Enjoyable Trip to Bermuda: Norwegian Spirit Cruise Review by StratGuy
Overall Member Rating
Enjoyable Trip to Bermuda
One disclosure before I continue. I organized the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet for this trip, but otherwise my wife and I are just regular tourists. However, NCL knew who I was and we may have received some preferential treatment. For example, almost daily both the ship's concierge and group events More coordinator called the room to check on our stay. Also, the few times I needed service, it was attended to very quickly. I attribute both to NCL's commitment to customer service. However, my active participation on these boards and the likelihood of me writing a CC review may have been a factor.
Day 1 Embarkation: Arrived just before 11am at Black Falcon Pier. Folks were lined up as check-in had not opened yet. The plan was to drop bags and wife at the pier and then park. As soon as we pulled up, a porter arrived promptly and took our bags. Don't forget to tip the porters - they are not NCL, these guys are union longshoreman handling your luggage, they do a good job, and you'll want to treat them properly.
The DW went to stand in line and I parked the car in the pier garage, $105 for the week. As I walked back to the ship, I took some photos of the Spirit. By the time I arrived the line had started to move - check-in opened at 11:15. Lines moved well. We cleared security, checked in with NCL, and we were on the ship in under an hour. Good experience.
Day 1 - Afternoon/Evening: Passengers arrive in the impressive atrium lobby, bubbly flowing and a band playing. The ship's staff is out in force to greet the passengers - you'll even see some members of the Stardust Theatre's production company dressed all spiffy and greeting folks.
In the atrium, we signed up for a spa massage - the spa would turn out to be somewhat negative experience in an otherwise enjoyable trip - and also reserved dinner at two specialty restaurants, LeBistro and the Asian one, which has three names depending on whether you are having Sushi, attending the teppanyaki show, or just ordering off the Asian menu, but is all the same place.
We walked the ship, there was a brief downpour, and had lunch - staterooms are not available generally until 2PM.
The Spirit is a nice ship and has a strong Asian theme in the decoration. It's very nice, much larger and better laid out than the NCL Dream (and it did not smell). We had a very pleasant lunch in a quiet, nearly vacant Windows MDR, still tied to the pier. The food was as I remembered: well prepared, tasty, and precision portions exact for one person. Service was attentive and prompt.
We tried our room around 1:30 and it was available - clean, well appointed, the Captain's Choice wine/fruit basket I ordered laid out. I thought the room smaller than the NCL Dream balcony room last year (not as deep). However, the room is comfortable for two people and we don't spend much time in the room anyways. The balcony is just the right size for two. Precision portions. There is no refrigerator, but we had one last year on the Dream and did not use it much.
As for room decoration, which gets comments in many reviews, it's either garish or bright and festive, depending on your outlook. I did not mind at all, although I noticed by the end of the cruise the wildly patterned curtains were replaced with a set of plain beige ones. In the room is a hair dryer, shampoo and soap (on wall dispensers), extra pillows, two beach towels, and your regular towels and linens. There's no iron but NCL provides discounted pressing services the first day.
Our room steward was Edwin. He and the second steward were excellent throughout the cruise. Edwin always greeted me by name, and was attentive and thorough. Lots of towel animals. Ice in the room every day. They work very hard.
There were two issues with the room. First, the room safe did not work on arrival. I told Edwin and he had a repairman in the room within minutes to fix it. Second, one of the bed side lamps had a broken switch and would not always turn on. We did not report it, but Edwin noticed it during the cruise and had it repaired. He was good. Tip your room stewards often and well.
Muster is at 3:30. You must attend, but don't arrive early as you will stand around. It's crowded, but ends quickly. Make sure your name is marked as present. The boat departed at 4 PM and we were escorted out of the harbor by two small Coast Guard boats (complete with 50 mm guns) and a Boston Police boat. It was a beautiful, sunny departure. Weather was pretty good the entire trip, sometimes spectacular.
BTW, stateroooms on Deck 11 will get noise from the Sun Deck above. We were under the Tivoli Pool area, port side. Noise was noticeable in the afternoon while napping (kids running) and early in the morning, it sounds like furniture being dragged around, starting at 6:30. Overnight, there was no noise. This was a negligible issue.
The first evening the production companies provide an opening introductory "Welcome Aboard" show that featured bits from all the acts. The main theatre, Stardust, is large, well designed, with good site lines. Paul Scally is the CD and we found him to be very fun during the trip. However his opening monologue needs to be punched up, came over kind of flat, and he was actually heckled by some drunken boor in the back ("Get off!"). That was unfortunate and undeserved. Paul was great throughout the trip.
Day 2 - First Day at Sea: We ordered room service in the morning, as we did almost every day so that we would have coffee and tea in the room - this is free. Room service is prompt.
The CC M&G was held mid-morning in Henry's Pub and several CC folks came out. We were greeted by the group events coordinator. A ships officer, the head of housekeeping, attended as did the CD. NCL laid out some breakfast foods. It was low key and a nice way to meet people from CC. Well done NCL.
