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Cruise Ship Information

Norwegian Spirit is a cruise ship currently operated by Norwegian Cruise Line. She was built for Star Cruises as SuperStar Leo.

Atmosphere on board

The 2,018-passenger Norwegian Spirit debuted in 1998. You won't find a rock-climbing wall, bowling alley or some of the other whiz-bang features offered by some of the fleet's bigger, newer ships, but enjoyment doesn't always have to come in an ultra-modern package.

Spirit has 11 restaurants, eight bars and lounges, as well as plenty of family features. And it's a lively, friendly ship to boot. Despite its age, regular refurbishments, including a late-2008 overhaul, have kept the teenage ship looking fresh.

The ship debuted as Malaysia-based Star Cruises' SuperStar Leo (Star's parent company, Genting Hong Kong owns a 50 percent share of NCL). Transferred to NCL in 2004, Norwegian Spirit still boasts a pleasing, Asia-inspired decor that includes artifacts on display -- an antique vase here, a mannequin in Samurai costume there (little museum-like plaques tell you what's what). Staircases have wood and iron railings, the atrium boasts glass elevators and waterfalls, and the color palette is more mellow than over-the-top (no neon tones as on newer NCL vessels). The overall effect is that Norwegian Spirit feels like a fancier ship. Excellent service enhances the experience -- from the moment you board, there are touches of pampering.

During its 2008 renovation, the ship was outfitted with a new diesel engine, and 11 cabins were added (eight with balconies). The Stardust Theater got new red-velvet seats, and nearly all the upholstery and carpeting on the ship was replaced. (The carpet in cabin hallways varies by deck, so you can tell you're on the right one by looking at the carpet color.) Also added were a new phone system and wireless Internet access.

But the biggest change is that teens now control the Celebrity Disco, giving them their own private hideaway on Deck 13, at the opposite end of the ship from the younger kids' facilities -- something teens will, no doubt, hold over their younger siblings. The video arcade has also moved, from Deck 10 to a more prominent spot on Deck 7, and is geared toward the teen crowd with games like Downhill Bikes and Target Terror.

But the thing we enjoyed most on this ship was its lighthearted attitude and a prevailing sense of humor. Example? A Captain's invite read "free drinks on the Captain (we mean, with the Captain)."

Family with Kids/Teens

In addition to solid family-friendly accommodations, the children's facilities on Norwegian Spirit are excellent and truly make this ship ideal for families. The main center of action is the T-Rex kids' lounge, with play rooms and a movie theater. Adjacent (but not enclosed within) is the T-Rex kids' pool, complete with downsized lounge chairs, a waterslide and a whirlpool. For teens, there's a video arcade and a disco-style teen club.

NCL's "Splash Academy" is currently divided into four age groups: Guppies (6 months to 3 years, with parent), Turtles (3 - 5), Seals (6 - 9) and Dolphins (10 - 12). The teen program, called Entourage, accommodates passengers 13 to 17. The overall program focuses on sports, arts and crafts, theater and technology, with age-appropriate activities for each group. Planned activities may include circus workshops, parades and scavenger hunts. (Both Splash Academy and Entourage feature a different theme every day, like pirates, space cowboys, jungle fever or circus.)

Games for kids are also organized on Great Stirrup Cay, the line's private island.

For the 3 - 12s, organized activities are typically offered from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on both port and sea days. On port days, a supervised meal fee ($6 per child) may apply. Entourage's hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on sea days and departure time or 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. on port days.

Group baby-sitting is available onboard; evenings it's offered from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.; on port days. Cost is $6 per child per hour; the second kid is $4 per hour. Passengers should sign up for sitting services by 8 p.m. the night prior to when they are needed. There is no in-cabin sitting. Norwegian also has developed a fleetwide discipline policy. The four-step set of rules includes warning, time-out, suspension and dismissal stages.

High chairs and cribs are available upon request (either onboard or in advance). Other kid-oriented amenities include kids' packages for soda. The unlimited beverage program is roughly $4 per day, per child, up to age 12 and $6 per day for teens 13 and older.

Past Passenger Programs

Indoor activities on Norwegian Spirit are primarily concentrated on Decks 6 and 7. The Grand Atrium (Deck 6), with its glass-domed ceiling, is the hub. There you'll find passenger services counters (shore excursions, reception) and a duty-free cosmetics shop. On the landing of a curved stairway is a performance platform, where live bands play, and the Java Cafe, where you can pick up specialty coffee drinks and pastries.

