My February 2018 cruise on Norwegian Spirit wasn’t exactly planned. In fact, it all started with a cheap flight. Around the holidays, I was fooling around with Skyscanner and found a deal on Norwegian Air Shuttle from nearby Fort Lauderdale, Florida non-stop to Barcelona, Spain for about $350 per person round-trip. Now normally, we use credit card points and airline miles to book free flights. But for this low price, it wasn’t even worth dipping into our cache of points. But how to best utilize this bargain-bin flight?
Colleen and I had done a land trip of Spain in 2015 and a Western Mediterranean cruise in 2011 so we didn’t want to repeat either of those. So how about a 10-night cruise to the Canary Islands, as well as the Portuguese island of Madeira? Now we’re talking! The itinerary also had two ports in Spain which we had never been to before, Malaga and Alicante.
At the time of booking, only inside cabins were available. But with such a port-intensive itinerary, we didn’t plan to spend too much time in the cabin anyway. About four weeks from departure, some balcony cabins did become available. But at a cost of almost $900 per person to upgrade, we passed.
To provide a little background for this Norwegian Spirit review, I wouldn’t exactly say that we’re avid cruisers but we do cruise once every year or two, mostly on Celebrity. This would be my first NCL cruise since I was a teenager traveling with my family on the SS Norway. Now I’m in my early 40’s. This post will focus only on the ship itself. I’ve started reviewing the ports separately elsewhere on this blog.
Boarding Norwegian Spirit
Our flight from Florida was a little late, immigration at Barcelona’s El Prat airport had a huge line, and there was a traffic jam en-route to the port. So it was about 4:15pm by the time we arrived at the cruise terminal for our 6:00pm sailing. A taxi from the airport to the cruise port is a fixed rate of €39 plus €1 per piece of luggage, by the way.
We only had carry-on bags so I can’t comment on the efficiency of having luggage delivered to the cabin. As an aside, there was a promotional offer for laundry during our cruise. You could have a whole large bag full of clothes washed and folded for only $19.99! Perfect for those who like to pack light like us.
Anyway, at our late hour of arrival, the terminal was deserted except for a skeleton crew, so check in was lightning fast. It was then that we received the bad news: The itinerary was changing drastically because of bad weather in the Canary Islands. We would be skipping Gran Canary, Tenerife, and Madeira in favor of additional ports in Spain and Morocco.
Click any photo for a larger version.
Needless to say, this was devastating. Without a doubt, the cancelled ports were the three most anticipated. There was also gossip onboard that other cruise lines, like Pullmantur, were carrying on with their Canaries itinerary anyway. To NCL’s credit, the new itinerary was filled to the brim with alternative ports instead of what could possibly have been sea days.
Norwegian Spirit Review Of Our Cabin
In short, the cabin was dated but adequate. The bathroom was large (for a cruise ship) and the shower was also good sized with a glass door instead of a curtain. Although it wasn’t the most romantic situation, we asked our cabin steward to separate the two beds. The cabin felt more spacious that way and was more functional.
On the negative side, our cabin (number 9589) was located directly above Champagne Charley’s bar where live music was played late into the night. We could hear it loud and clear enough to play “name that tune” while getting ready for bed. Fortunately, we are heavy sleepers but this location would be a nightmare for light sleepers.
To accompany the live music, we also had a couple drawers that slammed open and shut all night. Eventually, we jammed articles of clothing between the drawers to keep them closed. This helped but they still worked their way open occasionally.
The Norwegian Spirit also has some ongoing plumbing problems. Our water supply was turned off twice during the cruise from midnight – 5:00am so they could work on the plumbing. After the second time the water was cycled off, our sink stayed off until maintenance made further adjustments. Also, rather alarming mechanical noises could be heard when using some of the public restrooms around the ship.
The Public Areas
Well, the decor certainly is eclectic. Norwegian Spirit was not purpose built for NCL. Rather, it was transferred from NCL’s parent company, Star Cruises, in 2004. Previously named Superstar Leo, the ship was configured for the Asian market. NCL made almost zero changes when they took it over, so the interiors still have a rather heavy Asian influence. However, certain areas have more of an old-school ocean liner vibe, with brass, rich wood veneers and faux wrought iron railings.
At 75,000 gross tons and 2,000 passengers, Norwegian Spirit is a fairly small ship by modern standards. Personally, we enjoy a more traditional cruise experience so the lack of bowling alleys, zip lines, and surfing simulators did not bother us one bit. The smaller size makes it easier to get around and to meet fellow passengers. The ship was extremely clean and well maintained for its age.
Norwegian Spirit Review Of Beverage Package
One of the perks we received when booking this cruise was a free “Ultimate Beverage Package”. This covers an unlimited number of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks up to $15 each. The normal price of the Ultimate Beverage Package is $89 per person plus 20% gratuity ($17.80) per person per day.
