My youngest daughter turned 21 this month and wanted to see Bourbon St in New Orleans as a 21 year old. We decided to take her and three friends from college to New Orleans for an afternoon and evening there, and sail out of New Orleans on the Norwegian Spirit for 7 days to Costa Maya, Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel. I have booked lots of customers on this ship for this year and wanted to see it firsthand. I recalled that it was originally Superstar Leo sailing in Asia for Star Cruises, NCL's parent company. It was renamed and moved to NCL about 6 years ago and renamed Norwegian Spirit. It began in Alaska, and later was doing alternating 5 and 9 day Caribbean cruises, and I had looked forward to sailing on it.
We have sailed on Norwegian Dream, Star, Jewel, Pearl, Sky (twice), Epic, and Pride of America out of 64 total cruises. I can honestly say I have enjoyed every one of them. While my wife is a traditional cruiser, we like Freestyle Cruising, dining whenever we like. My wife dresses for dinner no matter what line we are on, and we enjoy music for listening and dancing, especially ballroom style.
After the necessary stops in New Orleans at Acme Oyster House, Bourbon St in the afternoon and evening, dinner on Decatur Street, and morning coffee and bengiettes as Café DuMonde Sunday morning, we arrived at the cruise terminal about 12:30pm. The ship had been a bit later arriving due to the high water in the Mississippi. By arriving then, and thanks to a Latitudes embarkation desk, we were promptly processed and aboard before 1pm. The cabins were to be ready by 2pm, but they began calling them by decks about 1:45pm. We did the customary tour of the ship and taking photos before the bulk of passengers arrived in order to get good photos of all the venues.
Our cabin was a category BA balcony on deck 11. Storage drawers were at a premium, and there was only one bedside table, but there proved to be adequate storage in the closet, on shelves in there, and in some drawers below the coffee/ice counter. TV did not have interactive account monitoring. There was the usual coffee maker, but no refrigerator. I especially like the way most NCL bathrooms are set up, with the toilet in one side of the bathroom with a door closing it off, the sink in the center, and a shower stall to the right with a sliding door. The condition of everything was fine. There was a little marking in some of the shower tiling, but generally everything was very attractive.
The four girls were in an inside cabin on deck 10, and it had two twins, a Pullman, and a rollaway. Interestingly, they didn't have the partitioned bathroom, and the bathroom seemed roomier therefore.
The fact that the ship was designed for the Asian market originally is only really noticeable on the deck where the Steakhouse, and Asian/teppanyaki restaurant is located, as even the steakhouse has an oriental décor. The teppanyaki table only seats 40 per night, and must be reserved starting at 8am the day before. It fills up fast. They were offering discounted pricing at all the specialty restaurants during May and June, and although we had originally thought we might use one or two, we all found the food in the main dining rooms excellent, with good variety, and ate there every night. Sometimes my wife and I ate by ourselves and sometimes with the girls. They ate in the Windows dining room every night and loved the food and service. We ate in the Garden dining room one night and while the atmosphere was more subdued, the service was not as good and the glare of the entry to and from the pantry/galley by the staff caused repeated distractions and lighting. That was not the case in the Windows dining room, where the service was outstanding. The Maitre De', Louis P, stopped by every night to talk with my wife and me and even gave me his card with his phone number. He even arranged a surprise birthday cake for my daughter and on another night a cake for the girls who had just graduated. The girls enjoyed a water nicknamed “Naughty, Naughty” and managed to request and get him assigned every night. To give you an idea of the food, my wife eats seafood every night and loved the selection. It started with lobster and shrimp the first night, and she never had to repeat the fish choice once. My daughter, a bit picky, loved the salmon on the always available menu and had it three times. I enjoyed lamb twice, osso bucco, English loin, turkey, and a sirloin from the always available menu that was excellent. They even had gravlox and escargot as appetizers.
The Garden Café, the buffet area on deck 12, had at least 4 different stations preparing eggs to order in the morning, as well as all the normal stations. Seating on the starboard side on the rear was below the basketball court, and I don't recommend seating there. There was amply staff and supervision, the tables were promptly cleared, and we never experienced any difficulty finding seating. At night a portion of one side of the Garden Café is closed off and becomes the Italian Trattoria, with appropriate décor and lighting.
There were three excellent production shows, one with a touch of the Circe' style, an illusionist/magician who did several shows, and some comedians. I was very pleased with the quality of the shows. There were so many activities during the day that we were interested in that we couldn't do them all. A wonderful couple, Arvin and Emily, entertain in Champagne Charlie's most evenings, and even participated in one the afternoon shows. The orchestra throughout the week did sessions in the Galaxy club on deck 13 and in Champagne Charlie's. That is our kind of dance music, and we loved it. There was the customary “White Night” one evening in the Galaxy Lounge, plenty of late night activity in Maharaja's Night Club, and even a toga party on the pool deck one night. The ship is easy to get around, and the only confusion I had was that the theatre is all the way aft, instead of forward like on most ships. I'm not a fan of lots of announcements, and thought there were a lot on this ship.
Debarkation on NCL ships is my favorite: you don't have to vacate the cabins until about 10, you don't have to drag carryon's to breakfast, and everything goes very smoothly. They did have colored tag announcements, but everyone is off between 9 and 9:45, or earlier if they can carry their own luggage off.
A word on ports. In Costa Maya my wife and I decided to skip the cruiseline developed port, but walk outside and observe the new shops set up out there, even a Senor Frog's, and then took a taxi for $2 per person into Mahahual, the nearby local town that was devastated by a hurricane in 2007. It has recovered and we walked the entire boardwalk to check it out. We found that you could get an hour massage for $20, or go snorkeling for an hour including gear for $20. Price for 2 margaritas, 3 beers, and plate of nachos on the beach in free tables and lounge chairs was $21. Check out http://www.sandalsandskis.com/Tropicante.html You can even reserve space in advance there. We were fortunate that there was only one ship in port.
In Roatan we chose to try Bananarama Resort. For $30 per person they pick you up in a van, take you to the resort on the beach on the West Bay were the other resorts are, and include a drink and a chair all day. For $5 more they include snorkel gear. There is an excellent snorkeling site and reef that you can walk into the water and swim out to, nearby. The best snorkeling I've found in Roatan. Lunch for 6 and a few beverages was only $73.
In Costa Maya, instead of reef snorkeling….my favorite….we did ca ve tubing. There are many companies offering it, including the cruise lines. We had been referred to one that offered a private van transfer (about 1 hour each way), a guide and after 30 minute hike to the cave, the tubing, followed by good buffet lunch, and the ride back. There is a place to change to dry clothes.
In Cozumel, the girls wanted to see Chankanaab National Park. I found a coupon online for $2 per person discount. They now require all swimmers to use life vests, which they will provide free. Snorkel gear is $10 per person. We did observe the free sea lion show up close and observe the dolphin encounters that are now included in the entrance fee. The NCL ships berth at Punta Langusta pier, right downtown, across the street from Carlos & Charlie's (downstairs) and Senor Frogs (upstairs).
In summary, we had great food, outstanding service and entertainment, more activities than we could participate in, excellent weather, and one of our best seven day cruises in quite some time. The Norwegian Spirit is a GREAT value. The ship is even scheduled for a refurbishment later this year and is scheduled to sail in Europe next year.