I recently sailed on NCL’s Norwegian Spirit on a 7 day cruise from NY Harbor to New England and Canada with calls at Martha’s Vineyard, Boston, Halifax and Saint John followed by one day at sea on the return to NY.
The Spirit, a 1966 passenger ship that joined the NCL fleet (of 12 ships) in 2004 (from Star Cruise line previously in service as SuperStar Leo,) takes its relaxed attitude seriously. Several passengers I spoke with cited the “casual atmosphere” as what attracted them to the line and keeps them coming back.
The cruise director told me that the average age on this Oct 5th sailing was 58 and indeed it did seem like most of the passengers were couples in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Caribbean sailings attract a younger demographic, he said. I could have counted the children on board with two hands and, as such, The Bucanneer’s Wet & Wild slide went largely unused. A singles dinner sign-up event left the hostess by herself. She told me that often she can’t even fill a table of 6.
If I had sailed with my sister or mother, we surely would have created a spa and educational cruise experience. The Roman Spa & Fitness Center offers massages, facials, (including de-stress and express packages for $99 for 3 services), beauty salon services, sauna, steam room (even acupuncture and teeth whitening); the 24-hour gym features treadmills facing picture windows, 2 Aquaswim jet exercise pools (one person at a time for swimming laps) and a fitness consultant. Yoga or pilates classes are offered daily ($10 fee). Seminars on Secrets to a Flatter Stomach and Dealing with a Bad Hair Day, an art history lecture and walks around the promenade deck would have been on our agenda.
We might have relaxed in the Library reading room with ever present coffee service (mom) or checked work email in the Internet room on the 250 minute plan for $99.95 (sister.)
But I was with John and we like to dine out, dance, drink, smoke (cigars- him) and play poker (him) – (and preferably all in the same place) so that’s the cruise I experienced on this sailing.
Luckily with NCL’s “freestyle” cruising all of these experiences are possible on the same ship.
Do “whatever” you feel like doing, dress “however” you want; eat “wherever” and “whenever” you choose and get the cruise of your own making.
We tried almost every one of the 11 restaurants and 10 bars on board and even had food from several restaurants in the same meal.
We dined in the 324 seat Garden Room (for lobster night) and 556 seat Windows main restaurants (enjoying the 259 calorie Cooking Light Braised Pork Roast entrée one night followed by the Chocoholic buffet another) as well as in the 452 seat Raffles Court, a cafeteria style restaurant popular as a fast option, with its full view of all menu items and the ship’s arrival into the Canadian ports. The 36 seat Blue Lagoon cozy nook café serves “comfort food” 24/7 where wings, burgers, meatloaf and cookies are always available.
The specialty restaurants added a cover charge, but were well worth it. We enjoyed the antipasto trolley, pollo parmigiana and pasta with choice of 9 sauces at the
74 seat La Trattoria, ($10 cover); the 16 oz T-bone at the 52 seat Cagney Steakhouse ($20 cover) and the grilled swordfish loin at the 102 seat Le Bistro, ($15) where, on top of the cover charge, certain entrees (cold seafood platter, cote de boeuf) required an additional $10 supplement.
Cagney also serves private breakfast and lunch to VIP guests which include passengers in the 18 penthouse suites who also qualify for private butler and concierge service.
A flat screen TV near the elevators informs of the waiting time to dine at any the restaurants; or guests can plan ahead and book a reservation via the desk in the reception area where all menus are available for examination. Yes, “freestyle diners” could choose their dinner time, yet most chose 6 or 7 pm so there were always free seats for our preferred time of 8 or 830. The only restaurant that was “sold out” on the night we tried to book was the Teppanyaki room, a Benihana style grill with a $25 cover charge. So we dined at the 142 seat Shogun Asian Fusion restaurant ($15) and ordered from that menu as well as from the adjacent Sushi Bar.
The menus change daily in the main restaurants but the specialty restaurants feature the same items each day.
So much for freestyle “dining.” But when it came to freestyle “dressing” almost all passengers chose “casual” as their style for day and evening. Even on the two “dress up evenings” / “evening of elegance” (as an invitation card left in the cabin those mornings called them,) at least half the guests stayed in their jeans and Martha’s Vineyard t-shirts (albeit spelled out in rhinestones) with the remainder in business casual/nice dresses attire. Then there were us 4 or 5 couples that wore tuxedos and gowns. This wasn’t surprising since the invitation said “come dressed to ….impress or not….whatever” (with no mention of “black-tie” or “formal.”)
For dancing and drinking, there’s “music everywhere”, as the Freestyle daily newsletter informs, and for us, “dancing everywhere” as long as there was live music, even if there was no dance floor.
The Galaxy of the Stars Observation show lounge on deck 12 had a beautiful dance floor and had live music sets from 7 pm to midnight (with some breaks for game shows) including a Big Band tribute to Glenn Miller, a 70s disco party as well as NCL’s White Hot party. Once that venue “closes” at midnight, it was on to The Maharini Lounge & Nightclub, adjacent to the Maharajah’s Casino, (where John found his Texas Hold em tournaments) featuring dj music with a dance floor and its bar where smoking was allowed. (There is also a smoking room within the Galaxy of the Stars lounge and a designated area on an outside deck.)
Speaking of the Casino, NCL’s Casino at Sea Bonus Bucks coupon booklet included one for $20 in slot pay for $10; $15 in gaming chips for $10 and a coupon worth a “Lucky Ace” as a first card on Blackjack.
The Celebrity Disco also had a dance floor with music chosen by whatever karoke singer happened to wander in.
We also stopped to enjoy the music, and then danced anyway, (even though there was no dance floor,) at the daily live music outside by the Tivoli pool, at Champagne Charlie’s lounge and in the atrium by the reception desk.
Using the pocket guide map of the ship, John created his own “passport” and “stamped” it with a check mark as we ate, drank and danced our way around the ship.
Our balcony stateroom was very comfortable with a small sitting area and desk, plenty of closet and shelf space, and, of course, the balcony chairs and table.
We took a little tour and saw an Owner’s Suite (there are 2); a deluxe Penthouse named for cities (there are 5) and a regular Penthouse, named for star signs (11.) Most highly recommended is the stateroom “Pisces” with both a Jacuzzi and a shower with an ocean view; the “Singapore” suite with its bar and Lavazza coffee machine and the “Shanghai” Owner’s suite, with its card room, living room and a sun deck.
Yes, guests in these staterooms enjoy the five star treatment with priority embarkation tickets with express escorted walk to the stateroom, VIP tender tickets delivered to the stateroom, dinner reservations made and “sold-out” shore excursion tickets procured.
Yet, all guests are given reason to believe they are VIPs. Champagne is offered to all embarking passengers. Repeat cruisers enjoy a private Lattitudes Lounge and cocktail party. And during the Norwegian Spirit International Crew Show in the Stardust Theater, the Captain, top officers, staff and crew gather on stage to applaud the audience, their honored passengers.
The Norwegian Spirit will be in dry dock from Oct 31st through Nov 23rd. Her first cruise will be from New Orleans on 11/23.
In 2009 the Norwegian Spirit will offer 7-day Exotic Western Caribbean sailings round-trip from New Orleans from January 2009-April 2009. Beginning in May, she does 7-day Bermuda sailings from Boston through September 2009. During the fall she does Canada & New England and then back to the Western Caribbean in November.
For more information, visit ncl.com.
By Lisa Skriloff