Girls Getaway to Western Caribbean: Norwegian Spirit Cruise Review by bqkali

Norwegian Spirit 4
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Girls Getaway to Western Caribbean

Sail Date: December 2008
Destination: Western Caribbean
Embarkation: New Orleans
Hotel Pre-Cruise: We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott on Julia Street. We chose this hotel solely because it was cheap :) When we arrived at 11am there were no rooms available, but the staff was happy to hold our bags until later that afternoon so that we could go explore. The hotel was nicely decorated, clean, and had great service. The room itself was larger than expected with two queen size beds a mini-refrigerator and microwave. It was quiet during our stay. We had no complaints about the hotel. It was conveniently located near the Riverwalk Mall.

Embarkation: From our hotel, it was an easy 5-minute walk through the mall to the port. The only downside was we couldn't find an escalator/elevator to the port from the upstairs of the Riverwalk, so we had to carry our luggage downstairs. Since we packed lightly, this was not a huge inconvenience. We didn't see any porters anywhere, so we just rolled our suitcases along with us as we checked in. The process was quick and More streamlined, and we were on the ship within about 20 minutes.

The Ship: Our first impression was that the Spirit was absolutely gorgeous! We really loved the Asian themes. The dEcor was beautifully done and we felt it was well-kept. We had read reviews that it looked worn, but I didn't see any evidence of that anywhere. We also had read that they decorate for Christmas, but there were very few decorations until our last night onboard (December 20). There were a few areas that were difficult to find at first, but within a few hours we knew where everything was and had no problems getting around.

Freestyle: We had chosen NCL originally because of its "freestyle" type of cruising. While we had an absolutely wonderful time and will likely sail on NCL again, I think we would also enjoy more traditional cruising. We enjoyed meeting all the people on the ship and think that an assigned larger table at dinner would be a lot of fun. I think Freestyle's major advantage is being able to pick your dining time so that you can make it to any evening activities/shows you're interested in. We also appreciated being able to dress more casually in the dining room - otherwise we probably would not have been able to travel with only one carry-on suitcase each.

Motion Sickness: My sister is prone to motion sickness so we were a bit worried that she might get sick on the cruise. We brought along Bonine, pressure wristbands, and ginger. The trip was rough the first night, waking us up at 2am and continuing to rock until just after lunch on our first sea day. It was also rough around dinner time for an hour or two on our Belize day. However, neither of us were that uncomfortable and we never needed any of our seasickness remedies so we brought them home unused. The motion didn't affect our cruising at all and for the most part, it was a smooth ride.

The Staff: Everyone was absolutely wonderful. Crew members were incredibly friendly and very enthusiastic. It was hard to pass by anyone without getting a smile and a hello. The crew members, in general, were willing to go out of their way to make sure you had a special trip. Many of them knew us by name (and we knew theirs!). It was a treat to stop and talk to them about their home countries and get to know them.

Food: We ate in the main dining rooms (Windows or Garden Room) every night for dinner. Both served the same menu every night, so we tended to choose whichever had the shortest line. We both preferred Windows for its ambiance, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Garden Room. The food was quite delicious and we enjoyed all our meals thoroughly. I have one minor complaint, and that is that the food was never served fully hot, usually just warm. It didn't affect the meal so we never felt the need to make a fuss over it. The portions are small, but you could order as many dishes as you liked. My sister took full advantage of trying the different desserts. We ate in Windows once for lunch (embarkation day), tried Blue Lagoon for lunch once (lightning fast service but small portions so order two!), and Raffles for lunch once (we weren't impressed). The other days we ate lunch in port and just grabbed a snack at the Bier Garten grill when we returned to the ship. We ate two of our breakfasts at Windows, but found Raffles much more convenient on port days since the main dining room didn't open until 7:30am. Both had the same assortment of foods, and both were very good. I also have a piece of advice for anyone with allergies: speak to the maitre'd when you arrive and he will be happy to spend a few minutes going over the menus for the week and suggesting which dishes you can eat based on your diet restrictions. The waiters were very inconsistent in their knowledge of the ingredients in dishes, and also inconsistent with bringing special orders as specified. The maitre'd checked in with us every meal to ensure that we were enjoying our meal and that we had found appropriate dishes. We ate around 6:00 most nights and were usually seated immediately, but once we had about a 5-minute wait.

