The great experience we were expecting, did not quite live up to past cruises. Let me first say that the staff aboard the Spirit for the most part is great, especially the front desk, the Captains staff, the Buffet staff and the room stewards, however when it came to the staff and the food at Windows and the Garden room it was like a night and day difference. My wife and I have been fans of "freestyle cruising" up until this cruise, but now we see some of the pitfalls of "freestyle cruising" that many other reviewers here have pointed out.
The food and more importantly the service in the 2 main dining rooms leave a lot to be desired, it got to the point that after about day 5 we started to eat all our meals in the buffet. I think we only came across one smiling face in all of our meals at either Windows or the Garden room, and for the most part the wait staff seemed like they were just going through the motions and very disinterested in giving great service. The food in the main dining rooms was slightly better than the wait staff, but then again that is not saying much. The way they seemed to push the wine list made me think that the wait staff was not being paid by NCL, but rather just working for the embedded tips off the liquor sales, so we ordered wine a couple nights to see if that would get us any better or more pleasant service but it didn't seem to make a difference.
As far as the shows go the Second city shows were great, the acrobat show was very impressive, the magician was pretty good, heck even the cruise director (Paul Scally) had a very memorable show, the production shows were just OK nothing to write home about. The Spirit is definitely an aging ship but I think that some of the previous reviews about it being dirty may be a bit overblown, we found the ships appearance to be quite acceptable, in fact there always seemed to be someone doing some painting or refurbishing. We did notice a little more aggressive selling of drinks, upscale restaurants, special services, shore excursions ect., than we noticed on previous NCL cruises and that was a bit of a turnoff, but that may be par for the course for the cruise industry these days?
All in all it was an enjoyable cruise, however I think we will take a break from NCL and try Royal Caribbean, Princess or Carnival the next couple of times out! When we do get back to considering NCL again I think that I will just add in the surcharge for 7 nights in the premium restuarants and then compare the price for value vs. the rest of the cruise lines.