We arranged back-to-back cruises on the Norwegian Spirit 5-day starting 27th Feb to Grand Cayman and Roatan, then the 9 day to Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia, Antigua, and BVI.
We're first time cruisers, mid-50's from the UK.
We were booked into the Sheraton Four Points, Miami Beach for two nights. After a very exhausting 16 hours travelling we arrived at the Sheraton only to be told they had no rooms and we were bounced to the Marriot Fairfield Inn & Suites - probably I'd class as a 1 star if generous.
Having absolutely no choice we had to take the very basic room offered.
A word of warning the Sheraton Four Points is definitely not part of the Sheraton group it's a francise using the name badly.
We moved to the Sheraton on day two at 8:30am because we had arranged to be picked up at the Sheraton by one of the City Tour companies.
I cannot recommend the Sheraton Four Points in any way.
Customer relations - zero!
City Tour & Biscayne Bay Cruise
The tour company (booked through the internet) turned out to be an agency, which in turn sent our business to another agency, which sent our business to a tour company called Miami Nice Tours and the mini-bus which arrived was called Miami Fun Tours - very confusing and worrying.
The City Tour is a bit boring, and I would not recommend it. The second part is the star island cruise (Biscayne Bay cruise) - quite relaxing and interesting, but not as I had imagined with only only a few other tourists on the boat. This is a big boat I'd guess at around a hundred & fifty people aboard.
We arrived at around 2.00pm and it was all hustle and bustle. After a few minutes we Were finally directed to a booth where the guy gave us labels for our bags, and a "white hat" porter took them away (for a $1 per bag). We were then directed to the registration section.
The only part confusing was an NCL staff member insisting that we needed to fill in a white visa form for Roatan (UK don't need this). Anyway that sorted we moved to get our NCL cards (my wife's was missing - someone elses card was against oUr stateroom, but again quickly sorted), and enbarkation at 4.00pm No problems.
5-day cruise to Grand Cayman and Roatan
Weather was not too kind, but was sunny at the stops.
Biggest issue - SPRING BREAK.
First night on board woken twice by drunken phone calls at 2.00am and lots of shouting, swearing from ajoining cabins and in corridors for the first three nights up until around 3.00am.
Threats by the captain quietened it down a bit for the rest of the cruise, but five "guests" were taken off the ship at Grand Cayman and Roatan with the FBI and Miami Police waiting for the ship to dock back at Miami.
There is no way the number of kids drinking alcohol were aged 21 or over, and like a plague of locusts they invaded everywhere - pool, hot tubs, Henry's pub, Champagne Charlie's. I certainly don't think the senior staff did enough to stop the poor behavior, and to the waiters, bar staff, housekeepers there is a fine line between asking someone to stop, and causing offence, and losing their jobs so understandably they were reluctant todo anything without higher authority.
Had this been our only cruise with NCL, it would certainly have been the last.
Excursion: Grand Cayman
Our expectations were higher than the island tour part of the excursion, but on reflection it was enjoyable - apart from the turtle farm which I hated. Beautiful animals stacked one on top of the other in too small a pool.
The other main stop was Hell (novelty value only).
The Stingray City was great - suitable for a non-swimmer.
Disembarkation (5 day)
If you are staying onboard for a back-to-back cruise you will still need to line up for US Customs on the first cruise's disembarkation day. In our case this meant standing in line at the Moulin Rouge at 7.00am for Customs to check our passports and customs form.
9-day cruise to Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia, Antigua, BVI
We had been assured by the Hotel Director that the 9-day would be as we expected, and it was.
This was suberb. Think of the excursions as a bonus. The ship is the holiday not the stops.
Excursion: Barbados Island Tour
Enjoyed this - excellent tour guide.
Excursion: St Lucia
As recommended used Cosol. Enjoyable, but could have been better, but that was our own fault by choosing not to go to the beach, and we didn't have Nereus as a guide, but Adrian was OK.
Excursion: Catamaran Sail at Antigua
Absolutely suberb. we were not looking forward to it (almost cancelled) as we thought 5 hours on a boat would mean serious sunburn (very fair skin), and a lot of hanging about because we don't snorkel. Nothing could be further from the truth - wonderful day.
Excursion: Best of BVI
An absolute waste of time. A word of warning to anyone with back trouble. They use open sided buses, and the seats are hard. Coupled with the poor state of the roads it's tough on the back.
