The Norwegian Spirit has a lot going for it. It is a mid-size ship (77000 tons) with a beautiful interior and it has great food in the non paying dining areas. The cattle herding mentality of freestyle cruising however needs some work.
We arrived in Seattle the day before the cruise. We stayed at the Marqeen hotel. www.marqueen.com The hotel is within 3 blocks of the Space Needle and the monorail going downtown. Downtown is about a mile away and can easily be walked, however there are a lot of hills. The hotel was built in 1918 as an apartment building and the rooms are large, with a small kitchenette with fridge and microwave, and huge bathrooms. No ice in the rooms though. We obtained a rate of 129.00 plus tax at utell.com.
We arrived at the pier at 12:30 and our luggage was taken right away by the porters. We then began with the get in line mentality that seems to be the hallmark of NCL. After getting aboard at about 1:30, we went to our cabin to drop our carry on baggage and tour the ship.
The ship is beautiful with an oriental motif. Very subdued and classy. We then went up to the pool deck to get a beer and got our first surprise. When you purchase drinks, they automatically add 15% to your bill as a gratuity. We knew this was going to happen, but the next line that said "additional tip" was just a bit much. It will appear on all your drink bills.
We had a balcony cabin, which is the only way to see Alaska. The cabin was comfortable, but there was very little drawer space, and our largest suitcase did not fit under the bed. The bathroom is divided into three sections. The toilet area that can be closed off, the sink area and the shower area. Great shower by the way. The faucets are different and very nice. On the left side you have the valve that turns on the water, on the right you have a temperature control with numbers listed in Celsius. When you turn it up to 38 (100.4) the handle stops unless you push a button to make the water hotter. It goes up to 50 (122). Soap and shampoo are in a dispenser in the shower, and soap is in the dispenser next to the sink. The shower head can be used as a handheld. The bed was firm.
FOOD, Our first day on the ship and we were headed down to the Garden room or Windows for dinner at about 7pm. The line up was up two flights of stairs. Not a great start to impress us with freestyle cruising. We found that NCL has some kind of problem with their computerized seating system. There where many a night that we were told that there was a 10-20 min wait and there would be 30 empty tables in the dining room. We decided not to wait and went to Shogun for dinner. It was empty and we couldn't understand why. Well, when we got our food we knew why. This had to be the worst restaurant we have ever been in. We ordered the shrimp tempura and it came with 2 shrimp and noodles which tasted like cardboard. $12.50 pp. save your money and go somewhere else. We learned the trick for the free restaurants, and that is to go later in the evening. If you don't want to listen to screaming babies,or to watch kids run through the dining area, go after 8:30 at night. The food we found was quite good. The soups were the best we have had on any cruise line. The beef was tender and cooked to order
Service was slow but friendly. At lunch the serving ladies were like the Stepford wives. Plastic smiles and all asking the same question. "Is everything all right?" It is hard to know who is really your server. The person who seated you may get your drinks, someone else will fill your water glass and someone else will take your order. 10 minutes later someone else will ask about drinks. Very confusing.
Internet access is .75 per minute, 'nuff said.
I won't go into the ports except to say that stopping in Prince Rupert is an insult to the cruising public. There is nothing to do there. The ship has more than enough time to stop in Vancouver, Victoria or even Nanaimo. Anyplace but that dump.
Disembarkation was the fastest we ever encountered. We had noon flights out of SeaTac and our baggage tags showed us departing at 930am. I knew from experience that by the time you get off, find your luggage, clear customs, find a cab etc. an hour can go by. We were worried that we would not make our flight, so i had the tags changed, allowing us to depart at 815am. They called our color at 800am we were off the ship, in a cab by 815 and at the airport by 845am. Amazing
In closing I can say that we probably will not be doing the Freestyle thing again. It's to chaotic at dinner time and you don't really get to meet a lot of people. The food was good but the service just didn't quite cut it for us.
Take the time to visit Seattle if you can. This is one of the greatest cities in the US and deserves a day or two of exploration.