August 2015 - 12 Night Grand Mediterranean (Barcelona To Venice) Cruise on Norwegian Spirit
This is our 2nd cruise aboard the Norwegian Spirit. The Itinerary cannot be beat with the port of calls and the value received. We previously sailed this ship in 2013. When deciding what cruise to take for 2015, we had such a great time in 2013 it was an easy decision to return. This will have been our 2nd trip to Europe. Norwegian did an excellent job in almost every respect. Barcelona: Embarkation was the easiest of any cruise ship we have ever been on. We arrived in Barcelona at 8:30 am from a direct flight from Philadelphia. This time around I took two Advil PM and actually slept 5 hours on a 7 hour flight. My prior experience was not having slept well at all and being wiped out the 1st day. The US Air pilot when approaching Barcelona made a nice wide turn over the water in front of the city before landing giving us a picture perfect view of the Norwegian Spirit at dockside. This only heightened our expectations for a great trip! Taking the Aero Bus from the Airport to downtown Barcelona is easy and inexpensive. From downtown Barcelona to the cruise terminal is a short ride by taxi. Very inexpensive taxi ride (13-15 euros). After check in, no waiting we proceeded to board the Spirit. Upon entering the main salon, Gio the cruise director greeted us. He mentioned our rooms would be ready in 30 minutes and suggested we have lunch until then. It was approximately 11:30a.m.-12:00. Gio was a great cruise director! Always around the ship and very friendly to converse with. We proceeded to have lunch in Raffels Court. We enjoyed the variety and the quality of food offered. No shortage of selections. Almost anything you can think of for lunch. After lunch we proceeded to our cabin 11588 and met our cabin attendant Dennis. Very professional person and does an excellent job for our two week vacation. The best towel animal maker we have ever encountered! The Norwegian cabin with balcony is more than sufficient for a two week stay. We were greeted with a new flat screen tv, refrigerator, safe, makeup table and sofa. Bed is very comfortable with excellent sheets and pillows. What's nice about the cruise is after you initially unpack you are good to go for the next 12 days. This has to be the easiest way to see Europe (5 countries and a new port almost every day). 11588 is on the top floor with balcony. The views are spectacular and we feel it is worth paying extra for this great view especially with what you are about to see! Cabin is in excellent overall shape and very clean. No discernable noise from either above or below, very quiet and peaceful. After the Lifeboat drill late in the afternoon we proceeded up to Raffels Terrace for a meeting with the Cruise Critic members also going on this trip. Virtually all of the Cruise Critic members that showed up we had been conversing with and planning excursions with for the prior year. A fun way to start the cruise. One of the special aspects of this is that the year leading up to your vacation you are having fun on line exchanging ideas with other Cruise Critic members. Then you have the opportunity to meet! During the cruise you have the advantage of knowing many interesting and fun fellow cruisers like yourself. This is part of the fun on going on a trip like this in my opinion. The 1st dinner aboard was at our favorite restaurant Garden Café. Virtually all of our dinners except one were spent here. We enjoy this dinning venue because it is smaller than Windows and slightly less formal. We ate at Windows one evening and we "brought" Raffel's down to our cabin for two nights and ate in our cabin. Food at the Garden Café was more than adequate with nightly chef specials. Typically you will have a choice of 10-12 entrees to choose from. Plenty of great appetizers and deserts also to choose from. We never waited for a table and did not make reservations ever. Truly "freestyle" dining!
One evening we met a couple from Britain. They told us they are "Five Star" or luxury cruising enthusiasts. They initially had low expectations about Norwegian because of what they had read. They mentioned they were very pleasantly surprised. This cruise Norwegian had a bonus when booking. There were 4 choices. We choose the "Ultimate Beverage Package." Not having to worry about every cocktail, beer or wine selected when ordering really was fabulous! The 1st night's show at the main theater was too much flamenco dancing. There should have been more variety. Shows later in the cruise were much better. Our only disappointment. Our 1st port of call was Toulon, France. On our 1st trip in 2013 we did the "Provence Wine Tour" and thoroughly enjoyed this excursion. It was clearly our favorite thing to do on our 1st trip. Since we did not want to repeat any of the excursions we opted to go into Toulon and walk the marketplace. You really get to experience some French culture in the walk thru. More than we expected. Our 2nd port of call was Livorno, Italy. Here we decided to go to Pisa on our own. It is very easy to catch the train from Livorno. Since 2013 the Italian railroad has upgraded their trains to double decker, all new, clean, air conditioned and nice. An easy 2 stops and your in Pisa. In Pisa there is a new museum off of the "Field of Miracles." Approximately a 20 minute walk from the train station with a McDonald's in the station. The souvenir kiosks off of the "Field of Miracles" have been moved to the square. Great souvenir's and you most certainly can bargain. My other half enjoys bringing souvenir's home for family and friends shopping! Our 3rd port of call is Civitavechia, Italy. Again we took the train to San Pietro which is the stop for the Vatican and 1st of three for Rome. All new double decker trains! Thumbs up to the Italian rail system. Another easy DIY. We spent the day going through the museum and Sistine Chapel. The Vatican has treasures that are unimaginable. Not to be missed if you can help it. I was amazed. Purchase tickets in advance on the internet. We had a most enjoyable lunch at one of the street side cafe's near the Vatican. The local Italian beer was great. Our 4th port of call is Naples and our 1st of 2 paid excursions. Through Rome in Limo our group of 8 went to the