After reading all the negative reviews on Cruise Critic, my partner and I were determined to have a good time on our vacation. We now believe that the negative reviews are from people whose expectations were extremely high and unrealistic. This was our fourth cruise together and our second on NCL. We had a wonderful time on the 9/11/11 sailing out of New Orleans.
Embarkation: The check in process was painless. If you have cruised with NCL before, you can use the Latitudes check in line. The actual boarding process was a bit hectic. It seem like the crowd was hovering around the entrance waiting for their boarding group letters to be called. It did seem a little unorganized. We arrived at the pier around noon and we were on the ship by 12:35. Not bad in my opinion.
Stateroom: The staterooms were available by 1 pm, which was great! Fast turn around time for the Spirit! We had a balcony mid ship stateroom. It was a smaller cabin, but worked out for us. The balcony was smaller than on other ships, but was comfortable with two chairs and a small table. My only complaint the entire week was about the amount of smokers on this cruise. I know you run the risk of dealing with cigarette smoke when you book a balcony cabin, but it seemed like every time I wanted to enjoy the balcony, a colony of smokers would get the same idea. So much for getting fresh air. I guess next time we will book a balcony forward so the smoke isn't so much of a bother. Our stateroom stewards Jacob and Dio were THE BEST. When the bed began to cause my lower back to hurt, they were quick to change out the mattress and also put a nice memory foam topper on it as well. Problem solved. The bathroom was larger than we had experienced on other ships, with the toilet area having it's own privacy door. The room and bathroom may have been worn, but it was clean, which to is the most important part.
Dining: We are vegetarians and had no problems finding appropriate food on the Spirit. We chose to din in the Raffles buffet for most meals since there was a larger selection of vegetarian dishes. If you like Indian food, don't miss the daily Indian entrees on the buffet as they were outstanding. We did not dine in the specialty restaurants as they were mostly meat based menus. We ate breakfast and lunch in Windows a couple of times. The lunch menu in Windows is the same each day. The omelets in Windows were much better than the cooked to order eggs in Raffles, in my opinion. The black bean burger in Windows was great as well.
Entertainment: We attended the magic show with Fabian Solaz, the acrobatic duo show, the Second City show, and Elements. We enjoyed all of the shows, but really loved Elements. Very nice job NCL! It's not a Cirque show, but for a cruise ship production, you did a great job.
Gym: The gym was small but only crowded on sea days. It included standard equipment including treadmills, elliptical machines, stair stepper, free weights and Precor machines.
Sea Days: The pool was too crowded for my taste, but at least the smokers stayed on starboard side as requested by NCL. Since school was in session, we did not have a problem with kids running amok, and the kids that were on board were well behaved. Our first Sea Day, the Cruise Critic group met in Henry's Pub. We were given a special briefing by the hotel director and the heads of various departments on the Spirit. I was impressed that they took time out of their day to meet us. We also went on a Cabin Tour, where various Cruise Critic members opened their staterooms for touring. It was a great way to see the various options available on the Spirit. The newlywed couple who opened their suite to us were very nice and I was bit jealous! Suite cruising is the way to go if you can swing the cost!
Staff: Hands down, the friendliest staff I have ever come across. Everyone was polite, cheerful, welcoming, and willing to go over and above to make sure you were happy. The service was superb! And even though the "wakey wakey" man got on my nerves first thing in the morning, I saw how he put a smile on everyone's face, so I could appreciate him for that. (I'm not a morning person).
Ports: We booked tours in Roatan and Belize and I'll be reviewing those in the port section.
Overall, we had a nice relaxing vacation. The NCL Spirit may be an aging star in the NCL fleet, but she is more than adequate. The service on this vessel makes up for the shortcomings.