My wife and I have been cruising for several years. We've gone on 6 cruises together and been at sea for over 40 days. This was our first NCL, in the past we've cruised on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Princess.
The Norwegian Spirit is an older ship, but is still well-kept. It is far smaller than the newer mega-ships at about 2000 passengers which makes it a nice mid-sized ship. We had an interior room on Deck 10, probably the best deck to be on (unless you're prone to seasickness, then go to Decks 4 or 5). There is some interesting quirkiness throughout. The ship was originally built for cruising in Asia for a different line as the Super Star Leo. Although the ship has been refit recently there is still some remains of the old name as well as the fact that it was built for an Asian clientele as much of the signage was still in Chinese and English. Also you can see where some areas were repurposed but not fully re-themed. The most obvious was Cagney's Steakhouse, which still had terra-cotta statues outside it and a Chinese themed decor. The ship goes with Norwegian's Freestyle Cruising model, which at first we were skeptical out; however by the end of the trip we decided that it was great, especially for Europe. On a Caribbean cruise that isn't has port intensive or with a large group, the Freestyle model probably wouldn't work as nice.
Service: Overall the service was excellent throughout the ship. At the top, the Cruise Staff and Hotel Director were very visible throughout the ship and often stopped and talked with the various guests. I was the hotel director get pulled aside while walking throughout the ship several times and he always stopped to talk with the guests. The stateroom attendants were excellent, they always seemed to figure out right when we were gone and took care of our room during those times. We never came back in the afternoon (even earlier in the afternoon) and didn't have our room made-up. Also on sea days when we slept in, they never knocked or came to our room before we had gone out. The dining room staff was mixed. In the Garden Room (mid-ship main dining room) our service was excellent every time we ate there and the waitstaff in the buffets and other casual bars and restaurants were equally great. The bar staff throughout the ship was very good, they always checked on you, but it didn't feel like you were being bombarded to buy drinks constantly either. The only average service in dining was in the Window (aft main dining room). There we had a variety of service from average to excellent. It seemed a little more disorganized than the other dining venues.
Ports and Excursions: This is the reason to take this cruise on this ship. The ports were all exceptional. The trip included: Venice (embarkation), Athens (through Piraeus), Kusadasi (Ephesus), Istanbul, Mykonos, Naples (Pompeii), Rome (through Civitavecchia), Florence and Pisa (through Livorno), Toulon and Barcelona (disembarkation). Lots of great ports with each one having something a little different. The ship offered a lot of interesting excursions. We did several through NCL and some private tours through a different company. All the NCL tours were great, well organized and well run. For each tour we met in the Theater onboard and then were giving tour numbers and disembarked the ship. This made finding your tour much easier, than some other tours we've done where you get off the ship and go hunting for your tour.
A couple notes about ports:
Plan extra time to get to the ship from Venice Airport for embarkation. The airport is located on the mainland and you need to take a water taxi or bus to the cruise port which takes extra time. We stayed an extra day before leaving, but had a 40 minute water taxi ride to the port from our hotel by San Marco (St. Mark's) Square.
Mykonos is a very small island with two small towns. There is a modern cruise dock; however it was full so we were tendered to the old port. In reality that turned out better because the tenders left us in the middle of the old port town. The new cruise dock is about a 15 minute walk to the old town, where you want to be anyways.
In Civitavecchia that port is HUGE, it takes about 30 minutes to walk from the cruise ship dock to the outside of the port. They did provide free bus transportation to the edge of the port where you could get your public transportation to Rome to into Civitavecchia. The buses for tours where allowed to the ship, so if you had a pre-booked tour you could walk off the ship and straight to the buses without the transfer.
In Livorno that port is also HUGE. There is no way to walk out of the port due to design and location of cruise ship docks. They charged $15 (USD) to get a shuttle bus to the train station in Livorno (to go to Florence or Pisa) or 7 euro for a bus into Livorno. Again with tours you are picked up at the ship. Also our guide/driver told us that there isn't much in Livorno to do. It is a modern town that was nearly entirely rebuilt after WWII, so most of the buildings of historical significance are gone.
