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Back to Back on the Spirit – Mediterranean – July, 2018 Recently returned from back to back cruises on the Spirit. We had a total of 7 adults on the first cruise (3 cabins) and then 6 on the second cruise (2 cabins). These were our 33rd & 34th cruise (about 18 on NCL, the rest on the other major cruise lines). Both cruises embarked from Rome (Civitavecchia); First cruise went west (Livorno [Florence], Cannes, Marseilles, Barcelona, Majorca, Sardinia, Malta, Sicily, Naples, Civitavecchia). Second cruise went east (Dubrovnik [Croatia], Venice [overnight], Slovenia, Split [Croatia], Corfu [Greece], Katakolon [Greece], Malta, Civitavecchia. Only 2 sea days out of 21 days cruising, none on the first cruise. It’s a long review, so please feel free to jump to the part(s) that interest you: 1. Arrival/Embarkation 2. Cabin 3. Dining 4. UBP 5. Overall Service 6. Casino experience 7. Ports 8. Back to back info 9. Debarkation 1. Arrival / Embarkation – We had overnight flights from Boston (5 of us) and Miami (the other 2). Arrival at FCO (main Rome airport) was relatively easy – about 1 hour to get through customs. Major problem with our pre-arranged ground transport – I had booked with welcomepickups.com and we NEVER saw their driver. With 7 people looking for more than an hour, even asking the airport personnel where they might be, we could not find out driver. They did send us a text that they were on site, but we could not text (or call) the company much as we tried. Since this was prepaid with my credit card, I’ll be talking to the credit card company. Welcomepickups responded to my email after we returned that their driver was there – we didn’t see him – too bad, they’re keeping the money. I’d absolutely pick any other company over these people! We eventually hired a 7-passenger van to take us to an Air bnb outside the airport. The accomodations were adequate [Luana Inn Airport] (though those of us in one of the bedrooms did suffer from bed bug bites for the next few days – sigh….). I clearly wouldn’t recommend them. I’d suggest just getting a local hotel room since you can probably get a decent hotel for 100 euro a night or less. The following morning we used Romecabs to take us to the port. Very professional, on time (actually early), very comfortable. We paid 190 euro [payable at the pier – I would not pre-pay for shuttle service again) for the 7 of us (with about 1 large bag and 1 carry on bag for each person). Not a problem stopping on the way to get some euros - would absolutely recommend. Approximately a 1 hour ride; arrived at the ship about 10:30 AM. When we arrived there were few passengers – we walked right up to a small table where they checked our bags, then over to the adjacent building and straight up to the counter for check in – no lines, no waiting. We then waited in the “holding” area for perhaps an hour. [I’d rather be checked in and sitting than waiting in line with 1,000 other people to check in.] I had read that they might start boarding by 11 or 11:30, but it was closer to 12 (or just after) when we walked on. Our first stop was restaurant reservations (hadn’t been organized enough to do this beforehand); this was important as there were 7 of us. We had a list of the specialty restaurants that we wanted and we were able to easily get every night we requested (Teppanyaki, Le Bistro, Cagney’s, La Cucina), though sometimes we were eating a little bit later or earlier than we’d prefer – not a problem. Some lines have done away with a sit-down lunch in the dining room on the day of embarkation, but not NCL. We headed to the Windows dining room and were one of only about 8 or 9 tables of diners for lunch. On the way out I made a point to chat with the assistant maître d’ (Dennis) – among a number of excellent crew members, Dennis was the stand out and he absolutely made our 3 week cruise experience extra special. Life boat drill (4 PM) was painless. I always bring a book since you’re not allowed to be using any electronics (phone, kindle, etc.) but they don’t mind if you’re reading. After 3 dozen cruises, we’re pretty familiar with the protocol. Some cruise lines have gone to having the drill in a lounge, but not on the NCL Spirit. 2. Cabin We had a balcony cabin for 3 of us (myself, my wife and our 23 year old daughter) – 11650. We found this to be very convenient to the rear sitting area(s) of the ship – either on deck 11 or just one floor up on deck 12 (near the bar and buffet). My daughter and husband were in 6500 (ocean view) – they would not recommend this cabin as it’s all the way in the front of the vessel and the mooring lines / anchor chain were quite noisy early in the morning. My wife’s parents (celebrating 50 years of marriage!) were in a deck 7 inside cabin (forgot the number) and they found this quite adequate. As a word of caution for those of you thinking of booking a quad cabin on the Spirit – there are NO balcony cabins for 4 people and the inside or ocean view cabins that are for 4 do NOT have 2 bunk beds – they all have the trundle bed that slides under one of the actual beds. One our second cruise (my son in-law had to fly home to go back to work), my adult daughters shared a cabin with my wife and I (11619). This is VERY crowded and one person will have to sleep on the trundle bed – which is absolutely smaller and less comfortable than a real bed. Further, with 4 people you have now lost any storage under one of the 2 beds and there will likely be 6-8 pieces of luggage to put somewhere?! We certainly made do, but it’s certainly something to know. Cabin service was adequate (we asked for robes, empty the mini-fridge, etc.) not a problem. Neither room steward we had was exceptional, though it’s noteworthy that they knew each of us by name by the second day of the cruise – a nice touch. 