We took the Norwegian Spirit cruise from New Orleans to Costa Maya, Roatan, Belize and Cozumel, our fifth cruise. The logistics in New Orleans were good, with a short line onto the ship due to having cruised with NCL before. Getting on and off the ship throughout the cruise was easy and smooth. Due to lack of a deepwater dock in Belize, the ship anchors several miles offshore, and the boat ride back and forth to Belize City takes 10 to 15 minutes. The cruise line uses local companies to tender passengers back and forth instead of lowering their own tenders in Belize.
The Spirit has been cited as a different breed of ship among NCL vessels due to its being originally built for Star Lines and the Asian market as the Leo. Peeking into some of the inboard cabins, I can understand concerns expressed in some reviews about lack of space in Spirit cabins. We have chosen inboard cabins in the past when there were just the two of us but chose to go with a larger space with three of us on the cruise. I found our balcony cabin quite roomy as cabins go, with the largest bathroom we have ever had on a cruise. The cabin stewards, Felix and Kiran, were excellent in every way and obviously go the second mile in their work to be helpful and efficient. All through the ship, the decor was attractive, and the public areas were roomy for the most part. The passageways in the cabin areas were narrower than on other ships in my experience, however.
I found the food on the Spirit acceptable and some of it very good. I have been intrigued by reviewers who have cruised the more moderate lines most of us cruise, including NCL, who obviously expected the highest of gourmet standards at every meal, from the tone of the reviews. I would not expect such to be the case except on premium cruise lines. I do have something to say about the desserts in particular, however. Of the two NCL cruises I have experienced so far, on the Spirit and on the Pride of America in Hawaii, the desserts have been overall quite bland and "mushy" in the case of pie style desserts and desserts cut into squares. The attempt with these appears to be toward a gourmet presentation, but the texture and flavor are lacking for even common desserts. There are much better recipes out there for concoctions formed in a pan and cut into squares! Any U.S. regional cookbook is full of them, if that is the kind of mass production the pastry chefs have to perform.
The Spirit currently (May, 2011) has an interesting crew situation with an individual who forces himself into the spotlight by exhibiting behaviors some passengers love and others loathe. I'm a fairly extroverted person, but I fall in the latter category on this one. Within the food service staff, there is an officer whose loud voice cannot be missed if you eat in the Raffles dining area, especially at breakfast. If you only had to listen to this once, it would not be so bad. What's wrong with a "Gooooood Morning" anyway? He is only trying to be friendly, right? But he goes on and on with everyone he sees, his voice at top volume, repeating sophomoric rhymes over and over again, heard throughout the dining area and throughout the meal. He also occasionally struts around with a battery powered votive candle on his head. Imagine the class clown in high school, and you get the picture. He apparently has several proteges who mimic him with boisterous tones as they spray sanitizer on your hands at the dining entrances. If you want peace and quiet and the usual understated atmosphere, choose another dining venue instead of Raffles for breakfast. If you like raucous and indiscriminate interruption, by all means, join right in!
The ports of call on this cruise are not as interesting as some in my view as far as towns go, with Cozumel having the strongest draw in my view if you go past the first rows of shops and bars and get into a more typical Mexican environment. Costa Maya is a "made up" destination in many ways, built solely for cruise ships on an otherwise rocky part of the Yucatan coast. All the ports have the usual same shopping chains, the jewelry dealers, for instance. I have found the ports of the Eastern Caribbean more interesting within themselves. The draw of this particular cruise in my view revolves around the water and beach activities for those interested in those options and in the Mayan history accessible to cruisers on this trip. My wife and niece enjoyed snorkeling over the reef in Belize, the second largest reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Mayan ruins excursions are an option in three of the four cruise destinations. I took the Altun Ha ruins excursion in Belize, without the river trip, and it was very enjoyable and educational. The bus trip through the Belizean countryside was an eye opener, and Pedro, the guide for the excursion, was a wealth of information on wide ranging subjects related to Belize and the Maya. Pedro had worked on the excavation of the Altun Ha site led by David Pendergast in the late 1960's. He had his own stories to tell about the excavation as well as facts about the rituals of the Maya and the mahogany loggers who brought out the first hints of a Mayan site, pieces of jade, when the country was British Honduras. Here is a guide who obviously loves what he is doing, and I heartily recommend him if you can get him on this particular tour.
In summary, we enjoyed the cruise. Because it was a graduation cruise for our niece, we did it in late May, and the temperatures were quite warm. We would have done it in the winter or earlier in the spring otherwise, and I would recommend that. A few weeks later and we would have been into the rainy season, otherwise known as hurricane season! Beside the cruise itself, it is always great to begin and end a trip in New Orleans.