Cruise Itinerary: March 30 - April 13, 2008 Roatan, Honduras; Santo Tomas, Guatemala; Belize City, Belize; Aruba; Curacao; St. Thomas; Samana, Dominican Republic
Background: My husband and I went on this cruise. We are 30. This was our second cruise. Our first was a 7 day Alaska through Carnival.
Embarkation: We flew into New Orleans the night before. Took a taxi from the airport to the Holiday Inn Express on Carondelet. I was pleasantly surprised at the hotel condition. Our room was probably the nicest of all Holiday Inn Expresses I've stayed at. Just walked around and grabbed a late dinner at Pontalba's. My husband really liked his, but I don't think traditional New Orleans food is for me. I don't like seafood and the spices were just too strong for my taste. But the atmosphere was great. Loved the open doors. Next day walked to Cafe du Monde for beignets (oh my gosh good - just like funnel cake) and cafe au lait, and then walked around the riverwalk shops. Took a taxi from our hotel to the pier. Check in was fast and very smooth. Then headed back out to lunch at Mother's. We shared a Ralph po' boy and I'm still dreaming about that sandwich at night. It was sooooo good. Then back on the ship.
Cabin: We got an inside cabin. We'd rather spend our money on tours. Plus I sleep wonderfully with no daylight creeping in. Once they put the beds together and took the hideous bedspreads off at night, I was very content with the size and condition of the room. Thought the bed was comfy enough.
Service: The service on this cruise was really quite good. I dare you to try to make it halfway across the ship without a crew member saying hello or good evening to you. Our steward never learned our names though, which I thought was a nice touch on our first cruise. Everything was very clean though. And I fully expected the ship to show some wear and tear, but I just didn't see it.
Food: I would classify it as very good. Often excellent. Hey, and if you don't like something, just get something else! There's plenty to choose from. Generally, but not always, we ate lunch at Raffles and dinner at Windows. We ate in the Garden Room once, but the menu was the same as Windows, and we preferred the atmosphere of Windows. Never had to wait more than 5 minutes to get in at Windows. In Raffles, they served us the first 2 days I think, but after that we could serve ourselves. The only specialty restaurant we ate at was La Trattoria (no surcharge). Just an area of Raffles that they block off, but they made it look nice, and it was delicious. We didn't eat at any of the other specialty restaurants. I figured if we can get really good food for "free" why should we pay extra for it? I wasn't sure how I'd like freestyle dining, but I did like it. It was nice to eat dinner whenever we got hungry. I think it would be particularly convenient for those with kids. The only thing I missed was having the same waiter and them knowing you by name. Entertainment: I wasn't expecting much, as the entertainment on our first cruise was really quite terrible, but we were pleasantly surprised and actually went to and enjoyed most of the shows. The only ones we didn't care for were the Spirit dancers/singers and the vocalist Carla Capps. My favorite was Chantz Powell, the singer/trumpet player/tap dancer.
Ports: Roatan - It's a no-go. We were supposed to get in at 3pm. Late morning they announced that they had to slow down to do an emergency medical evacuation the first night coming out of New Orleans. They thought they would be able to make up the time, but were not able to. We would not get in till after dark, so they would be skipping the port. Obviously we were disappointed, but we prefer to go with the flow instead of getting too upset about things. This seemed to be the case with most people. We had lunch that day with an old guy who said he didn't believe the reason they gave us. When we asked him what he thought the real reason was for our missing Roatan, he simply replied, "The Economy". We didn't quite see the connection, but he was entertaining nonetheless. We referred to him as Mr. Economy for the rest of the cruise.
