Background information: My sister and I were traveling together without our husbands. This was my fifth cruise and second on NCL. I have cruised Carnival, Disney and Premier in the past. I sailed on the POH in August 2006. This was my sister's first cruise. We are both in our early fifties.
New Orleans: We arrived in New Orleans Saturday afternoon and were met by my son who is currently working there. We stayed in the French Quarter at Le Richelieu on Chartres St. It was a wonderful location on a quiet street within walking distance to many attractions. They offer free parking and internet access. We got a rate of $105 for 2 double beds through Venere.com. Our room opened to a shared balcony that overlooked Decatur. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and great service at Bacco's. Sunday morning we went to Court of Two Sister's for their Jazz brunch. The setting is beautiful in an open courtyard but the buffet was nothing special and the Jazz trio played maybe 10 minutes of the 1 1/2 hrs we were there. Would not recommend this place as I am sure for $28 pp you can find a better brunch in New Orleans. My son took us on a tour of the downtown area where several office buildings remain vacant and then we headed out to see the 9th ward and St Bernard's Parish. Amazing to see the devastation that Katrina created and how slow the area is recovering. We spent the rest of the day exploring the French Quarter. This area has fully recovered and is as beautiful and lively as ever.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port around 2:45. A porter took our bags, which we had tagged with our cabin number, right out of the car. We took our carry on items up the escalator and were almost the last people to go through security. We arrived on deck 7 in the reception area right as they were calling for the lifeboat drill. Our cabin 10611 was a sideways inside in a great location. At 175 sq ft, it was as large as many balcony rooms. This cabin was a great find, it was very roomy and close to the stairs and elevators in the mid ship area. Being between floors of cabins, it was very quiet. Our cabin steward, Rusty, came to introduce him self and was very friendly and efficient throughout the week. My husband had ordered a dozen roses and they were in the cabin waiting for me when I opened the door. Our baggage arrived in our room around 6 pm. We found a pair of men's shoes under the bed and a check book in the safe. Rusty apologized for missing them and removed them quickly.
Ship: We liked the layout of the ship and quickly found our way around. The ship shows its age in some areas. Carpets are a little worn and furniture a little dinged but it is kept clean and presentable. We found that the public areas had something for everyone. There was live music in several venues which varied from Loud and lively music in the pool area, to cozy and quiet jazz at Champagne Charlie's. The Stardust lounge had great acoustics and seemed to have a good view from any seat. Galaxy of the Stars is a great place to escape. It is surrounded by windows and is set up with small seating areas. Works well for small lectures and for larger games of Bingo or things like Quest. Windows restaurant is lovely and offers seating in small coves next to the window or in the open area with high ceilings and beautiful chandeliers. We thought all the specialty restaurants were well designed and pretty as well. The Blue Lagoon area on this ship is interesting as it is more like a long hallway with different areas to sit and eat. Many people walk through this area so it is fun to sit and people watch while sipping a martini.
Entertainment: The Free Style Daily is the best way to plan your entertainment onboard ship. We could always find something to do. My sister was interested in purchasing a diamond ring in Belize so we went to the port shopping talk the first sea day. Dean was very informative and gave one a sense of security if buying goods in port. They also had very nice raffle prizes and my sister won a free massage at the spa. We attended the martini tasting at Champagne Charlie's. This was a lot of fun. Ed Cruz, the head bar tender, gave us 6 martinis to taste. There were a great variety of flavors and he explained what was in each one. During the tasting, he involved all the participants in a challenging game of pup trivia. It was a great way to meet people on the first sea day. At $15 pp, it was money well spent. We participated in the Murder Mystery Dinner. We were placed in groups of 6 and given a theme mystery "Lethal Luau". We met for dinner in Windows and each assumed an identity. Then played through dinner and attempted to guess who committed the murder. This was another relaxing and fun way to meet people. We attended several evening shows in the Stardust Lounge. Chantz was a very talented 20 yr old performer from New Orleans. He puts on an entertaining song and dance act. On Broadway, the show with the NCL Production Company, was mediocre at best. The Second City Comedy troupe put on a great show and were very funny. They also did a great job hosting Quest later in the week. Quest is an adult themed scavenger hunt. We were only watching it and not participating but it was definitely entertaining! The Crew talent show was interesting and entertaining as well. We sat and listened to live music at the pool, Champagne Charlie's, and Galaxy of the Star's. We enjoyed all the different kinds of music. We never went to the casino or Maharajah's so cannot comment on them. We did indulge in a hot stone massage and it was wonderful. 50 minutes of pure bliss! The spa facilities are very nice and the people are very professional. They do try to sell you products but don't push if you refuse. Use of the sauna and steam room are included with your massage.They gave us a free glass of Champagne as we went on Valentine's day. I used the internet a couple of times to send emails. Found it efficient but expensive. On the last sea day, we attended the Margarita tasting in the Bier Garten. This was a very different experience than the Martini tasting. It was less organized and you were just brought 5 different margaritas and unless asked would not know what they were. Participants were mixed up with all the people eating out on the deck. The margaritas were great though! We never got in the pool but used the hot tubs a couple times. They were clean and hot enough for us. For exercise, we always walked the stairs and didn't get in an elevator until we carried our luggage off the ship. We also walked laps around the deck 13 and deck 7. 4 laps = 1 mile.
