Our 9 night Canary Islands cruise onboard the Norwegian Spirit began in Barcelona and ended there on 30th December 2012. We had spent two nights in Barcelona pre cruise so we were already in holiday mode and looking forward to the adventure. Having sailed previously on a variety of ships from medium to very large, this would be a new experience and our first NCL cruise from the outset it was hard to escape the fact that there were a large number of passengers onboard, however, we soon adjusted to the situation and got on with enjoying the trip.
Embarkation ad Disembarkation
The embarkation process at the Barcelona Terminal was very quick and efficient as we had already provided our Advanced Passenger Information online prior to departure. After a short wait we were allowed aboard and were pleased to find that our luggage was already waiting outside our Stateroom.
On disembarkation our luggage was quickly found in the Terminal building and we were soon on our way to the airport for our return flight home.
We were very impressed with the ship and its facilities. Our Stateroom (9008) was well laid out, clean and the Cabin Steward looked after us well, even providing a different toy animal (made out of towels) on the bed each evening. A nice touch which I am sure was appreciated by the younger passengers. Considering the size of the ship, and the number of passengers onboard, all the public areas were kept very clean and we were impressed with the great care taken to provide hand sanitisation before entering all the eating and dining areas- by the end of the voyage everyone knew what 'washy washy' meant and appreciated its importance.
There was a wide range of passengers onboard, from toddlers to the more 'mature', and there seemed to be something to appeal to everyone. We were also comforted by the overt presence of Security Guards who were conspicuous in the public areas and bars both day and night, however, thankfully we were never aware of any need for their services.
Food and drink
As we prefer a buffet style breakfast we went to the Raffles Terrace restaurant most mornings and, although the food was of a very good standard and variety, the sheer number of people milling around was very off-putting and it was often difficult to dodge the traffic or even find a free table. We also had lunch in Raffles Terrace on a few occasions and again the food was very good, however, we much preferred the calm of the main Windows Restaurant and lunched there most days. The lunch menu in the Windows Restaurant was a bit limited but this did not bother us unduly as we only wanted a snack meal anyway at that time of day.
We had dinner in the Windows Restaurant every evening, except for the 3 nights when we went to the speciality restaurants. The staff in Windows were so friendly and helpful, as was the case everywhere onboard, that they made the experience pleasurable for us. The standard of food was generally good, however, it was often just warm (rather than hot) and this might have been due to the large number of diners to be catered for. The staff were certainly kept busy all the time. Apart from a daily 'special' main course, the Windows dinner menu was the same every day so it was perhaps a bit limiting.
We went to 'Cagney's Steakhouse' on two occasions and were really impressed by the food and service and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. In fact it was so good that we actually changed our booking for another speciality restaurant to go back there for the second time. We can highly recommend the Filet Mignon which was probably one of the best steaks we have ever had anywhere. The staff again were so friendly and attentive, without being obtrusive, and it was a real fine dining experience. Our third speciality dining experience was in the French themed 'Le Bistro' restaurant. Here again we had food and service of the highest quality, however, it was perhaps a bit more formal so we actually preferred the ambiance of Cagney's Steakhouse. We would certainly recommend a visit to either restaurant at least once during a cruise.
We did not experience eating in any of the other venues available so can't comment. We had coffee and cake a few times in 'Le Cafe' coffee shop, however, it was quite a small area and so popular that it was usually crowded and it was often difficult to get a seat. Some passengers tended to us this area as a place to sit and watch the world go by, rather than to have coffee.
The week before joining our cruise I telephoned the Customer Relations Department at NCL to check if there was any sort of drinks/wine package onboard which we could pre- book and pay for. We were told that the 'Ultimate Drinks Package' was currently under trial on other NCL ships, however, it would not be available on the Norwegian Spirit during our voyage. During the embarkation process in Barcelona Terminal we did in fact discover from the 'Freestyle Daily Programme' that an 'Ultimate Drinks Package' was in fact available on our cruise and we, along with many other passengers, quickly signed up for it. It was a disappointing that we could not have been made aware of this earlier as we could have pre-paid the costs. For us the drinks package made good economic sense, however, it still generated a lot of paperwork for the bar and restaurant staff to deal with. The 'Ultimate Drinks Package' is a good innovation and is clearly popular with the majority of passengers so we hope that NCL will retain it as a permanent feature throughout their fleet. It would be ideal if passengers were able to opt for this service either at time of booking or prior to departure. Hopefully NCL will also be able to streamline the system to cut out the unnecessary paperwork -- perhaps by means of an addition to the barcode on the keycards issued on embarkation?
There were plenty of options for spending time in the evening's, however, we quickly found our niche in Champagne Charlie's bar where we spent most nights with new found friends, enjoying the excellent pianists/singers. The bar staff were incredible and soon became our friends and really looked after us well so it was sad when we had to say goodbye. We can't comment on the shows as we only visited the Stardust Theatre once during the cruise but really enjoyed the "Motown Soul Satisfaction Show". We also liked the quieter ambiance of the Maharani bar
There was a large range of activities listed in the 'Freestyle Daily' booklet to suit all ages, abilities and interests. We were content to relax in the sun or visit the ports, however, it was often an ordeal to find a free sunbed, let alone a space to put one on -- especially on the days at sea. Indeed, our only moment of negativity throughout the whole cruise came courtesy of one lady who clearly felt she had a monopoly on uninterrupted access to the sun and resented anyone else being around her -- just not possible with 2,000 plus passengers onboard.
Ports of call
Of the 4 ports visited during this 9 day cruise, in our opinion only Malaga was worth the visit. We had been there previously and loved the place with its winding streets, squares, architecture and lively vibe. By contrast, Arrecife (Lanzarote), Santa Cruz (Tenerife) and Funchal (Madeira) were disappointing. Unfortunately our visit to Santa Cruz was on Christmas Day when everything was naturally closed, except for a few cafes, so it was perhaps not the best time to see it. Arrecife was virtually a one street town which looked very down at heel and was not really worth the visit.
We had a thoroughly good time onboard the Norwegian Spirit, due in most part to the friendliness and efficient service provided throughout the entire ship by all the crew. It was good value for money and a great way to escape the usual Christmas hustle and bustle, however, next time we would perhaps look more carefully at the ports visited and the number of planned sea days. We would certainly cruise again with NCL.