Just a little background on us. Our family consists of my husband (38), myself (31) and our two boys (12 & 4). This was our first cruise experience but I had done a TON of research prior to this vacation-I am a little OCD when it comes to vacation planning.
PRE CRUISE Friday-Monday
We left home on Friday, 9/2; it's about an 11 hour drive for us from Louisville, KY. We used it as an opportunity to take the kids to the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY. Interesting stop if you are into classic cars.
Once we reached NOLA we checked into the New Orleans Marriott on Canal Street. We were given room 3912 with an awesome view of the river. This was Saturday afternoon. Once we were checked in, we walked over to Cafe Du Monde for the obligatory beignets; which the kids loved. It was overcast and rain was stop and start, so we headed back to the hotel. At this point, we received the first robo call from NCL: our cruise would not sail out on Sunday, 9/4 as planned. Instead it would be late Monday. Totally bummed, we went to the front desk and Erica at the Marriott booked us for Sunday night as well. She was SUPER friendly and through out our entire stay, she would check in with us or wave every time she saw us. So we headed out to dinner in Metairie because it was raining in the Quarter and we didn't want to walk with the kids after dark.
After the first night in the Marriott near the elevator, we requested a different room because we heard the elevator all night long-ugh! They put us in 4001-Upgraded corner room with an even sweeter view! Plus, my husband is a Gold Rewards member, so we were given access to the concierge lounge (free breakfast, appetizers and desserts-the kids loved it). We spent the day walking all around the French Quarter and met up with some friends that live in the quarter. Had lunch at Pierre Maspero's-food was very good, huge portions, so make sure you go hungry. Got another robo call from NCL; we would not be leaving on Monday, but Tuesday evening:(
Monday we took the kids to the Aquarium. It was something to do, but if you have seen one aquarium, you have pretty much seen them all. We bought the combo IMAX tickets and saw Transformers 3 in 3D that evening. It was like $26 per adult. I thought it was a good deal for both. In between the two attractions, we had lunch at the Checkered Parrot on Royal Street-good food, but again huge portions!
I have to say that we loved the Marriott and would stay there again in an instant; everyone was super friendly and accommodating. Plus it's perfectly located if you are interested in seeing the French Quarter.
We debated on what time to arrive at the port because we knew it would be crowded with everyone excited to get on; so we at breakfast at the Marriott and checked out around 10 am. We arrived at the Erato Street parking garage around 10:30 (we made a stop on the way) and paid the $80 to park for 5 days. Quick and easy. Dropped our checked baggage with the porters and in we went. We waited in an extremely snakey line before we finally got to a check in agent. The gentleman that we had TOOK FOREVER!!! He wanted to sit and chat about everything and he could not work and talk at the same time. I noticed that the people on either side of us came up after us and finished before us. We were setting up our account with a credit card and we had everything filled out and ready; we probably could have shaved off about 15 minutes if we would have been at a different counter.
Room keys in hand, we proceeded through the line. We opted out of the "green screen" photo op before you get on the ship (we are not posed/canned photography people) and headed right to the gangway. Entered the ship on deck 7 and headed right to the dinner reservation line. NCL was offering 50% off of all specialty restaurants for Tuesday night only. The only places that still had openings were Shogun and La Tratiorre (sp?). We had no interest in either of those but we made a reservation for Cagney's for the next evening.
The rooms were ready when we arrived on the ship so after reservations, we headed to our room to drop off our stuff.
We were in cabin 4479 and let me tell you this room is HUGE! HUGE doesn't really do it justice; it HUGENORMOUS! We LOVED it! There was the lower bed (2 twins pulled together to make a king) and 2 upper berths. The room was clean; I didn't notice any rust or areas that stood out as needing repair. One plus was that the hairdryer in this room was a STANDARD HAIR DRYER-not the hose things that were in other rooms. Don't know why. A few notes about this room, you WILL hear the water hitting the bow of the ship; we liked it because it was a white noise that lulled you to sleep. You WILL hear the ship maneuvering when it docks and leaves port; it shakes the room some too. We also saw this as a benefit because it was kind of a built in alarm clock. The 2 days we ported, the noise started about an hour before we could get off. Just enough time to shower and eat! Bonus=chocolate covered strawberries and sparkling wine in our room; we had some sort of VIP status on our booking.
