Background As my wife, Pat, was making her way through graduate school on her way to a Master's degree in Social Work I started to think about a suitable way to mark the occasion. We have been averaging about a cruise a year since we started this form of vacation about a decade ago and have yet to meet a cruise we didn't like so I knew that I could not go wrong by looking in that direction. I wanted the trip to be not just a way to mark the achievement but also a real chance for her to wind down from all the stress of both classes and interning; so that meant that the trip would have to be right after graduation which was scheduled for May 14. Maximizing relaxation also suggested avoiding flying to and from port cities. This strategy not only avoided airport stress, it also saved money that could be used to upgrade the ship accommodations to the "pampering" level. Since we live in the Boston area these constraints meant that the only option available to us was the seven day Boston-Bermuda round trip on the Norwegian Spirit. With the great resources of the Cruise Critic reviews and message archives I was able to determine that the Gemini Suite (Cabin 9212) should be just what the doctor ordered. Nevertheless, for maximum effect and to avoid creating a distraction from her academic focus, I decided to delay telling her about it as long as possible. The fact that the Bermuda cruise that had been on our "to-do" list for years made it difficult for me to keep the whole thing a secret for almost a year. In fact, I thought about it so much I began to wonder if I might spill the beans by mumbling about it in my sleep. Even when the time came that I had to say something if only to ensure that she did not inadvertently make calendar commitments in conflict with the trip, I said nothing about the splurge to book a suite.
EMBARKATION (RATING 4+) Departure day was May 21, 2010, a Friday. We live on a commuter rail line in suburban Boston and decided it was easy enough to take public transportation to Black Falcon Pier. Driving would have been simpler and faster but we figured that the money we would have spent on a week's parking would be better spent on dining room surcharges. The weather on departure day cooperated: it was beautiful with temperatures in the mid-seventies as we left the house. We caught the train from the station just a block away and switched to the Silver Line at South Station (route SL2) which stops right at the cruiseport (use the "Design Center" stop). Total time from door to pier was less than an hour and a quarter. (Driving would have been just about half that.) When we arrived at the Cruiseport it was just about noon time and there already were a lot of passengers curbside. We saw various long-shoremen rolling luggage trolleys back and forth but none seemed to be interested in us. After a few minutes it became clear that they had been engaged to assist passengers who had arrived in chartered busses (presumably something arranged by their group leaders). Individual passengers were supposed to walk just past Gate D (i.e., in the direction away from downtown) to drop off their "checked" bags. (If we had seen any signs or if there had been anyone announcing this procedure, things would have gone a little bit smoother.) After taking our bags, the porter told us to walk back and enter the building via Gate C. The next step was to pass through security. There were two airport style lines where carry-on bags, all metal items (including coins and watches) were sent on the belt for X-raying and the now minimally-encumbered passengers passed through the metal detectors. After collecting our stuff we were given the health questionnaire on which we correctly (and honestly) reported that we have not been suffering of late from coughs, fevers or other such maladies. From there we were directed to the line for checking in. There were, perhaps, a couple dozen agents processing what by now were probably several hundred passengers. As we were about to join the end of the line I saw no signage but there was an NCL agent within speaking range so I asked if there was a separate line for suite check-in. She said, "Oh, go down all the way to the end." This brought us to the end of a second line which had only two people when we got there. They were soon dispatched to the next available agent and we followed shortly behind. It was now 12:15. (Had we simply joined the first line as directed, it would have been much closer to 12:45.) The agent asked for our health forms, our passports, the "cruise ticket", and a credit card. (I was surprised that she actually kept the ticket I printed out on my home computer a few weeks ago. Somehow I had expected that it would function like electronic airline tickets - something that obsessive people like me carry around just in case I need to convince an agent that the computer has lost my reservation. I don't know what would have happened if I could not have produced it.) After getting my signature on the credit card authorization and clicking various fields on her computer terminal, she said that she would be right back with our ID's. A few minutes later she came back empty handed and a bit distressed. She poked the keyboard a few more times and then announced, "Oh, you are VIP's, the concierge has your key cards." (I couldn't help but wonder why NCL has implemented a process that makes it more likely that the passengers they want to expedite will end up waiting longer because it involves an exception process that flies under the check-in clerk's radar.) Once she resolved things to her satisfaction she waved to a member of the ship's crew who came over. The agent wished us a "good cruise" and asked the crew member to escort us to the ship. The crew member led us up the ramp to the second level of the terminal but instead of then turning right onto the gangway, she brought us to a cordoned off area of folding chairs and turned us over to someone else who introduced himself as Bruce Van Der Boon, the concierge. Bruce was in the process of explaining his job (which we understood boiled down to doing whatever he could to ensure we had the best possible vacation) when seemingly out of nowhere another member of the crew appeared whom Bruce introduced as Madel, our butler who escorted us onto the ship and all the way to our cabin. Amazingly, in spite of all the steps, the awkward handoffs in the check-in area and the mild state of confusion on our part, we were not only on the ship but actually in our cabin before 12:35! (Our luggage did not arrive until well after 4:00 so the "Priority" luggage tags NCL provided apparently did not carry much weight with anyone besides us.)
STATEROOM (RATING 5) May 2010 photos of the Gemini Suite can be found at: http://travel.webshots.com/slideshow/577874582FjnTSJ
There are quite a lot of references to Cabin 9212, the Norwegian Spirit's Gemini Suite, on the Cruise Critic boards. Many questions have been raised (and more or less addressed) over the past several years. Of course things can change over time so I jotted down as many questions as I could before we left and will address them all here as an up-to-date, one stop reference service (as of May 2010). First, however, I must report that our overall impression of the suite was completely positive. As mentioned above this trip was a graduation gift for DW and it was only when we stepped into the cabin that she learned the true extent of her present. She was very pleased with the suite. Overall, it made a bigger impact than the Q6 suite we were bumped up into on the QM2 last year. That cabin was merely large; this one was sumptuous, spacious and comfortable. It is also very attractive. Although on the way to the cabin we could see that the ship definitely has an East Asian dEcor, this suite is Italian. The paintings in the living, dining and bedroom areas all are of Venice. The carpet in the living room is custom made for the suite since it has a center medallion with a representation of the Gemini Twins and showed no signs of wear. The most distinctive feature of the suite, however, is having two distinct rooms separated by a real door rather than a curtain. The living room/dining area can be completely closed off from the bedroom/bath area. This is a real "suite". The balcony is quite narrow but runs the full width of the suite. Diagrams on the NCL website and in the brochures indicate that the balcony only extends the width of the living room. That may be true for the penthouse suites on the sides of deck 10 but it is not true for those at the aft of deck 9. (See dimensions below.) Cabin 9212 is also easy on the eyes. In spite of the general impression one might get from the NCL website, you will not find any hot pink and turquoise with purple and orange accents in this cabin. The primary color for the living room is green, for the bedroom it is reddish-brown glossy wood paneling, and for the bath it is blue tile. Close inspection shows some signs of wear - some scratches and nicks hear and there, but everything was clean, functional and appeared to be well care for. Now for detailed answers to all questions I could find in the CC posts about this cabin.
