This was our fourth cruise on the Spirit and 6th on NCL so I think it's fair to say that we know her pretty well and, yes, we love NCL. We hadn't sailed on her, however, for about 2 years so we were curious to see what shape she's in these days. We were pleasantly surprised to find her in quite good shape, despite the less-than-enthusiastic reviews you might read here. We don't nit-pick nor do we purposely look for bad stuff, as some reviewers seem to do. We are charter members of the Sunshine Cruisers so if you're the type of person who totally freaks when your waiter can't remember your favorite beverage on the second night or your room steward forgets to leave a towel animal for your kids then STOP READING NOW! "Any day on any cruise ship from any cruise line is better than a day at home." is our philosophy.
Travel to Port of Embarkation/Embarkation
We live on the Jersey Shore so we take the train into NYC & catch a cab from Penn Station to the cruise ship embarkation terminal on 12th Avenue. NCL gives you a lot of choices in ships sailing out of NYC (Spirit, Dawn, Gem, Jewel, to name a few) so this is great for us.
On the 28th there were 3 NCL ships departing from NYC; the Spirit, the Jewel & the Dawn. We got there around noon & embarkation was smooth; no long waits. We shared our area with the Dawn's pax while the Jewel's pax were one building over. We arrived at the terminal at 11:50AM & we were sitting in Windows having lunch by 12:45PM. Unlike other cruises the crew was not trying to herd us up to the buffet on deck 12 so we were able to go right to Windows. We also got our free glass of bubbly, courtesy of NCL & Freestyle 2.0! Our cabin was available right when we got on; some other pax had to wait until 2. Our luggage was delivered to our cabin by 5PM which was a little later than usual. Ship Info
We absolutely love the Spirit because she's...well different. We've sailed on the Dawn & Gem and while we enjoy the new amenities that NCL has added to these bigger ships we still like the "feel" of the Spirit and the Asian decor. It would be fair to say, however, that she's starting to show her age a bit; some windows are fogged over, the carpeting is getting worn in spots and the beds and linen could use the Freestyle 2.0 upgrade. The crew, however, does an absolutely great job of maintaining her; fresh paint and varnish, deck scrubbing, etc. We hear she's going in for an extended dry dock in November so we'll look forward to seeing her after that.
There's plenty to do aboard ship. NCL has started an "NCL U" that features knowledgeable pax lecturing on different subjects. There were yoga & pilates classes. There were movies shown in the conference rooms on the Deck 8 (e.g., "Iron Man", "What Happens in Vegas") sometimes during the afternoon and every night at 10PM. And of course the cruise staff offers Bingo...
As stated in Dining the service there was great and overall service on the ship was fab. There did seem to be less crew members around than we saw on previous cruises on the Spirit but this didn't detract in any way from the overall experience. Our cabin was made up every day by noon and turned down each night with towel animal & chocolate on each pillow!
We had cabin 9151 an inside cabin. We always go the inside cabin route because the only thing we use our cabin for is sleeping, showering and cleaning up. We didn't notice any excess wear and tear due to age. As stated earlier, the beds and bed linen could use an upgrade; the beds are smaller than we had on the Gem last year. I guess that's because Spirit was originally intended for smaller Asian pax. If they upgrade to the same as we had on the Gem we'll be happy.
One note; one of my bosses had a suite on the Spirit for a CTN earlier this year & thought her cabin carpeting was looking a bit threadbare. So depending on your cabin you may notice some aging. The ship is, after all, 10 years old now! Hopefully the dry docking next month will address these issues! Dining
We dined in either the Garden or Windows for lunch and dinner; no specialty restaurants this cruise for us. They used to offer a half-price on the surcharge if you dined before 6:30 but that was not offered on this cruise so we skipped the specialty ones this time.
