I cruised with my best friend and our mothers on the April 10 - April 18 cruise to the Mexican Riviera.
My mother was the only one who had cruised before so there were 3 newbies and I had done a lot of research on Cruise Critic so I had a good idea what to expect.
Three of us were flying in from Michigan and one from Seattle so the Michiganders flew in on Friday and stayed at the Crowne Plaza in San Pedro. We had a car rental through Enterprise with the one way rental from LAX to San Pedro which was nice since we were able to drive around.
We arrived around 11:30 and were able to get the car rental and arrived at the hotel before 1:00 PM. We were able to check in immediately and were very pleased with our room on the 8th floor. The only thing that wasn't pleasant was that the outside of the windows were incredibly dirty.
Due to the reviews of the food at the hotel, we stayed away and instead drove to the nearest In & Out Burger to start our adventure out right. Now I know why people eat there. Fantastic burgers and everything fresh.
That evening we ate at The Green Onion. The food was great but the drink was WAY too strong so that I couldn't even drink it.
The next morning we woke up and looked out the window. We had a perfect view of the Norwegian Star in port along with the Sapphire Princess. Luckily the windows opened about a foot so we were able to get great photos from the hotel room.
After picking up my mother at the airport and returning the rental car, we hopped onto the hotel shuttle to the port. We dropped off our luggage and headed to check in. It took less than an hour to check in (the lady that issued us our ship cards was SUPER nice and funny) and then we waited about 20 minutes for our number to be called.
There was a "gentleman" that was directing where people should go and he was very loud and quite short with people. I understand that directing people going onto a cruise is probably akin to herding cats, but he could have used a few lessons in courtesy and politeness. He basically hollered the same 2 sentences over and over and would almost yell at people when they were unsure where to go or what they were doing.
We finally got through the lines and were offered champagne or orange juice when arriving onto the ship.
From the recommendations here, we headed straight to Versailles for our first of many meals there. It wasn't busy at all and we had a fantastic lunch with impeccable service. Everyone was impressed with the food and service of Versailles on the first day.
By the time we were done with lunch, our room was ready. We had an ocean view room on deck 5. Someone had said that the rooms were incredibly small and that the 4 of us wouldn't even be able to stand up at the same time so I was worried that it would be claustrophobic.
I was overjoyed to realize that once we got things organized (we put the beds in a U shape and never put the trundle away) that we had plenty of room. We had more than enough room for everyones personal items. We had so much room that the over the door shoe rack that we brought was actually used for shoes. We had magnets on the walls to hold papers and plenty of room to store things away. There were 4 hooks on the back of the door and each person had their own mesh basket for their personal bathroom items (got them at Walgreens) so the bathroom was always organized and tidy. Another CC member OhioRookie had a minisuite on deck 11 and other than the bathroom, I actually liked my room a bit better.
The first day we were settling in when all of a sudden we saw a pod of dolphins swimming and playing by the ship. There were at least 50 dolphins and we had a perfect view from our room. It was a perfect way to start the cruise.
Everyone in our room was cruising on a budget. We chose not to drink any of the alcoholic beverages and brought or own soda. We fit 18 cans of soda in the mini fridge at a time and Golfrid, our steward, removed the mini bar items that I had placed in a box.
We did not eat in any of the specialty restaurants and never used room service. Here are my reviews of each of the free restaurants.
Versailles ~ This was the fanciest of the restaurants and we enjoyed dressing up on formal night. The menu was varied and quite eclectic. Many of the things available at dinner were items that I wouldn't eat, but there were always the caesar salad, steak, chicken available at every dinner. The portions were relatively small but with an appetizer, entree and dessert along with the bread basket, I never walked away hungry. Breakfast in Versailles wasn't quite as good as dinner, but by far, the lunch menu was the most appealing.
The service was almost always good, but one night, which happened to be the birthday of my best friends mother was by far the worst. We waited an extremely long time for our appetizers (the people that sat down after us were on the entree before we got our appetizer) and although I told the maitre dee and our waiter about the birthday (he even asked her name) he apparently forgot and when I asked him about it, he denied that he was even aware of it.
Aqua ~ We ate there one night and I was not impressed. It was very dark and extremely noisy. They sat my mother and I with 3 other couples at a table for eight. The dinner took about 2 hours to complete. It was busy and it was also lobster night, but it seemed to drag on forever.
Blue Lagoon ~ I ate there only one time for lunch by myself. It offers comfort food. The buffalo wings were good, the burger passable and the dessert of pound cake with strawberries was very good. I was there right before the other dining rooms closed so halfway through my meal it got packed. It is very small with only about 10 tables and I felt like a fish in a bowl and quite uncomfortable as people were waiting in line less than 6 feet away from where I was eating.
Market Place ~ I was leery of this dining area due to the reviews but I was pleasantly surprised. People complained of how busy it was and that it was a thoroughfare to the spa and kids area but I found that there was always plenty of seating and if I went to the smaller side of the dining room it was much quieter. The options were endless and almost overwhelming at times. Yes it was cafeteria style dining, but there were always endless options so I never felt like I had to settle. I did find it quite strange to just leave my dirty dishes on the table but that is what were were directed to do and they always cleared the tables very fast. Towards the end of the trip, I was actually starting to prefer the Market Place Cafe because I could get a quick meal and get on with my day.
