My partner and I (both in our forties and well traveled) hail from the frozen tundra of Ontario and have never have considered a cruise until we saw a woman on the Wheel of Fortune win a trip to Belize City. After visiting the Norwegian Cruise Line website as referred by our travel agent, we booked our 7 day Exotic Western Caribbean cruise in conjunction with Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The following synopsis recounts some of our experiences and adventures which we hope are useful to other "virgin" cruisers who wish to make the most of a seemingly flawless vacation.
Early arrival to New Orleans proved to be in our favor as we successfully navigated our way through the many throngs of people and traffic diversions to the Riverwalk streetcar which whisked us to the pier in due time and for only $1.25 fare. After exiting the elevator from the streetcar platform, we were impressed with the magnitude of the Norwegian Spirit up close as it sat gracefully in port. Down the many steps to ground level, we entered the passenger drop off area laden with luggage in tow and I found it necessary to inquire with one of the baggage porters where we could check our luggage - perhaps we should have paid the $60.00 (normally a $15.00 fee from downtown) to snake through side streets around the parade routes just to emerge from a taxi to make it a little more obvious that we were indeed cruise passengers.
Being jovial by nature, I howled when the terminal agent asked if I was a crew member (honestly, Asians do not all look alike). I wonder what would have happened if I said yes. Our security check and registration should have been noted in the Guinness Book of Records for being under 30 minutes as the line up for non-US residents was 'non-existent' and we had our room key/charge card in hand ready to walk the gangplank. Once on board, and to my distaste having 20+ years in the Hospitality & Service Industry, we were greeted in such a robotic monotone obviously rehearsed week after week - at least in Hawaii you get 'leid' with sincerity. We were then quickly offered a frozen daiquiri of a sort with each refill saving $2.00, or we could enroll into the Blackjack or Slots tournament right then and there scheduled for the next day while we traveled to our first stop. We haven't even reached a scheduled port let alone seen our room and the sales pitches would make any sales manager proud. I just wanted to get to my stateroom and begin exploring. The clientele ranged in age from babies to the elderly.
HOUSEKEEPING: - Joel was our room steward and addressed us by first names, created various animal shapes with towels each day - attend the workshop if you can - Jennifer was not our room steward but worked on the same level and was always happily singing and also greeted us by first names
SERVICE PERSONNEL: - reception desk and retail shop clerks always pleasant and not pushy - officers in uniform smiled and acknowledged you as they passed by - casino service lacking as not enough people to serve the small crowds or they seemed unorganized in their daily routines - good thing jackpot bells were not ringing I guess - best bet would be the onboard lottery, only $2.00 - very smoky in the casino, so don't go if you are a non-smoker
ENTERTAINMENT: - NCL productions, excellent singing, dancing and cast were pleasant to talk to - Second City was hilarious as was the adult games they hosted - Musicians in the various venues were excellent with all of their musical talents - Scavenger Hunt - should be for the kids and not organized in the library where people are trying to read - Bingo was quite expensive yet it seemed to draw the crowd
BEVERAGE: - Personal alcohol brought onboard will be held until your last evening - Liquor servers seemed to turn up their noses if you did not purchase alcohol, they should learn to serve everyone with a smile regardless of what you ask for - Our first server in the Bier Garden could be more explanatory in the pricing structure or provide a menu for drinks including non-alcoholic, everyone of legal age is not a drinker - Coffee, hot tea, iced tea & cold water is free - bring an empty water bottle to Raffles
