This was the absolute WORST embarkation that we have ever experienced. I'm not certain that blame can be placed on NCL or not, as we understand that the debarkation process was hampered by US Customs only providing 3 officers instead of the usual 5 that NCL asks for in NOLA. We lined up with the rest of the Latitudes members, after arrival on the pier at 1315hrs. We did not board the ship until 1545 hours. We found that there were multiple people in the lines who did not bother filling out the pre-cruise paperwork, and I am quite certain that this had an impact on the boarding process as well.
This is a beautiful ship, and it is very well maintained. Due to the fact that we were traveling with our 2 children, we opted for an inside cabin, and we were able to select cabin 9051, which was very spacious, and very well maintained. The room stewards were very efficient, and provided very good service. The public areas on the ship were equally well maintained, and the result of the recent dry docking is evident. We did have one issue with our cabin related to the toilet. In retrospect, we believe that our daughter somehow jammed the flush button on the toilet. This resulted in toilet water overflowing, and flooding out the bathroom. While I was frantically trying to prevent the flood from entering the cabin, my wife was calling the service desk. We went through every towel in the room, including the pool towels before I decided to start pressing the flush button repeatedly. This stopped the water flow, but not before reaching the carpeting in the main cabin. I am disappointed to say, that it took over an hour, and 4 phone calls for someone to attend our cabin. Luckily, we were all ready showered and ready for dinner when this occurred. When I spoke with the cabin steward later that evening, he told me that they did get equipment in to dry the carpet and a plumber did look into the toilet issue. My disappointment was in regard to the lack of response to what we felt was an emergent situation. I can only imagine if I was unable to stop the flow myself.
Ship Activities, Entertainment, and the Children's Club:
There was a lot to do, if this is what you are into. There were plenty of sports related activities including but not limited to golf and basketball. There also always seemed to be a bingo activity of some sort taking place. The cruise director and staff (Soozy) were very visible. For the most part, we chose to lounge around the aft pool and keep to ourselves while our kids played in the pool during the two sea days.
The production shows were, in my honest opinion, terrible. I did not think that the singers were particularly great, and the material presented was not my style. We did not go to the Second City productions, but I understand they were excellent. The Magician, Richard Burr was very entertaining, and our children really enjoyed his shows. Quite honestly, the best show was the staff talent show. There were a number of very entertaining acts, and as far as I am concerned, this should not be missed. I also enjoyed the zydeco musician who played on the first and last night of the cruise.
Our children absolutely loved the Children's Club, and we can not say enough positive things about it. We have cruised on Carnival, and found this club to exceed it. Our three year old, who is very shy, was asking to return constantly. They have a lot of planned activities in addition to free time which was fantastic for both kids. The hours were from 9am to 1030pm on sea days, and comparable on the port days, with a pay option ($5 for the first child, $3 for any additional) if you wanted to leave the kids on the ship. After 1030 at night, you also had the option of paying for services until 130am. We did not exercise this option, as our kids are young and were sleeping by this time each night.
The Food and service:
Most nights, the food was good - but not anything overwhelmingly great. I found the seafood dishes to be much better than the beef and poultry dishes. I think the portion sizes were reasonable, and the presentation of the food was very nice. The service in the main dining rooms was indifferent, but efficient. We opted to dine at Cagney's once, and found the food to be outstanding. If you opt for this, make sure to allow for at least 2 hours. I personally think the buffet and options available on it were pretty good. Breakfast was the typical of any other cruise ship, and I thought the egg station was great. I love the option of being able to create what I want, and how I want it. The fruit selection was always great as well. Lunch was also typical of buffet fare, and I thought it was well presented and reasonably tasty. The Blue Lagoon restaurant featured chicken wings, which I thought were pretty good, and comparable to what we can get in bars around the area that we live.
Costa Maya -
As you all know, this port was recently renovated after the devastation that Hurricane Dean caused. The cruise ship complex features a free form pool with swim up bars, restaurants, and of course shopping. The little town of Mayahaul was a short cab ride, and well worth the visit. We found the shop owners to be graceful and accommodating. The price of goods and liquor in town was better. As an example, a liter of beer at the complex was priced at $10, and in town, you could get the same beer for $3. Needless to say, I enjoyed a few more beers in Mayahaul. My only suggestion in this port, is that if you opt to go into town (and you should) walk entirely out of the complex area, past security to catch a cab. The ride should cost no more than $ 4 dollars, and about the same coming back for four people. Additionally, we had a mishap involving a stolen pair of glasses within the port complex - so as always, maintain awareness of your surroundings and belongings. It only takes a few seconds for something to go missing. ?
Santo de Thomas, Guatemala - This is a developing port, and there isn't a whole lot to do or see in the immediate area. This is a port that you should take some sort of tour. There are a ton of options available here, and I heard a lot of good things about a tour operator named Gus. We opted to hire a taxi and take in the Mayan Ruins. It was approximately a 1.5 hour drive, and we enjoyed the day. As far as the ruins go - they are pretty basic, and if you really want to see good ones, hold off and go in either Belize or Mexico. This day cost us a total of $150 for a group of 6 adults and 5 children. Had we arranged this trip with the Shore Excursion desk on the ship, it would have cost us approximately $ 1000.00. Take this advice for what it is worth - I think it is perfectly safe and obviously more cost effective to arrange your own tours while in any of the ports. Additionally, you are in small groups, and don't feel rushed from place to place - ever. As I indicated earlier, we have cruised extensively, and very rarely have we utilized the shore excursions offered by the ships.
Belize City - Belize
This is not a port that I particularly enjoy. I really do like Belikan beer though. My main problem with this port is that it is a tender port, and personally, I can't stand having to tender. The aspect of lining up to get off the ship makes me crazy. I have the patience of a 3 year old. The town itself is quite crowded, and in my honest opinion dirty. We walked around town a bit on a quest to purchase a dozen Belikans to pass the day. We found a place who sold them to us for a dollar a piece, and we continued meandering the streets until they were finished. The port complex security would not allow us to bring them into the secured area, so keep this in mind. You can get them within the complex for $3 each. We have been to Belize previously, and at that time, we opted to do a shore excursion that involved a jungle boat cruise. We enjoyed it, and understand that the cave tubing option in this Country is amazing as well.
There isn't a whole lot to say about this port, as most people are quite familiar with it. We love it there! The ship docked in town, which was nice because we had easy access to Senior Frogs - where we had lunch and a few beers. We opted to take the kids to the Chankanaab National Park for a few hours. The taxi ride there cost us 11 dollars. It was quite windy and cool (mid 70s), so they were not able to swim, but still enjoyed watching the dolphins and playing in the sand. We were thinking about doing the dolphin experience, (offered directly in the park for $69 adults, and $59 kids - compared to some outrageous rate on the ship, I'm sure) however the water was very choppy and we did not feel secure in putting our six year old in the water. I heard reports from some people that the water was quite warm, but people were freezing when they had to get out - due to the winds.
In summation, this was a very good week, and we all enjoyed ourselves. As I stated, the ship is in great shape, and the level of service was good. I would definitely recommend this ship and itinerary to anyone giving it consideration.