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Norwegian Spirit cruise to nowhere

 

Cruise Line:Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Spirit
Sailing Date:
October 21, 2005
Itinerary: Round-Trip San Francisco to “Nowhere” for two nights

 

Review of Norwegian Spirit Cruise to Nowhere:

 

I chose this cruise because I wanted a quick getaway from my closest homeport, San Francisco, and I wanted to try out Norwegian Cruise Line on a “tester” cruise.  I’d previously “tested” both of NCL’s “America” brand ships, the Pride of Aloha and Pride of America, but I hadn’t been on a “regular” internationally-staffed ship of theirs.

 

San Francisco (Pier 35) / Embarkation:

Mermaid had JUST been painted on in dry dock the week before our cruiseThis was a truly unique situation, as they only announced three short sailings a few weeks before they actually happened due to a reduction in the dry-dock time expected for the Spirit.  After announcing the sailings (one 1-night, a 5-night and this 2-night) they had to figure out where to dock the ship.  There was quite a bit of confusion about boarding time and such for our sailing because the usual cruise ship Pier 35 South side was going to be occupied by the Dawn Princess all day.  So, for the first time ever, I got to see what it was like to have a ship on EACH side of Pier 35.  The Spirit backed into the North side of the pier, and the pier was loading two ships at once.  This caused a lot of confusion for passengers, but they did their best at the port.  They had luggage tags and porters galore, and it was pretty easy for us.

 

After having your ID and tickets checked multiple times, you were sent upstairs to what I call the staging area room.  They had juice and water and sweet breads there and you were given a group number and were asked to sit until your group was called.  The groups were about 50 people each, and we were in Group 4, starting the process about 2:30pm.  We didn’t wait long before our group was called and we rode the escalator down to the ground floor again and then walked up the ramp onto the ship for check-in in the showroom.  Isn’t that interesting?  I don’t think this is normal procedure, but it was cool.  We gave our tickets and passports to the check-in person, and she also took our credit card for our onboard account, and then we were instructed to walk across the room with our copy of the ticket and get our room key cards.

 

Dining:

 

We thought the food was not very good wherever it was included in the cruise, and the service was definitely lacking. Apparantly the “pay extra” alternative restaurants had some good selections.  However, we ate only in the dining room and the buffet.

 

Let me take a moment to explain Norwegian’s “Freestyle” dining concept to those who are used to having “early” or “late” traditional seating as their only choice.  Norwegian’s freestyle lets you dine at whatever time you want during normal meal times at many venues.  Just like at home, you walk up and say “table for two” or whatever and they seat you.  There are two main dining rooms, Windows and the Garden Room, and the buffet open often.  Then there are some smaller “fast food” type places where you can get burgers and such.  The Bier Garten and Blue Lagoon, for example.  And then in addition to those, they have multiple alternative dining rooms that are fancier and have a cover charge.

 

As far as the free dining venues go, the Windows dining room at the back is very large with big beautiful windows looking over the aft of the ship, and it was quite loud in there.  I don’t think the design of it was all that great, as the galley was at the front of the dining room, near the elevators and entry to the dining room, and it was quite a walk all the way to the windows area at the back of the dining room.  Just the fact that the waiters had so far to go, and the food too, caused a lot of the delay.  Our ice cream on the first night in that dining room was decidedly melted by the time we got it.

 

The Garden Room dining room, closer to amidships, was much more intimate and we liked it better.  It was also quieter and the wait staff didn’t have so far to travel.  They still seemed overworked though.

 

My husband described the food the best I think.  Like they were trying to make fancy-looking dishes, but the food quality on the plate wasn’t all that great.  Like they were trying to be something they weren’t.   And he ordered a hamburger and fries for lunch in the dining room on our one sea day, and couldn’t get anyone to bring catsup or mustard to go with it until the burger was pretty much cold. 

 

We ate only once in the buffet, and that was enough for us.  Due to a unique situation on our cruise, being that it was just a two-night and on the first night we SAILED at 10pm, they scheduled our lifeboat drill for 10am on Saturday.  This caused them to close the breakfast service at 9:30am to prepare and re-open at 10:30am when it seemed like the ENTIRE passenger list was wanting to eat.  They were not prepared.  We waited in line a half hour to get to the food.  They only had one side open of the buffet, not two.  They ran out of flatware.  They ran out of plates.  And the food was not that great once we got to it.  Just really disappointing.

 

Other friends of ours tried the Blue Lagoon “hamburger joint” type place.  And they noted that the service was bad there as well.  Also, many of the beverage dispensers were out of order.

 

A few folks I cruised with said the alternative “extra charge” restaurants were good.  If you want to try one of these, you need to reserve the whole cruise on the first day.  Cagney’s Steakhouse was $20 pp cover, Shogun $12.50, Le Bistro $15, and add la carte pricing for Sushi and Teppanyaki extra in Shogun.  And there was a fee of $5 per person if you cancel after 5pm on the night of your reservation.

