Pre-cruise and Day 1 (Friday and Saturday)
We flew out of Newark at 6am Friday morning (4/6/12), and landed in Miami at 9. Very smooth, easy flight. We grabbed our bags and went outside to the taxi line. Miami Airport knows how to do it.... You line up, and the transportation people get the cab for you. Very efficient and completely stress free. I wish Newark would do that! We took a cab from the airport to our hotel - the Holiday Inn Port of Miami. Note - the hotel offers a shuttle at $16 per person. Our cab was $21 total for the 3 of us.
We were at the front desk of the hotel by 10am. The outside of the hotel the lobby is very nice. It looks like it was recently renovated as everything looked new. It was also very clean. The restaurant is located just off the lobby, with a medium size bar area. It looked very nice. The staff was also very pleasant.
Our room had 2 queen beds and a queen sleeper sofa. We paid $100 for this room and I was very surprised how big the room was for such a reasonable fee! It was clean and comfortable - no complaints here at all. We were going to sit by the pool, but it was a little overcast, so we walked across the street to Bayside Market Place instead.
Bayside Market place is like a large outdoor /indoor flea market, with "regular" stores as well. Victoria's Secret, Brookstone, etc., are all there. There were restaurants (Chili's, Bubba Gump, The Hard Rock Cafe, Hooters, and others). We ate lunch at The Hard Rock Cafe and later went back to Bubba Gumps for dinner. I had never been to Bubba Gump before - it was very good. We all ended up with the steamed crabs - nothing was left! Very good food, and the atmosphere was very light and fun.
We were given free breakfast at the hotel. We took our luggage and went downstairs to the restaurant area around 9, and ate a light breakfast. It was a breakfast buffet -- there were eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, hash browns, oatmeal, cold cereals, muffins, breads, bagels, etc. By 10 am or so we were in the cab heading to the ship. It was a short cab ride and the fare was $9. I have never arrived at the pier this early. We usually arrive around 11 or so, but this really worked out in our favor. The lines were short ... By the time we went thru security and checked in it was just about 11. We sat in the boarding area for -geez, I don't even think it was 10 minutes, and our boarding group was called (#6). Washy Washy greeted us and we were on!
The first thing we did was sign our daughter up for the teen club. The Teen Club Daily was different on this ship. Usually they get a daily every day, just like the adults do. This was one Daily, given to her when she signed up, and it listed all of the activities for the week. Much to her horror, I thought it looked like fun and wanted to join .... But I wasn't allowed L I signed waivers for her (and us) to use the climbing wall, batting cages, spider man, bowling alley, etc., so she could participate in whatever she wanted, and wouldn't need to run and get one of us to sign for her. My husband and I also signed the waivers for us. It's all computerized and was very easy. The teens had a 1am curfew on this trip. We did allow our daughter to stay out until 1 am most nights. We had an early excursion in St. Maarten, and made her come in at midnight. The last night of the cruise, she was allowed to stay out until 2am with her friends.
Anyway, once we signed her up for the teen club, we headed right to the pool deck and the water slides. The 3 of us got some foo foo drinks, and sat for maybe 10 minutes before hitting the slides. Wow -- they were so much fun!! I love that big toilet bowl looking slide .... What a blast! There are plenty of empty pool chairs as well (on day 1). The first thing I noticed was - I can't understand the complaints about lack of "outside areas" .... There are decks of outside areas. ... The pool deck on this ship is like any other I've been on, so I'm not sure what the complaints are about. The NCL staff, in general, are wonderful, and this ship is no exception. Lots of smiling faces all over! They made an announcement around 1pm that the cabins were ready, but we did not leave the pool deck. We had met another family who live 20 minutes south of us, and were enjoying chatting with them.
We had our Muster around 3ish, and then went upstairs to check out the spa. The 3 of us ended up getting massages before we set sail! It was completely a spur of the moment thing, but boy - what's way to start your vacation! Talk about taking the stress away! My husband and even my daughter felt it made a big difference to the start of our trip!
