We sailed on the Norwegian Star out of New Orleans on March 3, 2013. We chose this itinerary because it offered a few ports we'd never been to, and the dates worked out perfectly given spring break (my husband teaches at a university). However - we did not want a wild and crazy spring break! This cruise gave us a great mix of adventure and relaxation, with just the right amount of "party scene."
Booking was a bit annoying. We initially had booked an inside stateroom, about 6 weeks prior to sailing. (We often book "last-minute" to get good rates, and our schedules are pretty flexible, so it works.) About two weeks prior to sailing, we saw the balcony prices come down significantly, so hubby decided to pay extra to upgrade us. We have never had a balcony before - always go inside - so the idea of a balcony was quite exciting!! However, the NCL rep on the phone insisted no balconies were available (even though NCL.com showed many available). It took a few calls and a good hour on More
the phone to book the upgrade.
I am glad that this worked out for us, as the balcony was wonderful. I loved seeing the huge, bright sun every morning. It felt great waking up in that room. We also enjoyed the great views - watching other boats go by at sea, sail-away and arrival at each port, having wine out there before dinner.
Food on the Star was great. We ate in Versailles two nights, Aqua one night (lobster!), Moderno one night, Blue Lagoon one night and the buffet the other two nights. Versailles is fancier than Aqua. Moderno is worth the money - that was my favorite, for sure! Buffet was nice. I especially liked the yam and potato salad they had there - and the chocolate night! I also appreciate that they had a barbecue at the pool deck during at-sea days. I love being able to grab lunch right there, rather than having to go inside and sit down. Grab a Corona, chicken, rice, shrimp, grilled veggies - sit right by the pool and soak in that sunshine! I was impressed, too, with the service at the pool. Several times I was offered a fruit kabob or rum runner (free).
Hubby made a good observation, which I suppose is true, but it didn't really bother me: They don't really have good Italian food in the main dining rooms, because they want you to go pay extra in the Italian restaurant... and they don't really have the best steaks there, because they want you to go pay extra in the steakhouse... same with Asian-inspired dishes. If you want that type of food, you have to pay extra at the Japanese restaurant. However - I am not a picky eater and can always find something I like, so it was all good as far as I am concerned.
Wait times for restaurants weren't bad; we generally tried to make reservations and/or eat at off-times.
Other things that were remarkable:
Allan, our room steward, was so kind and helpful. I liked that he brought me a bathrobe to relax in on the balcony!
Kyle, the cruise director, was excellent - he really helped to create a fun atmosphere. Welcome back party in Cozumel - we were docked next to the Norwegian Dawn, and guests of both ships were welcomed back to the dock with cool towels, jello shots, popsicles, music and dancing - a nice added touch (I think NCL does a great job with extra little things like this). Xcite, the steel drum band on the pool deck - I loved the tunes! Much more fun than the ships that just put a TV show up on the big screen during the day. The theater shows - wonderful! Especially the Elements show, that really was outstanding - do not miss it! The acrobat team - Dmitry, Maria and Ivan - so amazing. Sharkbait and Second City Comedy - also amazing. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
We'd heard Belize City wasn't the nicest place for tourists - so we took a water taxi (San Pedro Belize Express) to Caye Caulker for about $12 per person each way. My new favorite island! Such an amazing place. This is a very small island - you can see the whole thing in a day. We rented bikes and rode around the sandy streets. There are no cars on the island - everyone gets around by bike, golf cart and their own two feet. The motto is "go slow."
Such a gorgeous, beautiful, friendly island. And very inexpensive. I think the bike rental was about $5 for two bikes for two hours. We ate lunch at Syd's. Fresh pineapple juice for hubby, papaya for me. Got some conch and grilled shrimp. Hubby had fried chicken.
We went down to "the split" by Lazy Lizard to try the Belikin beer and go for a swim. Super clear, blue water. And white, white, WHITE sand! Nice and refreshing after biking around in the hot sun all day.
Wear lots of SPF if you go here! I got pretty burnt, despite applying a lot of sunscreen, and read later that the white limestone of the island reflects a lot of the sunlight - making burns a lot worse than they might be in other places.
Basically, I loved Caye Caulker and pretty much want to move here now :)
Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
In Costa Maya, we went to see the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins with Native Choice. I am glad we did this, because there isn't much to see or do in Costa Maya outside of the port area. Our guides were Ivan and David. They were funny, informative and knowledgeable about the area and the ruins. It was easy to meet up with them just outside the port. We loaded into a tour bus (I would say about 40 people total), and the drive there was just under an hour I'd say. We all got bottles of water on the bus. Ivan told us about Costa Maya and nearby Majahual, the culture and the people who live there.
