Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Spirit
Sailing Date: May 21st, 2005
Itinerary: Alaska-Inside Passage
My 21 year old daughter and I traveled together on the Norwegian
Spirit. Although we made the most of our cruise and did enjoy it, we will not
cruise with NCL again. The dining staff were great, the room stewards were
wonderful, but the overall cruise experience was lacking and very low-budget. I
gave this cruise the unofficial theme of “lines.” There were always lines for
everything, and this was especially unforgivable for those passengers with
special needs or for the elderly. The food was highly disappointing: it was
awful at the buffet, and mediocre in the main dining rooms. The onboard
production company shows were unimaginative, and the performers lacked talent.
The only exceptions to this were comedienne Adam Ace and tenor Chris Riggins -
they were wonderful performers but they were guest entertainers and probably not
on every cruise. Its hard to figure out what the problem is here, because the
ship is beautiful and almost everyone we met who worked onboard was efficient,
professional and friendly. I would rate this cruise only 5 out of 10.
Seattle Airport: Shuttles to the cruise pier were $15.00 per person one way, so we took a cab for $30.00 and didn’t have to wait around for a group. There was a short wait for a taxi, a 15 minute ride through Seattle, then we were dropped off right in front of the terminal. Note about taxis: from the baggage claim area you have to go up the escalator, then across to the parking garage to find the taxi area.
Embarkation: We arrived at the cruise dock at about 2:30 pm and went right into the terminal, which had a small café inside and did not at all look like a warehouse as some cruise terminals do. This is where the first of many lines began. First was a security checkpoint and a line to drop your luggage, then a line to go upstairs, then a line to check in and get your ship ID card, then a line to another security check, then, finally, a line to walk up the gangway to have your photo taken and board the ship. Whew! It took about 45 minutes. If you are a latitudes member, as we are, don’t count on it to shorten your standing in lines.
Once aboard, we found our stateroom (more about that later) then went to the “Welcome Aboard Party and BBQ” which took place on an outside deck near the main pool. It was lightly raining by now, windy and a bit cold. In order to get food you had to wait in another long line in the wind and rain! Nice efforts by the cooks who were also standing out in the rain, but the burgers and chicken were overcooked and bland.
The public areas of the ship were very nice, with an Asian theme dominating. The main atrium area had a double staircase, glass elevators, waterfall, grand piano, plentiful seating, and was beautiful. We never once heard anyone play that grand piano. The combined library/internet café was very cozy and had nice windows where you could sit and enjoy the views. Galaxy of the Stars lounge provided fantastic indoor observation areas along the entire front of the ship. Everything was kept very clean throughout the cruise.
Stateroom: Our deck 10 stateroom was on the small side, with a double sliding glass door to the balcony. The room furnishings were inexpensive quality and sat very low to the ground. The bedspreads were just horrible, in bright green and yellow stripes, but we took them off and stashed them in the closet! The beds were triple sheeted, and had beautiful white-on-white duvet covers, so we just let the duvets serve as bedspreads. Throughout the cruise our room stewards kept putting those horrible bedspreads back on, and we kept taking them right back off! The closet was double wide, had plenty of space for hanging clothes, plus five shelves. There were also four drawers under the TV for storage. Even with coats, heavy clothing, and over packing we two ladies had more than ample closet space. Room temperature was controlled via a thermostat, and beds were comfortable. The bathroom was small, but had a fantastic shower with plenty of hot water and great water pressure. A hairdryer was provided and it worked just fine. Our room stewards Rogelio and Joseph were great, our room always clean, we always had fresh fluffy white towels, and the ever cute towel animals. The balcony was very narrow, and I barely had room for my knees when I sat in the chair out there, but the views were fantastic and it was worth the extra cost. The only real problem with the balcony was that it had a clear railing guard that got very dirty very quickly, and the dirt blocked the view. Note about laundry: No public laundry rooms on this ship, but at midweek the ship had a special - for $25.00 you could get a whole bag of laundry done. That seems a bit expensive, but so were the dry cleaning and ironing services. You’re better off if you dry-clean and iron before you leave home. Also, we brought a low wattage iron for touch ups and it worked just fine.
Staff and Crew: The dining staff and crew worked very hard. We couldn’t have been more pleased with how efficient and professional these staff members were! As for the Cruise Director’s staff, well, we never even knew who they were. And we participated in just about everything onboard. And the staff at the information desk were just plain rude.
