One of the smaller Norwegian ships somewhat dated but still a good value for bargain shoppersBest For People Who Want
Multiple restaurants with open seating dining; Las Vegas-style revues and staged Broadway musicals; 24-hour fitness facilities; full-service spa open late at night; a sports bar with live ESPN broadcasts on multiple screens; terrific facilities for kids and teens.Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
The intimacy found aboard smaller ships; traditional cruise dining and dress rules; not to be pestered to attend art auctions and buy, buy, buy at the daily sales in the shops;Onboard Experience
When she sailed as the SuperStar Leo for NCL's parent company, Star Cruises, Spirit was the largest ship in Star's Asian fleet. Transferred permanently to NCL in 2004, Spirit now sails year-round from New York to the Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida.
There's a variety of accommodation, with many interconnecting cabins ideal for family cruising. Sixty-five percent of outside cabins have private balconies, while several inside facing cabins overlook the Grand Centrum. Anytime dining is offered in seven restaurants, including both the two main and French, Japanese and Chinese alternative choices, which isn't even to mention Raffles Lido Buffet or the 24-hour Blue Lagoon Cafe. There's a wrap-around promenade, expansive kids' and teen facilities, a two-deck 1,000-seat show lounge, disco, cinema, casino, Roman Spa & Fitness Center, and observation lounge. The sports deck has a jogging track, golf driving range, and a court that basketball, volleyball and tennis enthusiasts alike can use, albeit probably not simultaneously.Decor
Asian artwork, a reminder of the ship's past, remains on display in public areas and suites. You'll find no bright neon here, as on Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Dawn; a generally more muted color scheme makes the ship feel a bit more upscale than the rest of the fleet.Public Rooms
The six-deck-high central atrium, the Grand Centrum, is the ship's social focal point. A black marble floor leads to a grand and elegant staircase, which ascends to the shops above, and to Champagne Charlie's lounge, which features music in the evenings. There are upholstered chairs and divans for conversation on the starboard side of the Grand Centrum, and, on the port side, the Cafe, a small lounge serving coffee, cakes, cookies and other bar drinks. Behind the staircase is a black marble fountain that can be admired from the atrium's three glass-enclosed elevators as they rise to higher floors.
Galaxy of the Stars, located on Deck 12 forward, is Spirit's vast, bright observation lounge. Floor-to-ceiling glass surrounds it on three sides. A small bandstand and dance floor are in the middle, a large bar near the entrance; a circular stairway descends to a bridge viewing area, and a computerized navigational chart on a raised platform allows you to ensure that you're heading in the right direction.
Charlie's Childcare Center and Buccaneer's Wet and Wild are the best kids' areas you'll find on anything but a Disney ship. A virtual shipboard amusement park, it features tunnels and tubes, a pool complex with slides and fountains and pirate muskets blasting water, and the best game arcade on the seven seas.Restaurants
There are two main dining rooms onboard Norwegian Spirit: the Garden Room and Windows, which evokes the luxurious ocean liners of yesteryear with its hushed candlelit elegance and gigantic Palladian windows.
NCL's "Freestyle Cruising" allows passengers to choose when and with whom to dine. Beyond the traditional dining rooms, there's Cagney's Steakhouse, on Deck 7 behind the Grand Centrum, which charges $20 per-person and serves steaks and chops and whole lobsters in a 1930s-ish setting. In Le Bistro, NCL's French restaurant (surcharge $15), appetizers include escargot in garlic butter, and a generous array of salads is offered. Order chocolate fondue -- chunks of fresh fruit served in a pineapple "boat" with a pot of melted chocolate to dip it in - for dessert. The Thai/Japanese/Chinese Shogun ($12.50) serves gorgeous Asian-fusion dishes. The complex also includes a Teppanyaki room and sushi bar (a la carte pricing applies), and a Tatami Room where eight guests sit on the floor to dine.
The least impressive of Spirit's dining areas, The Lido buffet, often has long lines. In the evenings, it's converted into a fee-free Italian restaurant -- La Trattoria.
