Apologies in advance – this is going to be quite a long but hopefully balanced review. To cut it short, if I was asked about whether I’d cruise on the Spirit again, the answer would be ‘probably not’. Not because of the ship itself - we knew it was older and would be a little worn in places, but it was charming. Rather, our reticence reflects some of the issues we experienced. Similarly, it would take some persuasion before we booked another Marella cruise unless we could be assured that their other ships had a rather better offering that that we experienced on the Spirit.
There were plenty of positives so not all moans and groans.
Our flights were on time and uneventful although the hand luggage allowance on TUI is unnecessarily low – lower than I’ve experienced on other airlines and something that lots of passengers similarly complained about. It’s certainly a budget airline with limited space and no frills but then we knew that. Things were well-organised on arrival and our embarkation to the ship was quick and hassle-free.
The ship itself was charming. A nice size with plenty of space and facilities but without feeling like a characterless ocean-going apartment complex. We should also mention the shore excursions - these were well-priced and good value compared to other lines.
Our suite (119) was large and comfortable with lots of storage space and a great bathroom (of which more later). Not sure why we could only have cream in the room with the tea and coffee making facilities though – milk would be much better for tea drinkers so we resorted to taking some from the Lido buffet each day and keeping it in the fridge. For those wondering about the suites, I’d say they are worth the price of the upgrade – very spacious and quiet. You get the safe included (rather than paying extra) as well as a few perks like quick check in, some ironing and a free room service breakfast. You also know you’re going to get a proper king size bed rather than risking an L shape twin configuration if that’s important to you. Elemis products in the bathroom were much nicer than a wall-mounted detergent dispenser.
Our cabin attendants were great too – the ship may be old but the cabin was spotless and well-maintained. And we loved the nice line in towel-folding courtesy of Valentina. Shame that some of our towels were well past their use by date though - I didn't really want to receive a clean towel with someone's mascara stains on it.
However despite the best efforts of the crew, there are some issues with the ship that require urgent remedial attention. The plumbing system is one – we were not impressed when we realised that when the people next door were showering, their waste water (and some lovely drain smells) was coming back up through the plug hole in our bathroom. If we put the plug in, the pressure was strong enough to move it out of the way so that didn’t work and the base of our bath near the plug hole was covered in dirt and scum after next door’s ablutions. Despite repeated attempts over a couple of days, the plumbers on board were not able to properly resolve this problem although to be fair the staff at reception were genuinely concerned and did what they could to try and get things sorted out for us.
I don’t think our cabin was an isolated incident though. I’d read another review which mentioned a strong smell of urine when entering parts of the ship, which I had assumed was just an isolated complaint by someone who was particularly sensitive to such issues – but sadly I have to confirm they were right! We avoided one of the lounge areas completely for the whole cruise because of this. There must have been a previous leak on to the carpets in that area, but the clean-up had not successfully got rid of the underlying vague stale background smell – not a good first impression when we were wandering around the ship on the first night.
Others have commented on the notorious shudder of the ship, even when docked. Well it was certainly noticeable - in particular in the Horizons Bar on the top deck - one of our favourite venues but you'd not want to go there with loose fillings! I suspect that whatever is causing this is too expensive to put right though, so if you want a completely smooth sail, go on another ship.
Nevertheless we enjoyed some great company and met many lovely fellow passengers with whom we'll keep in contact. I wish we could say the same thing about some of the crew. We’d heard so many good things about how friendly the crew were on the Spirit and we did experience some of that; but on more than one occasion we encountered downright rudeness. Perhaps it was to do with being the final cruise of a long 9 month season, but we were surprised. Staff working in bar areas in particular seemed to be over-worked and weren’t at all friendly – perhaps they didn't have time to be given how few of them there seemed to be, but this was very different from our previous experiences on CMV (Magellan) and Cunard (Q Victoria).
We were also surprised - and not in a good way - at the quality of the food, having read other glowing reviews. Our room service breakfast included croissants that had either been stored too long and gone off, or been made with rancid butter – very unpleasant indeed (again, to be fair, reception dealt well with this when we informed them). Forget healthy cereals for breakfast - there were no sugar free options. Dinners in the Compass Rose never quite hit the mark and although individual dishes were OK, we never had a complete meal that was good from start to finish. Sadly it was the mains that were usually the weakest link – cheap ingredients and gloopy sauces that gave off every indication of having come from a packet mix. A meal in Scirocco’s was similarly disappointing – I’d never before had a lamb shank that was tough and chewy with no sauce. But I have now. This was without doubt the worst food we’ve experienced on a cruise. We expected Cunard to be much better and it was – it should be given the price you pay – but we thought Thomson/Marella would be a match for CMV. Sadly we thought wrong – on the Magellan our meals were always at least good and sometimes surprisingly so; on the Spirit they were adequate, occasionally veering towards good in parts. The food was nowhere near as good as you’d get from a decent pub let alone a good restaurant. Suffice to say, the best food we had on this trip was the meals we ate off the boat. On board, it’s probably best to make wise choices from the Lido buffet rather than have high expectations from the restaurants.
We had the AI drinks package that was included at the time of booking, and the house wines were good – the red in particular – so no problems there. House spirits were OK too, and you could always upgrade to something better for a small extra charge. People seemed less happy with the beer choices but that wasn't an issue for us. Cocktails were best avoided though – weak, watery and unimpressive, they were probably made with cheap mixes and were only vague approximations of what they could have been.
There were some good entertainment options available. Strum Jam are very talented and I can see why they command such a following. Singers in the main shows were better than we’ve experienced on other cruises although the shows were let down by bland and unadventurous choreography – we got the sense that the team were talented dancers but they hadn’t been given the choreography to let them show off their skills. It’s a shame the shows were to backing tapes (again an area where CMV does better with a good live band in their main theatre) and the music offerings around the ship were limited to (mostly) rock and some jazz. An area with a bit of classical music like we had on the Magellan would also have been nice but that wasn’t on offer here.
So, overall I can see why people love the ship – but it needs a bit of urgent plumbing work while it’s in dry dock over the winter. I don’t understand the comments about how good the food is though – it really isn’t. This felt like a cruise where costs had been cut to the bone and we were glad to get off after the week had passed. Thankfully we had another three days in Paphos in a lovely hotel (The King Jason, owned by the Louis company who ironically also run the Spirit on behalf of Marella) where we experienced the kind of service we’d hoped to receive on the ship.
Hopefully our experience was unusual and perhaps affected by the fact that we were on the final sailing of a long season but, with regret, despite its charm the Spirit is probably not a ship we’d travel on again unless we knew that Marella had upped their game quite considerably.
Excellent very spacious cabin with lots of storage. Full size bathroom with nice Elemis toiletries (but we had some serious plumbing issues). Lovely sitting area with sofa, two comfy chairs and a coffee table. Given how small the balconies are on this ship, I think the suites with their much larger interior space are a much better value. Tea and coffee making in the cabin is nice to have, but would have been better with milk rather than cream.