The 2,016-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 an ultramodern package. Given this ship is only used for port intensive itineraries, even active cruisers are unlikely to miss the bells and whistles.
Though Norwegian Spirit is one of the line's oldest ships, it has been well looked after with thoughtful and regular refurbishments. Staircases have wood and iron railings, the soaring atrium has glass elevators and the color palette is more mellow than over-the-top (no neon tones as on some newer Norwegian Cruise Line vessels). 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.
While Norwegian Spirit is in excellent condition, the ship does show its age in certain areas, largely due to outdated decor. Some of the ship's original Asia-inspired design details -- think plenty of burnished gold and warrior statues guarding the restaurants -- from its days as Malaysia-based Star Cruises' SuperStar Leo are looking out of date. So too are the cabins, which are beautifully maintained but decked out in '90s hues with pastel bathroom tiles that are so behind the times, they'll likely be in back in fashion again soon.
That said, you're unlikely to notice these things (even those terrible fish and shell tiles in the bathroom) after a few days. Food is impressive across all dining venues, not just those with a surcharge, and itineraries feature perks that are not always offered on other big ships in Europe. On our cruise, an overnight stay in Venice and late departure from Valetta in Malta were notable highlights.
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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. It's almost as if the crew try that little bit harder to make up for the fact that Spirit is a slightly older ship. 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.
The majority of passengers on Norwegian Spirit are from North America. The rest are a mixture of people from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. The shipboard crowd ranges from toddlers to seniors, with many in the middle range. 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. Family groups choose this ship for the hundreds of connecting staterooms, although the somewhat dated children's facilities may not suit those with under 12s who expect the latest in children's shipboard entertainment. Teens who enjoy exploring onshore with their parents during the day and hanging out onboard with new-found friends in the evening should have a ball.
Overall, the onboard vibe is casual and relaxed. Shorts are allowed in The Garden Room dining room after 5 p.m. while the Windows dining room is reserved for those who want to dress up a little at night, but it's not a formal ship. In the evening, women favor closed-toe shoes or smart sandals, knee-length dresses, pants and blouses, while men don collared shirts and khakis. Norwegian ships don't have formal nights, but each sailing offers at least one "Dress Up or Not Night," on which passengers can dress up if they want to.