Norwegian Spirit - Feb 4th,2005 - 9 day- Southern Caribbean
Warning: this is pretty long, but I got so much info from others that I wanted to share our experience also.............
About us: First of all, I'll start by saying we were a goup of 28 travelling together consisting of ages 6 to 60's. Our group had kids, lots of teens, 2 young married couples, 30-40 something's parents, some singles and 2 sets of grandparents. Some were quiet...some were rowdy.....
Most of us were in inside rooms...4 to a room....yes cozy..... 3 were in porthole rooms.
We are all Canadian. We are not fancy people. At home we love eating in roadhouse, TGIF's types restaurants....
This is my 6th cruise, (2nd on ncl,having been on the Sun 2 years ago) Most in our group had cruised quite a bit, but we had a few first timers with us.
My husband and I were travelling with our kids, 6 and 10. We always travel as families with our friends.
Pre-cruise: My Experience with Ncl started off on a bad foot. I had alot of problems with room assignment, price protection promises........and various things which are still getting ironed out, but basically through alot of my own work and effort, writing letters to ncl, 3 of us have resolved these issues. I'm not going to go into more details about this as I want to focus on the cruise experience.
We decided to fly from Bufallo as it is much cheaper than flying from Toronto. We flew into Fort Lauderdale. We jumped on the striped shuttle buses to the big car rental center and got our vans that we had prebooked from Budget. We drove to Miami where we stayed at the reserved Hampton Inn (Doral) near the big Dolphin Mall. It was $90 for the night and included a nice breakfast. We stayed in many Hampton Inns, this one was okay, but the worst we'd stayed in. Some in our group had rooms with mold problems or did not get the rooms that they had prebooked. The staff couldn't care less.
Budget Car rental warning: Probably everyone else knows this...but make sure you gas up before returning the car. We were rushed, my son had the flu and was throwing up....everythng was going wrong, so we thought we'd pay the premium to have Budget fill it up, not realizing they would charge over $5/ gallon. (cost us $38 for 1/4 of a tank...talk about price gouging)
We drove towards the port, picking up water,pop and booze Hubby dropped kids and I off and he went to return the car at the Budget location in the Sheraton Hotel, not too far away.
Check-in: We got there at 2pm. It was a little bit chaotic and disorganized but they had lots of staff to direct people. We had additional paperwork to fill out on top of the pre-registration we had done. We checked in. Next stop was the credit desk. We chose not to use a credit card for this. We had predetermined we would only spend $550 between the 4 of us (including tips). This went very well. They had a desk right after the check in desk where you told them what you wanted your limit/deposit to be and they gave you a receipt for this. Any refunds at the end would be made in cash. Very easy!
We got our boarding/room cards, went through security and boarded the ship right away. (Promptly put them on lanyards........awesome cruise critic recommendation.....thankyou....thankyou!!!!!! everyone was asking us where we got those)
The Booze challenge: We hardly drink (like I have 3 sips and I'm out for the night....) , but the closer our cruise got, the more some of us felt the challenge to see who could get booze on........... At the initial embarkation, my big bottle, in my carry-on got on. Hubbies and friend's bottles, in their luggage, got 'held for their own protection'.....My sister and hubby devised many plans to get booze on, which I don't advocate, some simple and some utterly ridiculous and they managed to carry on much beer.......and a gingerale bottle full of rum on....
On port days, it was very sporadic...sometimes bottles got taken away, some didn't....the game got boring after a while.........then hubby and I had to figure out who would carry our 7 bottles of rum home................
Cabins: We had an inside cabin No. 5081. It was small compared to other ships. There was very little drawer space. Right away, thanks to cruisecritic insider informants, I requested extra foam padding for the beds and extra hangers. Antonio our room steward, looked at me, in amazement that I could foretell the hardness of the beds and got these for us right away. Oddly enough, when Antonia saw that we were 4 to our room, he asked where our 'other' room was. After a silly conversation which involved me telling him which rooms all of our 28 friends were in, he realized the 4 of us were in one room. Bewildered, he had to think about how to set up our room. Hubby and I started making suggestions and we started moving the chair/bed around as he watched. It was as if he'd never done up a room for 4. We figured the best configuration for 4, was to push the two singles into a double against the wall, under the top bunk, and put the chair bed between these and the other wall. This way at night all the beds were going one way and no one had to climb,stub or trip over anything to get to the washroom. Our other friends did the same. For some reason, my sister's inside cabin (11551) was different than the rest and was much bigger.
The bathroom was the nicest we'd had on any ship. Roomy shower with glass doors, didn't feel claustrophobic and was big enough for two...
