This was our 8th cruise - third with NCL. Out of the cruises we have taken this was our second favorite cruise and one of only two cruises that we would do the exact itinerary and ship again.
New Orleans was a blast. We flew in Thursday night just in time for a weekend of Carnival and Super Bowl excitement. We didn't get far out of the French Quarter but loved the architecture, food, and people we encountered over the weekend. We took the free Jean Lafitte riverfront history walk given every morning by a park ranger. We also took the Friends of the Cabildo walking tour. While they cover some of the same information, the Cabildo tour goes further into the French Quarter and the $15 fee includes entrance to the 1850 House Museum. Everyone we met from the area was very friendly and helpful with information. We stayed at the Sheraton on Canal Street and while it is a bit worn and has a lot of street noise (even on 46th floor) it was conveniently located only a block from the French Quarter and two blocks to the riverfront. They have a nice bar in the lobby which was always busy. They also have a Starbuck's in the lobby but we walked into the French Quarter to the Community Coffee Company where we enjoyed very good coffee drinks. Our favorite dinner was at Muriel's Restaurant. It is right on Jackson Square. They have a three course dinner for $29. The food and service were excellent!
While we had the longest lines we have had for a NCL sailing we were still on the ship within about 30 minutes. We went directly to Windows and had a wonderful lunch.
After lunch we went to our room. The room was small, as most NCL cabins seem to be. However there was plenty of space for the two of us. The balcony was also the smallest we have had but still enough for two chairs and a table. The room was clean and our only "complaint" was that some of the tiles on the shower floor were wearing and you could feel the grout when you were in the shower. On feature we really like on NCL is the three part bathroom. It is nice having a real shower door rather than a curtain that clings to you as you shower. I usually don't travel with a hairdryer but had read reviews saying the dryers were weak so I threw it in. I am glad I brought it. I don't mind weak dryers as much as those awful "European" dryers connected to the wall with a hose that you have to deal with while drying your hair. That is exactly what they had. I used my dryer (220v) at the desk.
I like a softer mattress so when I booked I asked for an egg crate cushion on the bed. It was not there when we arrived. I gave it a try the first night and decided I really wanted the extra cushioning so we went to the front desk and were immediately assisted by a very pleasant woman. She put in the request and by the time we got back to the room after breakfast our room was made up with the egg crate cushion. It made a huge difference in the comfort of the bed. The woman from the front desk called the next day to make sure the egg crate cushion had been added to the bed and to see if there was anything else we needed. We rarely saw our room steward but when we did he was always friendly. Whenever we met any ship employee in the hallways they always smiled and said hello. The rest of the ship was lovely.
Even though it is an older ship we really didn't find more wear in the public areas than when we sailed on the Emerald Princess when it was only 1 year old.
We never had to wait for a table and most nights had a window table. We usually went to the early show then directly to dinner after the show. The food in the restaurants was very good. We don't order from the menu that we refer to as the "picky eater" menu (Always Available). I can't imagine they have a lot of flexibility with the Always Available menu items as they are trying to provide a meal that will appeal to an average diner. We expect those items to be rather bland. We are adventurous eaters especially when we know we can get something else if we don't like what we ordered. We weren't disappointed. When dishes should have been spicy they were. They were all nicely seasoned. We usually ate in Windows for breakfast and The Garden Room for dinner. We also ate in Windows three times for lunch. We had excellent service in both restaurants. We observed the wait staff chatting and laughing with many of the tables. They really seemed to be enjoying the guests. We also appreciated that wait staff would say hi even if you weren't seated in their area.
One morning we ate a Raffles due to an early tour. It was okay. I did like that I could have my English muffin toasted several times so it was as crispy as I like. We also ate at Raffles for one lunch when we thought Windows was only open for the Jazz Bruch (this is not true - we found out from our evening waiter that you can still go to Windows for lunch without paying the supplement for the jazz brunch). We were not impressed with the food but then we never eat at buffets and prefer a served meal. My husband was disappointed that they didn't have a sushi station as that is a favorite afternoon snack for him while we are cruising.
