We joined the Pearl in Miami for a 2 week back to back cruise, our 5th & 6th NCL cruises out of about 30 in total. DH is a stroke survivor and travels with a small mobility scooter so we had managed to get an accessible inside cabin for the first week. According to NCL UK there were no such cabins available for the second week but we should have moved to a higher grade cabin for the second week. However, Charlin, the exceptionally helpful accessibility officer on board soon organised things so that we could keep the cabin for the whole cruise which was really fantastic. It was cabin 4604 and perfect for us, if I could sign up now for that cabin for all future cruises I would. It is just behind the midship elevators in a quiet corridor but so handy for everything and in every port except Miami the gangway was almost outside our door.
The Pearl is lovely, just like her sisters the Jewel and Gem. Embarkation waws smooth and we found everything on the was spotless as we would expect. The buffet is still excellent but we thought the MDR menus had been cut considerably since our last NCL cruise. There is now an always available menu and 3 different starters & main courses and 2 desserts each day. We tried Cagneys, Bistro & Cucina. All were nice, although we might not bother with the Bistro again.
Just a little now about the ports
Roatan Bay Islands
The new cruise terminal at Coxen Hole is quite nice but not terribly authentic and we soon headed out into the town, turning right at the port gates and walking about a quarter mile. There were little market stalls set up en route and it was not a bad walk, although we were accompanied by a friendly but rather persistent local boy who did not leave our side until we eventually relented and gave him a dollar for his school books. We were trying to follow the instructions on the internet to take a local minibus to West End but they were from the old port so it was a bit confusing. From the new port it is a little different, walk into town and turn left before Warrens grocery store opposite the Hotel Coral and pass the Hotel Plaza Santa Maria on the right hand side. The minibus Ruta dos <2> begins from outside the municipal market just past the hotel. The fare was 22 lemperas each and you pay when you leave the minibus. HSBC in town had been happy to exchange just 10 USD for which we got 189 lempiras.West End was a little disappointing with shops similar to Coxen Hole. Half Moon Bay is pretty but the water was not clear and there was a lot of seaweed on the beach. Apparently West Bay beach was very nice so might be a better bet. But we enjoyed our day out on the local transport and found everyone very helpful and friendly.
We were whisked ashore by the fast local tender boats from our anchorage well out to sea, but the water was calm and it was a nice ride. The Tourist Village is a nice cruise terminal but we decided to venture outside to see some of the city and, contrary to some reports, it was not a problem. Admittedly we were quite late leaving the ship so by the time we wandered out of the terminal it was lunchtime and most of the guides and taxis had either been taken or given up. A few people offered us tours, taxis, carriage rides etc but a polite "no thank you" was all that was needed. Just outside the terminal is the Fort Street Flea market selling jewellery and trinkets and a few minutes' walk to the left brought us to the rather rusty old swing bridge. Across the bridge and you are at the top of Albert Street, the main street, it is that simple. There is not a huge amount to see but the people seemed pleasant enough and there was no more hassle than in many other ports. We followed Albert Street past the shops and a large white Methodist church to St Johns Anglican Cathedral which is about the size of an English parish church but rather nice especially as the bishop himself was conducting a service and afterwards took time to speak to visitors as well as his local flock and thank us for visiting. Walking back towards the ship there is a small shopping mall on the left which had free (if slow) wifi.
Costa Maya, Mexico
One of my favourite ports. A lovely cruise terminal complete with huge free swimming pool and lots of little local shops as well as the ever present Diamonds International etc and the prices did not seem as inflated as in some other purpose built ports. We took the $3 shuttle bus into the local beach village of Mahuhual which has a beautiful promenade lined with cafe and shops as well as a perfect white sand beach. Taxis provide the return journey for $2 per person.
Immigration held us up a big this morning which was sad as it was a 2.30pm all aboard but really the 3 hours or so we had ashore was enough. There are loads of shops but really most of them sell the same things and the whole place is very commercial (UK readers think Great Yarmouth in the sun).
Only about a hundred guests were staying on board for the next cruise so naturally the day was geared up for embarkation rather than a port day, hence early morning announcements, breakfast stopped at 9am etc. We left the ship and TRIED to take a cab to Bayside Marketplace. We had read that this is a simple $10 ride but BEWARE, taxi drivers do not want a small fare but want to go to the airport. We got in a taxi but the driver was so rude when we said we only wanted to go into town we ended up getting out. The dispatcher intervened and did apologise but rather than wait for another cab with probably the same result we opted to walk. With hindsight I sort of understand that problem, but the fact remains that there is no other option for B2B passengers - the port shuttle bus stops at 9am, there were no other buses and the only excursions NCL run are to the airport, so our only way out was cab or foot.
