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NCL Review and the Spirit TA NOLA to Barcelona

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THE TOTAL NCL EXPIERENCE

 

 

NCL SPIRIT

 

 

NEW ORLEANS to BARCELONA April 15th to April 28th

 

 

 

This is an after the fact review of my total experience with Norwegian Cruise Lines and the NCL MV Spirit. I will include a few photos to add to my descriptions. Regrettably I didn’t take my photos for a review but for my pleasure. So I missed some pictures that could have really highlighted this cruise.

 

A little about me and why I’m reviewing the total NCL experience. I’m a 50 year old, single for over 20 years, male. Due to my profession the only time of year that I can take a large amount of time off is in early Spring. This year I decided to try cruising. I wanted to do a Panama Canal Cruise but that wasn’t in the cards schedule wise. So I started looking at Transatlantic cruises on the internet. Comparing what was available from the various cruise lines I decided on the NCL Spirit from New Orleans to Barcelona. My determining factors were: Barcelona; New Orleans; Price; and size of the ship. I didn’t want my first cruise to be on a mega-ship (Epic was available in the same time frame from Miami) but on a smaller more intimate ship thinking it would make for more relaxing sea days.

 

As this was my first cruise I booked my entire vacation through NCL, air, pre and post cruise hotels, and transfers. This review will touch on all aspects of the total NCL experience.

 

 

BOOKING and PRE-TRAVEL

 

As I mentioned before I did a lot of internet comparison shopping prior to deciding on this cruise. The Wave season specials were taking place. So I booked online through the NCL website. The specials for Wave season were ½ deposits, $400.00 in coupons, and Balcony upgrades. I had already decided to book a balcony because it fit in my budget and I felt that for a cruise with mostly sea days an inside cabin wouldn’t allow me to just relax. Thinking that as soon as I woke up I would feel I had to leave the cabin just to see how the day was looking. My thinking was that on a port intensive cruise I would be leaving the ship everyday so an inside would be good. But this was mostly sea days so wanted an outside space for myself. The balcony upgrade was a 9th deck balcony to a 10th deck. No big deal. I learned quickly that a solo must pay double occupancy. OUCH!

 

I also did internet comparison shopping on flights to New Orleans and from Barcelona to Denver. The NCL Air price was better than anything that I could book on my own at the time.

 

Booking through the NCL website was straight forward and fairly simple. A few clicks of the mouse and I was booked, my deposit was applied and I was a Latitudes member. A minute later a detailed receipt was e-mailed to me. I did all this in mid December about 100 days prior to the cruise date. Looking through the receipt NCL sent me I noticed that they were planning to fly me from Denver to New Orleans the day of the cruise and straight out of Barcelona the day the ship arrived. That didn’t feel right to me, so I did some flight research through KAYAK.com. The flight itineraries looked too close for my comfort. I decided to call NCL and ask about flying into New Orleans a day early and stay in Barcelona for a couple of days before coming home. Through the NCL website I read about their hotel packages. I decided that I would book the Marriot in New Orleans and the Hilton in Barcelona for pre and post cruise to make whole vacation less stressful.

 

This time I called NCL reservations. The agent that picked up my call was professional, but needed assistance from a supervisor to change my booking to include the hotels and flight changes. This was still well before final payment date. I did learn one thing from this call. The hotel prices listed on the website are also double occupancy. Thus my three hotel days on this vacation ended up costing 30% of my total cruise price. Other than the fact that I had a room on Canal Street during the music fest in New Orleans when no down town rooms were available. I could have booked hotels in both cities cheaper myself.

 

Now after all this, I thought to myself. Hey, I why not look for a web forum on cruising. Cruise Critic came up on top of a Google search so began to read through the NCL forum. I read about the Roll calls, so I joined just to see who was on my cruise. The best move I’ve ever made. You the fine readers of this review will see how the roll call and the other fine members of Cruise Critic made this vacation what it was.

 

 

This next section I will make as short as possible. It needs to be mentioned because I’ve read many posts about price changes before final payment, price changes after final payment, wine packages, bar set-ups, prepaying DSC, and up-sells. I did or had all happen to me prior to me leaving home for this vacation.

