Overall We had a great time on this trip. We always take the mindset that we try to make the best out of any vacation we are on - so we really don't let the small stuff get in our way. On the ship, we try to make friends with the crew that we meet. This time was no exception. The cruise is a lot what you make it - and we tried to make it great!
New Orleans We flew from Chicago non-stop on Southwest on Friday, November 13. After non-eventful flight, we collected our bags and got a taxi. There are set rates from the airport to the downtown area. For 1 or 2 passengers, it is $33. For 3 or more passengers, it is $14 per person. We stayed on a comp from Harrah's at the Doubletree Hotel on Canal Street (directly across from the entrance to Harrah's). The location is perfect as it is a quick walk to the French Quarter, close to the river, casino, etc. Saturday spent the whole day walking around French Quarter, Farmers Market, and along the river - weather was absolutely beautiful - mid-70s. We also went to the Riverwalk Mall and saw the Carnival Triumph docked. We also tried to do a "dry run" walking from the hotel to the cruise terminal but after 20 minutes realized that while not impossible, it really was not worth saving the money. Sunday we got a late check from the hotel - and left by taxi - at 1:15pm for the cruise terminal. Taxi is $7 per person to the cruise. After the cruise, we stayed at Harrah's New Orleans Hotel for 1 more night. We saw a little shortcut from the ship (watching lots of crew walking), so we just decided to walk to the hotel. Not too bad - if you don't have too much luggage. Enjoyed relaxing in New Orleans one more day before flying home on Monday.
Embarkation Embarkation was extremely easy. This being our 5th cruise, we have left from Seattle, San Pedro, CA, Honolulu, Baltimore and now New Orleans. This was so smooth and fast. Not sure if we lucked out the time we arrived, if the # of passengers was light, or if it is always this easy. The porter was at the taxi as we got out. Since we already had our luggage tags on our bags, we paid and the taxi and tipped the porter and were already on our way. We had about a 5 minute wait to get through security and then went to the Latitudes line to check-in. There was nobody in line, so we walked right up to counter. After getting checked-in and then taking the welcome aboard picture, we were ready to get on the Spirit! And it was only 1:50pm! Note - there is a bit of a walk up a ramp before you actually get on the ship. Not too physically demanding, but just be aware of it. This will be the same ramp to walk down when you disembark - so think about pulling your luggage down that if you are considering taking it off on your own (it's not difficult - we each had two rolling bags and a backpack and were just fine).
The Ship The Spirit is a beautiful ship. Since we had just been on the Majesty three months earlier, initially everything seemed SO BIG! We had a good few laughs enjoying taking it all in that first day. It's easy to get around the ship - we found our way pretty quickly. Elevators were relatively quick and only seemed very full on port days. On port days, we always entered/exited the ship on deck 4. When coming back on, after going through the ship security, you had to go up to deck 5 to catch the elevator from there. This seemed like a good idea as it allowed the guests to keep coming on board without being too bunched up waiting for the elevators right past security (as we have experienced on other ships). The ship was maintained well and we saw crew cleaning often. There were hand sanitizer stations everywhere on the ship - as well as crew with sanitizing spray bottles at the entrances of Raffles, Blue Lagoon, pool buffet.
