One day on the elevator, someone got on and said, "if you're not having a good time, you have no one to blame but yourself." He was absolutely right. A perfect cruise? No, and there were some glitches and minor complaints, ... Read More
One day on the elevator, someone got on and said, "if you're not having a good time, you have no one to blame but yourself." He was absolutely right. A perfect cruise? No, and there were some glitches and minor complaints, but we had a great time.
This was our 7th cruise, but our first on NCL. Previously we've been on Holland America and Cunard. We booked with a Travel Agent as part of a larger group, and were attracted by price, time of year, itinerary and even a chance to try "Free-style". After booking, we were soon part of the "Beads to Beans" roll call, which enhanced our cruise experience.
We flew in to New Orleans on the day of the cruise, and our TA had buses ready to take us to the ship. We had a very good experience with this Agency, and they arranged a couple of cocktail parties and some more informal get-togethers while on board. The Tour Director was always available.
Embarkation was easy, as our TA had arranged for the 100 or so of us to go right in. Once on board we found our way to Raffles Court, (the buffet) for a quick lunch. Afterwards we went to our cabin. The muster drill was the first time we didn't have to wear life jackets -- probably a good thing, as poorly tied jackets are a hazard when walking to the assembly area. J Our luggage was outside the room by the time we returned.
OK, the cabin was small. We adjusted, doing a kind of dance around each other when going in different directions. There was a TV, but not a flat screen and no DVD player. Not a big deal. I found room under the bed for most of our cases, keeping one out under the desk. There was a coffee maker we used once. We have sometimes used room service for breakfast on other cruises, but the table was too small for two people, so we ate in Windows every morning. I used the small balcony sometimes, my wife not too often. The keypad on the safe had some worn numbers, and someone had used Magic Marker to compensate, but the safe worked just fine. There was adequate storage and closet space. As for the shower--see "glitches".
The first sea day was the CC Meet and Greet. What a great group! There must have been 150 of us, we had a gift exchange, refreshments were provided by the ship and several of the Officers including Captain Evans Hoyt attended. We didn't do the CC poker crawl, but did the "Slots of Fun" in the Casino. I managed to get to some of the 5 PM get-togethers, as well as some of the games playing in the afternoon.
The food was generally good to very good. My wife is a seafood lover, and enjoyed every time she tried it. One time it was lobster and shrimp cooked by the pool. I thought they did well with beef, the desserts had a light touch and the coffee was very good. We were disappointed in the Italian dishes. We ate in La Trattoria one night. Every afternoon they close off part of the buffet and set up an Italian restaurant, and it works. The staff was very friendly and the service very good. We both ordered different pasta dishes with different sauces. The sauces were quite good, the pasta average. One night in Windows I ordered the tortellini, and it was chewy, not "al dente". Another night my wife ordered the eggplant, and all there was was one piece of eggplant. No pasta as a side dish. She asked for a second order, and the server seemed to understand why. The last night of the cruise we tried the Asian Fusion restaurant, and were quite happy with the food, service and ambiance.
The staff was generally friendly and usually efficient. Our stewards were Joel and Ariel (might have misspelled his name), and they worked hard. The officers were visible, especially the Captain. We liked the flexibility of choosing when to eat, but missed knowing the same waiters every night. And who could forget "Happy, happy, washy, washy" as you entered Raffles?
We applied for the "meet the officers dinner", and were invited. A number of people from our M&G were there as well. We had champagne in the Art Gallery, then wine was served with dinner in Windows. We and two other couples were seated with the Shore Exchange Director and his assistant (Garret(?) and Lisa). We learned how they had come to be on the Spirit, and discussed enrichment programs on board ships as well as several other facets of cruising. We must have had a good time, as our table was the last to leave.