 

From the time I booked to my final payment date. NCL dropped the price Per Person of my cabin category (BA) by $350.00. ($700.00 for a solo). This price change was over several price adjustments. Every time I checked the website and noticed a difference I called the NCL reservations number. NCL adjusted my rate everytime.

 

After final payment I checked the rated again. On the main page and through the booking process the rate didn’t look as if it had changed. But as I was solo I check as a single. That rate had dropped another $400.00. NCL had reduced the single supplement. When I called I was told that because it was after final payment they wouldn’t refund the difference. They did offer an upgrade to a B3 (Family Balcony) or $200.00 OBC. I took the OBC because the upgrade from a BA (Mid-ship balcony) to a B3 (forward or aft) same room size, different location, didn’t look like an upgrade. I also read the sticky on the NCL forum and decided to get the NCL Mastercard. Mainly for the $150.00 OBC credit they offered for signing up, and secondly because I already have a savings account with Bank of America, the card sponsor. So now my cruise fair is $700.00 less than when I initially booked and I have $350.00 OBC.

 

This vacation is looking really good to me. Time to make my cabin right for me. First thing I did was call to make sure that my room was set up with the beds together. No problem says the reservation agent on the phone, I’ll put that in your reservation notes. This was the first time I realized that they take notes every time I call. Reading the NCL forum I learned I could order wine and liquor for my room. I called the main reservation number again to ask who I needed to call to order bar set-ups. (There was conflicting information on CC at the time) They took my order right there, I ordered half a case of wine, a bottle of Champagne, and a litre of Jack Black for my Cabin (Long Cruise). It wasn’t cheap but I thought that if I compared it to the per drink price I would be ahead in the end. Next I decided I would pay my DSC ahead of time, 13 days x $12.00 didn’t seem like a big deal to me. I may think differently if I had a large family. As a side note I paid $15.00 a day to kennel my pet. $12.00 a day as tips for the crew, peanuts, why do people even think they should not pay the DSC?

 

As the time to cruise date grew near I checked the NCL webpage often. Checking on cabin availability throughout the ship. I noticed that my cabin category (BA) was sold out. But the suites (SG, SF, and SE) were still unsold. I made a point everytime I called NCL I inquired into upsell to an SG suite. The answer I always received was the full price difference between the two catagories (BA – SG). Too expensive for me. But I thought, they are taking notes, maybe they will call.

 

My e-docs were available on the 60th day prior to sailing. I only mention this here because I booked my flights through NCL. This was when I finally knew what my flight arrangements were. They were still not what I would have booked myself. I will cover the flights when I get to that section of this review.

 

 

The 30th day prior to the cruise was the day that completely ruined cruising for me. Remember this is my first ever cruise. As I was walking out the door for work my phone rings.

 

Hello

 

Hello, Mr. Tinman?

 

Yes

 

This is Jessica, your upsell fairy. Have I got a deal for you.

 

Yes?

 

Would you like to upgrade your cabin to a Penthouse Suite for $XXX.XX?

 

Let me think……( Fingers are flying, Shoes coming off. This is some tuff math).

 

Well Mr. Tinman here are all the amenities you will receive with the PH suite.

 

(Thinking) I know the amenities I’m a member of Cruise Critic. They list that every day. This math is still tough.

 

What do you think Mr. Tinman your new cabin would be 10012 a very nice location.

 

(Math in my head done) Do you mean I get the Penthouse Suite for $XXX.XX above what I’ve already paid?

 

Yes Mr. Tinman.

 

Do I Keep my On Board Credit?

 

Yes.

 

Is a credit card Ok? SOLD.

 

I ended up getting an upsell to an SF suite for the end cost of what I originally booked my BA balcony for. Why they called me I don’t know. Is it because I inquired everytime I called? Or is it because I showed I was willing to spend extra money by paying my DSC and ordering bar set-ups and wine ahead of the cruise? Or luck of the draw from a sold out cabin category? All I know is it was within my original budget. Like I wrote on the roll call. What do I do with a Butler?

 

The vacation will start in the next installment.