FOOD: - Raffles Buffet: it's okay as far as buffets go; desserts on the other hand are not very appetizing unless you look beside the ice cream station and find the warm fruit crisp - Blue Lagoon: 24 hour, freshly cooked - potato skins are actually wedge or home fries with cheese and sour cream, ask for chili on top and it's even better, fried rice was tasty and the Asian noodles looked good, hamburgers and the fish cakes are not bad, DISLIKES - wonton soup, fish fries, chicken wings (were cold) - Cagney's: excellent shrimp cocktail, oysters Rockefeller, T-bone, cheesecake & chocolate decadence to die for - we went twice, don't have the prime rib (mediocre) - Windows: bread was fresh, appetizers not very exciting, prime rib night (excellent) but too thin -- okay for small eaters, desserts seemed tasteless, staff very accommodating as we ordered two appetizers, entrees and desserts due to the small portions, apparently have the same menu as the Garden Restaurant - Chocoholic Buffet: one night only held in Windows, DO NOT MISS THIS, amazing creations and the different sculptures very impressive - take your camera and learn to take pictures in dim light with and without the flash, truly a chocoholic's feast - Shogun: teppanyaki was always busy, a guest said the sushi was excellent, we ended up having Asian - as a person of Chinese descent, I would not recommend the Chinese Fusion menu (I wished they would have offered me the Sushi menu instead) - You need to repeat yourself twice in many cases because the servers forget or don't listen
EXCURSION PERSONNEL: - The staff on this desk are not very high on my list - Consists of 2 women and one very rude German who makes you feel like you are wasting his time, he would be better off washing pots and pans or being fish bait - Excursions are overpriced and glorified, they just worry about getting one thing, your money and if the tour is not to your satisfaction, too bad is their way of customer service
ROATAN / West Bay Kayak & Snorkel Adventure: Agent did not disclose that the ship would arrive 1.5 hours late into port, the Captain announced the late arrival over the P.A. system one hour prior to our expected ETA - therefore the 3.5 hour excursion would be cut short. We competed for gold medals with a 100 meter dash out to the barrier reef before the sun went down in order to see some coral and fish swimming about for almost 15 minutes. Take a flotation device even if you are a strong swimmer, because you will be so tired that you might be too busy staying afloat to catch your breath. Later in the week, we learned from other guests that they received emails one week prior to their departure that the ETA to Roatan would be late which would have made us reconsider this port excursion. We did raise our concerns to the other female agent and were told it is too late that they can't do anything about it. After reading some of the following reviews it is disheartening to find some passengers were extended a $50.00 onboard credit due to the existing engine failure that NCL is fully aware of without passengers even asking for it. This experience tells us to carefully consider other shore excursions and/or Norwegian Cruise Lines in the future.
SANTO TOMAS: We chose not to book any NCL Excursions even though they kept saying there is not much to do there. That is true to a point. There is a market for those looking to purchase souvenirs and also has some entertainment and internet. We left the ship about 10 am and walked over to the water taxis. The have a boat tour which only allows 8 people maximum. For $35.00 pp for almost 5 hours, THIS IS THE BEST EXCURSION - boat ride along river, visit nature walk, went to hot springs and caves, gorgeous scenery and photo ops, stopped and bought fresh coconuts and ended up on Livingston Island for shopping - our boat driver spoke a little English and our guide(22 year old Nurse Antonio) only spoke Spanish, good thing one of us interpreted for us - we all tipped the driver and our guide and Guatemala ended up to be quite a fantastic place to visit - remember the NCL Excursion people kept saying nothing much to do
BELIZE CITY / Aerial Trek & Cave Tubing: My partner and I booked this only because the friends we made already booked it. It actually turned out to be a lot of fun and the cave tubing was amazing. If you are careful, you can take your digital camera (bring a zip loc bag) and take pictures inside as you float down the river. If you sit in the tube with your bum hanging low, you will drift slowly and hit the rocks with your bum at times. Don't forget your aqua shoes as there are rocks and a hike you need to do but well worth it.
COZUMEL: Lots of shopping, street after street. Cheap beer you can carry down the street in plastic cups. A lot of fun and a lot of people.
We enjoyed the freestyle dining as we like to eat whenever we want and where we want. Other cruise lines assign you dinner times and where to sit according to some guests. With such a wide range of clientele, I am surprised they did not teach Line Dancing. From what I saw in front of the main reception desk, the instructors that were teaching ballroom dances were old and not very lively.
Now that I know what to expect, for the price, it is worthy to go again with the knowledge and expectations I have to make a second trip much more enjoyable.