Late-night snacks are available in the casino. The Blue Lagoon serves up burgers, fish and chips, and wok dishes 24 hours a day. Room service is simple, with mostly cold items, exceptions being ramen noodle soup, made-to-order pizza, and grilled cheese sandwiches.Tipping
NCL automatically adds a fixed service charge of $10 to the shipboard accounts of passengers over 13 to make service personnel feel appreciated; children between three and 12 are charged $5. Those under three get off scot-free.Entertainment
The Stardust Theater , with excellent sight lines, presents elaborate, colorful and sometimes even exciting shows. Champagne Charlie's and Galaxy of the Stars feature live music daily; there's dancing in the latter. There's music in Celebrity Disco at night as well, of course, and a D.J. spinning popular dance tunes in Maharini's.
Popular on-board activities range from craft lessons (beaded geckos!) to learning a foreign language (Spanish and Tagalog, the language of the Philippines) to games, trivia contests, and bingo. The casino, Maharaja's, offers a huge array of slots and table games. The art auctions are popular too.Cabins
There are six basic cabin types: insides, portholes, windows, balconies, junior suites and suites, all of which feature more assertive colors than the public areas. Indeed, the bedspreads are downright garish. Almost all of the rooms on this ship are interconnecting, making them ideal for friends or family groups. Double metal doors (as opposed to the single composite doors in most other ships) minimize sound seepage between adjoining rooms. But although they are virtually soundproof from adjacent cabins, cabins on Deck 11 can be particularly noisy, with scraping chairs from the Lido Deck midship and aft, or loud nighttime music from Galaxy of the Stars forward.
Outside cabins have a large picture window. Balcony staterooms have a full-wall sliding glass door, floor to ceiling, side to side, and an exterior balcony enclosure made of glass. Balconies are narrow (40 inches), but wide enough to accommodate a white plastic chair, a short lounger and a little table.
Because the ship was designed and built for the Asian market, chairs and handrails, the bathroom sink is lower, and the beds are all lower than most strapping native English speakers are accustomed to, and the furniture just slightly smaller. It isn't that someone's slipped something in your drink!Fitness/Spa
The gym is small but well equipped. The fitness center contains two small swim-against-the-current pools. The two sexes have separate changing rooms, relaxation rooms, and steam and sauna rooms. The women's side is gorgeous and expansive, with a window-lined relaxation room along the port side. There are a couple of televisions and several comfy chairs and sofas. The Roman Spa, operated by Mandara (Steiner of London in disguise), offers treatments ranging from hot stone massages to body-cleansing wraps, albeit in tiny treatment rooms. The mid-range for massages seemed to be around $100, but specials are regularly mentioned in the Freestyle Daily, especially on port days.
The outside promenade on Deck 7 circles the ship and is the ideal place for a walking circuit; the Sports Deck has a running track (pleasantly unobtrusive, as it is set off from sunning areas by a wall; six circuits to a mile), basketball and volleyball courts, and a golf cage. Ping-Pong tables are located at the aft of Deck 11. The ship's Sports at Sea program offers logo items to those who complete their programs.
The one swimming pool on the Lido Deck, big enough for early-morning lap swims, is nicely laid out and attractive, but can feel a bit oversubscribed in mid-afternoon.Children's Facilities
This ship is a dream come true for juvenile passengers, with approximately one-fifth of Deck 10 allocated to them. The kids' center itself is divided into several age-appropriate rooms. Then there is the video arcade to keep older children and teens distracted for hours, and a teen disco. The little folks' area features climbing tubes and tunnels, a ball crawl, and lots of soft toys, all in bright primary colors. There's an outdoor activity area and a crafts section. In Buccaneer's Wet and Wild there's an onboard water park, with a pool surrounded with caves and a mountain, two small slides that require entry through a tunnel, pirate's cannons that shoot water, and even a children's hot tub. An amphitheater has been installed between Decks 10 and 11 at the aft end so parents can sit and watch their kids play while getting hammered on drinks from the Raffles bar. There is no charge for the center, which welcomes children from age 2 to 16.Attire
The designated dress code is "resort casual," which for ladies means sundresses, blouses, sweaters, slacks and skirts, and for their male companions shirts with collars, such as polo shirts, and khakis or trousers. Dressing up for formal nights is optional, as informal attire is permitted in several areas, but jeans, shorts, T-shirts, swimsuits and beachwear are forbidden in the restaurants after 5:30 p.m. On the one formal night per one-week cruise, most men say to hell with it and put on a dark suit instead of a tux.
