Saving so you can spend is part of budgeting for any cruise, but with the increasing number of specialty experiences onboard ships, the buck doesn’t stop with the fare.
I’m onboard Norwegian’s newest ship, Getaway, this week. While you can certainly find free options onboard for dining and entertainment, venues beckon you at every turn with enhanced menus or exclusive activities — for a fee. To indulge in all of them would almost double your cruise fare, but to take part in none would rob you of the full ship experience.
So what to skip and where to splurge? We offer some tips on how to treat yourself onboard Miami’s Ultimate Ship without burning up your onboard account.
Venue: Vibe Beach Club
What It Is: Vibe Beach Club is a walled-in enclave on Deck 17, accessible only by a specially purchased key card ($79 for the week, excluding cabana reservations). The beds are prime places to soak up that tan), and there’s special amenities (chilled towels, spritzes and fruit skewers). Giant cabanas take up most of the space to the left, and they’re an additional purchase of $299 per week for a two-person cabana.
We suggest: Free of charge, Spice H2O, is the adults-only sun deck tucked away on Deck 16. If you’re looking to find a quieter place to sunbathe and relax with an occasional cool-off, go with the free option on this one. While it could be season dependent — more people cruise during summer and other peak times as opposed to our mid-September sailing, causing Spice H2O to become more crowded — but in general, it’s a comparable space for significantly less. Spice has loungers, a bar, water features to cool down and even a big screen. Head to the Garden Cafe on the same deck to make your own fruit bowl and bring washcloths from your room to soak in ice water.
Venue: Thermal Suite, in Mandara Spa
What It Is: The Thermal Suite comprises comfortable cushion loungers, ceramic hot-stone loungers, a sauna, a sanarium (less hot version of a sauna), salt room, steam room, thalassotherapy pool with waterfall and hot tub. Week passes are $199, which comes out to about $28 per day. (compared with a $45 day pass.)
We suggest: The Mandara Spa onboard is a gorgeous space, and its Thermal Suite is the perfect place to unwind almost anytime. Whether it’s a quiet reading space in the morning or an entire afternoon of relaxation, this area of the spa is a great escape (I even saw the captain taking advantage). I actually found the Thermal Suite to be the ultimate way to unwind in the evening (it closes at 10) and a spectacular place to watch sailaway from port with a tea in hand (180-degree views surround the space). In addition to Haven lounge, pool, restaurant and amenity access, passengers booked in Spa Suites receive free admittance to the Thermal Suite for the entirety of their sailings.
Venue: Pulse gym fitness classes
What it is: A number of specialized fitness classes are available onboard, and most of them run $25 per 45-minute class. Brands such as Flywheel cycling and TRX suspension training make these exciting options for the true workout buff, anyone in training or someone who’s always been interested in trying a particular course.
We suggest: There are a range of other ways to get your fitness in for free, so you can easily skip this expense if classes aren’t your thing. A full gym is split into two areas: one for cardio and another for weight training. The machines offer a baseline workout. (Pulse gym was busy during my sailing, but machines should be available on at least one side to start and become more open as the day progresses.) Or do the rock climbing wall or ropes course to infuse a little fun into the fat-burning. If 7 a.m. is too early for your standard complimentary abs and stretching classes, I recommend Zumba, which was offered at 9 a.m. on select days and hosted by one of the ship’s own Burn the Floor dancers. The session was 45 minutes, you could dance at your own pace and it’s free.
Venue: Specialty Restaurants
What It Is: Specialty dining on Getaway is as varied as it is tempting, and luckily, it’s a challenge to fit every single restaurant into a weeklong sailing. Costs range from a la carte fees of around $3 to $39 for Geoffrey Zakarian’s Ocean Blue. (Six venues are free for dinner.)
We Suggest: This advice is difficult, because each restaurant appeals to different people — if you like French food, you’ll want to go with Le Bistro, for example. My best tip is to have a set daily budget and book accordingly. Study the pricing list before you go, and make dinner reservations for your top choices early in the cruise (just be aware of the 24-hour cancellation policy).
Or you can splurge as lunch instead. Venues such as Wasabi, Shanghai Noodle Bar and Ocean Blue on the Waterfront are fresh and only cost about $10 per person. Try a spring roll with noodles or fried rice made right in front of you at Shanghai (hot tea is complimentary); get the dumplings, a miso soup or seaweed salad and sushi rolls to split at Wasabi (notify the chef of any preferences and ask for his recommendation). I got a “Volcano Roll” with tuna, cucumber and roe with tempura crumbles drizzled with a chili mayo and Sriracha sauce topped with a seaweed salad — and it was probably one of the best rolls I’ve ever eaten; nine pieces cost $4.75; Ocean Blue at the Waterfront has a limited four-item menu and the crowd favorite is the lobster roll for $9.75. Plus there’s no shortage of free options: For a snack any time of day in a scenic and subdued environment, head to Flamingo Grill on Deck 16 for a small buffet with Cuban flavor: In the morning there’s a full bagel bar without the line, and in the afternoon the yucca fries with cilantro are a killer munchie.
