I really enjoyed this relaxing cruise that had some fun stops.
Itinerary, which was New Orleans, at sea, Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, Costa Maya, at sea, New Orleans. Just the right mix of sea days for relaxing and ports to explore and stay busy.
This was our first time cruising on Norwegian, but we had cruised multiple times with Carnival in the past, so many of my observations are sort of what was different. Overall I had a very nice time, and would certainly cruise with Norwegian again. I realize in my review, I am sort of picking at the nits of what could have been better, but it was still a very nice time, and I thought we got our money and entertainment value from this cruise.
Other Guests on the cruise: I thought the average age on this cruise was older than my previous carnival cruises, but it wasn't so old that the ship was filled with 02 and electric scooters either. I thought that the average guests were a bit more upscale than past carnival cruises, but for the most part weren't overly aloof. Basically a decent mix of people that we enjoyed cruising with and chatting with when you got a chance. I think that there weren't many children on board due to our selection of dates, but the children that were on board seem occupied by the ship kids programs and weren't running around all over the ship. I found that the cruise critic meet and greet plus cabin crawl a fun way to meet some of the fellow cruisers, and an opportunity to meet a big chunk of the senior ship officers.
The crew: I thought that Norwegian does an excellent job in training of the crew to be welcoming and engaging. I thought in particular that we saw more of the ships officers in the dining rooms, buffets, entertainment, etc. You felt like they were there to be helpful, and to ensure that everyone was getting quality service. In particular, I thought the crew/ship/cruise line really prioritized sanitation. The "Washy Washy" stations were a new twist for us, but I was told that is standard on Norwegian. In the past, we were on ships that had lots of hand sanitizer stations, but you couldn't count on your fellow passengers to use them before they started handling all the buffet serving utensils right before you handled them. In particular during the busy times, they would even put a crew member manning the soft serve ice cream, which I realized was so that they had a decent chance of keeping it sanitary. Overall we were very impressed at how good the crew was about following the sanitation rules on what they touched/didn't touch while wearing their gloves and serving food.
The ship: I thought that the ship was well maintained, all though I wouldn't normally comment about decor, we were originally thinking that the fish carpet in the cabin hallways was a bit cheesy, till we realized that the fish always point towards the bow, which was a clever little reinforcement of where you are going. I thought that they did a few small things that really helped getting around the ship, for instance the clear guide in the elevators on what floor things were on, also that usually you could see a diagram of that deck as you leave the elevator and many were oriented correctly to eliminate confusion. I think if they added some vertical lines to the elevator guides to tell you whether things were forward, midship, or aft would be helpful, along with a sign in the elevator telling you that you are on the midship elevator for instance. I think they have a lot of space dedicated to the specialty restaurants and there is a big push to get you into them and spending more money. I thought that they weren't very oriented to electronic self help for the guests as there were no automated kiosks or in cabin interface to do shore excursions, account balance, dinner reservation, etc, so all of those things require that you stand in line at the appropriate desk and have a crew member help you with it. I think a simple time/temp/forecast plus maybe a position map/speed/heading on the cabin TV would have been very helpful as well. They have a bridge observation area, which was a neat treat, and we also participated in a behind the scenes tour on our last at sea day which was very interesting.
Ship board entertainment: I thought that they filled the main auditorium with alternative entertainment like a comedian, and a ventriloquist a bit more than other lines, where you would expect that in some of the bigger small venues. The Cirque De Bijou show was an excellent gymnast/acrobatic type performance, very impressive, I suggest you don't miss that one. I thought some of the various small music performances on the ship were more annoying than entertaining, sometimes you would think "Hey they are doing a good job, and then the next song you begin to wonder if they hit any of the right notes along the way".
Cabin: I am a cheap skate, the room is for changing clothes, crashing at the end of the night, and an occasional nap in between. So we don't splurge on rooms. We kind of like ocean view since we appreciate the light, and when waking up there is more of an indication of what time it is and a peak to see what the weather is like. So we opted for deck 8 ocean view obstructed, no room preference, and they "upgraded" us to deck 5 porthole at the very front of the ship. I'm not sure that is actually much of an upgrade. Being that far forward, we did hear some mechanical noises, such as the bow thrusters, and possibly the stabilizers deploying. I did hear some sound that was like a massive air compressor or maybe a big dryer starting up several times, not sure what it was, but i think if you were on deck 4 it would have been loud. After having sailed on the ship, not sure I would want a deck 4 cabin as everyone ends up filing past your room for shore excursions and I think it would be ugly for getting around if they ever closed the water tight doors.