The ship is quite attractive, although there were a few places that could have used some paint, but I noticed they were constantly working on her whenever we were in port. The atrium is beautiful, although crowded with shopping tables on sea days. The theater is very well laid out, with fewer sight obstructions than I've seen on other ships. There are these small public places, such as Henry's Pub, that seem a bit quirky but can also be charming. We didn't use the Library or the Internet section. The pool was often crowded due to the beautiful weather, but we always found a seat. It is not covered, and was empty the one day it rained. We discovered Raffle's Terrace at the aft of the ship. It actually is several layers between Decks 10 and 12. The CC'ers met there a few times, as there are covered areas as well as sunny areas. The kid's pool is on deck 10, but there is also a hot tub that we used a few times. I got a massage at the Spa, and tried the treadmill once, but preferred the Promenade Deck for walking.
The entertainment was the best we've seen in our seven cruises. We didn't see everything offered, but as an example, one night we saw a comedian in Galaxy of the Stars, then went to the theater for the "Elements" show (outstanding), then back to overlook the atrium where we listened to a musical concert including the Pax's favorite, Arvin and Emily, violinist Jane Hunt and the house band, Fusion Wave. All in one night. Another highlight was a troupe from Second City, who put on several shows.
On sea days there was always a lot to do. I did some trivia, some putting and some basketball. My wife enjoyed port shopping lectures and a chef's lecture. We also saw some matinee shows in the theater. In fact, we couldn't do everything that we wanted to.
PORTS: Costa de Maya, Mexico.
We had an early afternoon tour, so we disembarked after lunch. The cruise area part of the port was attractive and well laid out, but we only had time to get in line for an air-conditioned bus to ride to the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins. We drove through a hot, somewhat desert-like and impoverished area for about an hour with the only excitement being a Mexican Army checkpoint. We had an excellent tour guide who gave us a lot of information on the area. The ruins were in a more jungle like part, and several buildings had been discovered underneath the flora. The primary attraction is a large pyramid, not as impressive as those often seen on postcards, but certainly high enough when you climb it, only to discover there are more areas to climb once you think you're "on top"!
The flora was certainly different than at home. One of the things we saw was a sapodilla tree, used in the manufacture of chewing gum. ("Chicle" is the sap of the tree. That native word is the origin of "Chiclets" as a brand of chewing gum).
The tour took a little more than two hours, and when added to the round-trip time, that would put us back at the pier after the last call for boarding. Our guide assured our group that they wouldn't abandon seven bus loads of passengers. (Think what the casino and bar managers would say! J ) We boarded the ship about 15 minutes before the scheduled sail away.
Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala
Another long bus ride to see more Mayan ruins, but well worth it. The town was more populated than Costa de Maya, and the vegetation much more lush. An occasional horse would wander by while we were in town. The ride to the ruins was an experience. The area was much more tropical and lush than Costa de Maya, and a lot more populous. We drove on a two-lane highway crowded with many trucks, mostly from fruit companies. Our bus passed several of these trucks, it was better not to look. There was a wide, paved area next to the road on each side, and on the way back there were several school children walking home while traffic whizzed by at about 60 miles per hour.
Our destination was the Quirigua Ruins and Jade Museum. This ancient Mayan city is near the Motagua river, and once controlled trade along the river. The primary feature is several well preserved stelae covered with glyphs. There was also a higher mound (more climbing) where the nobles had lived. There was a small shopping are. My wife explored the Jade Museum, and thought it was nice.
On the return trip we stopped at a restaurant for a fruit drink, and you could obviously make other purchases. There was also a small nature trail.
Our guide was excellent. His Grandparents had come from Spain, but his Mother was Mayan. He was able to connect the various cultures of the country for us, as well as talk about its recent history.
We took the "Best of Aruba" tour offered through NCL. Several people had described Aruba to us over the years, and it was as advertised. Very friendly. Beautiful , somewhat dry and its famous "divi-divi" trees bent from the prevailing winds. We saw the attractive Capitol of Oranjestad, areas where the locals live, the Aloe factory, the Hotel district, the lighthouse and the "wild" part of the Island where no development is permitted. We left the tour once back in Oranjestad, and did some shopping before returning to the ship.
