This cruise turned out to be one of the best ones I have ever sailed on out of the 12 ships I have been on. I didn't have much expectations prior to the cruise mainly because I had a very poor experience on Norwegian Epic 2 years ago and decided I would never sail on NCL ever again. However I got a very good deal for the NCL spirit and it was sailing in the area I had never been to. Hence I decided to give it a try and give NCL one more chance. I couldn't have made a better decision.
We were a party of 3 and sailed from London to Barcelona on the morning of the cruise. This was a gamble I took in order to save some money staying in a hotel the night before. However I would definitely recommend going the night before especially if you are booking your cruise and flights separately. There was risk of snow and high winds the day before we flew and a few flights did get cancelled. However luckily on the day we were flying, most of the flights were leaving on time. We got to Barcelona by 11am and took a taxi to the port and got there by 11.30 just in time for boarding.
Check in was a breeze and we were on the ship before mid day. The welcome was excellent and we were allowed to go straight to our cabins. We had 2 balcony cabins on deck 11 towards the aft of the ship but not too far away from the centre either. According to me this was the best location of the ship as it was easy to get to the most visited parts of the ship I.e. buffet at Raffles for breakfast and lunch, dinner at Windows ( the best complimentary dining venue of the ship), stardust theatre (where most of the evening entertainment was) and to the upper decks for lounging in the sun.
The ship is slightly old (launched in 1998) however it has been beautifully maintained. The decor has an Asian theme but looks very grand. The balcony rooms were of a fair size with lots of storage area and a reasonably sized balcony. The bathroom was much better sized than most other ships with a very spacious shower area. Much better than the Epic.
Although the ship doesn't have all the modern amenities which the newer ships have, this ship has plenty of bars and lounges with live music playing, restaurants, casino, nightclubs, pools, gym, spa, library etc. what more would one want?
Above all, the service we received from all the personnel in the ship was second to none. The cabin stewardess always greeted us with a smile and ensured the cabin was cleaned well twice daily. I would not forget her towel animals ( hanging monkey was the best) which were a delight to see every night with 2 chocolates placed on the bed. The staff in all the restaurants served us well and promptly and there was always a smile on their faces. This was the first time ever that we kept bumping with the captain of the ship so many times during the cruise. Captain Lars had a good sense of humour and was present in several events including 'can't cook won't cook' event whereby he even baked a cake. He made regular announcements and the one which sticks in my mind is when 2 passengers got left behind in port of Madeira as they didn't come to the ship on time. The way he conveyed this information and warned passengers to always be on time as the ship didn't wait for anyone was very hilarious.
The cruise director Jill from UK was ill for the first few days of the cruise, hence her assistant director JJ from Mexico handled her duties well. The shows were all world class and in fact the best shows I have seen on sea. The ones that really impressed me were a juggler from UK who was very funny, the production stage show 'Elements' was one of the best I have seen on a cruise ship which combined magic, dance and acrobatics all in one show. The female British singer, Monterey was very good to and so were the illusionists from Italy and the acrobats from France. All in all, it was great entertainment.
Various cruise activities were organised especially on the 4 sea days which kept everyone occupied. There were napkin folding classes, health seminars, Bingo, movies in the theatre, trivia quizzes etc. In the evenings there was a party daily in the galaxy lounge including the white and Green Party on st Patrick's day which was excellent. Other events were the karaoke competition, dancing with the stars competition and 70s/80s nights. One of the only cruises I have seen which had a great party atmosphere. Normally in most cruises I have been on, most passengers retire to their cabins after the last show in the theatre. Drinks were not badly priced and had daily offers however wines in the dining rooms were quite expensive.
The food was excellent. We had informed the ship via our Internet travel agents that we were vegetarians. They made sure that we were happy with the vegetarian meals on offer and also offered to prepare us meals to our choice if we were not. We got a letter and a phone call on the first day and also were looked after well by the head staff in the various dining rooms. Never seen this sort of service on any ships I have been on in the past. The variety of food on offer in the complimentary restaurants was excellent so we never had to go to any of the alternative restaurants. The buffet at raffles had a large selection for everybody including a dedicated vegetarian section which served Indian curries, nan and rice daily for lunch and may be even for dinner but as we never went to raffles for evening meal, I can't comment on that. Breakfast was good too with ample choices. There was never a problem finding tables at the buffet. Also for evening meals, we always managed to get a table when we got to either Windows or taste restaurant except once when it was busy at taste and were given a buzzer and 3 vouchers for a complimentary champagne. This was an excellent gesture and hence people were never upset about waiting. If one was given a buzzer the wait was never more than 15 mins. However usually it was just 5 or 10 like in our case.
All the ports of call were very interesting. We took a half day excursion in the mornings with NCL at all ports of call and went to town for shopping by ourselves after lunch. All the ports had either complimentary buses or very reasonably prices ones so it was easy to go into town. We did the cable car excursion into monte at Funchal,Madeira which was good however as it was very foggy in the morning we couldn't get a good view of the nuns valley but the guide and the excursion was very good. Our trip in Tenerife to see the views of the northern parts of the island was excellent. We had great weather ( very warm and clear day) so got to see great views of Mount Teide and those of the Orotava valley. Had a lovely snack at a restaurant and complimentary wine in between. Also were given free time at one of the beaches for shopping and relaxing. Our trip in Lanzarote was the best. The excursion to see the volcanoes and craters was very interesting. Once again a great day weather wise. Our last excursion in Malaga was very nice as well and luckily we finished our excursion just before it started pouring with rain in the afternoon. The trip was to see the fortress and the cathedral which was very interesting.
The debarkation was very smooth. You could stay in your rooms until your luggage tag colour was called out which made the whole process very simple and stress free. We were out of the ship by 9 and got a taxi to the airport. Best to do this rather than take the ships transfer as its only about 35 euros by taxi opposed to around 25 euros per person if you take the ships transfer.
This cruise was so good that I have already paid my deposit for the next cruise which I can book in next 4 years and also got some money back for doing this on the ship. Hence I will definitely be sailing with NCL again, but most probably on their smaller ships like Spirit which have a great atmosphere and brilliant service.