The Cabin We stayed in a BA cabin (#11606). This was a very enjoyable balcony cabin. We loved the location as it was right around the corner from the stairs/elevator. When we first came into the room, we did notice a few small trash items (charge slip from a month earlier in a drawer, tape on the wall and ceiling, and a tour sticker on the side of the tv) in the room, so we were a little worried about the cleanliness. Luckily, the cabin stewards did a nice job keeping the room clean for us - as well as ensuring our ice bucket and cooler were stocked with ice. AND they made lots of cute towel animals - including our first monkey hanging from the desk light! The room stewards also made a point to say hi to us when the saw us and we often talked with them about how the day went. The cabin was plenty spacious for the two of us. Lots of drawers and a really large closet. We keep our empty suitcases under the bed. We also always use the shoe organizer that we hung outside the closet for all the miscellaneous stuff. The Spirit rooms do not have a refrigerator, but do have a coffee maker. I brought Starbucks VIA instant coffee and used the maker for hot water - MUCH better than the coffee packets in the room! There is only one plug in the room by the desk (had to move the coffee maker over there to make hot water). We brought a electric strip to give us extra outlets for the laptop, ipod charger, camera charger, etc. Bathroom was also good sized - broken into three sections - shower (with sliding door, sink area, and toilet (with sliding door). There was ample storage area around the sink (and on the shelf under) for the extra toiletries we brought. There were a couple of times were we had some minor water pressure and temperature issues (water not hot enough) - both times it happened around 5pm (after everyone was back on the ship after the day in port and while getting ready for dinner). The balcony was fine - a typical NCL balcony. Unfortunately for us, there were smokers on both sides of our cabin, so we smelled smoke a lot. Also, since the pool was right above us, we could also smell a lot of smoke from there too. Don't mean to offend anyone (as I used to smoke), but the only reason we were happy to be off the ship was to be away from all the smokers (there seemed to be a lot more smoking on this ship compared to our other cruises). Bad luck of the draw on this, I guess. Speaking of the pool area, we didn't hear that much deck noise - only 1 night when there was a late night pool party and if we had the balcony door open. Not too bad though.
We ate in Raffles, Garden Room, Blue Lagoon, Shogun, and pool buffet/Bier Garten. We never went hungry during the cruise and found a lot of good, enjoyable items in different places. I would recommend just exploring around to find food you really enjoy - I am sure it is somewhere on this ship! Raffles - we ate here primarily for breakfast - while it was often pretty busy, it was always easy to find a seat (the crew was really fast with cleaning the tables off). All of the stations were kept full of food and it all was really good and fresh. We would go through Raffles and have a little for lunch on a few of the days - most of the food was pretty good. Since we kind of floated around eating a little in several restaurants during the day, we were satisfied by what we found in Raffles. The salad bar was really fresh too. During the day, they also had soft serve ice cream cones served by a crew (pretty good). Blue Lagoon - this is a perfect place for quick, fast-food type food. The menu is the same all the time (except the add some breakfast items in the morning, which we did not try). The best items in here for us were the cheeseburger, chicken tenders, chicken wings, and fish & chips. Sometimes it was really busy in there, so they used the bar area next door as an overflow seating area. We also took food to go from here also - the catch for this is you have to sit down in a seating area to order (the to-go food comes on regular plates with a plastic cover to keep it warm). The seating in here is pretty tight and kind of awkward - but the food is a good place to get a snack. Oh yeah, the cheesecake in here is pretty tasty also! Garden Room - we ate hear primarily for dinner. Garden Room is the second of the 2 main dining rooms (with Windows being the primary one). The Garden Room usually opened at 5:30pm - and there was often a line when it opened - but never that long of a wait. There were only a couple of nights were it appeared to be long waits in the Garden Room, but since we were there early at 5:30 or at 8:30, we never had a problem. The hostess in the Garden Room is Mary Rose - a very efficient, friendly worker who keeps the seating moving along. Even though there were only 2 of us, we were able to make reservations at 5:30 or 6 (or 8:30 or later) in here. Also, the dress code in here was very relaxed. Shorts, t-shirts were allowed. Actually, from the Freestyle Daily, it stated "What to Wear: You'll always find a place to fit your style, no matter what you want to wear. Resort casual (with the exception of sports and beach wear) is welcome in all of our restaurants." While I found this to be very comfortable and was totally ok with it - this policy contradicts the NCL dress policy and had we known could have packed different clothes. Really no big deal for us, but wanted you to know. We always had Felicitas as our server - she was recommended to us by one of our waiters in Le Bistro from the Majesty (they were roommates years earlier). Felicitas (and her junior waiter, Tatiana) provided excellent service - she always made good recommendations on the menu, quickly learned our likes/dislikes, and overall made our dining experience delightful. Highly recommend Felicitas - if you have her, tell her JOHN and JOVI sent you! The food in the Garden Room was overall good. As always, some items were much better than others. We tend to order 2 entrees each so we can share off each other's plate and