To start off my review, I should say that we chose this cruise because of the itinerary, and were not expecting the food or entertainment to be stellar. We started in Venice, where we stayed for three days prior to boarding the ship, and ended in Barcelona, where we also stayed for three days after the cruise. The NCL Spirit was such a pleasant surprise to us- the food was great, and the ship itself was very smooth most of the time. Entertainment on the other hand was much less impressive.
Food: We ate in Windows on the nights we could (after Istanbul and Rome we were so tired we just ordered pizza for $5- which we would not do again because the pizza was horrible). The atmosphere of this dining room was open, airy, and you could wear casual or formal wear. We stuck with casual sundresses and polos in our family. The service was wonderful here- one of our servers was particularly outstanding- he showed us pictures of his daughter, joked around, and ordered us special deserts that he combined to make them better (it was too much fun). The food here was also great. No complaints here at all, Id give it 5 stars! We did dine in Cagneys on our last night because we had a free voucher, and I would never recommend going here. The service was not very good (our waiter seemed rude and irritated with us) and the food I ordered was horrible, except the steak. I would stick with Windows every night. The buffet was also pretty good for snacks, and was probably better than most of the other cruises Ive been on. On certain nights, they had a crepe station where one of the workers on NCL made made-to-order crepes, as well as salad stations (where the same type of thing applied). One thing I really liked about NCL is that on the sea days, they had outside barbecue stations. (In addition to the barbecue in the Bier Garden). They had ribs, salads, chicken, hamburgers, and all of it was wonderful. All in all, food was great on this ship!
Entertainment: We went to see the shows when we could, but only stayed for a few shows; the Magic Show and a group of singers. For the most part, entertainment was pretty bad this time around, but I would go and check it out in case the entertainment varies from cruise to cruise.
Public Spaces: Aside from the smell of cigarette smoke in certain areas, the ship was very clean and sanitary (washy washy, happy happy is their motto). The Galaxy of the Stars room is particularly nice, with great views of the ocean, live music, and comfy seating. Outside on the deck is nice also. The running track is great and there is plenty of room for lounging and going in the pool.
Now on to the ports
Venice, Italy: Like I said earlier, we stayed 3 days here prior to the cruise, which I highly recommend doing. This way, we were able to sink into the European lifestyle and take our time seeing the sights. In this city, we stayed in Dorsoduro right by San Sebastian Church, and saw all there was to see in Venice, along with ate too much gelato. For food, everywhere we ate was very good. There is one pizza place in between Campo San Barnaba and San Sebastian church what was spectacular. I highly recommend using Rick Steves audio tours (free on iphone app and probably other phones as well). This saves time and money and allows you to do exactly what you want.
Athens: We again used Rick Steves audio guide for this port, and couldnt go wrong. I cant tell you what metro line to take, but it was a very easy trip from the cruise dock to the Acropolis. The metro station is about a 20 minute walk from the ship. My biggest tip in this city is to start early!!! We were at the Acropolis an hour and 20 minutes after we docked. There was no line, and we were able to take pictures with just us and the Parthenon. It was amazing. Sure enough, when we exited the Acropolis, there was a major line to get in. GET THERE EARLY!!! We also went to the Acropolis Museum which was pretty cool. For the remainder of the day we went shopping in the little shops scattered around Athens and ate lunch at a fabulous little Greek restaurant. Just pick from the dozens of outdoor restaurants and I guarantee it will probably be great. We also went through the Ancient Agora here. All in all, it was a neat city that Im glad I had the chance to see.
Ephesus: We hired a tour for this one, (not NCL) and it worked out great. We were picked up from the dock in a huge Mercedes van and were taken to the ruins. It was a hot and crowded day, but the ruins were very cool. I recommend having a tour guide for this one though. Also, I would spend the extra to see the terrace houses. They were very neat and provided shade for an hour ? . After touring the ruins, our guide took us to an authentic Turkish lunch (included in the tour price) and we went to seminars in a rug shop, a ceramic shop, and a Turkish delight shop. All provided us insight to the culture. We were not forced to buy anything (and we didnt because everything was so expensive). Great day in Ephesus and we were there for just the right amount of time.