Balcony: Runs the full width of the suite but quite narrow. It has a fairly heavy sliding door from the living area which tended to stay in what ever position it was put. The windows over the whirlpool tub and in the shower look out onto the balcony. There are two aluminum framed lounge chairs with adjustable backs, two wicker-style arm chairs, and a small (14" x 14") table about 16 inches high. The loungers are not very up-scale but they do dry off quickly after a rain shower. The balustrade is 46" high and composed of clear glass panels topped by a wooden railing. Bathroom: The bathroom takes up slightly more than half of the bedroom/bath portion of the suite. It is on the outside part of the room and is separated from the bedroom by a full wall-to-wall drape which, when closed, was very effective in keeping the bedroom dark regardless of how bright the bathroom was. Looking around the room in a clockwise direction there is a counter with two sinks (each with a full sized mirror) and vanity lighting on the left wall. The counter was a couple of inches closer to the floor than what we are used to at home but not uncomfortably low. There is a small amount of shelving which is pretty much taken up by the supplied toiletries. There is storage space (with door) underneath each sink. Beyond the sinks is the whirlpool tub (six jets with good circulation). [Note: the water level must be quite high in the tub before the jets will operate. Merely filling to a level above the jets is not high enough.] Over the tub is a window onto the balcony with a full view off the stern of the ship through the balcony's glass balustrade. To the right of the tub is a large (approx. 14 sq. ft.) shower with a full floor to ceiling window with the same view as the tub. There is a light in the shower. Both windows have shades which can be drawn if the stern of the Spirit is in view of anyone else (not likely in the open sea or even in some ports.) Next to the shower and on the right wall of the room is a toilet stall. The stall has a floor to ceiling glass door which is frosted for about four feet up from the floor. The way that these fixtures are fitted into the cabin, the door to the toilet "room" faces the tub - it cannot be seen from the bed end of the room. The last element in the bath area is a vanity counter with full lighted mirror and a chair. Breakfast: Available to suite guests in Cagney's on deck 7. The menu is fixed all week and includes distinctive items such as traditional eggs benedict, crab cakes eggs benedict, challah French toast and the usual cold cereals including muesli, fresh fruits, breakfast meats, smoked salmon, and cheeses, etc. A very relaxed way to start the day (compared to the much more active Raffles buffet restaurant which, of course, has a much broader variety of offerings.) Cagney's breakfast offerings can also be brought to the suite by the butler. See the Food section for reactions to Cagney's breakfast offerings. Cleanliness: The cabin was spotlessly clean and was kept that way all week by the room steward. Climate control: The cabin has three thermostats(!) One in the living area, one in the bed area and one in the bath area. They do not have a temperature display but rather buttons to allow you to increase or decrease the temperature by steps. (My guess is that each click raised or lowered the temperature about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.) When the thermostats were on different settings there was a noticeable difference in temperatures in each area of the cabin (that is, they worked.) Coffee maker: There is a Lavazza Coffee Maker with a variety of single serving coffee and tea capsules in the dining area of the suite. The unit is fairly large and certainly takes up a lot of space on the dining room counter. However, the convenience of being able to have a cup of coffee in less than two minutes without having to call anyone or go anywhere was wonderful. (We made tea to go with the canapEs/sweets delivered each afternoon. It wasn't a proper British High Tea but it was very relaxing.) Used supplies were replaced almost as fast as they were consumed. (We saw capsules for regular and decaffeinated coffee, as well as black, green and chamomile teas although we did not use them all.) The supply of sugar packets and small half & half "creamers" was also maintained without asking. The coffee maker also includes a shelf to accommodate two standard size coffee cups and two espresso sized cups which, marvelous to relate, are kept heated! There is also a steam nozzle for people who know how to use such things. Dimensions: The overall inside size of the Gemini Suite (cabin 9212) is 374 square feet. The balcony is an additional 76 sq. ft. for a total of 450 sq. ft. The approximate dimensions of the various areas of the suite are as follows: Living/dining room - 19.25' x 8.75' [171.5 sq. ft.]. Bedroom - 8.75' x 10.25' [89.5 sq. ft.]. Bath - 11.33' x 10.0' [113 sq. ft.]. Balcony - 21.67' x 3.5' [76 sq. ft.] Electrical outlets: There is one 110V/500W outlet in dining area convenient to the table. One 115V outlet is incorporated in the hair dryer unit mounted on the wall next to the bathroom mirror. This one is marked "for shavers only". It clearly does not have the amperage to drive a stronger hair dryer but could easily support a charger for small items such as an electric tooth brush, cell phone, or camera battery. One 230V outlet with both blade and pin receptacles is at the vanity table. On the floor, however, was an impressively large and heavy portable converter unit with a 230 blade plug and two 115V outlets. If you need extra 115 outlets, then just plug this unit into the outlet on the left side of the vanity mirror and you have two North American style 115V outlets at your disposal. There were no labels indicating restrictions on the devices that could be plugged in to this converter. Engine noise, vibration: The Spirit has diesel engines (not azipod propulsion). We noticed some engine vibration departing Boston and again when arriving in Bermuda but that was not a problem. There was, however, a significant amount of rumble (not merely vibration) when we were about 50 miles from Boston returning in the wee hours of Friday morning. It woke both my wife and me up more than once (and, I am sure a lot of other passengers.) I do not know the technical cause but I had the image of trying to drive a heavy car over a very rough gravel road with the parking brake on. I am sure that those of us in the very rear of the ship were not the only ones to notice it. Whatever the reason for this particular disruption, there was not enough vibration or noise from the engines on this trip that would make me averse to booking an aft cabin on the Spirit in the future. Fruit/Flowers: There was a lovely floral arrangements on the coffee table which really brightened up the room. We added water as needed and the flowers still looked pretty good at the end of the week. There also was a bowl of fresh fruit including apples, grapes, bananas and strawberries on the dining table. The bowl was automatically reloaded with new fruit as we ate items throughout the week. Furnishings: The living room furniture consists of a love seat sized sofa-bed, two upholstered arm chairs, a TV credenza with flat-screen TV and DVD player, an oval coffee table and a floor lamp. The dining room has a wooden table (slightly smaller than a standard card table) plus four upholstered straight chairs along with a Lavazza beverage machine and supplies, stemware, fruit bowl, plates, flatware, etc. The bedroom has an oversized bed, two end table lamps, a chest of drawers, a flat-screen TV, a closet and two safes. The bathroom has two sinks, a whirlpool tub, a separate shower, a toilet, a vanity table with chair and an electronic digital scale. The balcony has two wicker-style arm chairs, a small cocktail table and two loungers. The suite has no desk but the dinning table can certainly be used as a writing surface and it is convenient to a 115V outlet for plugging in a laptop. Hair dryer: There is a built-in wall unit just to the right of the sinks in the bathroom. It was handy but with only moderate power and would not be very practical for very long or thick manes. Lighting: There are a lot of lighting fixtures in the suite (and a lot of light switches to get used to) but overall the total effect is fairly subdued. The bathroom sinks and the vanity are well lighted as is the dining area counter. The living area and dining table areas are moderately lighted - there is no bright reading lamp. The bedroom has a total of five fixtures but even so the brightness level is best described as "romantic" - certainly for anyone who has reached the age when cataracts have started to form. The chest of drawers in the corner beneath the TV is actually in perpetual darkness. In my opinion the bedroom lighting is the only serious defect in this suite. You pretty much either have to take things out of the drawers to see what you have or you have to recognize your clothing by feel. The top switch just as you enter the cabin is a master so all the lights that are on can be shut off at once as you leave. When you come back you can relight the cabin the way it was when you left. Luggage: Luggage can be stored under the bed. There are 13.5 inches of clearance between the floor and the bed frame. There also is space on the floor at the far left end of the closet where the purpose of the hanging rod is defeated by a small shelf. Lunch: Available to suite guests in Cagney's on deck 7. The menu is fixed all week and is fairly limited. Whereas the breakfast menu offers the unusual and popular crab cakes eggs benedict, the lunch menu does not have much of a draw. Cagney's lunch offerings can also be brought to the suite by the butler. See the Food section for reactions to Cagney's luncheon offerings. Mattress: Hotel quality pillow top mattress. It was extremely comfortable. Absolutely no complaint here. (The duvet was also just the right weight.) The mattress surface is large - 70" wide which is about 10" wider than a standard Queen size bed. It is 78" long. Noise level: This is a very quite suite. It is located at the very back of the ship on a