All the other ports were fairly normal. You could get to public transportation or into town without much issue. They all had easy access for tours either by private vehicle, small van or large bus. Istanbul is in the middle of the city about a 30-40 minute walk to the old city or you can take the bus system, metro line or taxis. It looks like the city is redeveloping the entire shoreline by the cruise docks so in the future I could see it being a very nice modern dock/port.
Cabins: Our interior cabin on Deck 10 was a little small. The cabin was the smallest we've been in. Room for a bed, small desk, chair and small table. There was reasonable storage in the closet and lockers, but you had to stay organized to have room to move around. We wished there had been room for two chair or a small couch instead of the single chair, but with an older ship that's pretty normal. The bathrooms were surprising spacious. The shower had plenty of room and was larger than some of the larger ships we've been on. There was a 3rd bunk bed mounted to the side of the cabin, we didn't need it; at first it was weird having this extra thing on the side wall, but you ignored it after a couple days. There was the standard single 110v and 220v outlet at the desk. We had brought a 220v adapter for land-based European hotels anyways, so that gave us an extra outlet.
Entertainment: The entertainment onboard was excellent. They had several small music groups that performed daily. They were often performing in different areas of the ship at the same time which gave lots of choices of where to sit and listen and also kept the crowds down with multiple options at once. Our favorite was Patricia who sang and played piano. Her shows were always lots of fun and she did a great job at remembering guests from days past by name and interacting with them and everyone else.
The main shows in the theatre were all very good. The singers and dancers were excellent aboard. The sound engineer did have issues throughout the cruise with balancing levels; however that wasn't the fault of the singers. The other shows: magician, arielists, other performers were also well put on. The final large show Elements was very impressive. It was one of the best integral uses of all the entertainers on board that had done shows in the main theater.
Dining/Food was very mixed in terms of quality. This is the main reason for the less than excellent rating of the cruise. Starting with breakfast in the buffet, Raffles. The selections were limited and they were also the same throughout the entire 12-day cruise. I understand that there are certain items to keep every day however some variation maybe a couple of rotating dishes would have been a welcome change. We didn't really have much time to each a full sit-down breakfast since most of the ports started at around 8AM. Food for lunch and dinner in Raffles was above average. There was some changes each day along with standard options. We had lunch a couple times in Raffles as well as dinner one night.
Outdoor BBQ Lunches - These were excellent. The ship had several large charcoal grilling stations around the pool area where they did outdoor BBQ lunches on the sea days as well as days that arrived in port late (Mykonos) or left earlier in the afternoon (Kusadasi). The food was well cooked and different each day. Some of the options were: jerk chicken, BBQ pork, seafood stew, grilled sausages, etc. There were also bread, rolls and several salad options served in two buffet lines. It did get a little crowded but the food was great and the lines moved quickly.
Windows (Aft Restaurant) - The food here was very hit or miss. Each dinner service included: appetizer, entree and desert. There were always 5-7 options per course with more for the entrees as there were several standards options. The rest of the menu rotated so you didn't see the same food options every night. One evening there was an excellent tenderloin with potatoes and sauteed vegetables. Everything was cooked and seasoned well. The next night dinner was very underwhelming with food being overcooked and not well seasoned. We're not sure why there was such a difference in the quality of food each evening, but was not up to the standards we've had on other ships.
Garden Room (Mid-ship) - The menu was probably the same as Windows however the food was overall much better. Some of the best meals were had there. The atmosphere was a little more casual and cozy in the restaurant as well. The service there was also better overall.
Shogun (Asian Restaurant) - This was the best meals of the trip onboard. All the options were excellent. We had there 3 times and each time had a wonderful meal. Smaller restaurant and I think a lot of people missed it or thought it was an additional fee because it shared the same space as the Teppanyaki and sushi restaurants (fee). This was definitely a great place to get dinner. You still had multiple courses and each of was delicious.