3. Dining The first night was Teppanyaki. We’ve done this a number of times and the dining experience on the Spirit was definitely lacking. The dinner “show” was much better on other ships and we have found that the menu has been slipping as well. Our opinion is that it’s not worth the upcharge if you don’t already have the dining package. Cagney’s was very good, not outstanding. The service, food presentation and food quality were impressive. Again, our personal sense would be that it’s not worth the upcharge since our main dining room experience (Windows) was outstanding. We went to Le Bistro to celebrate the grandmother’s birthday. We were pleasantly surprised to find that a server that we had met a few years earlier on a different ship (Jesper) was now serving in the Bistro. On our previous cruise we had such a great dining experience that we asked the manager if we could take Jesper to dinner at a specialty restaurant one night – he was able to get an evening off and was super excited to have the opportunity to eat with us. (Something to think about if you’re looking to reward a server with something other than a tip… ) Not a surprise that he immediately recognized us even a couple of years later. Needless to say the service was excellent and the food was also outstanding. We would pay the upcharge for Le Bistro for a special dinner. Dining at La Cucina was good, but no better than the main restaurant. Service was mediocre and the food taste and presentation were only fair. A couple of observations about specialty dining – if you have the dining package, you are allowed to order multiple appetizers; if you are using the Platinum vouchers for a complimentary dinner you are “supposedly” limited to one appetizer. Also, a really bothersome change with the platinum vouchers (other than 1 per couple versus the previous one per person), was that the entrée at La Cucina was limited to $20 – the person who ordered the shrimp dish ($24.95) was charged the difference and was also charged for an additional appetizer. The people who only ordered an additional appetizer, and told the waiter that they’d pay the increase, were not charged… Dining at the main restaurant (Windows) was an unexpected highlight for us. We are used to the anytime dining of NCL and we have had a number of evenings when we’ve needed to get pagers and wait for 20-30 minutes. After meeting the assistant maître d’ the first afternoon, we again made a point to say hello at our first dinner in Windows (day 2 of the cruise). Dennis told us just to let him know when we’d like to have dinner on any evening and he’d have our table ready. One night we were a little later than we had planned and apologized to Dennis – he said not worry, he NEVER sits anyone else at our table and it’s waiting for us whenever we get to dinner. I have no idea how or why that happened, but the grandparents (who can be a bit picky and finicky) were floored by this attention. Our wait staff (Jose and Jayson) were as good as any we have ever have (after more than 250 days of cruising). Also, the beverage server (Boban) was amazing – he met us at the table every night and the glasses were never empty (gotta love the UBP). We are used to spotty drink service in the dining room on most cruise ships and we have never had such attentive drink service – if you’re on the Spirit keep an eye out for him – he’s excellent. We found that the menu items in Windows were generally as good, if not better, than most of the ones in the specialty restaurants. We enjoy getting dressed up and having a leisurely sit down dinner and we ate in the dining room nearly every night of the cruise. 4. UBP Right after we boarded, we headed to Henry’s to have a drink and we met Marco (and Gus who’s behind the bar). Marco was super attentive and personable and we stopped here almost every evening before dinner for a drink. Since we had multiple cabins, we would often just plan to meet in the lobby or Henry’s about a half an hour before dinner each night for drink and this worked out really well. We were also able to snag a booth early on the day of the World Cup final and Henry’s was a great place to watch the game! Also, in the atrium is the drink server Ivan who’s also really good. We almost never had an issue ordering 2 drinks at a time on one room card – even if they weren’t the same drink or even if one person went up to the bar to get a drink for themselves and someone else. I will reiterate what others have said on this board – you certainly don’t have to tip your drink waiter (they’re not really expecting at tip), but we have found that about $1 a drink got us superb service and no questions or problems anytime we ordered anything. Absolutely worth it for us – YMMV. 5. Overall Service Clearly if you’re already booked on the Spirit or are looking at reviews to make a decision, you’re not likely to have the same room stewards, waiters, etc. However, our overall experience was really, really excellent. This is said with the experience of almost three dozen cruises over a half a dozen cruise lines. Dining service and drink service (along with the assistant maître d’) were real highlights. Certainly we had a couple of serving teams (for sit down breakfast or lunch) that were sub par, but they were the exception. If you get a serving team that you really like for dinner be sure to ask for them in the future. Even with anytime dining we had the same waiter and assistant waiter for almost all of our dinners and we were not limited to a set time for dining. 6. Casino experience As we booked our cabins through the Casinos at Sea program, you can imagine that we’re “regulars” in the casino. On the Spirit the layout is interesting because the casino is all the way at the front of the ship, with just a small lounge/nightclub after the casino. Due to this there is little “pass through” traffic unlike other ships who place the casino right in the center of the middle deck to facilitate people having to pass through. Since our cruises were very port-laden (no sea days at all on the first cruise of 12 days), the activity in the casino was limited to say the least. Also, something of a surprise for us, was that every table game was a $10 minimum – even when many of these games had little to no action. On a positive note, the dealers (and even the supervisors) were very congenial and welcomed the chance to chat as they were working the games. We mostly play craps and blackjack and we found that they staff was very much on the ball, attentive and professional. A couple of times we stopped to talk with the casino manager, Bongi, and he was genuinely pleased to chat with us. A real surprising disappointment, however, was the casino “host”. Even though we booked our cabins through the casino and we spent several hours every night in the