NCL cruise 2-26-12. Western Caribbean on Spirit.
Background: This was our first NCL cruise and we normally are Princess and HAL cruisers so I will make some comparisons. The ship leaves from New Orleans and that gave us a change from Ft. Lauderdale and we've been to NOLA a lot of times so we added a few days on to the trip. Being members of Harrah's Casino, there is also a discount that made it appealing. We also fly in the night before and Harrah's helped with the hotel room also. We travel as a group of three with two cabins.
We got in at 4 PM Saturday which was the weekend just after Mardi Gras. Took a cab to Harrah's Hotel, $45 flat rate for 3 people. Had a dinner coupon at the casino and stayed the night. We left the hotel about 11 AM and took a cab to the pier $7 PP flat rate. It's at the Julia Street cruise terminal which you can get to by walking through the Riverwalk Mall and taking the elevator. By cab it's a 15 minute trip.
The "check in" process seemed unorganized and we were directed around and asked if we had cruised with them before. When we said no we were given a number 4. We should have lied. They then started calling letters then numbers. We got on in about 45 mins. And entered into the Atrium. We looked around a little and then signed up for dinner at Cagney's for that night. We also bought a wine package in the atrium which had a 20% savings. You actually had to pick all six bottles of wine at the time and were given chits for each bottle. This proved to be a little problem with forgetting the chits or losing them during the week. We followed the scent of fresh popcorn into Henry's Pub and had a drink while waiting around. I didn't hear any rooms are ready announcement but when I asked, they were ready. So off to check out the room.
We had the life boat drill on deck without vests. Names were taken and anybody that missed was required to attend a backup drill. We departed about 5 PM and left the Carnival ship in port.
I believe Princess and Hal have a smoother check in process although it could just be the layout of the facility.
Had our M&G at Henry's bar, about 6 ships officers showed up. First sea day at 10AM.
We had a mid ship balcony cabin cat. BA 10568. to compare to Princess, the room was about two feet shorter, the balcony about a foot shallower. Its looks exactly like the website floor plan. The shower was a few inches bigger and had a door instead of a shower curtain. Less sink surface. The hall needed a brighter light and you had to get on the floor to get in the safe. There was no fridge, which I hear is unique to the Spirit. Mid ship sounds nice for smooth sailing but you were always farthest from any elevator. My wife thought it fine. We slept well, had good control of the temperature and our room steward was right there all the time. The walls were thin and the guy next to us would start hacking every morning. The power is DC and has one plug with a " no hair dryer" notice. DW ignored that and popped the circuit. Had to use that thing in the bathroom and complained for a week. Nuf said? Princess has more AC 110 outlets.
Never tried it when offered, so this was all new to us.
We tried Garden MDR no charge, Windows MDR no charge, Cagney's Steak House $25, La Trattoria Italian $10, Teppanyaki Japanese $25, Bier Garten poolside burgers no charge, and Raffles for breakfast no charge.
There is a lighted board that shows waiting times in restaurants throughout the ship. Green, Yellow, Red. So if you want to go to Cagney's you can either book it or just walk up and take your chances. All the specialty restaurants were pretty much green lights whenever we looked for the whole trip except Teppanyaki which was always prebooked. It was a Hibachi Grill that sat 9 or 10 and had three seatings a night. You could only book it one night in advance.
There were indications that the ship wasn't fully booked so that may have had some effect on the availability.
Garden MDR: Had a gumbo dish with a red snapper filet. Very Good. Had to wait about 5 mins. to get in. Overall Good.
Windows MDR: Had a chicken dish, very good. No waiting. Overall Good.
Cagney's: We had their oysters rock and steaks, booked it in advance for first night and we got a free bottle of wine that night which was pretty good. Overall Very Good.
They also had a Jazz Brunch on first sea day for $15. A little high but a treat.
La Trattoria: A section of the buffet that's closed off. We had EVOO, white tablecloths, breadsticks, I had Osso Bucco which I was surprised to find on the menu and it was great. Well worth the $10. I've paid a lot more for the dish. Overall Very Good.
Teppanyaki: Mixed reviews and a lot of garlic used. I liked it. The lady's didn't.
Bier Garten: Standard pool side burgers and hot dogs.
Raffles: Eggs to order, the usual, nothing special. That orange drink was watery. Then they had a fresh squeeze option for $2.50 a glass. They use micro grind coffee while Princess uses a syrup. I liked the coffee, wife didn't.
