We arrived at the Barcelona Cruise Port terminal to board the Norwegian Spirit at 11:30 PM. There, the Spanish personnel were courteous and mindful of the fact we were pushing our child on a stroller. The delicious pound cakes provided certainly made the waiting to board the ship more pleasant. There were refreshments that included coffee and orange juice as well.
We were Platinum-level NCL Latitude cruisers, but it still seemed to take a tad longer than it should to begin check-in. After about a 15 minute wait to get our turn, the process began. As we U.S. citizens, we had to give up our passports, though we were prepared for it. Only citizens of the European Union did not have to surrender the documentation. A "receipt" was given to us to retrieve the passports on the final sea day of the cruise, two days prior to disembarkation.
We received the boarding group number of 5, and after about another 15 minutes of waiting, were able to set foot upon the vessel. It was about 12:20 PM at this point, and it was a pleasant surprise to learn that our cabin was ready. After dropping off our bags, we headed to Raffles Court, the ship's buffet, to eat lunch. It was not overly crowded and was certainly not a stressful situation when it came to looking for a table.
Overall, the embarkation process was not bad. It was not as robust and quick compared to Oasis of the Seas, but there was no headache involved. The only hiccup during the process was when we were, after displaying our Platinum Latitudes key cards, allowed inside the Priority Waiting lounge at port, but then turned away by a staffer inside informing us that only guests of suites were allowed.
Norweigan Spirit Inside Cabin 8503 Review
The first thing you notice upon walking into this cabin is the Hawaiian-theme painting that hang over the bed, kind of where a porthole would be if it were an oceanview room. On other NCL cruise ships we have been on, there were 2 desk spaces. Unfortunately, on the spirit, there was only one desk and it was tiny, barely enough room for a laptop and chargers. We had to resort to using the orange chair opposite of the desk for "storage". On the other hand, the bed was comfortable and the bathroom was very functional. The shower door did require unusual force to move, however. Drawers and doors in general were also a tad too noisy to operate.
Speaking of noise- the biggest drawback of this stateroom (and I would imagine cabins around this particular one in deck 8 forward) was the late-night clamor streaming from the Maharini's Night Club below. When we booked the cruise, it was for an Inside Guaranteed. After noticing the location that was assigned, we tried to change cabins, but was not allowed. The travel agency we used, American Discount Travel, informed us that NCL had promised that noise "would not be a problem", but unfortunately that was not the case. Starting at a bit past 10 PM, and all then way until well past midnight, the booming bass can be heard quite clearly inside the room. Luckily, wearing ear plugs helped, but due to this problem, we absolutely cannot recommend this cabin nor the surrounding ones to any who are sensitive to noise.
In addition, a booming sound that occurred every few minutes or so also plagued the ship when it was en route to Naples from Rome on Night #5, causing walls to vibrate. Very strong vibrations were often felt in this cabin when the ship was docking.
At 75 thousand gross tons, the Spirit was the smallest cruise ship we have been on. The vessel, originally birthed as Superstar Leo, was also nearly 17 years old, and it was showing its age in the public areas. The elevator buttons looked ancient, and some were missing labels. The photo center also did not have a centralized way for you to access all of your pictures. Customers needed to walk around and have your eyes wade through a sea of other people's photos old-school style in order to locate their own. There was a basketball court on the aft of the ship on deck 13, but unfortunately the dribbling of the ball would cause banging sounds clearly heard at Raffles Court, the buffet restaurant of the Spirit, located below on deck 12.
There were also some quirks to the ship. Even though both the main dining rooms were on deck 6, guests could not access them via that level. Instead, you could reach them only by going down the mid-ship and aft stairs on deck 7. In addition, on deck 8, which was often times busy, there was no walkway on the port side of the ship. Also, in the theater, guests come in through the front of the stage, which could result in some awkward moments when the show has started. Often times you will see late-comers walk in front of the stage in search for seating. It was also odd and inconvenient to not have any restrooms right outside the theater on deck 7 or 8. Also a seemingly lack of space forced some indoor activities such as Zumba dance classes outside on the pool deck.
On the bright side, there were nice features aboard the Spirit. The soaringly tall atrium ceiling was appreciated. It had an interesting black backdrop used by 3 glass elevators that created a striking effect.
The upper decks at the back of the Spirit consisted of curved, stadium-like multi-level seating that overlook the Pirate-theme Buccaneer's Pool (designed for kids), and of course providing a great view of the ocean or port area behind the ship.
There was a nice mix of shows/entertainers for this 12 day cruise. Watching the Flamenco dancers makes one feel like you were in Madrid- very appropriate for a Mediterranean cruise that left from Barcelona.
The magician duo of Sanders (he reminded us of Guy Fieri) and Alison performed tricks with a lot of flair.
The Norwegian Spirit Production Cast (dancers/singers) were energetic, and Duo Yalba entertained with a surprising number of funky instruments from around the world. Ancora was a very talented quartet with powerful and beautiful voices.
"Elements" was the highlight, however. It was a visual feast for the eyes that combined that talents of many main stage performers, including the magicians, acrobats, and the dancers/singers. You do not want to miss it- they had it on the second to the last night of the cruise.
