We just completed a 12 days Grand Mediterranean cruise on NCL's Spirit.
This trip takes you to Venice, Athens, Izmir and Istanbul in Turkey, the Greek isle of Mykonos, Napes, and ports nearest to Rome and Florence\Pisa, Toulon in the south of France and finally Barcelona.
On a cruise like this, the ship is really not he star, just a moving hotel, a place to sleep, eat, gamble, take in a show, etc.
We booked this cruise due to an incredible price for a balcony stateroom, (approx $1600 each) and NCL's very progressive dress code, one that allows you to come to dinner comfortably dressed in jeans (or you can dress up too, many on our trip did.)
This was our 4th cruise on NCL, (My 11th total, with others on RCCL, Celebrity and HA). It was also our 4th consecutive cruise on an "older" ship, built at around the turn of the 21st century.
What we liked about the ship:
Our cabin steward was great. He kept our room maintained perfectly and came to the rescue a few times to help solve a problem or two. Great fellow.
Many crew members, especially those on the housekeeping staff greeted you each time you passed their way. Front line crew members were generally very eager to help resolve problems. Plus the security staff, while still pretty no nonsense in their approach, responded to greetings with a smile and a "how are you today, sir?" most days. Very good.
The ship was clean. (as it should always be)
The dress code. (see above)
The price. (more above)
What we did not like:
First, and this one has moved up in my list of stuff I'm gonna complain about: The subtle (or maybe not so subtle) scare tactics that even senior staff uses to try to intimidate you into buying NCL shore excursions. Many of you have heard it and it goes like this: "...of course if you book a shore excursion with us you never need to worry about the ship leaving you behind..."
Now I understand that when you book your own tours and just use a guidebook and public transport, you are, besides saving $$$ and having a lot of fun and not getting moved about in a big giant tour bus, taking a bit of a risk. Just like life. But I really wish they would cut this out. I'm sure NCL keeps very careful records of passengers who have been left behind, so show me the numbers. If you're trying to sell me what amounts to very expensive insurance when pitching your highly profitable excursions, prove that this risk really exisits!!
If a ship has left just a hand full of folks in port over a six month period then there is not much risk that needs, as the lawyers say, mitigating. If its 100 per cruise, then maybe I do need that expensive NCL supplied trip. Show me the numbers or cut out scare tactics!
Another large whine from me goes to the food quality on this trip. We mostly ate in the Windows main dinning room, the other main room (name escapes me) and Raffles buffet.
First impression of Raffles (first lunch after boarding in Venice) was positive. Nice variety, some tasty selections, including Indian and Chinese. But then, day after day, we realized that the menu barely changed, the food presentation was institutional, (My cafeteria at work has better looking food) and the taste was ok, but not much better. (Hey NCL, your individually packaged Carr's Water Crackers were stale most days. Better talk to your supplier:)) NCL, on a long cruise, try a little more variety. (In comparison, Last time we went on RCCL, the buffet at the Windjammer cafe was way better than this.)
On to the main dinning rooms. Wait staff was very eager to please, but don't ask for something that's not written on the menu. A look of horror comes over their face and generally one of the supervisors comes by and by then you're sorry that you asked. (I like lettuce and tomato and a little warm toast for breakfast. Usually got a wedge of iceburg [ok, really] that almost always had a a nasty brown leaf on the outside. They couldn't clean that up, just a little?)
And what even happened to toast that served at least a little warm? Nothing like soggy, cool "toast" that's been sitting in a tray for a while. And why is toasted rye such a problem? I asked for that one morning and the waiter came back and explained that he would need to go up to Raffles to get some rye, none apparently in the Windows kitchen? O.K give me whole wheat. Not such a big deal. But why is this my problem?
Dinner selections that changed each evening were IMO, unimaginative. Entrees were often served cold and presentation was weak. (non existent, what ever happened to a little bit of parsley or maybe a twist of lemon. Looked like hospital food to me. [I know as I've worked for a hospital for 15 years])
We went to up charge Shogun a couple of times. Presentation was good, food was average Chinese, nothing special. We also got some stuff from the sushi bar. Very good quality and taste. But of course we were paying extra for this added quality. Makes you wonder, but I won't go there as I have no evidence that NCL prepares average food in its prepaid dinning rooms and buffets to entice you to try something special at upcharge places like Shoguns?
But I do I want to say something nice about the food. French fries were good. Good, prepaid popcorn in the pub. Chocolate buffet was excellent. Sushi, as above, was very good.
Condition of the ship: We understand that this ship is an "older" vessel, built in the late 1990's. Our last 4 cruses have all been on similarly aged ships, the newest built in 2002. We have not gone on any of the new, floating Vegas style hotels, that have entered service in the last few years so I think I am comparing apples to apples.
Mostly the ship was very clean. Most fixtures worked, but our sliding cabin closet door did not an the two sliders in the bathroom barely moved at all. I was almost going to go out and by some WD40 and try to repair myself, but thought better of that idea and just lived with the mild inconvenience.
Public address announcements, in public areas were mostly unintelligible. (we found out you can also listen on your room TV) The ships PA system sucks. This could be a safety issue. They need to fix this.
And what is up with the persistent smell of what I think was sewerage on the aft public stairway, around decks 7,8 & 9? Also on the Promenade deck, starboard side, to the aft, same smell, every day.
Did I mention that the windows in many public places around the ships had failed? (double pane construction, lost its integrity and had fouled the glass, spoiling the view) Needs to be fixed, too.
Spirit is going into dry dock in January. Maybe these things will be repaired?
Entertainment was fine or better. The ships resident dancers and singers were good, talented kids. Nice shows. This was supplemented by a magician, a violinist, a singer and a soul review. We didn't see them all, but I'm sure they were fine, too. Didn't much care for the cruise director, just one name. Gebo, I think. A little too slick, but I guess that's part of the job.
Casino staff was the best ever. Very friendly and engaging. Even the pit bosses.
Photographers mostly stayed out of the way (good) except for their annoying habit of hanging out at the end of the gangway everyday, dressed in some idiotic outfits that they thought approximated the local culture, to encourage you to take a few shots. It was easy to shoo them away. Seems so 1995??
Special attention to NCL for their totally messed up management of a $12.50 shuttle service from the port in Livorno to the Livorno train station. They sell time stamped tickets, but the time stamp was meaningless as we still had to wait many minutes passed our supposed departure time. Everyone had a different answer about how many buses they had running. Totally messed up. Some really irritated passengers waiting dockside. What did the NCL management on hand do? Nothing. The customer service boss just walked away, tail between his legs, back on to the ship. Guess he didn't want to hear about it? Very poor performance. Left it all to a poor twenty five year old kid from the shore side vendor to take the heat. Later on, we complained to the shore excursion manager. He professed total ignorance, but did offer to refund or $12.50. We took that refund.
Speaking of NCL shore excursions We didn't do any. Used Rick Steves Guides and some research here and elsewhere. Easy public transport in Athens, Istanbul, Naples and Rome. Great walking tours. A real treat in Naples. Take the speedy ferries right next to the cruise ship terminal for a great ride over to Capri.
In Livorno, as above, the shuttle to the train station killed at least 45 extra minutes, so we basically rode the train to Florence, had lunch and returned. Very economical, but maybe the 1.5 hour, each way, trip was a bit too long. Perhaps a much shorter ride to Lucca or Pisa on the train would have been better.
BTW, all trains were clean, fast and comfortable and very economical. They are commuter trains, so they are sometimes crowded and in Italy train announcements were spotty and station signage a bit lacking, but overall, very much worth the effort.
Great trip. On this type of trip its really not about the boat. But I think NCL needs to do a bit better.
Did I mention, however, that we love the dress code? I think I did.
Sorry for any misspellings, nonsense sentences, but I'm in the midst of jet lag recovery. Just wanted to get this done. After all I get from this great site, its always nice to give something back.