Istanbul: We didnt plan out this city too well, but it was a good day. First we went to see the Hagia Sophia (line gets very long) and then made our way over to a palace whose name escapes me right now. We have a family of 5 and had to skip out on seeing the inside because tickets were extremely expensive. We then went to the Blue Mosque but it was closed until 4 because it was a holy day. We went to the Grand Bazaar and had a doner (a Turkish wrap which was delicious). We walked around here for a while and then decided to take a Bosphorus Tour(you will see people trying to get you to go on one of these tours everywhere). We didnt have anything else to do, so we paid 50 euro for the 2 hour boat ride. You couldnt understand anything the tour guide was saying, but the boat ride was a great way to see Istanbul. After the boat ride we headed over the Blue Mosque (dont worry too much about dress code, they will most likely give you something to cover up anyway). We all wore dresses that went below our knees, but they gave us a long skirt anyway. Just make sure to cover your head, ladies. Lastly we headed to the Spice Market, which was very close to the port. I would recommend doing this earlier rather than on the way back to the boat like we did because I thought it was more fun than the Blue Mosque and you could probably spend more time here. This city was definitely different than anywhere else Ive been, and was a little overwhelming to say the least. Perhaps if we planned better the day would have went more smoothly, but there is definitely some interesting things to see and do!
Mykonos was canceled for us because of severe weather (too windy and wavy to dock or tender)
Naples: LOVED this port, it was absolutely amazing. We hired a driver for the day which was expensive, but was the only way to do what we did. First, we got off the boat ASAP and booked it over to Pompeii before any lines (like the Acropolis, huge lines form in the mid morning through the afternoon). Pompeii was incredible- we used Rick Steves guide (Pompeii is under Rome for some reason, but make sure you have the right guides before you go). This guide took us all through Pompeii while explaining little details that we found fascinating (like ancient pizza ovens and well youll learn when you get the guide.) This took us a little over 2 hours but you could easily stay longer. When we went, there were no crowds, but they accumulate quickly so get there early! Next we drove along the coast and stopped in Sorrento for photos and an olive oil tasting. The olive oil tasting was not planned but was so much fun. We were greeted by the nicest woman who made all of the olive oil in her shop and let us try about 15 different oils. The prices were actually very reasonable and we bought 4 bottles to bring home. This was such a fun and authentic Italian experience. Next we went to a little pizza place for lunch in Positano (Napoli is known for their pizza). Positano and the Amalfi Coast had such unbelievable views, it was amazing! We stopped along the coast, took pictures, admired the beauty, and went the town of Sorrento, which was very charming and I could have probably spent all day in. We stopped for gelato and shopped around. I think you could stay a week here easily, and although the day was rushed, we got to see a lot of territory. We also went into Naples for about an hour before boarding the ship, which was nice too but had more of a city feel than the open atmospheres we were in earlier in the day.
Rome: Rome was an incredibly busy day, but all very fun. The shuttle busses are very annoying to take from the boat to the actual port; throngs of people get off ASAP, and the lines are unavoidable. I would honestly wait to get off the ship 30 minutes before they make the embarkation time on the itinerary. Then get on a shuttle! We waited half an hour outside of the ship in order to board a shuttle. When you get off the shuttle, you can walk along the water (there is a big sidewalk, trust me) to the right and get to a train station. We took the regional train to Rome and then took a metro right to the front of the Coliseum. We saw the Coliseum and the Roman Forum, walked by the a few other monuments on our way to the Trevi Fountain, and walked along some cute Italian streets with outdoor markets and cozy restaurants. We stopped and went inside the Pantheon, and then made our way to the Spanish Steps. Next, we found our way to Vatican City and each grabbed a pizza, sandwich style, for lunch. The walk to the Vatican Museum entrance is much longer than we thought. When youre standing right in front of the Vatican, you have to turn left and walk about a mile uphill to get to the entrance. The Vatican was extremely crowded. We preordered tickets for 2:00 PM so we didnt have to wait as long. Highly recommend doing this on the Vatican website. The Vatican was amazing and took over 2 hours to explore (we did this quickly as well). You could easily spend 3+ hours in there, it is so crowded. After the Vatican we stopped and got a couple souvenirs and headed back on the train right to the cruise port. There is a train station behind the Vatican towards the right (if your back is to the Vatican). You will need to jump over a couple railings to get there (everyone did this) but it is an easy way to get back to the port.
