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Norwegian Spirit Mediterranean (Eastern) August 2-14, 2012
Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
We boarded the Norwegian Spirit in Barcelona. We have been on this ship twice before, prior to its expansion and name change. The ship is the oldest in the Norwegian fleet. Though it is keep spotless and the staff is wonderful it still is an old ship and looks 'tired' in some areas.
Embarkation, was fine with little wait. Boarding in Barcelona after you check in and go through security there is some stores where you can buy wine and liquor. There is no further security checks, so after checking in you can buy wine and liquor for your stateroom. If you bring the wine to the dinning room there is a corkage fee ($ 10). Luggage was in our room in about one and a half hours upon boarding. I would suggest that you pack a bathing suit in your carry-on. The day was very hot and a quick swim would have been nice. The usual buffet was being served on the upper deck.
Cabin,was a standard one. The balcony was small (re: old ship). There was no refrigerator in the room (re: More
old ship). Room and bath were very clean and beds were nice and comfortable. The major issue for the cabin we were in (11556 and 11558) was that it was directly under the ships gym. The gym was open from 6am to 11pm everyday. At 6am the treadmills would start AND the free weights would bang to the floor. This went on pretty much all day into the night. So we were all up at 6am. Because we were in a new port almost everyday this was a problem BUT, if you wanted to take a nap, or go to bed early, that wasn't going to happen until 11pm.....every night ! It is my own fault for not checking out the deck plan prior to choosing my cabins. I would strongly suggest that before going on any ship look at the deck plan and see what is above your cabin. Again the placement of the gym over at least 8 cabins is evidence of an old ship.
Dinning: Food was fine. Not as much of a selection as we have had on other cruise lines or even prior Norwegian ships. Food that was offered was fine and well prepared. The Norwegian only offers the 'Free Style' dining. This was 'okay'..not great. There were 4 nights that we had to wait for seating a party of five. Also you have a new waiter each night and the service would vary from each one. At assigned seating you have the same waiter and bus boy who knows what your party likes and has it ready. So i am not a fan of the 'Free Style' only format. On our last two cruises (Princess) they offers both assigned seating and 'Any time dinning'. I did like the 'no formal' night format on the Spirit. We did go to three of the speciality restaurants. All were good, the steak and Asian ones were best, the Italian one was 'so,so'. There was an on deck BBQ most days which was excellent.
Entertainment: Because of visiting 8 ports in 12 days, we were tired most nights. We dd catch one show, again okay, but if you been on any cruises, it was girl singer, guy singer and then six dances. Nice, but been there and done that. On the other hand the bands that played poolside and in a couple of the lounges were great.
Ships port tours: we did the Provonce, France tour in Toulon which was very nice. In Florence we again did a ships tour to Pisa and then wine tasting in Tuscany. This is our second time doing this tour, it is great and I think only offered by Norwegian (I didn't see it any where else) by Pisa in the morning was great with the leaning tower, etc and then onto Tuscany for 'wine tasting' which is nothing like the wine tasting in Napa Valley. This is wine drinking along with a great 4 course lunch. Great tour if you have a chance. In the other ports were hired private tours which is the best thing I ever did. I will discuss these in the port review section.
Disembarkation: was done in Venice. This was HORRIBLE. The ship was in port over night so you would think that it would go smoothly. There was 'timed' exits scheduled. About every 15 minutes. Ours was at 9am, we had booked the ships transportation to the airport. I guessed that this would be the easiest way to get to the airport......wrong. We waited in a long line at 9am and 20 minutes later we left the ship. We got out luggage with no problem and then was directed to the transportation bus(s). We stood in line for 40 minutes waiting for the bus, which was there to be loaded and boarded. The company that was contracted by Norwegian to provide this transport had 8 (EIGHT) people standing there with clip board doing NOTHING !!! finally the bus started boarding and ONLY the bus driver was loading the bags underneath. He had to as several of the EIGHT people standing there (all young people) to move out of the way so he could do hi job. Had only a few of these people helped their bus driver we would have been on our way with only a slight delay. Has to be a better way to do this, at least USE some of these EIGHT people more effectively.