Santo Tomas - We had booked an independent tour - the humanitarian tour through Go With Gus. This tour was exceptional. Gus is just a genuinely nice guy. Gives you a big hug when he meets you. Took a very fun fast/bumpy boat ride to Livingston, saw the sites along the Rio Dulce, brought supplies to a school, had a delicious lunch at his hotel, saw some traditional dancing, did a walking tour of Livingston. There were some concerns in the week or two prior to our cruise about the safety of this tour because of the recent kidnapping of Belgium tourists there. After some reassurance from Gus via emails (he was doing an altered version of the tour) we decided to go ahead with it. Once there, Gus gave us the whole story and said he had been doing the regular tour which goes along the Rio Dulce Canyon for a week or two now with no problems. So we did the regular tour. Bottom line is Gus says the "bad guys" are no longer in the area and that Livingston is safe. He was actually involved in the negotiations of getting the Belgians released. I can tell you that at no time did I feel unsafe on this tour. I am really glad we did it. You really get a sense of what life is like there, and see some beautiful scenery. One of our favorites. Oh, and no mosquitoes here or at any of the other ports and it was very hot when we were there.
Belize - We booked the Lamanai tour through NCL. Took about a 45 minute bus ride. The city itself is pretty rundown. Said they'd been hit with a few hurricanes over the years. Then onto a boat headed for Lamanai. We'd slow down whenever he spotted wildlife. I don't know how he spotted these things when we were going that fast but he did (iguanas, baby crocodiles, various birds, bats, turtle, lizards). This was my favorite part of the tour. Once at the ruins we had a very good rice and beans, chicken lunch. Then onto the ruins. Showed us three temples and the ballcourt. Me and hubby climbed the highest one. Also saw (and heard) a howler monkey. Then boat ride and bus ride back. We enjoyed this tour, though not one of our favorites.
Aruba - We decided to do a beach day on our own. Took the local bus which was really way too easy to find and use for only $2.30 roundtrip per person. Got off at the Radisson at Palm Beach. The water was beautiful. Vendor near the pier was selling an umbrella/2 lounge chairs for $31, but when we started to walk away he offered us $25. We still didn't take it though, and just sat in the sand for awhile and took a swim. It was pretty hot though without an umbrella and the beach was a little crowded. We had passed Eagle Beach on the bus ride out which looked really nice so we decided to check it out. We were going to take the bus but one of us got the bright idea to walk. It is do-able but I don't recommend it in the heat. No sidewalks either. Took about a half hour. But we were really pleased with our decision to go to Eagle Beach. They had lounge chairs which I believe were free at the end near the rocks. But there were other lounge chairs and large thatch roofed huts in front of the New Amsterdam hotel that we plopped down at (we didn't see the "for hotel guests only" sign until later). Actually spent most of the day there with no problems. Late afternoon someone came up and said it would be $5 a person for the lounge chairs (our NCL towels gave us away). Didn't mention anything about the hut. It really was a good deal. Compared to Palm Beach, it was quieter. There was a very slight wave just at the shoreline and perhaps a bit windier but not in a bad way. We stayed past sunset. The hotel sets up tables on the beach for dinner and it was really quite lovely, but pricey, so we took the bus back to the ship for dinner. A very relaxing day. Loved it!
Curacao - We took the bus to the Sea Aquarium where I had booked the dolphin encounter and hubby the animal encounter (on our own, not through NCL). Bus stop was much harder to find here. Even with the info I had on how to get there, we had to ask people for directions 3 times. They were very helpful. Once we found the stop, the bus (minivan) was right there, and we were off to the aquarium for less than $3 total. I enjoyed the dolphin encounter. It only lasted about 15 minutes, but I didn't feel like it was too short or anything. Got to pet the dolphin plenty. Hubby loved the animal encounter which involved scuba diving and feeding fish, stingrays, sharks, and jumbo turtles (the latter two through plexiglass). I was able to watch him through a glass bottom boat. The aquarium itself is small but nice. We enjoyed our day. Got to see a sea lion and dolphin show too while we were there. Now to get back. No bus and no taxis waiting at the entrance. The panic starts to set in. Two other groups of people from our ship show up. We wait and wait some more. Finally, somebody asks the security guard there and he calls for a taxi. It arrives (sigh of relief) and we're on our way. The nine of us were so relieved just to be on our way that no one thought to confirm the price when we got in. I think it's supposed to be around $10 or $12 total, but as we're getting out she says $4 per person!! Some argued with her for awhile, but we just decided it wasn't worth it and paid her. Wish we got to see more of the town itself. It really is quite pretty with all the brightly painted buildings and stuff.
