BACKGROUND: My wife and I are both 55+ and now cruise at least twice a year. We’re Platinum on Princess & Carnival, have also cruised Celebrity but this was our first cruise on Norwegian. We were looking for a cruise with good rates to some place(s) we haven’t been and this repositioning itinerary was just the ticket (St. Thomas, Aruba, Curacao, Cozumel with "new” ports of Antigua + Barbados). Our AAA travel agent got us an upgrade to mini-suite on deck 11 just below the Grand Café and an extra $100 OBC (kudos to Carol). Since I am a former teacher (5 years was enough) I decided to give letter grades for each component I reviewed.
Notes to Norwegian newbies:
1. Be sure to sign in when you do muster drill. We didn’t know we had to sign in and received a note saying we need to do another muster drill. We explained we went to the 1st one but didn’t know we had to sign in so they didn’t hold us for the 2nd drill. It wasn’t a BIG deal but still an unnecessary inconvenience.
2. This ship has no "Do Not Disturb” cards to hang on the cabin door instead there is a wheel next to the door that rotates to show "Welcome”, "Make Up Cabin”, "Turn Down Cabin” and "Do Not Disturb”.
3. Check the daily paper for drink specials ours were in the Spinnaker Lounge from 5-7 PM.
4. On Embarkation day, forget the Lido deck and have lunch in the Venetian Dining Room it’s less congested and you can relax.
ARRIVAL + BOSTON: We booked our Jet Blue flight from Central New York State (Syracuse) to arrive on the day of the cruise. The taxi to the pier was $30 including $5 tip. Embarkation itself was pretty painless and we were onboard by 12:30 PM and were told our cabins were ready WOW that was easy! Embarkation = A
We were on Deck 11 aft cabin 11176 one deck below Lido. The mini "suite was GREAT with just one flight of stairs up to the Garden Café which was opposite the Fitness Center. There is plenty of storage space on the closet shelves and in the closet itself BUT the closet doors open toward the bed so you have to maneuver around to get stuff out. Even though storage was ample, we decided to store the suitcases under the bed which gave us even more room. The bathroom had a TUB imagine that! The tub/shower had great water pressure and sliding glass doors which were a nice touch and the toilet area had a door also. Even though we were underneath the Garden Café, we were under the end of the room and hardly ever heard carts or chairs moving above us. We asked the room steward for a mattress topper since the bed was a tad firm. Our room steward Chris was very pleasant, helpful and never showed any sign of negativity (we gave him an extra $55 @ cruise end). He also spoke English well so there were no communication issues and we even spoke several times. Cabin = A, attendants = A+
THE FOOD: Norwegian has Freestyle dining so you eat when and where you want.
Venetian Dining Room: We had lunch there on embarkation day and several dinners also. The wait time was not long at all, service was very good, the food was of good quality and the choices were many. One side of the menu stays the same but that’s not necessarily a bad thing since I could enjoy the daily special one night and then order from the "usual” side the next. We had TWO evenings of superb Surf & Turf dinners and (contrary to what some people observed) the lobsters were full lobsters (not halves) and we were given two lobsters each at the 2nd Surf & Turf dinner. YOWZA!! A
Aqua Dining Room: This is the more "casual dress” dining room where we had several dinners. The menu is pretty much the same as the Venetian and the food & service was of good quality. A
Blue Lagoon: This is the casual dining room in the Atrium area. The menu is always the same but it is open 24 hours and serves up some good breakfasts, fish & fries, chicken sandwiches, chef salad and a host of other food items. In addition, you can enjoy the entertainment in the Atrium while you eat. A
Teppenyaki: We decided to try this Asian specialty restaurant ($25 p/p) because we had some OBC to use up. It was very interesting to watch the chefs go thru their "show” while they spun eggs around, flipped utensils in the air and other such acrobatics while preparing the food. We definitely didn’t go away hungry. A+
Garden Cafe: There is probably something bad I could write about the lines, the choices, the food temperature, the presentation, the lack of seating etc but I’m on vacation to enjoy myself and not find fault with the small stuff. Once we became accustomed to the layout and the best times to eat, things were fine. There were certain machines that had both skim milk and regular milk while others had regular milk and half & half. Some juice machines had strawberry/kiwi & mango flavored water while others had real orange and cranberry juice. Once you found out where stuff was, it was pretty much a certainty it would always be found there. The pizza on the buffet wasn’t that good but I probably helped my weight by not eating much of it. Salads & finger foods are my mainstay anyway and I never walked away hungry. B
Bar service: Mostly frequented the Spinnaker Grill. Bartender was friendly & made good drinks - I tipped him extra. A
Room service: Never used it. No grade
Other Specialty restaurants or Bimini Grill: Never used them. No grade
Soda/drink packages: Never used them. No grade
SHORE EXCURSIONS: More info for each is in the Shore Excursion Reviews
St .Thomas: We opted for the St John Catamaran Champagne & Snorkeling excursion. B+/A-
Antigua: After reading glowing reviews on Cruise Critic, we booked with "Lawrence of Antigua”. A
Barbados: The Barbados Beach Break was an inexpensive excursion plus the beach was very nice and we had the use of lounges and an umbrella. A
Curacao: We didn’t book an excursion but shopped for souvenirs and see the city. No grade but a good time.