The shows were good. The staff performers are about the same quality that we have seen on all other cruises. We were surprised by Second City as we thought they were terrible on the Star but we really liked them on the Spirit. The magician and the acrobat duo were very good. The final show combines all the performers from the week and is excellent. Get there early as I noted many people having to stand due to a full theater.
We have sailed on Princess, Carnival and Royal Caribbean in addition to Norwegian. We don't feel like the sales tactics are any different from one line to the other. Every ship we have sailed on had waiters come by regularly offering drinks whether at the pool or in the theater. I imagine for every complaint by someone who feels they come by too often there is someone who thinks they don't come by often enough. We don't drink other than at dinner but the offers of a drink were not annoying. We just said no and they went away. If I was reading with my nose in a book they didn't say anything only if I was sitting looking around did they approach with an offer for a drink. The only other sales push I recall was for the Jazz Brunch. Our waiter recommended it to us but when we said we aren't brunch people, that was it.
In Costa Maya we went to Chacchoben Mayan Ruins with Native Choice. On the way to the site David gave us background information on the area and the people who live in the area. We had an excellent tour of the site and were then given the choice to be dropped off in Majahual or be taken back to the ship. We went to Majahual where we walked along the beach and stopped for a drink before catching a taxi back to the ship.
Guatemala was our favorite port. We did the humanitarian tour with Go with Gus. Gus and his wife welcomed us with small gifts and hugs. We got on our tour boat right by the ship. The boat was designed so we all sat along the side making it easy to take photos. No one was stuck in the middle of the boat. We did a quick stop at Gus' hotel in Livingston to sample some local fruits and to use the restrooms before heading out on the river. The Rio Dulce is beautiful. Gus is full of information and takes you to several places along the river including a stop at a school to distribute supplies to the children. We also went to a house on the river where we had a snack of fresh tortillas filled with shredded fish. We rode by Birds Island and stopped at Pelican Bay where they fed the pelicans so they came right up to the boat. After a few additional river highlights we stopped in Livingston where we had an excellent lunch at Gus' restaurant followed by a local dance lesson before taking a walk through Livingston. After some shopping time in Livingston we were taken back to the port with enough time for shopping. There was music and dancing on the pier as we prepared to sail away. It was a wonderful day.
In Belize we took the NCL tour up the New River to Lamanai. We mostly did this because it was a tender port. We were the second group off the ship at 8 am. If you weren't on a NCL tour they weren't even giving out tender tickets until 9 am. Our guide had a lot of history of the people and area but unfortunately the bus had a lousy suspension and shocks and the sound system wasn't good. If it was turned up it was crackly and if it was turned down we couldn't hear over the sound of the bus. We could only hear part of what he said on the hour-long bus ride to the river. Once on the river, most of the time is at high speed so you don't see much. They do stop occasionally to point out wildlife but it was a cool day when we were there so there wasn't much to see. It started raining so we all got wet and chilled as the boat screamed up the river. The rain had stopped and the sun came out by the time we got to Lamanai. Our guide provided a lot of details at each pyramid. The howler monkeys were fun. The sound they make sounds like a lion roaring. There were many monkeys in the trees around the site. We climbed the tallest pyramid. It is 33 meters high. There is a rope going up the center of the stairs for assistance. It is a challenge going up and even more so coming back down, but well worth it. The view at the top over the river and jungle canopy was spectacular. After another fast boat ride back down the river we had a nice lunch with a demonstration of local dances. Finally, another hour bus ride back to town left about an hour for shopping or a snack before all aboard.
In Cozumel we didn't do a tour. We walked along the waterfront up past the yacht club to the northern hotel area then came back to the ship for lunch. There is a wall along the way that had about 20 iguanas on it. After lunch we went back out to the shops along the port area. We got a little tired of the pitches for free gifts to "come in and take a look". We got back to the ship just before a big rainstorm hit. It cleared before sail away so we had a beautiful sunset. The captain warned us that the seas were expected to be rough that evening and they were. We saw water splashing up by the window in the restaurant. By mid-morning the next day the seas had calmed and the day at sea was quite nice.
Disembarkation was easy. We did the walk off option and while we chose the long line (we found out as we arrived at the gangplank that the line from the other direction was much, much shorter) we were still off the ship and on our way within 30 minutes.