Number of Cruises: 9
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Spirit
Sailing Date: March 3rd, 2006
Norwegian Cruise Line
NCL Spirit Cruise Review
I like the format used by an earlier reviewer, so...
We have cruised many times with Carnival and Costa, this was our first with NCL. Normally there are 4 of us sharing a room; we choose suites for the space. This time my husband was not able to join us, so with just my 12 and 15 year old I opted for a balcony stateroom on Deck 11. Plus, there were no suites available for this cruise – the ship does not have very many to begin with.
For this cruise we decided to skip the flying, and left from New York City, close to home. This was an 8 day trip: Port Canaveral and Miami in Florida, Great Stirrup Cay Island (NCL’s island) and Nassau in the Bahamas.
We also had a large group of college students on the ship, so that may have changed some things…
Having always had priority boarding with suites, I can’t compare this easily. We waited in line about an hour, slowly snaking our way through the turns. At the desk we moved quickly. Documents were checked, photos taken, and our key cards given to us. One very nice touch was that I was able to register my credit card right then, instead of having to find another line on the ship later on for this purpose like so many other cruise lines. Then it was on to the ship. Our luggage arrive before we even set sail, also a nice touch. We had one cruise from San Juan where we didn’t get our luggage until the next morning, despite repeated phone calls looking for it.
Julie, the cruise director, summed up the size of the room at a show. She commented that the pictures in the brochures were actual size. She’s not kidding. I didn’t know a room could be so small. You can have on hand on the toilet, one hand in the shower, and still look in the mirror over the sink. The closet has just a dozen or so hangers and some shelves. Consider bringing some hangers with you if you have lots of clothes; the ‘dresser’ drawers are postage size. You may fit some underwear in them, but not much more. The room was bright and gaudy. Color combinations sure to wake you up! There is a desk with a chair and mirror and a small loveseat that opens to a bed. If this is opened there is no way to get to the balcony. No room to walk. We asked our cabin steward to stop opening the bed in the evening; we just had to put it back. The television is miniature. Nothing to watch anyway. There is only 1 outlet in the room that you can use to charge cameras, cell phones, etc. – I always bring a surge suppressor strip with me for additional outlets and to protect my electronics. I highly recommend packing one!
An interesting side note is that this ship was designed for the Asian population; the beds are shorter than expected, and you will notice this. They are also firmer, but have had foam pads added for comfort. We brought our own pillowcases; no worries about stained sheets for us. Towels are not fluffy and soft, they are rough and scratchy. There is no security chain on the inside door, nor is there a peep hole to see who is knocking.
Our cabin steward was delightful and polite. I don’t think he ever vacuumed the room while we were on board. I kept my eye on one sunflower seed on the floor the whole trip. And the edges of the carpeting show that no one has ever really cleaned all the way to the walls. Cleaning is superficial. If you leave something on the floor, it will remain there until you pick it up. Turn down consists of new towels if needed, bedspread removed, and a towel animal most nights. I won’t even tell you what the cobra looked like sitting on the bed…
The balcony is tiny, with wobbly plastic furniture. Better than nothing though. The glass was never quite clean.
Again, this was designed for the Asian market as a gambling boat. While the extra touches are nice; wood paneling where one would normally see plastic, security cameras everywhere, and so on, there are a lot of forgotten things. A large fountain and rock pool area on Deck 7, under the grand staircases usually had no water flowing. Shopping is extremely limited on board. Colombian Emeralds, a watch/jewelry store, gift shop with just a few personalized (with ship) items and other sundries, and a small duty free shop. When I say small, I’m not kidding. One way in and out – if there are more than a few people in there you can’t get in. Plan for a wait here if you choose to buy anything.
The public areas were kept clean; lots of staining on the carpet. The overall effect is pleasant but very tired looking. There are a lot of lounges and bars throughout the ship. Only one place, Blue Lagoon, has 24 hour food, and only a handful of seats with the traffic to the casino going through it.
The theater has nice stadium seating; many of the seats are broken and when you sit in them the bottom leans forward. Find a sturdy seat. There are no little tables in this theater unless you choose the upper level, but it’s hard to see from there. Think Movie Theater without the cup holders. There are also many dead ends and “you can’t get there from here” areas.
Food & Beverages
The buffet was interesting. It does not flow well; it was not an original feature apparently. There are no trays to carry your plates. A person stands there every meal and hands out a plate and silverware rolled in a napkin. Then you choose a line and begin. The same choices every meal. Same cheeses and rolls. Same cold cuts. Entrees vary slightly; if you don’t like chicken, fish, burgers or hotdogs you may be in for a problem. The cooked to order stir fry is nice, but with 1 or sometimes 2 cooks, and about 5 minutes per order, if there are more than a few people waiting you’ll be standing there quite a while. Overall the food quality at the buffet is fair at best. If I’d had to pay to go to the buffet we would have skipped food altogether. Drink choices are limited. Iced Tea and milk. Juices in the morning. Forget the coffee – it’s either weak dishwater that upsets the palate or just plain old and gray.
