Our recent seven day cruise itinerary on the NCL Spirit included four days at sea and three in Bermuda. The Spirit will discontinue this route soon and be used for other destinations. According to the cruise line, the Dawn will take over this run in 2011, which is probably a good thing. Although it was an enjoyable ship, around the third day things were getting repetitive. A larger ship with more variety (Check out the new Norwegian Epic if you plan to spend more than a couple of days at sea) might have kept me more engaged instead of thinking about the next article I would write.
The Spirit is the oldest ship in the Norwegian fleet and cabins are getting a little long in the tooth. But common areas have been beautifully refurbished and are modern. The entertainmaint aboard can't compare to the Blue Man Group and other shows featured on the Epic. But the variety and creativity of the performances on our ship were fun and demonstrated a lot of... "spirit".
This ship was originally owned by another company and taken over by Norwegian which accounts for one of the problems we encountered in the cabin. I've been able to plug in my own 1800 watt hair dryer on every cruise I've ever taken but this one. The electrical has not been revamped and unless your dryer is 500 watts or less, you're out of luck. I don't know much about electricity but when it comes to dryers, I think five hundred watts of power is probably comparable to having a young child blow on your hair. Yes, a hair dryer is provided in the room but again, it's probably around 500 wimpy watts. If you don't like hats or don't want seven bad hair days in a row, avoid this particular ship. We talked to management about this issue and were told this is the only vessel in the fleet with this problem.
That aside, the amenities, service and meals were comparable to most other large cruise lines. Excursions were offered, and as usual, the costs were much higher than if you booked them yourself on shore. For a sanity check, we looked at the prices onboard, then disembarked and found less expensive deals. Because our ship lost some time due to Hurricane Earl, we only had two full days ashore in which to explore Bermuda. We chose to book a tour of the island on our first day to get an overview.
After collecting four other people from the ship, we were able to hire a six-person taxi van at $50 an hour. We spent three hours with the knowledgeable driver who was also well versed on the history of Bermuda. I have to admit we were especially lucky because this man's family owns taxis and their driver didn't show up. So he filled in for the day and we ended up with an articulate attorney as our guide! Our driver suggested stops we might not have otherwise seen with a ship's excursion. The fare came to $25 per person before the tip, a far cry from the $75 the ship was charging. We were free to decide where we wanted to go and how long we stayed. We toured the entire island including Hamilton, St. George and beautiful Horseshoe Bay where we saw the remnants of the recent sand castle building event.
If you've ever been on a cruise ship excursion you can appreciate the other benefit of our hired taxi - we also avoided the delays caused by people who don't get back to the tour bus on time.
For our second day excursion, we booked a snorkel trip to explore two shipwrecks. We've snorkeled many beautiful waters including Tahiti, and have seen exotic fish. This time we thought it would be fun to see something else. But to our surprise, we got to swim with some gorgeous tropical fish AND explore the shipwrecks.
Our personable captain for the day was Sonny. His friendly Jack Russell dog Audrey, did tricks for us like posing naked. Despite his young appearance, Sonny has been in business for years and knows everything there is to know about the waters surrounding the shipwrecks. He also shared the history of the Montana, one of the wrecks, before we actually jumped in the water and came face to face with the bow of the ship. Sonny's fun personality provided entertainment too, as he explained the proper way to put on snorkel gear: pointed vertically, the rubber pipe connected to the mouthpiece is a snorkel tube, pointed horizontally, it becomes a straw. His boat only holds a small group, we had 10 people, many returning customers who told us that Sonny's excursions are rated at the top of the 169 attractions in Bermuda at Trip Advisor.
The snorkel trip was thrilling with reefs, wrecks, and colorful fish. It was reasonably priced at $50 which included the snorkel gear. The Spirit was charging $70.
LIFE ON THE ISLAND
Like Sonny, you'll find most English speaking Bermuda natives friendly, happy, and accommodating. Residents are well educated and the average annual income is $70,000. But even a reasonable salary doesn't help pay for the average home which goes for about a million dollars. Real estate is extremely expensive and occupied by monied foreigners who predominantly own vacation homes on the island. Looking up into the hills, you can see sprawling estates.
Cruise ships dock at the pier in Bermuda only steps away from the information and activity booth where private excursions can be booked. Besides information, they offer maps, gifts and more. Everywhere we travelled on the island we were impressed with how immaculately clean it was, no litter, no graffiti.
Dollars in Bermuda at the time of our visit were equal to U.S. dollars. Rum products are the most popular tourist purchases in port. Batik clothing and all types of goods can be found at the clock Tower Mall a short walk from the pier.
One adventure we didn't have time to see were the Crystal Caves, surrounding a clear 55 foot deep lake. Other cruise passengers raved about the stalactites and stalagmites inside the cave, a stunning environment formed more than 30 million years ago. But I imagine if the caves have been in existence this long, they will be around to enjoy on our next trip!
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