This was our 14th cruise, and our fifth cruise with NCL. Two months previous to this cruise, we were on one of the NCL Majesty's last sailings, and on that cruise noticed so many cost cutting measures that we weren't sure we wanted to keep sailing NCL. We even held off on purchasing a cruise reward for a future cruise. By day two of this fourteen day cruise, we were so pleased that we did buy a cruise reward.
We started out by taking the train from Trenton NJ to NY Penn Station. It was just over an hour trip, and the senior rate was only $5.50 each. We had no trouble handling our own luggage. We caught a taxi right outside of the train station. It was less than a two mile trip, took 20 minutes and was $15.00 including tip.
We arrived about 11:30, embarkation was quick, and we were on the ship about noon. As part of the CC roll call/m&m's, we were wearing something orange and did meet several other member's while waiting for embarkation. I did strike out with the first man I approached. He was wearing an orange cap and had no idea what I was talking about when I asked him if he was part of the CC role call. We were greeted with champagne, and as the staterooms would not be ready until 1:30, we, and everyone else headed for lunch. Several venues were open, we decided on the Garden Cafe. There were many stations and a wide selection of food.
The lifeboat drill was at 3:30, and mercifully, it was thorough yet brief. Our muster station was changed from the deck to Le Bistro, a much better location for me as standing, tightly packed shoulder to shoulder with no room to move, is difficult on my back.
For sail-away, we found a nice location in the Great Outdoors, had a cappuccino, and enjoyed the NY skyline and sailing right past Lady Liberty and Ellis Island.
NCL arranged for our sizable CC Meet and Greet to be held in the Azura Dining Room. Many of us were wearing the agreed upon m&m tee shirt. The Captain and many of the senior officers were introduced and mingled among us chatting and answering questions. We had great fun meeting the people we've posted with for so many months. All who attended were invited to a bridge tour. We had already explored the bridge viewing room and knew this would be special. The one other bridge tour I had was pre 9/11, when they were common. The invitation for the private tour was in our mail slot the next morning. The tour was incredible. Captain Constantinos Fafalios spent nearly on hour with us explaining different technicalities, joking, answering questions and allowing us picture time. During the entire cruise he was very accessible and friendly. This was definitely a highlight. We saw him in a couple of the ports, and several times dining out on deck. One time we were amazed that he was sitting alone out on deck as people rushed by him filling their plates and not realizing who he was.
Food On the first night there was a special for the extra charge dining rooms. Mama's Italian Kitchen was half price ($5.00) and the other rooms were $5.00 off the regular price. We went to Mama's that night, and later in the cruise we went to Tango's ($10.00) Both were very good. Tsar's Palace and Azura dining rooms had four changing entrees every night. If none of those were appealing steak and chicken were always available. The Blue lagoon is open 24 hours, had good wings and fast service. The selections in the Garden Cafe were always plentiful and good. We didn't try Cagney's, Chin Chin or Teppanyaki, but heard wonderful things about them. On "dress-up or not" night, known as lobster night, the offering was Lobster Galore. So what is "Galore?" Mahi mahi, something I don't eat. Our dining companions that night followed my lead by requesting no mahi mahi, double lobster. That might sound like alot, but it really is two half tails, (yes, they cut a small tail in half) for a total of 4-5 ounces of lobster. Still, it was enough for me when added with the side of steamed vegetables I always order. I do this because the serving of vegetables that come on a platter is very small, like three string beans or two brussel sprouts. That was one reason why half of the time I enjoyed the buffet, which has plenty of vegetables.