transverse corridor that only serves three suites. There are no cabins on the opposite side of the corridor and there is almost no foot traffic other than the suite passengers, the steward and the butler. The space on the deck above is the imitation rock formation in the children's pool at the very back of the ship. The space below is the lighting control room for the theatre and the promenade walking track. The cabins on either side are also suites and have their bedrooms adjacent to 9212. There were no intrusive noises all week. Out on the balcony, the sound of the water being churned up by the propellers completely masks any squeals that might be coming from the children's area above on deck ten (and even when we were in port, we rarely heard any noise of that kind). We heard nothing but water. General announcements are not broadcast into the room and can barely be heard through the corridor door. They can be heard clearly if the TV is turned on to one of the information channels. Powder room: Contrary to comments I read on these boards, there is no powder room in this suite. Pillow menu: There was no "pillow menu" but there were five pillows on the bed and they were not all the same size and feel. If none of them was "just right" I suspect that the butler could supply alternatives. Refrigerator: This unit has a refrigerator (although standard cabins on the Spirit do not.) I asked the butler for a carton of milk (for my tea) and it stayed fresh all week. Safe: There are two combination safes located at the right end of the bedroom closet - fairly low to the floor. They can each be programmed with a four digit code of the passenger's choosing. They are the usual size (interior dimensions of about 14"W x 7"H x 10D" although the door opening is only about 10"W x 5"H. You can certainly store lots of small things such as jewelry, cash, passports, iPod, etc., but not something as large and rigid as a typical laptop computer. We did not use the second safe on this cruise. Sewage smell: Over the past couple years, there have been posts from Spirit suite passengers complaining of a sewage smell in the bath room area. (Since the bathroom is really one half of the bedroom, such odors would be constantly noticeable.) The reports were that the smell was coming from the floor drains - there is one in the shower and another in the tile floor just outside the shower. (Presumably the smell was due to the drain's losing the water that normally sits in the "U" part of the pipe specifically to prevent odors because poring a couple of glassfuls of water into the drain seemed to fix it.) We noticed no unpleasant odors of any kind in this cabin on this cruise so we didn't have to try pouring water down the drains. Shower water: Good pressure and as hot as anyone is likely to want it. The shower head can be lifted from its holder to be hand-held and it has an adjustable head for various spray patterns. There is no specific "pulse" setting. Storage space: The storage space in the living room is limited to open shelves on the TV credenza - a good place to keep the Freestyle dailies and all the flyers, announcements and invitations that pour in. There really isn't any suitable storage space here for a third passenger. The dining area counter has open glass shelving for stemware (red wine glasses, white while glasses, champagne flutes, tumblers etc.), a little cabinet space below where you will find menus from the various alternative restaurants and other dining room odds and ends such as salt and pepper shakers. The bedroom has a closet with two mirrored sliding doors. The closet is about 6.5 feet long. The upper shelf space is pretty much taken up by the life vests and the beach towels. The closet rod has a usable length of 52 inches and was supplied with plenty of plain plastic hangers. The right half of the closet can't be used to hang long items like pants and dresses because there is a unit which holds the two safes and a couple of drawers (each about 10 inches wide) built up from the floor level. Shirts and jackets can readily be hung in this area. In the corner just off the foot of the bed is a built-in unit of five drawers topped by the cabinet that houses a TV. The drawers are more than a foot wide and about the same in depth. Small triangular shelves on either side of the bed serve as end tables not suitable for much more than eyeglasses and clocks. The space under the bed is open and can accommodate almost anyone's luggage. The bathroom has a little open shelving between the sinks which is mostly taken up by the supplied toiletries and shower cap packets. There is a doored cabinet under each sink and a pull out waste bin between them. The vanity counter has a set of four fairly small drawers on the right side. We had no problem storing everything we needed for a seven day cruise without using all the closet space, drawers and shelf surfaces available. Telephone: The suite has a phone on the dining counter next to the coffee machine and a second phone in the bedroom on the triangular "end table" shelf between the bed and the closet. Third passenger: The sofa in the living room can be opened into a bed wider than a twin but narrower than a standard double. When the sofa is opened, access to the balcony is blocked. As noted under "Storage" there are no separate shelves or cabinets for anyone sleeping in the living room. The drapes in front of the balcony door and window can be easily closed and are just as effective in blocking light as the drapes between the bedroom and bathroom. TV: The Gemini Suite has two digital (flat-screen) TV's. The living room has a 26" unit on a TV credenza opposite the sofa. It is firmly attached to the credenza but swivels to adjust the viewing angle. The second TV is located behind a cabinet door in a corner of the bedroom. It is a 19" unit and can be viewed while sitting up (or lying back) in bed. The living room TV is also connected to a DVD player. You can bring your own DVD's or borrow some from the ship's library. You can also play CD's through the TV's speakers. Water/ice: The ice bucket was automatically re-filled every day (and I am sure could have been re-filled more often if it were being used up faster than that.) The cabin came with a liter bottle of San Benedetto water. For reasons neither DW nor I could think of at the end of our stay, we had not drunk it so I can not say whether it might have been replaced if we had emptied it. Wi-Fi: Available only in the Internet Cafe/Library and in the atrium. Not available in the cabin. SHIP (RATING 5+) Appearance: The Spirit is a gorgeous, clean and well-cared for cruise ship. The Asian styling throughout the ship is a very attractive setting for the abundance of art pieces everywhere. We particularly liked seeing the small sculptures that adorn each landing in the three stairwells. Not knowing much about Asian art it was interesting to read the labels on most pieces which identified them by country and time frame. Presumably most pieces were copies, but they served their purpose very well. There also were wall hangings and statuary to be seen all around and none of it got stale. The main lobby (the Grand Atrium) on deck 7 is fairly open and is distinguished by the flood of natural light falling from the large windowed cupola high up at the deck 12 level. It was a very attractive place either to sit in or to pass through except when it was completely packed full of folding tables covered with all sorts of stuff being hawked by the staff. This gorgeous room spent most of its daylight hours as a flea market. Very much the pity. The main theatre (Stardust Theatre) holds over 900 passengers in fairly comfortable seats (with cup holders) with good sight lines. The stage is big enough not to cramp most shows and was actually easily extended to accommodate "Elements". The second level balcony seats are individual arm chairs and provide comfortable watching over and through the glass balustrades. Unlike most theatres we have seen on ships, the main entrance is not from the back but rather from either side of the stage. Thus, most passengers walk up to their seats from the front rather than down to their seats from the rear of the theatre. Handicapped accessible seating is very conveniently located in the front rows just as you enter. The Galaxy of the Stars show lounge on deck twelve at the front of the ship seemed to us to be the nicest show lounge we have seen at sea. The area in front of the small stage served both as an apron stage for open performances like The Second City comics and as a dance floor for the passengers. There were at least three sessions of "ballroom dancing" with live musicians and any number of opportunities for rock/disco dancing both with live musicians and recorded music including a 50's & 60's Sock Hop. The room is very attractive and comfortable during the day (and is enclosed within a wrap-a-round seating area that provides overflow seating and has a great view of the sea on three sides.) At night, however, the trim lighting in the ceiling pulses with the sound of the music and makes the place seem like a very energetic place to be especially at the end of a long day. I thought the place looked fantastic at night. Champagne Charlie's on the deck 8 balcony overlooking the Grand Atrium is a lovely "hotel bar" but the clubby atmosphere is lost when it is pressed into service as the stage of a five story theatre. As discussed under Entertainment, sound control is a major problem (in my opinion). At the forward end of deck 7 is the Maharajah Casino. Neither DW nor I spent any time here but there certainly were hundreds of passengers who did. There were many game tables and probably more than a hundred slots including some penny and two penny ones. The Indian decor is based on a Maharajah's pleasure palace with even the ceiling decorated primarily in gold and red. The place was in use virtually round the clock except, of course, when the ship was in port. Just beyond the casino was the companion Maharini Lounge. The bar/night club was fitted not only with the usual chairs, tables and sofas but also had some over sized divans (about the size of large beds). I was never in the Lounge late enough to see how these pieces of furniture were actually used and by whom but I certainly wondered about it. The inner sanctum of the Maharini Lounge had open space that could be used for dancing (which was the major draw of the place in the wee hours) and also was fitted out with many flat TV screens which were used to show movies during the afternoon. (There also were two channels on the cabin TVs dedicated to running movies around the clock. I was surprised to see Avatar and the Robert Downey Sherlock Holmes releases among the movies being shown in the cabins.) The outdoor areas of the ship are also distinctive but DW and I are not much for pools or sun bathing even under ideal weather conditions. We did see, however, that many people were happily lounging around the pool as the physical layout including wind screens protected them from the gales. It seemed to me that the hot tubs were getting more use (even very late into the night) than the pool. Remember that it was still only the middle of May and we were not sailing in the Caribbean. Fellow Passengers: The ship was quite full with 2,214 passengers on a vessel with a double occupancy capacity of less than 2,000. Clearly there were lots of cabins with three and even four occupants. (The only time that I felt crowded, however, was when the atrium had been turned into a flea market which, of course, was the choice of NCL.) During these times it was best to avoid deck 7 if you wanted to get from one end of the ship to the other. Other than when people were gathered for shows in the theatres there didn't seem to be many crowds on board. (I suspect that Raffles - the buffet restaurant - would have been crowed particularly at breakfast but since we did not get to this eatery, I don't know for certain.) The thing that struck me most about the passengers, however, was the age diversity. There were at least a couple of dozen children under 10 years old and several hundred people over 60 enjoying, I hope, a second childhood. Then there were the large groups of twenty somethings and couples in their forties and fifties who seemed to make up the bulk of the passenger list. This was by far the lowest average-age passenger crowd we have ever sailed with and I am sure that fact accounted for the sense of vitality on this cruise. There appeared to be a lot of college aged people which was probably due to the fact that the school year had just finished. (That, after all, was the primary factor in our choosing this particular week.) What struck me most was that everyone seemed to be having a good time - there were activities and venues that appealed to all kinds of interests. Kudos to NCL for pulling that off. At the same time there was a sense of geographic homogeneity that was very comforting. Well more than half the passengers had to have been from New England and the great majority of those were from Greater Boston. I don't think I have ever seen so many Red Sox caps anywhere outside Fenway Park. Of all the passengers we got to meet completely at random on this trip the couple who lived farthest from Boston came from Long Island, New York less then 200 miles from where we live. This mix of cruisers certainly would not have been traveling with tuxes and beaded gowns. But I did not see many people dressed in attire that could not be classified as "clean casual". If there were instances of Maitre d's refusing to allow patrons into their restaurants for improper clothing (or, conversely, dinners being upset because the Maitre d's allowed people in in violation of the dress code), I did not hear of any. From time to time we spotted men in sport coats and ties with women wearing fancier dresses and jewelry and concluded that they were probably celebrating a special event and/or were have formal photographs taken. In any event they seemed to be having a good time and looked completely comfortable dressing up and everyone else seemed comfortable in not dressing up. Promotions: Laundry specials: One full bag of standard laundry items left on bed before noon on either Monday or Tuesday would be washed, folded and returned to cabin on Thursday morning for $24.95. There was a Pub Crawl on Saturday (our first full day aboard) which offered 5 drinks in 5 bars for $25. There were promotions all week pushing jewelry, spa treatments, specialty drinks, smoothies, coffees, photos and just about anything else that was for sale on board. There also were various "tournaments" in the casino (blackjack, Texas Hold'em, etc.) and elsewhere (Bingo) which, I guess, you could classify either as entertainment or promotions.
DINING (RATING 5) Food quality (rather than quantity) is usually one of the most important concerns when DW and I take vacations. I have read a lot of feedback about NCL food (and about the Spirit specifically) on these boards and, naturally, opinions differ. It is, after all, a matter of taste. We do not, as a rule, appreciate ship buffets and the quality of general dining rooms run by the mid-level cruise lines often is inconsistent in both the food and service aspects. Therefore in planning this trip I factored in the surcharges required by most of the Spirit's restaurants and planned to see if the extra cost would result in a satisfactory dining experience or, perhaps, something even a little better. Our first exposure was lunch on embarkation day. The peace and quiet of Cagney's was a very nice way to start off the vacation but I am sorry to report that the lunch menu did not have much that I thought appealing. When I found out that the menu does not change day by day it seemed unlikely that this would be our main luncheon venue. What we had was generally good but no more. The grilled asparagus was very nice but I didn't think it was so good that I would want it every day. I wanted to be sure to try out at least one of the main dining rooms to serve as point of comparison with the specialty restaurants. When I mentioned to Bruce, the concierge, in mid-afternoon that we wanted to eat in the Garden Room that first evening around 7, he told me he would meet us outside the restaurant. When we arrived we saw a few people in the lobby apparently waiting to get in. Bruce took us through the back door directly to a waiting table by the window and got us settled in - the first of many window tables we would enjoy on this cruise. We had chilled peach soup, garden salad and leg of lamb. Everything was very good and the service was fine - timely, polite, attentive and accurate. Our one experience with the Garden Room was completely positive. It was at this first dinner that I learned about the wine promotion. If the passenger commits to buying six, seven, or eight bottles of wine there is a 20% discount. There are two catches. One, the choices do not come from the ship's entire wine list but rather from a limited one specifically prepared for this promotion. And second, you must identify your choices all at once. I told the wine steward that I was interested enough to look at the "Selected List." It contained 48 wines including 17 whites ranging in price from $27 to $79 and 20 reds ranging in price from $27 to $74. There also were some sparkling wines and magnums and a couple of half bottles. The selection was very diverse geographically. France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Spain, USA, Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand were all represented. If you are going to drink half a dozen bottles of wine in the week, a 20% discount up front is a good deal. The trick is to commit in advance to the selection. Of course, I couldn't know what we would be eating all week so the only guide was to pick wines according to the restaurants. It struck me as a kind of game: see how well you can match the wines with the food without knowing what the food is and where more than half the wines are from vineyards you probably have never heard of. I knew that during the cruise we would want to visit Le Bistro (French), Shogun (Asian), Teppanyaki (Japanese), and La Trattoria (Italian) and we would be having lamb that night in the Garden Room. With that information (and, of course, the prices) I threw the darts and made my choices: three reds from Spain, Italy and Chile and three whites from Germany, Argentina and Spain. I gave the sheet to the wine steward and subsequently got the bottle I wanted for the evening (an Argentinean Malbec) and received a receipt for each of the remaining five bottles I had selected. Bottles not finished with the meal could be taken to the cabin or could be re-corked and stored for later recall in any restaurant. I now had my own personal wine cellar on the Norwegian Spirit and the receipts went in to my wallet. It was my responsibility to keep track of what I had and what I wanted to drink with each meal. I had expected to be taking a mental as well as physical vacation and wasn't planning on this much brain activity. But I thought of it as a game and it actually was fun seeing how things played out. As it happened we had one bottle that we didn't get to and have brought home. The other five all got drunk, DW agreed that all went well with what were eating each night, and, surprisingly, all tasted very good to excellent. I'd play this game again in a heart beat. Day two (Saturday) began in Cagney's where we sampled the renowned crab eggs benedict. They were very good but we both felt that the traditional eggs benedict were a bit better (probably due to the fact that there is no Canadian bacon with the crab version.) Lunch at Cagney's was a fairly good cream of broccoli soup, a good salad with palm and coconut and a fairly dreadful French dip sandwich. The beef was overcooked and covered with an overly sweet coating of grilled onions. The dipping "juice" had the consistency of thick ketchup and tasted like barbeque sauce. That was our last lunch at Cagney's. Our dinner was at the Shogun Asian restaurant where between us DW and I had Egg Drop Soup, Hot & Sour Soup, Crispy Crab Wontons, Harvest Spring Rolls, Pork Fried Rice, Vegetable Chow Fun, Lemon Pepper Shrimp, and Cantonese Scallops. We thought that the soups were good, and the appetizers and the entrees very good. The Pork Fried Rice got an excellent rating from me but, sadly, DW thought