My husband and I had never cruised before this trip, so we did not embark with expectations. We started planning our vacation in March of 09, which seemed a bit premature, but we wanted to be away for the holidays, and were not sure how fast the cruise would book up. We booked directly with NCL, and our cruise representative, Mari, was incredibly helpful! She helped us choose a stateroom, and it was a great choice!
Overall, this was a great experience, and we loved it so much, we put down a $250 deposit towards another cruise. The crew was over-the-top nice and very accommodating. They, to a person, were friendly, and they made us feel very pampered. The only annoyance were the constant sales pitches by "Ian" the shopping rep for Diamonds International! But...we totally ignored him, and all was good.
Here are my helpful hints:
Bring a bar of soap. The liquid shower gel is adequate, but it really doesn't make you feel like you cleaned anything! There is liquid shampoo, too, but I didn't use it. If you hate the smell of Lavender (like I do!), bring a second bar for use in the sink. If you forget, you can buy a bar at the Pharmacia in Costa Maya. :D
Bring mosquito repellent, and bring anti-itch gel or cream. (You can buy Caladryl in Cozumel, but it doesn't work as good as the Benedryl gel I have at home.)
Our stateroom, 9530, was forward on the port side of the ship. It was the first BE stateroom after the BD staterooms. We loved the location. It was very near the elevators, but not too close. It had much less wiggle than the aft rooms would have had. Also, deck 9 is very quiet - no restaurants or activities on this deck or the one above or below. Something we would not have known to consider, but which is really important if you are a light sleeper.
Our room was "cozy," but we had plenty of room for our stuff, and we never felt cramped. Since this was a first cruise, I didn't know what clothing would be appropriate, so I totally over-packed - two 28" suitcases, a 26", as well as two camera bags and a laptop bag. I had packed wire hangers and the closet had 15 wooden ones installed. There were plenty for our clothes. (Yay, Cruise Critic members for that suggestion!) Inside the closet, there were cubby holes for clothes as well as a top shelf and a small safe for valuables. There was a small set of drawers under the TV as well. MORE than enough room for everything we had with us! (I could have packed more, but a. I didn't need half of what I did pack and, b. my husband would have killed me!) After unpacking, I put the 26" inside a 28" and put both 28" suitcases under the bed, where they fit perfectly.
The bed was comfortable, and the couch and desk and chair were very useful. We LOVED our balcony! It was a peaceful retreat from the hustle & bustle, and we loved waking up and photographing sunrise in our pjs. It was a great spot to look at the stars, also. Opening the drapes and watching the ocean sail by was very soothing and a great way to unwind!
The bathroom was "cute." The toilet and shower are each behind sliding glass doors with a sink area in the middle. Again, cozy, but enough room to move comfortably. The only negative is the hair dryer. It is one of the Elisseo dryers which you find in most European hotels. They blow air, but if you have curly hair like mine and want to straighten any part of it (like my bangs), resign yourself to a week of bad hair. I had asked on many boards before we sailed about using my 1850 watt dryer, and I was told it would blow the circuits. I left it home, but I did bring my flattening iron. I was never brave enough to plug it in, though! The room only has a few outlets, and all except for one are 220. The one that is 110 clearly says "Not for Hair Dryers." My husband uses a CPAP, so, again, thanks to previous travelers posting, we knew to bring along an extension cord. It worked perfectly.
Whatever you budgeted, add 50%. My husband expected to spend about $500 on the ship. I expected $1,000. I was right for a change. (I usually totally underestimate what things will cost.) It is easy to forget they are billing you $12/per person/per day service charge, and those $6.50 & $7.50 drinks add up. We ate in the specialty restaurants three nights. We visited La Trattoria, Le Bistro, and Cagney's - and all were excellent. We also paid $100 for 250 minutes of Internet time - and we used all except for about 10 minutes. There are only three places on the ship where your wireless laptop can be used - Deck 12 Internet Cafe, Decks 7 & 8 (The Grand Centrum). If you just want to check email or Facebook, you should probably just use their computers in the Internet Cafe. There are about 10 terminals, and they rarely get used for extended periods. Most people would come in, check email or whatever for about 20 to 30 minutes, and then they would leave. I had a lot of digital photos I wanted to upload and share with family at home, so my laptop was the only way to do that - plus I needed it for storage of the images.
Bring some patience. There were 2,500 people on our cruise, but other than embarkation day and disembarkation day, it really never felt like there were that many people on board. If you do go to some of the shows, you might find it a bit crowded, but again, relax. Take a deep breathe and remember you are on vacation and not punching a clock.
Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala -
We had heard scary stories about banditos in Guatemala, and the cruise staff who had a briefing about the ports also cautioned against wandering off on your own. In retrospect, I would have skipped this excursion. We booked Amatique Bay and BBQ. You have to travel there by a small boat, and it is a little scary. The captain of the small boat and his helpers did not talk to us at all - even to explain why the motor kept cutting out (on our way back to the Spirit). We found out from another passenger that it appeared they were running out of fuel! It is hard to believe this tour is run by Gray Lines!
The resort is very pretty, the pool is great, but the water on the beach is muddy. One passenger we talked with said she took her snorkel mask and went to the beach but decided against going in. The pool is very free-form, and there is one end more suited to children with water slides, while the far end has a swim-up bar and is more adult oriented. The swim-up bar was a great place to hang-out and meet other cruisers. Make sure you have cash, though, since they do not take credit cards at the bar.
The all-you-can-eat buffet is very good and has great variety. The only negative are the bees. They look like yellow jackets, but are not aggressive stingers, although they are everywhere! Most annoying - especially when you are trying to eat. We had to fish them out of our food and drink repeatedly. Yuck!
The port at Santo Tomas is very industrial - lots of containers waiting to be loaded onto cargo ships. At the very far end, though, there is a building with shopping, which would be as far as I would want to travel if I did this port again. Again, make sure you have cash, because it is a real chore to use a credit card. In fact, I made one purchase, and then I gave up, which is a shame, because the merchandise is high-quality and desirable.