casino (sometimes as almost the only people playing), the hostess never ONCE said anything to any of us. Very surprising and not our experience on most other ships – they really should replace her with a more personable and competent individual (we made a point of conveying this to the manager). Blackjack payouts are 6:5 unless the game is $25, 3-card payouts are clearly less than most land-based casinos, etc. Craps has basically standard payouts and these really cannot be altered easily by the casino so my advice is to learn the dice game if you want the best odds for the player (still a casino advantage, of course, but the most favorable odds you can get in the casino). Our casino cards did allow us to have coffee drinks and bottled water (which the UBP does not) and this was really helpful as we were ashore every day and the weather was quite hot (35o C+ / ~90o +F) so having multiple bottles of water to bring ashore every day was a plus. 7. Ports Trying to be a bit brief: Livorno (Florence) – we hired a cab to drive the 7 of us to Florence and back (essentially a fixed price of $400 euro for the 7-passenger van). We had been to Florence before and opted for the Uffizi Gallery (bought timed tickets on line before we left) and shopping. We have found that the flea market area of Florence has some of the best shopping of any of the European ports. I’d suggest Uffizi (or Acadame if you want to see the David statue) for early morning if possible so you have the rest of the day to wander around. Cannes – Probably a highlight of the trip. We hired a van and driver through Private Shore Trips before we left – expensive but worth every penny. We were picked up right on time (at 8:30 AM) after tendering ashore (they were using the lifeboats for tendering – not common), and, while our tour was scheduled for 8 hours, the driver said that since all aboard was 6 PM he could show us whatever we wanted until then for no extra charge. The cost was $750 for the day, but that comes out to just over $100 per person and it was great. Pierre drove us briefly around Cannes, then off to Nice for an hour or so, then to the picturesque Ville de France for another hour or so, then off to Monte Carlo for a couple of hours (including some time gambling in the main casino) then a stop at the quaint town of Eze before getting back to Cannes a little before 6. Would highly recommend this company and this tour guide. Marseilles – The cruise lines don’t tell you this, but…. if you walk just outside the fence and follow the painted line on the sidewalk it will take you to the free shuttle bus to town. NCL (and other lines I’m sure) charge you about $10 per person to get shuttled to town – the free shuttle bus is about 10-15 minutes away. We just walked around town and had a great authentic French lunch in town. Barcelona – there are two shuttle buses, one run by the city and the other (more expensive) run by NCL that take passengers from the pier to downtown– be sure to take the cheaper bus to the Christopher Columbus monument at the end of Las Ramblas. We took a cab to the main Gaudi park – be sure to get there early as the timed tickets sell out to the most popular part of the park. We showed up later and walked through the part that’s free and open to the public – still worth visiting. My older daughter and husband visited the Sagrada Familia – really the highlight of Barcelona if you haven’t seen it; they bought timed tickets on line prior to the cruise. Just walking up and down Las Ramblas is a great way to spend the day – be aware that pickpockets are rampant in Barcelona. We’ve never had a problem but diligence is important. Palma, Majorca – We hired a driver to take us to the Monastary where Shubert had stayed about 150 years ago and had composed some of his pieces. We got there right when they opened and had the place to ourselves – I’d recommend it just for the scenery, atmosphere, etc. I think we paid about 400 euro for the two taxis to take us on a half-day tour of the island that included the monastery stop for the 7 of us – not worth it in my opinion. Cagliari, Sardinia – We took the “tour bus” for 10 euros per person (like the HOHO bus, bus a smaller 17 passenger van). This was supposed to take you to multiple stops with an audio tour, etc. We got out at one stop to see the older part of town, the cathedral, etc. and then waited for the next van to continue with the tour. When the van went directly back to the pier, the passengers “revolted” and refused to get off the van until we had the rest of the tour – walking around town was OK, but not a highlight of the cruise. Valetta, Malta – This was the one stop that we visited twice. The first time 5 of us went to the war rooms under the fortress. If you’re interested in WWII these are very interesting, if not it’s probably a waste of time and money. These are recently opened and are where Eisenhower, etc. oversaw the invasion by the Allies into Europe. Malta is also famous for resisting the Axis bombardment for months during the war. The view from the top of the fortress is very impressive and, if you walk away from the harbor from the park at the top of the hill about ¼ mile, you come to the main shopping street at the top of the hill – not particularly easy to find. The second time we went on the HOHO bus – what a bust. Since it was really hot, you could either sit on the upper level and get a breeze (and sunburn) or go to the lower level and be hot and nauseous (no AC on the bus). We went on 2 different routes (about 3 hours+ riding around the island)- not worth it in my opinion. Very poorly organized, unhappy passengers, just a fiasco. Messina, Sicily – 5 of us hired a driver to take us to the town of Taormina that is just up the coast from Cagliari. The ride there and back was very much like Space Mountain (~135 kph, tight turns, weaving in and out of traffic) – not for the faint of heart. The town itself, with its Roman theater mostly still intact, is certainly worth the trip. I think we paid about 100 euro for the roundtrip and a stop of 2 hours in town. Prices for the cabs are posted at the pier, though amusingly, the prices are rubbed out on the sign that’s English… Naples – We hired a cab driver to take us to Pompeii. We had been here before, but we did not have a guide and we really felt that we missed