 

I promise photos will follow

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Wow, lucky you! I've been on the Spirit twice and love her, looking forward to hearing about the trip!!

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Denver thru Embarkation

 

 

My NCL vacation started on April 14th with an American Airlines flight from Denver to New Orleans. I had booked my flight and hotel for a day prior to the cruise date so I didn’t have to stress over getting to the ship on time. I thought I would also get a little time to see New Orleans prior to the cruise.

My thinking and NCL thinking were not the same. I was booked on a flight departing Denver at 12:30 pm changing planes in Dallas arriving in New Orleans at 7:30 pm. I did know that the New Orleans music fest was going on the weekend I was there. I had no idea how it would impact transportation within the city,

 

I was met at the baggage claim of Louis Armstrong Airport by a nice couple holding an NCL placard with my name; they directed me to a normal shuttle van loaded with passengers going to hotels near the French Quarter, mostly around Canal Street. The couple handed the driver a check and told him to drop me off at the Canal street Marriott. I must have been the last NCL transfer passenger for the day, as they jumped in their car and left the airport right behind the shuttle. The drive into town was quite pleasant. The driver played some great jazz and blues music and the other passengers were excited to be in the Big Easy.

 

Once we exited off of I-10 into downtown the shuttle came to a halt. Needless to say, the traffic downtown sucked. I finally arrived at my hotel at around 10:30 pm. No time left for the musicians playing in the Quarter, the great restaurants, or even people watching. Straight to bed, because the expectation of the next day was killing me. Then all hell broke loose outside my window. The best fireworks show I’ve ever seen. I think it was to close the Saturday music fest show. It was spectacular.

 

The Marriot New Orleans is a very nice hotel. NCL advertises that the rooms they reserve for you are “Pre-screened first-class or deluxe accommodations”. They are actually the normal “Double Room”. For the price, if you plan ahead you can get the same accommodations cheaper. Especially if you’re single, NCL will charge double occupancy. Marriot will sell the same room as a single. At a single rate.

 

The NCL transfer to the port was scheduled for 11:30 am from the hotel so I had a little time for breakfast New Orleans Style. I walked down Canal St. and Decatur St. looking for something different. I ended up in a little place that I don’t remember the name of. (I’m Sorry) They had a shrimp, scallop, and fete cheese omelets. I was in heaven. That alone made my stay in New Orleans worthwhile. I checked out of the hotel and placed my bags in the “NCL SPIRIT” pile at the bell station by 10:45. The lobby was packed, so I waited out on the street. One for the morning breeze, two because I was stuffed from breakfast, and three, Canal Street is great for people watching. My favorite memory of New Orleans occurred while I waiting for the NCL bus to the port. Two ladies, probably in their mid-60’s, came out of the hotel dragging their luggage. They stopped in front of where I was standing. One lady looked at her watch, turned to the other lady and said something to her in German. They both looked around, looked at the watch, pointed to the empty bus loading zone. They just looked frustrated and confused. Of course the only German I know I learned from Hogan’s Heroes so I knew I would be no help. But wait, I notice NCL Spirit luggage tags on their bags. Then I look over watch ladies shoulder. Her watch is 1 hour fast. Now I see the confusion, they think they missed the bus. I tapped watch lady on the shoulder and pointed to my bag with my NCL Spirit luggage tag. Then I showed her my watch. Her face turned into a big smile and proceeded to test my knowledge of German. She explained the mix-up to her friend and I had new friends for the whole cruise. Even if I didn’t understand much of what we talked about.

 

The NCL bus arrived right on time. The NCL passengers from the Marriott filled every seat. We also taxed the luggage storage capacity of the bus. Off to the Julia Street terminal we go. Again downtown traffic was a mess. I was glad I didn’t have to drive that big bus through that congestion. Just as we got close to where I thought the terminal was, the bus turned away, The driver told us over the intercom to have our passports ready and he explained how the luggage handlers at the terminal were going to “shake us down” for tips. He said they were mad at him because he told all his passengers about the shake down. But wait, I’m right we are going away from the terminal. Next thing I see is the loading zone of the Marriott again. There sitting in the middle of the sidewalk are two more bell-carts loaded with luggage, with fancy red NCL Spirit tags flitting in the breeze. Hey, wait a minute; those are my bags on that cart. All of a sudden the bus starts a nasty lean towards the curb side as the other passengers lean over to see if their bags were also left behind. I learned a big lesson here. Watch your bags get loaded.

