Charlie and I embarked on January 10, 2010 and disembarked on January 24th. All in all, a great time. A few flubs as is natural, but we left smiling. This was our 3rd back-to-back cruise- my husband says 7 days is not enough and he calls 11-day cruises "floating nursing homes". We prefer multiple 7 day cruises because you get a larger demographic- some people actually have jobs! We enjoy meeting all kinds of people.
We flew into Fort Lauderdale- there was a huge price difference when we booked. We contracted with SAS Transport to get us to the port of Miami. At $15 a person plus tip, it was a good bargain. I wish they had explained how they did things though. The driver picked us up- there were 6 people in the van already. He drove to Port Everglades, left off the 6, and then we went back to the airport, picked up 6 people, drove to Miami, picked up 2 people at a motel, stopped at a convenience store, and then went to the port. Not an unpleasant ride and not a bad price, but if I had known about all the back and forth in advance I would have been prepared for it. At the terminal, embarkation was as normal. People on-line have mentioned champagne served on NCL, but that is only in the pricy suites, not for the riff-raff, perhaps in the past, but not now. We had lunch in the Azura and then went to our cabin- the 1st week we were in 5545, the 2nd week in 5042. This is the 1st time we have had to move the 2nd week, but we just packed the morning of the 2nd week and the stewards moved everything (tip, of course).
Both cabins were standard outside cabins- efficient, clean, good storage. Nice size bathroom- good shower. The bed is a little firm. Our steward brought us extra pillows- we asked for feather and got fluffy poly ones, but still better than the flat ones. Stewards did a fine job- I asked for more ice, but could never get more than a bucket one third full. Must be valuable. The TV in the cabin was very small and some movies were letter-boxed! Selection was poor. We heard people talking about it with derision. Surely they could do better.
Food. My husband will buy drinks and souveniers and jewelry and excursions and meals in port and even sign on extra tips for servers, but he will not pay for the restaurants. We ate in the Tsar, the Azura, the Blue Lagoon, the buffets, and room service. Sometimes there are things that you just don't like, but generally the food was good. Bread was always good, the potatoes were never good- sometimes cold and sometimes just not good- we avoided them after a while. The wait staff was good- some very good- for those I always filled out the card on the table- if someone was just a little off I just let it go. Once, in the Azura, they sat us at a table where the waitress was on break- after a couple minutes wait staff that we had had before started to come over and fill in until they could find out what was wrong- we were half-way through our meal when the "regular" waitress showed up- evidently a snafu with the Maitre D'. The shellfish tended to be rubbery (over-cooked?) but the escargot was a 7 out of 10- pretty good for large kitchens.
Entertainment. The 1st week of a back-to-back we go to all the main shows. Then the 2nd week we know what is a "must see again" and what we can skip to check out something else. The comedian, Tim Kaminski was a must-see. I didn't think he could be as funny the 2nd week, since I knew the jokes, but he killed me again. Charlie told him that I laughed so hard, that I peed my pants and that Tim owed me a pair (Tim, I am still waiting- when will you be done knitting???) We loved all the production shows- Betsy is our favorite. All very talented singers and dancers, and the contortionst couple were amazing. Roman and Svetlana were great, too. Chantz Powell was not for us, but many people liked his show. On-line we had heard that you either love or hate Cat's Pajamas- we fell into neither group- we enjoyed them, but didn't see their show the 2nd week- we saw their big show, plus once in the Spinnaker and the Saturday night show. They are very talented and it is a good show. We enjoyed Kenosis, especially Lily- she is a wonderful singer and a very nice person- enough talent to be a headliner herself. We also enjoyed Angel- we usually found him at the Sky Bar- he is a talented singer/guitarist- he is personable and knows a lot of songs- he took requests and it was rare for him not to know the song. He was a good sport- it became a "thing" to ruffle his hair. We didn't care for the piano-bar guy.
