Embarkation: A bit confusing. There was no direction around the terminal. However, once we figured out where to be, it was only 20 minutes from the door to the ship. If you are a Latitudes member, make sure you get in that line after security. It's MUCH faster!
The Ship: Beautiful! Sure, there were some tiny spots where things looked worn, but by far the style and size of the ship I prefer. Public rooms were very nice. The exceptions are the Shanghai Bar and Champagne Charlie's. Both are walkways through major parts of the ship, so pedestrian traffic is a problem.
Galaxy of the Stars, Deck 7 lounge chairs, and Henry's Pub were our favorite hangouts. I enjoyed the pool deck, too, but it's not hubby's scene.
The Stateroom: We had an inside on Deck 5, midship. It was big enough and had enough storage, etc. for our needs. I was pleased with the room. Deck 5, midship was nice because it was convenient to exit the ship on port days (exit on deck 4 midship).
I should've brought a power strip. I read it on here, and didn't think it was that important. However, the outlet didn't work in the bathroom (even for shavers, as it said), so we only had one outlet which we rotated between shavers, nightlight, battery charger and curling iron.
Shower was very large and sink area had nice shelves for storage. Plenty of room in closet and drawers for two people.
Our room stewards brought an egg crate and pushed our beds together right away that afternoon. That made for a comfortable bed.
Bars & Beverages Henry's Pub was nice and cozy. Server, Venus, was great. Randon was a great entertainer each night.
Helmets of beer are served at every bar and are the best deal for beer drinkers. Buy 5 bottles, get one free. There's a $5 deposit which you can get back if you keep your receipt. Bottle prices are $3.95 for domestics, $4.50 for micros and imports, and a small list of $5.50 beers. We mostly drank Sam Adams, Newcastle, Bass, Guinness, Sol, Corona (all in the $4.50 range) and sometimes MGD (in the $3.95 range). You can mix the contents of the helmets as long as the beers are in the same price range.
Mixed drinks were about $5.50 for standard premium drinks (e.g. Bombay & Tonic, Absolute & 7, Bacardi and Coke, etc). Smoothies (alcoholic) were about $8.95. Big martinis were about $9.50.
Shanghai bar would've been another choice of place to drink, but again, it was a major walkthrough on deck 7 and was brightly lit. We only sat there one night to watch the WI basketball game when it was turned off for karaoke in Henry's (I wish they'd find a different place for THAT).
Galaxy of the Stars was nice, but servers were a little pushy. We sat at the bar one night and enjoyed it more, although less comfy chairs!
The Bier Garten was another favorite spot. Very nice servers there and a fun atmosphere. Plenty of seating and a good view!
Main Dining Rooms We only ate at Windows. The Garden Room was always the busiest. There are boards on the walls in some main staircases alerting you to availability in all restaurants, although I'm not sure how accurate they are. The one for La Trattoria wasn't at all accurate.
Windows is a very pretty dining room. We only had a five minute wait once. Otherwise, we were seated immediately. The service was a little inconsistent. For example, some mornings we were offered pastries, some not. Other times our bread was refilled for dinner, others not without asking. The servers were not at all conversational with us. I had to pry conversation on the last night. The dining room wasn't busy at all, so I felt it was ok and was craving some interaction with the interesting staff. We ended up having a nice chat.
My only bad food in the main dining room was the gnocchi. The sauce was delicious, but the gnocchi was overcooked. Oh, and for breakfast I had one bad day of salmon benedict. The other day it was perfect. And don't bother with toast on this cruise. It's like warmed up, dried out bread.
Soups were delicious, as were the appetizers. The serving sizes were laughably small. I didn't feel I could share a bit of something delicious with my husband because there were only a few bites of anything to be had (from apps to entrees!). Desserts were reasonably sized, so we did often share bites of those. The bread puddings, of different varieties, were my favorite desserts.
Hubby did ask for another serving of prime rib, as it was perfectly cooked, but very thin sliced. They brought him another entrEe plate (he really just wanted more meat and was a bit miffed they wouldn't just let him order two slices of meat on one plate from the beginning).