There were multiple things that I really detested about NCL’s beverage package. In spite of being the most expensive beverage package of any major cruise line, NCL does not include premium coffees or bottled water. So a huge number of passengers were filling their own water bottles directly from dispensers in the buffet area even though there were clearly posted signs forbidding it because of cross contamination. We saw crew members observe this happening but not stopping people.
Another thing I hated about the UBP was the gratuities. Yes, all cruise lines charge an additional gratuity when you buy a beverage package. But normally when you get it for free as a perk, the gratuity is already included/covered as part of the promotion. Not so with NCL. We had to pay $17.80 per day x 2 people x 10 days = $356 total for our “free” beverage package. That’s in addition to the standard gratuities of $13.50 per person per day for the cabin stewards, waiters, etc.
Now I know you’re thinking that $356 doesn’t sound so bad for unlimited drinks for 10 days. But also consider than we could have booked a lower priced “Sail Away” fare that didn’t include any perks and just bought drinks a’la carte. In hindsight, we probably would’ve been financially ahead by doing that. You really need to drink alot to make the beverage package worthwhile. Even though it’s “free”, you are paying a higher fare to get it and the gratuities are pricey. Colleen and I are usually pretty enthusiastic drinkers, but it was difficult to overindulge with an ambitious itinerary of ports like we had.
My last gripe is that a 10% VAT (tax) was added to any charge whenever the ship was in Spanish waters, which was quite often. So even if you had a “free” drink via the beverage package, you paid 10% of the menu price of the drink. We have cruised numerous times in Europe and never paid any VAT onboard when using a beverage package. I’m not sure whether the other cruise lines don’t enforce this policy, whether it’s a new policy, or whether other lines simply absorb the VAT or what? But the extra $2-3 per round and having to sign a receipt (rather than just swipe your card) got annoying.
I almost forgot about beer! The beer selection was pretty poor and comprised almost entirely of macros with the lone exception of Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’. Regular Lagunitas IPA was frequently substituted for Little Sumpin’ even though it wasn’t on the menu. Even though they exploded in size, I’m still a fan of Lagunitas. Their beers are always reliably solid and you could certainly do alot worse for a “go-to” beer for 10 days. Henry’s Pub offered Bass Ale on draft for those who like such things.
Meals on Norwegian Spirit
Spoiler alert: We didn’t dine in any of the specialty restaurants so I can’t comment on those. We dined in the two main dining rooms for all ten nights. Of the two, we preferred the classic Windows dining room at the rear of the ship. The other dining room, The Garden Room, was more cramped and darker. More of a “clubby” feel, I guess. Nonetheless, we ate in Garden Room a few times anyway for a change of scenery. Also, they stay open 30 minutes later than Windows if you like to dine really late, which we did a couple times. The two dining rooms share the same kitchen and offer exactly the same menu.
I thought the meals themselves were good but not great. We never had a phenomenal dish, but we never really had a bad dish either. I will say that while the presentation/plating is nice, the ingredients are pretty thrifty. There are very few steaks or chops offered. Almost all meat was sliced from roasts and most fish was thin filets of farm raised like barramundi. Things like sliders and mozzarella sticks showed up on the evening menus too. At least there was a strip steak offered every night on the “classics” menu.
But don’t get the wrong idea… The kitchen did the best job possible with what they had to work with. We always looked forward to and enjoyed dinner time. Service was usually excellent too, and never worse than mediocre. We ate several breakfasts in Windows also. I always prefer breakfast in the dining room to the chaos of the buffet but the service at breakfast was very slow, so not the best choice in you’re in a hurry.
Things To Do on Norwegian Spirit
I thought the entertainment was a strong point for NCL. We are not huge fans of production shows but the few that we attended were well executed and kept my attention. In addition to the production shows, the Stardust Theater also hosted a violinist, a vocalist, and a hypnotist throughout the cruise. Besides the happenings in the Stardust, there was always live music to be found in one or more venues from around 6:00 pm onward. A small nitpick I had is that some of the performers went a little overboard with backing tracks. It was almost like watching karaoke!
Besides trivia, there weren’t many activities during the day which didn’t revolve around shopping, bingo, the casino, or the spa. If you would like to read the “freestyle daily” activity sheets, I scanned them all and posted them here. But for us, this cruise was all about fully exploring the ports of call, so we didn’t have a ton of free time anyway. On sea days, we went to the fitness center which was small, but never got too crowded.
Summary of Norwegian Spirit Review
Overall, we have many fond memories from this cruise in spite of the heartbreaking changes to the itinerary. We really liked the intimate size and uniqueness of Norwegian Spirit. Although it certainly is a little dated, that somehow manages to add to the charm. Unfortunately, we weren’t crazy about NCL and felt like there was alot more “nickel and diming” than we’re used to from other cruise lines. I might return to NCL under the right circumstances but I certainly wouldn’t seek them out.
If you want to see all 60 of my Norwegian Spirit photos, check out my flickr album.
Have you cruised on Norwegian Spirit or thinking about it? Let me know in the comments section!