her Vegetable Chow Fun was fun in name only. It was fair at best. The bottle of Spanish Albariño was a good choice for both the seafood and the vegetables of this menu. Sunday started with a breakfast of fruit and cereal in our room served by Madel (who called about two minutes ahead of time to ensure that we were ready for him.) Our lunch was at the Frog and Onion (see section on Ports). We asked Bruce to get us a reservation at Le Bistro ($20 pp) for dinner and were seated at a table by the window. We started with asparagus gratin and seared-spiced sea scallops which were very good to excellent. The main course was beef tenderloin au poive which also was excellent - it was a great piece of steak. You could actually see a difference in color between DW's "medium" and my "medium rare" - I was really impressed by that. I called up a Spanish Rioja from the "cellar" and it went perfectly with the peppered beef. The dessert was a chocolate fondue for two with pieces of fresh fruit for dipping in the velvety smooth hot chocolate sauce. It looked like this trip was going to turn out much better gastronomically than I could have hoped. Monday was rather dreary looking so we slept-in so late that we skipped breakfast. We decided to try Windows for lunch since we had yet to even step into the restaurant. (We found it to be a very lovely room.) The lunch menu is much more appealing than Cagney's and, fortunately, so is the food. Between us we had cold cucumber soup, spinach & cheese puffs, shrimp and crab cocktail and salad Nicoise. The seafood cocktail in particular was very good. I finished off with a fine slice of banana cream pie. These items were good to very good (the seafood cocktail, in particular, was well worth repeating) and the service was just fine. We decided that on our next Spirit cruise lunch in Windows will be a regular affair. The afternoon was spent looking forward to the Enchanted Dinner. The dinner is only offered once a week. The captain and other officers (including the executive chef who was rapidly attaining god-like status in my mind) stopped by all the tables to chat. When I asked the captain why this dinner is offered only on the Spirit he told me that there were two reasons. First, it is the brain child of their executive chef, Hans-Peter Heine. It's his pet project. And, second, only the Spirit has a space like the Art Gallery which happens to be conveniently located near a proper galley (Le Bistro) and which can be dedicated to the dinner for one night without disrupting other ship services and activities. While Selwyn White played perfectly suitable (and quiet) background music on a portable keyboard, the food started coming. First was marinated shrimp with pumpkin seed dressing paired with a Spanish sparkling wine. They were both very good. The next course was Finnish Salmon Cream which was essentially a fish chowder made with chunks of salmon. It was simply excellent and went beautifully with a Pino Grigio from Northern Italy. The third course was boneless frogs' legs which also were excellent (tasted like chicken) and were accompanied by a very good Sauvignon Blanc from Chile. It was palate clearing time when they brought out an excellent mango and tequila kiwi sherbet. There was a choice of three entrees and both DW and I selected the "Lobster - Thermidor Style". We both thought it excellent (and being Bostonians we are a bit fussy about our 'lobsta'). The wine was a very good chardonnay from Australia. After letting things settle a bit we dug into dessert: chocolate avalanche (a flourless chocolate cake with chocolate glaze). It also was excellent and went perfectly with a glass of Drambuie, a liquor I normally do not like. All in all this meal was fantastic and a real treat for any foodie. I have had a few meals that might have topped it on Silversea and on the Queen Mary 2 but not by much. And, you could never find anything even close on land at only $65 per person. It was almost three hours before we left the Art Gallery so we missed the Stardust Theatre show that evening. But, with all the magnificent food (and all that wine) we couldn't have cared less. Tuesday morning (our last day in Bermuda) started with breakfast in the room. Fruit, cereal and toast went down pretty quickly and we were off the ship to take the "Bermuda Island Tour". Lunch was at the White Horse Tavern in St. George (a good salad and club sandwich made with focaccia bread that did not take up much of our limited time in that town). Dinner was from La Trattoria ($15 pp) but was served by Madel in the room. He also fetched the Chianti that I had in mind for this meal. The first course was a very flavorful but clean tasting liver pate and smoked duck breast served with nicely toasted croutons. Next, we had penne pasta with pesto sauce which we both thought was very good. My osso bucco was as tender as could be. It separated from the bone at the slightest touch. The flavor was pretty good but seemed to need just a little bit of something. My wife's chicken parmigiana was good but not particularly exciting. The dessert of an assortment of three canoli (each) was very good. Wednesday morning we returned to Cagney's for breakfast and I ordered the "Belgian Waffle". I always thought that Belgian waffles could be distinguished from ordinary ones by their thick pockets and their light texture. What we got that day was thinner than a frozen Eggo and as tender as poorly cooked pizza dough. It wasn't a Belgian waffle and it wasn't even a good regular one. Fortunately the selection of breakfast meats, cheeses and fruits was very good and provided a healthy start to the day. We returned to Windows for lunch and between us we had beef prosciutto, roasted tomato soup, a mixed salad, fish and chips and pineapple upside-down cake. These items were good to very good and again the service timely and attentive. Dinner that night was in Teppanyaki ($25 pp), the Japenese hibachi grill restaurant. Teppanyaki restaurants generally offer a pretty standardized meal of many courses where your choices are limited to the entree and dessert. We started with a few edamame (Japanese boiled soy beans) and then a miso soup that was very flavorful but thicker and "busier" than any we have had before. Next was a cold seaweed salad that tasted quite good in spite of the fact that I suspect that it had an ingredient or two that I probably would avoid eating if I knew they were there. By now the chef had prepared the grilled vegetables which he called an "appetizer" course. For vegetables, they were pretty darn good. Next came Japanese fried rice which was very tasty. He made much more than the ten of us sitting around the grill could eat. My main course was beef and shrimp. Both were absolutely excellent. They were the best teppanyaki shrimp and the best teppanyaki steak I can remember ever having. DW had lobster, scallops and calamari. The first two were excellent but the calamari was even a little more chewy than expected. All of this went very well with the Argentinean torrontes white wine from our stash. Dessert was green tea cake and green tea ice cream. Both were delicious (and also went well with the last few swallows of wine.) Thursday morning we ate in the room again and fairly late. I had ordered two soft boiled eggs and when Madel set them on the table the shells were still very warm to the touch but the yokes were still loose - just right. The remaining items (fresh fruit, cereal, Danish and decaf coffee) were all good. Somehow we managed to skip lunch (a sin of omission we rarely commit on a cruise ship). We had not been to Cagney's yet for dinner but I really did not think that they could deliver a steak that was any better then the one we had at Le Bistro on Saturday night so we asked Bruce to book us for a repeat visit to Le Bistro because we both wanted to try their roast rack of lamb. With some trepidation that the repeat visit would pale compared to the first one we entered Le Bistro to find ourselves yet again at a window table. I started with foie gras and smoked duck which were both excellent. DW had mussels which she proclaimed delightful and the serving of ten was just right for an appetizer course. The rack of lamb did not disappoint. Although our wine supply was dwindling, we did have two half bottles in store. Fortunately both were reds and both were strong enough for the lamb. DW finished off the Rioja Reserva and I emptied the Argentinean Malbec. I was just about to say to DW that the lamb was as excellent as the beef when Executive Chef Peter appeared at the table to ask if everything was satisfactory. I said that I was sure that he already knew that everything is much more than satisfactory but I would be happy to say so to him directly. Dessert was a very delicate and satisfying crème brûlee. Departure morning we had muesli, Danish and coffee delivered to our room to eat while we finished packing our bags. (The muesli was full of fruit and quite good - as it had been all week.) In addition to the Enchanted Dinner there were several other special dinning opportunities on board including "Taste of India" ($15pp), Murder Mystery dinner ($20pp), and the Jazz Brunch ($15pp). And of course there was the famous Chocolate Buffet at 11 o'clock on Wednesday night. Although we were too full to eat dessert after having had dessert, Bruce arranged for us to get into Windows just ahead of the general opening to see the display before it got consumed. Some of the pieces are truly works of art. It is both a shame and a delight that they are edible. The fear that the overall quality of the food and its service might not live up to the quality of the accommodations and its service level proved to be unwarranted. The dining room service charges added about $300 to the cost of our cruise which is a fairly small premium over the cost of the cruise itself. We happily enjoyed many memorable meals on the Spirit. On the basis of this experience, I would consider choosing NCL cruises in the future because of food quality rather than in spite of it (assuming that I am prepared to pay the surcharges). This is not what I would have expected based on our satisfactory but not notable culinary experiences with NCL a decade ago.