Dining: We thought the food was very good most of the time. We ate in Windows for 3 dinners and two breakfasts. The appetizers were very good and we enjoyed the skirt steak and lobster. The desserts were pretty lack luster as a rule and not worth the calories. We found that portions were adequate and we never asked for seconds. We enjoyed the eggs benedict and fresh fruit for breakfast. We always had good service and were seated within minutes of arriving. We had breakfast in Raffles 4 mornings and found the selection great. We tried the made to order omelet and waffle stations, both were very good. The coffee was always hot and fruit was always fresh. We tried the fresh made hot crepes one afternoon and they were yummy. We ate lunch at the pool deck barbecue for hamburgers and hot dogs. Nothing special there. Cagney's was very good. We had excellent service and the ribeye steaks were cooked perfectly. All the sides were good and we had a great cheesecake here. Le Bistro was excellent as well. I had the duck and my sister had the lamb. The appetizers were great here too. Teppanyaki was fun, we had the shrimp and filet combo and the chef was quite entertaining. We ate in Shogun another time and had mixed reviews. The sushi was not very good. My sister is from Seattle so she gets good seafood all the time and was disappointed here. My beef teriyaki was flavorful and the banana eggrolls and fruit sashimi were wonderful. We sampled 5 different bottles of wine while on board. If you don't finish a bottle, they will hold it for you and bring it to where you are dining the next evening. You can call and make reservations in the specialty restaurants for the same evening or the next day. We had no problems if we called first thing in the morning. We checked out the Chocolate buffet which was beautifully presented. We found the food pretty bland and dry. They did have chocolate fondue which was good though. The service that we had in all the restaurants was very good to excellent. Raffles staff was always cleaning tables and refreshing food stations. Most staff members were very friendly.
Excursions: We made all our own excursion plans privately. Roatan: Went with Victor Bodden tours. We had made arrangements via email for 2 of us but met 2 people at the martini tasting that wanted to join us and Victor was able to accommodate them at the dock. Victor drove the 4 of us in an A/C van to the Jungle Canopy Zip Line. This was really fun. It consisted of 11 zips and several funky bridges. It took about an hour to do this and then we went to Victor's home to see the baby monkeys. Victor is one of 8 children who live on the island and all have received land from their father. He is very informative about the island and Honduras. We had just enough time to get to Anthony Key's Resort before the sun went down. Victor drove right onto the beach so we could watch the sunset. Then we went to the cameo museum before returning to the ship. When the sun goes down it gets very dark and the generator on the island is unpredictable. Victor claims that the people running the generator are politically motivated and run it when they want. The cost was $20 pp for Victor's service, $45 for the Zipline and $2 to see the monkeys. Wish we had more time on this island. Would have liked to go snorkeling. Guatemala: Went with the "Go with Gus Humanitarian tour". We made arrangements via email and sent 50% of the payment in advance to Gus's son in Georgia. He sent us back an itinerary and tour information. We had brought two backpacks full of school supplies to donate to a school on this tour. Make sure that you declare these items the day before at the reception desk. We tried to do this and were told it wasn't necessary but were stopped by ship personnel at the gangway and then had to wait 20 min. while they got it all figured out. Gus heard we were having a problem and was waiting for us as we got off the ship. He gave us a big hug , welcomed us to Guatemala and thanked us for all the supplies. This was a wonderful tour. We felt that we really got to see the true flavor of the country. We went by boat to Livingston and then went up the Dulce River to visit a school. This school is only accessible by boat and the kids come by dug out canoe. There were 40 kids age 6-14 in a single room school with one teacher. They were very appreciative of all the supplies and things that people brought. We had also brought a bag of Mardi Gras beads that were a big hit with the local ladies. We saw men fishing with nets and poles along the river and they came over to our boat to