a lot. This time we were there when they opened (8:30 AM) and hired a guide for 2 hours right inside the main gate (about 120 euros). He was really good and in the 2 hours we were there we did not repeat any of the city that we had seen in the previous visit. (You could plan to spend the entire day here, but keep in mind that its really expansive and really hot…). After this we had our driver drop us off at the Archeological museum in Naples where most of the treasures from Pompeii are housed. Upon walking in we were greeted by a very personable guide who asked if we wanted the guided tour (60 euros for the one hour tour). This was also money well spent as our guide had a masters degree in Italian archeology and was super enthusiastic. I’d recommend both of these stops in Naples. Turn around day in Civitavecchia Sea day (finally…) Dubrovnik, Croatia – Here we took a cab to the old city and did the walk along the city walls (expensive at 25 euro per person) but a great experience and wonderful views. It gets really crowded later in the day so do this first thing. After this we had a leisurely lunch and walked around the old town for a couple of hours. Dubrovnik can be VERY crowded and it’s advisable to get off the ship and get to town right away before all of the tour groups show up. Keep in mind that many shops only take Croatian currency (kuna) so a stop at an ATM is probably warranted. Venice (overnight stop) The signage at the pier is not good. It’s almost a mile to get to the “people mover” monorail that takes you to the edge of the city (3 euro per person), but the walk is convoluted and not well marked – ask for directions. You can certainly walk all the way to town, but the monorail saves about a mile of (unimpressive) walking. We had been to Venice before so we opted to wander around town, have an authentic lunch, etc. The further you get from St. Mark’s square, the better the shop and food prices are... Koper, Slovenia – In Koper we just walked around town for the morning – probably the least interesting of all of the stops. We had an authentic (and inexpensive) brunch at a little restaurant, but not a stop I would rave about. Since it’s really not a “tourist” port you can get a sense of how the local people go about their days, but nothing here worth a special trip in my opinion. Split, Croatia – The town is built around the retirement palace (huge) of Diocletian - very historic and quaint inside the palace walls. Lots of shopping, eateries, etc. and plenty of photo ops. We were here the day before Croatia was playing in the finals of the World Cup so every stall was selling shirts, flags, etc..; easy to walk to from the ship and lots to see. Corfu, Greece – The old city is walkable (about 30 minutes from the pier) or you can take a cab (about 10 euros). Lots of shops and eateries, you can visit either of the two old fortresses or just meander around town. On our earlier visit we had walked through the fortress that closer to the old town – scenic views, but not a lot to see at the fortress itself. I’d recommend just walking through the old town for several hours – worth visiting. Katakolon, Greece - The main attraction here is the site of the original Olympic games (Olympia) which is a little over a half an hour away. We had been there before so we opted to just walk around town, shop, stop for lunch, etc. There is really only one strip of shops (an hour or so maybe, if you walk really slowly….), though there are plenty of places to eat right along the water and the Greek food was very good and not very expensive. Malta - see above Sea day Civitavecchia – 8. Back to Back cruising – A couple of days before the end of the first cruise, we were given a letter inviting us to a talk on the B2B procedures – only one member of the party has to attend; from what I had read, there has been a change from past procedures. B2B passengers are no longer required to get off the vessel – though you do have to vacate your cabin from 9 AM to mid-day so it can be cleaned. You also just stop at guest services the morning of turnaround and get new key cards – really simple. Also, since we had 2 guests registered in one cabin who were going to move to another cabin (my adult daughters were switching with their grandparents), the UBP moves with the passengers so we were able to actually able to get 4 comped UBP packages even though all 4 of us were in the same room since it was not originally booked that way. If you are staying in the same cabin you just leave everything (naturally); if you are moving cabins (we were) they give you luggage tags to mark your bags the morning of turnaround and the stewards will just move the baggage to the new rooms. They also give you stickers to wear (“Still cruising!”) to identify you to the crew so they don’t keep telling you to get off ship. Any vouchers, coupons, OBC, etc just carries over to the next cruise. (We had one or two dining vouchers and UDP credits that weren’t used – they just carried over.) It was a real treat to go to the pool deck after breakfast and have no one there (on our cruise there were about 15 B2B cruisers – they told us that on the European itineraries they usually have 200+…+). When we wandered over to the buffet about 11 AM there was a completely stocked, ready to go buffet area with no passengers – not something we’ve ever experienced… 9. Debarkation – We were in no hurry so we put our luggage outside the cabin the night before. We had a leisurely sit down breakfast in the dining room at 7 AM and just walked off the ship about 8:15. No issues, no problems, no customs (??) just walk off – collect the bags and walk outside to where our van would pick us up. We used Airport Transfers Direct (130 euros for the 7 of us) and they were excellent. I scheduled them for 9:45 (afternoon flight home from FCO) and easily could have stayed on the ship until at least 9 AM or had them scheduled to pick us up earlier. We ended up waiting outside for an hour or more since there was zero delay in getting off the ship (most of the self-assist passengers no doubt left very early and, by just after 8 AM there were no lines at all). The grandparents were actually staying in a hotel near FCO for one more night and the shuttle driver had no issue dropping us off at the airport and then driving them to their hotel.