ACTIVITIES/ENTERTAINMENT (RATING 3+) CC Meet & Greet: We arrived at Henry’s Pub at 10. About half a dozen persons were already there. Eventually we had about 20 CC passengers. There were blank name tags and markers so we could identify ourselves with both our CC monikers and our real names. NCL provided coffee, tea, pastries. The Hotel Director, Prem Kainikkara, and eight other NCL officers came and were introduced. Prem thanked us for our patronage, asked to be given the chance to correct any issues or problems that arise before they show up on the internet, and said that there were people who monitor Cruise Critic boards and bring significant content to the company’s attention. He said that they care what we think. Once the crew finished their comments and left we had a pleasant opportunity to continue chatting with fellow cruisers. What we didn’t do (and this is entirely our own fault) was make sure that we got a chance to “meet & greet” everyone. We got so engrossed in chatting with a few of the attendees that we didn’t get to meet the others. Once the name tags were off we were unable to recognize most of our fellow CC-ers the rest of the voyage. We vacated the Pub about 11:15 with no one shooing us out. Entertainment: I would like to be able to say that we were very pleased with the entertainment available on this trip. We saw a good variety of acts who in many cases were clearly very talented. Unfortunately, however, there is, in our opinion, a major technical impediment. In most venues the sound systems are cranked up too high to be able to enjoy the music. It is clear that there are people (admittedly most are younger than we are) who actually enjoy sound for sound’s sake. For them, louder is better. I am afraid that we cannot agree. Prior to this cruise I had heard many good comments concerning Arvin and Emily and was looking forward to hearing them. We saw them first at Champagne Charlie’s and thought it was unfortunate that they were made to sound like the sound levels were mistakenly set for a theatre setting. The result was musically muddy with no sense of dynamic subtlety. We had to leave. A couple of nights later they were moved into the Grand Atrium due to weather conditions and the sound levels were even higher. Suffice it to say that no musical performance in the Grand Atrium should be so loud that it can be heard in cabins on the twelfth deck. The musical quality is lost and the sound levels were, for me, painful. We had to leave. We were very pleased to hear Selwyn Wright’s Nat King Cole set at Champagne Charlie’s early on in the cruise although we did have to position ourselves to avoid the full blast of the speakers. Sadly his later sets at that venue suffered badly from being over amplified and I could find no seat where I could listen comfortably. This is a cocktail piano performance in a cocktail lounge. It is supposed to convey a sense of intimacy. It had all the intimacy of a performance at the Hollywood Bowl. By contrast, (the guitarist/singer) Jim Capik’s talent (usually in Henry’s Pub) could always be appreciated since he never had to overcome his electronics. I found myself wearing ear plugs in the Stardust Theatre shows. This brought the sound levels down into the comfortable zone. I could hear everything even with the ear plugs but, of course, they could do nothing to put back the subtly of expression found in musical performances with normal dynamic variations. A constant wall of sound for ten or fifteen minutes at a time is not musically artistic. Several times during the week the Hotel Director invited the passengers to raise any issues or concerns we might have rather than just walk off the ship at the end of the week grumbling about something that could have been corrected. I realized that my issue was not a simple one like fixing a squeaking door or making sure that the coffee urns don’t run empty. Nevertheless I wrote a note to Mr. Kainikkara expressing my thoughts and within a few hours Bruce found us at dinner and told me that the Hotel Director would like to talk to us about our concerns. We met with him shortly thereafter and he said that he took my concerns seriously and would discuss my note with the appropriate staff. I believe him. What surprised me, however, was that, in response to a question from me, he said it was the first time the issue had come up as far as he knew. My conclusion is that any cruisers who think that they might be able to enjoy on board musical performances even better if the sound levels were dropped significantly so that, for example, you could always hear the singer’s voice and lyrics clearly, should say so. NCL will save on electricity, the artists will know that they are communicating better with the audience and we will have a more comfortable experience. Despite the problem with sound levels, we were impressed with the level of talent on this trip. The production shows, “On Broadway”, “Soul Rockin Nights” and especially “Elements” were very good to excellent. “Elements” is performed on the last night of the cruise and is hyped all week but, actually, is a very impressive presentation. It is a “Cirque du Soleil” style show in that there is no plot, no dialogue and no lyrics. The various acts (magician, acrobats, dancers) flow on and off the stage as the music and stage magic create a very ethereal mood. It might be worth skipping dinner to see this show twice. The stage acts, Jorgos (a magician), and Duo Acrobatique (two acrobats named Roberto and Dorota) were both impressive. The acrobats, in particular, did various movements on ropes and rings that we have seen before but never with more finesse and apparent ease. An amazing combination of strength and fluidity. The musical acts, too, were quite good. We did not get to see them all but Selwyn Wright is a fine pianist and crooner. My wife and I were both very disappointed when we found his background electronic support sounds overpowering his voice and keyboard on what should have been a very enjoyable evening of Frank Sinatra songs. (The Nat King Cole retrospective was excellent.) Jim Capik played guitar and sang soft, thoughtful music in the style, perhaps, of Jim Croce or James Taylor (maybe it has something to do with their common first name.) Arvin & Emily are a husband and wife singing duo with Arvin on keyboard. They can do a tremendous job with standard popular music of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s but, as noted above, on this cruise, at least you had to be half a ship’s length away to really appreciate their talent. Lastly, a band with a pair of young female lead singers called “Ironics” was surprisingly good at reproducing 70’s rock dance music sounds like Earth, Wind and Fire (which came out before either of these women probably were born). They often appeared in the Galaxy of the Stars venue where the combination of the style of music and the acoustics tolerated the high volumes. The crew talent show was very entertaining. It consisted almost entirely of vocal performances with a little background instrumental support. There are some very talented people in the crew who are willing to share their musical skills with the passengers. Perhaps because of the minimal instrumental support, there wasn’t any over amplification. They could be heard perfectly and sounded great. On board the ship was also a cast from Second City, the improv theatre group based in Chicago. They presented a couple of very well attended improvisational shows plus a couple of audience participation workshops in the art of improvisation. The 50 minute video-based show on former Second City members who went on to make it big in the entertainment world is a very interesting take. There was a Quest contest held on the last night of the cruise. It was very popular even though there was very little general promotion about it. The staff brought in lots of extra chairs to Galaxy of the Stars lounge and people still had trouble finding seats. Entertainment experiences we never found time to enjoy include the casino, the myriad TV-game-show style shows, karaoke, the Ship-n-Dales show, bingo, art auctions and the wine/beer/martini tasting. There certainly would have been no reason for anyone to get bored on this cruise. The cruise director for this trip was Paul Scally. He is very energetic and often seemed to be in two places at once. He did not, however, move to the top of the list of “Favorite Cruise Directors I have Known”. Athletic Facilities: The main pool has an attractive setting with a good deal of wind protection. That was a very good thing on this trip since so much of it took place with apparent wind speeds across the deck in excess of thirty miles an hour (Fifty mph was hit more than once.) Since it was so early in the season the weather wasn’t very hot but some people were using the pool and particularly the hot tubs (at all hours.) There were some younger children on this trip who seemed to enjoy the children’s pool at the back of the ship but not many. The fitness center is not very large but wasn’t crowed anytime that I was there. The spa has a long list of personal services (acupuncture, teeth whitening, massages, etc.) - none of which either DW or I used on this cruise. The men’s locker room (at least) has both a sauna and a steam room. There is no surcharge or service fee to use these facilities. Up on the sports deck we saw people playing basketball and taking swings in the golf cages. There is a jogging track on that deck as well. We also saw shuffleboard and table tennis being played. The Promenade Deck (deck 7) has a loop that completely circles the ship (I think that three laps is about 1 mile.)
