We took the NCL Spirit 1/24 to 1/31 Western Caribbean cruise. I waited a while before writing this to collect my thoughts. First of all, we were a group of four couples who have been traveling together for a few years. We are an active group with ages ranging in age from late 40's to early 60's. This was our fourth cruise, our first with NCL. There were three balcony cabins and one suite.
I loved New Orleans as a departure port. We stayed at the Marriot Courtyard for two days before the cruise. It was a very nice, reasonable hotel and the city was wonderful. Great food and drink, lots to do, friendly people, and a very easy embarkation made for a wonderful start to our vacation.
The Pros: The pool and hot tub area were pleasant, there were plenty of chaises, and the live music was good. We liked the assortment of bars and public places to hang out. There were plenty of drink specials and the prices were very reasonable. I was also impressed by the diligence of the staff in respect to hand sanitizing.
The entertainment was OK. The Second City comedy show was fun and the music around the ship was good. I tend to avoid the production shows on most cruises, being from the NY area we have higher expectations and tend to find the shows pretty amateurish for our tastes. From what I have heard (second hand on this cruise) that is probably what we would have though here as well.
I took two of the NCL excursions. Old Belize River and Altun Ha in Belize, and Chacchopen Ruins in Costa Maya. Both were very good and the guides were knowledgeable. One of our group went fishing twice and some went swimming with Dolphins in Cozumel. We have no complaints about the excursions at all. The couple staying in the suite were happy with their butler and the service. We booked this cruise because the price was very good and the stops were places we had never been.
The Cons On move-in day two of us in regular balcony cabins had to have our sheets replaced because they were obviously stained. It took two days to get a light bulb replaced in my cabin. In my room the cushions on the small sofa were so dirty, we wouldn't sit on it until it was cleaned.
The cabins are small, but that was expected. Three very small drawers and a couple of badly set up shelves in the closet were not sufficient for a week's work of clothes. There was plenty of room in the closet to put in better shelves or a bureau The A/C system sounded like a freight train in the room. The furnishings in our balcony rooms were beat up rejects from a cheap motor inn. You should not have to pay for a suite to get a clean room with decent furnishings.
The food in the Garden Dining room was terrible. The shrimp cocktail was only fit to be bait for fishing trips. My Soy glazed duck with noodles was catastrophically overdone and so salty as to be inedible. In fact, tough, overdone, and way too salty pretty much describes everything we were served.
We ate in the dining room twice - that was more than enough. The best dinners we had were at the buffet, unfortunately it closed at 9 PM. The plain carved meats and pasta that you had them make in front of you were decent, and the salad bar was respectable. The best dessert was the made-to-order crepes. I was not happy with always eating at the buffet. When I am on vacation I want to go to a restaurant and be served.
The nickel and diming everywhere was annoying. I resented almost being forced into going to the up-charge restaurants because the food was so bad. But that was no guarantee of a good meal. The Teppanyaki Restaurant ($25) was OK, but nothing special as far at Japanese steakhouses go. It was the best meal since we didn't have to send anything back. The worst meal was the Shogun Chinese Restaurant ($15). We sent back 6 orders of soup, one appetizer, two main courses, and even a dessert. I don't think that we have ever had worse Chinese food!
We never saw a wine steward. We saw a cocktail waitress with a cart with a couple of bottles on it. The best service on the ship was when you wanted drinks from the bar, which they pushed continually - even when you were in the hot tub on deck!
Do you want a real shrimp cocktail - its extra Fresh squeezed orange juice - extra A milk shake - that's extra too! You have to sign for the cheap towels by the pool (who would even want to keep them?). If you don't return them on time, you are charged $25.
We had a good time on our vacation because we do not let the negatives ruin our good times. However, we will not return to NCL unless we are sure they have replaced kitchen staff, chefs, and the staff who buys the probably over-processed and over-salted provisions for the ships. I wish we had brought a week's worth of take-out meals from New Orleans.
Yes, we got a great deal on this cruise, but it only goes to show that you get what you pay for. I would rather pay more for good service, a decent cabin, and edible food.
Next year I think I will go back to Celebrity.