The Grille ~ This was located on deck 12 out by the pool. It is the only place that you can get made to order omelettes and waffles. I always enjoyed breakfast at The Grille but lunch was not always good. The burgers were terrible. The buns were hard and the burgers were pre-cooked and left in a heating tray. I never tried the seafood pasta as I don't eat shellfish but it smelled great. The pork chops and chicken they grilled fresh and they were both great.
I am the kind of person that likes to have options. I would get the Freestyle Daily every night and highlight the things that I found interesting. Unfortunately, there were many times of each day (morning and afternoon) that there wasn't anything that was appealing to me. They had a lot of NCL - U(niversity) classes about shopping, jewelry, skin care, acupuncture etc. but they were basically glorified product pushing opportunities. Most of the time I found myself bored and ended up napping the afternoon away in my room. The evenings were more enjoyable. The shows were mostly good. I wasn't impressed with the juggler Raynaldo Freidiani. It was an incredibly self indulgent show and I left about 3/4 of the way through.
The Jean Ann Ryan troupe was very good. I enjoyed all three of their shows: Music of the Night, Band on the Run & Cirque Pacific. The only comedy shows were by The Second City. I love sketch comedy and Improv so I enjoyed all three of their shows. I never saw the magician but heard that he was great.
Ports & Excursions
Cabo San Lucas ~ We did a snorkeling excursion on a Catamaran called the Tropicat. It was fun and the drinks (including alcoholic ones) and snacks were free but the trip to the cove (Santa Maria) was long and choppy. It took 3 1/2 hours and when it was done we had almost no time in port. I never left the pier but did go into the flea market and bought a few trinkets and a really cute hat. This is a tender port and it was the shortest port of call so it flew by and I never really got to see much.
Mazatlan ~ We did not do an excursion on this port but decided that this would be our shopping day. We got some great advice from fellow passengers about where to go and where to eat and had a great day. We had gone to the shopping seminar on the ship and all they pushed were Diamonds International and a few other places that they get a cut of the profits. Basically the most valuable info I got was from a wonderful gentleman that worked at the reception desk (Fernando) and fellow passengers.
We took a pulmonia (golf cart/taxi hybrid that cost $10 for 4 people) and went to Seashell City in the Golden Zone. We shopped in the markets to the side of that store and then crossed the street, ate at Pancho's and then enjoyed the beach right outside of Pancho's. There were LOTS of roaming sales people on the beach but they didn't harass you once you said "No Gracias". We just had to say it lots of times to lots of different people. Since the pulmonia is only used in Mazatlan, we took another one back to the ship. They were a lot of fun.
Puerto Vallarta ~ This was the longest and by far the most enjoyable port of call that we had. The mom's decided on a bus/shopping tour which they enjoyed. Myself and my best friend went on the Outdoor Adventure because of recommendations on the CC website. It was worth every penny ($129). It was 6.5 hours and consisted of a speed boat ride, a trip up the mountains in Unimogs, riding burro's up the rest of the mountain and then zip lines and rappel's down the mountain. I am afraid of heights but never felt unsafe. The guides (team F) were hilarious, great conversationalists and totally made the tour not just exciting but fun. Jorge was absolutely gorgeous so there was always eye candy. Armando loves Monty Python (as does my best friend) so there was a constant stream of Pythonisms to keep everyone laughing. The cost of the photos wasn't bad. It was $19 for one but for a group of two it was $79 for all of the photos (54) so we split the cost and bought the package.
After the tour we returned to the port and found an internet cafe (outside of gate 10). It was $1 for an entire hour of internet access. Much better than the 75 cents a minute on the ship.
We still had a few hours so we went to the Malecon and did a bit more shopping. I strolled on the beach and collected some really cool rocks (my son collects them). There were some AMAZING sand sculptures that someone had built. There was one of Moses and of The Last Supper. Before catching a taxi back to the port, we stopped at Mr. Taco and got some authentic mexican food. It was fantastic and very cheap $7 for 2 people including beverages.
Back on the ship we had 2 sea days. The wind kept me below decks on the first day and the cold the second day forced most people inside. Towards the end of the trip it seemed that the kids were getting bored and they were acting up. Things like smearing food on the inside of the elevator doors and running around in herds. There were 900 kids on the trip and it was only the last couple of days that they seemed to run out of things to do. They also seemed to always be without adult supervision from about age 9 on up which I found slightly disturbing.
After midnight it seemed that only the teenagers and very young adults were up. This was disappointing to me because I enjoy dancing and staying up late but at 35 I felt that I was too old to be hanging out with 18 year olds.
Overall the trip wasn't what I expected. I thought that there would be more things to do. I seemed to be on a different page than the majority of the passengers. I was told that I might enjoy Carnival a bit more because although I am not someone that likes to drink every night, I enjoy dancing and having lots of fun. This was a bit to staid for my taste.