We've all heard it: A cruise ship is a
cruise ship. Seen one, seen 'em all.
aficionados and industry folk know that's not exactly true. Each
ship has its own personality and nuances. And its those nuances that can make all the difference in a
Spirit is full of quirks and nuances left over from its former
life, when it sailed for nearly six years in Asia as the SuperStar
Leo for Norwegian Cruise Line's sister company, Star Cruises. Star
transferred the vessel permanently into the NCL fleet this
arrived last month in Miami for its winter series of Caribbean
cruises, a gleaming white vessel that looks like its
sister-in-design, the Norwegian Sun, which on this day was parked
down the pier.
But on the inside
I spotted a few things that were just a little bit different from
other ships I've been on.
I'll be sorry to
see some of the ships quirks go, as they likely will when the
Spirit goes in for a major renovation next year.
include lots of neon signage in English -- and in
larger-than-average room for games such as bridge and
NCL's signature Le
Bistro French restaurant is housed in the ships former Chinese
restaurant, Tai Pan (complete with statues of Chinese warriors
standing guard by the door).
The casino is
The Spirit has a
designated movie theater, a feature that has disappeared from most
U.S.-based cruise ships.
And the color
schemes and themes are generally bright and active. Neutral,
relaxing tones are not in the Spirit's personality.
The ship has a
Roman Emperor-in-the-Orient feel to it, with red and black schemes
and the Caesar's spa and the Tivoli pool, which is
surrounded by marble busts, statues and columns.
None of this
seemed to get in the way of my fellow passengers, who had signed up
for the Spirit's maiden voyage from Miami, a one-night cruise to
nowhere. They were there to sunbathe, have a romantic dinner,
drink, gamble and dance -- which is exactly what they
After all, neon
on a cruise ship isn't exactly a new design theme.
And although NCL
declined to say exactly what will be changed on the Spirit next
year, prior to its relocation to New York for winter cruises in
November, I suspect at least one of their tasks -- unfortunately --
will be to remove the Chinese-language signs.
surprise, at least for me, is how current this 6-year-old ship
Spirit is the prototype for NCL's newest ships, which were
purpose-built for the line's Freestyle Dining concept.
have said they chose not to rely on North American cruise industry
trends when they built their ships for the Asia market. So when Star's
executive team reshuffled the ships decks to add the amenities they
felt their customers wanted, they came out in front of today's
biggest trends. Lots of
kid-friendly spaces, multiple restaurants and a large spa, which
have become standard and necessary on megaships, are all
represented on the Spirit.
In fact, when the
ship was introduced in 1998, NCL's Freestyle Cruising hadn't been
who found their way to the SuperStar Leo back then would have been
surprised at the number of restaurants onboard. There are eight of
them, including two main dining rooms, a Japanese restaurant and a
At 77,104 tons,
the Spirit is not a huge ship. But I was surprised at the amount of
space inside. The hallways are wide, the public rooms are
sufficiently large and the lido buffet is spacious.
there's not much room for sunbathing by the Tivoli pool (the Roman
columns get in the way). And that's the only adult pool on the
ship. Kids, however,
get their own pool and waterslide, called Buccaneers Wet and Wild,
on the aft end of the ship. The focal points are the small
waterslides that shoot out of a rock and a fountain that shoots out
of an alligator's mouth.
There's lots of
space dedicated to the younger set, including their own mini wading
pool and playground outside and a Habitrail-type climbing gym
inside. And kids with
quarters to spare will rule the Spirit: I've never seen a video
arcade that big at sea.
On many ships,
passengers must walk through the casino to get from the dining room
to the after-dinner show.
Not so on the
Spirit: The casino is located forward on Deck 7, where the show
lounge typically is on other cruise ships (and the show lounge is
Some of Star
Cruises' passengers, I was told, don't need to stumble onto the
casino by accident -- some of them line up at the entrance and wait
for it to open.
Spirit in its current incarnation is well-suited for clients who
enjoy a few spins of roulette or a few hands of
blackjack. This casino is
pretty big by ship standards. It's called the Maharajah, which will
give you a clue to the decor (lots of tents and
elephants). One room opens up
into another room, which opens up into a third room called the Club
Spirit's art auction area also originally was part of the
The casino action
was red-hot on this particular night because NCL's casino marketing
group was hosting a large group of gambling enthusiasts that night.
More than one table had a $100 minimum bet.
Moving upwards on
the Spirit, the Celebrity Disco seemed just right: small and
crowded. On this one-night
cruise, I practically had to fight my way through the door (a good
sign at any popular nightclub).
swanky, Italian-garden-themed restaurant across from the casino,
used to double as a late-night noodle shop for hungry gamblers. But
now it is a steakhouse with American-style, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
One of my
favorite spots on the Spirit was the British-themed Henry's Pub on
the Promenade Deck, mostly because I liked the way they set up a
few tables outside on the ship's promenade, sidewalk cafe-style -- a
good use of space in an underused section of many ships.
I imagine this
would be a quiet, shady spot for scenery-watching during the day
and a relaxing, post-dinner hangout at night.
A short stroll
down the Promenade from Henry's is the Le Bistro restaurant, which
also has a neon-sign entrance from the Promenade (it still promotes
the eatery as Tai Pan, the Chinese restaurant).
But just by
opening Henry's and Le Bistro out to the promenade, the deck feels
more like a pedestrian-friendly sidewalk than simply a walking
circuit around the ship.
It's the nuances
that make the difference.
reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].