I've read all of the other reviews of the Spirit and NCL--and its like we were on completely different ships/staff.
We took this NCL Spirit cruise as part of the Mardi Gras BearCruiseUSA 2011 voyage.
I will start with the positives for each topic:
1) The Bear Cruise USA portion was fantastic. The organizers and fellow travelers were a pleasure. The ports and impromptu gatherings provided for many many lasting memories to be made. Getting on the ship was a breeze.
2) The "front line" staff of NCL seem to be the most friendly, hardest working, and eager to please staff on the seas.
3) The NCL Spirit is a beautiful ship. The size of it was just about perfect for a group of our size--you could get away when you wanted, and easily find each other when you wanted as well.
4) Cagney's was the perfect "last evening of the cruise" restaurant--great service, amazing steaks, and the Oysters Rockefeller is not to be missed. We left smiling.
5) Liquor prices were reasonable. We greatly enjoyed 2-for-1 martinis in Champagne Charlie's nightly. The professional entertainers there were extremely talented as well.
Now for the negatives. As a rule, my husband and I have a good sense of humor about all of this. That said, I've worked most of my professional life in service industry jobs; all of these complaints are absolutely inexcusable. Not only does NCL know about the issues, but their senior management on the ship were downright apathetic and defensive about complaints raised.
1) If it were not for the memories our group made in the preceding 6 days, disembarkation would have ruined the cruise. An emergency medical evacuation delayed our arrival back into New Orleans significantly. NCL handled the resulting delay abysmally. NCL did not openly communicate what resources were available to find alternate travel plans nor did they provide accurate estimates when we would disembark.
At disembarkation, we watched as guests pushed and shoved for 2 hours following the call for guests to (voluntarily) "carry your own luggage off the ship". We experienced similar serious delays on Princess last year disembarking in Puerto Rico, but the entire time Princess apologized profusely. At the end, we were thanking the Princess staff for their professionalism and hoping to return soon. NCL did not once use the words "I'm sorry" or "we apologize" in their announcements. Continually, we heard "We understand there have been delays and we thank you for your patience." That irks me most of all. A sincere apology is free.
Note: there were several public areas where passengers were instructed to wait for disembarkation. The restroom facilities near these areas were in deplorable condition. No toilet paper or paper towels, evidence of previous guests, puddles on the floors, etc.
2) Although the front line staff is friendly and eager--they are either woefully understaffed or provided inadequate resources to complete their jobs.
A perfect example: when we returned from shore in Roatan around 3:30pm, we wanted food. The buffet was offering only finger sandwiches(??), so we went to the Blue Lagoon. It appeared many others had this idea too. It was a madhouse. A server, Gemma, was incredible--she was balancing her duties at the adjacent bar with assisting servers deliver food in the Blue Lagoon. Still, even the best intentions and enthusiasm couldn't make up for only one restaurant being open, and running out of menu items. Each time we returned from port, it was as if NCL was downright surprised that people might be hungry after a long day of activities. The servers were helpless, and managers we talked to were unapologetic.
3) Such a beautiful ship should not have mildew/mold in the cabin showers and toilets that don't flush until 10 minutes after you press the button. We should have brought this to our cabin steward's attention. However, wasn't he the one cleaning the shower and the toilets? I'm sure he also noticed the stains on the fresh sheets he was putting on our bed. We didn't see him in the hallway to tell him, and we weren't going to go out of our way to complain about little issues that were merely another sign of what we knew: staff can only be enthusiastic and friendly for so long before frustration makes them stop trying.
We understand the ship is the oldest in NCL's fleet. It is not showing the signs of age, it is showing the signs of neglect.
4) We strongly suggest you order 2 or even 3 entrees at the Windows dining room if you choose to dine there for dinner. At least 1 of them might be edible. Entire plates of food were terrible: often cold or just badly-prepared. We had gnocchi that were hard as ping pong balls. Pasta was always overcooked; sauces were bland. A tortilla soup had ONE strip of tortilla in the whole bowl, the rest was broth. I'm not making this up! Seafood tasted fishy (old). A table-mate described a vegetarian dish one night as "curry abuse". Breakfast was the only meal we would recommend eating in Windows, and even then it appeared just to be plated food from the buffet.
We tried Shogun (for a charge), which we had loved on the NCL Gem last year, but it was a disappointment on the Spirit. Our group reservation for 12 was treated as an imposition. Although some food was tasty (spring rolls, shrimp, bbq spare-ribs), most was cold or flavorless (street noodles, mongolian braised beef). It was not worth the up-charge. The "floor show" was entertaining like a train-wreck. More on that in #5 below.
5) While liquor prices were reasonable, there was a huge problem with college-aged adults on spring break being over-served.
NCL reportedly sold unlimited alcohol packages for $250 to several groups of college students. NCL then proceeded to continuously over-serve those guests to the detriment of other's enjoyment of their vacations. At Shogun, we watched as a college student slammed his fists against his table and yelled loudly. The young man then proceeded to drink until he was unable to keep his eyes open. Around the time he placed a linen napkin over his face and swayed back and forth in his chair, he was served a glass of white wine. Later, the individual was served a glass of sake before being unable to find the door to exit the restaurant. He was allowed to wander unescorted through the cruise-ship yelling at other passengers.
In what way is NCL being a responsible vendor of alcohol? More than once, these college-aged students were seen sleeping in the hallways because they couldn't find their rooms.
The ship ran out of Pina Colada mix on the second day of the cruise. They went on to run out of rail rum, rail vodka, Bud Light, Fosters, and Dos Equis to name a few. The NCL front-line staff profusely apologized; the managers shrugged and offered a more expensive beverage.
Any time we brought up a concern about a clearly intoxicated guest being served additional alcohol, the front-line staff said they already knew about the problem and suggested we speak with a manager. When we spoke with a manager, they were quick with an excuse and continued serving the drunk guests. Eventually we stopped complaining to staff, and started sharing our poor experience with fellow guests--our experience was shared by many of them as well.
Near the last day of the cruise, the ships executive staff were made available in an open meeting with guests. The management team's response to the overwhelming chorus of dissatisfied passengers was, "Well, it IS spring break."
Well, it IS our money, and we will always choose your competitor in the future. NCL... you're now free to "Whatever."