The cruise director was Que and he was very personable. I especially enjoyed the session where he and three other crew members (Ken, who was the asst. director, and two of the dancers) had an hour long Q&A program about living on board. They all had some interesting stories. All of the entertainment was fantastic. The comedians - Bill Hildebrandt and Don Friesen were really funny. But the absolute highlight for us the ventriloquist, Patrick Murray and Matilda. When they talked about topics such as airport security, talking to a human when calling a company for service, and speaking English in America, we laughed until it hurt. We made sure we saw all three of their shows. Bill Hildebrant did a late night adult show which was mild (and welcome) compared to some of shows we've see. His regular show was right on target when he used two gentlemen from the audience, one a baby boomer, the other in his early twenties, to talk about the differences in the generations. Another favorite was Romano Frediani. He is extremely talented, and the ending of his show was laugh out loud entertainment. Other shows were a four man a capella group called The Cats Pajamas, mentalist Jon Stetson, comedy hypnotist Dr. Scott Lewis, vocalist Jane Powell, and several others. We enjoyed them all. The lounge bands and performers were also great. We usually ended the evening by going to whichever location Carrie Stone was playing. She is a very talented song writer and guitarist, and sang a wide genre of music. We saw two of the three Jean Ann Ryan Productions, Country Gold and Cirque Bijou. The Cirque show was amazing. The talent and athleticism of the performers is something to see.
Samana We were part of a Casa Dorada tour, Playa Rincon. The beach and water were wonderful. The tour company owners, Catherine and her husband are lovely people. The ride there is fifty minutes long, over terrible roads. The driver had to stop every couple of minutes to get through a rut or pot hole. We passed through a very poor part of the country. I even saw a pig being butchered on a tree stump. After the van ride you get in a ten person boat and ride over the waves to get to the undeveloped beach. The boat ride is exhilarating and elicited whoops of laughter from most of us. Plastic lounges are offered for $5.00, they are uncomfortable, but at our ages they are better than the ground! There are a few rustic places to eat on the beach. One of them came highly recommended, we looked at the offerings which included huge shrimp, fresh fish and lobster. After seeing hundreds of flies all over the food and utensils, we decided to wait till later to eat. Packaged salty snacks and bottles water, soda and beer are sold. There are several vendors with jewelry, cigars and baked goods. Massages are offered, I heard that they were reasonable. I did buy a box of cigars. The young man started at $40, and quickly came down to $30. I still said no, but after a half hour he came back and started whispering to me "Hey momma, just for you a special price, $25. I still said no. About twenty minutes later I went to him and told him I had $22. He said yes. I'm not sure, but I don't think I got ripped off. One thing to keep in mind about this tour...the group of ten people decide when your are returning. There is no other way back except with your group. So if most of the group wants lots of beach time, say 5 or 6 hours, and you want only 2 hours, you're stuck there. Thankfully, our van didn't break down. One did, and another one got a flat tire. But all made it back in time.
Tortola This is a lovely island, very inviting and welcoming. After doing some shopping we came across Pussers Company Store and Bar. We ran into Mrs. Leo and husband talking to a couple who is sailing from island to island. We joined them and shortly after that our dining companions from the previous evening, Don and Eileen, came in and joined all of us. We enjoyed local beer, rum drinks, and lively conversation. Back on ship we spoke to people who went to the beaches and they all said it was beautiful.
St. Kitts After leaving the ship and briefly stopping at visitor information, we were on our way to the "Tour Store" when we approached by a man selling island tours. It was just what we were looking for here, and at the price we were willing to pay($20.00) After a few questions, such as if the van was fully air-conditioned, length(three hours) and highlights of the tour, we agreed. Within a few minutes he found three other couples and we were ready to get started. I was curious because he was selling the tours right on the sidewalk in front of the tour store. Was he connected with them? No, inside they charge $75 or $85 for the same thing. Are they allowed to work right out front of the store? No, but when the police chase them they leave and come back in five minutes. He said that competition is healthy, and there are no fines for doing this. His tour was wonderful, well worth it. We had two stops, the Batik Factory Store, and the black rocks. There were several vendors at the rocks, and all but one really pushy woman were very nice. We shared an ice cold diet coke and a Carib beer ($2.00 each). With the heat, both went down really easy. One of the last visits was called "The Strip" a long string of beach front bars (shacks) where music and entertainment go on all night long till 5 a.m.
Curacao Our plan was taking an island tour, getting to the Curacao liquor factory, and finding a geo-cache. As we left visitor information we were approached by a tour operator. Three other couples were ready and one of the men whispered to us that he had searched around and this was the best one. Sold. The driver was informative, pleasant and helpful as he led us through the brush for an excellent viewing and photography spot. We did stop at the liquor factory where I bought a bottle of blue curacao ($20.00 here, $23.00 in town) and a small sampler box. I enjoy the blue curacao in place of triple sec or grand marnier for margaritas. At the end we asked to be left off near the floating dock so we could explore the town on our own and then walk back to the ship over the swinging bridge. The bridge was closed for renovations the last time we were here. We did find one geo-cache we were looking for, another one seems to be missing.