We just wanted to take it easy on the first night and explore. We did not have any dinner plans. We ate in the buffet. After my daughter went to the teen club, hubby and I wandered around. Oh - I forgot ... Around 4:00 we stopped for some sushi. Delish! We are heading back there in a little while!! Anyway, we hit the shops, found the blues club, the martini bar, and the pub. Played a couple games of pool where I totally got my butt kicked, then headed back to the cabin.
Day 2 -- Sunday -- Sea Day
We are all early risers, and today was not any different. We were out on the pool deck by 7:30 a.m. There were quite a few towels on the deck chairs already. I knew then that I'd have to come out around this time daily if we wanted "our" seats. Same story, just a different cruise. Anyway, we put our towels on our chairs and hit the buffet for breakfast. The remainder of the day was spent at the pool, using the slides, and soaking up some rays. There were a lot of little kids in the pool ... and the water was very cloudy. Obviously they were peeing in it you kind of expect it when you have little kids around. Anyway, we stuck to the water slides, and were fine with that.
We ate dinner at Cagneys. I love that place, and this cruise was no different. I had a crab cake, a 10-ounce NY Strip, baked potato with lots of sour cream, and some sauteed mushrooms. My husband has the lobster bisque soup, the 10-ounce filet, a lobster tail, and asparagus. Our daughter had the shrimp cocktail, the 10-ounce filet, and the waiter brought her both onion rings and fries (he insisted). Everything was very, very good. Cooked to perfection and seasoned just right!
Day 3 -- Monday -- Sea Day
So, it's another Sea Day. Today, I got to the pool deck around 7ish. I guess people were very discouraged from the day before and not being able to find a chair, because today -- the towels were on TONS of chairs. No people LOL just towels. Anyway, I did the same thing that I did yesterday -- found 3 chairs, placed our towels, and went to the buffet for breakfast. I know this has been said over and over again on various threads, and having cruised many times, I know this is common to ALL cruise lines, but there were quite a few people-less chairs for hours on end. I never saw anyone enforcing any chair policy, but I'm really not too sure that you can. People get up and swim, they use the slides, they go to the bathroom, they eat, etc., etc. It's almost impossible to know how long a chair has been empty unless you are sitting there watching the chair. People will be people. Sometimes, they do rude things .... It's just the way it is. Anyway, if you want a chair -- get up early. In all honesty, I never understood the folks who wait until 11am to leave their cabins and then expect to find a chair!
Today was a little different. Remember all of those people-less chairs with towels holding their spots that we just discussed? Well, around 8am or so it down poured ... and I do mean downpour! We had a waterproof backpack, so we just stuck our stuff in the backpack and hung out in the hot tub until it passed. As soon as the storm was over, we jumped in the pool. The water was nice and clear -- no little kids in there yet. After, we rode the slides and then put our dry towels on the chairs. It was kind of funny seeing people run back for their soaked towels (that's mean, I know) but it also wasn't a big deal as all you had to do what exchange them for new ones. Anyway, we lay out in the sun until around 11ish. It started to rain again, and we really weren't planning on spending the day outside, so we left.
We headed to O'Sheehan's for lunch. We ordered some mozzarella sticks, some artichoke dip, and both had the chicken pot pie. Everything was very good!
We ate in Taste tonight. My daughter had chicken fingers and fries (and if you knew her, you'd be surprised she hasn't turned into one yet) and my husband had salmon. They both enjoyed their dinner very much. I had pork medallions in a very tasty brown sauce. The pork was overcooked, but the meal was still good. I don't really have high expectations on the cruise ship that is serving 4400 people. In the specialty restaurants, yes -- I expect it to be top notch. In the dining room, I don't expect it to be "amazing" or anything like that. It was ok -- even more towards the "good" side. Had it not been overcooked, it would have been delicious. Again, my husband really enjoyed his Salmon.