We had scheduled a spa massage afterwards, which was professionally done. However, at the end while drowsy, relaxed, pleasantly woozy, they start with the hard sell. This is not the way to end a massage, trying to sell $60 bottles of body cream and your next appointment. Also, the bill didn't seem to line up with what we ordered and was more expensive than originally pitched. Anyways we got out as quickly as we could and I was disappointed. I know the spa is run by a vendor, but NCL should pay attention to what is going on there. I cannot recommend the spa. Stay away unless you must.
We grabbed a quick bite in Raffles and then attended the excellent wine & food tasting event mid-day ($15pp). The tasting is greatly improved over last year as they now serve small bits of food to taste with the wines. So in addition to the five wines (Riesling, sauv blanc, chard, pinot noir, cab), each person receives a plate containing wedges of apple and lemon, slices of steak and salmon, salt, and soft cheese with a spicy hot peppercorn coating. This is to demonstrate how sweetness, sourness, saltiness, etc in your food interacts with the wine.
So you sip the Chardonnay to taste it, then eat a piece of salmon and taste the chard a second time, you understand what food does to the wine and why some wines work and some do not. This is all done under the direction of the ship's wine steward and it was a bit of a revelation. If you ever wondered why one wine goes so well with a particular food and another doesn't, this event is for you. I'd estimate the retail value of the wines in the $12 to $18 range and they are decent everyday wines. Highly recommended.
A comment on Raffles buffet: it's a necessary evil. It's a way to get a quick meal. It's great for families because the kids can get whatever they want. Raffles is never my first choice, but I ate there more times than I'd like to admit because of the convenience. The food is ok.
Later Day 2 on a whim, we also attended the Martini Testing in Champagne Charlie's ($15pp). This was well attended - large crowd. Five cocktails were served over 45 minutes or so. The first was a delicious dirty Grey Goose martini. The remaining four were also cocktails (lemondrop, pomegranate?, appletini, chocolate) and, depending on your definition of what a martini is or is not, were delicious but not my idea of a martini.
It was a bit slow getting the drinks out to the crowd as there must have been 75 people attending. However by the time the third drink was served, everyone was buzzed, the place became a party, and no one cared when or whether the next one was going to arrived. The bartender had an ongoing narration that was somewhat hampered by a faulty PA, but was interesting and entertaining nonetheless. At the end, he performed some neat bartender tricks. Recommended.
Dinner was Sushi and Asian food at the Asian restaurant ($15pp). Service was top notch, the best on the ship. The sushi was good and fresh but not very adventurous. I did return a few days later and had it again. Recommended.
The show in the Stardust Theatre was the production company's "On Broadway". It was very good. The company comes out and sings Broadway hits pretty much nonstop for 45 minutes, with several costume changes. The performers are talented and enthusiastic and exceeded my expectations for a cruise ship company. It was very enjoyable and afterwards the company stayed for a meet and greet with the audience.
Day 3: We arrive at Bermuda on time, tying up to a new wharf built this past year. It's Heritage Wharf, adjacent to King's Wharf. You won't even see this wharf on local maps yet, but it's there! We deboarded after lunch and explored the Dockyard.
The Dockyard is an old naval base whose buildings have been repurposed for the cruise ship business, so there are gift shops, bakery, pharmacy, restaurants, and pubs retrofitted into the old stone buildings. It's pleasant but it is not a town and not much is really happening. You can walk around and see everything in about two hours. My suggestion is move to the more interesting places on the island. The problem is that the Spirit arrives in Bermuda on Sunday and not all transportation options are available. However, you can grab a bus to one of the big south shore beaches with no problems, just check the schedules to make sure you have a ride back.
After we walked the Dockyard, I found an idle taxi across from the pharmacy. The driver Carlton agreed to a 3 hr tour of the island for $80 total. This is much less than the NCL taxi excursion rate of $60pp. There are several older retired gentlemen operating cabs around the Dockyard and are happy to oblige. This was a highlight of the trip and great fun. We drove down almost to Hamilton, using back roads and main roads, and then back up South Road along the beaches. We drove by the Michael Douglas compound in Warwick. We stopped several times to walk around: the Somerset drawbridge ("World's Smallest"), the Scaur Hill Fort, Gibb's Lighthouse, and a scenic overlook along South Road. It was a beautiful, warm, breezy Bermuda day - great outing. Carlton was an interesting older gentleman with a distinctive outlook on life and he peppered his narration with all sorts of sociological commentary. Highly Recommend.
Dinner on the ship at LeBistro ($15pp). The food was well prepared, tasty. Service was fine. I was not blown away by anything there, but if you want a nice French meal in a small, romantically lit restaurant, then you will like LeBistro.
At night, the Second City was performing in the Stardust Theatre. This was a reasonably funny show, with some clunkers about cruise ship life but most of the show was performing classic Second City acts. It would have been better if they had prefaced the skits by telling us who had written them ("This was a famous Belushi skit" for example) There's some talent there, but the comedy is not always the best - the team is much better doing improv than the skits. Mild Recommendation.