The food was great. We had absolutely no complaints, except for one lunch & that was due to our cluelessness in ordering. We had lobster dishes on 2 occasions. The Beef Wellington was fabulous, as were the escargot apps. The wait staff seemed a bit harried but unfailingly polite and attentive. They've eliminated the comment cards which disappointed us a bit; we like to write up a server who does an exceptional job (and even those who just do their job well!). DW remarked that there seemed to be less wait staff than on our previous cruises on the Spirit. We did not notice any difference in the quality of service, however, which was great.
One pet peeve; the new $10/pp surcharge for LaTrattoria. C'mon, NCL!! I could see charging extra for LaCucina on the Gem (which you didn't do when we sailed on her) but LaTrattoria is just "carved" out of Raffles every night!!
Speaking of Raffles we ate breakfast there each morning and "snacked" for late lunches and dinners (hey! We get hungry late afternoons & after the shows in the evenings!! lol). They've improved the wait times for ordering eggs, omelets & waffles so DW was able to get her western omelet in 5 minutes or less. The food quality was quite good for all three meals; better than our previous trips on the Spirit but not quite as good as the Gem. If you're used to the buffet on the newer Jewel class ships be prepared; Raffles is the "traditional" ships buffet sans stations like you see on the newer ships. It does have its own unique charm, though, and we enjoy eating there.
The Blue Lagoon was our "go to" place after 10PM every night. One thing that makes the Spirit different than her sister ships (and another reason we like her) is the location of the Blue Lagoon. On the Spirit it's on Deck 7, right on the main passageway between the Casino & the Grand Centrum. So it's great to sit & "people watch" (one of our favorite pastimes!!). The quality of the food here has also improved since our last voyage on the Spirit and the menu has also changed (Hint: try the new panini sandwich!!!). It's a great place for a snack and late afternoon/late evening meal. We actually saw people eating dinner there on lobster night!!
Chocoholic Buffet? Yup! In Windows on the 4th night of the cruise. Yum!
We had one BBQ in the pool area on embarkation day which was quite good. The colder weather precluded any other outdoor food activities. Entertainment
The new CD for the Spirit is Mr. Iain Bagshaw. Yes, he really does spell his name with an extra "i". He and his team kept things hopping for the 6 days. They held the obligatory "Newlywed and Not-so-Newlywed" Game as well as "The Quest" up in the Galaxy of the Stars. Newlywed is always fun to watch. We're not Questers but we know there are LOTS of you out there who are so we mention that they did have The Quest on this cruise (the last night, to be precise). We don't do Bingo but sat in on a couple of sessions while reading up in the Galaxy & it sounded like fun.
Night#1 - featured an a capella group named Home Free that was absolutely terrific. They also gave two half-hour shows nightly in Champagne Charlie's. Check them out if they're on your cruise!!
The NCL Production Company did two shows; On Broadway & On the Radio. Both were very lively & entertaining. The dancing & singing was up to their usual high standards.
Comedy & juggling was provided by Peter Sasso who also was a panelist on the Liars Club. Sasso is a hoot so make sure you see him. He did one show in the Stardust & three in the Galaxy of the Stars.
Second City did one set-piece comedy show in the Stardust & three completely improv shows up in the Galaxy. DW & I find that Second City runs hot and cold; we've seen them on 4 of the last NCL cruises we've been on. I like improvisational comedy a lot but DW doesn't care much for it. We both agreed that the Second Cityers were definitely "on their game" this cruise, though. One of them was on the Liars Club panel and completely stole the show!
Karaoke is now being held in O'Henry's Pub on Deck 7 almost every night from 8 till 10. We like Karaoke a lot (listening, that is, NOT doing it!!!) but found that it was near next to impossible to get a seat if you got there after 8:30. Iain & crew might consider moving it to a bigger venue although there is a LOT to be said for the intimacy of O'Henry's. If you've never been in this pub it's on Deck 7, next to the Reception Desk & resembles an English Pub right down to the dart board! It's also the ONLY place on the Spirit that I found where you can get draft beer!! (I got spoiled on the Gem last year; draft beer was available in most of the bars on that ship). Fish & Chips & Buffalo wings are also available!