Florence: This was one stop we didnt plan too well, and if we could have we would have done it differently. We took a train from Livorno to Florence, which took about an hour and a half. Florence was SO crowded, and tours were everywhere. They had nice outdoor markets with purses and nice Italian shirts (you can barter here; if you tell them youll take it for 15 euro, they will sell it to you for 16, ect). After browsing the markets, we saw the Duomo, which was very cool to see. The line to see Michelangelos David was almost 3 hours long, so we didnt get to see that. We then stopped at Ponte Vecchio and then went for lunch. This was an okay day, but had to to do it over again, we would have probably spent less time in Florence (see el Duomo and Ponte Vecchio, and a market if youd like, but dont spend time wandering. Halfway through the day, take the train to Pisa. Its on the way back from the ship anyways). Florence was just so crowded, if you meander through the city, it isnt even fun because you will probably get separated from the group or just be trying to get away from the crowds. Possibly another thing we could have done is go to Lucca and Pisa. This would probably have made a more relaxing day, as Florence was tourist-ville.
Toulon: Toulon was actually a really nice port- much better than I expected. We did not train to Marseille, but some friends we met said they had a great time there. In Toulon, there is a very large outdoor market only minutes away from the port. They sell cute clothes made in Italy and France (you can barter) and there are also more expense shops as you make your way inland. We had a shopping day here and it was a nice change of pace after our other busy ports. We shopped and bought a few things, and then bought food from the markets (do this before noon, as the markets close). With our baked goods, bread and cheese, we went to the park in town and had a picnic. The day was very nice. Some other friends we made went to the local beach, and they said that was nice too. Perhaps a good day would be to shop for a bit in the morning, buy some food from the market, and bring it to the beach for a picnic.
Barcelona: We spent 3 days here after the cruise ended, which I highly recommend doing as well. We stayed in the gothic quarter, which was my favorite area of town. Come here to meander the streets of Barcelona, but watch your purses. We didnt have any trouble, but a shop owner told us it could be dangerous. At night, Barcelona is amazing. There are so many people out, and something is always going on. I recommend going to la Fontana Magica (show starts at 9, but arrive a bit early to get a good seat). It is a fun, relaxing thing to do in the evening. Also try going out for tapas, but be careful because at the restaurant we went to, they overcharged us purposely because they knew we were tourists. Moral of the story, dont act like and American! Try to speak Spanish if you can. My mom and I speak Spanish, but no one else in the family does. That was a frustrating experience. Another thing I recommend is going to la Ramblas- it is so fun over there. Lots of shops, and the best market you will ever go to, called La Boqueria. Grab lunch here one day and sample around, but keep in mind its closed on Sundays. I also recommend going to Parc Guell. It was one of my favorite things. We walked there, but it is all uphill, so I recommend a taxi or the bus, depending on how far you are from it. Of course, you have to see La Sagrada Familia as well, but go first thing in the morning to avoid the 2-3 hour line. Also make your way over to Barceloneta for lunch one day. Paella here is great. We went to Can Manel. Although a bit pricey, the food is delicious. We went there twice for lunch and didnt have dinner because we were so full afterward.
Hope this review helped, all in all it was a wonderful experience I would highly recommend to anyone! Europe is amazing. Weather was fantastic everywhere except in Ephesus and Athens. I wore dresses almost everywhere, often with scarves, but in these two places it got very hot.