Last gripe is a usual one. People hoarding chairs around the pool (which there was only one small one....RE: OLD SHIP). This is a problem on all ships, there must be some way to deal with this. The other issue were young teens in the pool causing all kinds of horse play that lots of people did not go in or complained about there behavior. They also took over the hot tubs.
I know I sound more negative in this review, but I CHOSE this cruise...and ship because of the ports that were visited. If you want to see all these amazing ports and sights and have a nice floating hotel to come back to each night, then you can beat it. Or trip was great and if you take it I am sure yours will be also. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
At ehe last minute we booked a private tour for Athens. I thought our other tour guides / drivers were good. This was the best as to being informative and extremly knowledgeable. I was also impress by his use of the english launague. He hot onlt showed us ALL that was to see in Athens but he went on to explain the monatary problem that Greece is experiencing, at least in his view. Very interesting. One thing he took us to wa the changing of the gard at the tomb of the unknown soilder. It was so different and a must see. After so many ruins in other cites the 'other stuff' was intresting. Again we went places that tour buses could not get into.
We wanted to experience a local greek resturant, which he took us too whch was an outdoor resturant in the Plaka area. The food wa great, the people watching was terreffic with lots of tourists and the wait staff was a riot. Another great tour with lots of memories.
We book this tour through the ship. We had done this before and we wanted our children (adults) to experience it also. Pisa was first with the Leaning Tower and the baptistery. After going through Pisa on our own we met at a small restaurant to wait for our guide. We were given free cold bottles of water here, which was nice as it was upper 90's. Next was winery in Tuscany. Here we were given a short tour of the winery and how they process the grapes. The we were seated and given a 4 course lunch which was wonderful. During the meal we were given glasses of wine to drink. No a sip but full glasses. The food was home made and great. The bus ride from Pisa to Luca was delightful and scenic. Great tour don't miss it.
The ship docks very near the center of the city. You can walk there, or take a trolley which runs right by. It wa so hot that we took a take 10 euros. There was a slight problem as all the taxis wanted to take you on a 'tour'. After 5-6 'no thanks ' and walking away one cabbie said he would take us. But to give us a little tickle, he dropped us off about a mile from the Blue Mosque where we wanted to go. So be certain about the taxi's here. I have read many reviews that have been negative about the taxis.
That aside Istanbul was a pleasant surprise. I am not sure what I expected but I liked the whole city. Very modern, very clean, lots of everything, shopping, restaurants, things to see. We did a few tourist things, Blue Mosque, etc, but the biggest and happiest place was the Grand Bazaar ! It is unbelievably huge ! and lots of fun and LOTS and LOTS of thing to shop and buy. You just can't describe how big this place is. I thought it would be lots of people selling stuff from blankets like other cities. The bazaar is covered, like a tunnel, it is cool and there are many, many high-end shops, well lit, air conditioned but LOTS of shops. The sell everything. We were not going to buy anything.........well we ended up with two watches, three pocket books, scarf, bracelets, etc. There is no set price on anything. You barter for everything. I don't like this....or I didn't before the Grand Bazaar. They are SO friendly, they make it fun and are not hurt or chasing you down the street to make a sale. My 30 year old daughter is so shy I thought she would just die in there.......she was the one doing all the negotiating and bought the most. They vendors there could not have made you more comfortable and the experience was lots of fun and with great deals. I mean great deals. Had we know more about this place we would have done all our Christmas shopping there.
We walked back to the ship. The bridge connecting the center of the city to where the ship was docked had tons of restaurants under the bridge , all with a water view. We ate at one of these and had a delicious meal. The only thing at the restaurant we ate at did not serve alcohol but the one next to it did. I had a beer at that one and returned to my family for our meal.
The other interesting thing about walking across this bridge was that we walked for the European Continent t the Asian Continent. You can't say that everyday. Istanbul is VERY safe, lots of police officer. The issues of Syria is on the other side of the country. Istanbul is a very western city,
Archaeological Site of Ephesus
We booked a private tour of Ephesus fro Ephesus Tours. There was again the Mercedes Van but we had a driver and a guide who stayed with us throughout the tour. If you think you have seen ruins in Rome or Pompeii, you haven't seen ruins until you have seen Ephesus. They are not to be missed. The terrace house is also worth the added ticket. The 25,000 seat amphitheater is spectacular along with everything else and to think this was 1500 years before Christ. A must see. I did not hear of any shipmates who went to Izmir so I can not comment on that. But Ephesus needs to be seen.