Drinks; We bought the 6 bottle wine package which averaged $30 per bottle. You had to select your wines and received chits for each bottle. There was a 20% discount and a 15% tip added. The whole thing ended up costing $166 which was $28 per bottle. This all happened in the Atrium upon boarding. We claimed the wine at any location and they would hold unfinished bottles or you could take them with you to another bar or back to the room. We misplaced a claim ticket but they found it for us, no problem. We lost a chit but they replaced it, no problem, just sign here. Other than losing one, missing one and forgetting them in the room, it worked out. They also had an 8 bottle package for 20% off.
Beer was expensive. There was a 6 for 5 at the pool and some bars. I had a Becks 12 oz. which was $6.33 with tip. They had Sam Adams which Princess doesn't carry. They also had 16 oz. MGD which was $8.34 with tip. Also high.
Daily Special umbrella drinks were $7.95 plus tip. NOTE: skip the plastic souvenir glass and save $2. You have to tell them.
NOTE: You are allowed to bring wine aboard if you pay the corkage fee, I think it was $15. But you have to pay for all bottles brought on even if you plan on drinking it in your room. The XRay machines were working overtime and everybody was in the claiming line digging out anything that looked like a bottle including perfume bottles with metal caps. They were real tough on the liquor.
This is big on this ship. They have also partnered with Harrah's and offer discounts to players. Depending on your Harrah's status you get a variable discount and some folks were actually guests of Harrah's. We also received a drink card which allowed free drinks while in the casino. It said bar drinks but they were using the good stuff. There was also a welcome aboard party for the players, by invitation. A player we met was also able to get us a coveted reservation at Teppanyaki.
Although drinks on the rest of the ship were a little high, combined with the free ones it averaged out to save us some money. It was like Vegas rules, if you were playing you might just get a drink. I did hear them ask for the card a few times. Also there were some players that did hit some jackpots on the cruise. They issued their own players cards.
NOTE: If you needed cash they had a cash advance option charged to your room for a 3% fee. If you needed a few hundred there was an ATM for a flat fee of $5.50 which they kept well stocked. Also your players card could give you money back if you had enough points. The casino was busy all the time.
While speaking of expensive, Bingo was $40.
Have been to these places before so we did our own trips.
Costa Maya: Had heard from CC that Tropicante Beach Club was the place to hang out. We don't snorkel so a day at the beach was the target. We looked them up on line and emailed to get our name on the list. They have limited space so they actually checked names. You walk to the bus/ taxi area off the ship, get a bus ticket to Majhaul for $3 pp. They drop you in town and it's a short walk to Tropicante. Look up for the sign. Beers were 5 or 6 for $10 food was good, I had grilled fish, wife had nacho's. Lounge chairs umbrella's and don't forget your PC they had FREE internet plus FREE calls to home. I think the whole day was $50 for 3 of us. You then take a cab back for $2 pp. Always set the price before you get in the cab. No meters in Mexico. Check out PICS on tripadvisor.
Here we got adventurous. We looked up Coral Breezes and booked a rain forest trip to see the Howler Monkeys with village tour plus rum factory which was quoted at $55 in a van of about 8 people. About a 4 hour trip. When we got there I forgot where we were to go and there were a bunch of guys with signs that directed me to the stand in front of the "Wet Lizard" bar. After a few phone calls they set me up with a driver. We went with reverend Melvin Davis in his church van off to the forest. We traveled through a few towns and then to this area next to the official forest. The guide took us around and down into a path in the forest. Then we spotted some Howler Monkeys in the trees along side the river. This guide had been feeding the monkeys bananas and when he showed up the younger monkey came down to us and we actually feed him from our hand. Up as close as can be. That was a great trip.
Shouldn't have left the pier.
Been here a lot so we did lunch at Pancho's back yard which turned out to be very good. It's near Calle Ocho which is a walk from the pier so consider a cab down. The place was packed and there was a line when we left. Print out the coupon on line. Check out PICS on tripadvisor. $65 USD for 3 of us. Plus tip.
BEWARE: The Blue tequila for sale in the mall store is $90 to $110 a bottle USD not Peso's. Try the free sample.
All in all we had a good time and bought a future cruise credit. Plan on maybe Hawaii or the Canary Islands or Panama some day.
We finished our trip with a late 9:30 walk off, the line was long because there was only 3 customs agents. Took a cab back to Harrah's and spent an extra few days there before returning home.
On Sunday evening I went back to the dock and watched them depart. That was interesting to watch the ship move sideways from the pier into the river then do a 180 degree turn before sailing down river.