September 2015 - Norwegian Spirit to Europe - Mediterranean
We enjoyed a fantastic 12 day Mediterrean cruise from Barcelona to Venice on the NCL Spirit in Sep 2015. We had been planning to take this type of cruise for over 5 years for a significant wedding anniversary and two things caused NCL to win over the competition: - The ports of call, and 12 days vs 7 gave us a broad coverage over the entire Med region vs just a Western or Eastern focused 7 day cruise. - The fact we'd taken a "budget FL cruise" on NCL 20 months earlier and were quite satisfied in all aspects. We are not experienced cruisers having taken only 2 cruises in 1998 and 2006 prior to these last 2 on NCL.
The good: - Other than Barcelona and Venice where we elected to arrive 2 days early and leave a day late, we took NCL shore excursions in 5 of the other 7 ports. We had good luck with all the guides and equipment. On our first excursion to Florence there was an accident on the expressway causing our bus driver to divert onto side roads. We got to the ship with at least 30 mins to spare but had we been on our own that would be been worrisome; note if you take NCL based excursions the ship WILL WAIT for you, probably worth the 20-30% premium you pay over outside groups. - We did our own walking tours in Toulon, France (having had a few other trips in France in years past) and Mykonos. We did our own tour by trains in Naples following guidance in the Rick Steves cruise book, it was a little confusing but we made it work saving us $70 in cab fares in a low risk venture to Herculaneum, the smaller version of Pompeii ruins. All this worked well because we had FANTASTIC weather in all ports, sunny, no rain in the daytime and really only 1 sorta rough sea morning sailing into Naples. Be ready for a LOT of walking and climbing in Rome, Athens & Ephesus and be ready for HUGE CROWDS at all major sights surprising for so late in the season. - Food quality and service in restaurants and the cabin were great. We ate most dinners at the Windows and Garden restaurants, which have the same menu and the upper right entrees change nightly. We ate 3 dinners in the Shogun oriental restaurant recently added to the "no upgrade charge" regular dining, and with typically lower calorie food too. Some breakfasts were in the Raffles buffet but at least 4 when we had time were in Windows for a quieter higher quality experience. - Because we joined cruisecritic on our 2014 FL cruise and were part of a meet and greet group, we had a special meeting of a couple dozen cruisers with the captain and officers. That gave us the option to get a tour of the bridge with the captain, very interesting if you enjoy a view of how things work. As NCL Latitudes members we also got an invite to a larger scale (200 people or so?) meeting with wine, food & prizes - nice touch!
- Neither bad or good but this type of cruise really has people from all over, maybe 20% US, 20% Canada and the rest from all over EU especially UK, Spain & Germany, also Far East & Australia. Just be accepting of the language differences, we enjoyed the mix! There were some kids and babies but generally lots of couples and probably most over age 50 but plenty of younger persons too. - The Spirit is the oldest of the NCL fleet being built in 1999 and refurbed in 2013. Our 8th floor window (non balcony) room was fine - everything worked. We did not notice other problems around the ship, but other than two sea days we were on the go every day in port. If you want a mega liner with water slides or rock climbing get a different boat. - Supplement your washy wash alcohol cleanings with good hand washing. We also carried hand sanitizer on shore and an advantage using shore excursions is they have deals with merchants to use their restrooms free vs paying a euro in some places for public WCs. Note Turkish excursions are required to have a merchant sell job, but there are ways out of that.
Not as good: - The NCL shore excursions can be expensive, by our definition anything over $200 per person is pricey, $100 is OK. Budget a lot for these, don't be tempted to blow all your budget on a balcony or suite when what you want on a cruise like this is to see the sights. - We enjoyed the theatre entertainment especially the Beatles act & Magician, and the rest was just OK, something to do at night since we are not into drinking a lot before bed. We did visit the Champagne Charlies piano bar a few times for some soft rock and jazz but didn't go to the dance club nor casino. - Booze has gotten crazy expensive but a few ways to save: Get the drink of the day if you must have a mixed drink. NCL offered wine prebuys on boarding day, starting at 4 bottles for $22 each (vs $30+ at restaurants) which they'll cork for the next day and you can actually take with you to a bar too. We were also able to buy 2 wine bottles onboard at Barcelona from a store after we'd cleared security, apparently OK other than they told us we needed to drink it in our room. Another trick we've learned is buy a coffee or wine in the port shop right before you board for cheap and get a WIFI paswsword to do some quick emails and photos home, much better deal than ship prices for satellite internet. One more tip: bring an insulated mug to get larger free ice teas or morning coffee. We were disappointed that since our last cruise NCL now charges $8 extra for morning room service coffee & rolls that used to be free. - Do NOT book airfare through NCL if you want to do an arrive early leave later plan. They charge a LOT to make that change. If you arrive 2 days earlier and get travel insurance covering airline problems there is very little risk booking your own, which was also a lot cheaper than what NCL had offered for this EU trip. Tip: having used Amsterdam many times for business travel we transferred through there fine on way to EU but on way home passport and security had a HUGE backup, perhaps normal in this post 9/11 world. Give yourself at least 2 hours of connect time for a mid day flight in AMS as all flights are full & if you miss it you'll have a tough time even moving to a later flight.