The writer was hosted.
There is so much to love about sailing to Alaska: humpback whale sightings, hikes along raging rivers and close encounters with calving glaciers. For travelers with a spirit of adventure, a Norwegian Spirit Alaska cruise is an exciting way to visit the Final Frontier. The snowcapped mountain views are spectacular, and they are as accessible as your stateroom balcony.
In May, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on Norwegian Spirit’s first voyage of the season to Alaska. We loved the experience of being on a smaller ship and having only two at-sea days in our seven-day itinerary — one of which included cruising by Hubbard Glacier.
When we weren’t chasing waterfalls in small coastal towns, we were dining our way across Spirit’s specialty restaurants. For us, it was the perfect blend of exploring Alaska by day and relaxing onboard in extended daylight by night.
But is this ship the right choice for you? Spirit is unique in a few ways, including that programming is geared toward adult travelers and this summer’s seven-day Alaska itineraries are not roundtrip. Read on to see if Norwegian Spirit is the right fit for your next Alaska cruise.
Norwegian Spirit Overview
Norwegian Spirit underwent a $100 million renovation — the largest in Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) history — right before the world shut down in Feb. 2020. Post-pandemic, the updated ship headed to Australia and New Zealand for voyages from Sydney and Auckland. Spirit then took cruisers through the South Pacific, from Tahiti to exotic destinations like Bora Bora and Kauai, before launching the Alaska cruise season this May.
The massive refurbishment overhauled dining options on Spirit, adding a cozy Italian restaurant, several new complimentary restaurants — including a 24-hour eatery with diner fare — and new bars and lounges. The spa also doubled in size, the gym expanded and a new adults-only area opened with two new hot tubs and a dedicated bar.
Overall, you’ll feel like you’re on a newer, casually elegant ship. Spirit is not overwhelmingly large, so you never have far to walk for entertainment and restaurants. But the smaller size also means less action than you’ll find on a mega-ship. This could be a pro or a con, depending on your preference.
Pros and Cons of a Norwegian Spirit Alaska Cruise
- Smaller cruise ship with just over 2,000 guests, based on double occupancy.
- No set dining time — eat dinner whenever you like.
- Kids 12 and under eat free at specialty restaurants when ordering from the complimentary children’s menu.
- Gorgeous views from balcony staterooms, including Hubbard Glacier as you sail by.
- Nearly every day is a port day, with all-aboard times as late as 9:30 p.m.
- Not as many options for lunch; specialty restaurants are only open for dinner.
- Fewer onboard entertainment options, compared to larger ships.
- No kid’s club and no dedicated areas for children.
- Smaller ports like Valdez don’t offer much to do unless you pay for an excursion.
- One-way Alaska itineraries mean you may pay more for airfare.
Entertainment on NCL Spirit
Scheduled daily entertainment includes a mix of trivia, karaoke for 18+, live music, comedy and dance parties. As an adult-oriented ship, many of the activities are at night, like a Thriller dance class at 9:45 p.m. in Spinnaker Lounge followed by an ‘80s party at 10 p.m.
Evening shows in Stardust Theater have a small but mighty cast of versatile singers and dancers and can be enjoyed by all ages. These shows include “Blazing Boots,” a pop country showcase, “World Beat,” a musical voyage around the world, and “Elements,” a mystical show with water, wind and fire.
There is no formal kids or teens program, but if the entertainment team knows there will be a lot of young people on board, they will plan some activities for them. Kids might enjoy an origami class, for instance, and teens might enjoy playing Nintendo Switch or joining a Ping Pong tournament.
If programming for young cruisers is important to you, consider one of the best Alaska cruises for families.
There’s nothing like an outdoor excursion to work up an appetite, and Spirit has options to satisfy every craving.
Breakfast and lunch
- Atrium Café: Open at 6:30 a.m., you can start your day with Starbucks and complimentary pastries. A venti latte is $5.45, or free if you have the Premium Plus Beverage package.
- The Local Bar & Grill: This 24-hour diner is not crowded in the morning and is a nice spot for a fast made-to-order breakfast. Choose from an American or English Breakfast, an omelet or buttermilk pancakes. Food is included, but you can pay extra for a Starbucks latte or cappuccino. Traffic picks up for lunch, where you can get fish and chips or a hamburger and fries. You can also have these options in the middle of the night if hunger strikes again.
- Garden Café: Grab breakfast from the expansive buffet, but take it across the hall to eat in the Italian restaurant, Onda. You’ll have stunning views in a much cozier environment.
- The Great Outdoors: The best-kept breakfast secret is the fresh-squeezed juice you can order from this outdoor bar on Deck 12. It’s $3, or free with the Premium Plus Beverage package, and so delicious.
