In February we took our 2nd cruise with NCL, this time on the Norwegian Spirit, out of Barcelona. The Norwegian Spirit is the oldest and smallest ship in NCL’s fleet. But what she lacked in size, she made up for in quality of service. The staff was truly excellent with smiles and great service during the entire cruise. We booked this cruise solely for the itinerary. But alas, Mother Nature had other ideas. Even with the itinerary changes it was still a great experience. I hardly saw my kids the entire 10 days! (But that’s not what made it great!) If you’re thinking of sailing, keep reading to see our extensive Norwegian Spirit cruise reviews.
After reading other reviews of cruises on this ship, we were a bit worried about sailing on the Norwegian Spirit. I do agree with others that the ship needs an update, as she is starting to show her age. However, I like the classic style and think that should be retained when it goes into drydock. The biggest updates needed, in my opinion, are the staterooms. Overall, we found the ship to be well maintained and clean. It just needs a facelift.
The food was, for the most part, good. We definitely didn’t go hungry! And while we didn’t get to see the Canary Islands or Madeira, we enjoyed seeing some of the other Ports of Call.
*PLEASE be aware of the Spanish VAT. A 10% VAT (Value Added Tax) was added anytime we were in Spanish waters or a Spanish port. This was a majority of the cruise! The VAT was assessed on all Food and Beverages including Dining and Beverage package consumption. The Duty Free Shops were closed when we were in Spanish waters. Had they been open, purchases would have been subject to the VAT. You can avoid the extra 10% on food and beverages if the Duty Free Shops are open (meaning you’re not in Spanish waters) or if you are docked in a non-Spanish port such as Morocco. This tax does add up quickly, so factor it into your budget.
Embarkation in Barcelona
We made it on the ship by noon! We enjoyed lunch, the kids swam, checked out the ship and then we got the kids signed up for the kids clubs (Splash Academy for Lucy and Entourage for K) all before sail away.
The embarkation process was smooth and well organized. There were plenty of porters at the drop off area to take luggage with additional people assisting to ensure tags were on bags. The small line at our 11:15am arrival moved quickly. Make sure to have your pre-printed luggage tags on your suitcases and don’t leave your carry-on luggage with the porters.
Cruise papers must be shown to move through to security. The security line moved quickly, but I can see where it could back up when a lot of people arrive at once.
The check-in lines were well organized and marked for standard entry and priority (priority was at the end). The lines to check-in had plenty of roped off areas so everyone would be organized and a staff member was there to direct the next passenger in line to an open desk. They also had NCL paddles to hold up when they were free.
Check-in documents and passports were required as well as completing a quick health form. Photos were taken of each passenger, then a method of payment was needed for any onboard expenses. We always use a credit card, so I don’t have to deal with ensuring there is enough cash on our account.
Afterwards, it was just a matter of waiting for our turn to board. After the photo station are duty free stores if you forgot to pack something. Just note that your bags will go through an x-ray machine again before boarding and any alcohol will be kept until the last day of your cruise or you can pay the corkage fee for wine. See our NCL tips and tricks article for more information.
Concierge level passengers get access to a VIP lounge with juice, water, tea, coffee and a small selection of food. You’ll then be escorted onto the ship and taken to Cagney’s Steakhouse for lunch.
Once on board, you can explore the ship, take a swim or grab a bite to eat. The buffet and Windows dining room are open for lunch. Staterooms become available around 1:30pm.
We arrived at the port for our 12pm boarding just after 11am and were on the ship by noon! I love it when cruise lines have an efficient system for embarkation. It makes starting your vacation so much less stressful!
Norwegian Spirit Cruise Reviews – Let’s Talk About the Ship
As I mentioned, the Norwegian Spirit is the oldest ship in the fleet, launched in 1998! As the smallest in the fleet, she weighs 75,400 tons and is only 879 ft long, carrying approximately 1,996 passengers and 965 crew. That is a relatively small ship compared to the new mega ships. The great part about the small size was I could easily find K around the ship. There were only a handful of places he hung out with his friends when not in Entourage (the Teens club), so I could track him down fairly easily. This is a big plus with teens!