Dining: Windows, the main dining room, served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Located at the very back of the ship, this is a beautiful dining room, very large, with a grand piano, and with lovely views around three sides. Once again, we never heard anyone play that piano. The service overall was excellent, except if you ordered iced tea. Then you had to wait and wait, and beg for refills. The food was not that good, however, and was our greatest disappointment about this cruise. My daughter ordered a dish one evening that consisted of a baked potato, blue cheese and caviar - it smelled so badly that our entire table noticed! It’s a good thing that we were an easy going bunch who found humor in the situation! The Garden Room was the other main dining room and was only open for dinner. It was much smaller than Windows, and lacked the grandeur and the views. The dinner menus were the same for both of these restaurants. There was almost always a wait to dine if you wanted a table for two, and sometimes this wait could be 20 or 30 minutes. If you didn’t mind sitting with a group you could usually go right in. Note about dining: It regularly took about two hours for us to have lunch or dinner in the main dining rooms. Keep that in mind if you are planning to attend a show or a visit to shore afterward. Breakfast was much quicker, but avoid the scrambled eggs! They were the powdered variety.
The buffet restaurant, Raffles, was awful. We did eat there on several occasions because of time, and it was always the same: crowded, long lines, and awful food. We began to notice that the food often consisted of last nights entrees from the main dining rooms! If you have to eat there as we did, so you don’t miss a show or shore trip, then stick with the fruit, bread, and find the meat carving station. Almost every time we ate there, a meat carving station was available where a server would carve off your serving - and it was very tasty.
We didn’t buy it, but the soda card was $35.00 plus gratuities, for all you can drink sodas. The iced tea, coffee, espresso and cappuccino were no extra charge and excellent. Alcoholic beverages were expensive, in the $6-$10 range for a small and very weak margarita, daiquiri or other mixed drink.
We did try Shogun, the Asian specialty restaurant, but were not impressed. The ship offers two-for-one specials for the alternative dining rooms if you eat early on most nights.
The Chocolate Buffet turned into a joke. People literally waited in line for hours and never did even get a taste of it.
The Blue Lagoon was good for a late night snack such as a hot dog, burger, or wanton soup.
Room Service was good for cold breakfast such as fruit, a Danish or cold cereal, and coffee. For lunch or dinner we saw some guests go directly to the main dining rooms and order trays that they could take back up to their rooms.
Entertainment: The onboard production company was not impressive. They lacked both talent and enthusiasm. There was one male dancer who just shined on that stage, and he really stood out compared to the other lame performers. The NCL shows did not even come close to those on our previous cruises.
The comedy of guest comedian Adam Ace was the entertainment highlight, and he performed twice during the cruise. He is hilarious, and has a really fun show. Another guest entertainer was tenor singer Chris Riggins, and he was also quite good.
The onboard NCL bands were OK, not great. The Harmony and Rhythm band played upbeat disco or dance tunes every night at the Galaxy of the Stars starting at 10:30 pm. The night life ended at about midnight, so if you are young and looking for active night life try a Caribbean cruise. We walked around the whole ship one evening just after midnight and saw no other people! For something mild, Skippy and the band Pryme Time played your standard favorites at Champagne Charlie’s in the early evening. The problem here was that these performances were ship favorites, and Champagne Charlie’s, located in the main atrium area, only seats about 30 people. It would get so crowded with people standing everywhere!
Other events, such as photography workshops, scrapbook workshops, towel animal making, etc, were usually under attended but interesting and informative.
Ship Photos: Ship photos were kept to an acceptable minimum. In fact, we only had our photo taken at embarkation, once at dinner, and at the ports of call. At each port of call, a character in a whale or eagle suit will grab you for a photo. These photos are really cute, and almost always have a gorgeous background of the local scenery. Here’s the problem: they like to grab only one person at a time for these photos. If you are traveling with someone else, make sure they get you together for the photo. This will save you a bit of money, since the photos are $13.00 each.
Ports: Be aware that getting on or off the ship could require standing in long lines! It helps if you have your room card and your photo ID out and ready for inspection.
Ketchikan: It was raining but still beautiful. We decided against Misty Fjords flight-seeing because it was so overcast. The town is beautiful, and you can walk around easily and see totem poles, Creek Street, and Married Man’s Walk. The locals were so nice! Bring an umbrella! It was cool outside, but don’t overdress. Jeans, a long sleeved shirt and light waterproof jacket were all that we needed. Plus good comfortable walking shoes. A backpack for carrying camera, binoculars, etc. is also a great idea. There is great shopping, for just about anything you want from totem poles to Salmon Jerky!
