This cruise review is for the Norwegian Spirit 7 Day Eastern Caribbean cruise from Port Canaveral (Orlando, Florida) to Nassau, Bahamas; St. Thomas, USVI; and St. Maarten. This was my first time cruising with Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) and only my second cruise experience overall (first time was on a Carnival Cruise 7 day Mexican Riviera many, many years ago).
Because I’m still fairly new to the cruising world, I don’t pretend to have all the answers or know all there is to cruising but fellow UPGRD blogger Sriram is an expert in this area. You can read his fantastic reviews here and hopefully he can answer your questions if you have any. Since this was a new experience for me, I figured I would do a trip report for others who need a “first timer’s experience.”
Before the cruise: If you are new to cruising, here are some things you should know. Unlike traditional airfare, the price you see advertised is not the final price you pay. There are so many additional fees associated with cruising, it will blow your mind. In addition to the advertised price, you will need to pay port taxes and fees (before the cruise) and additional service charges/gratuities (after the cruise). And if you get a beverage or dinner package, you will need to pay taxes and gratuities on top of those as well. It seriously will add hundreds of dollars on top of the price you think you will be paying so be careful and make sure you add up all the numbers before you commit.
On this trip, our beverage package (valued at $69 per person/per day) was included as part of a special deal but even then, we had to pay the taxes and gratuities upfront. After it was all said and done, my $899 balcony stateroom special totaled over $1300 per person. Add in the additional airfare to/from LAX to Orlando International Airport, transportation to/from the airport to Port Canaveral and hotels before/after your cruise and that $899 special doesn’t look so good anymore now does it? Not to say the cruise wasn’t worth it. I’m just saying it’s a lot more expensive than we originally thought.
Day of cruise: On the day of the cruise, we took a shuttle from Orlando International Airport to Port Canaveral. The ride took us approximately 45 minutes and dropped us off at the NCL terminal. We dropped our bags with the baggage attendant, cleared “security” (I’m pretty sure they were only screening for bottles of alcohol and not anything else), checked-in with the NCL staff and were assigned our key cards. We then boarded the ship and made our way to our room. The entire process was a breeze and took us about 20 minutes.
Ship: Launched in 1998, the Norwegian Spirit is an older ship. It’s not as grand as any of the newer, mega ships and doesn’t have fancy, new things like a rock climbing wall or observatory but it wasn’t bad. The ship has 15 restaurants, 12 bars and lounges, two swimming pools (one adult and one kiddie), four hot tubs, a video game arcade (games were about $1.50 per play), library, board game room, spa/salon, fitness center, sports deck and a casino. The ship can house 2,018 passengers and 949 crewmembers. On this trip, the ship was approximately 80% full.
Room: We booked a standard balcony stateroom at the time of booking and were able to select our stateroom ahead of time. Located in the aft (rear) section of the ship, room 9168 is on the right side of the ship (if you’re facing forward) on level 9. The room is 201 square feet with an enclosed private bathroom and balcony. The room is furnished with one queen bed, a small table/desk with chair, 21’’ LCD TV with very limited programing, love seat, mini-bar, security safe, coffee maker, tiny closet and several small drawers. Seriously, I mean small. For the two of us, we barely had enough room to store anything and 99% of what we brought were shorts and tank tops.
The room itself was tiny and tastelessly decorated in a 90’s era aquatic theme. Think pastel colors and seashells. For two guys, the room was a little on the small side and we barely had enough room to move around. With a little bit of Tetris magic, we were able to store all of our clothes, two checked bags and one carryon bag away in the closet, leaving the room clear of any bags or storage. There was no iron/ironing board available so you will have to pay for clothes pressing/laundry services onboard.
The walls between the rooms were pretty thin. I would recommend bringing some earplugs if you are sensitive to noise in the hallways or the blaring TV of your next-door neighbor falling asleep to Fox News.
There were only 4 electrical outlets located throughout the entire room! And two of them are not even standard US 110V outlets. One US electrical outlet is located by the desk and the other one is located in the bathroom. If you want to charge more than one device at a time, I would recommend bringing a universal adapter to convert one of the other outlets to standard US 110V.
The room temperature comfort was pretty poor as it was kept pretty warm. Even with the AC turned all the way up, the room got cool at best but never cold enough for our comfort.
The bathroom was extremely tiny and can realistically accommodate one, maybe two persons at a time. Separated into three sections, the toilet, sink and shower areas were divided by clear, sliding glass doors. So technically, one person can be in the shower and the other person can be brushing their teeth or using the toilet but there is no real privacy between the sections. Shampoo, body wash and soap dispensers were affixed to the walls and small bottles of lotion were provided for your use.