Our last cruise on the Spirit featured a duo named Jose & Patty. We were disappointed not to see them again this time but also know that shipboard entertainers move around a lot. Has anyone seen them lately and on what ship?
We get off the ship but generally do NOT do the NCL-sponsored excursions; we prefer to "do our own thing" ashore. As such we cannot comment accurately on the quality of the NCL excursions that they sell. We feel, though, that they're WAY overpriced for what you get. As an example, in Halifax they offered a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of 90 minutes for $52 each. We've done these all over Europe & the US & paid any where from $30 in Cadiz (2.5 hours) to $70 in NYC (4 hours or longer).
We had never been to Halifax or St. John so it was worth getting off & walking around. NCL had shuttles available to take you into the center of each at reasonable prices ($10 for both of us). Check out the market in St John, btw! It'll remind you of the Public Market in Seattle, WA.
I grew up in the Boston area & summered on the Cape as a kid so Boston & Martha's Vineyard were no mystery to me. NCL offered a shuttle bus to Quincy Market at $17 each which isn't too bad a price. You can then take the "T" anywhere else in BeanTown you care to go & that's what we did.
Getting off at Martha's Vineyard requires a tender. CD Iain told us that 3 of the last 4 cruises couldn't stop there due to the weather. This time the Captain decided to chance it & we were planning on getting off. Early tenders are reserved for those going on NCL excursions. After that it's "first come, first served". You can pick up tender tix in Champagne Charlie's on Deck 8 after 9:30AM (or whenever they announce it). We were slated for Tender #9 but were delayed due to rough seas & high wind conditions. As the morning wore on we decided to forego getting off which was probably a smart decision. The seas & wind continued to get rougher & at 2PM they cancelled all outbound tenders; they would only tender pax returning from the Vineyard. As it was we were supposed to up anchor by 5:45 but didn't till an hour later. Part of the problem also was some old fishing cables became tangled in the ship's anchor!! The Captain at the final show that night introduced to the crowd 4 deck engineers who used acetylene torches to cut us loose. He said that they "saved the day" and that anyone who had flights out of NY the next day before noon should thank these 4 gentlemen because if not for them we'd have been 3 hours late arriving in NYC!
We always do the Express Disembarkation on every cruise we take if it's available. This is where you carry your own luggage off & you usually get off well before any other pax so this is a great feature! This time it wasn't advertised in the Freestyle Daily so I had to ask at Reception. The lady there just signed us right up & that was that! On Saturday morning we had breakfast in Raffles at 8:30 (along with 1000 or so of our fellow pax…lol), went back to our room at 9. The ship cleared Customs at 9:45 or so, we got off at 10. BTW, here's a hint for taxi takers; do NOT use the taxi stand at the ship terminal!! Just exit the terminal from the street level, walk across 12th Avenue to the taxi stand there. We were in Penn Station by 10:15 and home by 1PM.
One weird thing we encountered this cruise. Because Boston was our point-of-entry back into the US we all had to get up on Thursday morning & march up to the Galaxy to be processed by US Customs (foreigners/resident aliens went to the Stardust Theater). It was very organized; NCL excursionists went first then everyone else by deck. You just had to show your passport/ID and your ship's card which then was tagged with a red circle. The weird thing was that DW & I had to do this again when we left the ship terminal in NY. I dunno if this was because we were Express Disembarking or whatever but it seemed weird having to go through this twice. Not to mention having to get up early…well 9AM is early for us on a cruise…lol
We can't wait until next year to cruise on the Spirit after she gets her Freestyle 2.0 make-over in dry dock next month. The Spirit is a truly unique ship in the NCL fleet so if you're used to cruising on the Jewel-class ships like the Gem, Pearl, Star, Dawn, etc. you really should give the Spirit a try. We'll be definitely looking at her for next year and looking forward to reading reviews of her after the dry dock.