Specialty Restaurants We could not get into La Trattoria. If you want to, be sure to get the reservations the day before. We kept forgetting and if you try the same morning, good luck getting in. We also checked directly with the restaurant before hitting the main dining rooms a few nights, and after 9 p.m. was the only availability.
Shogun was very delicious and is only a $10/pp surcharge. I had the crusted snapper, which was very tasty. Hubby had the steak skewers which were very good. The appetizers were awesome. We had potstickers, spring rolls and tempura. The potstickers were our favorite. He had hot & sour soup, I had the crab & corn (meh, not that great, should've done hot & sour). Desserts were forgettable.
Cagney's was professional and delicious. It was nice to dine in a more intimate setting. The captain was dining there the same night, but in a back room. I had the filet with the green peppercorn sauce, frites and asparagus. Hubby had the cajun ribeye with bEarnaise sauce, scalloped potatoes and sautEed mushrooms. The frites and asparagus were definitely enough for two, but the mushrooms and scalloped potatoes were a little smaller. We were both very satisfied with our meals. Service was very professional and efficient, although not conversational. We found decent wines for $6.50 & 7.00 per glass. We felt the surcharge was reasonably worth it. The ribeye was a beautiful cut of meat. The filet wasn't visually appealing (it wasn't as thick as I'm used to), but the taste was good. Desserts were yummy. I had a crème brulee that was great. I forget what hubby had.
Ports We loved the itinerary. Roatan and Belize were our favorites.
Roatan had a great small island feel and people were very nice. We used Victor Bodden and really, really liked our guide and self-picked tour. We did zip lines, monkeys, sunset at the west end and a lookout point, then closed with some shopping. There is an outdoor bar right outside the ship within the fenced off terminal area. They have fairly inexpensive beers and mixed drinks.
Guatemala was ok. We didn't find much appealing for tours, so signed up through NCL for the San Felipe fortress. I wouldn't recommend this. It was a long, long drive for a very short time at the small fortress. People that visited Quirigua and Rio Dulce seemed to have the best time. We talked to people that did the banana plantation and they didn't particularly feel it was worth it. There is a shopping building outside the ship in the terminal. Most will haggle with you, for good or bad. ? We got a great deal on a hammock. We also bought coffee, cigars and a soccer shirt. There was a little makeshift bar outside the shopping building where a man was chopping coconuts and pouring booze in. I think it was $5 and I loved it! There is also beer for sale there and inside the building. The sendoff we were expecting was smaller than usual, I think. Perhaps the police and fire were off tending to a fire we saw in the distance? It was still nice to see all the tour operators and dancers.
Belize was our favorite place and we'd love to go back. There was a fun combination of modern beach city vs. historic, rural places to visit. We booked a Lamanai ruins tour through X-stream tours. It was an awesome tour. We had a great, knowledgeable guide. Lamanai included an hour long van ride, hour long boat ride (with lots of wildlife viewing), awesome homemade lunch and tour of the ruins. I'd recommend this tour to anyone wanting to see some Mayan ruins. There was just enough time to have a beer before hopping on the last tender boat. Belize is a tender port for all, just so you know. We got up early for a tender ticket (our tour started at 9:30) and received a ticket for Tender 1, which was scheduled to depart at 9:30. Yikes! We managed to get in line right away when they called (a benefit of being on deck 5) and ended up helping fill the previous tender boat and were headed for land at 9:10. It was about a 15 minute tender ride, so we got there in the nick of time.
Cozumel was fun. Totally just about the beaches and shopping. We'd booked a dune buggy tour through cozumelcruiseexcursions.com. They were really beat up old buggies, and you never really off road, so that was a disappointment. However, the lunch and the included cooler of unlimited beers/water/soda was very cool. The snorkeling spot wasn't that great, but the guides did a nice job helping those new to snorkeling and trying to lure the fish out. There was also a photographer to take your picture underwater (for sale after). The beach break spot at Playa Bonita was awesome. They cooked a great lunch for us there. I really liked our guides for this excursion. There was time to do a little shopping post excursion, so we bought more cigars and goodies. We were happy not to have to tender here, as there were lots of ships in port, but Cozumel could handle quite a few at their docks.
Shows & Activities We only attended a few things. Trivia was too "upbeat and organized" for us, so we opted out. We meant to catch Second City in the Stardust, but I drank too much. We settled for their smaller improve show the following night and it was fun.