Activities: Frankly, I was worried about the sea days on this cruise. I am a "go-go-go" person for the most part and not knowing what would be offered seemed a little intimidating. On the other hand, my sister loves to sit and read and relax, so she was really looking forward to some free time. We did like the idea that we could easily split up on the sea days and do our own thing. We found that there were a lot of things listed in the dailies, but many were repeated frequently. For example, trivia was offered three times daily. Just by coincidence, it seemed like whenever there was something we were interested in, there were 2 or 3 other things offered at the same time that also sounded fun so we had trouble deciding, but at other times there would be nothing that appealed to us (this is when we would read by the pool, nap, or spend ridiculous amounts of time in the hot tub). My favorite activities were the game shows, but we also had fun at a bunch of other things. The Cruise Critic Meet & Greet was great - after "talking" to all these people online it was great to put faces and names together and it was also nice to be able to recognize them later on throughout the cruise and check in to see how everything was going for them. Some other things we participated in were Bingo (one free game; we were too broke to pay to play the other games), Quest (a LOT of fun!!), an art auction (just to watch), and line dancing.

Entertainment: Overall, the shows were great and of a wide variety. My preference was for the Second City comedy group - I ended up seeing three of their shows. They also had a magician who was very good, and some other entertainers. Additionally, the production staff performed twice, although I only saw them at their first show (On Broadway). The crew talent show was also a lot of fun. It was great to see all the staff supporting each other by coming to the show and the theatre was packed!! There were a lot of great acts and I'm glad we didn't miss it. Some shows had two seatings (7 & 9), but on other nights they would have just one seating or sometimes two shows, each offered once. I really enjoyed being able to go to the shows after dinner. There always seemed to be enough seating. Furthermore, there was live music of some sort around the vessel for most of the day. I loved having live music at the pool on sea days & sailaway.

Spa: My sister and I had some onboard credit we received from our travel agent that we needed to use so we decided to use it at the spa. We both got the hand ritual (aka the deluxe manicure). Unfortunately we couldn't get it done at the same time. The nail technician did a great job shaping my nails, but the soak and massage (the parts that made it "deluxe") were very short and not really worth the money over the basic manicure in my opinion. Now here is one of my few complaints about the cruise: I was rushed out of there before my nails were fully dry despite mentioning that I'd rather wait for them to continue drying. As a result, I had some noticeable smudges right afterwards. This is the only instance where I felt the full auto-tip was not deserved and wished that NCL did not put an auto-tip on everything (though admittedly auto-tipping was very convenient for the rest of the cruise). The spa facilities were very nice, and I enjoyed being able to use the sauna/steam room free of charge. The gym was also nicely laid out and had enough equipment for casual use. I found the aqua swim pretty weak and ended up running into the wall while trying to swim "laps", so I decided just to keep taking the stairs to work off my meals!

Disembarkation: We thought disembarkation was easy; we used the self-disembark and left the ship around 8:05 and made it through customs in about 15 minutes. We sent our bags to the airport through a service available at the port. It was a little pricey, but well worth it since we had a lot of time before our flight that evening and we didn't want to drag our bags around.

Conclusion: Overall, we loved the cruise and our time in New Orleans. In fact, we are already planning on taking another cruise next year, making it an annual girls' getaway. Now we just have to pick one :) Less

Published 03/15/09

Cabin review: ID9025 Inside

The Room: We were in cabin 9025, an interior category JJ, forward starboard. The room was amply sized and we never once felt crowded. It was very clean...until my sister fully settled in LOL. There were plenty of drawers for our things, and about 15 hangers in the closet. We had a small coffeemaker with coffee/tea provided. The bathroom was stocked with shampoo, body wash, hand soap, and lotion. Throughout our stay, we never once met our steward but he kept our room clean and we had no complaints (or requests). We had never stayed in the same place for an entire week, so we found it nice that we could unpack everything and get "settled" instead of living out of a suitcase. We had the opportunity to check out a friend's balcony room and were a little unimpressed given the extra cost. Unless I was cruising somewhere very scenic, such as Alaska, I wouldn't splurge. It made us feel a little bit better about saving our money.