 

And one of the VERY coolest things NCL has put in lately that goes well with this Freestyle Dining (eat where you want when you want with whom you want) concept is a video screen that shows the wait times and how busy each and every restaurant is and whether they're open.  You want to know what restaurants are open when you get up late?  If you don't have your daily paper handy, just check out one of these screens and it'll tell you.  Complete with green, yellow and RED (restaurant full) graphics on a bar graph.  Whomever at NCL thought up this should get a hug.  Saves you a lot of wasted time wandering around and asking about wait times during the peak dining hours.

 

For tips on NCL Freestyle Dining on all ships and a graphic of the wait time screen, click here.

 

Cabin:

 

We had an inside cabin #6565.  The size of the cabin was OK.  The beds were very narrow and firm.  The bathroom was a good size and the shower was quite spacious.   The biggest problem with our room was noise from above.  We were right below one of the alternate dining restaurants and they seemed to move furniture around until 3pm every night.  We heard many fellow passengers who had rooms in various parts of this Deck 6 with the same complaint, so it wasn’t just our particular cabin location.  You’d think NCL would get a clue that we all would have nasty things to say about them if they didn’t let us sleep at night. 

 

Try to avoid a Deck 6 cabin if at all possible.

 

We checked out our friends’ cabins who had balconies and oceanviews and they were quite nice.  The bathroom configuration and size was better with each category as you moved up.  I really liked the balcony bathroom configuration.  They had a sink as you walked straight into the bathroom, a shower with a door on one side and a toilet room with a door on the other.  Three compartments basically.  Very cool I thought!

The decor of the cabin was nothing to write home about, kind of obnoxious like the rest of the NCL ship.   I’ll discuss that more down in the ship section below.

 

Entertainment:

 

Since we were on just a two-night cruise, and we sailed at 10pm the first night, I didn’t get to experience a HUGE variety of things going on. 

 

We spent the first evening in the Casino after it opened playing poker.  Since we play regularly at some of the best card rooms in the world near our home, we found the slowness and inefficiency of the dealers a little frustrating.  However, there were lots of players playing because they were on vacation who had never played live before and we made some good money.  J

 

The second night we went to the main show, which was a comedy improv show “Second City”.  We thought this was just a great show and give NCL high marks for the wittiness of those performers.  The Moulin Rouge Showroom was laid out very interesting.  You walked in from two doorways near the stage, and there was a big open floor space right below the stage for dancing, and then up into the seats from there.  In order to get up during a show to use the restroom you’d have to get up and walk in front of everyone.  Not a good design.

 

The Norwegian Spirit:

 

This particular ship used to be the SuperStar Leo, originally built for the Asian market of Norwegian’s parent company, Star Cruises.  Although some things have been changed, there is lots of red and Asian-type décor on the whole ship.  However, I thought the overall design and layout was OK.  The fact that I thought the service wasn’t so great doesn’t really reflect on the ship itself.

 

This ship has a GREAT feature though, you should be sure to find it and check it out.  First, go up to the “Galaxy of the Stars” disco / show lounge / bingo hall on Deck 12 and go toward the very front.  Up there you can stand at an old-fashioned ship’s wheel and pretend to steer.  (Great for kids of all ages.  See photo below.)  There is also some navigational screens up there that you can check out the ship’s position.

 

Step back from that though and go into the main part of the disco again.  Off to the left is a circular stairwell that takes you down the bridge viewing room, and they have some great mementos there of the ship’s inaugural blessings and such.  I didn’t see this until the second evening the first time, so that was a bummer, but you can actually look through some glass onto the actual bridge at any time of day.  I thought this was VERY cool!

 

Around the perimeter of the Disco floor itself is the “observatory” where you can sit in a comfy chair or couch and just look out to sea.  This was a popular area when we sailed out past San Francisco at night and under the Golden Gate Bridge.

 

Another “hidden” area I’ll bet some folks didn’t find is a bar / dance floor / karaoke lounge that is at the front of the casino.  You have to walk THROUGH the casino to get into this area.  So, if you are the non-gambling type you might miss it.  Just go check it out, even if you don’t want to hang out there.  It’s a little, shall we say, eyebrow-raising?  There are couches and flat lounging beds all over.  It’s very dark.  You expect to go into there in the evening and find couples snuggling in dark corners everywhere.  And, as an added bonus, there are two big TV screens above the dance floor and one of them shows that same ship’s navigation screen during the day as is up in the Galaxy of the Stars I mentioned already.

