We arrived at the pier around 11am. We were in our cabin by noon. We are both non-US citizens and Latitudes members and there was some initial confusion as to where exactly we should go; up the stairs, sent back down, sent back up, sent back down. Blimey, I'd had a work-out before I even got my keycard!!
We were also very lucky and managed to get an upgrade; we had booked a G cat. porthole cabin and were upgraded to a D cat. window cabin which was great, however that lead to confusion later - more on that to follow. But apart from that everything was hassle free and after a celebratory glass of wine in our cabin and unpacking the items in our hand luggage we headed to Windows for lunch overlooking the Hudson River.
After that we explored the ship some more, viewed some menus in reception, enquired about formal night(s) and after learning that there was no discounted price for any of the specialty restaurants decided not to rush into booking them straight away until we had a plan of action.
It was very cold for sail-away; we persevered until the Statue of Liberty before finally giving up and going to Galaxy of the Stars for the passing under the Verrazano Bridge.
By now it was after 6pm so we headed back to our room to see if our luggage had arrived. It hadn't. Was this because of the wine we packed we wondered.......? But no, it was because of the cabin upgrade, our luggage didn't follow us. So we went to the original cabin, and sure enough, the luggage was there outside the cabin all alone so we decided to just take it ourselves to our new cabin. What I didn't realize however at this point, was that my husband had pre-ordered some flowers through NCL and of course they didn't make it to the new cabin either. Without me knowing, he had gone to reception and enquired about this, and shortly after that the flowers were delivered to our cabin, and the message card a day or two later.
The first night we ate at the Garden Room and had Prime Rib. I'm no expert on Prime Rib but to me, and my hubbie, it tasted great. After a couple of drinks at Champagne Charlies, which turned out to be one of our favorite places, we had an early(ish) night after an action packed day!!
The food and restaurants in general we found to be pretty good. We actually preferred the decor of the restaurants on the Spirit to those on the Dawn. Granted, it wasn't always what you would call 'gourmet', but I never had a reason to complain about any of the food or the service. I haven't cruised with any other lines so I obviously can't compare, but we enjoyed pretty much every meal we had, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner....
....Apart from Raffles buffet that is, but I didn't expect great things here, we only went there for breakfast twice and it if you go at prime time it is utter chaos. But it was on the Dawn too. The food tasted good, the made-to-order omelettes were great, and once you'd fought your way through the crowds, avoided the children running round your feet, dodged the spills on the floor, finally found a coffee cup to put your coffee in, and ahhhhhhhhhhh you sit down to find that the food has gone cold. If you are able to go to Windows instead for your breakfast I highly recommend doing so.
We tried two specialty restaurants; Teppanyaki and Le Bistro. Both were excellent and well worth the extra money, not just for the high quality of food but more for the dining experience. We had a wonderful four course dinner at Le Bistro which lasted two hours. I'm sure you could speed it up if you wished, but we chose it that way and even though we thought we would explode with all the food, we just HAD to order the chocolate fondue...
La Trattoria was a bit of a disappointment, not for the quality of food but more for the small selection; I'm sure I've seen menus posted for 'made-to-order pizza' and other meat/fish dishes, but there are only five pasta dishes as entrees on the entire menu. No chicken parm either. It also isn't a separate restaurant, just a sectioned-off part of Raffles buffet, but with candles and Italian table decorations. The lights aren't dimmed though and it was just lacking something, even though they made an effort to give extra special service and a wine sommelier was available, I just feel they could have made it better decoration/ambience wise - although we noted that it was the same on the Dawn. Having said that, the pasta I had was extremely good, as were the breads and olives they put on the table to begin with.
We both really enjoyed Windows and Garden Room for dinner; we were trying to cut a few costs here and there with this being an un-planned 'splurge' of a vacation and we were able to do this, with a nice mix of main restaurants and specialty restaurants, it worked out well for us. We spent about $500 less on our onboard account by doing this, cutting down on the expensive excursions and taking some wine on board for consumption in our cabin. But we still had an action packed time and didn't feel at all like we were missing out on anything.
As for entertainment; we saw quite a few shows too, and enjoyed most of them. My least favorite was the last night; the farewell variety night, it just didn't seem to work and I expected more of a finale. I did however really enjoy the other magic shows, and the opera singer was very good. We spent a few late nights at Galaxy too; we saw the Liars club, the adults only comedy show, the 'ship n males', all of which were pretty funny.
The only planned excursion through NCL we did was in Bermuda; the EZ Rider (or Lazy rider as I called it) bike and hike tour. It was fantastic!! Our favorite day in fact. The bikes are power assisted so even though you're pedaling, they assist you, so you can go up hills really easily. And I'm not particularly fit. They take you on a well planned tour for just over two hours through the hills of the west side of Bermuda and it is just stunning, the views are amazing. It feels really safe too, with the tour leader (an older chap) leading the way at the front, and his son at the back, you are well protected, and they are very patient. I think there was about 25 in our tour, ranging from teenagers to people in perhaps their 50's - all the locals wave at you and truck drivers honk their horns and we were all 'ringing our bells' back at them - it was a lot of fun and I highly recommend it.
