After care-giving for my elderly parents for the last three years, it was time for a well deserved short cruise to get away from everything. I chose to go alone so that I would be responsible for nobody but myself and if I chose to do nothing at all there would be nobody to complain.
When booking my cruise, my cruise consultant from NCL, Gina Morales, was very helpful , but once I was booked and they had my money, I never heard from her again, even when I wrote to her to let her know my father had passed away and I was looking to upgrade to a suite. While NCL doesn't recognize SWF as an airport they can book with, she was able to get me a relatively inexpensive hotel room ($89/night) at the Sofitel which is about a 5 minute ride from the Miami airport and about a 10 minute ride from the Port of Miami. The price included a free transfer in the morning from the hotel to the port.
The Sofitel Miami airport hotel is a lovely 4-star hotel overlooking a very blue lagoon (clichE, I know, but it was a lovely and blue lagoon!). The room was comfortable and clean with a flat screen television and a very soft bed with four very soft pillows.
The hotel houses a coffee bar and an upscale French restaurant. I had dinner on the terrace at the restaurant. It was still a little chilly, so I did have to wear a sweater that evening. For a starter, I chose the Belgium endives - Arugula, blue cheese, walnuts served with a raspberry vinaigrette. It was presented beautifully and tasted delicious. My main was a simple 8oz. New York angus steak served with asparagus and French fries. The steak was perfect as well. Since this was vacation, I ordered a Pascual Toso Reserve, Mendoza, 2007, Malbec - a red wine that was simply perfect with dinner.
I was told upon checking as well as in a letter from NCL, that there would be a representative in the morning at a particular desk and that my luggage would be picked up from my room at 10:30 AM and that my transportation to the port would be at 11:30 AM, which was perfect as my plan was to arrive at the port by noon to get on board as quickly as possible and let the vacation truly begin. By 10:45AM, no one had come to my room so I decided to bring my own bags downstairs and check in at the NCL desk. To my dismay, I found no NCL desk. I asked at the reservation desk about it and the person seemed confused. He suggested I store my luggage with the concierge. By 11:15, I asked at the concierge desk about the NCL representative and they told me that since I was the only one booked to travel to the port that morning, they were not going to send a rep out, but a bus would be by to pick me up. I got my luggage and waited on the sidewalk. The bus did pull up at 11:30 and I was told we had one stop at another hotel and I was on my way.
Embarkation was pretty painless. The NCL baggage guys were right there on the sidewalk to take my luggage (of course with their hands out for tips, but that's to be expected). The one that took my bag promised that he would make sure the bag would get to my room. Had my papers checked, had my picture taken and I was onboard! I stopped at the Pepsi desk to pay for my week long soda. It cost about $28.00 for a free cup and all the Pepsi you wanted on the ship. The cup was well worth it as it was an insulated cup and doubled as my coffee mug because the NCL coffee cups were dinky. I didn't indulge in the 20% off of wine because I knew I wouldn't drink that much on my own and I really wanted to sample different wines with dinner during the week.
We weren't allowed in our cabins before 2PM, but around that time, I decided to just find my stateroom as I thought maybe I could at least dump my carry-on bag and um..freshen up. My room was open and what a beautiful room it was! Level 10 balcony stateroom 0035: Ok, the TV wasn't a flat screen, but who was going to spend time in the room to watch anything anyway? For one person, this room was more than large enough! Even a couple would feel somewhat comfortable there. Adding a third person would be a little tight but do-able, especially if it was a child. They always joke about the bathroom and shower on cruise ships but I have to say, this seemed just fine. The shower head went a little crazy that first day and I soaked the bathroom floor but once I got the hang of adjusting the shower curtain the right way (shower curtain on the INSIDE), then it was all just fine.
The steward that was to service my room for the week popped in and apologized that the room wasn't done yet but I reassured him that I wasn't expecting it to be done, I just wanted to see it and drop some stuff off (I had already availed myself of the bathroom).