Bingo - didn't try this as I'm not interested, but even if I had been it was very expensive.
Casino - The first time we went to the Casino my wife asked one of the girls how to work the slots, and a few minutes later won nearly $200 on the slots. So we went each night and used $10 - I say used not spent because we sometimes came out with the $10 intact.
As much or as little as you wanted with some unexpected events.
For example, we were sitting in Champagne Charlie's when a member of staff asked if we were honeymooners because a honeymooners party was about to begin there. We asked if anniversaries counted - definitely. We were given a glass of champagne, and photographed cutting a huge cake, and then given a piece of cake. Nice surprises like that make your day.
Theatre shows - very very professional
Shane Cammel - guitarist (now left the ship) - excellent
Skippy - piano player and vocalist - excellent also does the "name that tune" quizes.
Best of Friends - the best group on the ship - absolutely wonderfully talented guys
Harmony & Rythym - very good when allowed to sing rock/pop numbers.
Pryme Time - Motown type - very talented duo (male and female)
Millineum - girl duo - not my cup of tea they left at Barbados and were replaced by Pryme Time
This is a very personal thing - some food you like, some food you don't.
Windows - The wait from around 6:30 until 7:30 was approx 20-30 minutes if you didn't want to share. we didn't want to share so we just went to one of the bars for a small refreshment - no problem. Waiter service was mixed - mainly warm, friendly, and efficient but a couple of times slow, and inefficient.
I sometimes just sat and wondered how the staff didn't constantly crash into each other - the restaurant has 600 tables.
On one ocassion I was choosing from the menu and mentioned to the waitress that I hadn't ever tried lobster. We had our starter, soup, and entree, and she then delivered the full lobster entree.
A point to make is that if you don't see anything on the menu you like ask for an alternative - there were a couple of times I asked for steak and french fries becauee I didn't want any of the entree - no problem.
Also if you choose asay a starter and you don't like it - order something else.
The Garden - only tried this once, and didn't like it at all. Poor service, and not friendly.
Shogun - super waitress named Shu.
We didn't want soup so that apparently meant we could have two extra entrees. We chose Peking Duck (for two), a pork dish with three cooking styles of pork, and a beef dish. Wonderful.
Then desserts, and then coffee. Excellent service
Maxim's - this was our silver anniversary dinner. At the end of the entree the waiters lined up and started to sing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" - two full verses. Please stop, I want to disappear under the table. Then they delivered a cake. Really nice touches.
Raffles (self service). Good buffet choice for all meals. The only hassle is getting a table at breakfast and lunch.
Every night at the centrum the photo screens would be setup to take your photos (formal or otherwise), and we had our photo taken with the captain - normal events on any cruise.
What I did object to was the delay getting off the ship because they insisted on taking a photo of each person, or couple, or group as you got off the gangway at each stop. We eventually waved them away.
I watched a Celebrity and Royal Caribbean liners dock and let the passengers off without the photographers.
This was just a cheap stunt, and not worthy of this ship.
Really beautiful ship, well maintained, and always cleaning. After the 9 day cruise I can't praise the staff, and crew enough. They work very long hours and the guests reap the benefits.
Disembarkation (9 day)
We decided to do the Everglades tour and return to Miami Airport.
At 11.00 we went to see Customs at the Moulin Rouge, 12:10 we met at the Picture House, and then we were taken to the baggage area, and picked up our bags in a couple of minutes. went to the Non-US citizen gate - anything to declare, no, have a nice day - out and onto Everglades tour bus. No problems - very slick.
I think this is one of those tours where you're there so do it. On the airboat for 25 minutes, saw plenty of grass and swamp, and three or four gaters, and three or four birds. Then a short show of a guy with 4 gaters in a cage - interesting.
For those travelling back to the UK. Miami, like most city airports is divided into terminals (or concourses). This unfortunately means that the facilities (eating, duty free, etc) are worse than smaller regional airports. My local airport (Prestwick Glasgow) has far superior facilities, and it's main operator is Ryanair.
There was only one eating place (a poor man's MacDonalds type self service) where you could get something nearly resembling a meal. Awful.
Duty free - much more expensive than the ship. For example, bottle of Bacardi Gold - ship $10, Duty Free $16.
First 5 days left a sour taste, but the 9 day was suberb.
Why did we waste our time in the past on expensive holidays we didn't like when we could have been on cruises.
Rannoch 16th march