get a good taste of everything. Felicitas would make recommendations (such as ordering an extra lobster tail with our entrEe during the lobster night) to make the dishes better. Don't be shy about ordering something extra or sending something back if it doesn't taste good. The menu had several of our favorites from previous cruises, along with some new favorites. The food was always served at the correct temperature and portions were ample. Desserts were not as good as I remember in the past - but of course we could always find something to enjoy! Interesting that we did not see any Cooking Light branded items on the menu. I think some of the dishes were Cooking Light (or at least light in fat/calories) but they weren't indicated as such. I missed knowing which items were healthier. Shogun - This was the only specialty restaurant we ate at. $15 per person cover charge. Shogun was a sushi menu and a "fusion Asian" menu with lots of choices. We were able to order from both and share "family-style". There were no limits on what we could order. The sushi was made-to-order and tasted fresh and delicious. Off the menu, we had a lot of food - at least 4 different appetizers, 3 or 4 entrees, soup. It all tasted pretty good - not excellent, but pretty good. It wasn't busy when we went and we had attentive service from Bethel. The hostess in here is Shellyn - she used to be the hostess in one of the MDRs on the Majesty where we met her previously - it was great to see her again! Pool buffet & Bier Garten - Snacked here a few times. Overall we found the grill area to be just ok - not as good as we had on other ships (most recently the Majesty was really good). Consisted of burgers, hot dogs, and sometimes chicken. Leaving Cozumel, there was a taco bar set up here too. Food wasn't replenished quick enough, but the lines were never too long here. OK for a quick bite.
The Entertainment Entertainment on the ship was only ok - except for 2 key areas - Elements and Arvin & Emily. In the Stardust Theater, on the first night, we did not go to "King of Cajun Jo-El Sonnier & Friends" as we really don't like that kind of music. It seemed as if those that attented enjoyed it a lot. We did go to the late show - which was the "Welcome Aboard Show - with cruise director Paul Scully and friends". This was a taste of what to expect for the main show entertainment during the week. Paul Scully is a very energetic and personal CD, so he adds a good energy. Day 2 evening main show was supposed to be "On Broadway" but it was cancelled a few hours before showtime (due to "technical issues"). The show was replaced by a married acrobatic/gymnast couple. They put on a pretty good show by performing some pretty neat acts. During the afternoon (this is the first sea day), magician Scott Hamilton had a set. Most of his magic is pretty basic and his personality takes a little to get used to, but by the end of the week (he had a small set during the Friday night show and a pretty large role in Elements), he had better acts and I had warmed up to him. Day 3 show was Second City Comedy. We did not attend this as we were pretty wiped out from the day in Costa Maya. Day 4 show was "Soul Rockin' Nights" by the NCL Production Company. Wow, this was really bad. Easily the worst singing production show I have seen on my 5 cruises. The singing was weak (especially the male leads) and there was only 1 female lead who had to carry the entire female part (her voice was good - not great - but much better than the men). (Also of note - I think the technical issue had something to do with the other female lead singer as she was there at the welcome aboard show but never saw her again). The chorography was amateurish also. The song selection wasn't too bad. Luckily the show was only 70 minutes. Day 5 show was the rescheduled "On Broadway". A little better than the Soul Rockin Nights, but still pretty weak. They did songs from 4 or 5 Broadway shows. Again, the show was short - only 65 or 70 minutes. Not sure if the NCL Production shows were shorter because the other female lead was out? Day 6 show was a split evening with "An Audience with Paul Scully" at 7:30pm - which had performances by Paul with comedy, Scott, and Arvin & Emily. Luckily no NCL Production number! The 9:30pm show in the Stardust was the "International Crew Show" - which was the crew talent show (as always, REALLY good) and the Finale with the Captain, officers, and crew from all departments. We always enjoy this show and once again it didn't let us down! Day 7 show was "Elements". Elements is a new production (reportedly NCL spent over $1 million on this) and it had debuted in October. I had read a little about it on CC before we went and on the ship during the week a lot of crew raved about it (there was a special crew-only show in October for them to see it). So, with a fair amount of build-up, I was a little worried that the actual production wouldn't live up to the hype. FIRST - get to the show early (at least 7:00) to get better selection of seats. The 7:30 show was 100% full and those coming in 5 minutes before were having a hard time getting seats together. As far as we could tell, there really isn't a bad seat in the house. The Elements show was about 75 minutes long and was very enjoyable. There was good music, excellent costumes, pretty good magic, and it kept our attention. The NCL Production crew and Scott (and his assistant Heather) were the main participants in this production. Overall, a very good show that was definitely worth seeing. Separate of the Stardust shows, we primarily spent our time watching Arvin and Emily. Unfortunately for those going on the Spirit from early December 09 - March 2010, they will be on vacation. Arvin and Emily are a married couple from the Philippines and they primarily perform in Champagne Charlies. We tried to go see them as often as we could as we loved there music. Both have good voices and even better personalities. If you have the chance, be sure to check them out!