My youngest daughter turned 21 this month and wanted to see Bourbon St in New Orleans as a 21 year old. We decided to take her and three friends from college to New Orleans for an afternoon and evening there, and sail out of New Orleans on the Norwegian Spirit for 7 days to Costa Maya, Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel. I have booked lots of customers on this ship for this year and wanted to see it firsthand. I recalled that it was originally Superstar Leo sailing in Asia for Star Cruises, NCL's parent company. It was renamed and moved to NCL about 6 years ago and renamed Norwegian Spirit. It began in Alaska, and later was doing alternating 5 and 9 day Caribbean cruises, and I had looked forward to sailing on it.
We have sailed on Norwegian Dream, Star, Jewel, Pearl, Sky (twice), Epic, and Pride of America out of 64 total cruises. I can honestly say I have enjoyed every one of them. While my wife is a traditional cruiser, we like Freestyle Cruising, dining whenever we like. My wife dresses for dinner no matter what line weare on, and we enjoy music for listening and dancing, especially ballroom style.
After the necessary stops in New Orleans at Acme Oyster House, Bourbon St in the afternoon and evening, dinner on Decatur Street, and morning coffee and bengiettes as Café DuMonde Sunday morning, we arrived at the cruise terminal about 12:30pm. The ship had been a bit later arriving due to the high water in the Mississippi. By arriving then, and thanks to a Latitudes embarkation desk, we were promptly processed and aboard before 1pm. The cabins were to be ready by 2pm, but they began calling them by decks about 1:45pm. We did the customary tour of the ship and taking photos before the bulk of passengers arrived in order to get good photos of all the venues.
Our cabin was a category BA balcony on deck 11. Storage drawers were at a premium, and there was only one bedside table, but there proved to be adequate storage in the closet, on shelves in there, and in some drawers below the coffee/ice counter. TV did not have interactive account monitoring. There was the usual coffee maker, but no refrigerator. I especially like the way most NCL bathrooms are set up, with the toilet in one side of the bathroom with a door closing it off, the sink in the center, and a shower stall to the right with a sliding door. The condition of everything was fine. There was a little marking in some of the shower tiling, but generally everything was very attractive.
The four girls were in an inside cabin on deck 10, and it had two twins, a Pullman, and a rollaway. Interestingly, they didn't have the partitioned bathroom, and the bathroom seemed roomier therefore.
The fact that the ship was designed for the Asian market originally is only really noticeable on the deck where the Steakhouse, and Asian/teppanyaki restaurant is located, as even the steakhouse has an oriental décor. The teppanyaki table only seats 40 per night, and must be reserved starting at 8am the day before. It fills up fast. They were offering discounted pricing at all the specialty restaurants during May and June, and although we had originally thought we might use one or two, we all found the food in the main dining rooms excellent, with good variety, and ate there every night. Sometimes my wife and I ate by ourselves and sometimes with the girls. They ate in the Windows dining room every night and loved the food and service. We ate in the Garden dining room one night and while the atmosphere was more subdued, the service was not as good and the glare of the entry to and from the pantry/galley by the staff caused repeated distractions and lighting. That was not the case in the Windows dining room, where the service was outstanding. The Maitre De', Louis P, stopped by every night to talk with my wife and me and even gave me his card with his phone number. He even arranged a surprise birthday cake for my daughter and on another night a cake for the girls who had just graduated. The girls enjoyed a water nicknamed “Naughty, Naughty” and managed to request and get him assigned every night. To give you an idea of the food, my wife eats seafood every night and loved the selection. It started with lobster and shrimp the first night, and she never had to repeat the fish choice once. My daughter, a bit picky, loved the salmon on the always available menu and had it three times. I enjoyed lamb twice, osso bucco, English loin, turkey, and a sirloin from the always available menu that was excellent. They even had gravlox and escargot as appetizers.
