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Norwegian Spirit

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The 2,016-passenger Norwegian Spirit debuted in 1998 so you won't find a rock-climbing wall, bowling alley or some of the other whiz-bang features offered by the line's bigger, newer ships, but enjoyment doesn't always have to come in an ultramodern package. Given this ship is only used for port-intensive itineraries, even active cruisers are unlikely to miss the bells and whistles.

Though Norwegian Spirit is one of the line's oldest ships, it has been well looked after with thoughtful and regular refurbishments. Staircases have wood and iron railings, the soaring atrium has glass elevators and the colour palette is more mellow than over-the-top (no neon tones as on some newer Norwegian Cruise Line vessels). Its smaller size and traditional features make it a good choice for cruise travellers who want to feel like they're onboard an oceangoing vessel rather than a huge theme park at sea.

While Norwegian Spirit is in excellent condition, the ship does show its age in certain areas, largely due to outdated decor. Some of the ship's original Asia-inspired design details -- think plenty of burnished gold and warrior statues guarding the restaurants -- from its days as Malaysia-based Star Cruises' SuperStar Leo are looking out of date. So too are the cabins, which are beautifully maintained but decked out in '90s hues with pastel bathroom tiles that are so behind the times, they'll likely be in back in fashion again soon.

That said, you're unlikely to notice these things (even those terrible fish and shell tiles in the bathroom) after a few days. Food is impressive across all dining venues, not just those with a surcharge, and itineraries feature perks that are not always offered on other big ships in Europe. On our cruise, an overnight stay in Venice and late departure from Valetta in Malta were notable highlights.

We found Norwegian Spirit to be one of the happiest cruise ships we've sailed, filled with contented passengers and a smiling, engaged and enthusiastic crew who can't do enough for them. It's almost as if the crew try that little bit harder to make up for the fact that Spirit is a slightly older ship. But while Spirit is not the newest vessel in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet, this welcoming ship goes to show that good things can come in small packages.

Overall, the onboard vibe is casual and relaxed. Shorts are allowed in The Garden Room dining room after 5 p.m. while the Windows dining room is reserved for those who want to dress up a little at night, but it's not a formal ship. In the evening, women favour closed-toe shoes or smart sandals, knee-length dresses, pants and blouses, while men don collared shirts and khakis. Norwegian ships don't have formal nights, but each sailing offers at least one "Dress Up or Not Night," on which passengers can dress up if they want to.

Stardust Theater

The 807-seat Stardust Theater (Decks 7 and 8) hosts colourful, lively production shows performed by the ship's singers and dancers and accompanied by a live orchestra, plus guest vocalists, magicians, comedians and other crowd-pleasing performers. With its plush red-velvet seating and opera-house ambience, Stardust Theater is one of the prettiest show lounges we've seen at sea. Two decks create a slant and great sight lines in the main section, but sit in the balcony on Deck 8 if you think you might want to leave early. Otherwise, you will have to walk toward the stage and slip out in front of everyone watching the show. In addition to the show productions, the theater hosts visiting performers and is the venue for the highly popular International Crew Show.

Daily Fun

Make your own fun with a game of shuffleboard or join the staff for activities such as trivia, towel-folding lessons or sports competitions. Around the ship there are art auctions, hosted tastings (for a fee), chefs demonstrating the art of carving fruit, health and well-being seminars or popular games such as Deal or No Deal (which carries a fee to play). As is the case on most ships, some activities aim to sell passengers shore excursions or spa packages, but there is no need to buy.

At Night

Norwegian Spirit offers an impressive number of bars, lounges and entertainment venues for such a small ship. In the evening, much of the action takes place on Deck 7, which houses the exotic Maharini's Lounge & Nightclub, which is accessed through the casino, the Shanghai Bar and Henry's Pub. Musical performances by cover bands, piano players, guitarists and other musical acts take place throughout the ship, with a musical mood to suit every passenger.

Located midship on Deck 8, Maharaja's Casino features slot machines and roulette, blackjack, craps, Texas Hold'em and Caribbean stud poker tables. Smoking is permitted in the casino, and the smell of cigarette smoke permeates the venue, which could rule it out for nonsmokers.

Norwegian Spirit Bars & Lounges

There are plenty of bars to choose from on this ship and each one has a distinct theme and matching decor. It won't take you long to find a favourite, whether you prefer the cosy atmosphere at Henry's Pub, the elegant Champagne Charlie's or the eye-popping decor at Maharini's Lounge. Bar service is friendly and efficient and you never have to wait long for a drink, even at peak times.