The smaller size of this ship wasn’t a negative to us. While the kids do enjoy some of the extra features on the mega ships, we booked for the itinerary. We want to enjoy our time on the ship and like to eat well, but we didn’t book to hang out onboard for 10 days. The kids still found plenty to keep themselves occupied and had a fantastic time without a rock climbing wall or massive slide.
The Tivoli Pool was great – even heated which is rare on a cruise ship. Since it was February and the air outside was chilly, there weren’t too many people swimming. The 4 surrounding hot tubs were popular, but were only crowded on 2 occasions (that we saw) during the 10 days.
Buccaneer’s Wet and Wild located aft on deck 10 was the pool area for kids. The fun pirate themed kids area features a small pool and slides. There is also a small paddling pool for little ones and a hot tub. Lucy went down the slide once but couldn’t hang out here because the water was too cold. She covered up and headed for the heated Tivoli Pool.
The entertainment at the Starbust Theater was okay. Our favorite show was Kocka & Maria Aerial Duo, so don’t miss it. We only attended 3 of the shows, so I can’t give a full review. Usually during showtimes we listened to music in the Champagne Bar or Galaxy Lounge while having a drink or hung out in Henry’s Pub. Darts in the pub cost $1 per player, so $2 for Derrick and I to play. Since neither of us had played in years so that $2 game lasted a long time! And of course, I kicked his butt!
We enjoyed hanging out in the Galaxy Lounge with its large windows overlooking the sea or the Port of Call. There is a cool Bridge Viewing Area that is accessed from the lounge as well.
A great place to get away during the day was the Bollywood style Maharini’s Lounge. When the Casino and bar were closed, I found it a great place to have a glass of wine and read a book. Most of the cruise I found it too chilly to hang outside for long. We don’t spend a lot of time gambling, but Derrick did visit Maharajah’s Casino a couple of evenings. He likes to play the slots and even came out $50 ahead one night. And I say “one night” because he donated it back to the ship the next time he played 🙂
My kids both had a blast in the kids clubs on the Norwegian Spirit. If you’re traveling with little ones, the Guppies Program is for children ages 6 months – 3 years. Lucy was in the Splash Academy for children ages 3 – 12. The program is divided by age group into Turtles, Seals, Dolphins. Lucy was in Dolphins (ages 10-12). Each age group has supervised activities allowing kids to engage with other children their own age.
In the Dolphins group, parents can choose to allow their children to check themselves in and out of Splash Academy. This is completely optional. The exception is when the ship is in port. Parents must sign kids in and out while the ship is in port. Once the ship is sailing, kids (with prior permission) can sign themselves in and out. Once signed in, they must remain for 2 hours (unless a parent signs them out, of course). They are allowed to sign out when the Splash Academy closes regardless of how long they have been in. This feature works well for my family. Lucy pretty much hung out in the Splash Academy whenever we were on the ship and Splash Academy was open. She had a great time with the staff and met new friends.
K was in Entourage for teens ages 3 – 17. This was rather a large age group. Since there weren’t many teens sailing, K at 13 was hanging out with 17 year olds. They played a lot of games, had to find their counselor hiding around the ship, and had several dance parties. When Entourage was closed, K met up with friends to play basketball or eat at Raffles or the Blue Lagoon. We’ve been off the ship for over a week and he’s still messaging on Snapchat and Instagram with the teens he met on the cruise.
Overall the food was good. We ate in the main dining rooms, buffet, quick service and specialty restaurants. I’m going to do a separate post on just the food. Click here to read all about the food and restaurants on the Norwegian Spirt.
This was the first time we cruised and had an interior stateroom. We booked the cruise rather late and the only rooms left for a family were interior. Though I was rather freaked out about not having a balcony, it was great for getting to compare interior vs balcony accommodations. Derrick and I are still arguing about this and haven’t reached a conclusion.
We booked room 10565, as it was on a higher deck, mid-ship and not under the pool deck. The staterooms definitely need to be updated. Our room was clean and had lots of storage, but it was showing age. I did love the larger shower. We’ve been on ships with tiny little corner showers with plastic shower curtains that stick to your bum.