Throughout the cruise, despite his initial bewilderment, Antonio, always had our room clean and tidied. He did a really good job ,sadly even with the puke...from my son's flu.... Oh, and yes, we had lots of chocolate bearing towelpets, which the kids loved every night.
I was glad I'd brought my lit alarm clock and the power bar to plug our rechargers in. The in-room hair dryer was fine for my needs which was to defog the mirror in the bathroom.
Seasickness: My daughter and I are confirmed motionsickers. Both of us religiously start taking anti-nausea pills before leaving.
I find the best product that allows us to stay alert, is Less-drowsy Drammamine (not available in Canada).
We spent the first afternoon, starting our daily regimen of eating every two hours on the clock, in Raffles, and then exploring the ship. We took a tour of the spa and gym area....which we never saw again......... (oh wait, ....on the last night, hubby weighed one of our two suitcases on the gym scale.....we had to buy extra luggage on the way home.)
The BEAST at the front desk.......Before leaving I had pre-ordered a Smoothie book for my 10 yr. old daughter (and me). I had talked to the NCL rep about her age, and she said the age was not a problem in using the book. I paid for it by credit card and got a confirmation number. When I got to my cabin....no smoothie book...I went to the front desk to ask about this..the amazonish blondish officer there (wearing a white uniform as opposed the red the regualr girls wore) searched for this and said there was none. I gave her my confirmation number and she rudely scoffed at it and her words " that confirmation number means nothing to us". I couldn't believe it. She said, she'd put a trace on it and let me know in a few days....a few days????....what? halfway through my cruise........ she just stared at me, while I had a fit........ I walked away shaking my head..... That day hubby received a phone call from her, where she said, we were never charged for it and that was because my daughter was not a teen. I knew we'd been charged, but just left it, as I didn't want to get in a fight anymore.......not worth it... I'd look into it at home....I just gave my sister the money for a smoothie book and she got me one... which was ridiculous, everyone got the books even those without teens...you just had to give them your room number.
We were able to order smoothies and drinks from any waiter..2 or 3 at a time, without our kids around even.....all the waiters cared about was getting the coupons........
(As a side note, when I got home I did check my visa, and lo and behold, I was charged for it. I called NCL...after much investigating (like over an hour on the phone) they found out, that at some point, someone decided to refund the book, as my daughter is not a teen yet......which will take 2 to 3 months to show up on my credit card.......Of course, no one phoned to let me know this....argh!!!!!!!!)
The Ship: The ship was very nice. To me it is the ideal size...not too big,not too small. The lobby and the oriental decor was nice. Like us, if your room is below the 7th floor, it's a pain to get to Windows as you can only access it from a certain way, but it made for good exercise. The Moulin Rouge is nice with a good view from everywhere. The pool is nice, but with not much seating. Chair hogs abounded. You've got to get your lounge chair early, and eat all your meals and practically pee from it.... They really need to enforce their rules regarding this, and take towels off... maybe assign an "undercover towel retriever", perhaps posing as a waiter that pesters people continously to drink.......at 9am. I witnessed a few scuffles and words exchanged regarding chair saving sessions.
The chair hogs even took over the kid's pools area, which was really annoying. I tried very hard....yawn...not to block their sun.....
Speaking of....the kid's areas are great. The waterslides were nice. The kid's hot tub was nice too. Sad to say, this was mostly occupied by adults.........okay, it was mostly our group...........As far as the kid's programs go, my kids wouldn't leave us until I forced them, for a couple hours each, the last two afternoons. They said it was "okay" but my 10 year old was embarassed to have to hang out with 6 year olds......including her brother.
Shopping venues are small and crowded.........thank goodness for the "street bazaar" on Saturday.......then again who wants to fight through soft elderly elbows to get those fur covered watches.
Sad to say, on Saturday night, in a moment of weakness, I gave in to my resolve to not let NCL have any of my "extra" money...and bought a Fossil watch, I liked.....I just gave in.....weak moment.....but I liked it.....
Entertainment: I'm easy to please...for example, I find watching the American Idol tryouts entertaining.........well, the production shows were the worst......I think even worse than the ones on the Sunbird.......which.......well........ No props like on other ships, awful dollar store type costumes (my favorite was the modern day costumes they wore as they marched to "Les miserables").....and the girls could not sing at all.....the boys tried.....but for some reason I kept coming back for more. The comedians were kinda boring (recycled material).....the magician/illusionist was very good. I battled sleep during most of the shows.
On the other hand, the singers in the lounges were all outstanding! I think my dad was in the front row filming every performance of "Millenium".....I hope they don't think he's some hotshot agent.....60820 was good too.