- Room service: Order Continental Breakfast to your room for a $4.95 service fee, plus a 20% gratuity. This includes fruit, yogurt, cereal, pastries, coffee or tea and juice.
- Windows: This is the main dining room, where you can get made-to-order breakfast and lunch. Breakfast choices include a ham and cheese omelet, Belgian waffles and cinnamon raisin French toast. The food is good, but dining here takes the most time. If you’re looking for an early start, other restaurants will be faster.
- Garden Café: The all-you-can-eat buffet spread changes each evening, allowing you to enjoy cuisine from around the globe. Keep an eye out for the crêpe station. My husband also recommends the Indian selections.
- Henry’s Pub: Open at 4 p.m., you can stop by this hole-in-the-wall with stained glass windows for some fish and chips and beer on tap.
- Silk: This Asian fusion restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so arrive early as there aren’t many tables. You can order Chinese favorites like spring rolls and Kung Pao chicken, but note that you need to specifically ask for rice if you want some to accompany your entrée.
- Taste and Windows: As the two main dining options, these sit-down restaurants feature menu choices like corn chowder, chicken parmigiana and peanut butter cup cheesecake.
- Bier Garten: Grab a drink and some Bavarian snacks, if you’re looking for a light meal. This is the only place I found people smoking, so you may want to take your food to go.
Specialty dining options
You can pay for these meals à la carte or get them as part of your specialty dining package. Just be sure to make reservations as soon as you get on board so you don’t miss out.
- Cagney’s Steakhouse: A quiet steakhouse meal here is a treat, with Caesar salad, surf and turf, baked potato and other grilled veggies. Top off your meal with a raspberry crème brûlée.
- Le Bistro: Enjoy an elegant meal in a French restaurant, with champagne and delectable bites like escargots and coq au vin.
- Onda by Scarpetta: This was my favorite, both for the ambiance and menu. Enjoy cocktails, pizza as an appetizer, pasta, fish and meat dishes, veggie sides and tiramisu, chocolate cake with gelato or cheesecake for dessert.
- Sushi Bar: If you’re craving edamame and a California roll, this is the spot for you.
- Teppanyaki: Make friends around the table as your chef prepares your meal in style. There will be jokes, songs and juggling, plus Japanese eats fresh from the grill. This meal is $59 per person if you don’t have a dining package, but it’s a fun way to meet other passengers and hear about their excursions.
SheBuysTravel Tip: There’s no formal night on Spirit, but pack a few nice outfits for evening meals. Resort casual attire is allowed in all dining venues except Le Bistro and Windows Main Dining after 5 p.m. For those restaurants, men need to wear a shirt with a collar, pants and closed-toe shoes and women should wear slacks or jeans, skirts or dresses.
What To Pack for an Alaska Cruise
When packing for an Alaska cruise, fill your suitcase with layers. You’ll want to be prepared for glacier viewing from the ship’s windy bow and potentially drizzly hikes on port days.
Some must-pack items include:
- Binoculars, to look for bears and whales from your balcony.
- Dramamine. The first at-sea day from Vancouver can be a bit rough, and it’s also nice to have some for excursions on smaller boats.
- Passport. You’ll need it if you’re starting or ending your cruise in Canada.
- Rain jacket or poncho.
- Hiking boots or waterproof shoes, depending on the adventures you have planned.
- Winter gear. Skagway means “place where the north wind blows” so you may want something to cover your ears on a windy day.
- Charging block because your phone will die as you take endless videos of whale tails.
- Backpack to hold ponchos and snacks for your Alaska excursions.
- Cash for tips, and for some stores in port towns that may not accept credit cards for small purchases.
- Bathing suit, if you want to enjoy the hot tubs, pools or spa.
- Gym clothes, to try an exercise class on Spirit or enjoy the newly expanded gym.
- Evening attire, for specialty dining, shows and dance parties.
Tips for Enjoying Your Time on a Norwegian Spirit Cruise
Alaska is a bucket-list destination, so here are a few tips to make sure your Norwegian Spirit Alaska cruise is the best ever.
- Download the NCL app before you board. This will be your daily guide to activities and restaurants.
- If your cruise ends in Seward, book your train ride from Seward to Anchorage as early as possible. It does sell out.
- Research excursions to see what fits your budget. Some can be hundreds of dollars but may be worth it to you if this is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.
- Make specialty dining reservations as early as possible. The restaurants are intimate and available dining times fill quickly.
- Manually set your phone to ship time once you board, so you don’t have to keep checking the app to see what time it is.
- If you have a balcony stateroom, you can request a free coffee maker for your room.
- When you get breakfast or lunch from the buffet in Garden Café, take your food to eat in Onda. You’ll enjoy your meal in a much more peaceful environment.