The bedding and pillows were comfortable and our stateroom was well placed within the ship to avoid noise. Our stateroom attendant was friendly and did a great job cleaning our room. The biggest negative about the stateroom was the “reading” lamps above the bed at pillow level. These seriously need to be removed. You literally sleep with your pillow on the lamp. Someone messed up big time with that design.
I passed by a couple in the hallway talking about the ship. The lady said the ship was lovely but the room was too small. Her husband said, “smaller ship, smaller stateroom.” While the room was small and just a bit tighter than I would have liked, it worked fine for my family. Although next time, I’m thinking a balcony stateroom will be in order.
Full stateroom review coming soon.
Norwegian Spirit Cruise Reviews – It’s all About the Itinerary
Day #1 Depart Barcelona, Spain
Day #2 At Sea
Day #3 Casablanca, Morocco
Day #4 At Sea
Day #5 Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain
Day #6 Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain
Day #7 Funchal, Portugal
Day #8 At Sea
Day #9 Málaga (Granada), Spain
Day #10 Alicante, Spain
Day #11 Disembark Barcelona, Spain
Revised Itinerary Due to Weather:
Day #1 Depart Barcelona, Spain
Day #2 At Sea
Day #3 Casablanca, Morocco
Day #4 Tangier, Morocco
Day #5 Málaga (Granada), Spain
Day #6 Cartagena, Spain
Day #7 Alicante, Spain
Day #8 Palma, Spain
Day #9 At Sea
Day #10 Marseille, France
Day #11 Disembark Barcelona, Spain
Due to storms in the Atlantic, the ports were closed in the Canary Islands and Madeira. While saying we were highly disappointed missing these ports is an understatement (they were the whole reason we booked the cruise), you can’t control the weather. I’d rather be safe and avoid the sea sickness that accompanies the rough seas. I’ll mention what we did in each Port of Call then,at the end, what we wanted to do at the other 3 ports. Many people have reported Tangier replacing Casablanca due to weather, so I suggest knowing what you want to do in Tangier just in case your itinerary changes.
Derrick does a lot of research during the planning stage and since the change of ports was unplanned, we really had no idea what we wanted to do at the different destinations. We decided to just check out the towns instead of taking excursions on this cruise.
Day #1 – Barcelona, Spain
This was our 3rd time in Barcelona and we arrived at midnight the day before, so we didn’t plan anything for the morning. Plus we wanted to be on this ship early.
If you’re visiting Barcelona with kids, we suggest getting Mission Barcelona. It’s a fun book to let kids explore the city. We all learned a ton of information.
Day #2 – At sea
Other than swimming and meals, we hardly saw the kids all day! They both made friends the first night and enjoyed all the activities onboard. Everyone slept in, then the kids showered and made a trip to the buffet to bring Mom and Dad coffee in bed. After breakfast, the kids ran off to their respective clubs to hang out with friends. We only saw them for swimming, lunch and dinner.
Day #3 – Casablanca, Morocco
We strapped on our walking shoes to explore Casablanca. We walked about 45 minutes from the cruise terminal to the Mosque. However, I wouldn’t recommend this. It wasn’t a very pretty walk, but it was a great way to get in some extra steps!
The Hassan II Mosque is one of the world’s largest Mosque’s. It was beautiful but rather expensive to visit. Tickets are purchased at the museum, not at the Mosque. After purchasing tickets, you can walk through the small museum while waiting for your guided tour. This is the only way to see inside the Mosque.
Tour of the Mosque = 330 mad (approximately $36) for 2 adults, 1 student (13) and 1 child (10)
Derrick had us walking again after our Mosque tour, all the way to the Medina. He’d marked some shopping streets along the way that were recommended online, but I’d just skip right over those. We preferred the Souks of Marrakech to the ones in Casablanca, though the archways were quite lovely. There is a cool olive Souk that’s worth a look but you can’t bring food back on the ship.
The shuttle offered through NCL will take you to and from town and costs $15 per adult and $10 per child (ages 2-12 years). Taxi’s are also available, but ensure you negotiate the price before getting in.
Once back onboard, Lucy wanted to swim then it was off to the Splash Academy. She only came out for dinner then she was back in until 10:30pm. K begged to eat dinner with his friends.
