I am 40 years old and have been on 18 cruises -- including 2 other cruises in the past 16 months with Carnival (the Dream and the Legend). I have fond memories of sailing with NCL in the early 90s, and I had heard the NCL kid's program is as good as as any other, so... we booked the Thanksgiving week sailing from New Orleans and took our 3 children on the Norwegian Spirit. We also coordinated for 3 other cabins for friends and family to go on this voyage with us. Our family reunion was great; the shore excursions we selected were equally great; and the ships dancers, singers, acrobats and magician did a really nice job... However, WE WERE DISAPPOINTED OVERALL in the Spirit. Several of my personal observations and experiences follow...
** Check in at the Pier
This process was painfully disappointing. I was told by my booking agent that I could report to the Latitudes check in counter as early as 12:00 pm on the date of sailing, avoid the long lines of first time cruisers, and board the ship promptly. We arrived at the pier with friends that had never taken an NCL cruise before. They entered the first-time cruisers line, and we entered the Latitudes line. The Latitudes counter was so poorly staffed in comparison, our friends boarded the ship nearly an hour earlier than us!!!
The cabins aboard the Spirit were the smallest I've seen in the last decade;
Additionally, the electrical outlets in my mother's and sister's room were not working at the time of our departure from New Orleans. The ship's maintenance staff was not able to fix the problem until the 4th day of the cruise. Worse, the staff never provided any status updates to my mother and sister on when the problem should be fixed!
As noted above, we booked 4 rooms of passengers side-by-side-by-side-by-side on the 4th deck with ocean view rooms. Two of our rooms included past guests, and two rooms included first-time NCL guests. The NCL Spirit upgraded one of our rooms [of friends] to a 10th deck with a balcony at no additional cost of course. As I was responsible for planning this event for the 4 families and as a 4-time NCL cruiser, I felt this was in very poor taste of NCL.
** Dining Rooms
We had standing reservations for our 12-person party in the Windows Dining Room. Unfortunately, the staff was unable to locate our reservation for the first 3 nights, which left us very unimpressed with the organizational skills of the dining room staff and management. Further...
We made 5:30 dinner reservations in order to be able to attend the 7:15 pm showtime. Unfortunately, service in the dining room was so slow, the only two instances in which we made it to the show [on time] was by skipping dessert. It literally took 2 FULL HOURS for the dining room staff to serve a 4-course meal including an appetizer, salad, entree and dessert. This was quite unsatisfactory!
The Freestyle Cruising experience does not foster relationships between families and wait staffs. We never had more than two meals with any given waiters and waiter assistants. In theory, you don't feel pressured to tip any particular amount at the end of the cruise, BUT the NCL Spirit drafted $12 per person per day from our credit card regardless. Keep in mind that tips for bartenders and bar waiters are taken at the time of the beverage order. Keep in mind that we also enjoyed lunch ashore during 4 of the 6 days of the voyage. THEREFORE, I effectively paid $60 per day in tips for the slowest dining room service I've ever witnessed. I can only hope my cabin attendant and his assistant received a healthy portion of that monetary contribution!
The Lido deck (Raffles) buffet area was completely closed from 9:00 pm until 6:30 am, which made it more difficult than necessary to get a cup of coffee, tea or a watered down juice (at your convenience)
The orange juice and cranapple juice on the Lido Deck (Raffles) were watered down to the point you could barely determine which flavor you had selected;
The NCL Spirit stationed an attendant at the "SELF SERVE" ice cream, and the attendant definitely under-portioned ice cream to its guests. I am an athletic male, and was presented with approximately 2 ounces of soft serve ice cream on the top of a cone. The 39 cent kid cone at McDonalds is more satisfying than what I was offered!
** Kids Program
My 4-year old son wanted to stay on board during one of our days in port; unfortunately (and unlike our past cruises) the NCL Spirit charged its guests by the hour to leave kids in the care of the kid's program while in port. In fact, the hours of the kid's program is comparatively restrictive compared to all other cruises we've enjoyed during the past 10 or so years. Consequently, none of our 3 kids enjoyed the kid's program as much as on other ships.
** Other Facilities
The Fitness Center and Spa were also the smallest I've seen on any ship in the past decade;
** Cruise Line Responsiveness
I submitted feedback to NCL in two separate and official NCL forums but received no feedback whatsoever. For this, I was most disappointed. I did not expect an incentive to try another NCL cruise; however, I did expect an acknowledgement of my disappointment and a commitment to meeting and surpassing customer exectations.
Bottom line: I do not recommend the NCL Spirit for families (or groups) with more than 4 travelers, and I'm not sure if I'll travel with NCL again.