Maharini's Lounge & Nightclub (Deck 7): With its Indian-influenced decor with fancy chandeliers, velvet curtains and plush couches, this eclectic lounge bar combines the lush decor of a Bollywood rom-com with the relaxed vibe of a nightclub's VIP Room. After 10 p.m., things get lively with a DJ spinning tunes and plenty of dancing.

Shanghai Bar (Deck 7): This sports bar, which also has an Asian twist has big-screen TVs showing soccer matches and other suitably sporty programs. It is located in a thoroughfare, with people walking through the bar to reach other parts of the ship, which makes it a good spot for people-watching.

Henry's Pub (Deck 7): Sipping a pint in this cosy, English-style pub, it's hard to believe you're in the middle of the ocean on a cruise ship. This convivial bar is the place to come for beers on tap and a game of darts and a chat with fellow cruisers. This was our favourite spot for live music in the evening with entertainment provided by a soulful guitarist and vocalist who enjoyed joking with the crowd.

Champagne Charlie's (Deck 8): A musical trio or pianist is typically found tickling the ivories in Champagne Charlie's, which serves, not surprisingly, Champagne plus wine and cocktails. The art deco decor and delightful music make this bar the perfect spot to kick off a romantic night out.

Galaxy of the Stars (Deck 12): The ship's observation lounge is a winner, offering views from floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. Window seats are the perfect spot to sit and stare mindlessly at the sea (that is, if no activities like bingo are going on in the space at the time). Black and cream decor gives this bar an elegant look and ship models in cases highlight the lounge's subtle nautical theme.

At the front of Galaxy of the Stars, you can head down the stairs and snap a photo as you pretend to steer the ship via the captain's wheel that's positioned there. For the real deal, head down the circular stairway, and peer through a glass window at the captain and officers on the bridge.

Raffles Terrace Bar (Deck 12): This bar is predominantly used by passengers dining indoors or outdoors at Raffles Court. It's a nice spot to enjoy a drink with ocean views outside peak dining times.

Tivoli Bar (Deck 12): If you're lying by the pool and feel like a drink, this bar has a selection of popular beverages, including frozen cocktails.

Bier Garten (Deck 13): This outdoor bar has an Oktoberfest vibe and serves an international selection of beers, cocktails and other drinks. The beer selection is nothing special but it's a lovely place to sit when the weather is good.

Norwegian Spirit Outside Recreation

Pools

Norwegian Spirit has one large outdoor pool surrounded by deck chairs and outdoor sunning spaces on Deck 12. You will also find four shaded hot tubs here. The main pool is large enough for laps if you get there in the early morning before it gets busy. On Deck 10, the aft pool is the ship's family hot spot with its pirate-themed water park for children, complete with two kiddie slides that elicit squeals of delight from young revellers.

Recreation

Buccaneer's Wet and Wild is a pirate-themed water park that younger kids adore. It's got a pool that's surrounded by caves and a mountain, two small water slides that require entry through a tunnel and even a children's hot tub. An amphitheatre with views over the whole scene allows parents to sit and watch their kids play while enjoying a cool drink from the nearby Raffles bar. Children must be toilet trained to use Buccaneer's Wet and Wild. No swim diapers are permitted in the pools on Norwegian Spirit, including this one.

A delightful feature of Norwegian Spirit is a real wooden promenade that wraps around the entire ship on Deck 7, something you rarely see these days. This one has shuffleboard and a few traditional wooden deck chairs for lounging, as well as some tables and chairs. Venues on the Promenade Deck, including the Shogun Asian restaurant and Henry's Pub, have store-like marquees fronting the wooden deck (although the real entrances are inside), making it feel as if you are strolling down a street instead of at sea on a cruise ship.

For joggers, there's a track up on Deck 13, near the net-enclosed basketball court. Six times around equals a mile. Nearby are four cages for driving golf balls. Deck 11 is the place to go for Ping-Pong.

Sun Decks

Most of the sun deck space can be found on Deck 12 around the pool, but peaceful sunning can be found on the deck chairs at the front of the ship on Deck 13. The wraparound Promenade Deck also has a few deck chairs but you need to get there early for these, especially if the weather is less than ideal.

Norwegian Spirit Services

Head to Deck 7 for guest services and the shore excursions desk. On Deck 8 there are shops selling logo merchandise, souvenirs and sundries. Duty-free items, including jewellery, alcohol, fragrances, cosmetics, watches and sunglasses are also available. You will also find the ship's conference rooms and Photo Shop and Photo Gallery here. Photographs are arranged by date for passengers to peruse, with packages available from $149 for 10 prints. Individual photos cost $29.95. You will find the entrance to the art gallery directly opposite Le Bistro, on Deck 7.

