I will begin this review by saying that I have traveled NCL before departing out of NYC and was not impressed. I was bored out of my mind on sea days and felt that the food was lackluster - at best. I was hesitant to select this cruise, but gave it the benefit of the doubt because it was leaving out of the magnificent port of New Orleans and it was the tail end of Spring Break, so I didn't think we would be subjected to such ridiculous sea day activities like fruit carving and napkin folding.
My group and I arrived at the port before noon and since I have ridden on a Norwegian cruise before, we didn't have to wait in the long standard check in line, but got sped through priority boarding (Sweet!!). After checking in and getting key cards, we had to sit for less than ten minutes. They called us to board and the ship was stunning. Unlike the standard garish cruise ship dÃ©cor, the Spirit was very understated and classy with very nice details all over the ship -- asian inspired sculptures and carvings all over the ship and on each stairwell landing. The main atrium where you entered was open for five floors up and they had faux windows with silk vines in window boxes under each. We immediately signed my 16 year old up for the soda card and signed ourselves up for a pub crawl on Monday afternoon (five bars with at least five drinks for $25). We got a schedule and a ship map and walked around -- going first to lunch at the buffet and checking out the pool. After lunch, I signed my son into the teen club and visited the spa for a spa tour and did an orientation on freestyle dining. I'll get into a rant about that in a minute. There was a lot of stuff scheduled for that first afternoon and it was a little overwhelming and just impossible to get to everything you wanted to do. Around 3:30, we got to go to the room, but our luggage wasn't there yet. We settled in a little and then it was time for the emergency drill. After the emergency drill, we were able to chase down the porters that were delivering the luggage and point out and retrieve our own luggage and lug it to our rooms.
The inside rooms on ships are always small and this was no exception. However, usually when there are four people to a room, there are two sets of "bunk" beds on each side of the room. In this room, there was only one lower bed on one side, an upper and lower bunk on the other side, and a pull out mattress from under the bunks. I don't understand why there weren't two upper bunks. Had I been aware of this set-up when I was booking, we probably would have booked two seperate rooms. Then, because the ship used to sail in the far east before NCL bought it, there was only one standard US outlet and two foreign outlets and the hairdryer in the bathroom blew nothing more than a gentle breeze which wouldn't even dry your hands. Absolutely useless. Since the electricity running through the rooms couldn't accommodate the wattage of American hair dryers, you couldn't even bring your own. I liked the set up of the bathroom. The shower seemed roomier than on other cruise ships, and there was a glass door rather than a useless curtain. Because of this, all of the water was contained when people showered and didn't soak the rest of the bathroom floor. Another thing I didn't like was that the bathrooms are equipped with dispensers for shampoo and shower gel and usually it's shampoo/conditioner, but this was only shampoo. After sitting in the pool or hot tub or swimming in the sea, hair gets lots of knots and it's impossible to get those out with shampoo only. -- no iron in the room. You had to ask to borrow one. Other than that, the room was fine. There were a good amount of hangers in the closet, and we each took a closet cubby and a drawer for clothing storage and there were shelves in the bathroom around the mirror. The light in the cabin was terrible for makeup application. Carnival supplies a lighted, swing-out magnifying mirror in the bathroom, and I did miss that on this ship. We were able to store our suitcases under the bed, so that helped keep the room tidy too.
NCL pulled a sneaky move and offered lobster in the two main dining rooms on the first night. Usually people are getting acclimated to the ship and finding the restaurants, going to "one time only" shows, and that sort of thing the first day, so they don't make it to the main dining room for dinner the first night. As a matter of fact -- NCL was sneaky about their lobster service all the way around. They actually make a point to advertise that lobster is served at least once during every cruise in the main dining room and appears on the menu in all of their specialty restaurants. Those are facts -- but to serve lobster when most people still haven't found the main dining room is mean and sneaky. Also, in the specialty restaurants (for which you need reservations and have to pay a fee between $15 and $25 per person), lobster was offered for an additional $10 surcharge.