Aruba On a previous trip here we rented a jeep and toured the entire island. This time we went to the bus terminal which is just across the street from the dock. We took the #10 bus ($1.15) to the Bulbari Bird Sanctuary. After getting off the bus we needed to ask for directions and found the dirt road entrance by the Westin, across from the Windmill. We followed a trail in to the four story observation deck and had some great views and lots of birds. After leaving the sanctuary we saw that there was a new geo-cache since our last visit. It was (only?) just under a mile away so we decided to walk to it. We found it, went into the hotel restroom to wipe our sweaty faces and caught the next bus back to town. In town we went to Diamonds International to collect my free charm, shopped a little, and went to Iguana Joe's for a snack and cold one. Aruba is a beautiful island and we saw many people taking the bus to the beaches rather than a more expensive taxi.
Roatan In spite of me getting three long jagged cuts on my thigh from the coral, this was our favorite. We had the absolute best time at Maya Key (Fins and Flippers). From the shore excursion desk a guide walked us to the ferry dock, just a couple of minutes away. We passed a long row of young boys sitting along the curb but none of them addressed us. We found out later that if you are walking alone, without a tour guide, the boys offer to be a guide for you and walk several blocks with you telling you about school and home life. The ferry ride over is only a few minutes. Another great thing about this is that you are free to arrive and leave when you want, and since you receive a wrist band, you can even go back to the ship and return if you want to. The beach is incredible, with plenty of palm trees for shade, and the snorkeling fantastic. There are guides at the end of the dock to show you the under water trail. Do not try to get there any other way than off the end of the dock. There is also an interpretive center, Mayan artifacts, a rescued animal sanctuary, shark feeding, sea lion feeding, garden trails and a pool. There is a scheduled guided tour, but when we were at the center ourselves, an employee was there and showed us around giving us a lot of information. The restaurant and bar had great food and drinks, reasonably priced also. Oh, and a huge gift shop J. We enjoyed spending some time with patfred, another CC role call couple. A low point was the short walk back to the ship. A mother pushed her daughter over to me to beg for money. She had a short prepared speech as to why she needed five dollars and all she had was a few coins. It breaks your heart to hear a young girl say "please madam, please madam".
Belize This is a tendering port, and port tenders, not ship life boats are used. The ship also stops a long way from the coast, it is a bout a twenty minute tender ride. As we weren't planning on a tour, we just wanted to walk around for a while, we figured we didn't need tender tickets and go on shore at our leisure. As the morning progressed and the tenders were so slow we changed our minds. Tendering began at 8:15, we weren't called until 10:30. Diamonds International is right in front as you get off the tender, I collected my charm (a pair of binoculars, very appropriate for bird watchers!) and walked all through Tourist Village. There are many nice shops, including a pharmacy where many people were getting their medications filled very reasonably. As we are always up for an adventure, we decided to venture outside of Tourist Village. Yikes! It was like night and day. We walked several blocks, and if I had a dollar for every "hey, pretty lady, I have beautiful beads for your hair", I could have bought three more NCL over-priced martini's! BTW, my hair is so thin that if I had it braided and beaded I would really look bald! When I mentioned this, of course then they offered to put extensions in my hair. We returned to Tourist Village, stopped at the water front Sandpiper, had a local ice cold beer and a delicious margarita. Next time we'll go to a beach.
Homebound Disembarkation was very easy, we used self-assisted walk off. It was much better organized than our last Majesty disembarkation. We used SAS transportation again, they are always reliable and reasonable. From FLL to PHL we had a connection in Cleveland, just a 25 minute layover. We raced to the gate only to find that our flight was canceled because of the storm. The flight we were put on was four hours later.
This was a terrific cruise, we like the repositioning cruises, freestyle cruising, and especially the staff. It was great meeting, greeting and chatting with so many CC role call people. Maybe some of us will meet up again.