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Port and Shore Excursions

Belize: Tendering was an organizational nightmare. We woke up early to get tender tickets and were lucky enough to get Boat #1…which is actually like Boat #5 because they let all the passengers doing ship excursions off first (even though our tour left just as early). The tender ride was about 15 minutes and then we had a short walk to the Radisson hotel to meet our tour. We had booked a combo tour for zorbing/cave tubing/ziplining. Again, it was just my sister and I so we had a private ride to the start of the tour (just under an hour drive). When we arrived, we were informed that due to some sort of issues with private tour operators vs. ship operators, we were not allowed to use the ziplining and that instead our price would be reduced to the cost of the other two activities. I was stressed at this point because the price for the other two activities was barely discounted from our original three-activity price and we never would have chosen that tour given the new price. After some persistence, we were able to compromise that they would substitute repelling for the ziplining and we were happy with that arrangement. Our first activity was the zorbing, which is where you roll down a hill in an inflatable 11-foot ball. I was freaking out a little because I tend to get claustrophobic and being strapped to the inside of the ball made it even worse. Thankfully, the ride was only 45 seconds long. On the other hand, my sister loved it!! From there we had a fairly strenuous hike through the rainforest up to the top of a cliff. There, we geared up to begin our 180-foot descent down the cliff to the start of the cave system. This was a bit scary (and my sister dreaded every moment of it) but overall exhilarating. Lastly, we jumped in the river and swam around a bit before getting into our tubes for our trek through the caves. This was my favorite part of the whole trip. Since there were only 4 of us in our group (me, my sister, and 2 guides) it was very dark and quiet in the caves. I really think that added to the experience versus going in a group of 20+ people. We probably tubed about 45 minutes, but I wish we had time for more. Afterwards, we ate a delicious lunch and headed back to the port for some shopping.