Deck 6 is also where you'll find the ship's main duty-free shop, which flanks both sides of a long hallway that opens up to some of the specialty restaurants. The shop offers Spiritry, stylish casualwear (Tommy Bahama is a mainstay), upscale accessories, alcohol and souvenirs.

The Internet Cafe has 17 terminals; Norwegian Spirit also offers wireless access. Passengers can bring their own laptops or rent them. Rates at the cafe itself are industry standard -- 75 cents per minute -- as are wireless fees. Packages are available (100 minutes for $55, 250 minutes for $100) and include a laptop rental (exclusive of a $3/day insurance fee).

On Deck 12, you'll find the library, which is cozily appointed and offers an excellent selection of books. Though checkout hours are limited, you can almost always grab a book off the shelf to enjoy in one of the library's comfy club chairs.

Fitness And Spa

Norwegian Spirit offers a wide range of fitness and recreation services. First: the two-tiered El Dorado Spa and Beauty Center offers up-to-date fitness equipment and a fabulous glass-paneled room for classes in stretching and aerobics (free) and yoga and Pilates ($12 fee).

The spa itself is beautiful and serene. Operated by Hawaii-based Mandara (which is owned by Steiner), the treatments are a bit more exotic than the average, with Hawaiian and Polynesian influences. Passengers purchasing treatments are permitted to use a lovely adults-only relaxation room, with tile loungers, multiple hot tubs and Wi-Fi. Men's and women's locker rooms each feature a sauna and a steam room.

The piece de resistance, however, is the spa's indoor lap pool. (It's an adequate size for swimmers who want exercise.) The only problem is that passengers occasionally missed the concept of lap swimming and treated it as an alternative to the main pool. There's also a whirlpool and a hydrotherapy-pool. Another neat feature found in the spa is the for-fee juice bar, with all sorts of healthful drinks. The spa's amenities are only available to passengers who purchase either a spa treatment (same day only) or spa passes for $30 a day or $119 a week, per person.

In the main pool area, there's a saltwater lap pool, plus four whirlpools and a bandstand for entertainment. (Another hard-to-find whirlpool is tucked away on Deck 13.) Chaise lounges are set up in amphitheater mode, as well as directly around the pool. Slightly set back from the pool area and out of direct sunlight are cafe tables and chairs so you can grab a snack or cocktail and enjoy the poolside scene without risking a sunburn. On our nearly full sailing, we never had an issue snagging a couple lounge chairs, even during sunny hours.

There's a narrow jogging track on Deck 13, where sports enthusiasts can take advantage of golf driving nets, shuffleboard, a man-sized chess board, volleyball/basketball courts, paddle tennis and horseshoes. Walkers are better off on the wider, more relaxing wraparound promenade on Deck 7.

Food & Dining

In addition to its two main dining rooms, Norwegian Spirit has 10 distinct restaurants from which to choose. I suppose you could try them all on a seven-night cruise, but it would be pretty hard (and a bit costly for budget travelers and families). Themes range from Benihana-style Teppanyaki to steaks and classic French bistro fare. Overall, food was fresh, flavorful, and, in some cases, even inventive. Service was excellent throughout, though you can expect a bit of a wait to receive your entree during the busiest dinner hours (between 6:30 and 8:30). Meals are cooked to order in small batches, so the food you receive will likely be hot and fresh.

It's also important to mention that evening dining hours are from 5:30 to 11 p.m., but passengers must be seated by 10:30 p.m. Reservations for specialty restaurants can only be made 24 hours in advance, so if you're dying to try one of the ship's more popular spots -- such as Le Bistro (French), Moderno Churrascaria (a Brazilian-style steakhouse and the ship's newest dining venue) or Cagney's (a classic American steakhouse) -- you should book it as early as possible once reservations open up. Tip: The specialty restaurants are much less busy the first couple days of the cruise when most passengers are still orienting themselves. The reservations desk in the main lobby is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Most days, there is also a reservations table set up in the Garden Cafe buffet during lunch hours. Otherwise, you can call the restaurant directly after 5:30 p.m.

Here's a rundown of the dining options onboard Norwegian Spirit. Unless otherwise noted, breakfast and lunch are only offered in the ship's main dining rooms, buffet, at Blue Lagoon or via room service.