 

Off to the terminal again. This time we went straight there. Just as our driver explained, the baggage handlers came on the bus and told us to get off and stand next to our bags “for accountability”. What upset the most was all of the handlers were wearing Union caps and vests. These guys are making union wage and shouldn’t be taking tips. Enough said on that topic.

 

After the checked bags were taken away, we were directed through an airport style security line. It was a quick and easy check. Carry-on bags through an x-ray machine. People through a metal detector. Not bad at all. Next we were led into a big room with a roped off series of zigzag queues. There was an empty queue for Lattitude members. One for VIPs that was also empty. The only passengers in the terminal were those of us off of the Marriott bus so we were directed to lineup in the main line. The counter was staffed with probably a dozen people and checkin went very fast. I was in the middle of the line. When I was called to the desk I was asked for my passport and the top copy of my e-docs. I was then handed a short health questionnaire. By the time I finished the health form. The desk attendant was explaining about my on board account and asked for my credit card. A quick swipe and a look into the camera, I was done. I thought. The attendant stands up and says.

 

“Will you please follow me Mr. Tinman?

 

Sure (Thinking what have done already)

 

Off to the side we go. Through an unmarked door. I’m still thinking “what did I do wrong” Then a very attractive lady with an NCL name tag approaches us.

 

You must be Mr. Tinman

 

Yes, I say sheepishly.

 

She then turns to the desk attendant and tells him that she will take it from here.

 

Now I’m really racking my brain, No liquor in my carry-on, no weapons, not even a corkscrew. (Hey that’s something I can ask my Butler for) Then it dawns on me. I didn’t get a room key. I turn to follow the desk attendant to get my key when the lady interrupts my frantic thoughts.

 

Welcome aboard Mr. Tinman, I’m Belkys Los Sanchez, your concierge. Please have a seat.

 

Wow what a relief. I thought I was getting an escort to the naughty room even before I officially boarded.

 

Belkys then handed me a nice welcome aboard packet and my personalized “Metallic Colored” room card. She explained that she was waiting for one more set of guests and when they arrived she would have our butler escort us aboard. The unmarked door was the VIP lounge. NCL had set up a table of drinks, snacks, sandwiches, and fruit. Of course there was nothing much left. We really were the last Suite passengers to board. A few minutes later the other guests arrived and we were whisked aboard by our Butler Akhmad. He did a quick demonstration of the amenities in the room. Then told us to hurry if we wanted lunch, Cagney’s would be closing at 2:00.

 

Our Cruise Critic Roll Call had been planning to meet in the Windows dining room for lunch. I asked Akhmad if Windows was still open. He said that it was but they too were closing at 2:00 and I should go to lunch at Cagney’s. (Suite perk and all)

 

Next installment: New Orleans to Miami

 

Thanks for reading. I promise photos will come.

 

A teaser photo of what is to come.

 

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Thanks to lmcgrail for the photo

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Eagerly awaiting the next installment! On the Spirit in September so looking forward to your review .

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My thoughts on the NCL experience to this point are: You have very little control over your flight itinerary; transfers are convenient, but I will self transfer from the hotel to the port in the future; the hotels are expensive for a single traveler. But. If in New Orleans when any big event is scheduled, NCL has hotel rooms blocked for their passengers. If you use them you can get a good room even when the Hotel is showing sold out.

 

New Orleans to Miami

 

My first impression of the NCL Spirit when I boarded was WOW! The ship is beautiful. Not overpowering with the Vegas style glitz, but not subtle either. The Spirit carries a general Asian theme throughout. Oriental carpets, paintings, and sculpture can be found around every corner of the ship. This is a place where I wish I had taken more photos. To describe the feel of the ship just doesn’t do her justice.

 

 

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The Grand Centrum deck 7 midship.