Amalfi Coast which included Sorrento and Pistano with Pompeii. Our guide Alex from Rome in Limo was very funny and made the day most enjoyable. By far our favorite meal of the vacation came overlooking the Amalfi Coast high up on a mountain at a restaurant called "Constantinos" with the most incredible views. Everything is organic and home grown including the wine. Alex's choice for us in selecting our dining venue certainly memorable. After our lunch, we headed off to Pompeii. Again an interesting ancient city. We switched guides for Pompeii. One does not realize the size of Pompeii until seeing it in person. The 1st sea day came with a Cruise Critic party in the morning. We had an excellent turnout with many of the Norwegian senior offices showing up and welcoming us! Norwegian went all out for this event. Shout out to the two Cruise Critic members who organized this event. Our next port was Mykonos, Greece. The ship tendered at this location. We stayed on board and had a nice barbecue lunch at the pool and enjoyed the Jacuzzi! Since we had been to Mykonos in 2013 we decided to take it easy this time around. The next port of call was Istanbul. Beautiful city with an unofficial count of 17 million people! Stepping off the boat we proceeded to the electric tram to get to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. 4 Turkish Lira to ride $1. The Blue Mosque & Hagia Sofia are incredibly beautiful. (Be warned, when we stepped off the Tram you are approached by salespeople telling you the Blue Mosque is closed or will open later in the afternoon. They are trying to get you into their rug stores to make sales. We just kept walking and ignored them. Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia were open and not "closed for lunch.") Very much enjoyed both Mosque's. Took an easy ride Tram back to ship. During two sea days, Norwegian had appreciation cocktail parties for Latitude members. Both nice events with the Captain attending both. Captain Roger is easily approachable, friendly as well as his officer staff and crew. We appreciate Norwegian doing these events as they are making the effort to show they care about your business. After leaving Istanbul our next stop is Kusadasi, Turkey. The ship docks in downtown Kusadasi making it easy to leave the ship. Our same group of 8 Cruise Critic friends gathered for our tour of Ephesus and the House of the Virgin Mary. Our tour guide "mystery" met us at the dock. We had a driver in a Mercedes Van. Ephesus Deluxe tours does an excellent job also providing lunch in the tour price. Be forewarned, you do have to sit through a carpet selling "speel" while having lunch. Going to the House of the Virgin Mary is definitely a religious experience. Very serene and special and high up on a mountain. Lit a candle, said a prayer inside her house, drank the holy water from the spring and made a wish and wrote it down to be attached to a wall. If you have any ills, the holy water is supposed to cure and making the wish will come true! Our next port of call was Piraeus, Greece. Probably the warmest day of the cruise. We elected to just relax on board. Since we did the "hop on hop off" bus in 2013 we saw many of the sites previously. Our favorite part of this day is getting Martini's and sipping them on our balcony as we can see the Acropolis in the distance as we sail away. Make sure you bring an excellent pair of binoculars. Then off to a nice dinner. Our final port of call was Venice, Italy on day 12. The view when coming into Venice is phenomenal as you sail right by St. Marks square. Norwegian allows you to stay the final night on board as technically you are disembarking on day 13. This allows you to explore Venice and come back on board that evening. We elected to walk to the Rialto Bridge. An easy walk from the cruise port terminal. There are no cars, busses or scooters allowed in Venice. Streets are narrow and fun to explore. Disembarking was the easiest we have ever experienced. Some of the crew members are lined up saying good bye as you disembark. A nice gesture by Norwegian. While on the Spirit I noticed they had equipped the gym with all new equipment! A great place to exercise. I try and go to the gym every day on board. Gym is exceptionally clean and neat. Some have complained that the ship is old. We did not notice anything broken or lacking. Rather we enjoyed this ship and its' layout. We have been on ships with 4,000+ and would rather prefer a ship like the Spirit which has only 2,000 passengers. The ships being too big means too many passengers and crowds and in our opinion long lines. Norwegian does an excellent job of keeping this ship clean and beautiful. We stayed an extra day in Venice at the Pellegrino. We chose this hotel because of its location near St. Mark's square. Also an easy walk after checking out with bags to the Vaporetto stop. When leaving Venice make sure you take the Vaporetto (water bus) to the airport as it is almost a tour in and of itself. It stops at a number of locations around Venice lagoon giving you more great views of this magnificent city. Takes about 50 minutes and will drop you off at Marco Polo airport. Then an easy 10 minute walk inside the terminal. Our non stop flight back to Philadelphia (9 hours) went smoothly and without incident. Again, the U.S. Air pilot after takeoff took a nice wide turn over Venice giving us a magnificent view of Venice for our farewell. Watched 4 movies to pass the time. This time going through US Customs was quick and efficient. US Customs now has electronic kiosks! Thumbs up to US Customs It literally took 5 minutes and no lines. (In 2013 at JFK we waited 2+ hours with hoards of people coming from other flights.) All in all, for the price we paid for this vacation you get a lot of value for your money. The big draw on this cruise is the ports visited and history you will see. The Captain and crew of the Norwegian Spirit all in all do an excellent job. They work hard to make sure your vacation is stress free. Finally become involved with Cruise Critic a great resource to enhance your trip, make friends and share ideas. Also if you are considering this cruise pick up a copy of Rick Steves' most recent copy of "Mediterranean Cruise Ports." An invaluable resource with many DIY tours. Less