Juneau: We did not book an excursion. Instead we took a $5 (for both ways) shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier. The shuttles are very easy to find, and ticket booths for several companies are set up lining the dock area. They don’t honor each others tickets though, so make sure that you find your company’s shuttle! Shuttles leave every 30 minutes, both to Mendenhall and returning from Mendenhall. Our shuttle driver even gave us a tour-lecture during the short ride. Once at the glacier, we paid $3 per person for the visitor’s center. If you only want to use the rest room or the book store, you don’t even have to pay the $3. This ended up being a very inexpensive but delightful trip for us. The weather was overcast but not raining. It was cool and comfortable, wearing jeans, long sleeved shirt and light jacket. The glacier was beautiful, and we took a hike over to the waterfall which is as close to the glacier as you can get. We didn’t know the trails, but they were easy to figure out. While at the waterfall, we heard the thunderous roar as the glacier unexpectedly calved. Don’t expect to see any wildlife here - although it was not crowded, there were too many people around for the animals to make an appearance. We had been told that you could see all you wanted to see of Mendenhall in about an hour. We were there for about three hours. If you are physically able and like to walk or hike, take the time to explore the trails here. It is breathtakingly beautiful.
Sawyer Glacier: The cruise through Tracy Arm to Sawyer Glacier was smooth and the way littered with small to medium icebergs. We sat on our balcony and watched the scenery go by for hours. Captain Lars was able to maneuver the ship very close to Sawyer Island, which is very close to the glacier itself. There are actually two glaciers, North Sawyer and South Sawyer. We saw them both as the ship was turned around for the return trip. We had been told to expect many seals perched on the icebergs, but we only saw one.
Skagway: We did the White Pass and Yukon Railway train through the ship. It was very informative and the scenery beautiful. I purchased the DVD for $15.00, and having now watched it, the DVD is definitely worth the money. The DVD’s were sold on the train during the trip, but they are also available at the train depot which is just a very short walk into Skagway - you can’t miss it. Don’t worry about which side of the train you sit on. We were on the right side going up, and were against the cliff. Once we got to the top the conductor wisely had everyone switch seats with the people in the opposite row, so if you didn’t get the view on the way up, you got it on the way down! We were not allowed to get off the train due to customs. For a diversion during the train ride, some rock art had been arranged on the ground by someone unknown, and every once in awhile, if you were looking, you would see a simple “sculpture” along the way up.
This trip is $89 per adult if you reserve directly through the railway website instead of the cruise line ($99). The train depot is very easy to find and only a short walk into town. The depot also has a very nice shop.
Wireless internet?? None of the internet cafes in town (not even Starbuck’s) had wireless service. Here’s how we did find wireless: when you get off the ship turn right and go down to the gray building at that end of the pier (the town of Skagway is down the pier in the other direction). I think this gray building is the ferry terminal, and it has a few benches out front. We were able to access wireless service from there (its not free, but its much less expensive than the .75 cents per minute onboard).
Prince Rupert: We booked a whale watching tour through the cruise line. Our tour operator was SeaCharters, our tour guide was Colin, and they did a great job. There were about twenty people on our four hour trip, and we most definitely did find whales, whales and more whales. Our boat captain did a great job, and was able to get us very close to killer whales numerous times. We also saw many bald eagles and a few humpback’s. I don’t know if you can contact SeaCharters directly for this tour, but it is worth a try if you want to save some money.
This city is a developing cruise port, and they don’t have a lot of shopping yet; however, the local art sold there was the nicest we saw anywhere. The town is beautiful, they held a festival for the cruise passengers on a grassy knoll across from the cruise port, and the locals were very friendly. We departed at 10:00 pm, and the town sent us away with a fireworks show.
Debarkation: Debarkation was scheduled between the hours of 8:15 am and 11:30 am Saturday morning, and each room got a set of colored luggage tags on Friday, each color corresponding to a different debarkation time. We had an early flight, which the cruise line was informed about through our advanced guest registration. However, we were assigned a later debarkation time. I went to the information desk to change our debarkation color so we wouldn’t miss our flight and was very rudely accommodated after standing in line for about 20 minutes.
Debarkation was a madhouse. Guests were advised not to go to the debarkation area until their color/time was announced, but instead to wait in the restaurants or in their rooms. Most people did not listen, and congregated in the debarkation area anyway. At 8:25 when the first group was allowed off, the area was so crowded that we almost could not get through. And many of those people had debarkation times of 10:00 or later. It’s hard to blame the cruise staff when the guests don’t follow very clear instructions, but NCL did not do anything to correct the situation, either.
Final Comments: We made the best of our trip and had many great experiences, but will not cruise with NCL again and do not recommend this cruise to others. It was a very low-budget experience in too many ways.