Nor­we­gian Spirit

Bad weather doesn’t stop Tony Slinn en­joy­ing a win­ter cruise of the Med.

Cruise Passenger - - CON­TENTS -

It’s go­ing to be a big year for Nor­we­gian Cruise Lines (NCL). On the world stage, the launch of Nor­we­gian Bliss

will add an­other me­ga­liner to the 17-strong ßeet. Down Un­der, Nor­we­gian Jewel will be re­fur­bished and be­gin her as­sault on the Syd­ney mar­ket in earnest.

But there is an­other side to this Amer­i­can line. Nor­we­gian Spirit

is one of NCL’s small­est ves­sels in terms of pas­sen­ger ca­pac­ity, car­ry­ing just over 2,000 peo­ple, looked af­ter by 912 crew mem­bers.

We put her through her paces in a slightly un­usual way. Jan­uary on the Med means the weather can be a lit­tle less than its mag­niÞ­cent best. That puts a lot of pres­sure on the ship and its crew.

Why NCL, this ship and this time of year? Firstly, it was a good deal, $2,526 each, in­clud­ing easyJet re­turn ßights from the UK to Barcelona, Spain, where Nor­we­gian Spirit was sail­ing. The price in­cluded 10 nights aboard with some in­clu­sive drinks, gra­tu­ities and an un­usual bot­tled wa­ter pack­age – 20 one-litre bot­tles stacked up in the cabin, more about that later.

We liked NCL’s Freestyle-din­ing con­cept, which al­lowed us to dine at any time, with­out as­signed seat­ing, and its ca­sual dress code. That said, we did think some guests could have taken a lit­tle more sar­to­rial trou­ble dur­ing din­ners!

We also liked the itin­er­ary: Casablanca in Morocco; Gran Ca­naria and Tener­ife in the Span­ish Ca­nary Is­lands; Por­tuguese-owned Madeira; then back through the Strait of Gi­bral­tar to Malaga and Ali­cante on main­land Spain be­fore dis­em­barka­tion at Barcelona. Well, that was the plan…

Se­condly, we liked the medi­um­size cruise ship of about 2,000 guests. If well-de­signed, such ships don’t feel crowded, even on sea days, and are big enough to boast a good range of pub­lic ar­eas.

As a bonus, Nor­we­gian Spirit was re­fur­bished dur­ing 2017. Orig­i­nally built for Asian line Star Cruises as Su­per­Star Leo (youÕll Þnd her orig­i­nal plaque on board), she be­gan cruis­ing in 1998. That re­fur­bish­ment has given her up­dated din­ing venues, 17 in to­tal in­clud­ing pre­mium spe­cialty restau­rants. The lat­ter do, how­ever, come at a price.

Cab­ins have also been up­dated and there’s the usual four-choice range: in­side; with a win­dow (Ocean­view); with a bal­cony; and suite. Our deal in­cluded a bal­cony cabin and as an­other bonus, and com­mon with older ships, you get larger cab­ins than on newer ves­sels.

Ours was com­fort­able with a queen bed, a shower room with sep­a­rate loo, set­tee, dress­ing ta­ble and chair, plenty of wardrobe hang­ing space (along with, un­usu­ally, plenty of coat hang­ers) and a ßat-screen TV. A nice touch was the dual EU/UK plugs. And the bal­cony was big enough for two chairs and a small ta­ble. Sadly, we didn’t get to use it much.

Thirdly, why this time of year? Win­ters in the UK, and this one has been no ex­cep­tion, are of­ten wet, cold, grey and dispir­it­ing. My wife, Sandy, and I al­ways try to es­cape to the sun and with the Med and Ca­naries have mostly been lucky in the past.

Not this time. ONCE ABOARD

The port of Barcelona could make more of an ef­fort with its cruise ter­mi­nal or­gan­i­sa­tion. Just two of Þve se­cu­rity ter­mi­nals open and a huge queue snaking out­side. Hap­pily, it wasn’t rain­ing.

Once through that, and as NCL new­bies and thus not Lat­i­tudes loy­alty club mem­bers (who get

a ded­i­cated check-in area), we then joined the long­est queue. In all, well over an hour of shufßing lines be­fore we were cleared to board.

NCL’s se­cu­rity not only has the usual pro­hi­bi­tion on bring­ing al­co­hol aboard, but un­usu­ally also on soft drinks – any bev­er­age come to that, even bot­tled wa­ter. Which brings me back to the wa­ter pack­age.

We learned long ago that drinks and gra­tu­ities pack­ages aboard Amer­i­can ships can save you a lot of money. Though there are dis­counted bot­tled wa­ter packs, a sin­gle one litre bot­tle of wa­ter aboard Nor­we­gian Spirit is priced at nearly US$6, plus a 20 per cent com­pul­sory gra­tu­ity plus an­other com­pul­sory 10 per cent VAT if you’re in a Span­ish port or wa­ters. You can buy su­per­mar­ket bot­tled wa­ter in Europe for about 10 cents a litre.