The Garden Café, the buffet area on deck 12, had at least 4 different stations preparing eggs to order in the morning, as well as all the normal stations. Seating on the starboard side on the rear was below the basketball court, and I don't recommend seating there. There was amply staff and supervision, the tables were promptly cleared, and we never experienced any difficulty finding seating. At night a portion of one side of the Garden Café is closed off and becomes the Italian Trattoria, with appropriate décor and lighting.
There were three excellent production shows, one with a touch of the Circe' style, an illusionist/magician who did several shows, and some comedians. I was very pleased with the quality of the shows. There were so many activities during the day that we were interested in that we couldn't do them all. A wonderful couple, Arvin and Emily, entertain in Champagne Charlie's most evenings, and even participated in one the afternoon shows. The orchestra throughout the week did sessions in the Galaxy club on deck 13 and in Champagne Charlie's. That is our kind of dance music, and we loved it. There was the customary “White Night” one evening in the Galaxy Lounge, plenty of late night activity in Maharaja's Night Club, and even a toga party on the pool deck one night. The ship is easy to get around, and the only confusion I had was that the theatre is all the way aft, instead of forward like on most ships. I'm not a fan of lots of announcements, and thought there were a lot on this ship.
Debarkation on NCL ships is my favorite: you don't have to vacate the cabins until about 10, you don't have to drag carryon's to breakfast, and everything goes very smoothly. They did have colored tag announcements, but everyone is off between 9 and 9:45, or earlier if they can carry their own luggage off.
A word on ports. In Costa Maya my wife and I decided to skip the cruiseline developed port, but walk outside and observe the new shops set up out there, even a Senor Frog's, and then took a taxi for $2 per person into Mahahual, the nearby local town that was devastated by a hurricane in 2007. It has recovered and we walked the entire boardwalk to check it out. We found that you could get an hour massage for $20, or go snorkeling for an hour including gear for $20. Price for 2 margaritas, 3 beers, and plate of nachos on the beach in free tables and lounge chairs was $21. Check out http://www.sandalsandskis.com/Tropicante.html You can even reserve space in advance there. We were fortunate that there was only one ship in port.
In Roatan we chose to try Bananarama Resort. For $30 per person they pick you up in a van, take you to the resort on the beach on the West Bay were the other resorts are, and include a drink and a chair all day. For $5 more they include snorkel gear. There is an excellent snorkeling site and reef that you can walk into the water and swim out to, nearby. The best snorkeling I've found in Roatan. Lunch for 6 and a few beverages was only $73.
In Costa Maya, instead of reef snorkeling….my favorite….we did ca ve tubing. There are many companies offering it, including the cruise lines. We had been referred to one that offered a private van transfer (about 1 hour each way), a guide and after 30 minute hike to the cave, the tubing, followed by good buffet lunch, and the ride back. There is a place to change to dry clothes.
In Cozumel, the girls wanted to see Chankanaab National Park. I found a coupon online for $2 per person discount. They now require all swimmers to use life vests, which they will provide free. Snorkel gear is $10 per person. We did observe the free sea lion show up close and observe the dolphin encounters that are now included in the entrance fee. The NCL ships berth at Punta Langusta pier, right downtown, across the street from Carlos & Charlie's (downstairs) and Senor Frogs (upstairs).
In summary, we had great food, outstanding service and entertainment, more activities than we could participate in, excellent weather, and one of our best seven day cruises in quite some time. The Norwegian Spirit is a GREAT value. The ship is even scheduled for a refurbishment later this year and is scheduled to sail in Europe next year.
First let me say that I have been on over 20 cruises with various lines. I read the Cruisemates reviews and wonder how people can write negative things about cruise ships we have really enjoyed. Bottom line, I'm very positive. But while cruising on NCL's Spirit I had to work very hard to remain positive. Embarkation started out terribly. The ship was three hours late getting in because of a medical emergency and so debarkation was late making embarkation really behind schedule. The lines were understandably very, very long and NCL didn't have the people to process as quickly as needed. It took over two hours and a half of standing in line to finally get on the ship. It was the worst I'd ever seen, but still, understandable. What surprised me is the only recognition of this mess was a brief apology by the Captain at one of the shows. I think one free drink would have been a nice gesture or at least something to acknowledge how miserable the experience was. Very poor public relations!