Blue Lagoon (Cafe) - This little area on Deck 7 was setup like a cafe with some tables and benches. They served American comfort food like burgers, chicken tenders, and wings. It was open late (at least midnight) and was a great place for a quick snack or small meal.
We didn't eat in any of the speciality restaurants however we met several couples that did on the trip. The overall consensus was that none of them were worth the price. We did look at the French restaurant "Le Bistro" however the menu didn't look overly exciting.
Conclusions: The Norwegian Spirit is an older ship but has been aging well. The refurbishment last year definitely helped it feel newer than it was. The ships Mediterranean itinerary was exceptional with lots of unique ports and wonderful excursions. The Staff was all great, very helpful and pleasant to be around. We really enjoyed the ships size because we were able to run into a lot of people we had met throughout the cruise and "catch up" with them. The ships use of public spaces was also great. The Cruise staff used the various areas for events and activities very well. There was also always a place to find to sit down either inside or out. We also had a sea day where it rained all day and the ship didn't feel crowded with everyone inside the entire day.
The only major issue was the food. This being our first NCL cruise I can't say that this is true throughout the line, but at least on the Spirit it wasn't the best we've had. We would definitely recommend the cruise if the itinerary is something that looks appealing, its much more substantial than most cruises that go round trip and you get to see so much more. The schedule was also wonderful with a couple sea days at the start to get adjusted (to time changes from the US and being on board the ship) with another day between Mykonos and Naples.
Venice is an amazing city that must be visited. We stayed an extra night pre-cruise which was worth it. If you stay you need a hotel around San Marco (St. Mark's) square. It's in the middle of everything and a great starting off place.
Excellent service from our driver for the day. We were able to visit: Acropolis, Old Olympic Stadium, Temple of Poseidon, Temple of Zeus and more. Because of the location of the port to Athens this was a great option that gave us the most amount of time in the city as well as "door to door" service with a private car for the day.View All undefined undefined Reviews
Our guide was fantastic. The buses picked us up right at the cruise dock and we were off to Ephesus. Very informative and medium sized groups so we were able to see the city. I would recommend adding the Terrace Houses, we didn't but heard they were worth the extra cost.View All 257 Ephesus Reviews
Istanbul is an amazing city. Highly recommend either a guided tour or independent research before going. It isn't marked well from the cruise dock as to how to get to the various sites. They are redoing the port now so that may change in the future.
We had advice from a friend who lived there are several years, so we had a great idea of where to go and how to get there, but I could see someone not familiar having issues getting around without a plan of where to go.
Our guide was very informative and we saw a large part of the island with all the major sites. We stopped in a little village and had a snack (included in cost) and a little time to look around. The tour was a couple hours and then we had plenty of time to continue exploring on our own.View All undefined undefined Reviews
Great bus tour along the Amalfi coast. We also stopped in Amalfi and had about an hour to explore on our own. The guide was very informative about the coastline and the city.View All 284 Amalfi Coast Reviews
Wonderful guide which made seeing the city much more enjoyable. They also included radio headsets so it was easy to hear the guide throughout. Our tour also included a great lunch before Pompeii.View All 504 Pompeii Walking Tour Reviews
Our driver, Claudio, was great. He was very knowledgeable about the city and eager to share his knowledge. Although he couldn't accompany us into the sites (as he wasn't a licensed guide) we learned a lot about each site before we got there and knew what to look for throughout the day. We were able to see far more in a day than we could have by walking around on our own. Also because we were picked up and dropped off right at the ship we were able to maximize our time in Rome without having to deal with shuttles, buses, etc.View All 157 Private Tour Reviews
We had a wonderful driver for the day. He picked us up right at the cruise dock, saving us the time and expense of taking a bus out of the port. We visited Pisa and Florence including stopping at Academia to see the David. We also saw several churches and other historical sites before going to a private winery tour and tasting in the region of Chianti.View All undefined undefined Reviews