Day 4: We decide to spend Monday in St. George. We grabbed the 9:15 SeaExpress ferry from the Dockyard and it is a very nice trip across the island. Arriving in the harbor at St George, through the town cut, is always fun. We headed right up to Tobacco Bay for snorkeling and sunning. This beach is small, very popular and will get busy, so go early. It has full services (food, facilities) and is my favorite spot when the crowds are small. Highly recommended.
After lunch we walked to Fort St Catherine for a tour. The fort was closed last year for renovations so this year it is spiffy. It's a very old, historic British fort in very good shape, almost no tourists there. Recommended.
We returned to St George and briefly walked around the town. This is a gorgeous town and you should explore fully. In the late afternoon, we grabbed the #10 bus to Hamilton, stopping at the Swizzle Inn for a snack and a Rum Swizzle. Highly Recommended.
In the early evening we reboarded the bus to Hamilton. In Hamilton, we walked down to the pier and found a ferry back to the Dockyard.
One note on the ferry system. SeaExpress now has a ferry shuttle from Hamilton direct to the new Heritage Wharf, in addition to the ferry that runs to the Dockyard. The shuttle picks up and drops off practically at the gangway to the NCL Spirit, so look for it on the right as you exit the customs building and you'll save yourself a 10 minute walk.
That night we watched the magic show, starring magician Richard Burr and his wife Josette. It was small budget, cruise ship magic performed by a skilled and likable practitioner of the craft. Much of the magic would work better with a small audience sitting close up and not in such a large theatre with a packed crowd. Mild recommendation.
Day 5: We had scheduled a 3 hour snorkeling excursion with Jessie James tours for Tuesday 9:15 AM ($65pp). It is booked with a credit card, but you have to show up with cash or traveler's cheques to pay. So, of course just before 9 AM, the room safe refuses to open and I can't get my cash. I called the front desk and requested assistance, telling them I had an excursion in 25 minutes. I feared the worse, that we'd miss the boat, and we are in a mild panic, but in less than 10 minutes security arrived, opened the safe, and we were on our way. Thank you NCL.
The Jessie James excursion was a lot of fun. Captain Jimmy O'Connor is the personable owner of the long time and successful little excursion company named after his parents (Jessie and James) and he was leading our group this day. He runs the snorkeling excursion in a small pontoon boat. It's lightweight and very fast, and fits 15 plus crew comfortably. The advantage of this boat is the speed getting from place to place, the small # of people, and the closeness to the water - you literally slip over the side of the pontoon into the water from where you sit. The downside is that it is small and Capt. Jimmy will not take it out to the reefs (5 miles out) in windy weather due to safety concerns - so this day we snorkeled along the main islands. It was great but I hope to get out to the reefs the next time to see the two 19th century shipwrecks there. Highly Recommended.
Day 6: We leave port at 6 AM, unfortunate as last year the boat stayed almost until noon. However, the weather was good and we spent the day in Deck 13 loungers overlooking the pool. Chair hogs ran rampant on Deck 12, particularly the family that grabbed six primo poolside loungers early, but didn't bother to show for hours, until after noon - I'm guessing that was at least a four hour primetime hog, maybe longer. Person after person, hour after hour, came out to find a chair - people that actually wanted to sit in the sun by the pool - and were banished to some far corner because of hogs. This is a problem without a solution I'm afraid and Spirit had hogs galore that day.
Dinner that night in La Trattoria ($10), which is actually part of the Raffles area segregated with curtains. The antipasto trolley was a highlight. The food and service was good, although I thought the wife's chicken parm a bit bland.
That night in the Stardust Theatre, the production company put on their show, "On the Radio". Like the earlier show it was well executed and enjoyable, putting on 45 minutes of radio hits.
Day 7: Gorgeous weather day. We found loungers early and sat outside all morning and into the early afternoon. Hogs were not such a problem this day. In the afternoon we attended the close up magic show, where the magician Richard Burr does card and coin tricks. You really need to be sitting at the table when he does it and we were in a balcony. It was enjoyable and we were happy to be out of the sun for a bit.
That night was the closing Farewell Variety Show. Thien Fu is an engaging juggler/comedian who basically sells the audience Henny Youngman's act and does it well, despite his sometimes thick accent. This was followed by the crew talent show, which was very appealing and won the crowd over. Lots of talent and charisma on staff.
Day 8: Departure day. Walked off the Spirit by 9am, home by 10am.
Overall, it was a pleasant cruise and we had no serious issues outside the spa experience. I wish the stay in Bermuda was longer, and maybe next time I might just fly direct and stay the week. NCL runs a good ship, they book you at a reasonable rate but then offer a lot of pay-as-you-go services. Be careful how you spend your money once on board. As a CC M&G coordinator I may have received service that the regular guest did not. It seemed like I was getting A-1 service the entire time, but it may just be my cynical soul. On the other hand, you may want to organize your cruise's M&G, just in case. A good trip on a good cruise line. Highly recommended, for New Englanders especially!
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