 

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Decks 13, 12, 11, and the kiddie pool on deck 10 Aft

 

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The promenade Deck 7 port side looking aft The green signs indicate muster stations

 

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The crew conducted the Lifeboat drill at 3:00 pm. It also was painless. NCL doesn’t require life jackets be brought to the drill they do demonstrate how to wear them and tell you where they are located during the drill. Muster stations are indicated on the room keys by an Alpha-numeric A-1 B-3 ect. These numbers coincide with stations on the promenade deck. Deck 7. At these stations they line all the people with the same number into groups of five. These lines are directly below a corresponding lifeboat. That is your lifeboat and your seating position in case of an emergency. Straight forward and easy. The drill probably lasted 20 minutes.

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The ship was docked facing up river with her starboard side to the terminal.

We left the dock around 4:00 pm. To depart the ship used it’s bow and stern thrusters to move away from the pier. Then the River Pilot turned the ship around in the middle of the river. The sail down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico lasted until after dark. When we entered the Gulf there was a noticeable change in the ships movement. Not bad but noticeable.

 

Thrusters at work

 

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Turning down River

 

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River Traffic

 

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Downtown New Orleans and our pier from the first River Bend

 

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More to come soon.

 

Thanks for reading

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Great pictures and review so far. Did you get down to the Bridge Viewing Room Window watching to comings and goings on The Bridge? I spent a lot of time on both my January and March cruises down there.

Mandy

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Great pictures and review so far. Did you get down to the Bridge Viewing Room Window watching to comings and goings on The Bridge? I spent a lot of time on both my January and March cruises down there.

Mandy

 

That's funny Mandy,

One of the things that I had wanted to do was see the Bridge and the little Museum. Never got around to it (Kicks himself)

 

Mark

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When I left the narrative of this saga I was on my way to Lunch at Cagney’s. Cagney’s on the Spirit is located on Deck 7 starboard. There is a long hall along the starboard side running from the Grand Centrum midship to the entrance of the Stardust Theater aft. Cagney’s is the inside of this long hall. I won’t get into every meal I had on this cruise, but I will highlight the special ones. When I entered Cagney’s I was met by one of the concierge staff. She asked for my room card and checked it against her computer. That was the only time I had to show my room card to enter Cagney’s. From then on I was greeted by name by the entire Concierge and Cagney’s staff. It is a very nice touch and adds greatly to the Suite experience. I had the French dip sandwich for lunch. The Cagney’s lunch menu is limited and remains the same for the entire cruise. Out of the 13 days I was on the ship I only ate lunch there 3 of 4 times. Not because it wasn’t good, but I tried to sample as many places as I could.

 

After lunch I wondered around the Grand Centrum. NCL had many tables set up selling wine packages, showcasing specialty restaurant menus, and such. I had pre-reserved dinners in Le Bistro and Cagney’s for the 20th and the 21st . One of our Roll Call members had posted that her birthday was the 21st and we were all going to go to dinner in Windows that night to celebrate. So I stopped at the Restaurant table to change my reservations around. I had read here on Cruise Critic about the Chefs Table dinner and thought if there was room available, I would sign up. They also had a sign-up for a jazz brunch. It was scheduled for the morning prior to our arrival in Ponta Delgada. In the end I had dinner reservations for the 19th in Cagney’s, the 20th for the Chefs Table, the 21st at Windows for the birthday, the 22nd in Le Bistro, and the Jazz Brunch on the 23rd.

 

Next I went up on deck to watch the sail away. It was crowded and I couldn’t find a good spot. So I figured that I had a balcony I would watch from there. I think this will be a good place to post my Suite pictures.

 

Looking in from the door

 

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From the Balcony towards the door

 

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The Coffee machine and Bar area. On the Spirit Refridgerators are only in Suites. It is located in the cabnet below the Coffee machine.