Costa Maya: We were one of the first people off the ship in Costa Maya since we had to make the most of our time with only 8 hours in port. We had booked a combination tour of Chacchoben ruins and snorkeling with an independent operator. It ended up being only my sister & I on the tour, so we had a private tour. On the way, we stopped at a roadside stand to buy some fresh pineapple. It was served with a dried jalapeno powder and limon (similar to a key lime) and was the most delicious thing I ate all week. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and it was obvious that he was glad to take us. We learned about the local history and culture, the Mayan ruins themselves, and even a lot about the trees in the area, which my sister loved since she is a biology major and has taken several botany courses. We would highly recommend this portion of the tour. Afterwards, we were dropped off for our snorkel trip. The boat took us out much farther than you could swim so that we would be in the best section of the reef. The snorkeling was fun, but mostly unguided. We did, however, feel very safe and in good hands. To end the afternoon, we lounged at the beach in front of Maya Bar restaurant with some delicious tropical drinks and fresh ceviche. All in all, it was a very good day.
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Santo Tomas de Castilla (Guatemala): We were off the ship right at 8:00 and walked to the port building at the far end of the docking area. The area was small with not much to do or shop for, but they had some musicians. There were many tour operators, all offering the same tours for essentially the same price. We had pre-booked an excursion to go to Las Escobas Waterfalls in the morning followed by an afternoon at Green Bay resort. The tour didn’t leave until 9:30 but we didn’t know that until we had found the tour guide so we had a lot of time to kill in the small port area. We bought some souvenirs and eventually went on our way to the waterfalls. There were only 10 of us in the group. It was a short, but bumpy ride to the waterfalls. Our guide pointed out a lot of the plants and some birds on the hike through the rainforest (actually, I use the term "hike" loosely – walk would probably be a better word) and we found it to be beautiful. We arrived at the waterfalls and a few of us got in the water to swim. It was a bit cool, but not too bad. The tour took about 2.5 hours and we’d highly recommend it. Afterwards, they dropped us off at the resort. The pool was VERY cold (much colder than the waterfalls water) so instead we played a little beach volleyball and canoed. The bay water was choppy so we didn’t canoe very long! There was a very limited and quite pricey menu at the hotel so we didn’t buy any lunch and instead snacked on some granola bars we had brought with us. Unfortunately our afternoon was ruined by the sheer amount of mosquitoes at the resort (there were none at the waterfalls), so if you go, be sure to bring bug spray!! We reboarded the ship around 3pm. I’d also recommend that you absolutely do not miss sailaway – the locals were dancing and playing music and it was fun to watch.
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Cozumel: Friday was our last port day and that made it really feel like our cruise was coming to an end. We started the morning by our scuba/snorkel trip. My sister was recently PADI certified and couldn't wait to dive in a real reef. Since I don't dive but we weren't comfortable splitting up, I joined her on the boat to snorkel. Our trip was supposed to leave at 8:30 but for no apparent reason, we didn't leave until 9:15 L I was a little disappointed to waste 45 minutes but there wasn't much we could do about it. Our first stop was at Palancar Gardens, for about an hour. My sister said the diving was spectacular; from where I was closer to the surface it was by far the best snorkeling I have ever done. We saw an assortment of fishes, corals, and anemones and my sister saw turtles, stingrays, and eels as well. Afterwards, we had about a 40 minute surface interval at Playa Palancar, a less commercialized beach area. It was beautiful and I liked just walking along the shore. We then went to La Francesca reef, which apparently had great diving but the snorkeling was better at Palancar. We spent about another hour there. After our trip, we went to San Francisco beach club to spend about two hours soaking up the sun before returning to the ship. We had intended on going to Paradise Beach, but the chairs looked comfier at San Francisco, which is right next door. We spent very little time in the water since we had swam so much earlier in the day, but had a great time relaxing and drinking quite potent beverages.
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New Orleans: We found the Riverwalk Streetcar easily and rode it into the French Quarter. We grabbed lunch at Johnny's Po-boys and everything was delicious! We then met up with our Voodoo & Cemetery Tour. Our tour guide had a lot of personality and was very knowledgeable about the cemetery. We learned a lot about the people and history of NOLA. Unfortunately, the voodoo portion of the tour was quite lacking. We'd recommend the tour to anyone interested in the cemetery but if you're looking for a voodoo experience, you need to find a different tour. Afterward, we did some exploring and shopping in the French Quarter before walking (15-20 min) to our hotel for a quick nap. We decided to go to Cajun Cabin on Bourbon Street for dinner. The food was good and the service was excellent. From there, we took the Canal Streetcar to and from City Park for the Celebration of the Oaks, a Christmas festival of sorts. The lights and decorations were phenomenal and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We were back at the hotel around 10:30 and went straight to bed after a long day and a lot of walking. Our plan for the next morning was to visit Mardi Gras World. We found the ferry to Algiers easily and from there were met with a shuttle. This was one of the highlights of our brief visit to NOLA. The tour was very informative, and we learned about the history of Mardi Gras, but our favorite part was seeing all the different floats. We also posed with tons of props and wore some outrageous costumes. The tour took about 2 hours. We returned to the French Quarter post-cruise for a guided history tour provided by the National Park Service. It was about an hour long and very informative, though I felt like walking added nothing to the tour since nothing was pointed out along our route - it was more like a lecture that we happened to walk during. Regardless, we liked it. Since we ended in Jackson Square, we thought we would grab some beignets for a snack but the line at Café du Monde was about 100 people long so we ditched that idea and instead bought coffee at another place to keep our hands warm as we walked to the St. Charles Ave Streetcar. We took the streetcar uptown to the Garden District. It was interesting to look at the mansions and the different architectural styles along the way. After about a 30 minute ride, we got off at Audubon Park to go to the zoo. My sister is a zoo-aholic so this was a must-see for her. I thought the zoo was nicely laid out and the swamp and jungle exhibits in particular were wonderfully designed. We spent about 2.5 hours there, and saw the place thoroughly. We walked through a bit of the park afterwards and then grabbed a late lunch before taking a cab to the airport.

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