In St. Maarten we took a cab to Orient beach; it was just gorgeous - we were there by 9am and drinking Bloody Mary's by 9.01 and it was just so nice and peaceful so early, we loved it and spent a lot of time bobbing about in the beautiful clear water. Be warned though, areas of this beach are nudists and they do wander from their area into the main part of the beach, ooh err........We left the beach a little early in time to try a jet ski in the main harbor - I have to say that riding around our ship on a jet-ski is a unique experience - we loved it!
St. Thomas - We expected to dock at the main fixed Havensight pier but instead docked at Crown Bay, 3.5 miles away. But we didn't realize this, and set off walking from the ship to the shopping area, which turned out to be quite a walk and we ended up getting a little sunburned. Once there though, the shopping area is very pretty. The shops and little cafes are really cute and after lunch we went on the Sky-Ride to Paradise Point. At $16 each it was well worth it, the views are amazing and whilst sitting at the top having a beer we could see the Spirit all the way in the distance, and I was quietly thinking to myself, what if we saw it set off without us........Luckily it didn't, we were back in plenty of time, but took a cab back, as my blisters hurt from the walk there!!
The Tivoli pool area - it did get VERY crowded. On the Thursday, Thanksgiving, as this was an 'at sea' day we thought we'd try the pool area for half a day or so and got up at 7.30 to get a good spot. Almost EVERY sun bed was covered with a towel/cap/book/you name it, but NO people. That annoyed me a little. As it turned out the weather wasn't so good later that day so we eventually gave up and did indoor activities and tried the hot tub later on the afternoon. I agree with the folks that have said there isn't enough room round the pool, all the room is at the back, overlooking the kids area, my photos will show you.
The gym - I liked this gym, because the elliptical machines and treadmills overlooked the ocean, and what could be nicer? It does get crowded at peak times though, one morning at 8am I couldn't get on any of the above machines and had to try something else, but apart from that I liked it a lot. The Aqua Swim is a little strange - the concept of swimming against the current in a teeny pool is fine on land, but when you put that with the movement of the ship you're all over the place and can't really get a good workout. The Dawn Spa area was better for us, with the indoor lap pool and hot tub.
Our cabin was fine; about the size we expected, the shower is better than ours at home and whilst there was definitely a lot of creaks and other ship noises throughout the night, that I can accept, but the herd of elephants in the cabin directly above us was slightly frustrating.
The hair dryer, oh my word!!! Don't get me started on that thing. You can't take your own because of the voltage situation, so here's the solution; get ready down at the Spa. Have a leisurely sauna followed by a shower with plenty of space, and use the 'normal' hair dryer they have there. Much better than using that thing they have in the cabins.
It was a bumpy ride. We noticed the difference between this and the movement on the Dawn almost immediately and put it down to either a smaller ship or time of year. I did struggle a couple of times getting around the ship or our cabin and found myself bumping into walls on more than one occasion. But fortunately we did not get sea sick, and our cabin was loaded with pills just in case!! I did see 'barf bags' allover the ship, in public areas, but didn't see anyone actually get sick, although a few did look unhappy. I'm not sure of the reason for the rockiness, I'm not experienced enough to comment, and I don't know why they didn't fill the pool on the Bermuda day; we didn't get back from our excursion until late and went straight for lunch upon our return so I didn't see.
But what I did see later that day is the seas suddenly change and just one big bump made the pool go so crazy that within seconds all the children were panicking, as well as the parents of course, and when the crew were jumping in to drag out the kids it made you realize how serious this could potentially be. Now, scary as it was to see that, and the photo I've attached doesn't really show it too well (I have video if anyone wants to see) - but can you really blame the ship for that? I don't know - maybe you can - but that seemed to be the turning point for many people and after that I just saw groups of people complaining and saying they were unhappy with the cruise and were going to take back the $10 per day service charge from their account. It also seemed to be a turning point for the stability of the ship because from this moment it became completely stable and calm for the entire journey home, in our opinion anyway. Maybe they changed something at this point to accommodate for the rough seas, I don't know, but it did seem to get a lot smoother after this incident.
Anyway, the absolute worst part of the entire cruise was trying to get off the ship. And I know that's normal for everybody, but more so for non-US Citizens. We had to be at the Garden Room by 8am. At 10am we were still there. There was a teeny little lady, with a teenier voice, trying to handle a crowd of 250 or more, and the system was just embarrassing. She whispered, then shouted, then screamed each person's room number to hand back their passports. Once she'd located the appropriate passenger, she had to climb over everybody's bags, suitcases, children, prams, strollers, legs, to give the documentation back. This took a loooooooong time. Once that part was over you had wait for the appropriate luggage tag number to be called. We were last. Surely there must be an easier way; how about a couple more crew? Would save a lot of hassle. With the line at Immigration, it was a three hour process. Talk about back to Manhattan with a bump. But we expected it, we had the same experience on the Dawn. And we are lucky enough to have a short cab ride back to our apartment.
Overall we had a truly excellent time, sure, a couple of bumps here and there but it's all part of the adventure to us. I feel bad for all the folks out there that didn't have good time, that's a shame. But all I can do is tell you about our particular experience, and please, don't be put off trying the Spirit; in addition to hearing negative comments I also heard a lot of good ones too.
For photos: http://spaces.msn.com/members/nicolanyc/ - click on the right-most icon under the small pictures to see the larger versions!Read Less