 

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The Bathroom

 

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Bath

 

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Shower

 

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Edited by WYTinman

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The remainder of day 1 was spent exploring the ship and getting to know the staff at Champagne Charlie’s in the Centrum on Deck 8. I ended up staying there until late. Missing dinner and the Welcome aboard show. Dinner ended up being room service. Nothing special. Of note I left my suit in the laundry bag for dry cleaning. The bag was gone and a note from my room steward was in it’s place telling me the suit would be back the next day. Needless to say it had been a busy day and I slept like a log.

Day 2 New Orleans to Miami

From here on I will highlight activities and add pictures as needed.

I woke at a decent hour and headed to Cagney’s for breakfast. I had the Crab Eggs Benidict. Very good. Also they serve French press coffee. Again very good. Our cruise Critic group had an informal meet and greet scheduled in the Galaxy of the Stars. Galaxy of the stars is a large lounge/ meeting room on deck 12 forward. It is a great space and was used for many classes and late night shows throughout the cruise. We were to meet at 11:30 am on the port side of the room and then all go down to Windows for lunch. ( do you see a pattern here) I arrived a little early and sat in on a Survival Spanish for Gringos class that the Staff was presenting. Very informative and entertaining. After the Spanish Class and right as our CC group was starting to gather another class started. We were so loud that we were asked to leave the room. The nice thing with the Galaxy of the Stars is the outer perimeter of the room is separated from the main room by a glass wall with doors. So we just moved out there until the class ended. Many of the group had linked up the day prior so introductions had already started. Our originiszer had made name tags for us all and that also helped the introductions. Most of us went to lunch and occupied a large number of 6 top tables. This started a tradition that carried on through the whole cruise. We made plans for a daily “Happy Hour” prior to dinner and we often had 3 of 4 tables of CC members at dinner each night. As an aside, I had picked up a flyer from the wine desk that said the Martini tasting would be on our first sea day at 4:00 pm. Wrong!!! This is where I learned that the cruise didn’t really start until after Miami. A little confusion when people started showing up at Champagne Charlie’s looking for the tasting. The staff took the mix-up in stride and ended up selling many full price Martini’s anyway. I did lunch and Dinner in Windows with the CC Group. Don’t ask, because I can’t remember what I had.

 

Informal Meet and Mingle in Glaxay of the Stars

 

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Day 3 Miami

Again I woke at a decent hour. I stepped out onto my balcony to a view of downtown Miami in the distance. We docked around 10:00 am and were free to explore the city until 5:30 pm.

I will tell the rest of this story with pictures.

 

Miami in the distance

 

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The Pilot Boarding to take us into the Port of Miami

 

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Edited by WYTinman

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Pilot onboard

 

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The approach into Miami

 

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Miami Beach

 

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Some one will always wave to the cruise ship

 

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Mark

The Officer on The Bridge is not the Harbor Pilot ( he has a blue shirt on). I think that is Captain Vanja. Nice picture- how did you manage it?

 

Mandy

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Into the port past the Coast Guard base

 

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Our Police escort into the Port

 

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At the end of the causway the ship must turn around. Using the thrusters the Spirit turned completly around within her length.. Port of Miami Terminal

 

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Mark

The Officer on The Bridge is not the Harbor Pilot ( he has a blue shirt on). I think that is Captain Vanja. Nice picture- how did you manage it?

 

Mandy

 

 

Mandy, you're correct that is Captain Vanja Litovic. This was the only time I saw him in the bridge window. I assumed that the Pilot was at the helm and the Captain was just supervising.

 

This is the view forward from by cabin

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Mark

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Preparing the lines

 

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Downtown Miami

 

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Still relaxing as we approach the pier

 

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Passing the Lines ashore

 

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I had to add these. What was he thinking?

 

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Edited by WYTinman

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Mandy, you're correct that is Captain Vanja Litovic. This was the only time I saw him in the bridge window. I assumed that the Pilot was at the helm and the Captain was just supervising.

 

This is the view forward from by cabin

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Mark

Pilot was NOT at the helm. Probably either the Staff Captain, Chief Officer or 1st Officer. The Harbor Pilot advises only. He is the expect on the local waterways. He probably went out about 10 miles or so, jumped off to his little boat and off to the next assignment, probably bringing someone in. The Pilots that I know all have Master's Licenses as do Staff Captains and Captains.

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