Spirit - Mediterranean - B2B - July, 2018 - (Really long...)

Norwegian Spirit Cruise Review by vp1

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Trip Details
Back to Back on the Spirit – Mediterranean – July, 2018

Recently returned from back to back cruises on the Spirit. We had a total of 7 adults on the first cruise (3 cabins) and then 6 on the second cruise (2 cabins). These were our 33rd & 34th cruise (about 18 on NCL, the rest on the other major cruise lines). Both cruises embarked from Rome (Civitavecchia); First cruise went west (Livorno [Florence], Cannes, Marseilles, Barcelona, Majorca, Sardinia, Malta, Sicily, Naples, Civitavecchia). Second cruise went east (Dubrovnik [Croatia], Venice [overnight], Slovenia, Split [Croatia], Corfu [Greece], Katakolon [Greece], Malta, Civitavecchia. Only 2 sea days out of 21 days cruising, none on the first cruise.

It’s a long review, so please feel free to jump to the part(s) that interest you:

1. Arrival/Embarkation

2. Cabin

3. Dining

4. UBP

5. Overall Service

6. Casino experience

7. Ports

8. Back to back info

9. Debarkation

1. Arrival / Embarkation – We had overnight flights from Boston (5 of us) and Miami (the other 2). Arrival at FCO (main Rome airport) was relatively easy – about 1 hour to get through customs. Major problem with our pre-arranged ground transport – I had booked with welcomepickups.com and we NEVER saw their driver. With 7 people looking for more than an hour, even asking the airport personnel where they might be, we could not find out driver. They did send us a text that they were on site, but we could not text (or call) the company much as we tried. Since this was prepaid with my credit card, I’ll be talking to the credit card company. Welcomepickups responded to my email after we returned that their driver was there – we didn’t see him – too bad, they’re keeping the money. I’d absolutely pick any other company over these people!

We eventually hired a 7-passenger van to take us to an Air bnb outside the airport. The accomodations were adequate [Luana Inn Airport] (though those of us in one of the bedrooms did suffer from bed bug bites for the next few days – sigh….). I clearly wouldn’t recommend them. I’d suggest just getting a local hotel room since you can probably get a decent hotel for 100 euro a night or less.

The following morning we used Romecabs to take us to the port. Very professional, on time (actually early), very comfortable. We paid 190 euro [payable at the pier – I would not pre-pay for shuttle service again) for the 7 of us (with about 1 large bag and 1 carry on bag for each person). Not a problem stopping on the way to get some euros - would absolutely recommend. Approximately a 1 hour ride; arrived at the ship about 10:30 AM.

When we arrived there were few passengers – we walked right up to a small table where they checked our bags, then over to the adjacent building and straight up to the counter for check in – no lines, no waiting. We then waited in the “holding” area for perhaps an hour. [I’d rather be checked in and sitting than waiting in line with 1,000 other people to check in.] I had read that they might start boarding by 11 or 11:30, but it was closer to 12 (or just after) when we walked on. Our first stop was restaurant reservations (hadn’t been organized enough to do this beforehand); this was important as there were 7 of us. We had a list of the specialty restaurants that we wanted and we were able to easily get every night we requested (Teppanyaki, Le Bistro, Cagney’s, La Cucina), though sometimes we were eating a little bit later or earlier than we’d prefer – not a problem.

Some lines have done away with a sit-down lunch in the dining room on the day of embarkation, but not NCL. We headed to the Windows dining room and were one of only about 8 or 9 tables of diners for lunch. On the way out I made a point to chat with the assistant maître d’ (Dennis) – among a number of excellent crew members, Dennis was the stand out and he absolutely made our 3 week cruise experience extra special.

Life boat drill (4 PM) was painless. I always bring a book since you’re not allowed to be using any electronics (phone, kindle, etc.) but they don’t mind if you’re reading. After 3 dozen cruises, we’re pretty familiar with the protocol. Some cruise lines have gone to having the drill in a lounge, but not on the NCL Spirit.

2. Cabin

We had a balcony cabin for 3 of us (myself, my wife and our 23 year old daughter) – 11650. We found this to be very convenient to the rear sitting area(s) of the ship – either on deck 11 or just one floor up on deck 12 (near the bar and buffet). My daughter and husband were in 6500 (ocean view) – they would not recommend this cabin as it’s all the way in the front of the vessel and the mooring lines / anchor chain were quite noisy early in the morning. My wife’s parents (celebrating 50 years of marriage!) were in a deck 7 inside cabin (forgot the number) and they found this quite adequate.

As a word of caution for those of you thinking of booking a quad cabin on the Spirit – there are NO balcony cabins for 4 people and the inside or ocean view cabins that are for 4 do NOT have 2 bunk beds – they all have the trundle bed that slides under one of the actual beds. One our second cruise (my son in-law had to fly home to go back to work), my adult daughters shared a cabin with my wife and I (11619). This is VERY crowded and one person will have to sleep on the trundle bed – which is absolutely smaller and less comfortable than a real bed. Further, with 4 people you have now lost any storage under one of the 2 beds and there will likely be 6-8 pieces of luggage to put somewhere?! We certainly made do, but it’s certainly something to know.

Cabin service was adequate (we asked for robes, empty the mini-fridge, etc.) not a problem. Neither room steward we had was exceptional, though it’s noteworthy that they knew each of us by name by the second day of the cruise – a nice touch.

3. Dining

The first night was Teppanyaki. We’ve done this a number of times and the dining experience on the Spirit was definitely lacking. The dinner “show” was much better on other ships and we have found that the menu has been slipping as well. Our opinion is that it’s not worth the upcharge if you don’t already have the dining package.