Aruba: We booked the Kuckoo Kanukoo beach excursion. A drive to the usual tourist spots ending at a beach. A
Cozumel: Our snorkel excursion was cancelled due to low demand so we did the Jose Cuervo Tequila tasting. Woo hoo - - - what an afternoon! I’m surprised I still remember some of the things we learned about tequila. A
Tampa: We booked the city tour thru the ship at the end of the cruise. If you want an overview of Tampa, this is a good way to get it. A
The Internet Cafe is on Deck 9 and has about 12 terminals and several Internet "plans”. You could pay 75 cents per minute, purchase 100 minutes or 250 minutes. On the first day you could get add’l free minutes if you bought a plan. We opted for the 100 minute + 10 minutes free ($60 including activation) plan just to check e-mail a few times during the week. BE AWARE ----- the service is painfully S-L-O-W. On the last day when everyone is working on confirming flights, the system w/b really slow. C
We didn’t use the Spa although I used the gym in the early afternoons so I had no issues with finding an open T-mill, elliptical or life cycle. The treadmills, elliptical and pedal machines were in great shape and the weight machines were primo. Gym = A-
We didn’t buy any photo packages and ignored most photographers who tried to snap our pix. No grade
We didn’t go to the casino. No grade
Cruise Director and staff were often seen before shows in the Stardust Theater and around the ship. Nice people without being annoying. A
We used Passengers’ Service desk to get printout of our charges and they were courteous and professional. A
The boutiques/stores had their usual "sales” which were mostly for old stock and watches. We only bought a couple of small souvenirs. C
We didn’t go to any of the clubs at night not enough time it seems but we did listen to Jose & Patti in the Atrium on several occasions. A
We attended most of the Stardust Theater shows "Band On The Run”, "Oh What A Night” (Part 1 + 2), "Oceans Apart”, Michael Johns (comedian/hypnotist), Tim Kiminsky (comedian). Overall a grade of A
DEBARKATION: We ate our breakfast in our cabin using food we brought down the day before and then waited inside Stardust Theater for our Tampa tour to get on the buses. Things were a little disjointed when we went on deck and joined in with the regular walk off passengers. We were in the wrong line then there was a problem with the card reading machine but we finally made it to the terminal to pick up our bags, go thru customs and board our busses. WHEW…It wasn’t a nightmare by any stretch but I wish some of the powers that be could streamline things a bit better. All that pushing and shoving …it’s like a Black Friday sale at Walmart or Macy’s. C
OVERALL: Fourteen days seemed so-o-o-o long when we started but it ended all too soon (that line could probably be the theme of a country song). It was also great to start off with $300 OBC which we spent on the mandatory tips, shore excursions, drinks specialty dining and internet. The ship may have twenty four hundred people but it’s big enough so that we never felt crowded. Just don’t wait until "rush hour” to eat or go to the shows. I now see how/why some people are Norwegian fanatics it’s a great brand with a great product. We enjoyed it so much we purchased a $250 Future Cruise Certificate and we’re booked on the Dawn reposition from Tampa back to Boston in April of 2014 and I’m confident it will be just as enjoyable. I would recommend this ship & itinerary and give it an overall grade of a tad more than "A-" so that will round up to A
I looked tour with “Lawrence of Antigua”. I e-mailed Mr. Lawrence and made arrangements for the tour. Mr. Christopher (our driver) met us at the pier and we joined our group for a tour of Antigua stopping at the usual high-points including Nelson’s Dockyard. We had refreshments available in the van including Wadadli (local beer). All in all I’d recommend this to some one wanting to see what Antigua offers.
The Kuckoo Kanukoo Beach Break takes you to some of the island highlights and then ends at Palm Beach. You get a lounger but no umbrella so you have to move it into the shade if you don’t want the sun - not a big deal. Good way to spend a few hours.
We wanted something inexpensive and this Barbados Beach Break fit the bill. Once arriving at the beach, we were given a choice of lounges/umbrellas and a free drink. There were servers who walked the beach asking if anyone wanted food or beverages. It was a nice time and a good value. A couple of cautions about Barbados – DON’T wear camouflage clothing or smoke in public. I’m not sure why, but the CD and other ship’s people gave that warning multiple times.
The Jose Cuervo Tequila tasting is held next to the Mexican History Museum. The presentation was informative, the tequila was enjoyable and the lunch midway thru the Museum tour was tasty. A good value for sure.
Willemstad is a pretty city and it was fun just to walk around and watch the pontoon bridge in operation. The further away from the pier your get, the cheaper the prices – what a surpise?
The catamaran & snorkel trip to St John on that warm sunny day was enjoyable. DW stayed on board the catamaran and read her book while I snorkeled. The crew was proficient and informative - I enjoyed it quite a bit although I wish the snorkel time was longer. After the snorkeling, the drinks, snacks and rum punch came out.
We booked the city tour thru the ship at cruise end. This guided took us around Tampa to places we wouldn’t normally go and then dropped us off at the airport to catch a shuttle to the hotel where we spent the night before going home. The attractions along the way included the University of Tampa with its unique Spanish Alhambra type architecture, Ybor City with its rich cultural heritage (and a stop for lunch), a drive thru center of the city + the “rich part of town” where the millionaires live. The guide was quite good and provided a running narrative about the city. If you want an overview of Tampa, this is the way to get it.