In fact the walk was not too bad, from the 3rd (furthest) berth it took about 40 minutes to go past the other two ships and over the bridge. There is a good sidewalk and it was fine for DH's scooter but must be about 2 miles. The port authorities really need to sort out this problem for B2B cruisers (I for one won't be doing that out of Miami again in a hurry). ON the way back we picked up a cab at the Intercontinental Hotel and it cost $10 including a tip and was completely trouble free.
Samana, Dominican Republic
Samana Bay is a lovely anchorage surrounded by green hills and little islands and grey sand beaches dotted around. One of the islands, Cayo Leventado was offered as a private island type beach excursion which we had intended to do, but the weather had not been good the previous day at sea so we had left it until the morning to decide. As it happened the weather was lovely but we had second thoughts about spending $49 each for a few hours on the beach and decided to take the tender to the town instead. As widely reported on CC there is really very little at Samana but the locals had put on a good sized market along the seafront promenade selling cheap jewellery, paintings and crafts. At the far end, about half a mile or so from the tender dock, is a colourful shopping mall called Peublo Principe, linked to the Bahia Principe hotel on Cayo Leventado I think. Nothing special, but we had an enjoyable couple of hours ashore. Many of our fellow CC members had arranged tours with Terry and we had corresponded with him before our trip but sadly none of his tours were suitable with DHs mobility issues, but Terry was exceptionally honest in his emails, so honest that he talked himself out of our custom, sadly.
St Thomas, USVI
I have long been searching for a Caribbean itinerary that avoids the giant jewellery shop that is St Thomas. It is a complete waste of time for us, I am sure the beaches are lovely but due to DHs fear of heights we cannot take the mountain road to that side of the island and are stuck in Charlotte Amalie. It was our 4th visit and for the 4th time it rained. Not constantly, but on and off heavy showers all day. This time we walked from Havensight through the Yacht Club Marina Mall, which I think is new since we were last in St Thomas 4 years ago. There is now a lovely flat, accessible waterside walkway all the way into town. I should think it is about a mile and a half each way but quite a pleasant walk by the water which leads to the marketplace at the beginning of the town. We had a wander around, dodging the rain, for a couple of hours, decided we had time to walk back before the next rain but of course got drenched (again) before getting back, but it was hot so we soon dried out.
This was our first visit and we had low expectations of Tortola as it is often described as a mini St Thomas. The island is certainly similar in appearance, with beautiful blzxue sea and green mountains and we did not dare take the mountain road over to the beaches, but it was only a short visit and we enjoyed exploring Road Town which is a living town and nothing like Charlotte Amalie - there is not even a Diamonds International !! There was again a market by the dock gate and also Crafts Alive, a collection of colourful little shops on the left as you get to the main road. There is a supermarket and a few other shops and a harbour side area devoted to catering for the every needs of the considerable yachting business that abounds here.
Great Styrup Cay,
NCLs private island is beautiful ! The tender ride over was a bit rough but the beach is in a protected bay, the water was lovely, there was music going on all day and a free BBQ lunch. The best thing for us were the beach wheelchairs, there were at least 4 and only one other was in use so we were able to keep it all day. They are great for going in straight lines but I did not quite get the hang of turning corners !! But again it was a fun day.
Freestyle disembarkation works fine, we walked off the ship about 9.30am and straight into a taxi. No problems this time as we were heading for the Dolphin Mall which is beyond the airport and cost $50 with a tip. Once there we hired a luggage locker for $1 which held both of our suitcases and spent the day in Miami's largest shopping mall before taking the shuttle bus back to the airport. The bus is $10 each and a bit difficult with luggage and the scooter a taxi would probably have been better and cost little more.
Both cruises were lovely, personally I prefered the eastern route, but I knew that before we went. It was disappointing that NCL treated them as 2 completely separate cruises (although they were on sale as a 14 night cruise in the UK) so we had the same menus and same entertainment in the second week. In a way the entertainment was OK as it forced us to go to some of the alternative venues rather than head blindly for the theatre each night, and some of it was quite good. But given the same food and the problem in Miami I doubt I would consider this sort of B2B again (unless it was another bargain like this one !).