Our recommendations are to visit the Mosque and the Medina then for lunch have Tajine (a Moroccan dish named after the pot in which it is cooked).
If this is your first time in Morocco, read 20 tips for visiting Marrakech. A lot of the advice is true for all over the country.
Day #4 – Tangier, Morocco
Instead of Tenerife, Canary Islands we docked in Tangier. We only spent about 2 hours wandering the Souks (Lucy purchased a poof) and taking in the views from the fortification. Since we didn’t plan anything for this port, we decided to just wander. The
highlight of our time in Tangier was seeing the few blue streets. I also suggest going up to the Kasbah for panoramic views of the sea and city. If I was to do it again, I think I’d take the excursion to Tétouan.
Day #5 Málaga (Granada), Spain
Málaga was on our original itinerary. We were planning to take an excursion to see the Alhambra Palace, but decided to just explore the town. We’re considering a roadtrip through Southern Spain at a later date, so we wanted to know which places we’d like to visit again.
Mostly, we just walked the streets browsing the shops. The historic center of Málaga has beautiful architecture, a pretty renaissance cathedral, and neat ruins of a Roman theatre. Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga, so you could visit the Museum if you’re a fan of his works.
Honestly, we probably should have taken the excursion. I liked the city and won’t mind visiting again, but there isn’t a ton to do in the city itself. We spent approximately 5 hours off the ship which included time for lunch.
We took the shuttle bus (paid cash at the port) for 5€ pp return trip. The walk from the terminal was a bit far, so it was worth the 20€ especially with iffy weather.
Day #6 Cartagena, Spain
We didn’t spend a lot of time exploring Cartagena. We only had a 5 minute walk from the ship to the town then we climbed to the ruins of Concepción Castle. Lucy even fed peacocks! After spending time wandering around the castle, we walked down to see the amphitheater. These Roman theatre ruins were only discovered in 1989!
Before boarding the ship for lunch, we wandered the streets, shopping and enjoying a coffee at an outdoor café.
Day #7 Alicante, Spain
We new exactly what we wanted to do at this port. We walked the Old Town and stopped to see the beautiful houses decked out with pretty Spanish tiles and potted succulents. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the Santa Barbara Castle. The lift was broken, the free shuttle bus never showed up (the shuttle eventually came but we left after waiting ~30 minutes), and we only hiked up halfway. It was actually a nice walk up the hill with great views of the sea and rooftops.
After our impromptue hike, we walked through the Old Town and took photos in front of beautiful houses with overflowing pots of succulents. The new town isn’t nearly as pretty, so we walked back to toward the port and let the kids play along the sandy beach. Before heading back to the ship, we had to walk down the mushroom street.
There is a free shuttle bus that will take you from the ship to the end of the pier. Here you can walk into town, grab a taxi or take the Hop-on Hop-off bus which costs 10€ per adult and 5€ per child ages 4 – 12. Our original plan had been to walk to the lift from the pier then walk down from the Castle to see the Old Town.
Day #8 Palma, Spain
The island of Palma de Mallorca was probably our favorite port of the entire cruise. The Gothic Cathedral is a must to see. We were lucky enough to visit when they had a huge artisan market set up near the cathedral. After checking out all the crafts, jewelry, meats and cheeses, we stumbled into the food market. There were a ton of stalls set up with sizzling meats and even an area with food trucks! K put his Spanish lessons to good use and ordered a snack from a food truck without using a word of English!
We took a taxi from the cruise terminal to the Cathedral for 11€ and paid 5€ back to the ship. Though we had walked as far as the Hard Rock Cafe before getting a taxi.
The shuttle offered through NCL will take you to and from the Cathedral and costs $15 per adult and $10 per child (ages 2-12 years). The only real positive we saw for the shuttle bus, was that it picked up right by the ship. We had to walk approximately 1 mile to get to the taxi stand from the ship; however, this wasn’t an issue for us, not owning a car for the last 3 years! I checked the price of the Hop on Hop off bus – it was 18€ per adult and 9€ per child ages 8 – 16 if you’re interested in getting around that way.
Day #9 At Sea
Another day that I hardly saw my kids. Well, until Lucy was ready for birthday celebrations that is. My little lady turned 11 while we were sailing! See below for information on celebrations while cruising.