show us the fish. We stopped at a dock and saw a woman making corn tortillas over an open stove, then we took a short walking tour through the jungle to see medicinal plants and returned to Livingston to have lunch at Gus' hotel. Lunch was very good, fresh fish and shrimp. Local beer was included. We were treated to a music and dance performance by some local Garifuna teens after lunch. We took a walking tour of Livingston before taking the boat back to the ship. The cost was $75 pp including lunch. There is a nice jade museum in the port building and the director is very knowledgeable about jade. We each bought a piece of Jade jewelry there. Belize: Belize is a tender port and the ship excursions are given the first tenders to the island. We were doing a private tour so had to be in the reception area at 6:50 am to get tickets for the first tender after the ship tours. We were able to get on the first tender so made it to the dock by 9:45 and our tour left at 10 am. We went with Coral Breezes snorkel trip and Caye Caulker. This was arranged via email also. We put a $25 deposit down and then paid the rest of the $69 pp fee at the dock before we left. They use Hammerhead Water Sports and we were fitted with snorkel gear before leaving the dock. We stopped at two places to snorkel. One was a reef where there were many colorful fish and we saw a 4 ft green moral eel that one of the guides coaxed out of the reef with some food. The guides also stopped us and pointed out several things like an octopus in a piece of coral, a hermit crab in a shell and a big barracuda. I have snorkeled in Grand Cayman and my sister at the Great Barrier Reef and we both thought that this was a great snorkel spot. The second stop was shark and stingray alley. Since the last hurricane, they have had very few sharks come and we did not see any but there were about 40 stingrays swimming all around us. The guides would feed them and lift them up for us to see. It was very cool! We headed to Caye Caulker, a small island ,for lunch. We opted to do lunch on our own. We had a wonderful grilled lobster lunch at the Sand Box Restaurant. It is right on the beach at the pier where we docked. We met a woman there who had come down from Canada to stay on the island. She had been there for 4 weeks. It is a beautiful spot and would be fun to go back and explore further. We were back at the pier in plenty of time to shop before getting the last tender back to the ship. Cozumel: We had originally planned to do a dolphin encounter on Roatan but it was cancelled. We made arrangements to do a 10 am Dolphin swim at Chaankanaub park. We did this via email as well and prepaid the $105 pp to the park. This includes a $16 admission to the park. A woman that we met at the murder mystery dinner wanted to go with us and she was able to pay at the park and join our group. It is a $10 cab ride from the pier. The dolphin swim includes a kiss and hug from the dolphin in waist deep water. A belly swim by holding the dolphin's fins and being pushed on a boogie board by the dolphin. They also let you swim a little with the dolphin while wearing a snorkel and mask. You get to spend about 40 to 50 min with the dolphin. There were 5 people in our group and the entire event was videotaped by professional staff and available for purchase. We left the park around 11:30 and took a cab ($10) to Nachi Cocum for our beach day. We had arranged this online before we found that our dolphin plans were cancelled on Roatan. We decided to do both in Cozumel and we are glad that we did. Nachi Cocum is beautiful and very relaxing. It is quiet and the food and drinks were very good. We enjoyed lounging, swimming and sun bathing. $49 pp for unlimited alcoholic drinks and a 3 course lunch. They have a pool with a swim up bar and a lovely white sand beach. They limit the number of people to 100 and reserve shaded chairs for all. You can opt to snorkel, jet ski or parasail and they have a massage area for an additional fee. We shared a cab back to the pier with another couple at about 3:30pm. Did some quick shopping and were back on board by 4:30pm.
Debarkation: We opted the express debarkation and were able to keep our luggage and carry it off the ship whenever we wanted. This worked out well for us. We ate a leisurely breakfast at Raffles and then walked off the ship around 9 am. We went through customs and were picked up at the port by 9:20am.
We felt that this was a very nice trip and a great value for what we paid. Both of us said that we would repeat this cruise and itinerary. We also loved seeing New Orleans.