Day 4 -- Tuesday -- St. Maarten
Today was a big day for us. We had an excursion planned thru a private tour company with another couple we met on our roll call. I found this guy on CC, while reading thru the St. Maarten message boards. His name is Captain Bob and he is with Soualiga Destinations. He comes HIGHLY recommended. Not only on cruise critic, but on Trip Advisor as well. http://www.soualigadestinations.com/ I posted the link here, but am not sure if it will show up. If it doesn't, do an Internet search and read all of the wonderful reviews. This guy and the excursion were phenomenal! I can honestly say, other than the ship, this was THE highlight of the cruise! First, St. Maarten is beautiful. The island is beautiful, and the water is beautiful. The snorkeling here cannot be compared -- and definitely is way above what St.Thomas or the Bahamas has to offer (in way of snorkeling). Capt. Bob took us out on a boat armed with twin 350's. He limited the excursion to only 12 people -- so while others are crammed on cruise excursions, stuck close to shore on big catamarans, we were able to go out to snorkeling sites that others could not. He has 2 boats. On this day, he had 36 people booked. True to his word, he did not put more than 12 to a boat. He hired another boat to accommodate the extra people. Kudos to him for doing that. I'm not sure too many people would do that. Anyway, he took us all around St. Maarten by boat, and we stopped at 4 different snorkeling sites -- both in the both French and Dutch sides. In addition to amazingly colorful fish, we saw huge sea turtles and different colored sting rays (some black, some spotted, some "regular"). He also told us history of the various parts of the island that we were passing. We also sat in the water by Maho beach and watched a couple small planes land over our heads. I know this review is not doing the day justice -- I promise, if you book with this guy you will not be disappointed! Our trip was $99 a person. It included unlimited beer, soda, and water, as well as lunch at a beach restaurant (choice of bbq ribs or bbq chicken, both very, very good), plus our snorkeling. There were a few people who opted not to snorkel -- they just enjoyed the boat ride (which, at times, was very, very fast and so much fun!). A couple people had a beer or two, but this was not a booze cruise, and most of us just drank water. This excursion really was the highlight of the trip for us -- it was that good! We are most definitely going to do this excursion again!
That night, we had dinner at Teppanyaki. Wow -- so much food! The meal includes miso soup and seaweed salad with ginger dressing. You have your choice of entree. My husband and daughter both ordered filet and shrimp. I ordered the same thing, but asked if I could add lobster. They told me yes, but it would be a $10 charge. I said no problem. My meal came with TWO big lobster tails! It was really, really good. The garlic fried rice was amazing. Everyone had 2 servings. The veggies were really good -- everything was good. No complaints here at all! Prior to eating, we had sushi (of course). I love that sushi bar ....
Day 5 -- Wednesday - St. Thomas
We had plans to meet up with another couple from cruise critic that we did the St. Maarten excursion with, and really enjoyed their company. The plan was to meet at the buffet in the morning, then head to St. John via taxi and ferry on our own. The buffet was so crowded, we never did find them. Come to find out, we really just missed each other. Anyway, my husband, daughter, and I took a cab over to Sapphire beach. I wasn't too interested in hitting Coki beach or Maegan's Bay .... I have read reviews and while I'm sure they are both nice, I wasn't interested in the touristy stuff, and was afraid of wall to wall people as some of the reviews here on CC stated. So, we went to Sapphire. Very pretty beach. We arrived and we were the only ones there! We rented 3 beach chairs ($7 each) and my daughter saw a sign for parasailing. She asked if we could go. I've always wanted to do it, and even though I was freaking out a little, I said yes. She laughed at me the whole time we were walking to the boat because I was really nervous LOL She and I did the parasailing, and I'm really glad we did. It was a great experience, and I got to share it with her. I'm very happy she and I did that together! It was $75 per person.