Cagney’s was very good, not outstanding. The service, food presentation and food quality were impressive. Again, our personal sense would be that it’s not worth the upcharge since our main dining room experience (Windows) was outstanding.

We went to Le Bistro to celebrate the grandmother’s birthday. We were pleasantly surprised to find that a server that we had met a few years earlier on a different ship (Jesper) was now serving in the Bistro. On our previous cruise we had such a great dining experience that we asked the manager if we could take Jesper to dinner at a specialty restaurant one night – he was able to get an evening off and was super excited to have the opportunity to eat with us. (Something to think about if you’re looking to reward a server with something other than a tip… ) Not a surprise that he immediately recognized us even a couple of years later. Needless to say the service was excellent and the food was also outstanding. We would pay the upcharge for Le Bistro for a special dinner.

Dining at La Cucina was good, but no better than the main restaurant. Service was mediocre and the food taste and presentation were only fair.

A couple of observations about specialty dining – if you have the dining package, you are allowed to order multiple appetizers; if you are using the Platinum vouchers for a complimentary dinner you are “supposedly” limited to one appetizer. Also, a really bothersome change with the platinum vouchers (other than 1 per couple versus the previous one per person), was that the entrée at La Cucina was limited to $20 – the person who ordered the shrimp dish ($24.95) was charged the difference and was also charged for an additional appetizer. The people who only ordered an additional appetizer, and told the waiter that they’d pay the increase, were not charged…

Dining at the main restaurant (Windows) was an unexpected highlight for us. We are used to the anytime dining of NCL and we have had a number of evenings when we’ve needed to get pagers and wait for 20-30 minutes. After meeting the assistant maître d’ the first afternoon, we again made a point to say hello at our first dinner in Windows (day 2 of the cruise). Dennis told us just to let him know when we’d like to have dinner on any evening and he’d have our table ready. One night we were a little later than we had planned and apologized to Dennis – he said not worry, he NEVER sits anyone else at our table and it’s waiting for us whenever we get to dinner. I have no idea how or why that happened, but the grandparents (who can be a bit picky and finicky) were floored by this attention. Our wait staff (Jose and Jayson) were as good as any we have ever have (after more than 250 days of cruising). Also, the beverage server (Boban) was amazing – he met us at the table every night and the glasses were never empty (gotta love the UBP). We are used to spotty drink service in the dining room on most cruise ships and we have never had such attentive drink service – if you’re on the Spirit keep an eye out for him – he’s excellent.

We found that the menu items in Windows were generally as good, if not better, than most of the ones in the specialty restaurants. We enjoy getting dressed up and having a leisurely sit down dinner and we ate in the dining room nearly every night of the cruise.

4. UBP

Right after we boarded, we headed to Henry’s to have a drink and we met Marco (and Gus who’s behind the bar). Marco was super attentive and personable and we stopped here almost every evening before dinner for a drink. Since we had multiple cabins, we would often just plan to meet in the lobby or Henry’s about a half an hour before dinner each night for drink and this worked out really well. We were also able to snag a booth early on the day of the World Cup final and Henry’s was a great place to watch the game! Also, in the atrium is the drink server Ivan who’s also really good. We almost never had an issue ordering 2 drinks at a time on one room card – even if they weren’t the same drink or even if one person went up to the bar to get a drink for themselves and someone else. I will reiterate what others have said on this board – you certainly don’t have to tip your drink waiter (they’re not really expecting at tip), but we have found that about $1 a drink got us superb service and no questions or problems anytime we ordered anything. Absolutely worth it for us – YMMV.

5. Overall Service

Clearly if you’re already booked on the Spirit or are looking at reviews to make a decision, you’re not likely to have the same room stewards, waiters, etc. However, our overall experience was really, really excellent. This is said with the experience of almost three dozen cruises over a half a dozen cruise lines. Dining service and drink service (along with the assistant maître d’) were real highlights. Certainly we had a couple of serving teams (for sit down breakfast or lunch) that were sub par, but they were the exception. If you get a serving team that you really like for dinner be sure to ask for them in the future. Even with anytime dining we had the same waiter and assistant waiter for almost all of our dinners and we were not limited to a set time for dining.

6. Casino experience

As we booked our cabins through the Casinos at Sea program, you can imagine that we’re “regulars” in the casino. On the Spirit the layout is interesting because the casino is all the way at the front of the ship, with just a small lounge/nightclub after the casino. Due to this there is little “pass through” traffic unlike other ships who place the casino right in the center of the middle deck to facilitate people having to pass through. Since our cruises were very port-laden (no sea days at all on the first cruise of 12 days), the activity in the casino was limited to say the least. Also, something of a surprise for us, was that every table game was a $10 minimum – even when many of these games had little to no action. On a positive note, the dealers (and even the supervisors) were very congenial and welcomed the chance to chat as they were working the games. We mostly play craps and blackjack and we found that they staff was very much on the ball, attentive and professional. A couple of times we stopped to talk with the casino manager, Bongi, and he was genuinely pleased to chat with us. A real surprising disappointment, however, was the casino “host”. Even though we booked our cabins through the casino and we spent several hours every night in the casino (sometimes as almost the only people playing), the hostess never ONCE said anything to any of us. Very surprising and not our experience on most other ships – they really should replace her with a more personable and competent individual (we made a point of conveying this to the manager). Blackjack payouts are 6:5 unless the game is $25, 3-card payouts are clearly less than most land-based casinos, etc. Craps has basically standard payouts and these really cannot be altered easily by the casino so my advice is to learn the dice game if you want the best odds for the player (still a casino advantage, of course, but the most favorable odds you can get in the casino). Our casino cards did allow us to have coffee drinks and bottled water (which the UBP does not) and this was really helpful as we were ashore every day and the weather was quite hot (35o C+ / ~90o +F) so having multiple bottles of water to bring ashore every day was a plus.

