My wife and I sailed on the Norwegian Spirit's 12-night Grand Mediterrean, departing Barcelona on October 13 and finishing up in Venice. We have sailed on three different cruise lines previously (RCCL, Princess, and Disney), but this was our first Norwegian cruise. Overall, we were impressed with our cruise on the Spirit. A summary of our experience, including some "good to know" things about the Spirit, follows.
Embarkation in Barcelona was fairly quick and painless. At embarkation the cruise staff did, however, take control of our passports for the duration of the cruise, which we had never experienced before on a cruise and troubled us a bit. The staff person could not explain why she took our passports, but handed us a piece of paper which, in the fine print, stated that "as during this cruise we will be leaving and entering the Schengen Area . . . Norwegian Cruise Lines must . . . present all Non European passports to the Greek Immigration officials."
We had an oceanview cabin, number 4580 down on deck four. The location of this particular cabin was not ideal, and I discuss the location problem below. Otherwise, the layout of the cabin was generally OK. On the plus side, the bed was comfortable and the bathroom layout was the best of any cruise ship we had been on previously. When you enter the bathroom you have the sink area in front of you, with the toilet to the left (with its own sliding privacy door) and the shower to your right (again, with its own sliding privacy door). The shower was also of good size, which I appreciated being myself of pretty good size. The hairdryer was mounted on the wall and kind of old -- my wife said it did the job, but just barely. Our cabin steward, Alex, was also excellent. He took care of all the normal cleaning and replenishment issues, and went above and beyond in little ways. For example, we brought wine aboard that we bought in the duty free shop in the Barcelona cruise terminal, and Alex, without prompting, provided us with clean wine glasses each and every day. He also filled up our ice bucket each day, again, without prompting. On the down side, the rug and cabin walls were showing a bit of wear. Also, the view of the ocean in our cabin was through a very small circular porthole, maybe about 18 inches across. The porthole did not let in much light, and it was difficult to see anything through it because the bed was immediately below the porthole. We have been in oceanview cabins on other ships with much larger windows.
The port itinerary of this Spirit cruise is fantastic. We did most of the ports on our own. In Livorno, we did the NCL Pisa food and wine tour, and that was fun (even though it rained). Our guide, Annabella, was really funny -- for example, when we drove by Camp Darby, a U.S. Army installation outside of Pisa, she said "Some people have asked me what the purpose of this Army base is. I tell them it is obvious -- to provide husbands to Italian women." In Pisa, we did the NCL tour of Pompeii, which was very interesting (but not really long enough). In Turkey, we did two two privately-operated tours (in Istanbul and Izmir) with the Ephesus Shuttle. For a description of that tour company, recommend you look on Tripadvisor.
We thought the dining room food in the Spirit was overall pretty good, and the service as well. I like steak, and the main dining room always had at least one steak option for dinner and lunch, and it was generally very good. The ship was almost full, yet we never had to wait in line for our food or entertainment, and there was always plenty of seating at the various venues and eating establishments. Although we did not spend much time in the pool area, it seemed that there was also plenty of available seating in those venues. The abundance of seating and lack of any significant queues may have been due to the fact that there were so few children on the ship (only 28 kids out of about 2000 paying passengers!). One of the crew members told us that the lack of children was typical for the Spirit's Med cruises at this time of year. The buffet food was also typical for cruise ships -- plentiful, repetitive, and generally nothing much special -- with two exceptions. First, the head chef on the Spirit is from India, and every day there was a small, but excellent, selection of indian dishes in Raffles (the buffet restaurant). No coincidence there, I think. Also, on one evening there was a chef on the buffet line frying up some fresh perch. He took a piece right out of the pan and put it on my plate. Yum! I came back for another piece but, for some reason, there was suddenly a line waiting for that hot and tasty perch, and I decided to pass on another piece . . . . Oh well.
As for the entertainment, we did not go to many of the shows. We did go to the "Majika" magic show, and found it entertaining, even in comparison with some of the long-running magic shows we have seen in our home town of Las Vegas. Interestingly, we heard this Majika show is under a long term contract with the Spirit, and the magic team travels with ship (rather than getting on and off like most of these cruise ship shows). So you are likely to see these same performers.