The Casino. The people that work there are not all on the same page. When we signed up for the Casino-at-Sea we were given 4 "$20-for-$10", plus 2 from the cruise broker. One employee said each of us could use one coupon each, others said we could use them all- had a snafu where they took our $10, got the card, which had a zero total on it- took forever to get our $10 back- stayed out of the casino after that- surely not their goal- we were up $100 at the time. We were given about $13 in drinks while we waited for them to figure it out- apparently a computer glitch. At one point I asked if we should call 8888 (John O'Hara, the hotel manager), but they said that he wouldn't understand the problem- talking to some of the casino people was like talking to wood. I left in the black and I can gamble at home.
Tours through NCL. We booked the snorkel gear for the private island- one week was good snorkeling weather- there is not much live coral, but the fish were plentiful and pretty. We booked the Dolphin Encounter in Roatan- they said that it was the coldest day in Roatan in 18 years, but it was fine to get into the water with the trainer and dolphin. We were in the water for almost an hour- we all got to pet and hold the dolphin. Ours was Bailey. She also did lots of tricks for us. They took pictures that you could buy ($40 for the disc) and let us get our own cameras and take pictures. We really enjoyed this tour until we got to the parking lot- We had started with 10 people and now there were 16 of us. Someone in another group had hurt her foot, so that family left early and now 2 groups were joined. There was no van for us, and they said we had to wait for a vehicle large enough for all of us- It started to drizzle and we stood in that parking lot for 90 minutes. Then they took us to Tabyana Beach- by that time my back hurt so we went back to the ship. We got a 30% discount. Not totally happy about that, but better than nothing. I had planned to snorkel in Belize, but didn't feel comfortable going without my husband and he doesn't snorkel. If they had left us in a parking lot, would they leave me in the water?? They 2nd week in Roatan we booked a guide through Victor Bodden and had a great day. In Costa Maya we booked a day at Maya Chan Beach- we had such a lovely day that we booked it for the 2nd week- one week the water was calm, so kayaking and snorkeling plus good food and drink and company. The 2nd week the water was choppy, so only swimming and lots of good food and lots of good drinks and very good company--totally different weeks- both very good times. At the end of the 2 weeks we booked the Everglade tour with the drop-off at the airport- a nice way to spend time since we had a late flight. We had a great time on both weeks of our cruise. Every line has their own way to deal with back-to-backs, and NCL did a fine job, some lines have someone walk your documents through and some make you get off- NCL has you leave about 10:30am and you get back on 1st. We were off for about 30 minutes.
The Meet-and Greets were very nice. Rochelle does a nice job. Tim Kaminski, Que, John O'Hara, and some officers came and met the crowd. There is a $55 "behind the scenes" tour, but sometimes they give CC groups a taste for free. They 2nd week the concierge sent us champagne, a couple fruit baskets and VIP tender tickets. I can only imagine that it was because I had sent the e-mail setting up the M&G. We were also invited to the Captain's party up on Deck 14. They were serving champagne and wine- servers we knew from around the ship said "you don't drink that" and brought us manhattans and scotch- it pays to make friends- Evangeline is a very nice girl, as was the male server-just can't remember his name. When it was time to leave the ship we got our final bill NCL did not credit the OBC our broker had given us - $50 per week- the girl at the Pursers desk said to call the next week- she could not do anything about it....8888- John can you help me? He said that he would take care of it- never could get anything from the desk to confirm it, so we will wait for the credit card bill- it should be $50 less than the charge they made. I have confidence in John O'Hara, so I'm sure it will be ok.
This was our 1st experience with "free-style", our last NCL trip had been on the Norway. We never had to wait to get into restaurants (if you have to wait at the Azura you get a pager- show the pager at a bar and get 2 for 1 drinks- but only 2 the same, not one scotch and one bourbon). Some cruiselines have more choices for entertainment. The main entertainment was very good, but some lines have equally good things at the same time. On the Jewel you were funneled in one direction, thankfully it was toward a good show, but on some ships you watch your time dining so that you can get to the 1st show in one venue and then the 2nd show in another before you hit another place for dance music. Here it was a simpler plan for the evening, but not made for back-to-backers looking for variety. This is a good ship filled with nice, talented, hard-working people at every level. We miss Evangeline and Lily and Angel and Tim and John and some very nice passengers-especially Charlie's new adoptive Mom and Dad, Lynn and Phil. Thanks to all for a very good time.(: