This was our 12th cruise in total, 3rd with NCL. We are 2 adults and an 8-year-old and sailed from 15-24 April 2014 on the Norwegian Spirit (Barcelona, Casablanca, Madeira, Lanzarote, Malaga, Barcelona).
We arrived around 9.00 am at the cruise terminal in Barcelona. The terminal opened less than an hour later and we were welcomed with cake/biscuits and water/juice (which was welcome as our flight was as early as 6.30 that morning). Check-in started at around 11.00 but we couldn’t board the ship until 12.10 which was a real bummer because the wait was getting very long by then. On the bright side, our oceanview cabin was already ready so we could leave our hand luggage prior to going to lunch. The safety drill at 4 pm went smoothly and our luggage arrived within a few hours. In the following days, we were asked to provide additional information to guest services even though we had provided the information at check-in (such as an emergency contact, my partner’s picture had to be retaken, the credit card reader did not work properly and I had to have it done on the ship).
The Norwegian Spirit is a 4 star ship and, having cruised on the Gem and the Jewel, we could tell the difference. It’s slightly smaller as well (2000 passengers, 1000 crew) and has some wear and tear. Corridors are not as nicely decorated as on other ships. The atrium is nice. The ping pong area was very popular and after a week, none of the rackets were in one piece. Some kids were really rowdy and arrogant (no parents in sight). The water of the swimming pools had a comfortable temperature but the jaccuzzi’s were too hot. It felt like boiling water and most people only lasted a couple of minutes and then had to get out. Captain’s Bridge is worthwhile a visit as is relaxing at the Galaxy of the Stars on a sea day.
We had an oceanview cabin on deck 8 fwd. It was a regular sized cabin for 3 people, though slightly smaller than on other ships. Ample storage space, especially hanging space, however, most of the wardrobe shelves are in a corner which made it difficult to reach for clothes which were all the way in the back. The bed was rather hard and I now regret not having asked for an egg foam layer.
On the 2nd night, we realised our cabin was right above the nightclub and we were woken up by loud noises and shouting. We called guest services at 1.30 am and a security guard came by to assess the situation. The following day, a report was drawn up, and luckily, we didn’t experience any more sleepless nights afterwards. A couple of days later, guest services contacted us to apologise again and we got a complimentary bottle of wine and a plate of strawberries dipped in chocolate. A nice gesture.
We went to a couple of evening shows, but they were pretty boring. Our son liked them though ….. Lots of things to do, especially on sea days. The Easter egg hunt was very popular amongst the kids. Our son also very much enjoyed the sports deck.
As experienced cruisers, we know we have to avoid the lunch buffet, especially on the first day, so we headed to the Windows restaurant. No one there except for a waiter who didn’t even know whether or not the restaurant would open at all for lunch that day! My first thought was to ask if he actually worked on the ship ! We finally found out the restaurant was going to open around 1.00 pm and we headed back around that time. Choices for lunch were rather limited and it turned out it was the same lunch menu every day. I recommend the Portobello mushrooms, the club sandwich and the New York strip steak.
As our son does not enjoy sit-down dinners, we usually had dinner either at Raffles (buffet) or the Blue Lagoon (24/7 with a limited menu, but very good service and food). The food at the buffet was not very good. Clearly, NCL aims at promoting their other restaurants where they can charge an extra $25 pp. As the price of the meals is included in the overall cruise fare, I don’t think we should pay extra to have a decent meal. Food at Raffles was boring, to say the least, and always the same. The Blue Lagoon was a much better option (fast food such as Buffalo wings, different soups, fish & chips, burgers, NY cheesecake, etc.) and also in a quieter environment.
The chocoholic buffet on the 2nd to last evening was enjoyable, but not nearly as refined and detailed as on other ships. The crowd didn’t help either. Some were so rude and rather than taking a piece, they preferred to ruin the entire cake. No respect, no manners.
Overall, the crew was friendly and helpful. Our steward, John, was nice, and not overly imposing as they sometimes tend to do. We found it an issue to have a meal at Raffles by oneself. If I went back for seconds, for sure the table was cleared and occupied by other guests, even after telling the waiter that I would be back. The main nationalities on the ship were Spanish, Germans and a handful of Brits. Announcements on the ship are done in English and Spanish (full version) and a shorter version in French and German. It gets tiresome after a while if you speak more than one of those languages.
Ports of call:
Casablanca – the Freestyle Daily explained several days in advance that we might experience strong waves and currents when approaching the port of Casablanca. However, we didn’t feel anything; I guess this is more an issue during winter time. The cruise director had informed us the night before that around 1000 passengers were taking NCL excursions (the most popular one was to Marrakesh, 4 hours each way). There was a complimentary shuttle service for those who wanted to go to the center of Casablanca. There was 1 (yes ONE) shuttle bus for the remaining 1000 people, which meant that we had to wait nearly 2 hours in line for the bus. It took around 15 minutes to get to the center and we realised immediately that this was not a city for us. Everything is dirty, open sewages, it all felt very unsafe (people from the ship were not wearing any jewelry and if they were, they were covering it with their hand). We quickly decided not to get off the shuttle and to forget Casablanca …
Madeira/Funchal – lovely port of call. Taxis, buses and tuktuks can take you to the center, but it is easily doable by foot as well. We walked along the port to the cable car station (+/- 30 min walk) for the 8km ride to Monte. Nice views on the way and also at the top. From the top of Monte, you could take another cable car to the botanical gardens or have a “basket ride”. Long line though for these 2-km-rides. The cathedral at the top is also worth a visit. We took a tuktuk back to the ship (€5 for 3 people) which was quite enjoyable.
Lanzarote/Arrecife – Complimentary shuttle buses (plenty of them) take you to the town of Arrecife. We got there on Easter and everything was closed except for a few bars. Lanzarote was very windy, as was Madeira. Some passengers went volcano trekking, but many just visited Arrecife. We’ve been on the Canary Islands before and it’s not our thing.
Malaga – as we were in Malaga several times before as part of a cruise, we had decided to rent a car and drive along the coast to Marbella. It took some time to get to the rental car place (in the shopping center at the train station), so our time on the road was rather limited but we enjoyed the ride and Marbella. Not many tourists this time of the year. NCL provides tickets (€8 pp return) to get to the entrance of the port area. We walked which is quite nice as Malaga renovated the port a couple of years ago and it is one of the nicest ports we’ve been in. Very modern and stylish. On the way back to the ship, we took the little blue train (€3 pp).
Disembarkation in Barcelona went much smoother than embarkation. Went to breakfast around 8 and left the ship around 9.30. NCL is very flexible in terms of luggage. The day before disembarkation, color-coded labels are available at guest services, with each a different time of disembarking. You just choose whichever is most convenient for you. We had decided to walk off with our luggage. Taxis are waiting right outside the terminal. It’s between €30-35 to the airport. The meter indicated eg €23, but +/-€9 is added as a supplement for port and airport fees.
It was a nice break but no wow-factor. It was just ok.
Pluspoints – the Blue Lagoon, quiet lunches in the restaurant (although slow service), daily chocolate fountain and pancake station (great for kids), friendly staff (especially the washy washy boys and girls)
Minuspoints – bland and uninspired food in Raffles, long lines for the complimentary restaurants at dinner time, older ship, half of the ports of call were not very interesting (there must be a better port of call in Morocco than Casablanca!!), long embarkation process, an extra charge if you want to have a decent meal, rather rude and unmannered passengers