Food in general: Well I know this one ranges all over the place based on peoples expectation. Also a side note, that we spent several days in New Orleans before the cruise and had some fabulous food, so by comparison the cruise food wasn't that impressive. In general on past cruises, I believe that food quality has gone down over the years as all the cruise lines all try to cut back where they can. Norwegian really pushes the specialty restaurants, but we only at the Cagney Steak house once.
Cagneys Steak house: I thought that the Steak house had sort of a limited menu if you weren't interested in steak, so hopefully everyone in your party is looking for a steak . I must say they did prepare a very good steak, and it may have even been the best meal I have had on a cruise ship. Did it compare to the one I had in New Orleans just before we left, no not really. Was it slightly better than prime rib night in the main dining room, yes a little bit. Was it worth $60 + $10 tip for the two of us (plus the cost of the main dining room meal we gave up to go to the steakhouse) no not really, I think at that price point (more if you add wine, etc) that you can eat much better at a good restaurant on shore. The steak house was very empty when we went there, but there was one big group in there who got their order in front of us, so the meal took forever for us to get served, but even discounting that, we spent alot of time at the table waiting for the waitress to come over and get our drinks, our order, our apps, our dessert order, etc, and we weren't sharing a waitress with the large group either. At that price point I expect very good service, which wasn't really up to the level that I think you should have considering the premium to be there.
Main Dining room: The wait for the main dining room was almost always 30+ minutes, and we tried early, we tried late, and it was almost always 30 minutes plus. When they did have that long of a wait they gave us coupons to go get a glass of champane, which was very classy of them. Service was slow once you got into the main dining room, so along with the wait to get in, if you had any hope of making it to the show you were planning on, forget it, you aren't going to make it. The food was for the most part well presented, but the quality was at the high end of buffet food as far as quality in my opinion. On the night they do surf and turf, since I'm not a huge lobster fan, I ordered the other steak on the menu which I assumed was basically the steak from the surf and turf. Wrong, I also found out that strip steak means sliced beef. If I was making a steak sandwich, that would have been a good choice, but left me disappointed when everyone else got a decent, but small steak with their surf and turf and I am eating a low quality sandwich steak cut. You could certainly tell your waiter to get you something else, but it wouldn't have been worth the huge wait at that point. The prime rib night was good, but only an adequate portion if you got a decent app and desert. I tried an Empanada app and burrito entry one night, and I was disappointed in both, not sure what they were using for Tortilla, but seemed more like a dough than a tortilla and was what was also used on the empanada. It was also the tiniest burrito I have had in a while. The food overall was good, but unimpressive. Desserts were good, but nothing you would rant and rave about later.
We ate at the blue lagoon which is there 'comfort food' main dining option once for lunch once, and once for a late night snack. I was kind of surprised, how difficult is cheese sticks or chicken wings, but both were subpar, I've had much better wings at dive bars than this. Also we ordered a hot prosciutto and cheese sandwich, which sounded mouth watering, but it was basically a lot of bread, some melted cheese and a hint of prosciutto. While certainly edible, it was overall disappointing, especially since I liked the quieter cafe style of the blue lagoon.
Buffet: we ate at the buffet for breakfast, and occasional a lunch/snack. Food quality looked pretty good for a buffet, but the buffet seemed closed more often and longer when we walked through as they were doing meal change over. The sign would tell you an alternate place if you wanted to eat, but not necessarily where it was. Buffet layout seemed good, as it didn't seem to get bogged down as badly as other buffets we have seen.
Shore excursions: Like all cruise ships, most of the excursions are overpriced. Depending on what you are doing, you can probably book it yourself for much cheaper, but anything that takes you far from the ship, or a long tour, you are vulnerable to not making it back to the ship on time. Waiting for you in cabin was a list that had excursion name and number, and not much else as many of the excursions sound alike so you need to determine which one you want. There was a black and white short summary of excursions available at the shore excursion desk, but you are better off looking at the website before you leave, and picking which ones you want and writing down the 'exact' name and number. It appeared that the online list was inclusive of all the options that were onboard (not true on some past carnival cruises).