 

One of the things we had a problem with on our cruise was that they had just taken the ship out of dry dock and things weren’t finished.  They decided to move the main gift shop on Deck 8 from being above the atrium to being down the hallway.  Well, since they weren’t done, the whole hallway was closed so you couldn’t transverse the ship on Deck 8.  Instead, to get from front to back, you had to walk the outside promenade (not a terrible thing, surely) or walk though the Blue Lagoon and another restaurant.  Both of these choices were on Deck 7, so you constantly had to go to Deck 7 to go back and forth on the ship.  We definitely got tired of walking through the restaurants to get from the front to the back of the ship all the time.  Hopefully, when they finish the new ports o’ call store it’ll still be a good thoroughfare on Deck 8.

As it was for us, there was just some jewelry shops and duty-free liquor stores surrounding the perimeter of the atrium on Deck 8, which you had to get to from the aft/center stairwell or glass elevators.  Not much choice at all.

 

One part of the ship that fascinated me was that in the center of the atrium they have a circular glass platform with a piano on it and entertainment frequently.  UNDERNEATH the glass platform was a fountain that blasted up and hit the bottom of this glass platform.  And there was also some lush greenery and trickling water in that underneath area.  This would have been down on Deck 7 next to the coffee café.  Kind of a neat place to sit and listen to the water sounds and relax with a book I thought.  (I never had time for that, but it’s the thought that counts, right?)

 

The kids’ area was quite large, and they have a great outdoor pool / waterslide area in the back of the ship.  I saw lots of happy kids there, although I wasn’t allowed to go into their rooms.

 

At the aft of the ship above the kids’ play area is a really nice sunning terrace, and outdoor seating for the buffet.  I thought this was just very well laid-out and the view from the aft of the ship is quite impressive.  They also have some table tennis back here along the sides that were in a good area.

 

Deck 12 has the buffet in the back, just one pool in the center, which is pretty, but I’m just used to a few more adult places to go on ships these days.  And then forward of that is a very large spa, which I didn’t partake in on this very short cruise.  One of my friends got a manicure and was happy with it so I’ll assume it’s the same as most other cruise spas.

 

Above the pool is an open deck where they have a running track, basketball, volleyball, tennis, etc.  Due to the ‘improvements’ going on again, most of these things were closed for our cruise, but I assume would be open on a normal cruise after they get around to putting the netting back up on the basketball court.  One jogger on our sailing was running the promenade midday since the jogging track up above was roped off.

 

Also above the pool is the Bier Garten.  This was nice area for eating fries and burgers and sliced meats served in this Bavarian-style area.  There was a high cover over it, so you could relax in the shade.  I met up with some of my online friends here on the first night and it turned out to be a great meeting place.

 

One last random tip about navigating the ship - the three main staircases have different brightly-colored carpets in the elevator / stairway lobbies.  So, you'll often get ship staff telling you to "go to the stairs with the blue carpet and go down a deck".  (The other two choices are red and green.  Or should I say bright blue, bright green and bright red!)

 

Tipping:

 

On Norwegian, since they have the Freestyle Dining concept and you have different waiters nightly, they charge a $10 per day, per person “Service Charge” to your onboard account.  I thought it was pretty bad that we couldn’t lower this flat fee when we thought the service was lacking.  ALSO, we had some free shipboard credits coming to us from a promotion we booked our cruise under.  Much to our distress, the free shipboard credits could NOT be applied to the Service Charge.   We ended up not spending all of our shipboard credits on the cruise, thinking we’d apply them towards the tips, and then were rudely surprised the final morning when we looked at our bill and saw that we “lost” due to lack of use $30 of onboard credits and were charged the $40 Service Charge on our card.  NCL doesn’t communicate this to you, so just be aware of it.

 

Daytime Activities:

 

We found the daytime activities during the sea day to be wanting.  We just relaxed and read and slept a little (since there was no sleeping at night!).  They had bingo a few times, an art auction, and some other craft things.  None of these appealed to us, so we just walked the promenade and lounged waiting for the evening activities to roll around.

 

Disembarkation:

 

There were two choices on our cruise.  You could complete a form the night prior to sailing and have “freestyle disembarkation” if you wanted to walk off the ship with all your luggage first thing in the morning.  Even though I knew we’d still get off pretty early, I just didn’t take the time to do the form and take it to the reception desk, so we just used the colored tags they provided to us and we put our luggage outside our stateroom door the night prior to arriving at the pier and left when they called our color.

 

In Summary:

 

We sailed on this 2-night “Cruise to Nowhere” on Norwegian to give the NCL international crew a try.  Prior to this, I’ve tried two of their American-crew ships that do Hawaii.  Not only that, but I figure any cruise over a weekend is better than being at home!  So, I’m glad I tried it, but I found NCL to be very low in service as compared to Princess or Celebrity that I think are great.  I WILL sail on one of the Hawaii cruises someday, but I won’t go out of my way to try another NCL international-crew sailing anytime soon.

 

Please remember to contact me, Suzy, if you're interested in booking a cruise.  Not only do I write detailed reviews, but I take care of all the details when I book your vacations as well.  Please hit "Contact Us" at the top of this page.

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