Two weeks ago we had no idea we would be going on a cruise anywhere. A year ago around this time we went on RC's Vision of the Seas to Alaska where we fell in love with cruising. As a result, I'm on a lot of email lists. The magic email deal came in and we snapped at the bait. Next thing we knew, we were going to Canada and New England within the week.
We flew to NYC at 7am the morning of the cruise (Sept. 14). Luck was with us that weather conditions were perfect and US Airways was flying on schedule. We seemed to be the only people claiming baggage...perhaps because US Air is now charging per checked bag? But who doesn't have to check a bag when you're going on a cruise? Even if it is Freestyle? In other words, we were obviously not on a plane with fellow-cruisers.
Off to the Terminal we went via a scary scary cab ride. Tip for fellow nervous cab-riders...sit BEHIND the driver. Therefore you cannot see just how fast he is going. It cost us around $40 (before tip) to get to the ship, and around $30 to get back to LGA. (that cab driver was much nicer and not so angry). I don't know if the difference was because of drivers, the route, the time of day or whatever, but we were glad to arrive both places safely.
Since everything went so smoothly we were at the Terminal very early. I had not been aware that the Spirit does a cruise to nowhere on Saturday nights, so instead of being able to get on really early, we waited for those passengers to get off. Our luggage was taken from us immediately, so that was a nice relief, but the Terminal did not appear to be too close to anything within walking distance. We tried wandering a bit, but learned quickly that we were not welcome to be near the ships, and it was a bit confusing to how to get where we could wander. Once we did get outside, we didn't go too far, as we were unfamiliar with the area, and didn't want to get too far anyway. We ended up just waiting in the terminal. There are very few chairs until NCL lets you through the first part of security. Once through the initial line, you are led to getting your picture taken (in the Terminal, not on the ship, which was different from RC)...then we went on to check in with our credit card. Very quick and efficient! Here is when there are seats, water and cookies, a very friendly, funny guy keeping us informed. We were allowed to board starting around 12:10. Even though we were some of the first people there we were given number 10, which meant a short wait. I'm assuming the people before us that arrived after us were probably Lattitudes members. Once on the ship,we were greeted with staff members holding trays of champagne and mimosas. I asked for champagne, and was told mimosa. I asked again, and was told mimosa. So perhaps that's again where a Lattitude membership might pay off? They were saving them for somebody. No big deal. The mimosa, by the way, was perfectly good.
CABIN: We had an inexpensive inside cabin on deck 8, which is primarily a public deck. We loved it. Robert attended to our every needs. We didn't have any soap gel in our shower, so we left a note, and it was certainly there when we got back. We also asked to have our twin beds pushed together, and he was happy to oblige. (We, of course, tipped extra, but were never made to think that we would not have gotten our wishes had we not have tipped). Our cabin was cozy and comfortable. No complaints. I will say that the walls are THIN. You hear the closet doors next door, and well, anything else that might be next door as well. Who cares, though, really? Our room was cleaned well and regularly. We felt very cared for. Towel animal count was three. Funny story (well, I thought so)....one night, my husband fell asleep and a minty smell woke him up. He had gone to sleep on the Andes mint! Watch out, cause chocolate spreads! So here we were the next morning, and I'm laughing hysterically at the chocolate stain, until I realized that Robert would have no clue which one of us had done it! So, I placed my makeup kit on my side of the bed, hoping he would know it wasn't me. That night...we come back to the room, and the towel animal of the day was a cobra. It was standing tall and proud, upright...and its' eyes were Andes mints. Oh my gosh I laughed and laughed to think that we were being shown where to SEE the mints and not lay on them! I realize it was just a coincidence, but it was a funny moment for us.