- When you need a quiet space to sit, head to the multi-purpose room on Deck 13. The Wi-Fi isn’t great here, but it’s a nice spot to read a book or play a board game.
- For $199, you can gain access to the Thermal Spa for the length of your cruise. This is a quiet place where you can relax on heated cement loungers with an ocean view.
- Don’t miss “Elements,” an engaging evening show with singers, dancers, illusionists and aerialists. There is magic, acrobatics and lots of confetti.
Norwegian Spirit Alaska Cruises in 2023
NCL offers Norwegian Spirt Alaska cruises from Vancouver, British Columbia to Seward, Alaska, and vice versa. Seaside ports include Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Skagway, Juneau and Keystone Canyon near Valdez. You’ll also get an up-close look at Hubbard Glacier, North America’s largest tidewater glacier.
Icy Strait Point
The ship docks by a wall of trees where bald eagles circle the shoreline. This natural port is a beautiful introduction to Alaska, if you’re coming from Canada. Walk off the ship and onto a free transporter gondola to tour a historic fish cannery.
You can eat, shop and skip stones on the water. For a fee, take a high-speed gondola 1,600 feet up to a viewpoint and a hike, then pay extra to ride the zip line down. Keep an eye out for coastal brown bears and humpback whales.
Walk from the ship to the visitor center for maps and information. To see Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls on your own, take a city bus for $2 each way. This DIY shore excursion will take you about five hours, so pack a picnic lunch. For an easier adventure, walk up to the Gold Creek Flume Trail. It’s a leisurely hike along a wooden walkway with a waterfall reward.
Take a free shuttle from the ship to the town. You can shop, ride a train along the scenic White Pass and Yukon Railway or strike out on your own. We chose to track down Lower Reid Falls, near Gold Rush Cemetary. It’s about a 40-minute walk from town.
Keystone Canyon (Valdez)
You’ll need to pay to ride the shuttle into Valdez ($15 for adults and $10 for kids) and there’s not much to do once you get there. This is a great port to book a shore excursion.
We took a six-hour cruise on a small ship, through Prince William Sound to Columbia Glacier. It was a highlight of the cruise for us, sailing slowly through blue bergy bits calved from the glacier.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The best time to cruise to Alaska is when you can see wildlife, fjords, glaciers and — if you’re lucky — the magical Northern Lights.
Norwegian Spirit Alaska Cruise Cost
It can be difficult to predict exactly how much you’ll pay for an Alaskan cruise without visiting the NCL website to see current offers, or by working with a travel agent. There are frequent cruise deals that can cut the price significantly, include free drinks and specialty dining and provide savings on WiFi, excursions and airfare.
Here’s an example of how much you might spend for two people to cruise from Vancouver, British Columbia to Seward, Alaska this summer:
- Balcony stateroom for NCL Spirit seven-night Alaska cruise: $2,118 (You have to go through a few steps to get the true price. On the first page it says $279 pp, but that is before taxes, fees, etc. and only for an interior room.)
- One-way flight from Chicago to Vancouver: $580 ($290×2)
- One-way train from Seward to Anchorage: $254
- One-way flight from Anchorage to Chicago: $456 ($228×2)
- Optional six-hour Columbia Glacier excursion from Valdez: $328
- Tips of $16 per person per day = $224
- Total: $3,960 ($1,980 per person)
If you forego the balcony stateroom in favor of an inside room with no view, you could potentially save $1,220, bringing your base cruise cost down to $898. And of course, there are other ways to save, such as not taking paid excursions on port days. You may also be able to use points to cover airfare.
Where To Stay Before and After Your Cruise
Versante Hotel, Vancouver
If you’re looking for a luxurious start (or end) to your Alaska adventure, Versante has got you covered. This boutique hotel has incredible decor, delicious food and an airport shuttle. Spoil yourself with a corner suite to enjoy a vibrantly decorated space with modern touches like a Dyson hairdryer and heated bathroom floors. You’ll fall in love with floor-to-ceiling views of Richmond and the delectable breakfast at Bruno Restaurant and Bar.
Coast Inn at Lake Hood, Anchorage
Coast Inn at Lake Hood is an understated hotel next to a seaplane base that provides comfortable lodging and hearty dining options. Located just five minutes from the airport, the inn provides a free airport shuttle 24 hours a day.
Plan Your Next NCL Cruise
NCL recently opened brand-new 14-day round-trip Alaska sailings from Vancouver, where guests can visit many of the ports twice and enjoy more time in Alaska. These longer roundtrip cruises are available on Norwegian Spirit and Norwegian Jewel from June to Oct. 2023.
In the fall, Norwegian Spirit will sail to the South Pacific, starting in Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia, visiting ports including Maui and Kauai, and ending in Honolulu, Hawaii.