The cruise director was Gio Artavia from Costa Rica. He was not the most charismatic, but did a good job informing guests of what to expect in port the next day, which was helpful since there were so many places the ship visited.
I have to mention the captain and the hotel director here as well because they were certainly part of the entertainment experience on board. We enjoyed Captain Lars Bengtsson's daily announcements on the ship's position because he would embellish the info with stories and fun facts. He and hotel director Amando da Silva also participated in several events such as a cake decorating contest and drink mixing.
One thing we missed, however, was some good laughs as there were no comedians onboard performing during the cruise, that is if you did not count the Captain or the Hotel Director!
Norwegian Spirit Food
Dining was a mixed bag. At the Raffles Court buffet, there were many stew/curry dishes that had dry/tough meat. Despite good flavor, it seemed that the proteins were overcooked too often. The selection for lunch and dinner was also the worst underwhelming we have seen on cruise ships. They did have a German theme night at the Raffles Terrace which was very enjoyable.
Also, on the final night of the cruise they also had a seafood theme night which included Ahi Tuna.
For breakfast the Raffles Court was just fine and we liked how made-to-order omelets were cranked out quickly at multiple stations. Word of warning though for those of you going on excursions- expect huge crowds at Raffles when days when the vessel docks in a port in the morning. Unless you get to the buffet by 6 AM, you will likely have difficulty finding a table.
The experience at the main dining rooms (MDR) Windows & Gardens was more in par with other NCL ships we have been on. The entrees were usually good to acceptable, and it was nice to experience a "Regional Specialty" dish nightly. Desserts in general were quite tasty. In addition, the butter they give you for dinner is from France, and you can truly taste the quality in it.
Three items really stood out from the MDR, and they were the following:
Garlic Jumbo Shrimp with Jasmine Rice
Roasted Tom Turkey with Sweet Potatoes
The super-creamy Strawberry Ice Cream which shames the soft-serve alternatives on many other ships
We dined at two specialty restaurants during the voyage. Le Bistro was a bit underwhelming compared to our previous experiences aboard other NCL cruise ships' French restaurant. Shogun, the Spirit's Asian specialty restaurant, was pretty good. We especially liked the Chengdu Spiced Lamb & Szechuan Braised Beef entrees.
See more of the entrees/dishes from the Spirit (and other Norwegian Cruise Line ships) here:
The process of disembarking the Spirit went as smoothly as could be. We woke up a bit before 8 AM, got ready and exited the cabin by half past the hour. Raffles Court was busy but again I was impressed that getting an omelet cooked to order was a fairly speedy process with little waiting in line. Another big positive was that breakfast did not end until 9:30. After eating, we then took some photos outside, then relaxed on deck 8 mid-ship until 10:25 AM or so, and walked off the ship. Kudos to the staff of the ship for helping alleviate what could be a stressful experience.
Conclusion and Rating
Overall, we had an amazing time on this cruise. The itinerary for the 12 Day Mediterranean was nothing short of fantastic with 9 ports of call, enabling a terrific overview of southern Europe. If you were on the Spirit for a different, less impressive itinerary, you may not have as good of a time due to some of the shortcomings we mentioned earlier in this review. Service was good- our room steward Marianne, especially, was very friendly and did a great job. Our 4 year-old son also loved the Splash Academy (the ship's kid's area) for the Spirit, so kudos to the staff there as well.
We will rate our experience a hearty 4.5 out of 5 stars, but again if visiting the ports of the cruise were not not our primary objective, our score may be a 4 out of 5 instead.
Amazing itinerary 12 day Mediterranean
Nice sailing away party
Very good Flamenco dance show by troupe from Madrid, Spain
Main Dining Room Dinner desserts were quite good
Tasty Strawberry Ice Cream
Free activities for kids such as cupcake decorating
Nice extra lunch options during sea days (e.g. pool BBQ & Bavarian style feast)
Splash Academy had fun activities for kids
Nice variety of shows in the theater
Good service at specialty restaurants
"Elements" show was one of the best we've seen on cruises
Chocoholics Buffet was a delight as on other NCL Ships
Multiple (4, in fact) omelet stations for breakfast at Raffles Court buffet
Captain and Hotel Director had good humor and charisma
Relaxing disembarkation process
Cruise Director gave informative tidbits about upcoming ports
Very limited desk space in cabin
Cabin desk position interferes with bunk bed ladder placement
Booming bass from nightclub below can be heard clearly in the cabin
Loud bathroom door and drawers
shower door takes effort to open
below-average selection at Raffles Court (buffet) for lunch and dinner; e.g. broccoli or cauliflower only made appearance a few days
long 15 minute walk from dock to port exit in Istanbul; no tram was provided
no lobster at main dining room
Time at Mykonos cut short by 30 minutes
few tables available for 3+ seating next to window at Windows restaurant
Quirky layout on certain areas of the ship
No comedian shows
BTW I had the pleasure of privilege of going on a behind the scenes tour of the Spirit- you can read about what I experienced here: