This was our tenth cruise on five different lines. It reinforced several views of the cruise industry in general. This was our second cruise with NCL.
Embarkation: Despite the total madness one finds at pier 90 in NYC, after unloading at the terminal there was only a 15 minute wait to get to the sign in desk (thanks to our Latitude membership). First timers were treated to an hours wait.
Ship: I've seen reports that the ship was a bit worn after 9 years of service. Either NCL did a quick refurbish job before we boarded or the reviewers were very picky. We found the ship to be in very good shape and clean with the exception of some stained rugs. The décor was pleasingly oriental and the atrium quite spectacular considering when the vessel was built. As ships go it was logically laid out and easy to navigate. Although we opt for lower decks, we had a cabin on the tenth deck which proved to be very stable motion wise. The inside room itself was very small and not well laid out. Storage space was at a minimum with only four drawers. The staff were friendly and always available. Just a word about cruise lines incessant sales pitches. We are not interested in the following-gold chains, tanzanite, emeralds, art auctions et al. Judging by the response, neither are the rest of the passengers. And please deliver us from the port shopping talks. Yes, we all know the cruise lines are getting a cut by steering us to particular shops. We are adult enough to make our own decisions once ashore. The time would be better spent giving us background on the port and its history.
Food: I've read reader reviews complaining about both the quality and portion size (in the dining rooms) of the food. Quality wise we found the food to be good in the buffet and good to very good in the dining rooms. The buffet can be hectic during prime time and the layout does not improve traffic flow. The most egregious bottleneck is by the omelet station which in the morning is located across the way from the coffee station totally obstructing entry into the buffet line. The dining room was always available without a wait before 6PM. Concerning portion size, I not sure what the problem is since one can order as many portions as one wants. The choices were eclectic with many cuisines represented as well as standard American fare. My observation would be that if you don't want to gain the 8 pounds that seems usual for a 6 to 7 day cruise, stick with one portion of each course.
Entertainment: The shows were quite good with the NCL entertainment group featuring a talented bunch of high energy singers and dancers. Especially good was the "Second City Comedy Group" which did comedy improv. The cruise director did a good job although we only saw her a few times when not on stage.
Casino: Altho I am not crazy about casinos at sea, the slots on this ship were quite generous. Also, this was one of the largest casinos I've seen on a cruise ship (more about that under ports).
Ports: NCL really missed the boat on this one. One of this nice things about Nassau is the shopping (straw market etc). We were only in port a few hours which meant after our land excursion we had no time for shopping because the Spirit was headed for Stirrip Cay, NCLs private "island". In actuality, this island is a sand bar a few hundred yards across with virtually no facilities. Cruise lines have come up with the idea of private "islands" for several reasons: 1.The ship stands still for a day without paying port charges 2.Adding a day to the cruise without burning off bunker adds to the bottom line. 3.Being anchored at sea, out of any countries' jurisdiction, the casino can remain open. While at the cay, the casino was doing a brisk business.
Disembarkation: NCL has a new policy where you can carry off your own luggage and not have to wait for deck call. They went off first about 30 minutes after docking. Even though we did not opt for this we were off the ship with our luggage waiting for our ride an hour after docking.
Summary: It was a good cruise despite some shortcomings. NCL has some nice ships operating out of NYC. Unfortunately, NCL will be pulling out its current ships, the Dawn (my personal favorite) and the Spirit the end of this year. They will be replaced by one new ship, The Gem. This creates two problems: the stated prices are higher for the new ship and the itineraries will be restricted. The 10 and 11 day southern Caribbean cruises will be restricted to 5 weeks in January instead of the current three month schedule and the Bahamas may be dropped in favor of Key West. Too bad since we cruise almost exclusively out of NYC. Fortunately, there are many other lines to take up the slack.