The Ports In each of the ports, we took an NCL shore excursion. We ultimately found the excursions to be well-organized, timely, and ran by local tour guides that provided very good information and an enjoyable time. I know some folks don't like NCL ship excursions for a variety of reasons, but we have had good luck with them. In each of the ports, we arrived on-time and is was quick getting on & off the ship. In all ports except Belize City, we were docked. There were other ships in each of the ports, but they never felt too crowded.
Costa Maya We did the "Chacchoben Mayan Ruins" tour here - this tour was about 4 hours going to the Chacchoben ruins - about 75 minutes each way by bus and 90 minutes at the ruins. Pretty amazing to see this. After the tour, there really isn't much in Costa Maya - the port appears to have been built up primarily for the cruise ships. Lots of little shops and some restaurants. All very clean and it seemed safe. Santo Tomas de Castillo We had heard about the safety issues in Guatemala, but proceeded with the tour ("Quirigua Mayan Ruins & Jade Museum"). This is about a 4 hour tour also - the Mayan ruins are about 90 minutes away, so it only leaves about an hour at the ruins, which was a little rushed, but not too bad. The tour guide did a nice job explaining locally relevant information and answering our questions to/from the ruins. We experienced no safety concerns to/from the ruins (our bus was escorted by police, which the tour guide acknowledged as necessary for our safety. In the port by the ship, there is a really nice secure shopping area with a lot of vendors. They also have musicians, dancers putting on a show for much of the afternoon. The shopping in here was pretty good - lots of good deals on some pretty neat items. This was the cheapest shopping in all the ports - so if you are interested in shopping, this may be your place. Belize City The tender to the shore was about 15 minutes or so - the ship anchors pretty far out. Here we did the tour "Altun Ha Mayan Ruins & Belize City" - another Mayan Ruins. What is so interesting about these different ruins is that they each have their own story and different looks. After the tour, we explored around the stores at the pier. We found shopping pretty expensive here. Cozumel Probably the most enjoyable port, and the one I would definitely go back to again (even not as a cruise stop). Here we did "Discover Cozumel, Chankanaab & Shopping" - which was a tour that took us all around the island. Very interesting to see the beautiful, white sand beaches on the other side - with NO tourists on them! The shopping part is a drop off in the main area, which is close to where the ship was docked. If the ship is at the other piers, this is a convenient tour as it gives you shopping time and takes you back to the ship. We just walked as it was close by. Also, the Chankanaab stop is really cool, but we were only there a short while. Be sure to bring bug spray here as the mosquitoes were ferocious. Would like to come back here to snorkel as the water was absolutely beautiful.
Disembarkation Since we were spending another day in New Orleans, we were in no hurry getting off the ship. We always take our own luggage off so we have the flexibility to get off whenever we want. I also HATE packing the night before and always wait to the morning to pack! Disembarkation started at 8am promptly (the ship had arrived into New Orleans about 6:30am). After having breakfast in Raffles and saying goodbye to our crew friends around the ship, we started disembarkation around 9:30am. It only took about 30 minutes to get off and through everything, which wasn't too bad. Had we paid a little more attention to not leave as they had just called three luggage tag colors, I am sure it would have gone even faster. Once getting through customs, there were many airport shuttles and taxis right outside the door. I also saw several tour companies there also for those that had later flights.