Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Spirit
Sailing Date: March 27th, 2005
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
NCL _ Norwegian
This was my first NCL cruise, after cruising Cunard in the past. I had fairly low expectations for this cruise, which left Miami on Easter Sunday for a five night trip to the Western Caribbean. I disembarked 5 days later thinking that I had never had so much fun in my life.
The first night we had a bottle of Moet Chandon in the Galaxy of the Stars as the lights of Miami slipped away from us. The Galaxy of the Stars was surprisingly calm and quiet throughout most of our trip. It is at the fore, directly above the bridge, and with the exception of the New Year's Eve party (held every cruise), the bingo games, and a few other enetertainment events, it is just a quiet place to watch the sea and have a drink.
The main dining rooms are elegant, and the service was superb. Windows, the largest of the dining rooms, has a spectacular view off the stern. The food was excellent. The menu was inventive and everything was fresh and thoughtfully presented. We ate at one of the specialty restaurants, Shogun, which my mother loved but which I found to be pretty average. There is a snack bar of sorts, the Blue Lagoon, that is open 24 hours, but which smells like grease and is, oddly enough, right smack in the middle of one of the main thoroughfares. The buffet restaurant, Raffles, was pretty scary, and we only ate there when we missed the seatings at Windows (watch for this- Windows stops serving breakfast at 9am when the ship is in port and you, too, will be in line at Raffles with the huddled masses). Raffles was actually a hit or miss: the food was either terrible or okay. Nothing special. I can't emphasize enough how fantastic the food was at Windows and The Garden... the soups, salads, desserts- all just top notch.
The pool was a good size and the surrounding deck area was sufficient for the parties that seemed to take place every night. The Caribbean themed party on night three was insane- people were partying and dancing, and the wind was whipping by, and it was a definite highlight of the trip. There were no episodes of boorishness or over-the-top drunkenness that I witnessed, and I pulled all-nighters on the last two nights of the trip. The only issue I have with the Tivoli pool area is that the chairs do not fit very well on the upper balcony, and it is a constant struggle to navigate your way past the other sunbathers.
There is a pseudo-English pub, Henry's, that has some nice music and a very mellow feel to it. Another pub-like place, the Bier Garten, has absolutely the worst food I think I have ever eaten in my life.
The housekeeping staff was solicitous and seemed to spend 24 hours a day right outside my stateroom. They were one of the highlights of the cruise. "How are you, Madam?" they would call out, sing song fashion, and they went a very long way toward making me want to go home and buy stock in NCL.
Grand Cayman was a total disappointment and was not even worth the tender trip. The shops were a complete rip-off, and a port that could probably hold three cruise ships decently had five on the day we were there. Overweight Americans were jaywalking and yelling at their kids, and I didn't see anyone smile the whole time we were there (which was about an hour). We raced back to the ship and spent the whole day relaxing on board. Roatan Beach was a different story. The snorkeling was excellent, the native Hondurans were friendly, and the Tabyana Beach area was stunning. Note: book your shore excursions early.
There was a strange hawking of gold, silver (buy it by the inch!!) and gems the entire voyage. I certainly do not remember this from the QEII. Ironically, the Duty Free shop was very small, and if it had three people in it I would not go in for fear of knocking $25.00 shampoo off the shelves. One thing to remember- although you will find some pretty useless things for sale on board, you will not find diapers or baby bottles. One poor woman had to beg a spare bottle off a stranger when she misplaced her baby's during embarkation in Miami.
The Casino does the trick. Once again, the dealers, bartenders and waiters make the experience- friendly, knowledgeable, well spoken and always willing to take the time to make you comfortable. One of the officers told me that the casino is half the size it was when the Spirit was the SuperStar Leo, and you can see where it was reduced. There are other signs of its former life as an Asian cruise ship- karaoke rooms that show up on maps but no longer exist, a mahjongg room (where people play Monopoly and Scrabble)and a few Asian themed decorations here and there.
The Freestyle Cruising concept is a godsend. There are times when you shouldn't expect to saunter in to one of the main dining rooms and sit down immediately, but there are display screens posted throughout the ship that list the waiting times for each restaurant. If you see one start to fill up, you can just gather up your party and go eat. If it says "full," use your brain and don't go there. We never had a problem eating after nine or before 7:30. The specialty restaurants have cover charges of about $15.00 each. There were two 2-for-1 cover charge nights on our cruise. That's $7.50 each to eat at Maxim's Steak House- who can complain?
The entertainment was either totally cheesy or surprisingly good. The revues at the Moulin Rouge were like bad American Idol outtakes, although as my mother said, "they really did put their hearts into it." They certainly didn't put their voices into it... or their costume design efforts... in fact- stay away from Moulin Rouge. The comedian, Dave Heenan, was hilarous. My mother was crying with laughter the whole flight home. He has a bit about what it sounds like to call the ship from shore- complete with strangled Norwegian accents- that was rich. Skippy the Piano Player and the three bands on ship were quite good.
The internet cafe cost me $100.00 to send out a few emails and if you can skip it, do. The fitness center is absolutely gorgeous. People were grumbling about the wait for Spa treatments, but we had some rough and rainy weather and I think the indoor features were a bit overloaded in general.
There were plenty of children on the cruise, but they were out of sight and out of mind for me. They tend to feed at Raffles, and they have their own pool with two modest waterslides and a Jacuzzi. The teenagers were a different story. Everywhere I went they were having the time of their lives. I have never seen such happy teens. They behaved themselves very well and did not block staircases or act inappropriately. They seemed to spend every night at the Celebrity Disco, where they were served non-alcoholic smoothies and things of that nature. Quite a few shipboard romances were clearly brewing, in contrast to the adults: I think my mother and I were among approximately 6 single people on board. Good thing we found the other four and had a blast with them.
The service aboard the Spirit is what I will always remember as the best thing about the cruise. Literally nothing I wished for I didn't get.
One low point was when the time came to book future cruises. Feeling the buzz of the cruise I decided to throw down a big chunk of cash to take four of my sons on a cruise this summer. Sadly for me and for NCL the man in charge of future cruise bookings, Duncan, was pretty abrupt and could not find a way for me to book an NCL cruise. I just booked a Carnival cruise this morning- 8 days out of Galveston in August. I am hesitant to cruise Carnival after Cunard and NCL, but apparently only Carnival will let me travel with four kids under 21.
The thing about the Spirit is that the whole far surpasses the sum of its parts. We met some great people, drank our heads off, read quietly in the library, saw happy kids, took silly pictures, ate incredible food in a serene setting three times a day, slept in comfortable beds, got tan, snorkeled, worked out, walked the ship endlessly, laughed, relaxed, and left wondering if they would hire a lawyer from Buffalo as a waitress, and if so, which dining room I would want to work in. It was a great cruise and would have been worth it at ten times the price.