Not a whole lot of pool games....at one point there was a pool volleyball game which they cut short after 15 minutes??? just when everyone was getting into it??? My family was crazy and are suckers for free souvenirs.....they were in all the games they could get into. Having been on quite a few cruises, my little sister and her hubby even prepared beforehand and tried out for the newlywed game.....and realized the ultimate in their practical jokes, when they announced a pre-rehearsed answer, that the weirdest place they had 'whoopie' was in the deck 12 hottub.......grossing everyone out on the ship...(they were torn between that and the glass elevator). I still laugh............
Ricky the cruise director was nutty........let's just say an "aerobic line dancing" crazy man...............................
Food: We're not the 'pay extra restaurant' types. We ate at Windows for supper 8 out of the 9 nights. We would go between 5:30 and 6pm. There was no wait at this time. On a few nights we made reservation for 28 (you can only do this at 5:30 or at 9pm), which was nice. We had no problems getting tables for 10 or 12. Personally, I found the food outstanding on 4 of the 8 nights we ate there. The other nights, it was just okay. On most nights, dinner took very long. Myself, I don't mind this as I enjoyed relaxing and our dinner conversation, but it made it impossible to get to the early showtime. 2 of the nights, service was extremely slow...like when we sat in the geriatric waiters sections, George and another waiter served us here......very nice but sloooow...both had worked on the cruiseships for 25 years... One of them told us how he makes $5000US a month, takes $500 and sends the rest home to his wife who runs several businesses. We talked about the automatic tipping and he said it's much better now and he knows what's he's getting each month.
On the last day, of course, I realized that we had much faster service when we sat on the outer edges, where the faster guys had runners to get the food. Some others in our group mostly ate at Raffles, because of the slow service. Plan for 2 hours for supper.
Wednesday night ,The President's menu just didn't appeal to me, so we ate in Raffles. We had picked a good night to 'buffet it' as it was the Phillipino/Indonesia buffet, and it was really good.
We ate in Raffles for breakfast and lunch. The food was always warm and the selection was good, but everything sorta tasted the same after a while. The lunchtime BBQ outside was very good. Breakfast got very repitious though and I missed my plain protein shakes. I don't know why I felt the need to eat big 'hungryman' breakfasts....it just seemed like the thing to do...The cheese blintzes and the bran muffins were really good. Except for once or twice the drinks machines were always full. Halfway through, the flu was rampant on the ship, and staff had to serve us at the buffets which slowed things down abit......but for our protection.....The dessert were all beautifully decorated and adorned which much chocolate.
The Ports: Thanks to much advance research and the cruise critic board...our excursions were awesome. We had been to Barbados, St.Lucia and Grenada 5 years ago. The only thing that threw us off, is the ship left at 5pm instead of 6pm in St.Lucia, Grenada and Antigua....no reason was given for this.
Barbados: Our group scatterred. Some rented a van at Stoute car rental at the port. Some boarded a shuttle and went shopping and then walked to the beach...and then walked back to the port. My friend who used to live in Canada, picked me and my kids up and took us to my first stop: Shopping at Earthworks Pottery. I knew from the website what I wanted and it proved to be a great "locally" made shopping stop. I wish I bought more souvenirs here as there was not much shopping anywhere else......but I already had to carry and protect with my life.... 8 dinner plates and one vase.
We then drove to the Wildlife Reserve. I knew we'd be there at a good time....about 3pm and it proved to be good, as the place was almost empty of people but full of monkeys. My kids loved it, especially when one of the monkeys swatted my son's behind..... there was lots of turtles too......just doing there own thing....it's like the local turtle hangout.....very educational in more ways than one........
Our day was short there and we had no time for anything else.......Those who had gone to The Boatyard, said it was a nice beach and was alot of fun. (a 30 minute walk back)
Grenada: We had again arranged, all 28 of us to meet up with friends of friends. They drove us around the island, and we saw how devestated all the homes still were....chainsaws were going off everywhere, lots of rebuilding. The people are very proud at how fast they are bouncing back. They took took us to Annendale Falls which was crowded.....then to Grand Etang Lake....a lake that to them is special....I guess when you're surrounded by ocean, your 1 lake is special....Loverboy, the monkey, is still the king of the forest there. We then drove to the second city, Grenville, and continued to see some of the worst hit parts of the city.
What struck me was this: Obviously the island was very lush last time we saw it. After the hurricane, all the trees were stripped of their leaves. Well, by now, small new growth and vines covered all the trunks and branches......and it looked like topiary or like (remember the movie) Edward Scissorhands had been around the whole island. It was really different and neat. We ended the day swimming at Grand Anse beach which was beautiful.