The desserts are boring after the first few meals. Same miniature cakes and pastries; they look pretty but lack flavor. The ice cream is usually melting. We learned to take quite a few each, in the hopes that one would actually taste good.
We ate in the main dining room only twice. (Windows). Seating was quick, the staff extremely pleasant. The menu is, again, limited. An appetizer, and entrée, and a dessert. No ‘courses’. Small portions, but very pretty on the plate.
We didn’t bother with the specialty restaurants. I couldn’t see paying extra on top of what we already paid just to eat. And we didn’t want to take the time for these restaurants, where reservations are suggested.
Room service is only for the desperate. Very limited choices. The menu suggests tipping; a first on a cruise ship for me! I ordered a chicken Caesar salad the first night. Still waiting for the chicken. I would attempt coffee every time; sometimes I did get cream and sugar to go with it. Sandwiches are triple decker on stale bread (made in advance) with potato chip pieces. Very light on the fillings on the sandwiches. My 15 year old ordered 5 or 6 peanut butter sandwiches at a time. All the portions are small for room service; they never once got our order quite right. Breakfast room service arrives on time, and they call the room first to wake you up, but there is basically only cereal, bread and yogurt to choose from.
Alcoholic drinks were high while we were on board; probably because of the college kids. I never ordered a single one. The kids have more choices; 12 and under can get a sticker on their key card for unlimited sodas at $16 each; this same choice is closer to $50 for adults. Teens get a book of coupons that they can use for either sodas or mixed drinks sans the alcohol.
I brought soda on board in plastic bottles. NCL x-rays for glass bottles in your luggage. If you try to bring alcohol on, they will find it and keep it for the duration of the cruise. A friend advised me that if I wanted to bring alcohol I should transfer it to plastic soda bottles in advance… i.e. vodka in a water bottle, rum in a cola bottle, and so on. I didn’t try this, but I know some people who did…
The shows we saw were fairly good. We only missed a couple. These are not Broadway caliber by any stretch of the imagination. Think high school drama club. But they don’t drag on for very long. Over before you know it! Of course each must begin and end with a speech from Julie, which can be annoying as she’s usually plugging some other event, but she doesn’t talk too long. She tells some stale jokes too, and gets people laughing. The illusionist is amateurish; his show is very short.
I found one show, Spirit of America, almost offensive. A large segment devoted to singers in choir robes imitating church. (Put on Friday night shortly after Sabbath began for Jews. It was supposed to be Saturdays show, but illness in the cast forced changes.) No mention of other religions. A slide show during a singing solo that stopped and gave us a blank screen for most of the song. Then some pictures of soldiers, war, tent cities, and a quick pan of the NYC skyline, focusing on and stopping at the World Trade Center as its highlight. Hello NCL! Many of the guests were from NYC and the area, and staring at the now destroyed towers for so long did not exactly bring smiles…
I’m not into male strippers (sorry Taryn and Sarah), so I skipped that show. As stated, daytime entertainment is limited. Towel folding was, um, fun… Writing workshop on a cruise? These people can’t even spell properly on their own signs. Other than that the main theme to entertainment seemed to be about spending money (Bingo, Casino) or drinking. There are many ways to part with your money on NCL, and if you’re not careful your ship bill may be higher than the cost of your cruise.
The casino does have penny slots as well as higher denominations, so you can have some fun here. A lot of table games for guests as well. The casino is large for a cruise ship, cheerful, and again, great staff. Lots of tournaments and such if you’re into it.
We opted not to do any of the shore excursions. Nothing new for us in Florida; could be fun for those who don’t get down that way often. Port Canaveral was too cold to bother with a beach, so we stayed on board and enjoyed the pool for a little while. In Miami we did disembark, but visited with relatives and went to South Beach with them.
Great Stirrup Cay, NCL’s private island, was scary. I didn’t think we would all fit on the beach. It was tight, but we managed. Wall to wall people. The barbecue was basically the same food we would have had on the ship; nothing exciting. There were enough chairs to go around, but considering these are just little beach chairs that was to be expected. If you want a hammock or lounger take the first tender out. They also have this ridiculous policy of having to sign beach towels in and out. I’m talking skimpy cheap beach towels, nothing you’d want for a souvenir anyway. We’ve always had towels for the next day delivered to our room the night before. The beach may have seemed even more crowded because it was really too cold to enjoy the water. Suggestion: if you enjoy snorkeling, bring your own gear. $29 to rent it seems insane. Life jackets are free for all snorkelers, and required. There are floats to rent; consider bringing those as well if you think about it. We remembered a pail and shovel to keep the 12 yr old busy.