On Deck 12, the library does double duty as an internet cafe. Though it has a few shelves of books, the computers, which face the ocean, are the main attraction. Internet access is priced from 99 cents per minute or blocks of time, such as 125 for 250 minutes, which can be purchased. Unlimited packages, such as a social media plan for $14.99 per day or an unlimited premium Wi-Fi plan for $34.99 per day, are also available but must be purchased for the entire cruise. An unlimited package is your best option as the internet speed is very, very slow.

Other public rooms include a writing room, card room and lifestyle room, all of which are popular with card players and those who enjoy board games, which are available to borrow at the library. There is also an indoor smoking room on this deck.

A doctor is available in the Medical Center on Deck 4. There are no self-service laundrettes onboard, but you can pay to have your clothing laundered for you.

Spa

The Roman-themed Mandara Spa is operated by Steiner of London and has separate changing rooms, relaxation areas, steam rooms and saunas for men and women. While men have a cosy indoor area as a relaxation room, women get a more expansive space with large windows. Spa treatments feature Elemis and La Therapie products and include hot stone massages and toning body wraps. Expect to pay $129 for a 50-minute Swedish massage or enjoy a facial from $122. Specials are often available on port days, or if the spa is not busy on a particular sailing.

Fitness

The gym on Deck 12 is large, especially for such a small ship, with treadmills and bikes that face floor-to-ceiling windows so you can watch the ocean as you work out. Weights occupy one corner, and there's a mirrored area for free and for-fee fitness classes. Classes, where charges apply, include Pilates, Tour De Cycle and yoga. Prices start at $12 for a 45-minute class.

With Freestyle Cruising comes a daily choice of where you want to dine, when and with whom for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The options are so varied, it's sometimes hard to decide. Fees charged by some of the venues help you sort that out, particularly as every speciality restaurant (except for the 10-person teppanyaki room) charges for dishes a la carte. For many, the decision comes down to how much extra they want to spend onboard. Food is available 24/7 with Blue Lagoon open around the clock.

Vegetarian and gluten-free options are always available in the main dining rooms and identified on the dinner menu. If you have specific dietary needs, discuss them with the maitre d' before your first meal, or ask specific questions about the items you select. In the speciality restaurants, dishes are not marked vegetarian or gluten-free so diners with dietary requirements need to ask their waiter.

 

Free Dining

Windows and The Garden Room Main Dining Rooms (Deck 6): The ship has two main dining rooms, Windows and The Garden Room. Of the two, Windows is the more elegant, located aft with dramatic Palladian-style windows overlooking the ship's wake. With its classic ocean liner decor -- think dark woods and padded chairs -- the space is downright romantic, especially if you get one of the tables for two that line both sides of the dining room. These are spaced far enough apart for private conversation, a rarity in shipboard main dining rooms, and most have ocean views. Windows is open for breakfast, lunch (sea days only) and dinner.

The U-shaped Garden Room restaurant seats 304 passengers and has a more modern look. It does not have aft views like the larger dining room, which is twice the size but also has windows along the side. The Garden Room has a more intimate feel and is popular with passengers who enjoy a quieter dining experience. Though the menu is the same in both venues, having two separate main dining rooms, each with distinct decor, provides cruisers with a sense of variety, particularly on longer itineraries. The Garden Room is open for dinner only.

Breakfast is served 7 to 9 a.m. (or 8 to 10 a.m. on sea days) and includes coffee and juice, fresh fruit, cereals, yoghurt, pancakes, eggs a few ways, bacon, sausages and hash browns.

Lunch is available on sea days from noon to 1:30 p.m. with a changing daily menu that includes dishes such as shrimp penne pasta, roasted rosemary chicken leg, fish 'n' chips or a tuna sandwich. Burgers, soup and salad are also available. Desserts range from peanut butter cup souffle or bread and butter pudding to ice cream, or sliced fruit.

Dinner is a multicourse affair served from 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily and has enough mainstay and rotating options to please any palate. On the menu's left page are starters such as French onion soup and escargot cassoulet and classic entrees such as grilled New York strip steak and beef lasagne, which are available every evening. On the right, you will find a daily changing menu of entrees featuring dishes such as linguine with clams, Thai green chicken curry and mushroom stroganoff. Coffee and tea are served, but speciality coffees and drinks like wine or soda are additional.

Blue Lagoon Cafe (Deck 7): Drop by for comfort foods such as burgers, fish 'n' chips, sticky Buffalo wings and New York cheesecake. While primarily a lunch and dinner venue, self-service continental breakfast is also available each morning. Seating is limited but when the restaurant gets busy, crew will take orders and serve meals in the adjoining Shanghai Bar. Blue Lagoon is open 24 hours a day.