St.Lucia: All of us had privately booked the "My Leisure" from Fred. Fred met us at the dock where we were tendered in, and we boarded the yatch. It wasn't what I would call a Luxury Yacht, but was nicer than,let's say, a fishing boat. Captain Francis and Shannon were nice. We took off in the rain, but things cleared up by the time we got to Anse Cochon, where we snorkelled and swam up to the beautiful black sand beach. I was surprised at how soft the sand was. We pulled out just as the huge catamarans, filled with hundreds of people pulled... Then we were off to Soufriere. The village and Pitons, were as beautiful as the last time we were there....It was misty and it made everything look even more magical. At the dock we were met by a small bus which fit all 26 of us. The bus was very nice and air-conditioned and they were very careful that no-one smelled up the bus by sitting on a seat with a wet bathing suit. We drove to the volcano, did the tour, smelled the smell.....and we were off to the Stills Plantation for lunch. Nice local buffet lunch, different...... We then made a quick stop at some waterfall, where some in our group swam in it for a few minutes. We then made our way back on the boat, and sailed home in rain. In that rain, some of us decided to forgo trying to stay dry. We sat on the bow, in our bathing suits, feet dangling in the water. It was really wavy. The warm water would whack us and we'd scream and laugh....for the first time in my life I understood why some people enjoy getting spanked..............(although that behaviour is still not for me.....) Fred was always concerned with our satisfaction........he's really sweet.........although there was things that could be improved, the day was great and well worth it.
Antigua: We booked Eli's ecotour and it was by far, the best organized tour I'd taken. Eli was very passionate about the damage that was being done to some islands and the power some businessman had in his country. It was very interesting to listen to all his 'stories' about the politics of this situation and also to hear about the different uses for the US army bases over the years. We also learned about the turtles and other species. We saw a razorback snake eating a lizard.....The snokelling was great. Hell's gate was beautiful and everyone enjoyed the options there, to snorkel,sit in the natural jacuzzi and collect sand in your body cavities, or to explore the caves and bridge. Eli and his crew catered to all the ages in our goup and to the beginner and experienced snorkeller. The crew themselves.....well, let's just say, the teen girls (and the crazed middleaged women) in our group were very pleased with the gratuitous scenery, we were glad it was a very windy day.........His boat is immaculate and they offered and served us lots of food and drinks. The tamarind juice was good, the banana bread the best I've ever had, and the rum punch the only rum punch I've ever liked.....back in town I searched for some locally made crafts. I found a small shop, called the Pottery Store, where Eli's stepmom sells her pottery.
Tortolla: Due to our short stay here, we relunctantly booked Ncl's excursion the "The Baths". We were told to meet at the end of the pier. The ferry actually took off near the back of the ship on the dock. Although we made it, one person in our immediate group and those who got off towards the front gangway, and went where they were told to go, got left behind...no one from ncl bothered to check at the meeting spot. Their money was refunded. Anyways, we took a 40 minute ferry ride to Virgin Gorda. We boarded open-air buses and went to the Baths where we did the hike down to the beach. This was easy but full of steps and rocks to maneouver. I guess some of the older people had a hard time and wished they knew about the other trail, by the car park, down to the beach, which is more of a straighter hike. We got to the beach and started going through the boulders. I'm a big girl, but I work out everyday and it was not that hard to do. Hubby had to carry all our bags though. It was really neat. The gigantic boulders made you feel like a child again. The kids loved it too. After we made it through, we stayed at the beach for a bit. The beach there was a bit rough seas, but it was a nice beach. We did the 'easy' but long hike up. Make sure you give yourself atleast 15 minutes to get back. We almost left without a couple who we waited an extra 15 minutes for.
All in all, it was a great trip. A few of us caught the 'flu's' going around. I'm still fighting my nasty cough. They had hand sanitizers everywhere on the ship which was good, I guess. The sun was super strong and I still burnt even when I put 45 sunscreen on 4x a day.
I think NCL freestyle is nice to not feel pressure to eat at a certain time, but we ate at 5:30 everynight anyway.
We chose this cruise for it's itineary which I loved and the price. If we ever booked with Ncl again, I would definately book last minute (at about 45 days before cruise). I have never seen the price fluctuate like it did I doubt I would reccommend NCL or want to cruise with them again though as their customer service is pretty bad. I have to acknowledge, the crew itself on the ship is much more integrated than other ships we been on and was very friendly. We've cruised with Holland America and Celebrity and they are definately nicer ships and top-notch service and better entertainment.....but we always have fun....wherever we find ourselves................on with the next adventure.......................