The ruins themselves were very cool to see; we had never seen ruins before. I didn't realize how many pyramids and different structures there were at the site. Some of them we could climb, which I was happy about. David and Ivan broke us down into smaller groups, so we could see and hear better. The tour itself took about two hours. We were in David's group, and he was great. Very interesting. Gorgeous area, too - tons of huge palm trees. Very lush.
There are some little shops and touristy things at the entrance to the ruins. We didn't buy anything. If you even so much as looked/got close to something, the shopkeepers would try very hard to get you to buy. They were a tad aggressive, and you could bargain with them on prices. We just kept saying, no thanks, no thanks.
On the way back, our bus stopped by a little roadside shack for fresh pineapple. Women and children set up these little huts to sell pineapple, coconuts and other fruits. The pineapple was amazing! For $1 we got a thick slice with chili powder to dip it in. So yummy!
Back in the port area, we had a little bit of time to walk around and check out the shops. I got some sweet cowboy boots at Rogers Boots. Was first told $280, but negotiated down to $95. They are very comfortable, nice quality boots. And I've gotten so many compliments on them since I've been home!
We have been to Cozumel several times and love the shopping here. We have also done tours, such as the X-rails (through Wild Tours), and have had a blast. On this cruise, though, we just went to Paradise Beach. We love Paradise Beach because it is a quick taxi ride from the pier, and we just know it will make for a great day at the beach. Love the pool with the lounge chairs laying right in the water, all of the palm trees and white sand. Very good service, decent food, delish drinks. Ahhhhh. Paradise Beach is truly paradise.
So much fun! We had never been to New Orleans before, so definitely wanted to check it out. We spent two days here prior to sailing.
Friday night, went out to Frenchmen Street - ate the best fish tacos I've ever had at Cafe Negril. So yum. Then we taxied over to the Hotel Monteleone to check out the carousel bar. Very cool. Had a drink while it rotated one circle. Then we walked over to Bourbon, just to see the sights. Wow! Cocktails to go, cocktails to go. People everywhere, and drinks being sold out of every window and random door in the wall. This was definitely a fun experience, but not something I'd want to do on a regular basis. I liked going up onto one of the balconies, too :)
I liked that the city is very walkable and, when you don't want to walk, taxies seemed to be generally inexpensive.
Saturday we had breakfast at Cafe Du Monde (French Market area). It was fun, but seemed very touristy. I suppose it is meant to be. The food was okay. I think people go there more for the experience than for the food. Beignet = donut-like cake covered in heaps of powdered sugar. The coffee was good! Then we walked around that area for awhile, just ducking into little shops, checking out the music and art. I love that there are street performers, musicians and artists displaying their work on nearly every corner. I loved all of the parks and architecture, too. Very pretty city to just walk around - so much to see and buy!
We had lunch at Verti Marte Deli. Really, really good. Seemed very local; lots of people calling for take-out. I had cajun chicken and hubby had shrimp. We enjoyed that great food just standing in the sunshine at one of the back tables. (Not much seating here, but worth it.) It was a cool day, so we were happy just to be inside - it was very bright and warm.
After lunch we took the trolley over to the Garden District. A small bit of shopping here - mainly antiques and quirky little shops. It was fun to look at all the old, gorgeous homes, though. That is mainly why we went here. Just a beautiful neighborhood to walk through. Very impressive.
Roatan was very pretty to pull into. Our balcony looked down over the dock and reefs alongside it. Turquoise water, just gorgeous and sparkling. We got off the boat and went to the taxi area, wanting to get a taxi to West Bay Beach.
We found that we couldn't get a taxi just ourselves without having to pay a lot - around $22 per person each way. So we agreed to share a van ride with some other couples for $25 per couple (round trip). Our van had a driver and also a tour guide who would escort us/stay with us at the beach until we were ready to come back. Sounded like a great deal!
Then we arrived at the beach (after about a 15- or 20-minute drive, I suppose) and were told we had to pay a $10 entrance fee per person. We realized at that point that we had not been taken to the public part of West Bay Beach, but a private beach club - Mayan Princess Beach Resort. However, the place was so gorgeous, we couldn't complain! We got nice lounge chairs, umbrellas, use of the facilities (which were very nice and clean) and bar/restaurant service. One couple in our group became angry about having been misled to this resort, and was pretty much told by our guide, "too bad, you are here now, and we can't do anything about it." I think they got over it and enjoyed the day.
The beach was beautiful and clean, the water was really nice to swim in, our lunch was great, we had a great time. I would just recommend that, if you are considering a taxi ride to West Bay Beach, you ask for the costs up front and specify whether you want to go to a public beach or private beach resort.