7. Ports

Trying to be a bit brief:

Livorno (Florence) – we hired a cab to drive the 7 of us to Florence and back (essentially a fixed price of $400 euro for the 7-passenger van). We had been to Florence before and opted for the Uffizi Gallery (bought timed tickets on line before we left) and shopping. We have found that the flea market area of Florence has some of the best shopping of any of the European ports. I’d suggest Uffizi (or Acadame if you want to see the David statue) for early morning if possible so you have the rest of the day to wander around.

Cannes – Probably a highlight of the trip. We hired a van and driver through Private Shore Trips before we left – expensive but worth every penny. We were picked up right on time (at 8:30 AM) after tendering ashore (they were using the lifeboats for tendering – not common), and, while our tour was scheduled for 8 hours, the driver said that since all aboard was 6 PM he could show us whatever we wanted until then for no extra charge. The cost was $750 for the day, but that comes out to just over $100 per person and it was great. Pierre drove us briefly around Cannes, then off to Nice for an hour or so, then to the picturesque Ville de France for another hour or so, then off to Monte Carlo for a couple of hours (including some time gambling in the main casino) then a stop at the quaint town of Eze before getting back to Cannes a little before 6. Would highly recommend this company and this tour guide.

Marseilles – The cruise lines don’t tell you this, but…. if you walk just outside the fence and follow the painted line on the sidewalk it will take you to the free shuttle bus to town. NCL (and other lines I’m sure) charge you about $10 per person to get shuttled to town – the free shuttle bus is about 10-15 minutes away. We just walked around town and had a great authentic French lunch in town.

Barcelona – there are two shuttle buses, one run by the city and the other (more expensive) run by NCL that take passengers from the pier to downtown– be sure to take the cheaper bus to the Christopher Columbus monument at the end of Las Ramblas. We took a cab to the main Gaudi park – be sure to get there early as the timed tickets sell out to the most popular part of the park. We showed up later and walked through the part that’s free and open to the public – still worth visiting. My older daughter and husband visited the Sagrada Familia – really the highlight of Barcelona if you haven’t seen it; they bought timed tickets on line prior to the cruise. Just walking up and down Las Ramblas is a great way to spend the day – be aware that pickpockets are rampant in Barcelona. We’ve never had a problem but diligence is important.

Palma, Majorca – We hired a driver to take us to the Monastary where Shubert had stayed about 150 years ago and had composed some of his pieces. We got there right when they opened and had the place to ourselves – I’d recommend it just for the scenery, atmosphere, etc. I think we paid about 400 euro for the two taxis to take us on a half-day tour of the island that included the monastery stop for the 7 of us – not worth it in my opinion.

Cagliari, Sardinia – We took the “tour bus” for 10 euros per person (like the HOHO bus, bus a smaller 17 passenger van). This was supposed to take you to multiple stops with an audio tour, etc. We got out at one stop to see the older part of town, the cathedral, etc. and then waited for the next van to continue with the tour. When the van went directly back to the pier, the passengers “revolted” and refused to get off the van until we had the rest of the tour – walking around town was OK, but not a highlight of the cruise.

Valetta, Malta – This was the one stop that we visited twice. The first time 5 of us went to the war rooms under the fortress. If you’re interested in WWII these are very interesting, if not it’s probably a waste of time and money. These are recently opened and are where Eisenhower, etc. oversaw the invasion by the Allies into Europe. Malta is also famous for resisting the Axis bombardment for months during the war. The view from the top of the fortress is very impressive and, if you walk away from the harbor from the park at the top of the hill about ¼ mile, you come to the main shopping street at the top of the hill – not particularly easy to find. The second time we went on the HOHO bus – what a bust. Since it was really hot, you could either sit on the upper level and get a breeze (and sunburn) or go to the lower level and be hot and nauseous (no AC on the bus). We went on 2 different routes (about 3 hours+ riding around the island)- not worth it in my opinion. Very poorly organized, unhappy passengers, just a fiasco.

Messina, Sicily – 5 of us hired a driver to take us to the town of Taormina that is just up the coast from Cagliari. The ride there and back was very much like Space Mountain (~135 kph, tight turns, weaving in and out of traffic) – not for the faint of heart. The town itself, with its Roman theater mostly still intact, is certainly worth the trip. I think we paid about 100 euro for the roundtrip and a stop of 2 hours in town. Prices for the cabs are posted at the pier, though amusingly, the prices are rubbed out on the sign that’s English…

Naples – We hired a cab driver to take us to Pompeii. We had been here before, but we did not have a guide and we really felt that we missed a lot. This time we were there when they opened (8:30 AM) and hired a guide for 2 hours right inside the main gate (about 120 euros). He was really good and in the 2 hours we were there we did not repeat any of the city that we had seen in the previous visit. (You could plan to spend the entire day here, but keep in mind that its really expansive and really hot…). After this we had our driver drop us off at the Archeological museum in Naples where most of the treasures from Pompeii are housed. Upon walking in we were greeted by a very personable guide who asked if we wanted the guided tour (60 euros for the one hour tour). This was also money well spent as our guide had a masters degree in Italian archeology and was super enthusiastic. I’d recommend both of these stops in Naples.