Day #10 Marseille, France
Another unexpected addition to our itinerary was Marseille. Since we live a 2.5 hour train ride away in Nice, we didn’t bother getting off the ship. I would suggest taking a trip to Avignon and/or Aix en Provence. If you want to explore the city, see our top 5 things to do in Marseille.
What we planned to do in the Canary Islands and Madeira…
Initially we wanted to take a whale watching tour in Tenerife, but it was a long excursion and we wouldn’t have time to see the rest of the island. We planned to take a cab tour which should have cost approximately 100€. We wanted to see Mt. Teide, La Laguna, Playa de Benijo, Playa Jardin Beach, Los Gigantes Cliffs and wine tasting in the Orotava Valley. These were just some of the highlights Derrick found online, the actual tour would have been finalized after speaking to the taxi driver.
In Las Palmas, we wanted to walk to the beach, see the Old Town, possibly visit the garden and see the Museum of Science and Technology.
In Madeira, we wanted to wander the market, take a cable car ride, and walk the walls of Levada dos Tornos (aquaduct). They also have a Toboggan Run for adventurous visitors.
Lucy was spoiled for her 11th birthday! She came back from breakfast to a decorated stateroom and a gorgeous chocolate cake. Then we celebrated her special day with dinner at Tappanyaki. Lucy loved her birthday dinner at the hibachi restaurant and was presented with another cake. Everyone sang happy birthday to her as soon as the chef came in and again when they presented her with the cake. The Splash Academy staff also celebrated with her. She received a card signed by all the youth program staff and a balloon flower. She was definitely a birthday Princess on the Norwegian Spirit!
The stateroom decorations and cake were extras that can be added onto your cruise. You can also purchase window clings and decorations prior to leaving for your cruise to deck out the stateroom on your own. Just remember not to use tape. Bring magnets or window clings that can “cling” on mirrors. We saw many doors with birthday and anniversary decorations that weren’t purchased from the ship.
The cake at Tappanyaki was complementary. Another passenger was celebrating her birthday as well. There were 2 cakes and 2 rounds of “happy birthday” sung after the meal.
Getting to and from the Barcelona Cruise Terminal:
There are several options to get to and from the cruise terminal in Barcelona. First, you’ll likely need to get from the Barcelona airport to the center. The bus from the airport to the city center is 5.90€. The total for my family was 23.60€ and could be paid in cash to the driver. Ticket machines were also available.
A metro ticket is €2.20 for a single ride but the best value is a T10 ticket for €10.20 which is valid for 10 rides and can be used by multiple people. The T10 is valid for Barcelona center including the airport. Our flight was delayed so we missed the last train and had to take the bus. A taxi is also an option and from Terminal 1 will cost around €30 and from Terminal 2 around €35.
To the Cruise Terminal:
Bus: From the monument of Christopher Columbus you can take the T3 Portbus for 3€ one way or 4€ round trip. The walk down Las Ramblas to the monument takes approximately 30 min or get off at Metro stop Drassanes.
Taxi: A taxi from the city center is approximately 20€. There is a 1€ supplement per suitcase with a max of 4. The total for my family was 19€ with luggage from Passig de Garcia to the cruise terminal. Once you’re at the port, look for your cruise ship and advise the driver so they know where to stop.
Private transfers are also an option and should be booked in advance. You can book a private transfer or shared transfer depending on your budget.
We opted for the taxi as I didn’t want to walk 40 min from our hotel to get the bus then pay 12€ for my family. We also took a taxi from the cruise terminal to the Christopher Columbus Monument. The price with luggage was 11€. We spent the afternoon in Barcelona, so we decided to walk up Las Ramblas. However, we should have taken a tour that would have also included transport to the airport.
The Norwegian Spirit may be the oldest in the fleet, but she’s well maintained and has the classic charm that a lot of the mega ships lack. We ate well, received excellent service and enjoyed the Ports of Call despite the itinerary changes. Lucy was a spoiled girl and will treasure her birthday memories for years to come.
Do you have other Norwegian Spirit cruise reviews to share with us?
Disclosure: We received media perks during our cruise. As always, opinions are 100% my own and may differ from others.