We left the room and went to have lunch in Windows (after reading many reviews here, I knew to avoid the buffet). They were still loading the ship, so they didn't have everything on board yet. But the food that we had was good. The only bad thing was that we had our appetizers and entrees finished for about 10 minutes before they finally brought my 4 year old his "dino nuggets." We were ready to walk out and feed him elsewhere when they finally brought it out. Apparently the kids food is on a different line and they had lost the order. The rest of the afternoon, we walked around the ship (signed the kids up for Kids Crew). Dinner at Windows that evening was good. We also hit up Raffles later in the evening and got soft serve on a cone and ate it on the back terrace as we sailed down the Mississippi.
Had breakfast at Raffles-aagghh!! It was crazy; people-cruisers and staff, were bumping all over the place. I couldn't get out of there fast enough! We grabbed some food and went to sit on the terrace. The terrace is a super nice feature of this ship. The food on the buffet is pretty standard with what you would find on any chain buffet restaurant in the US. The french toast was quite tasty and they had fruit loops, so the youngest was happy:) The orange juice was NOT good-bleh! But we usually drink the not from concentrate stuff at home. The pool was open so took the kids to the pool. I sat on the deck b/c the water was too cold for me (yes, I'm a bit of a baby when it comes to water temperature). Both the boys had a blast in the pirate pool. The two slides and the water umbrella=super fun times! Had lunch at Blue Lagoon (burgers, wings, spinach dip, hot dogs), standard bar food quality. It was good but nothing outstanding. Dropped the kids off in the Kids Crew and Hubby and I signed up for the Pub Crawl. (we had a pretty hefty OBC so we figured, why not?). This was a BLAST! We met several people and generally had a good time. You have 5 stops, with drinks at each stop and games, too. There are definitely some games you should volunteer for;) It was $25 p/p + tip and we enjoyed ourselves. I have to say, this was the only time we felt the "selling" that everyone always talks about. We bought our tickets and waited in the Biergarten for the start time. We were approached by 3 people offering to sell us tickets; we just showed our receipt and they moved on. "O-ley, O-ley" After the Pub Crawl, we crawled back to our room to take a nap!
Picked up the kids and took them to Raffles for dinner and then put them back in Kids Crew b/c we had reservations at Cagney's ;)
Dinner at Cagney's was very good. The fillet and rib eye were amazing. LOVE the french pressed coffee! Well worth the additional charge. Actually walked out of this one feeling miserably full. Got the kids and walked around on the outside deck for a while and then went to bed.
Most people talk about this port as being a waste. It all depends on where you go. We found Nohoch Kay beach club/restaurant and that is where we spent our day. THIS WAS OUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE WHOLE CRUISE! Honestly, I would take this cruise again, just to spend the day with Jaime and his crew. It's like heaven on earth. Booked it through costamayaexcursions.com. You won't regret it at all! (more about this in my port reviews)
Back to the ship, we had dinner in Windows again and then saw Dmitiri and Maria Acrobatique show. It was a good show, worth the time. The kids were mesmerized through out the whole thing. Ice cream on the terrace again that evening (we LOVE soft serve!). And then to bed for an early port day.
Went to Nachi-Cocum for the day. Beautiful place to spend a lazy day eating and drinking by the beach. Plus we bought some awesome coffee flavored tequila for $27 a bottle. (looked it up when we got home and realized we should have bought more. It sells for $65+ in the states!) Fed the kids after we got back on the ship and they went to play in the Kids Crew room. We went to Le Bistro (our VIP status got us a buy one get one free). This food was also very good. Ate way too much and we really loved the quite atmosphere. We heard some "interesting" conversations at the table next to us; 7 of the ships officers were dining there;) Rolled out of Le Bistro and grabbed the kids. We had VIP passes to get into the chocolate buffet 20 minutes early. So glad we did, because I would have NEVER waited in that line! But I was so stuffed from dinner, there was no room for anything else :( But it was beautiful and everything looked delicious!