Nassau was a strange trip. We docked at 7am; the island doesn’t really open up before 9. And on board by 12:30 didn’t leave a lot of room to play. Don’t fool around with the time with NCL. They don’t think twice about sailing out on time. If you miss the ship, you miss the ship! And there is a Starbucks not too far away from where you dock for a quick cup of real coffee; the first in a few days.
Getting on and off the ship is easy enough. Lines move quickly; everything is scanned on the way back in.
For those of you with kids… The programs are good. The space is wonderful. There’s an entire waterpark for the kids, although it was too cold for them to enjoy it much. Jungle gym. Ball pit. Large, money hungry arcade. The kids are divided into age groups, and the facilities are available at certain times for very little ones with their parents. Register the first night on board.
The 10-12 group had fun. Some ‘cool’ things to do, some were a little lame for the age group. Sponge Bob morning? Don’t miss the souvenir time; this is when the kids get the T-shirts they can decorate. Kids in this age group must be signed in and out. My 12 yr old was not thrilled; on other ships with my permission she could come and go as she pleased. Not an option for her on Spirit. 13-17 is too broad a range for the older group; what 17 yr old wants to hang out with a 13 yr old? But the events were more of a central meeting point for the kids. Many were too childish or inappropriate. A pajama party for teens? Overall though, the kids crew was good. The counselors here are not included in the mandatory tipping, and they will remind you of that often. Especially the last day. It appeared that the younger children had a lot of fun as well. I didn’t have one, but the little ones looked happy each day.
If you can, choose the “Express Disembarkation” option your last night. You bring your own luggage off the ship; no big deal because hopefully you didn’t bring a lot to begin with. If you can’t handle all your luggage on your own this is not an option. It allows you to skip putting your luggage in the hall the last night. I also liked being able to wake up at a decent hour, go upstairs for breakfast, and then be able to return to the room to wait for disembarkation. No sitting in a hall for hours. At 10am our deck was called, and by 10:10 we were on the sidewalk. We checked out of the ship with a final card swipe, and that was it. Customs was a joke. The man took our customs declaration card, never glanced at it, and waved us on. Although we had all our id’s ready, he never even asked to see them. All we had purchased was a necklace and a T-shirt, so there wasn’t anything to worry about, but still… what happened to Homeland Security? It was the smoothest and quickest disembarkation I have ever encountered.
Overall the cruise was ‘okay’. Just okay. I’d rank it as an economy cruise. If you’re looking for luxury or class, this is not the ship for you. The staff does speak English, and all the announcements were in English, so that was a relief – not having to listen to 6 other languages all the time. The staff was friendly and polite for the most part. If you don’t tip room service word gets around though. Your service will reflect that.
I did not like the “service fee” policy. The amount is added to your bill, and you do not have the option of taking it off your charge and paying cash like on other lines. You will pay $10 per adult, $5 per child 12 and under. For us it was $25 a day; we did not get $25 a day worth of service. And they wanted more on top of that? Counselors, room service, etc.? Didn’t happen. At least we weren’t charged for the last day, as far as I know. Considering we only had a total of 4 meals, 2 for my daughter and 2 for me in the Dining Room, tipping for there wasn’t fair. So our tipping went to the cabin steward? That was not worth what we paid.
The chocoholic event was a joke. The line stretched for, well, a couple thousand people. It started at 11pm – ‘viewing’ of the chocolate. We got there at 10:50 to get a jump on the line, which didn’t actually move until 11:20. Yes, the displays made from chocolate and ice were impressive. These are reused; the chocolate ones anyway. There are different trays of items that one can actually eat by the displays. After going through to view we had to leave the Dining Room and line up all over to then eat some of the chocolate? When we saw the length of the second line we went back to our cabin instead. We’d already tasted the chocolate they serve, and it was not worth another hour in line, especially at that time of night.
Pictures on the ship are expensive, as always. Not very good quality either. It was annoying to have “College Student Specials” here – and everywhere else for that matter – that catered only to the kids. College students get buy one, get one free for many things. The rest of us didn’t. We purchased only 1 photo, of my daughter at “Cookies with the Captain”. Someone tell that man to wear looser pants when posing with little children on his knee please. I’m not fond of that photo, but my daughter wanted it.
What else can I say? Will I ever cruise NCL again? Only if I get one heck of a good bargain on pricing! My kids dubbed it the worse cruise ever. I have to agree.