SERVICE (RATING 5) The Concierge: The concierge for this trip was Bruce Van Der Boon. As can be seen from the many questions and comments about concierges on these boards, concierges can vary all over the lot. Many posters comment that they really had no need for the concierge and therefore had little contact. We probably did not “need” one either but the contact was there anyway because Bruce is a very active concierge. As mentioned above under “Embarkation” we met him in the cruise terminal in Boston just before we reached the bridge to enter the ship. He assured us that he felt his job was to help us in any way he could to have a great trip. He delivered on that promise. He gave us his phone extension and invited us to call him at any time if there was something we needed. I asked him if there would be an Enchanted Dinner on this trip and if so, I really wanted to participate. He said “Yes, there will be and I will put you down for it. It will be Monday evening.” First test passed. Since there is no “Concierge Lounge” on the Spirit there was no place where we could just drop in to see him. However, Bruce was in Cagney’s every breakfast and lunch to check in with each suite passenger and to ask how things were going. He would ask if he could make dinner reservations and remind us about the evening’s entertainment offerings. For the nights when there were shows in the Stardust Theatre, he blocked off a section of seats in the balcony overlooking the stage and chatted with his passengers as they arrived. On the day that we had neither breakfast or lunch at Cagney’s he came to our cabin during the afternoon to ask about our dinner plans. (Since we were dining in the room that evening, this was the first day we had not talked with him about a dinner reservation and he noticed.) He was present at every event that the suite passengers were invited to attend always looking out for our welfare (not that it was ever in jeopardy). Although we had no need for traditional concierge services such as arranging private transportation, on-shore dining or golf outings Bruce’s constant presence was a major element in turning a comfortable cruising experience into a pampered one. Since that is what I was looking for on this particular trip, I very much appreciated his efforts.
As an example of this feeling of special treatment on our first day in Bermuda (Sunday) we complied with a note left in the cabin to meet Bruce outside Henry’s Pub at 10:45. When he got word that the ship was to be cleared by the Bermudian authorities, he led us and most of the other suite passengers who joined us through a “crew only” door into the bowels of the ship and eventually down to the gang way level. We were off the ship before the general announcement was made. Since we had almost three days in Bermuda and we were docked, there really wasn’t much need for this even though it was fun to slip off the ship through the back way. It is, however, an example of Bruce’s pattern of offering his services rather than merely being available whenever someone approached him.
The Butler: Our butler for this cruise was Madel Bunyi. It was he who met us at embarkation and escorted us to our cabin. Although most of the cabins on the ship were still being serviced since it was only a couple of hours since the incoming passengers had disembarked, Madel led us through closed elevator lobby doors to our suite which was in pristine condition and ready for us to move in. He showed us around the suite pointing out what we needed to know about operating things. He gave us his card with his phone number and invited us to call him if there was anything he could do. I said that I understood that we would be getting afternoon canapés or similar treats and said that was correct. I went on to say that since there is no formal “afternoon tea” on this ship was there anyway we could get tea with our canapés. He said that the Lavazza machine can make tea as well as coffee so we could have all the tea we wanted when we wanted it. I asked for some milk since I prefer it (rather than half and half) in my tea and he said, “Sure.” When we came back from the evacuation drill we found a plate of canapés on the dinning table and milk in the refrigerator. Although the steward did a fine job of keeping the room clean and tidy, we did not see him much at all during the week although we did see the parade of towel animals he left behind. We generally saw Madel at least a couple of times a day. When we realized that there were a few items missing from the suite (for example, we had bathrobes in the closet but no slippers) I gave Madel a short list for someone to take care of when convenient and was surprised when he returned himself less than an hour later bringing everything I mentioned. We had breakfast in our room three times (including on disembarkation day) and each time Madel phoned just before he was ready to arrive. He placed a table cloth and flatware on the table, served the food and took the trays away. We also had dinner in the cabin one evening. There are copies of menus from the specialty restaurants in the cabinet below the dining room counter so when Madel came to the cabin to take our order at 6:05 pm we knew exactly what we wanted to eat at 7. I also gave him a receipt for a bottle of Chianti I had purchased in the wine package promotion. He returned about 6:50 with both the dinner and the wine and after he set up everything beautifully, we were starting our appetizers at exactly 7 o’clock.
General Service: We encountered no problems with service anywhere on the ship (dining rooms, bars, shops, etc.). Everyone seemed genuinely pleasant without over doing it. I was surprised at the number of stewards who would say “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” as we passed them in the corridors. They weren’t just greeting the passengers that were in the rooms that they were assigned to. It was a little distracting to be asked repeatedly if we wanted anything from the bar if we were sitting in a place like the Galaxy of the Stars waiting for a show to begin but a polite “No thanks, we’re fine” was all it took and, usually, got a nod and a smile in return. No subliminal transmission of guilt for not buying something.
Tipping: This has been (and will continue to be) a major topic on these boards and I can only endorse what many have said before: tipping is a personal thing. We realize that the room steward is covered by the automatic gratuity system but had we been staying in a hotel, we would have certainly left something for the chambermaid(s) who we might or might not have seen. Knowing that our suite was being cleaned daily by the same person (whom we had actually met), and finding no reason to critic his efforts we felt it appropriate to leave a thank you note with the same tip we would have left for a week’s hotel stay. (We actually didn’t “leave” the envelope – we gave it to the butler to deliver, of course.) The butler and the concierge are another matter. They are not covered by the general service charge. They clearly ought to be tipped for their services but I think it inappropriate (and certainly inconvenient) to do it on a service by service basis although I know that some other passengers use that method. I prefer to tip in a lump sum at the end of the cruise (and I gather that most staff members prefer that method as well). The general guideline “tip according to how much you used them” makes perfect sense to me. I did, however, modify it a little to include “tip according to how much impact he had on your enjoyment of the trip”. Both the concierge, Bruce, and the butler, Madel, had a big, positive, impact on our cruise experience. On our last cruise (on the Queen Mary 2) we were upgraded into a cabin which came with “butler service” but the attitude was decidedly antagonistic. The overall impression we got from our butler on that ship was “If you really want it, I will take the trouble to go find someone to take care of it.” The impression on the Spirit was “What can I do for you now?” There was a concierge office on the QM2 which was very responsive to individual requests and I could find no fault when we asked for something to be taken care of. But Bruce repeatedly came to us and almost made us feel guilty if we didn’t have something for him to do (knowing that he already must have been one of the busiest people on the ship). We would have been completely comfortable in our cabin with just the usual services of the steward but Bruce and Madel made us feel pampered. Since that is what I was really looking for in this particular cruise, I felt that I had to show appreciation by tipping a little more than merely on a fee for services basis. (I was, of course, limited by the amount of cash I brought with me so I could not let my sentiments run completely wild.)
