestyle Daily and rip it up. Really, you aren't going to be a doing a ton that doesn't revolve around the kid. And that is alright if you know what you are getting into. I see a lot of posts on here asking if it is wise to take a baby on a cruise. At least based on our experience the answer would be YES. If you get onboard expecting to have a cruise like you had before you had kids and expect to do a bunch of activities you might be disappointed. But going in we knew this would be like no other cruise before. Very little casino, pretty much no drinking, no evening shows. And with all that we didn't get to do, this was still the best vacation ever. It was so amazing to see the cruise through the eyes of our daughter. My wife and I made so many memories...most likely our daughter won't remember much if anything about the cruise but she had a great time.
We brought along some things that made cruising with her much easier. For bath time we brought along disposable wash clothes that already have the soap in them. You can use it for body and hair. Also, disposable bibs (called "Bibsters"). Disposable sippy cups also came in handy. We usually aren't big on disposable products (we think they are a waste of money and resources) but in this instance they really came in handy. We brought a small umbrella stroller (which we used off the ship only---our daughter insisted on walking everywhere on the ship). Finally, we bought a travel fan for $4 at Walmart which provided just the right amount of white noise to help with sleeping at night and napping during the day.
Conclusion: While very different because of having our 16 month old daughter with us, this was our best cruise to date. NCL really provides an outstanding value and their very well trained and caring staff makes all the difference in the world. No vacation is perfect, and there were small things that we could have let get to us and ruin the cruise. If there is anything that you need taken care of, let someone know. We could have stewed about our balcony being very hard to open but we let someone know and it was fixed right away. I see people letting one or two things ruin their entire vacation. Those working onboard are there to serve you, to make you happy. That is their job. If you want something, don't be afraid to ask. The bottom line is a vacation is what you make of it.