Traditionally speaking, the ship's two "main" restaurants, both on Deck 6, differ mostly in terms of atmosphere. The 472-seat Venetian is the more cruiselike of the two, though smaller than most main dining rooms on mainstream cruise ships. It's decorated tastefully in rich emerald greens and golds, with huge murals depicting scenes of Venice. Though not hasty, service is generally prompt. Because the Venetian is situated on the stern, it boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch across the entire back wall and offer incredible views. However, its location is also one of the most motion-sensitive of the entire ship, so if you're having a rocky sea day, you may want to dine in one of the midship eateries like the Garden Cafe or Blue Lagoon. There are plenty of tables for two, though they may be in short supply during peak periods. The 344-seat Aqua features more contemporary decor with lots of vibrantly colored glass and colorful ceramic murals. Aqua is also more dimly lit, which can make for a romantic dinner, despite being in close quarters with a few hundred other passengers. Both of these dining rooms are open for dinner daily, and they're open for breakfast and lunch on alternating days. In addition to nightly specials (they vary slightly by venue), each offers a standard menu of chicken, steak, fish and vegetarian options that does not change from day to day.

One of the benefits of the freestyle dining setup is that -- because the main venues are not feeding 1,000 people who all sit down at the same time -- there's no "convention center banquet" feeling. And because fewer people eat in the main dining rooms, the spaces feel more intimate than other big-ship dining rooms.

Entertainment

While Norwegian Spirit offers the usual fare during sea days -- bingo, art auctions, arts and crafts, wellness seminars, etc. -- the real highlights of the ship's entertainment offerings are the nightly shows.

Each evening's "main event" is held in the ship's gorgeous Stardust Theater, usually to a packed house. Our weeklong cruise featured everything from a variety show to Broadway-style song-and-dance acts. Our favorite? The Bollywood show. From great voices singing beautiful songs to stunning dancers and incredible acrobatics, it's a true treat. Also be sure to check out a performance of the famous Second City Comedy Troupe (former stomping ground of many Saturday Night Live alums) -- we recommend the late-night, adults-only improv show.

The Stardust Theater, which spans Decks 5 through 7, is designed in a European opera house style; it's beautiful and quite comfortable, though views from some of the side balcony seats are obstructed. The Spirit Club Casino -- located along the corridor that leads to the Stardust Theater, rather than distractingly plopped in the center of a well-trafficked area -- offers the usual slot machines and games, including blackjack, craps and poker. Theater-goers with an aversion to cigarette smoke should beware: you'll have to hold your breath as you make your way through the odorous casino to your show of choice.

The ship also features a variety of bands, playing everything from classical to Latin to torch songs, and most of Norwegian Spirit's nine bars, all with varying personalities, offer some kind of entertainment. Favorites included the Spinnaker Lounge for martinis and dancing and the Spirity Kings Pub for karaoke and offbeat British beers. And, once per weeklong cruise, the ship hosts Norwegian Cruise Line's signature "White Hot Party," for which passengers get decked out in all-white (sheets and towels are acceptable) and dance the night away under black lights, led by the ship's angel-wing-clad staff, who happily demonstrate all manner of line dances.

Several times per sailing, passengers can catch after-hours movies on the big screen in the ship's atrium.

As for shore excursions, you can expect the usual -- snorkeling, catamaran-sailing, glass-bottom boat rides, beach days, etc. Rates are on par with or slightly lower than those of other mainstream cruise lines.

Fellow Passengers

The shipboard crowd ranges from toddlers to seniors, with many in the middle range. Norwegian's "Freestyle Cruising" appeals to a mostly unpretentious clientele, and the overall vibe is super-casual and fun-filled. With dozens of family-friendly cabins, including many added during the May 2011 refurb, the ship is usually full of multigenerational groups, especially in the summer months and during school vacations.

Tipping

 

Our recommendation

Norwegian Spirit offers the ultimate Freestyle Cruising experience; take a Bermuda cruise departing from Boston in the summer, Canada & New England in the fall and from New Orleans to the best spots in the Caribbean during winter. Norwegian Spirit was built with freedom in mind, offering a choice of 14 delicious dining options, 12 fun bars and lounges, the fitness center and spa, casino, pools and more. Plus, she offers a range of spacious accommodations to suit every size family and budget.