Embarkation: Incredibly smooth boarding the ship. I arrived around 11am and was in my cleaned and ready stateroom by 12:15, including a 30 minute wait for first call boarding. Check in staff were friendly and efficient.
Basic Ship Info: This is not a ship suited for NCL's freestyle cruising. It's too small and seems to be cut up into too many small areas. They would have been better served to cut out one of two restaurants and bars and make the others more welcoming. The Asian touches set it apart from more Las Vegas looking cruise ships. One can certainly tell this ship was not designed for the usual American freestyle cruiser. There are some spaces with a pleasant coziness to them that I have not had on other ships. There are many signs of cosmetic wear and tear noticeable, especially at the buffet---scratches on chairs, tile work that looks unprofessional. Some fellow cruisers who didn't do their research were irate because of the lack of newness of the ship. Do not go expecting sparkling and get the best deal you can. I did enjoy that there was a toned down sales pitch on this ship. The shopping consultant had a much lower presence than the annoying shopping consultant on the Jewel who seemed to be making announcements every five minutes. The cruise director keeps you informed but is refreshingly low key as well.
Stateroom: My ocean view stateroom was cleaned daily by a very attentive and friendly staff. The room felt small because of an extra pull out twin sofa bed which seemed to be an afterthought in the room. I would have rather had the extra space than the sofa. Bathroom was small but clean. There were some minor cosmetic signs of aging in the shower and on the tile. The furniture in the room was very cheap looking and flimsy. There was ample storage for two people. I cannot fathom how more than two people could be comfortable in that space although there was technically sleeping space for four. The bed was hard.
Main Dining rooms and Buffet: I had low expectations for the main dining room cuisine and they mostly met or exceeded those expectations. Breakfast was the weakest meal of the day, both at the buffet and in the main dining room. Eggs were generally over or under-cooked; pastries frequently seemed dry and stale. Lunch and Dinner were an improvement provided the diner sticks to dishes that do not need to be served piping hot. Their light menu selections were a stand out and a great respite from the overconsumption during cruising. The Windows dining room is slightly more formal than the cramped feeling Garden dining room. Service was always friendly although more efficient in the larger Windows dining room. Buffet dining is not to my taste although I did eat there once for lunch and a couple of a time for a quick breakfast. Quantity over quality should be the buffet's slogan. The salad bar, however, was quite good at the buffet. Fresh fruit was also available.
Le Bistro: A much less grand setting than Le Bistro on the Jewel. It seems, like so many other spaces on the Spirit, to be designed poorly and made to fit into a space designed for something else. The menu is (despite what they say) not classic French. Francophiles will likely be disappointed. Food was edible. Service was great. Worth the $20 per person surcharge? Perhaps if the space felt more romantic or inspiring but this restaurant needs a facelift and some serious re-imagining. No classic French sauces. No cheese course (when asked, they did provide me with a cheese course but it was the same bland American mass produced cheeses available in the main dining room). The escargot was quite good and abundantly buttery and garlicky. The savory "ice cream" cones were better to look at than eat. The lamb chops were served with mint jelly (Francophiles beware) and a reduction of what appeared to be strong flavored canned beef stock. The one vegetarian selection was some sort of horrible mixture of goat cheese and red pepper and mushroom. No classic salad course to follow the meal. Desserts were fine, if unspectacular.
Shogun: The best of my dining room experiences on the Spirit. All the appetizers (and I must confess to trying most of them) were well done and freshly prepared. Savory fried treats were never greasy and always piping hot. Service was friendly and efficient. Any requests I made were met with a smile. The banana pancake for dessert was quite good. Definitely worth the $15 surcharge.
Trattoria: A disappointment after enjoying Mamma's on the Jewel. The atmosphere is even less grand than on the Jewel. It is literally cut out of a portion of the buffet and made to look (at night) like an Italian restaurant. No pizzas on the menu like on the Jewel. No fish course (just a bland seafood pasta dish). All courses seemed to be very heavy on rice and pasta. Service was very good. The appetizers they bring at the start of the meal were very good. The ricotta cheesecake is a highlight of a short dessert list. A $10 surcharge seems a bit much for the experience.
Cagney's Steakhouse: You'll find the classic French sauces missing at Le Bistro in full use at Cagney's. Hollandaise on several dishes. Bernaise sauce available on the side. The lamb chops were much better than at Le Bistro, the sauce a much more pleasant reduction. Side dishes were quite good. Creamed spinach and truffle fries were quite good. The chef cooked my salmon to order perfectly. Service was great. The space is less than grand. Desserts were much more of a stand out than at Le Bistro. The chocolate cake being a definite highlight. At $25, it's pricey but may be worth the splurge.
Entertainment: I confess to being very picky and opinionated when it comes to singers. I wish I could say I heard any good ones on the Spirit. Their effort was admirable. I am not a magic show fan but others seemed to enjoy the show. I do respect the acrobat's athleticism. The lounge acts were less over the top but could be cringe producing. I did not attend the comedy shows. The Ship N Males adults only male stripper show in Maharini's nightclub was nice R-rated fun.
Pool: A big thumbs up to the adults only main pool and to the Spirit's policy banning chair hogs. It is not a huge pool but very adequate and enjoyable. The absence of unsupervised children and the availability of chairs made my pool experience a highlight. A smaller kids pool is available on the same deck but far removed from adults who seek a respite from screaming kids.
Gym and Sauna: A very weird lay out. The men's locker room is not connected to the sauna so men need to walk down a hallway from the locker room to the sauna. There is both a small sauna and steam room available. There is no surcharge for use of the gym and sauna/steam room. One obtains a locker key by handing in your room key at the desk. My only unfriendly crew member interaction was with the spa manager who seemed to be put out by giving out a locker key to me, especially if I visited the gym more than once per day. The other spa crew members were very friendly. The gym equipment is very basic but adequate for most.
Service: I could not ask for better service. Excellent. I had one small problem with the telephone in my stateroom and guest services sent over a bottle of wine to apologize.
Ports: Having never been to any of the ports, I found them interesting. Costa Maya is a nothing stop but I enjoyed the Mayan ruin excursions nearby. Belize was probably the highlight. The local tour guides were very fun and passionate about tourism in their country. The Altun Ha ruins and river tour was very good in Belize. The cooking class at Playa Mia in Cozumel is a must for anyone who either hates or loves cooking. The booze flows freely and the beach is very nice. Roatan is the least developed and taxi cab drivers there seemed insistent on ridiculous charges. If I went back to Roatan, I'd be better prepared and probably take an excursion. I did enjoy the lack of American chains in Roatan. It really felt like I was visiting a different culture.
Overall impressions: I got a great deal on this cruise, under $419 per person for an inside cabin and was then upgraded. It was definitely a deal at those prices. The staff make up for any shortcomings of the ship. I knew what to expect of the Spirit so I was not disappointed by her size or lack of newness. If you go in not trying to make her into something else, an enjoyable time can be had.