As a first time cruiser, I should like to share our experiences about our recently finished NCL Spirit Mediterranean cruise 5/23 6/4, Venice to Barcelona. First, the bottom line: we had a wonderful trip that was a dream come true.
1. We booked this tour with two friends via Costco quite a while back. In our case, because of the port intensive nature of the cruise, we elected to forgo a balcony cabin and selected an inner cabin. That decision worked well for us, as we were not spending much time in our room. Of course, this is a personal preference sort of thing and as the saying goes, YMMV.
2. So as to facilitate seeing more of Venice and Barcelona, we arrived two days early. This also provided the feature of a sort of insurance against flight delays on the front end.
3. For flights, we booked economy class seats through KLM back in early January. Flew KLM from DFW to Amsterdam followed by KLM Amsterdam to Venice. On our return, our flights were with Delta (a KLM partner) from Barcelona to Atlanta and Atlanta to DFW. Having a one-stop solution, in my opinion, is desirable. Our flights were on time coming and going, with no issues --- a fact that we are thankful for. I should like to say that I am impressed with KLM. The professional demeanor (the KLM cabin attendants are dressed in the KLM blue clothing) and their attention to customer service was most appreciated. I assure you I will consider them in the future. I wish I could say the same about the in-flight service provided by Delta, but I cannot. Night and day difference. For example, KLM had an enjoyable in-flight entertainment system that included real-time maps showing where the plane is; free alcoholic drinks; good food; and the good service. On Delta, you had to pay for the drinks and their in-flight entertainment system was lacking. Just some movies and nothing else. For about half of the Barcelona to Atlanta flight the system crashed multiple times and was not available for about half of the time. Moreover, KLM kept the lavatories clean; on Delta they were deplorable. During the Delta overseas flight my wife pressed the cabin attendant call button to get some water for her meds. For over 30 minutes, no Delta attendant responded. I finally went to the back of the plane and two attendants looked at me like who are you and WTF do you want. I got the water myself. Seems that Delta attendants are just going through the motions and could care less about you. One thing that I will say for Delta, in all fairness: I had a tad more seat room than I did for KLM in sardine economy class.
4. For the cruise itself, the first thing I wish to say right up front is that the staff and crew on the Norwegian Spirit were A+++. For those of you with a lot of cruise experience, perhaps this is the norm across different cruise ships, but, alas, we have nothing to compare to other than to say the service was as good as it gets from our vantage point. You could probably do a training film on customer service from experiences on this ship. Having said that, we found that our ship was clean, with hand sanitizers everywhere. I will never forget as long as I live the wonderful young lady at one of the entrances to the Raffles Court buffet saying Washy Washy! and Happy, Happy! as she sprayed your hand with disinfectant. You could look into her eyes and see the sincerity.
5. In general, if you are planning a trip and considering NCL, this cruise has 8 ports not counting Venice and Barcelona. Whatever you do, whether yourself or via shore excursions prepare to walk a lot. By the end of the day you will be ready for your supper and your sleep. Athens, Izmir, Istanbul, Mykonos, Naples, Rome, Florence, and Toulon. Three days at sea. If all you want to do is relax on ship and perhaps take a few shore excursions, perhaps another cruise would be better. If you have children, activities for them were available, but limited. In my eyes, this cruise was geared more toward to adults who want to visit the ports.
6. Food: If top notch food is very important to you, then you might want to consider another cruise option. I found the Raffles Buffet to be sort of a cross between a La Quinta complimentary breakfast and a mediocre Golden Corral. On a scale of 1 to 5, I might give the buffet a 2.5 or 3.0. Better food in the main dining room. I rate it at about 3.0 to 3.5. (Our meals there tended to run about an hour and a half. Lesson: if you want to get in and out faster, then this is not your choice.) We ate in two of the premium restaurants (Le Bistro and Cagneys) which were decent. I rate them at 3.5 to 4.0. But, discussing food is one of those personal things and others of you who took this cruise might see things differently. Both my wife and I are cooks (ran a B&B for 5 years) and we tend to be a bit snobby on the food end of things. I would be remiss if I did not point out the value of the NCL free style dining. I do like this. On another cruise ship option, having an assigned dining room time would not have worked for us --- particularly on port days when you get back at 7pm or so.
7. On board activities: There is good and bad here. First, on the good side, we saw some very enjoyable performances in the main theater and a few in the Maharini Lounge. But, throughout the ship there are very few places where you can have solitude. Even the library and internet room were blasted with music from the lounge nearby. Speaking of internet, the NCL internet is a disgrace. $55 for 100 minutes that is slow as heck. Moreover, other than your room and the non-premium dining rooms, everything else that you might choose will cost you. Drinks generally at $10 a pop. (In our case, we bought coupons for 4 wine bottles on board for $88. That plus the two complimentary wine bottles furnished us in our package worked well.) One last thing about the activities: I felt like most of them (Bingo, etc.) seemed as if they were geared toward activities at a senior citizen center!
8. Shore excursions. We chose to use NCL for excursions at Athens, Izmir, Naples, Rome, Florence, and Toulon. We found them all to be worthwhile, albeit a bit more than we wished we could have paid. Each of our guides were very good. One issue: for Mykonos, we waited over 2 hours to get a tender boat. This is unacceptable. I am not sure if this is the fault of NCL or not. But early on, I could only see two boats ferrying back and forth.
Concluding Remarks: We would not have chosen NCL had it not been for the ports of call. As it turned out, despite some negatives, we had a fabulous time. We knew what we were getting with NCL. (There are higher rated cruise options out there, but they cost a whole lot more.) We lucked out on the weather and the luck of the draw on tour guides. As I mentioned earlier, high praise to NCL staff.
Would I choose NCL again? Not sure. Probably not. But, for those of you wanting a port intensive cruise in the Mediterranean this NCL option is one to consider.
Blessings to all,