Cozumel: I have been to Cozumel multiple times for dive trips and cruise ship stops. This time we did a catamaran trip to passion Island (private island). I'd been there before, so I knew what to expect, and it is a lovely time at a very nice beach with a buffet and an open bar. The catamaran was a motor cat, not a sail cat, but it was probably a good thing since Passion island is all the way to the north end of Cozumel. We docked at the older International pier, which is very nice in my opinion since its within easy walking distance of downtown and the square. And when we got back, we still had time to have a leisurely stroll down to the square, people watch and have a drink before heading back to the dock. Like the newer cruise ship dock, the international pier now has that same sort of a gauntlet of shops that you HAVE to go by in order to get out of the pier area, I find that a bit annoying, but what can you do, its the same from both piers.
Belize: While tendering to a port isn't exactly a fun time, especially as far out as the ships have to anchor here, it wasn't a bad tender ride other than length of time. Our favorite excursion of the cruise was the Lamanai Mayan ruins via a boat (I think they called it mayan ruins and river safari). Basically after a long bus ride, they drop you on some boats. The boats held quit a few people, but had twin 200hp outboards on back, and once you got out of the no wake zone those boats were flying down the river, it was sort of an adventure in itself. The ruins were fun, and we must have hit the timing right, as many times, we would walk up to a set of ruins and there were no people around, and you could quickly capture some photos before there were tons of other tourists in them. We were also allowed to scale the high temple, which was a lot of fun and felt like a major accomplishment, although we had a couple of sore muscles the next day from it.
Roatan: We had booked with Little French Key for Roatan on our own and not with the cruise line. You have to go outside of the pier area to get picked up by them, where you will get crushed with offers of people willing to drive you somewhere or take you on a tour etc. I would probably use the more reputable people that are inside the pier area offering the same sort of thing rather than some guy who happens to own a car. We missed meeting up with the Little french key people, as we weren't going to stand out in that crush of hawkers outside the gate for long, but it was seriously raining at the time, so we didn't feel to bad about missing it. When the rain let up later in the day, we walked the 10 minute walk down to Coxen Hole. Alot of aggressive vendors, and Coxen hole looked like a very poor area and not a very pleasant touristy area. While not as frightening as Jamacia is when you get off the beaten path, I certainly wouldn't be in that area at night if we had a late departure time. My advise when walking outside the pier area is to keep walking, if you stop moving the more aggressive ones really come on strong. We bought a few nice trinkets from the non-aggressive vendors, and then wondered back to the ship. A few people we talked with later said they just negotiated a taxi for a couple of people to do a tour of the island since it was raining and they really enjoyed it and it wasn't much money (like $15-20 a person I think).
Costa Maya: Costa Maya is basically an effort to create a cruise line stop where nothing much existed before. There is a small fishing village near by, but I have to assume that they are more touristy than fishing these days. As you drive through the town near the pier, you can see streets laid out that are completely unoccupied, I think they hope that they will be the next Playa de Carmen eventually, but right now, not much there. We did another mayan ruins tour plus lunch/beach break. Alot of time in the bus to get us to the ruins and back. Good tour guide along the way and at the ruins. But I think we enjoyed the ruins in Belize more. With all the time on the bus, not a huge amount of time left for the beach. Beach area included a buffet lunch and an open bar. Beach area was okay, not as clean and pristine as Passion Island was in Cozumel. Also the beach area has not a hotel and there is nothing nearby, its basically just a beach area set up for visiting cruise ships. But it also wasn't exceptionally close to the pier area, so I think it was like another 30 minutes on the bus to bet back to the pier. We got back with basically no time to spare, so we headed back on the boat as soon as we got off the bus. I heard several people say that just taking a cheap taxi to the fishing village grabbing a cheap lunch, having a few drinks, and maybe getting an affordable massage was an inexpensive and wonderful way to spend the afternoon in Costa Maya.
New Orleans: a great place to eat, drink, and listen to music, I hope that you take advantage of a few days either before or after your cruise to spend some time here.
Anyway, I have listed alot of small complaints, and maybe I am not as good at highlighting the good things, but it was a fun cruise, and If I had to do it all over again, I certainly would, although I might change some of my dining choices, and possibly some excursion choices based on what I know now but even as we did it, we had a lot of fun and are looking forward to our next cruise.