The Spirit visited on a Sunday, and most of the shops were only open for a couple of hours. Such is life on a Repositioning cruise. Our excursion was in the PM, but we got off just after 9 AM to explore. We discovered the pontoon bridge which connects both sides of the inlet in Willelmstad. I was crossing it when the bells rang and the gates began to close. I made it to the other side and was on shore when it began to move sideways to open the channel for some large tug boats. There is a free ferry which operates between the two sides when the bridge is open, but it showed no signs of moving. In the meantime, my wife was on the other side, watching frantic tourists realizing they were trapped on the bridge! An enterprising vendor stood next to the gate, offering to sell them water or soda. Very soon after the bridge shut and re-opened. After we did some shopping.
Our afternoon excursion was a bit disappointing, it was a very touristy, Disneyesque "trolley train" First they took us by taxis across a very high bridge that connects the two sides, then dropped us off for the trolley. We did get a decent tour of the city, and the highlight for me was when we passed a family group eating their Sunday meal outside. Everyone in the family waved to us, and two young children ran up to us with big smiles on their faces. The trolley dropped us back where we had picked it up. It was near the pontoon bridge, but we were tired and chose to take a waiting bus back to the ship.
We did this on our own, as we've spent some time here before. We weren't aware of any problems with the ship being delayed, as we planned to go in after 9 AM. We were surprised to find the 700 passenger ferry was still available when we went to disembark.
Once onshore we bought bus passes, and headed off to St. George. Riding a bus in Bermuda is an experience as everyone is so friendly. There were other cruise passengers on the bus, (they might have been from another ship), and when we stopped in St. George the bus driver told us all where to catch the return bus and which numbers to get on, and then said, "Now, everyone repeat that." We saw a bit of a public celebration, wandered through some shops, then caught the bus back for Hamilton. Part of the way back we got off at the Swizzle Inn. This is a famous local landmark and right up the hill from a resort we'd stayed at previously. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful country, and we ate lunch on the outside, upper deck. Then we caught a bus for Hamilton, and did some more shopping in the city.
Then we were in the long, long, line for the ferry. It must have taken some two hours from entering the line until we were back in our cabin. But we stayed on the top deck of the ferry enjoying the weather while waiting for hundreds of others to file off the boat.
"Glitches" -- just two. 1) The night before Aruba we were told that the tiles in our shower needed replacing, and would we call the front desk to OK for the next morning. We called and agreed. We left early the next morning, but when we returned from our excursion in mid- afternoon, there was a note on the door informing us that the tiles needed fixing, and could we call the front office?! We did, and someone said "we'll investigate this". I simply replied please fix it, we'll be out of the cabin by 9 AM to go into Curacao. The tile guy was there about 8:40 the next morning. I also talked to the room steward who had identified the tile problem, and explained what had happened. 2) The ship offered a $24.95 laundry special for everything you could stuff into a bag, over a specific six day period. We did so. The day after the laundry was returned (they did a great job), I did a mid-cruise check of the bill, and found they had charged us the regular prices for the laundry. I notified the front desk, in person. After not hearing anything, I checked the bill again a couple of days later, no change in the price. Another "investigation"! This time our assistant room steward was involved, fortunately he seemed to know to get things done, and the bill was corrected. So we had to give the front desk important messages twice in each instance before any action was taken. But then we'd turn on CNN and see what was happening in Europe with the volcano, and our problems seemed rather trivial by comparison.
Disembarkation was easy. We met our TA in the Casino about 9:30, and we all headed off about 10. We were waived through customs, got our luggage and headed for the buses.
In Summary; we had a great time. The weather cooperated, the CC group was great, our travel group was fun, we enjoyed the itinerary, the entertainment was outstanding, the food generally good to very good and there was always something to do on sea days. A couple of glitches and small cabin size were only minor irritations. We liked the flexibility of "Freestyle" dining. We would sail NCL again. We would sail the Spirit again with the right itinerary. Read Less