Now that that was done, up to Level 11 - the Pool and buffet for a light lunch....and a cocktail. I ordered the special cocktail of the day so that I could get a souvenir "glass". Autogratuity included and I added an additional $1 tip, the drink came to $9.92. The bartender added an additional shot of rum just because. For lunch, there was a huge variety of foods to select from. Hot and cold, light and not so light. I had a salad and a piece of rosemary chicken. For a buffet, it was pretty good food! Speaking of meals, I made my reservation for Le Bistro for that evenings dinner. I had a bad experience at Cagney's on a previous NCL cruise, so I didn't bother to reserve for there, but I made a reservation for Il Adaggio's for the final night of cruising as well. While you don't ever need a reservation for the main dining rooms, it's highly recommended you make reservations for the specialty restaurants.
By this time, the Calypso band had started playing on the pool deck and the sail away party was beginning, so I relaxed, drank and enjoyed the view of leaving Miami. After the away party, I went back to my room to unpack, except that my suitcase still hadn't arrived yet (5PM). I waited for about an hour, then I took a walk down the hall, found my suitcase and brought it to my room myself. For one person, there were plenty of hangers in the closet and drawer space for a 4 day cruise. I wondered how couples would do, though. I did a quick wipe down of the surfaces with my Lysol wipes and found that my room was fairly clean - a nice surprise. Speaking of clean, there isn't a place on the ship that doesn't have those hand sanitizers. Use them!
I decided on a repeat of lunch for dinner and then made my way to the Casino where I won $300 on a slot machine and I played in a slot tournament where I did not win but did not lose any money except for the $15 to join. A word of caution to the uninitiated - if youre going to play the slots, its smarter to play them on the way OUT rather than on the way HOME.
I had a very early start the next day for the Dolphin Swim. I had to be down on the pier by 8:20AM. Monday morning we arrived on Grand Bahama Island. Coffee was available from 6AM on but breakfast wasn't served until 7AM. Since I didn't want to feel too full from the breakfast buffet that morning, I decided to just have coffee and a light breakfast of fruit, which there is plenty of!
Once off the ship, we assembled on the pier for the various activities available. I cannot recommend the dolphin swim enough. It was worth every single penny ($250) that I paid. A bus took the Dolphin Encounter and Dolphin Swim people out to Unexso's Dolphin Experience in Port Lucaya. From there, we were tendered out to the dolphin park where we were given fins, and for those less confident with their swimming abilities, there were life jackets available. We were in the water for about an hour with at least 20 minutes each with the dolphins. There were six people for each one dolphin. The trainers were excellent - personable, funny, knowledgeable. I gave a hefty tip ($10) to our trainer, I enjoyed it so much. We were each given a t-shirt that said "I was kissed by a dolphin".
The bathrooms at the place left MUCH to be desired - so much so that I chose to wait to get back to the ship.
Shopping on board was good except for the fact that when I picked up my duty free liquor on the last day before I left for the airport, I didn't notice that it wasn't in a duty free bag. You can bring a carry on bag and a duty free bag through customs.
When I arrived at the airport, I checked my luggage and proceeded to go through the security area where they promptly told me that I could NOT bring this bag through with my one bottle of liquor in it. Now I was stuck - what do you do with it? I found a box and put it into my carryon then checked my carry on bag in for an additional $35 - so much for duty free, huh? I'll be taking this up with NCL on Monday.
I should also mention that this was a Spring break week and we had our share of spring breakers on board but you really wouldnt have noticed, they were all well behaved or I was secluded from them!
When I cruise again next time, I will most definitely leave the day before again and stay in a hotel because just the fact that I could dress in weather appropriate clothing and feel pretty fresh and relaxed instead of feeling like I ran a long distance race to get to the ship and worrying about whether or not the airlines would mess up somehow. It was one less thing to worry about.
Also, I don't think I will use the Miami airport again. I found the staff ill prepared to help me in figuring out what options I had for my duty free bottle. I was about ready to smash it against the airport wall so I didn't have to pay extra for it, but thought better of it. Im still fuming over the fact that they gave me such a crappy bag and didn't label it as duty free. Will I cruise NCL again? Yes, but I will never buy duty free from them again if they don't give me some satisfaction from this fiasco.