The large balcony doors let in a lot of natural light and can be opened to let in plenty of fresh ocean air. The balcony itself was pretty small. Large enough for two standard patio chairs and a tiny bit of walking room, the balcony was a great place to enjoy a cup of morning coffee or a drink at sunset.
Dining: NCL has a “Freestyle Dining” concept and it was awesome. Unlike other cruise liners with set meal times, with NCL, you can eat whatever and whenever you wanted. Depending on your mood, you could either sit down for a more formal meal or have a more casual meal on the fly. With 24 hour dining options, you won’t go hungry on this cruise and the food was actually pretty good. For breakfast and lunch, we chose the buffet for the convenience and sat down at the sit-down restaurants for a nicer dinner.
The majority of the restaurants are included in the “Freestyle Dining” concept but there are several specialty restaurants that require an additional charge. The surcharge can be a fixed price per person or priced from an a la carte menu. Those specialty restaurants are nicer than the complimentary restaurants and usually require a reservation in advance.
Additionally, other than a light continental breakfast of pastries and juice, room service meals were charged $7.95 per meal if you wanted the convenience of not having to interact with other people. Below are some pictures of the main freestyle dining room and a typical dinner.
Amenities: There was a full-service spa and a fitness center onboard. From manicures and pedicures which may incorporate products similar to those on the Kerassentials Better Business Bureau, to haircuts and massages, services were overpriced but typical for cruises. The gym was pretty decent. There were about a dozen treadmills and elliptical machines; several weight machines and a couple of benches with free weights (up to 50 lbs). Steam room and saunas were available without charge but group exercise classes such as Spin, TRX and yoga came with surcharge between $12 and $20 per class.
Entertainment: For the live shows in the Stardust Theatre, there were two showings every night in the main theatre. Other entertainment options included live music, comedy shows and magicians throughout the week. For a limited production and cast, the shows were very good. The cast members really did an excellent job of engaging the crowd and keeping the energy level high.
Activities: A daily itinerary was created and left in our rooms every day. The itinerary showed all the dining options and times for the day as well as scheduled activities and entertainment, from bingo and team trivia to dance parties and cabarets. The activities director did a great job of putting together activities for people of all ages and interests. Some activities such a dance classes and pool games were free but others like Bingo and Deal or No Deal were extra.
Ports of call:
Day 1: Port Canaveral – Everyone must be onboard by 3:30 PM.
Day 2: Nassau, Bahamas – 8:00 AM to 2:30 PM.
Day 3: At sea
Day 4: St. Thomas, USVI – 12:00 PM to 7:30 PM.
Day 5: St. Maarten – 7:00 AM to 4:30 PM.
Planespotting at Maho Beach!!!
Day 6: At sea
Day 7: At sea
Day 8: Port Canaveral arrive at 7:00 AM – Everyone must be out of their stateroom by 8:30 AM and off the ship by 9:45 AM. You can leave the ship anytime you want if you can carry all of your own luggage. If you need assistance or want to have your luggage brought down for you, you must wait for your color tags to be called to exit the ship.
Overall experience: This was a great cruise and we had a great time. The ship was a little on the dated side and could really use a facelift but the overall experience was positive. The room was decent, activities were fun, dining was better than expected and the entertainment was pretty spectacular. Would I do another Norwegian cruise? Absolutely. I really like their Freestyle Dining concept and the freedom to eat whenever I wanted. My friend and I are normally late eaters but on a couple of nights, we had to have dinner at 5:30 PM because we skipped lunch. If we were locked in for a set dinner time, we would have been screwed.
And I liked not feeling pressured into dressing up every night (or at all for that matter). With Freestyle Dining, we only had to wear pants and a collared shirt if we wanted to eat in the main dining room. Every other meal allowed us to wear whatever we wanted. It really took a lot of pressure off of us not having to pack a suit, sit with the same strangers every night and make a lot of unnecessary small talk. That’s not my idea of fun at all.
I’m 37 but on this cruise, I was definitely one of the few “younger” cruisers. For whatever reason, there really weren’t more people in our age group and the majority of the cruisers were in the “60 and up” category. But despite that, we made friends, chatted with everyone and made the most of our time. Like all things, you will get what you put into it. So laugh, have fun and eat all the dessert you want. You’re on vacation. Enjoy it.