Venue: Bars and Lounges
What it is: With more than a dozen bars, there’s something for virtually everyone looking to imbibe. But unless somebody really likes you, or you snag a Champagne at the Captain’s Party, drinks aren’t free.
We Suggest: The venues are plentiful and the cocktails are flowing, but if you’re looking for a more curated way to imbibe, head to Deck 8 and skip the Ice Bar in favor of the mojito flight at Sugarcane Mojito Bar. Sure, wearing a parka and taking selfies in a bar carved from ice (with Miami hotels and alligators) is a novelty worth doing, but they’re not kidding when they say it’s cold. Remove one glove for taking photos, and you’ll be shivering out the door within minutes. The experience is $20 per person and includes two drinks (if you can stick around long enough to drink them; they’re served in ice glasses). Instead, have a more Miami experience on the Waterfront portion of Sugarcane, listen to the live music being piped in from the bar and taste six spectacularly different mojitos for $15 per flight. There’s even a mojito with Sriracha for the brave (it’s quite savory). The favorite seemed to be the dangerously sweet pineapple coconut mojito, followed by Getaway from My Mojito — a mojito with ginger beer created by a Norwegian Facebook fan.
Venue: Entertainment Spots
What it is: You’re relaxed, full of food and comfortable from your vacation — now it’s time to be entertained. Most of Getaway’s entertainment options are free (“Legally Blonde the Musical,” Burn the Floor, the Grammy Experience and comedy/Howl at the Moon in Headliners), but the fee-added options are worth mentioning for consideration.
We Suggest: Utilizing the unique Illusionarium space on Deck 6 is the self-titled magic show, Illusionarium, and Wine Lovers the Musical. Both shows are $25 per person and worth it, unless you are super-skeptical of magic or you don’t like wine. Having seen Illusionarium once before, I was afraid of being bored during a show on this sailing, but I enjoyed it just as much. The performers were new and brought entirely original ways to make me say, “How did they do that?” The enthusiasm and visual effects were operating at the same levels as Getaway’s inaugural sailing. At Wine Lovers, your seven glasses of wine are served with background provided by a hilarious cast of three performing numbers so absurd you might be spitting out your wine. The host, “Charlie,” had a voice like Nathan Lane’s, and his dramatic mannerisms added to the fun ambience. Despite mediocre wines, I enjoyed each with gusto (refills are provided). While Illusionarium serves a multicourse dinner and Wine Lovers serves a multicourse lunch, both are a similar blend of salad followed by steak and shrimp. If you’re going to experience these shows, space them apart or make a special dietary request ahead of time.
Venue: Kids Corners
What it is: Norwegian has a family-friendly reputation, with good reason. Getaway has a Nickelodeon-themed water park, kids’ pool, kid and teen clubs and even activities for babies.
We Suggest: With so much to do, there’s really no reason to spend extra. All the activities leave little downtime. Carlo’s hosts cupcake- and cake-decorating sessions, but classes range from $78 to $138 for one parent and child — trust your baking instincts and put on a demo at home for much less. Check your Freestyle Daily for free demos and classes that might be fun learning experiences — towel animals or fruit carving, for example. On our sailing, the ship showed the hyper-popular movie “Frozen” in 3D in the Getaway Theater.
Cruise Critic member NavyCruiser raised an interesting question in our forums. He wonders why thousands of photographs are still printed out on cruise ships when the vast majority wind up in the garbage, rather than a picture frame. Although he talks specifically about Carnival Cruise Lines, the issue is pertinent to any cruise line — and there are many — which has not moved its photo gallery into the digital age.
“Last week’s cruise on the Magic, DW mentions while we look for our pictures among the thousands of photos on the wall, that this is still the same when we first cruised in the early 90’s,” NavyCruiser says.
On Tuesday, Courtney Lapresi was named the winner of season five of popular Fox television show “MasterChef.” Following her win, she’ll be appearing on the first-ever “MasterChef” cruise aboard Holland America’s Westerdam, November 8-15, calling on Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Thomas and the private island of Half Moon Cay.
As the season five winner, 25-year-old Lapresi, an aerial dancer from Philadelphia, will receive $250,000 and a cookbook deal.