Wine is typ­i­cally US$9-$14 for a small glass (plus the 20 per cent and, where ap­pli­ca­ble, the 10 per cent). A lim­ited range per glass is avail­able and in­cluded in the drinks pack­age (up to US$15). Beer and some spir­its/cock­tails are also in­cluded. Wine by the bot­tle (much big­ger range) is not in­cluded in the pack­age, though you get a 20 per cent dis­count.

Of the ma­jor restau­rants, four are com­pli­men­tary: Rafßes Court buf­fet; The Gar­den Room; Win­dows Main Din­ing Room; and Asian-fu­sion Shogun. Five are at a pre­mium: Le Bistro French Restau­rant; Cag­neyÕs Steak­house; Ital­ian-themed La Trat­to­ria; a Ja­panese sushi bar; and Tep­pa­nyaki Ja­panese grill. Prices for a three-course meal are all rea­son­able, about US$30-$35 plus gra­tu­ity and tax. And dis­count pack­ages are avail­able.

We ate in the com­pli­men­tary restau­rants and the food was very good. We were also lucky enough to be cho­sen to join an ofÞcer, Venezue­lan ship physi­cian Lua­demic Vil­lar­roel In­fante, for a spe­cial evening.

If, like me, you’re a steak lover, you’ll be de­lighted to Þnd New York-style sir­loin strip as part of the “clas­sic” menu, avail­able ev­ery night. But you will have to join CE­MAAS if you want to

get the best out of ex­cel­lent cuts of Amer­i­can beef; my Cam­paign for English Mus­tard Aboard Amer­i­can Ships. Dur­ing the 10-day cruise, I re­cruited many other Brits, even some Amer­i­cans, and per­suaded one of our lovely wait­resses to Þnd a jar of Cole­manÕs English mus­tard, which she served to us for the last few days.

I should men­tion the staff; Þve-star through­out. Cabin stew­ard Clif­ford came up with won­der­ful an­i­mals-from-towel cre­ations nightly, while ev­ery­one was friendly, helpful and, yes, charm­ing.

Fa­cil­i­ties, too, are ex­cel­lent, es­pe­cially when it comes to look­ing af­ter kids. There are fa­cil­i­ties for age groups from ba­bies to teenagers, even a spe­cial pool.

NCL tries hard. From the Òget to know the shipÕÓ tour on day one (well worth­while) through to com­pli­men­tary lessons in the casino. I still donÕt un­der­stand craps though, and lost US$60 at black­jack.

But there was noth­ing NCL could do about the weather. High winds di­verted us from Casablanca to Tang­ier; it rained heav­ily and was fairly cold much of the time in the Ca­naries; and we could­nÕt put into Fun­chal, Madeira, be­cause of high winds and a blocked berth. Sun and warmth? Not un­til Malaga. As for Ali­cante, back to heavy rain and cold.

Shore ex­cur­sion prices started at about US$30 a head, av­er­aged US$65-$85, and topped out at US$179. The lat­ter bought you a nine-hour tour from Malaga to Granada and the World Her­itage Al­ham­bra. Hav­ing been there sev­eral times, I can tes­tify this is good value.

We found Nor­we­gian Spirit one of the most sta­ble cruise ships weÕve sailed on, de­spite the rough seas and high winds – thank you Cap­tain Peter and crew.

It meant the pools and sun decks were mostly de­serted, how­ever, and we had more sea days than planned. And thatÕs where the raft of daily en­ter­tain­ments and plen­ti­ful in­door pub­lic ar­eas aboard Nor­we­gian Spirit came into their own.

There were dozens of games and plenty of classes, from paint­ing to danc­ing, origami to bread mak­ing. We en­joyed very good evening shows in the Stardust The­atre – il­lu­sion­ists Magika and aeri­al­ists Duo Flyadage par­tic­u­larly im­pressed, and a va­ri­ety of live mu­sic through­out the day and night. The en­ter­tain­ment team earned its pay on this cruise.

We like quizzes and teamed with Mary Ellen from Carolina. You need a Yank on an Amer­i­can ship. How many num­bers are there in Amer­i­can bingo? How long is the Statue of Lib­er­tyÕs nose? She knew! In all, to­gether we won six quizzes and have the NCL in­su­lated beer hold­ers and packs of cards to prove it.

Of course, there was also on board shop­ping. NCL is an au­tho­rised dealer for In­victa Watch Group and I could­nÕt re­sist a re­ally silly-sized div­ing watch that was on sale. They gave me a rafße ticket, too.

Ever had a pre­mo­ni­tion? I was ab­so­lutely cer­tain IÕd win the rafße. I did. And Sandy now has an In­victa watch, too. I did­nÕt feel so bad about los­ing US$60 in the casino af­ter that.

Nor­we­gian Spirit

From left: Puente Nuevo, 90 min­utes from Malaga, Spain; Malaga Cather­dral

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