My husband was waiting on the dock for us when we returned. We walked back to our chairs and more people had come on to the beach by then. We decided to get something to eat. My daughter got a hot dog and fries. My husband and I split a burger. We also got a bottle of water and 2 iced teas. The bill was $36. So much for staying away from "tourist" things, huh?! Anyway, shortly thereafter we left. My daughter, being a typical teenager, did not want to listen to our lecturing her about the sunscreen the day before and was clearly paying for it today. I wasn't too sad to leave -- we ALL had a lot of sun over the past few days and I was ok with going back to the ship. Besides, she really needed to get out of the sun as her ear was starting to blister. It was around 1pm when we left the beach and headed back to the ship.
When we got on the ship, we ran into our friends that we couldn't find that morning. We decided to go to O'Sheehan's for drinks and some snacks. We also got smart and decided we would meet in our cabin for Friday's shore activities rather than chancing not finding each other again in the buffet. We hung with them for a bit, then headed back to the cabin to get ready for dinner.
Dinner this evening was at Le Bistro. I had French onion soup, a salad, and the duck. My husband also had the soup, and he ordered the rack of lamb. Our daughter ordered the beef tenderloin for dinner. She did not want an appetizer, but the waitress brought her Terrine De Foie Gras to try which were these little wafer cones stuffed with different things (chicken in one, pears in another, and 2 others). She tried them but didn't like them. We had not problem eating them for her, though!
Day 6 -- Thursday -- Sea Day
Ok, by now we are really "sunned out". We are dark, burnt, and really tired from the late nights, sooooo ..... we were totally lazy today and pretty much hung out on our balcony deck reading books. Doesn't sound like much fun, but it really was! I'm the type of person who has to "do do do" ..... and this is the LAST thing I would do (relax on a vacation -- WHO does that??) but I enjoyed it!
We did go to the Murder Mystery Lunch with the other couple we met on CC (and hung around with a lot on this trip). That was a lot of fun. You are crammed in like sardines, but the show was cute and very funny albeit in a corny sort of way. I enjoyed it and would do it again!
We also saw Legends in Concert tonight. It was interesting LOL Steven Tyler looked exactly like him -- sounded nothing like him. Elvis looked nothing like him, but sounded exactly like him! Madonna completely missed the mark on both looks and voice. It was fun though.
We ate in Taste again tonight. I had the rib eye and my husband had leg of lamb. He liked his .... I think I just get spoiled with the specialty restaurants and mine was, again, just ok. I dunno .... I think the next cruise I'm going to stick with the specialty restaurants. I don't want to scare anyone off. NOTHING was horrible or gross or anything like that. I just really, really like good food ... and when it's "ok" I just get a little disappointed, that's all. Food, like almost everything else in life, is very subjective. My husband goes out to eat at the same restaurants I do, and he did not find anything wrong with Taste either night that we ate there ... so please, take my remarks with a grain of salt. I really want to make it clear that nothing was horrible or even bad. I think I just prefer the steaks in Cagneys to anything else LOL
Day 7 -- Friday -- Nassau
We were due to arrive in Nassau at noon today, but due to an emergency, we arrived around 9:30am. Our friends came down to our cabin at 10am, and we went to O'Sheehan's for breakfast. 3 of us ordered the Country Breakfast, and my husband ordered the omelet. My daughter had met some friends in the buffet for breakfast. Everything was very good. After, we headed into Nassau for some shopping. We stopped at Senor Frogs for lunch (there I go with that "tourist" thing again), and then headed back to the ship. It was a nice, relaxing day.
I'm going to fill in some blanks here now. I don't have this listed under a specific day because I can't remember when we did these things LOL We went to the ice bar. It was cool to see. Took some fun pictures. Stayed in for 20 minutes or so. Don't get the blue drink -- it tastes like lighter fluid! Well, I imagine that is what lighter fluid would taste like if I ever did try it. Anyway, you were warned!
