We were on the Norwegian Spirit for a seven day Western Caribean cruise that started in New Orleans on February 21, 2010.
New Orleans. We had three fun days in New Orleans before our cruise. We stayed in the French Quarter (Hotel St. Marie), ate at some great restaurants, visited historic houses and went on a swamp tour. We were there just after Mardi Gras and the city was still quite pumped up from the holiday and recent Superbowl victory. Hooray for New Orleans! A great city to start our trip in.
Embarkation. Very easy and well organized. We were on the ship in less than 15 minutes.
Cabin. We had an outside cabin with a private balcony. The cabin was small, though clean and well maintained and the bed was comfortable. We packed lightly and there was sufficient room to put away our clothes and suitcases can be stored under the bed. The balcony was small but it had room for two chairs and was a nice place to read. The balcony is worth the extra money if you can afford it. The bathroom was well designed and had a full-size shower with a glass door. The shower had good pressure and there was always plenty of hot water.
Public spaces. The interior design isn't subtle or refined but everything was clean and well maintained. The ship was originally built for the Asian market and there is a distinct Asian theme to the artwork on the ship. The gym was well equipped and there is a nice spa (I had a great massage with Pedro). The ship was full (about 2,000 passengers) and only felt crowded around the pool/hot tub area.
Food. Very good. We ate almost all of our meals in the main dining room (Windows). The dining room is attractive and has waiter service, white linen table clothes and napkins and proper china for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu changed every meal and there was a good variety of things to choose from. We tried one of the specialty restaurants (Cagney's) and I did not feel that it was worth the extra charge. We only ate in the buffet once (on the first day) and I hated it. It felt like a school cafeteria. I have no idea why people eat in the buffet when the full service dining room is available.
Service. Very good. Most of the dining, bar and cabin staff are from the Philippines or India. They all worked incredibly hard and were friendly and helpful. Norwegian has what it calls "Freestyle" cruising (eat wherever and whenever you want) and it worked well for us (a group of 10 people). We never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a table in the dining room or seats in a bar.
Entertainment/on board activities. There were some good musicians that we enjoyed listening to in the pub. The shows were pretty bad. We only went to two of them and I fell asleep during both. There were too many public announcements about bingo, art auctions, the casino and shopping opportunities. I would have liked some more eductional programming about the places we were visiting (history, culture).
Ports. We visited Cozumel, Costa Maya, Belize City and Santo Tomas. The ports themselves were awful. Basically like big shopping malls with nothing but jewelry stores and places selling tacky souvenirs and they are overrun with cruise ship passengers. Everyone spoke English and you could only spend US dollars. It's a mistake to stay at the ports themselves—you have to get away.
Shore Excursions. We visited some Mayan pyramids near Costa Maya, went snorkeling on a reef in Belize, visited a beautiful river and community project in Guatemala and went on a dune buggy trip in Cozumel. The excursions were all fun and well organized. We heard a rumor that Norwegian is going to stop visiting Guatemala and I think that would be a big mistake-- it was our favorite stop.
Passengers. Quite a variety but most were over 40, many over 60. There were some children on the cruise but this would not be an ideal cruise for families with young children or teenagers. Norwegian is quite informal and you never need to dress up. Although most men wore trousers for dinner you could wear shorts and a polo shirt anywhere/anytime. This would not be the right cruise for people who really like to get dressed up or who are looking for a luxurious/glamorous experience.
Disembarkation. Very easy and well organized. It took less than 20 minutes and there were plenty of cabs available to take people to the airport.
Overall impression. We had fun and the trip was great value. It's not a super-luxury experience but neither is the price.