Slept in this day. I got up before everyone else and ate breakfast and read for a bit on the terrace by myself. A few of the staff recognized me and wanted to know where the kids were; still sleeping. They were exhausted! Everyone else finally made it up around 11 am, breakfast and off to the kids crew for the Wii tournament and super hero stuff. DH and I spent some time in the casino-I am a sucker for that stupid quarter game where you push them off the edge. We decided not to do the pub crawl reunion; instead we sat on the terrace and review footage from the 2 days in port on the laptop. The pub crawlees came to our area-free rum punch for everyone! I think they gave us 4-5 drinks each! Every time a staff member would walk by, they would put down two drinks on our table. Would have been a shame to let those go to waste;)
We at dinner in the Garden MDR. I had wanted to avoid it because all the reviews mentioned how slow the service was; completely true! Our dinner took about 2 hours. Most of it was just waiting for the food to show up. I am guessing it is further away from the main kitchen than windows. But one plus, we had the best waiter we'd had the entire cruise-Josephino Sanchez. This man was working his backside off and he was so friendly. He even made 2 origami animals for our kids. He totally made up for the long wait. We didn't mind so much because he made sure drinks and everything else was taken care of. After dinner, DH and 12 year old went to play ping pong. The 4 year old wanted to go to the pajama party at kids crew. We paid for them to stay late because we went to see Second City in the Galaxy. They were pretty funny (this was the Adult version). This was followed up by TEASE-Burlesque show. This was also very good. I would see both of these shows again. But get there early, because seats fill up quick!
Noise/vibrations woke us up at 6:15am. I wasn't hungry, but DH and 12 year old went up to the buffet to grab breakfast while we finished getting ready. We chose to walk off, and walk off we did. SUPER EASY! We were off the ship at 7:15, through customs and on the road by 7:45 am. Stopped at Cafe Beignet for a last fix.
It was disappointing that we only had 5 days instead of 7, but I was satisfied with what NCL offered as a compensation (OBC for the 2 days, port fees and gratuities). I honestly don't think that we had a TRUE NCL experience. I could tell the staff was a little off their game. However, I do know that A LOT of passengers were complaining about a lot. I had one lady tell me "Right now, if you complain about anything, they will pretty much give you what ever you want." We really didn't have anything to complain about; as I mentioned, we were satisfied with what NCL did for us.I had read on many previous reviews about how the staff of the Spirit was the best of NCL. Every room steward we ran into fit this description; very friendly and always giving a greeting. The rest of the staff? Not so much. They weren't really rude, per se, but except for Josephino Sanchez, no one really stood out. The staff was just kind of there. But I attribute that to the fact that so many of the passengers seemed to be out to complain. I think many of them were just exhausted-mentally more so than physically. I do have to say that our room stewards were AWESOME!! We came back on the first sea day and there was an elephant on the bed. Our 4 year old found the stewards in the hallway and thanked them. We had a towel animal every night-he looked forward to getting back to the room after dinner to see what was waiting for him. We always had fresh towels, pool towels too, never had to ask them for anything else (Hansel & Rodolfo sp?)
Kids crew was amazing! The kids would have been happy spending the entire day there, if we would have let them. The 4 year old had his face painted every night:)
Food: The food was on par with what you would find in national chain restaurants. Everything was good. Never had anything I didn't like. I really liked the portions in the MDR's because they were small enough that I felt like I could try everything but didn't feel miserably full afterwards.
Entertainment: What we saw was good; there was just too much relaxing to do.
Sales: Everyone complains about how they are "nickeled and dimed"; we did not feel this at all! I think the only person that ever asked-besides the pub crawl-was a photographer asking to take our photo. I don't know, maybe we are intimidating? LOL! We never felt harassed or "sold to." It was pleasant.
All in all, we enjoyed the cruise. We REALLY liked the Freestyle concept that NCL offers; it fits our family lifestyle very well. We would consider NCL, when we are ready to cruise again. I do think that for those people who cruised the first time on NCL this week, it wasn't a normal week and therefor not a good judge of their product. But to each his own.