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This was only our second cruise, but it was so different from our first, both in the cruiseline and the ports. Our first one was in the Mediterranean and this one was in the Caribbean (western) - our first time to the Caribbean.
The NCL freestyle cruising suits us more so than RCI's traditional cruising. Also the variety of eating venues on the ship was awesome: 4 which were included in the cruise fare, as well as room service, and another 6 speciality restaurants ranging from $10-$25 cover charges per person. We did try one of these, Teppanyaki, at $25 pp, and it was worth it. We were seated around a large table with other guests (a maximum of 12) and we were entertained by 2 very capable chefs as they prepared our food in front of us, while juggling knives and salt and pepper shakers and spinning eggs and making jokes. It was so much more than food, which, by the way, was very good. The dress code is "freestyle", which means if you want to dress up, go ahead, but if More
you choose to keep casual, that's ok too.
The entertainment in the Stardust Theatre was exceptional. We saw 3 shows: "Shout, The Mod Musical', "Angels" and the finale "Elements". We were happy with our balcony room, except we found the bed to be quite hard - the only downside to an otherwise perfect vacation.
The top shore excursion was the tour of Roatan, Honduras, with Rony's Tour. We are so glad to have booked this tour with Rony's, which we found online and there were so many wonderful reviews. Now we can add our own. You can customize your tour to do what you want to do. Rony offers many different things to choose from and you choose how you want to spend your day. Our guide, Arnold, was a friendly, young man, who gave us the royal tour of their beautiful island. We highly recommend Rony's Tours. Final word - we would definitely go on another NCL cruise. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
We did a NCL shore excursion in Belize: The Olde Belize River and Altun Ha. It was a very hot day and we spent the first half of it on the river scouting out crocodiles, howler monkeys, iguanas and different species of birds. The boat is not covered so you need a hat and sunscreen. Our guide, Pedro, was exceptionally knowledgeable and our captain was able to manoeuvre that boat into little nooks for up close pics. We had a light lunch at The Olde Belize River Tavern, chicken with rice and beans and a soft drink. It was very good. We had a very long wait here. It turned out our bus (for the next portion of our tour) had broken down and we were waiting for a replacement. There were some souvenir stalls about and a hammock which my husband availed himself of, but not much to do while we waited. When we arrived there were only a few others there, but within the half hour, the place was packed with other tours. You pick up your food inside and eat outside under covered patios. Thankfully, there was a wonderful tropical breeze. It was approximately 40 minutes to Altun Ha, the Mayan ruins, over very bumpy roads. Once again, our guide gave us a lot of information about the ruins and we had time to climb the Temple of the Sun God. It was pretty neat. The afternoon sun was so hot that I had regretted not bringing a hat. There are places near the parking area to get a cold drink ($1 US for a cold bottle of water) but prepare yourself for very persuasive vendors. By the time we returned to the port, we had only approximately 10-15 minutes before the last tender so my hope to do any shopping was dashed. The ships cannot dock at Belize due to the shallow water, so they anchor out about 4 1/2 miles and we take smaller boats (tenders) into shore (20 minutes).
Costa Maya basically has nothing cultural to offer except for the tourism village that has been built right there at the port. In 2005, Hurricane Dean devastated this area. So we were very glad that we did book an excursion - Sea Trek Helmet Dive. We were taken to the site by an open sided safari-style bus, approximately 40 minute drive. Not much to see until we got closer to the site, mangrove forests on one side of the road and beautiful white beaches and aqua sea on the other. We were 16 in our group and only 8 can go down at one time, so we opted to be in the second group. There is a washroom and change area there. You can rent a small locker for $2 US. There are beach chairs and some umbrellas (thatched). There is also a snack bar where you can buy a beer, etc. After the briefing by our diver, Juan, the first group set went out and we stayed back. We spent this time in the water. It was so clear you could see the bottom, no problem. The temperature of the water was beautiful. The helmet dive was a bit scary. From our group of 8, 2 people had to be taken back to the surface. If you are claustrophobic this may not be for you. There is a lot of noise in the helmet, from the air being sent to the helmet, and this was hard to get used to, as well, as the fact you naturally want to hold your breath. I also found it very difficult to walk, but Juan who was in the water with us, took me and guided me to the rope and put my hand right on the rope. He was really great with us, checking on us several times throughout the dive to confirm we were ok. Up top, snorkeling was our other guide, Santiago. We felt very safe. Once everyone is down, you have about 25 minutes walking around and looking at the coral and fish. It was pretty neat. I had to keep talking to myself to keep myself from panicking. I was pleased to have stuck it out. Don't think this is a wimpy activity. The largest man from our group had to go back to the surface. Also, the minimum age is 9, but there was a young boy in the first group who couldn't stay down. I would think children would find it scary. This was a tease for my husband who now wants to learn to scuba dive. When we returned to the port, we had lots of time to shop, have a drink and nachos at Senor Frog's. Got a nasty burn while swimming in the ocean - us northerners keep forgetting we need to slap on the sunscreen. I did find some of the vendors here to be "in your face".
We did not book an excursion here. We planned to just explore Cozumel on foot and have a little lunch somewhere and do some souvenir shopping. First thing we noticed was the shop vendors are very aggressive towards prospective customers. Some can be rude if you ignore them or say no gracias, which I must have said 50 times. Some will even try to steer you into their shop. Some, on the other hand, are courteous or at least respect you when you smile and say "no, gracias". We didn't go far, as we weren't altogether sure of our security. When we stopped seeing other tourists, we turned around and headed back towards the port. We had a lite lunch at Casa Blanca, nachos and lemonade and my husband had a local beer. $16 US The nachos came with fresh salsa and something a "little spicier". Be very cautious when you hear this phrase. My husband put a little too much of the spicier stuff on his nacho and nearly screamed aloud. The sweat came out on his face and he nearly finished off my lemonade. That's habanero peppers. It was unfortunate as that was his only nacho - that ruined it for him. Poor guy - he really was in a lot of discomfort. While there, we were serenaded by 2 men with their guitars - that was really nice. This might be a port that is best to plan an excursion for at least part of the day.
Our favourite port. A beautiful lush tropical island with lovely people. There are still lots of places here that haven't been inundated with tourism. Rony's Tours, a local independent tour company, were awesome. Your tour is customized to your choosing. The Iguana Refuge was neat. Admission price is $8 pp but you get to feed the iguanas and touch them and there are lots of them. One of the things we did on our tour was bring some school supplies and small toys for some local children. Rony's Tours set up a meeting with these children from his village and we felt privileged to be meet them and their parents and grandparents and give them a small gift. You can do that at an orphanage as well. Too little time to spend on a beautiful island - hope we can return some day.