I watched a lot of poolside games. They seemed fun. I went to a shopping lecture (I thought it was interesting, but not at all mandatory), and a gemstone lecture (we were considering buying a diamond, but realized we didn't have time to shop in ports!). I also watched Spirit Idol where only two participants sang.
The Rock Night show in Galaxy of the Stars looked fun. We watched a rehearsal, but had a long dinner that night & missed the actual show. Wish I'd have done a wine/martini/beer tasting, but time and money ran out.
Other dining Raffles: I was impressed. I didn't feel the negative reviews of it I'd found on this board were accurate. There was great variety and good quality. Everything from good salad fixings to tikka chicken to a stir fry bar in addition to a wide selection of standard "Ponderosa" type buffet items were available. We ate breakfast here most days and found a good selection of oatmeal, cream of wheat, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, meats, breads, made to order omelets, fruit, pastries, smoked salmon, yogurts, granola, etc. You can eat out on the terrace and watch the ship coming into port. In the afternoon they have a minimal offering, but always have ice cream available. The Rocky Road was good, and they also had a good sugar free chocolate. As for those interested in condiments, they always had 3 types of sweeteners (Splenda, Equal and Sweet & Low), Tabasco, Worcestershire, butter, lots of teabags, ketchup, mustard and mayo available. Juices for breakfast included cranberry, apple & orange. Iced tea was available at lunch & dinner.
Blue Lagoon: This was ok. Not a ton of seating and service wasn't very good here (difficulty communicating with server we always had). We had a chili dog, chicken wings (they have a good sauce, but are small and not spicy…a little Tabasco solved that), burger, fries and fried rice while there. All were decent.
Pool deck BBQ/Buffets: They often had food parties around noon on the pool deck. During embarkation they had a bbq. Smelled great, but we didn't partake. Monday was Mexican…fajitas, tacos, nachos, rice, etc. Yummy. Tuesday it was a BBQ again…it was ok. Pork and chicken. Saturday there was another BBQ with hamburgers.
The Bier Garten. They had soft pretzels, burgers, hot dogs and brats with fries here. Nothing special, but not bad for a snack if you are eating a late dinner or want a lunch alternative outdoors.
Other Misc: Cruise Critic M&G: I'm so glad someone set this up. The group was small, but it was nice to meet the cruise director, food & beverage director, and hotel director, not to mention some fellow CC peeps!
Spa: I had booked a 4 piece package for $109 on the first day (the special was good throughout the cruise this time). I had a neck/shoulder/scalp massage, a hand treatment, foot massage and mini facial. It was very good quality, but a woman waiting for her nails to dry said she'd had a bad one that morning from a different staff member. I had the hard sell on products afterwards, but she threw in a free hot stone massage for the next day, and I'd been planning on trying one, so I bought two items. FYI, the items are between $35-65 each. You can use the sauna ahead of time if you have an appt, but I did not. Overall, with the specials, I was very happy. Getting a massage with the gentle sway of the ship was really relaxing for me.
Shopping: The Duty Free shop on board has a 10% off liquor special the first night. We got great deals on our liquor (insert prices). The gift shop did a t-shirt promo on the last day which equated to 3/$30 shirts.
Bar setup: We ordered a bottle of Jim Beam ahead of time and it was waiting in our stateroom upon arrival and we'd brought our own Coke. It was nice, but I don't know if I'd bother again. We came home with 1/4 bottle left.
Debarkation We opted for Express Debarkation, since we could fairly easily carry our own bags and wanted to get off whenever we wanted. After a leisurely breakfast, we wandered off around 9:30/10 and had very little waiting until we got to customs. FYI, at 9:00 they seemed to begin calling out bag colors and it was going slow, so if you are in a rush to get off, you should probably plan on using Express Debarkation and carrying your own bags. Customs was easy and quick.
Note to those going through the New Orleans terminal during Mardi Gras…check parade routes, times and street closures. It was CRAZY. Our afternoon taxi driver said the channels were busy with drivers trying to get cruise passengers for that afternoon near the dock and were having trouble getting any closer than 10 blocks away! There are always parades during the whole Mardi Gras season, so don't assume you are exempt next year!