To summarize the rest of the ship experience, I believe I got to try almost every free food that they offered and it was all generally good. Not the best meals I ever ate, but very few things were just gross or lame ("stone fruits" as an appetizer at dinner one night was four grapes cut in half, two quarter pieces of a rotting plum, and a couple dried apricots with a garnish of mint sitting in purple water(really???)) Because most of the staff is asian, the desserts mainly had the consistency of jello. Even things like apple pie or cheesecake wiggled and jiggled. That got pretty tiring really quick. My boyfriend and I had a date night dinner in the French restaurant one night ($20 per person) and it was gross and a waste of time and money. He got a wild mushroom soup as an appetizer which was the best thing both of us ate that night. I got "Les Quatre Cornets", which ended up being two teaspoons of four different kinds of salads (three of them tasted gross) in mini waffle cones. For dinner, I got a pork loin which was edible but not spectacular. I think my boyfriend got lamb chops. For dessert, I ordered crÃ¨me brulee, which was good except that it was the same crÃ¨me brulee I had the first night in the main dining room for free. My boyfriend ordered chocolate fondue, which was really some pieces of fruit and little pound cake cubes and a "pot" of cold chocolate which had all actually come from the buffet's chocolate fountain, which they served every afternoon and evening for free on the pool deck. Chocolate fountain is not the same thing as chocolate fondue. Why were we paying for things we could eat around the ship for free?
Another problem that cropped up is that, since you eat dinner whenever you want instead of having a scheduled dinner time like on other cruise lines, we never made it to any of the shows. My son saw most of them with the teen club and liked them. We did the pub crawl, which was a lot of fun. We did a murder mystery luncheon on the last day presented by the Second City improv group, which was also lots of fun.
There was a place to view the bridge and the captain steering the ship, which was awesome. There was a lounge at the front of the ship where you could sit in chairs or on window seats in the air conditioning and just look out at the ocean through the floor-to-ceiling windows. That was amazing. We tried to visit the fitness center once, but it was packed and really too small to be useful. My son used the teen club to meet people in the beginning and played free video games there in the afternoon, but he said the nights when they were supposed to have dance parties were lame because they didn't play radio music. Instead, they played things like the Pokemon and Sponge Bob theme songs. This club is specifically for kids 15-17 years old - Why wouldn't they play radio music? There was a chocolate buffet one night, which was nice but not the most extravagant that I've ever seen.
NCL had lots of scheduling conflicts. They would plan events all around the same time so that you had to pick and choose what you wanted to do and couldn't do everything that interested you. For instance, there was a comedy show scheduled to start at the exact same time as the chocolate buffet. I would have liked to see the comedy show, but I had to pick. There was a second pub crawl scheduled for the exact same time as the murder mystery luncheon. Same issue. That type of scheduling conflict happened every single day. You couldn't do all of the things that interested you, and then there were hours on end with nothing scheduled at all. They probably do it on purpose to keep attendance at each thing within manageable limits, but it ends up making you feel like you didn't get your money's worth.
We had an issue with beach towels too. If you don't bring beach towels back to your room to be picked up by the room attendant, you get charged $25 per towel. You spend the day at the beach or pool and bring the towel back before dinner and leave it on the bathroom floor. The room attendant takes it that evening when conducting turndown service, but room attendants only carry around beach towels in the morning, so that used towel never gets replaced. You ask for another towel the next day, and it appears as though you are asking for an additional towel rather than asking to replace the towel they took away the night before. I don't steal towels and I don't want to have to be paranoid that I'll be accused of stealing towels. If they are going to take the dirty towels at night, they should be replacing them immediately. This caused a conflict on our port days too, because then we had to track down the room attendant to ask for new towels before we left the ship and that wasn't always easy to do.
We also had an issue with people putting books or towels on lounge chairs on the pool deck and then disappearing for hours on end. The last day, we got up early and went up to get some sun. About two hours later, two middle aged women came up and started fussing and pulling empty chairs all over the deck beside us and my boyfriend actually heard them complaining that we "must have gotten up at 6am specifically to steal their seats". What the hell? Then, after all of the commotion and shifting of chairs and settling in after grumbling, they had the nerve to set their stuff down and leave for a scheduled spa appointment. I know that sort of thing happens on all ships, but cruise lines should crack down on that, because it ruins everyone's vacation. They should confiscate unattended items after 15 minutes and people should have to pick them up at a lost and found. When we were finished sunning, there were tons of vacant lounge chairs, but none without someone's personal effects on them. Ridiculous.
The ports were all fabulous, and I liked NCL's selection of shore excursions.
Overall, I would plan another NCL cruise, but I will never eat in another one of their "specialty" restaurants.