We missed the dueling pianos. I'm really sorry we missed it! I'm usually up at 4 or 5 am for work, and my body was still in that "early to bed, early to rise" mode. I made it to about 20 minutes before it was set to start and just couldn't do it. It is on my list for "next time".
The casino was not bad at all in terms of the smoke. I've seen a lot of folks complain on here about having to walk thru the casino. I'm not sure what the issue is, but we didn't have one.
Our room -- Cabin 11314. Aft corner balcony -- LOVED IT! Loved the room, loved the bathroom, loved the balcony. This was a big room as far as cruise ship cabins go, with lots of storage. Absolutely no complaints here at all!
The lack of a "promenade" deck was totally not an issue. This ship has so much to offer. It is a modern cruise ship, not at all gaudy. There is so much to do, to see, to participate in. It is truly amazing. I can honestly say this is the first ship that has ever given me that "wow" factor. The whole family has enjoyed this cruise so much we have already booked again for next March. I've been home a day, and we booked again already. Not only that, but we may very well have a group of family members coming along. They have heard us tell about our trip, seen the expressions on our faces while we were talking about the ship, and can hear the excitement in our voices. They want in -- and who wouldn't! It is truly an amazing ship.
A pointer -- the service in O'Sheehan's can be a little slow. If you want breakfast, go to the side that says "please wait to be seated". You can eat in the pub side, but the several times we were there, we usually ended up waiting 20 -- 30 minutes for someone to come to us. Not a big deal to us, but I know people have plans and such, so if you are pressed for time, opt for the table service as opposed to the pub service. Food is the same on both sides.
Our daughter is 15, and she had an absolute blast on this ship. She has been cruising since she was 7, and she said this was the best cruise she ever had. She loved the teen club, the water slides, and probably the freedom she had on board. This is the first time we have allowed her to stay out like that on a ship. She proved responsible and we were more than ok with giving her some wings on this trip. She made a ton of friends, and I do mean a ton! She came home with 38 Facebook names, phone numbers, and email addresses from teens literally all over the country and Canada. A good portion of kids live close to us, and they are all meeting up at the mall this weekend. I am very happy she had such an amazing time! It makes it so much better when the family, as a whole, is enjoying something!
Our daughter spent a lot of time at night on the ship having photos taken with her friends. So many pictures were taken, that we couldn't possibly buy them all at $20 a pop. She really wanted the memories, and we wanted her to have them .... So we bought the picture CD. For $249 you get a CD with all of your cruise pictures on them. For another $100, they will give you the printed photos as well. Don't opt for that -- it's a rip off. If you get the CD, you can take it to any Walgreens or CVS and print as many pictures as you like for a fraction of the cost. The CD includes a release, so you will not have a problem printing the photos. She and her friends had 349 pictures on that CD. It really was not a bad deal at all. It also includes all of your dinner pictures, your embarkation photos, and all the pictures that are taken when you exit the ships. She and her friends took numerous "professional" photos -- they really had a great time!
Disembarkation -- Saturday
This is the first time we didn't exit the ship as soon as it was cleared. We didn't even leave our cabin until 9:30. We weren't flying home until Sunday, so we had no reason to rush. It took about 30 minutes to get off, thru customs, and onto the street in the taxi line. It took about another 15 minutes to get a cab. It really wasn't bad at all.
We had a 7 am flight today (Sunday) out of Miami and were home, in our house, by 11am. I am still tired, and I am so glad I took Monday off from work. I have unpacked and all of the laundry is done. We are going to grab dinner out tonight, and then just relax tomorrow. Hubby is a firefighter in the training division, so he has to go in to work tomorrow to be with the new recruits, but I am planning on not doing much of anything!
One final thing -- GO ON THIS SHIP!!!!!!!! I truly cannot understand any negative things about this ship. We loved it. We really loved it and cannot wait to go back! Also, the friendships we have made from our roll call will last a lifetime. We really hit it off with another couple, and did a lot of fun things with them. Participate in your roll call!