Our cabin was on the 9th deck with a veranda. The veranda was the smallestwe have ever seen and the cabin at 170 square feet was really small when we folded out the hide-a-bed for my daughter. The room became wall-to-wall bed. Storage and drawer space was at a minimum so we had to live partially out of our suit cases. They need more drawers and cubby's, but the room was so small, it isn't a real possibility. When compared to Carnival, Holland American, RCL, or Princess the rooms were significantly smaller and more crowded.
The ship itself felt small. The public spaces were small for the size of the passenger size of the ship. The buffet area was always jammed and tables scarce. We often had to eat outside, which was OK because we were in the Western Caribbean. The Lounge Show area, Galaxy of the Stars, was really small and over-used. When they had a lounge show (Second City) the place was jammed and sight lines were really bad. Seating was extremely limited.
Anytime dining worked much better than we would have expected as we only had to wait in line one night. We had avoided NCL since they started the "Free-Style" approach but for getting a table, it worked. The food was at best uninspired and mediocre. They had a fixed menu with about five items they served all week. I think this made them feel they could limit the nightly menu to only 5 or six choices. I won't say that every meal was awful, I did have a couple good items, but the selection was just not exciting. One night I had the 8 ounce New York that was on the every-night menu because there was nothing I wanted on the menu. Eight ounces may be an exaggeration. It was more like a small steak you'd get on a steak sandwich at the local diner. If they pushed it to 12 ounces it might have been better.
One night we went Cagney's, the specialty steak house with a $25 extra charge ($35 if you wanted the lobster). We were on RCL's Mariner of the Sea's in March so we compared the two steak houses. No, comparison! The one on Mariner of the Sea's was a 10 while Carney's was a 5. I had to send my steak back twice as I ordered it rare and it came out medium to medium-well.
In several reviews I read people say that the passengers were a little lower class than experienced on other ships. I know that sound s snobbish, but I have to agree. I think the Free Style concept must appeal to people who have little sense of taste. On the one "Formal or Not Night"(Remember, in "Free Style" cruising you do whatever you want) I saw a few people dressing nicely but I observed only one other man wearing a tux. We sat next to people in shorts and a t-shirt while we were dressed in formal attire.
Several reviews talk about how cruise ships are constantly trying to sell things. NCL takes this to a whole new level. They have so many extra activities that are available for a fee, you begin you wonder if anything is included in your fare. I expect this on every cruise ship, but NCL really makes it really annoying.
On a positive note, the entertainment was the best we have ever experienced. The shows were all wonderful and the dancers are the hardest working group I've ever seen. This alone could almost make me consider going on NCL again. Note, I said almost! But seriously, the shows were the best at sea.
The crew was also extremely good. They were extremely friendly and warm and seemed to be enjoying themselves. The joked with the passengers and laughed a lot. The group leaders on the ship and the people in HR for NCL should be recognized for assembling a great crew. I wish we had assigned dining times and tables as I would have loved to really get to know the servers better but with "Free Style" we had different servers every night.
We had a great cruise despite the shortcomings of the ship (Spirit) and the mediocre food. We enjoyed Mahogany Bay (Roatan) because we just walked down to the beach and relaxed. How can you not have a good time when it is December and you are sitting on a beach in 80 degree weather when it is 25 degrees at home.
One last positive comment. The shopping consultant, Riishi, comes off kind of arrogant during his presentations. But, we met him in Diamonds International (Cozumel) as we were looking for a new diamond and he was an incredible help. He really knows diamonds and if you are considering a new diamond you must talk to him and enlist his help. Or, maybe not, as our cruise ended up being very expensive.
Bottom line, I want to recommend NCL because I liked the people and the shows, but there are so many better options out there. I believe that NCL really needs to enlist a group of experienced cruisers to form a focus group and give them feedback on what they can do to improve.
Our room steward service was excellent. However we thought the food a little bland. We took an inside cabin which we will NOT do again. The entertainment was superb. But we found the Port & Shopping Consultant, did not live up to all the things he said. We were disappointed with the raffle system which sometimes never took place. But all in all,the cruise was definitely worth it for the price.