Shogun Asian Restaurant (Deck 8): Shogun has a full menu of Chinese and pan-Asian delights such as Singapore noodles, stir-fried beef and vegetables, and sweet-and-sour pork. Dishes lack the requisite chili hit -- the Kung Pao chicken was positively bland both times we ordered it -- but they're still tasty. We especially enjoyed the combination of fried rice packed with prawns, roast pork and vegetables. Dinner is available from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. but be prepared for waits of up to 50 minutes if you dine at peak times. Cruisers are given a buzzer so they can sit in a nearby bar. However, it is annoying when it finally goes off and you arrive to discover a half-empty restaurant.

Raffles Court & Raffles Terrace (Deck 12): The ship's buffet, Raffles Court is beautifully designed, with pleasing light and airy decor and a choice or indoor or outdoor seating. Breakfast is served from 6 to 11 a.m., with typical morning fare such as made-to-order omelettes, scrambled eggs, waffles, pancakes, cereal, pastries and fruit.

Lunch is served daily from noon to 2:30 p.m. and features dishes such a grilled fish, schnitzel and pastas. Sandwiches and salads are also available, as is a dessert counter with treats such as chocolate mousse, cheesecake and colorful gelatins. Self-serve soft serve ice cream is available whenever the buffet is open, from lunchtime onward. During lunch and dinner, hand-scooped ice cream is available from a staffed counter with vanilla and chocolate or strawberry available each day, plus a changing daily flavour such as butter pecan or lime sherbet.

Dinner features similar options plus a changing selection of dishes with a different theme such as Mexican or Indian. Dinner is served from 5:30 to 9.30 p.m.

Raffles Court does get busy at peak times during breakfast and lunch, especially if the weather is chilly and no one wants to sit outside on the Terrace. However, it is always possible to find a table if you are willing to wait a few minutes for someone to leave.

Bier Garten Grill (Deck 13): This counter next to the Bier Garten bar serves hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries and the like on sea days, with plenty of seating available under a large sun sail. If the weather is good, this is a great spot to enjoy a drink and something to eat while you listen to whichever performer or band is playing on the pool deck.

Room Service: The only complimentary room service offered on Norwegian Spirit is a basic continental breakfast, which includes choices such as croissants, muffins, juice, and coffee or tea.

Fee Dining

With so many passengers opting for a dining package, speciality restaurants onboard Norwegian Spirit frequently sell out. Add the fact they're especially good and you could be out of luck if you don't book favourites like Cagney's or Le Bistro online in advance, before the start of your cruise. While the dining packages offer the best value, you can still afford to treat yourself if you dine a la carte, particularly if you opt for two courses rather than three.

Le Bistro (Deck 7); a la carte; This elegant French restaurant has plush surroundings with fancy chandeliers and romantic banquette seating and is the ideal restaurant to celebrate a special occasion. Dishes include classics such as baked escargots with herbed garlic butter ($5.99) to start, and entrees such as beef tenderloin with a peppercorn sauce ($19.99) and roasted rack of lamb ($18.99). Desserts such as profiteroles ($3.99) and a chocolate fondue with chunks of fruit ($8.99 for two) tempt diners seeking a sweet finish. The only thing rivalling the food is the service, which is exceptional. Le Bistro is open for dinner only.

Cagney's Steakhouse (Deck 7); a la carte; The line's signature steakhouse serves Angus beef, as well as a variety of fish, chicken and lamb dishes, plus veggie and potato sides. Try the beef short rib confit ($4) or a traditional steak house wedge and blue cheese salad ($4) to start, followed by a ribeye steak ($20) or double-cut lamb chops ($19) served with or without sauces, which include options such as bearnaise, chimichurri and green peppercorn. Sides such as truffle French fries, onion rings, creamed corn and roasted mushrooms ($2 each) are addictive. For dessert, there is an Oreo cheesecake or a decadent chocolate fudge brownie ($4). Open for dinner only. Passengers in suites can also dine at Cagney's for breakfast and lunch, but it's an entirely different menu.

Cafe 49 (Deck 7); a la carte: Located in the atrium, this cafe serves speciality coffees and sweet treats for a fee. It is open from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Teppanyaki (Deck 8); $29.95: Chefs perform a stir-fry meal before your eyes, flipping knives in the air, juggling eggs and turning onion rings into a volcano, in the 10-person teppanyaki room. Many teppanyaki experiences are more about the show than the food but the one on the Norwegian Spirit is different. Steak is a premium cut and cooked to order, prawns are large and everything is perfectly seasoned. Our only complaint was the 1.5-hour session (which in reality is shorter as it includes set up time for the next group) felt rushed, particularly at the end. We had barely finished our last mouthful of dessert when it was time to leave so the crew could prepare for the next sitting. Lunch is available from noon to 1:30 p.m. on sea days. For dinner, make reservations for seatings at 5, 6:30, 8 or 9:30 p.m. With only 10 covers per session and no advance reservations available online, you should book this dining experience on embarkation day or risk missing out, especially on shorter cruises.