PORTS (RATING 4) The only port on this cruise, of course, is King’s Wharf in Bermuda. Weather: While we enjoyed beautiful weather at either end of the trip the three days in Bermuda were less than ideal. Sunday was just partly cloudy but breezy; Monday was threatening and windy; and Tuesday was very windy with scattered light showers. It was not beach weather but not many people were likely to expect beach weather in May. At the time of our departure from Bermuda the winds were blowing so strongly against the side of the ship that we had difficulty clearing the dock. In the end we were actually pulled away by a tug boat. The very high winds churned up the water quite a bit into the next day and you certainly could feel it but I don’t recall it ever being rough enough even to make it difficult to walk about. The dancers on the stage showed no sign of even adjusting for the ship’s movement and most passengers seemed to be moving about as usual. Nevertheless, I understand that there were a few who either felt seasick or thought that they could easily become so and were asking staff members about precautions. Excursions: It had been my intention not to bother with NCL excursions on this trip. However, two things lead me to change my mind. First, the middle day of our stay (Monday, the 24th of May) was a national holiday. It really was not a suitable day for exploring the island – most museums and shops would be closed and the transportation system would be seriously curtailed. That was a major chunk of our in port daylight hours. Second, quite a few months after I booked the cruise NCL changed the schedule. The departure time from Kings Wharf was to have been 9:00 AM Wednesday (as it had been in the summer of 2009). A few months before our trip I noticed that the departure from Bermuda was moved back to 5:30 on Tuesday afternoon. That makes a much bigger difference than anyone at NCL seemed to be willing to admit. A 5:30 departure means a 4:30 “all aboard” for the passengers. While King’s Wharf is serviced by regular ferries to both Hamilton and St. George they don’t run every ten minutes. The 3:30 ferry from St. George should arrive at King’s Wharf before 4:30 but if you missed it or it got delayed or it got cancelled, you would miss the departure and there are no ports between Bermuda and Boston where you could catch the ship enroute. So you had better plan on leaving St. George on the 2:30 ferry. The first ferry from the Dockyards to St. George is at 10 am. So what could have been a full day at St. George is now reduced to a little more than three hours. If the scheduled departure had been moved to midnight or even 8 pm, a whole day on Tuesday for exploring the island without risk of missing the departure would have been possible. As it now is with an arrival late in the morning on Sunday and a departure late in the afternoon on Tuesday, the claim “three full days in Bermuda” is clearly misleading if not false. One of our objectives for this trip was to see the Bermuda Aquarium and Zoo. We could probably get there on Sunday on our own but ferrying to Hamilton and changing to a bus would be time consuming. The NCL website offered a shore excursion which involved a private boat from King’s Wharf directly to and from the Aquarium in Flatts Village. It meant not being able to control the amount of time we spent at the museum and it cost a lot more than doing it on our own but it also meant convenient door to door transportation, a narrated trip and a chance to see a major part of the island from the water as we sailed along the North Coast and into the Flatts Inlet. The whole trip took about 3.5 hours and included more than an hour and a half at the Aquarium and Zoo. It is a great place where we would have easily spent another hour if we were on our own but we did have enough time to see everything without reading all the labels. Unless you specifically do not like zoos or aquariums, this is a must see with or without children in tow. It is the one of the best small-medium sized animal facilities we have ever seen. The second objective for this trip was a visit to St. George, the oldest continuous English community in the New World. As noted above, there was little point in going on the holiday and doing it on our own on Tuesday was too risky. As it turned out the extremely high winds on Tuesday wrecked havoc with the ferry operations and most (if not all) trips between St. George and King’s Wharf were cancelled. If we had gotten out there we would probably have had to get a cab to bring us all the way back to the Dockyard in time for the departure. A five hour coach excursion call the “Bermuda Island Tour” was offered on Tuesday starting at 9:00 A.M. Since it was our first visit to the island, this was a good way to see what the place really looked like and get a general feel for the lay of the land even though there would be no time to see anything in depth. Again, having a knowledgeable narrator beats reading a guide book and the hour plus we would have on our own in St. George was certainly not enough time but it was better than not seeing St. George at all. The ride from The Dockyard to St. George took a little more than an hour and on the way we passed over the world’s smallest drawbridge in less time than it takes to say it and we passed through Hamilton in more time than one might have thought given the fairly small size of the place. But that small size means traffic congestion even in mid-morning. We arrived in St. George right at the Town Square shortly after 11:30 and decided to have lunch at the conveniently sited White Horse Tavern. After lunch we had enough time to have a good look at St. Peter’s Church and walk around its graveyard, and then see the public stocks and take a peek inside the town hall before re-boarding the bus. The Historical Museum will have to wait for another cruise. The route back was a little different and included a stop at a beach so we could get a good look at the sand and see what makes it look pink. Late May is usually a bit too early for swimming and the strong winds and threat of rain would have discouraged most people from getting into the water, but the weather was fine for watching the surf and checking out the rock formations. Throughout the trip we were told about the differences in housing in various parts of the island and the reasons for the typical differences in wave formations on the south and the north sides of the island. Overall, a good excursion for a first time visitor who wants to get a bit acquainted with the island. We would recommend it. The Royal Dockyard is a worthwhile attraction in itself. Before our excursion to Flatts Village on Sunday we had time to poke around starting with lunch at the Frog and Onion. DW had the Ploughman’s Lunch with a glass of wine and I had the fried grouper with a glass of lemonade. Both meals were excellent and quite filling. As we were warned, however, food is pretty expensive on Bermuda so this lunch for two came to $52. We poked around the craft market and the artisans’ shops. The pottery maker in particular had exquisite pieces that were delightful to look at even if we didn’t have the funds to buy something for our dining room or kitchen. On Monday, the holiday, I walked over to the Bermuda Maritime Museum which occupies the old fortified tip of the island for a quick visit. I stayed for more than three hours. After scrambling over the gun placements and poking into underground bunkers like a 10 year-old I went into the original Commissioner’s House which has been completely (and beautifully) restored and now serves as a museum of all things connected to Bermuda’s relationship with the sea. The exhibits cover all three floors of the building and include everything from currency to military defenses to the slave trade. There is even an exhibit on the American military presence in Bermuda during and after WWII. In addition to the Commissioner’s House there are buildings containing exhibits on boat building and the use of the island as a penal colony. Lastly, included within the fortification walls is a dolphin attraction where you can swim with the animals or just sit and watch others do that. The Bermuda Maritime Museum is a big and rather hilly place requiring a lot of walking but well worth the time. If you have any interest in history (or even things nautical) this is a must see. Admission is only $10 and the place is in full view of the dock – you can’t miss it. There certainly were a lot of things to see and places to go that we did not cover on this 2 and a half day visit. I already want to go back for more.
DISEMBARKATION (RATING 5) Since we had hauled our luggage by train and bus from home at the start of our trip we saw no reason not to use “walk-off” disembarkation. If nothing else was different, this decision alone made for the easiest disembarkation we have ever experienced. The challenge of packing everything (or at least, all the right things) while not missing any of the “last time” events of the final night has always made the night before disembarkation the most stressful time of the cruise for me. So much of a week’s effort to unwind and relax goes out the window while trying to get everything stuffed back into the bags along with the new acquisitions without skipping dinner, missing the show, forgetting to return library books and so on. Not having a “have your bags in the corridor” deadline was very liberating. When you have to say “Good-bye” a clean break is usually best and that is what we got. NCL suite occupants are entitled to priority disembarkation. We had muesli and coffee in our cabin around 7:15 while we put the last items in our bags. After checking every drawer, cabinet and shelf (twice) we met Bruce (the concierge) in Henry’s Pub shortly before 8 o’clock. At just about 8:10 he got word on his cell phone that the ship was cleared. Bruce then led a parade of about a dozen suite occupants through the Grand Atrium and over the ramp into the terminal. After turning in our Customs form we were on the street by 8:15. The bus for South Station arrived at 8:17 and we found ourselves on the 8:40 Needham local wondering why things like that do not happen all the time. We were in our house unpacking bags while some of the last passengers were still just finishing breakfast.
SUMMARY We were looking for a relaxing cruise where we could be pampered for a week and, perhaps, even have a few good meals. Mission accomplished. The pampering exceeded by a wide margin what we received in a highly touted “Queens Grille accommodation” on the Queen Mary 2 last year. In our experience, at least, a suite on the Norwegian Spirit means competent, dedicated service with no stuffiness or smugness. The number of suite passengers on the Spirit is small enough that personal service is actually within the reasonable capability of a few staff members. On a scale of fair to outstanding our overall dining experience rated very good to excellent which certainly exceeded our expectations (and approached what we consider the norm on the luxury cruise line ships). Lastly, while there must have been many people on board who were there to party this did not feel like a “party ship”. We saw lots of people of different ages and apparently of differing interests who all seemed to be enjoying themselves and that can be contagious. Lots of food and alcohol were certainly consumed but we saw no rowdiness and heard no one loosing his/her temper. Somehow, NCL was able to satisfy a wide range of desires. That is to NCL’s credit. Nor did there seem to be much sense that one person’s satisfaction was diminished by the way someone else was enjoying him/herself. That is to the passengers’ credit. We should be blessed with such a blend of joie de vivre and good will in our everyday lives. Read Less