We needed to tender into Mykonos. This was a NIGHTMARE. We were only in port from 8am until 2pm. We did not get onto shore until 9:45am. That left a shorten time on this beautiful island. We wanted to go to the beach, but because of the poor tendering process this was not possible. We were able to walk around the small town which the tender lets you off at. This was very pleasant. Small winding roads and paths. Lots of shops. We ate a great restaurant "Varnals Konstantinos' is if directly on the waterfront and even has eight seats that sit over the water. It was found by accident but the view, service and food made it a great find. W will have to come back to see the beaches which are said to be spectacular. I am not sure why the Norwegian even stopped here given the short time frame and the added burden of tendering. Oh well, next time.
In Naples we also booked a private tour. It was the same company Rome Driving Tours. The vehicle another Mercedes Van. We went first to the Amalfi Coast stopping first in Sorrento. Very nice drive and Sorrento was very pretty with lots of small shops and beautiful water front. Next it was to Positano, again a lovely village with small shops all over and another lovely waterfront. BUT, then it was off to lunch. Up, Up, Up we went on this small twisting road until we were high about Positano at a restaurant that had the most amazing view and then to have great food to go with this view...WOW. This is another place that a tour bus could ever get to, so the private tour was again the place to be. The restaurant was unbelievable. I Don't have my credit card statement yest so I am not sure of the name, I think it was something like Constatines (not sure0. There was a full menu abut also a price fix item. We chose the price fix. It was bruschetta, salad, pizza, ravioli, tiramisu. We also had two litter pictures of white wine and the owner sent over a limoncello for each of us. All for 25 euros each. It was great.
Then the afternoon was Pompeii on our own. It was VERY hot upper 90's again (August) but our driver had cold water and umbrellas for the woman to use against the sun. After that it was back to the ship for our next port.
We hired a private tour from 'Rome Driving Tours'. This was the first time I have ever booked a private tour. It was fantastic, so much so I would a not sure if I would book a ship tour again ! We were met at the port by a man holding a sign with our name on it. We had five adults and we got into a Mercedes van and headed off to Rome in air conditioner comfort. We went to so many sights. All of them, the Vatican, Spanish Steps, ruins, fountains we did it all. The driver was informative and spoke excellent English. He parked the van or dropped us off at each location with informative instruction as to what to see and do and when and where he would pick us up. He also said at each site that if we wanted to stay longer, he would keep coming back every 15 minus to pick us up. He had cold water for us at each stop. As I said we saw everything and we were able to go where those large tour buses could not go.My wife wanted to go to a nice Italian restaurant for lunch. The last time in Rome we did a tour that took us to a restaurant that served us chicken nuggets and french fries !!! So we were taken to this nice small restaurant Restaurante Iaciane (I think) we ate and drank two bottles of wine and the entire bill for 6 (we took our driver with us) was 100 euro. The lunch, the sights, the private tour was outstanding and we couldn't have had a better time.
This was our las port and it was an overnight stop. We entered the port at 2pm and it takes you ast Saint Marks Sq, so there are lots of great photos. We took the water taxi to St. Marks Sq and went from there. Lots of churches and many, many shops. We were all amazed at all the shops that are in Venice. Again, having never been there we didn't know what to expect, but it was not all the shops that were there.
Ther is so many photo ops. every cannal is pretty than the last. The streets are so clean and the houses well kept. It was a treat to walk with out cards, rucks buses or bikes.
We ate at a resturant near Plaza Roma, right on the grand waterway with lots of great sights one being a wedding party in a boat going by. This wedding ended up in the resturant we were eating at so that made it even more intresting. The wedding cake was near our table and it had the bride and groom in a gondola !
Venice was very nice and it was also the first place were were at after dark, so that was different. A GREAT TRIP ! may family will remember for ever.