Sushi Bar (Deck 8); a la carte: Shogun, the complimentary Asian restaurant, also has a for-a-fee sushi bar. Individually priced rolls range from $5 for a salmon crispy rice roll to $6 for a California roll and $7 for a spicy tuna roll.

La Trattoria (Deck 12); a la carte: A section of the Raffles Court restaurant goes Italian from 5:30 to 10 p.m. nightly, serving a tasty selection of Italian favourites such as osso buco ($17.99), spaghetti carbonara ($8.99), minestrone soup ($2.99), and tiramisu ($3.99). Service is casual and relaxed and there are plenty of window tables. With pasta dishes all priced under $10, La Trattoria is a particularly good speciality option for passengers without a dining package.

Room Service; $9.95: Available 24 hours a day, room service offers a menu of sandwiches, burgers, soup, pizzas, salads and desserts such as New York cheesecake and chocolate cake. A delivery charge of $9.95 applies to each order, except for suite passengers who are not required to pay the room service fee.

Norwegian Spirit has 1,008 cabins in four general categories: inside, oceanview, balcony and suites. It does not have The Haven, Norwegian's ship-within-a-ship area, or Studio cabins for solo travellers. More than 300 cabins are interconnecting with a choice of standard insides to suites, a benefit if you are travelling as a family. Most outside cabins have balconies, and these are accessed through floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, meaning you have a great view, even when the doors are closed. Norwegian Spirit has three wheelchair-accessible cabins.

Cabins are decorated in tones of aqua and green with golden wood finishes (a '90s look that has not aged well) and feature flat-screen TVs, coffee makers, mini-bars and hair dryers. Furnishings are fairly basic -- a bed, small desk, couch (that converts to a single bed, but is too small for two people to sit on) and coffee table. There is only one bedside table, which is inconvenient for the person on the "wrong" side of the bed. You'll find a good selection of new release movies showing on rotation but the in-room TV cannot be used to check your account or make dining reservations. Though the ship is old, we found our cabin to be spotless and in excellent repair.

There is ample storage space, provided you store suitcases under the bed, and bathrooms come with large showers, centre sink areas (with storage shelves for toiletries) and toilet compartments with a separate door. This is a great feature for those who want additional privacy, but the compact toilet compartment could be a squeeze for larger passengers. Liquid dispensers of hand soap, shampoo and body wash are provided in the bathroom.

Inside: There are 385 inside cabins measuring 149 square feet (14 square meters). These have no natural light, making them a good choice for those who like to sleep in. Some have pull-down or pull-out beds to accommodate third and fourth passengers.

Oceanview: These 223 cabins have a porthole or picture window and are 157 square feet (15 square meters). Some accommodate third and fourth passengers on a pull-out or pull-down bed.

Balcony: There are 382 balcony cabins that are 172 square feet (16 square meters) with a 29-square-foot (3 square meters) balcony. Some balcony cabins can accommodate third and fourth passengers. While fresh sea air is always welcome, the balcony is just big enough for two chairs and a tiny table. If you're in a three-person room, someone can pull the desk chair toward the balcony and sit inside so everyone can enjoy the view at the same time.

Suite: Norwegian Spirit has seven suites and 11 junior suites that NCL calls Penthouse Suites, luxurious spaces with features that include oval-shaped whirlpools, living room areas with dining tables, walk-in closets, CD/DVD players and refrigerators.

The eight Category AC junior suites are notable not for their size, but for their reasonable price and because they have bathrooms with one-way, floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can look at the sea from your whirlpool tub. They range in size from 414 to 555 square feet (38 to 52 square meters) with 22- to 84-square-foot balconies (2 to 8 square meters). Two Aft-Facing Owner's Suites measure 605 square feet (56 square meters) with 92-square-foot (9 square meters) balconies furnished with two sun loungers plus two chairs and a cafe-style table.

All Penthouse Suites and above come with butler and concierge service and access to Cagney's Steakhouse on an exclusive basis at breakfast and lunch. The concierge can make dinner and shore excursion reservations, set up special requests and airport transfers, and arrange for priority disembarkation. There is no dedicated concierge lounge, but the concierge can be reached by phone or approached in person during breakfast at Cagney's.

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