St. Thomas - This was the only port/tour we didn't care for. We had booked with Godfrey Tours based on the rave reviews. Was supposed to pick us up at 10:00, but no one picked us up until just after 10:30. We were doubting at that point if anyone would ever come and almost just went on another tour. She didn't apologize - but said there was an explosion in the garbage dump which was tying up traffic. Anyway, off to town for shopping. We are not big shoppers so were done pretty quickly. It was very crowded. Five ships in port that day. At noon began the city tour. There were two safari trucks of people. I thought it seemed a bit chaotic and rushed. The stops we made seemed to be different angles of the exact same view (Magen's Bay). Don't get me wrong, it was a beautiful view, but one angle would have been enough. I did enjoy the banana daiquiri I got at Mountain Top. The tour is supposed to end with an optional 2 hours at one of three beaches. If you do the beach part, website says you'll be back at 4:00 ship time. As the day progresses, I begin to have my doubts about the time. We need to be back on ship by 4:30. I asked Godfrey and the other lady driver at least 3 times during the tour what time will we get back/will we have enough time for the beach and each time I got answers like "he will work with you to get you back on time" or "4:00 or 4:15". So we head to the first beach to drop people off, head to the second beach (Coki) where we wanted to snorkel. At this point he tells us the other couple from our ship is heading back because they don't want to risk being late. As I said, this was becoming pretty obvious earlier in the tour. I don't know why he kept telling us otherwise. Sadly we have to skip the beach part and head back. We did not even get the 15 minutes to walk around the beach as his website says. We did however get to stick our feet in the water for about 30 seconds but only because the truck wouldn't start and they had to work on it for awhile. Beach was crowded but the water was crystal clear and warm!! Didn't get back till 3:00 (supposed to be back by 2:00 when not going to the beach). I was very disappointed. If I'd known we weren't going to have time for the beach I would not have booked this tour. I would have just gone straight to the beach. This was the only port we had planned on snorkeling at, so we still have never snorkeled. Samana - I am completely baffled by the people who said stay on the ship here. This place was gorgeous!! Palm trees galore. Even where you get off the boat it's pretty, but go further out of town and it gets better. We did the ATV Experience through NCL. We shared one ATV ($79 each versus $125 if you drive your own). This was a great tour! We drove down a dirt road past some homes. Children would run out to wave. Passed many dogs and horses walking around, and some very cute piglets too. The scenery was amazing. Ended up at a beach where we stopped for a break. Kids were selling palm bracelets and fruit slices for $1. We had a Coco Loco (slice open a coconut, add ice and some rum, stick a straw in, and enjoy - yum). Then started to head back. Stopped to take a short walk to a waterfall. They also had us try mama juana (a local drink - nothing illegal!) and coffee and fruit, and were also selling some items there (the usual - jewelry, cigars, etc.). Then rode the rest of the way back. This was a really fun tour. I can't stress enough how beautiful the scenery was (so many palm trees). Walked into town after and briefly walked around the vendor tents. There were adults/kids trying to sell you seashells or cigars along the way, but if you keep saying no they go away. Get off the boat and enjoy this beautiful port!! This was another favorite of ours.
Disembarkation: Was a snap. We had a late flight so decided to do the disembarkation by luggage tag color rather than express and were in the last group called to get off. Took a taxi to LaGuardi. No problems.
Summary: We had an absolutely wonderful cruise. Everyone back home keeps asking if we got bored on a two week cruise. Never!! We spent most of our sea days at the pool area or reading on the lounge shares at the back of the ship decks 11/12 and were quite content. Would do it again in a second!