The 2,032-passenger Norwegian Spirit debuted in 1998 so you won't find a rock climbing wall, bowling alley or some of the other whizbang features offered by the line's bigger, newer ships, but enjoyment doesn't always have to come in a giant package.
Norwegian Spirit maybe the line's oldest and smallest ship, but it's also one NCL -- and passengers -- clearly love: it enjoyed a massive $100m bow-to-stern refurbishment in 2020 that has it looking and feeling brand new.
The refit has given the ship an adult vibe with brand-new features such as the Thermal Suite; the Spice H2O area, which replaces the kids' area Splash Academy; new cabins and a new upscale Italian restaurant: Onda by Scarpetta.
Norwegian Spirit is no longer geared towards families, and would suit couples looking for longer and eclectic itineraries. Its smaller size and traditional features make it a good choice for cruise travelers who want to feel like they're onboard an oceangoing vessel rather than a huge theme park at sea.
We found Norwegian Spirit to be one of the happiest cruise ships we've sailed, filled with contented passengers and a smiling, engaged and enthusiastic crew who can't do enough for them. But while Spirit is not the newest vessel in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet, this welcoming ship goes to show that good things can come in small packages.
Norwegian Spirit packs a lot of activities and dining experiences into a relatively small ship (by NCL standards). So, for example, there is a sports deck with a basketball court and golf driving nets, a jogging track, the main pool deck as well as the expanded Mandara spa and the adults-only Spice H2O taking up the top three decks. You'll also find the new restaurant, Onda by Scarpetta, up here and the beautifully-situated Garden Café, which has a lovely outdoor area looking out over Spice H2O.
Cabins make up the majority of the space from Decks 11 to 8 (you'll also find rooms on decks 5 & 6), where you start to hit the main dining, drinking and entertainment venues, which continue on Deck 7.
You'll also find the Main Atrium, Stardust Theatre, and another new venue, Bliss Ultra Lounge, on Deck 7.
A new restaurant, Taste, has been added on Deck 6, which is also where you will find the main dining room, the aptly named Windows, which is perhaps the most stunning MDR we have seen on a ship -- huge double-height windows let natural light flood into the room and offer stunning views of the wake.
Norwegian Spirit is well thought-out and easily navigable, and on our sailing we never found crowding even in areas where you'd expect a lot of traffic. This may be because there are fewer kids onboard and the former kids' spaces are turned over to adults-only areas post-refurb.
Unlike most ship refurbs, NCL did not ignore the cabins, and every single one -- from the lowliest inside to the top-deck suites -- have been given a complete makeover. Gone are the aqua and green tones, to be replaced by elegant shades of cream and chocolate browns, silver and grey bedding and dark wood furniture. But it's not just the furnishings -- you'll also find modern fittings like USB sockets, nightlights by the bed and -- hallelujah -- completely refitted bathrooms with a glass door, rather than a clingy curtain.
There are 1,016 rooms in total (eight were added in the refurb) and just four types -- suites, balcony, oceanview and inside -- ranged across six floors. There is no Haven, the ship-within-a-ship suite complex on NCL's bigger ships, nor single-occupancy studio cabins.
Norwegian Spirit has 18 suites, which vary in size and location. The best cabin is the Owner's Suite, but if you can't stretch to that, the aft-facing Penthouse Suite is a great option -- you get the same views, a huge balcony, living and dining area, bedroom, wardrobe and a stunning marble bathroom complete with jacuzzi and sea views.
Norwegian Spirit cabins to avoid are the Deck 4 insides if you are the least bit claustrophobic.
There are 14 restaurants onboard Norwegian Spirit, including two new ones -- the upmarket Italian Onda by Scarpetta; and a newly-installed smaller main dining room, Taste.
The food is uniformally excellent, from the Garden Café buffet, which has a wide range of Aussie food such as Vegemite, Weet Bix and Milo; to the for-fee restaurants, Silk, Teppanyaki, Le Bistro and Cagney's Steakhouse.
Standout experiences for us were Windows, which is a traditional MDR in a stunning setting; Teppanyaki, for a Japanese-style Hibachi experience; and Onda by Scarpetta, which takes Italian dining to new levels.
When the ship is in Australia, all passengers mus be fully vaccinated. For the most up-to-date testing, masking, and vaccination requirements aboard Norwegian Spirit, please refer to Norwegian Cruise Line's latest protocols.
* Two main dining rooms and the buffet
Main theatre shows
Most daily activities
Use of the gym, but not most classes
Automatic gratuities for beverage, mini-bar, spa and salon purchases (20 percent for all)
All beverages with the exception of water, tea (including iced tea), basic coffees and select juices from the buffet
Meals at several specialty restaurants and snack venues
Most fitness classes and all personal training sessions
Activities like alcohol tasting events, select game shows and interactive trivia sessions
Photographs and artwork
When the ship sails from Australia, the majority of passengers are from Australia and New Zealand, with the rest hailing from North America, the UK and Europe. When it repositions to Alaska, expect a predominantly North American crowd. The lack of kids' facilities has skewed the age up to mid-50s and above.
Norwegian Cruise Line's "Freestyle Cruising" concept appeals to a casual and unpretentious clientele, and the overall cruise-ship vibe is convivial, young and fun.