Turn around day in Civitavecchia

Sea day (finally…)

Dubrovnik, Croatia – Here we took a cab to the old city and did the walk along the city walls (expensive at 25 euro per person) but a great experience and wonderful views. It gets really crowded later in the day so do this first thing. After this we had a leisurely lunch and walked around the old town for a couple of hours. Dubrovnik can be VERY crowded and it’s advisable to get off the ship and get to town right away before all of the tour groups show up. Keep in mind that many shops only take Croatian currency (kuna) so a stop at an ATM is probably warranted.

Venice (overnight stop)

The signage at the pier is not good. It’s almost a mile to get to the “people mover” monorail that takes you to the edge of the city (3 euro per person), but the walk is convoluted and not well marked – ask for directions. You can certainly walk all the way to town, but the monorail saves about a mile of (unimpressive) walking. We had been to Venice before so we opted to wander around town, have an authentic lunch, etc. The further you get from St. Mark’s square, the better the shop and food prices are...

Koper, Slovenia – In Koper we just walked around town for the morning – probably the least interesting of all of the stops. We had an authentic (and inexpensive) brunch at a little restaurant, but not a stop I would rave about. Since it’s really not a “tourist” port you can get a sense of how the local people go about their days, but nothing here worth a special trip in my opinion.

Split, Croatia – The town is built around the retirement palace (huge) of Diocletian - very historic and quaint inside the palace walls. Lots of shopping, eateries, etc. and plenty of photo ops. We were here the day before Croatia was playing in the finals of the World Cup so every stall was selling shirts, flags, etc..; easy to walk to from the ship and lots to see.

Corfu, Greece – The old city is walkable (about 30 minutes from the pier) or you can take a cab (about 10 euros). Lots of shops and eateries, you can visit either of the two old fortresses or just meander around town. On our earlier visit we had walked through the fortress that closer to the old town – scenic views, but not a lot to see at the fortress itself. I’d recommend just walking through the old town for several hours – worth visiting.

Katakolon, Greece - The main attraction here is the site of the original Olympic games (Olympia) which is a little over a half an hour away. We had been there before so we opted to just walk around town, shop, stop for lunch, etc. There is really only one strip of shops (an hour or so maybe, if you walk really slowly….), though there are plenty of places to eat right along the water and the Greek food was very good and not very expensive.

Malta - see above

Sea day

Civitavecchia –

8. Back to Back cruising – A couple of days before the end of the first cruise, we were given a letter inviting us to a talk on the B2B procedures – only one member of the party has to attend; from what I had read, there has been a change from past procedures. B2B passengers are no longer required to get off the vessel – though you do have to vacate your cabin from 9 AM to mid-day so it can be cleaned. You also just stop at guest services the morning of turnaround and get new key cards – really simple. Also, since we had 2 guests registered in one cabin who were going to move to another cabin (my adult daughters were switching with their grandparents), the UBP moves with the passengers so we were able to actually able to get 4 comped UBP packages even though all 4 of us were in the same room since it was not originally booked that way.

If you are staying in the same cabin you just leave everything (naturally); if you are moving cabins (we were) they give you luggage tags to mark your bags the morning of turnaround and the stewards will just move the baggage to the new rooms. They also give you stickers to wear (“Still cruising!”) to identify you to the crew so they don’t keep telling you to get off ship. Any vouchers, coupons, OBC, etc just carries over to the next cruise. (We had one or two dining vouchers and UDP credits that weren’t used – they just carried over.) It was a real treat to go to the pool deck after breakfast and have no one there (on our cruise there were about 15 B2B cruisers – they told us that on the European itineraries they usually have 200+…+). When we wandered over to the buffet about 11 AM there was a completely stocked, ready to go buffet area with no passengers – not something we’ve ever experienced…

9. Debarkation – We were in no hurry so we put our luggage outside the cabin the night before. We had a leisurely sit down breakfast in the dining room at 7 AM and just walked off the ship about 8:15. No issues, no problems, no customs (??) just walk off – collect the bags and walk outside to where our van would pick us up. We used Airport Transfers Direct (130 euros for the 7 of us) and they were excellent. I scheduled them for 9:45 (afternoon flight home from FCO) and easily could have stayed on the ship until at least 9 AM or had them scheduled to pick us up earlier. We ended up waiting outside for an hour or more since there was zero delay in getting off the ship (most of the self-assist passengers no doubt left very early and, by just after 8 AM there were no lines at all). The grandparents were actually staying in a hotel near FCO for one more night and the shuttle driver had no issue dropping us off at the airport and then driving them to their hotel.
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Cabin Review

Balcony
Cabin BX 11650
A little cramped for more than 2 people. Third bed is a pull out couch (not a bunk bed). Not a lot of storage space. Balcony was adequate with 2 chairs & 1 small table.
Deck 9 Inside Cabins, Outside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews