Norwegian Spirit, Canary Islands from Barcelona 22 February 2013.
Reading some of these reviews that are so different from one another it's hard to imagine that the authors actually have been on the same cruise. People are very different, and they come with different expectations due to different experiences, references and preferences. The more you are able to identify yourselves with us the more likely it is that you will find this information to be accurate since it's a lot about personal opinions. We're a family of simple habits with two children, 7and 4 years old.
We had our best family holiday ever, and most cruisers that we met were very pleased, but we also met those that were so disappointed that they said that they would never cruise with NCL again.
I'll try to share some details of different aspects of our cruise experience.
Pre-cruising; We picked up the cruise on the NCL web page. It was offered as a "special", meaning that we could get a guaranteed stateroom, possibly better than what we paid for in the end. Speaking to the otherwise charming staff at NCL in Germany this was denied in spite of the fact that other guests got exactly this, which of course was a bit of a disappointment. The credit card payment over the phone is very smooth, but the on-line check in is a mess- it simply doesn't work, so next time I'll just give it a try and then I'll ask for a confirmation via e-mail. It's easy to loose a lot of time on this stupid requirement on NCL's dysfunctional home page.
Most cruisers chose to board the ship in the Catalonian capital. The city is certainly worth a few pre - or post cruising days. NCL offers transit options including various tours that end up at the airport. If you are a more skilled traveller, and perhaps want to practice your Spanish, or even Catalan, you can travel all the way from the airport to the harbour for a little more than one Euro. Be aware that there are plenty of steps to be concurred with your luggage if you choose the train. Watch out with the special port bus and with its special fare. The driver will happily sell you a return ticket when you explain that you're coming back from the ship next week. When you try to use your return they will however tell you that the return journey must be completed on the very same day as the ticket was sold.
The Barcelona cruise terminal is massive, and very impressive in every way unless you have any opinions on interior decoration. Even if a full bus load should arrive there are so many counters open that they can take care of every one at the same time. The disembarkation was also very smooth.
Norwegian Spirit is a beautiful, well kept and very clean ship. The interior decoration of the different venues is very impressive. Everything seems to operate very smoothly. It simply works.
Since we knew that we would spend very little time in our cabin we did not care for anything fancy, but we were very happy with both the stateroom and the house keeping. We actually enjoyed the exercise with the long walks to the aft of the ship where most of the functions took place in our case. The bed arrangement is a little odd. Instead of the common 2+2 bunk bed system the Spirit has its 3+1+1 arrangement where one simple bed is pulled out from underneath the bunk bed. This leaves you only half of the under bed storage space, and very little walking space when the bed is in place. A low and wide chair / very short sofa converts into a bed as well.
The beds were comfortable, and it was easy to adjust the temperature of the cabin.
There was as much entertainment as we could take, and it was good indeed. The Spirit has one large theatre, which limits the number of shows. Most films were not shown in the Stardust theatre, but on a normal TV set in a conference room, which didn't work out so well.
There are plenty of opportunities if you want to stay in shape. The laps pool however, only exits on the plans but not I reality. There used to be a nice and social "In motion on the ocean programme" where you got to practice different things every day. I loved it, because it got people without ambition to exercise, and it was great fun to get to know the people. Instead you can now purchase the services of special trainers, which is something completely different.
There are a number of classes to take. My wife sent me off to a seminar on posture. A man with the articulation like Mr Bean's tried to convince us that the reason for bad posture was bad feet- full stop. This should be helped with a certain brand of insoles with arch support which just so happened to be sold on board at at "special price". We agreed to let him make prints of our feet, and assuming that there would be something wrong with our feet he had no explanation to why the people with ideal feet still had bad postures. In that moment we perceived the whole thing to be a scam and a big waste of our precious holiday time. When I got home I checked it out, and flat feet is one out of several possible reasons for a bad posture.
Our kids seemed to spend their holiday in the Splash Academy, it was very difficult to get them out of that place. Actually the only kid's club that our youngest hasn't run away from (!) The staff and the activities were absolutely fantastic. One day we used the port play service, which means that the staff takes your kids to a restaurant for the meals while you're making excursions from a port. We returned 15 min. late from our shore excursion because NCL messed up. In spite of the fact that we explained this we got charged 50% more for this service due to something that wasn't our fault (see excursions). The money is no matter at all since this service is amazingly cheap at 6 $ per child and meal. The hard part was that we were denied to be reunited with our own children after a long day, because they had to stay for the full hour that just had started. We would certainly have appreciated some more flexibility in such a case.
We took the NCL shore excursion from the port of Malaga to Gibraltar called Gibraltar on your own. The transport was pretty straight forward. The Spaniard hired to came along promoted eagerly a two hour tour inside Gibraltar to which he could sell us tickets at a "special price", meaning 20 â‚¬.
The guide who had been very clear so far lost this ability when it came to giving us the details of the tour that he wanted to sell to us. Like most others we went along. The two Gibraltar hours turned out to be 1h and 15 minutes. All entrance fees included turned out to be one fee for the cave. The vaguely mention tunnels, what we most of all had looked forward to see, turned out to be a pointing out of the entrance as we passed by. What we should have done is to take one of the regular tours for 23Â£ and see it all. My guess is that NCL will not be too happy to find out about this...
In addition to the lingering before the return from Gibraltar, the coach did not bring us straight back to the ship. Instead it made an unannounced detour to take two of the cruisers to a hotel (lovely couple by the way). This meant some negative consequences for us (see Kid's club).
The food never left anything to be desired. The common restaurants were more than enough for us, but the speciality restaurants were so heavily frequented that it was difficult to get a table in the evenings without an early reservation. Both the a la carte restaurants and the buffet restaurant had that in common that items came and went according to a perfect plan of circulation so that you managed to try out what you wanted without getting tired of the food.
Every now and when we were given free drinks in a generous fashion. Buying drinks was something that shocked some cruisers. Not everyone was used to pay 18 $ for a regular glass of wine...
Our impression of the service is that it varied a lot. Most crew members do a good job and they seem to like their occupation, but some seem to be indifferent while some may have chosen the wrong field of work. Like the captain pointed out; it's important to treat serving people well, and we always have, but some times it just doesn't help. In a couple of the restaurants it happened that we got promised something and then we were just left to wait. The waiters simply ditched out and disappeared. After 25-30 minutes one tends to give up... We lost track of how many times we didn't get our coffee/ tea with the desserts that we ordered, but I estimate that it was somewhere in between 30-40 % of the times. It was kind of a hit and miss game. Here is a great advantage with the freestyle concept: if you don't get any coffee, you can always go somewhere else to get it instead, even if the best is to get it together with your dessert the first time.
Superior members of the crew
I've been on so many ships I my life, without ever meeting a captain. On this cruise we ran into the captain most of the days. He and the other superior crew members appeared in several events throughout the cruise. On top of this they circulated the ship talking to the passengers in order to make sure that the cruisers were happy and satisfied. The captain himself was in venues like he buffet restaurant and the kid's club a.s.o. Their concern for our well being was truly impressive.
I would recommend NCL and Norwegian Spirit to most cruisers, provided they have the same priority as we do. We like the easy going atmosphere and relative lack off fuzz. Cruisers who prefer perfection and more formal codes and distances between people can probably find better options elsewhere.