FOOD: We only ate in the non-specialty restaurants. That's not to say the specialty ones didn't look spectacular, because they did. However, we were happy with all the others. The first meal on ship I had a Cooking Light Tilapia dish with a citrus sauce, squash and rice. Plus salad. The salad was very fresh. I would've probably preferred a bit less dressing, but that would be fixed easily with a request of the dressing on the side. Tilapia was very good. My husband had an American Club sandwich, which he liked. Other highlights of dining room dining were a potato and fennel soup, a salad with fava beans and fried artichokes...both excellent! One night in Raffles I really loved a salmon dish that had a sauce of gruyere and white wine with grapes. I most certainly am not an Indian food expert, but I enjoyed the selections that we found in Raffles. Very spicy and good! In Raffles, you can have a pasta dish made just for you, a stir fry, even a hot pot soup dish. Not to mention omelets at breakfasts...and desserts were excellent. My favorite was a honey creme brulee one night in Garden that had a layer of chocolate on the bottom, and the top was bruleed perfectly! Shrimp cocktail...this is a different presentation from what most of us are used to. It is small shrimp that has apparently been soaked for awhile in a very mild cocktail sauce. It wasn't my favorite thing, but we talked to another passenger who liked it so much as to order three in one serving. So judge for yourself! If you can't find food you like on this ship, you're not looking. Blue Lagoon Cafe is open 24 hours for burgers, chicken wings, spinach dip, tomato soup and more. We did not try room service, so I cannot report on that. Having an inside cabin, it was nicer for us to venture out for food. In the afternoons, Raffles Court has mini sandwiches, scones, cookies and more. The Biergarten has burgers & sausages...seriously, no matter what time of day you want food, you will find it. At night, Raffles even puts out table clothes and there is always cloth napkins. Iced Tea, Hot Tea,Coffee and water were always prevalent. Lemons & limes were there, although toward the end of the cruise it was just limes. Coffee was good.
Soda service: My husband bought it immediately as he loves his Diet Coke. I'm not sure we would buy the package deal again. It is a bit difficult to actually get soda on the ship. Apparently they only have it in cans, and staff seemed to have to go far and wide to get it. We hated to have them run that hard for it.
Art auction: didn't do it on this ship.
Staff: I read previous reviews where people complained about crew members being unfriendly. That was, by far, not our experience. We felt like staff went out of their way to be friendly. Even the last morning, going into Raffles to just get a glass of water, I was greeted by three crew members, each of which said "good morning", and one added "have a good breakfast". Robert, who prepared our cabin for us, introduced himself to us the first day. There is an outstanding waitress in the Cafe in the Centrum where they serve primarily coffee drinks. One night, I asked for a lemon drop...not their typical drink, and she went upstairs to get a martini glass for my drink...outstanding! Everywhere we went on the ship, we were met by fantastic service & friendly and kind staff members.
Entertainment: This ship has continuous entertainment everywhere. Music is prevalent. The band that plays outside on deck is excellent. There's a couple that played inside that was also great. We loved Home Free, the a capella groups that performed. As for the main shows...the comedian the first night got off to a very slow start, but was good after that. The magician was good if you like 1970's magic. He had a pleasant personality. Not too sure why he even has an assistant, however. The "show" folks did two shows: "On Broadway" and "On The Radio". Both were very good and highlighted some great tunes. A minor suggestion would be that what was missing for both shows was a story. Stop and tell the story, instead of assuming everyone on the ship has seen Wicked, or Moving On, etc. Second City, the Improv folks were well, not too impromptu, but it was entertaining. They did lectures as well. A few of them have extra potential.
There was a guitarist in Henry's Pub a lot of the time with a really nice voice...David Oates, I believe is the name. Very nice, although Henry's Pub itself tends to get very hot.
The ports: We did not do any of the ships tours. We wandered on our own. Walked around Halifax and St. John. Found the world's most perfect beer at O'Carrolls' in Halifax and St. John's Pub...which was Pump House Scotch. Went off and did the Duck tour in Boston, and had some great Italian food inexpensively in the north end. Unfortunately, due to currents, we could not tender in Martha's Vineyard.
The casino: The staff there became friendly the last night of the cruise. Before that, it was the grumpies (which is typical of casinos anyway). Dealers were just fine, even though they were at the end of a 10-month tour. These people work very very hard. To customers in the casino, may I remind you that you're paying for entertainment??? If you're not enjoying it, why do it? Why sit there sullenly or bark orders to others? Those of us that cheered each other on and had fun, had, well...fun!
Games: We went to some Trivia games, "The Weakest Link", and Quest. All were fun, although the person conducting The Weakest Link was difficult to understand.
Overall: This is a beautiful ship that is lovingly maintained. Relax and enjoy!