Here are some other "good to know" things about the Norwegian Spirit:
Laundry -- there are no self-service washing machines on the Spirit. However, twice during the cruise they offered to launder as much clothing as you could stuff in a bag for only $24.95. We got quite a bit of clothing in the bag, and my wife was really happy about this service.
Wine -- There is a duty free wine shop just inside the Norwegian check-in desk in the Barcelona cruise terminal. The wine there generally sells for 8 to 12 Euros, and we bought four bottles. We were permitted to bring this wine to our cabin. The corkage fee in the Spirit restaurants was a bit high ($15), so we mostly drank the wine in our room. While we didn't recognize the particular wineries, what we got was all good.
Specialty Restaurants -- There are five specialty restaurants on board, more than any other ship we have been on. Cover charges at these restaurants ranged from $10 to $25 per person. We ate at two of them (Shogun and Le Bistro). We purchased paid reservations for both before we sailed, and that turned out to be entirely unnecessary because only the Teppanyaki restaurant (think Beni Hanna) -- which we did not eat at -- was popular enough to book up in advance. The Shogun restaurant served standard Chinese food -- and we have had better Chinese food at local carryouts. So we cannot recommend the Shogun and its $15 cover charge. As for Le Bistro, the French Restaurant, we enjoyed both the atmosphere and the food. I had Escargot, Mussels, and Duck, and all were excellent. Only the dessert (chocolate fondue) was a bit lackluster. Overall, Le Bistro was worth the $20 cover charge. Although we did not eat at Cagney's, the steak restaurant, I felt that you could always get a decent steak in the main restaurants, and so saw no reason to try Cagneys with its $25 cover charge.
Casino -- I played Blackjack and Poker at the Casino. The Blackjack tables were OK, but the Texas Holdem poker was a ripoff. The Poker tournaments they offered were expensive ($60 buy-in, with unlimited $60 rebuys and a $60 add-on), and the house kept 25% of all the fees paid (!!). The cash poker game, which never really got going, had a 10% rake with no cap (!!), truly outrageous. So some of the guys started a small stakes cash game of our own up in the card room and had some cheap fun that way.
Televison -- No one goes on cruises to watch TV, right? Still, you should be aware that there were no US channels available on the cabin TVs or in the various bars, and there was also no daily newsletter like what we saw on other cruises. So if you wanted to get US news, you were out of luck unless you caught a little bit of something BBC World TV or used the internet (which was expensive). As for American sports news, forget it, even BBC TV didn't have any of that. And the ship had no NFL games (live or otherwise) either.
I will close this review with a discussion of the problem with our cabin location. Cabin 4580 is in the corridor immediately adjacent to the gangway that is used for ingress and egress on the port side when the ship docks to that side. Also, this gangway is used by the harbor pilots when they embark. So when the gangway is opened, it is quite noisy -- a lot of grinding and clanking and metal-on-metal sounds for maybe two or three minutes. This happens most days between 7:00 AM and 8:00 when the harbor pilots come aboard, but sometimes even earlier than that. So unless you are a very early riser, or a very heavy sleeper, this will wake you up. Also, the security officer's office is immediately across the corridor from the cabin, so often we would open our door and the security officer would be sitting right there, which is not really ideal. And the first day we had port call in Toulon, peopole actually lined up outside our door waiting to disembark, and we could hear them laughing and joking, which was irritating. Fortunately, the security officer put a stop to that, and we had almost no queuing up in the corridor after that first day. In fairness, I should mention that our cabin location did have three positive aspects: 1) We could get right to our room about ten seconds after reboarding the ship in each port; 2) we were very close to the midship elevators and so could travel from our cabin to anywhere in the ship pretty quickly, and 3) the cabin location in the middle of the ship, and on a lower level, means less rocking in heavy seas. Having said all that, we recommend you get an alternative cabin if NCL assigns you to cabin 4580.
In sum, we know that no cruise is entirely perfect . . . but we felt the positive things about our cruise on the Spirit outweighed the negative aspects. So we are likely to take another cruise on an NCL ship in the future.