Norwegian Spirit, 3/27/11 - 4/3/11
We're a family of four with 12 and 15-year-old children. This was our fifth cruise and our second on NCL. First time in New Orleans.
New Orleans: We arrived a day early, dropped our bags at the hotel and parked at Howard Ave garage (AirportParkingInc) for $76 for 8 days prepaid. The garage was barely used on a Saturday and we let ourselves in. We walked to Reginelli's Pizza on Poydras for some gumbo, muffalettas and calzones, and then went to the Butler vs. Florida game at the arena. Two blocks away from the garage is a streetcar pickup which took us to the French Quarter. After walking, shopping and sampling some food and drinks, we walked back to Embassy Suites. The boy and I wanted some more local food, so we walked to the Riverwalk and around Harrah's but settled on a small bar where we could sit outside and have some more gumbo and Abita.
Embarkation: We walked from Embassy Suites to the port. It should have been a short walk but instead of taking the escalator up to the Riverwalk and over, we walked down Convention Center Blvd. Unfortunately, we had to walk around the entire convention center and back to get to the port. The right way is to take Julia Street all the way and either go up the escalator or cross the streetcar tracks and then walk to the right. Once we finally arrived at 12:00pm, we were checked in quickly and on the ship by 12:20. Rooms were ready at 2pm and our bags arrived quickly.
The ship: Though the ship is old and small by today's standards, we really enjoyed it. It's nice to be able to walk end-to-end in just a couple minutes. It was very clean and except for some worn-out elevator buttons, was in good condition and all areas were kept very clean. Decks 7,8 and 12 were nice because we could walk from end to end. The bridge observation room accessed by the spiral staircase in the Galaxy was interesting and educational. The theater usually got pretty full during the nightly shows. The Blue Lagoon is in an unfortunate location in the middle of the promenade, so people are always walking by while you're eating. The seats are close together too.
Room: To fit our budget, we booked one inside room for the family. I chose room #6035, which was a double-sized room (over 200 sq. feet). It fit our family perfectly and we all had plenty of room. The shower was a nice size too. There was some noise from the stairs and restrooms above at night, but not enough to keep us awake. Our room stewards, Rodel and Arvin, were the best we've had. They provided great service, but more importantly we had several conversations with them about their families and anything else you could think of. They laughed a lot and even teased each other for our benefit!
Food: We ate in the main dining rooms every night but one. For the most part the food was good but not always great. My favorite items were the escargot and the seafood hot pot, and the crepes at Raffles were my wife's favorite. There was really only one salad choice (Caesar), and Raffles wasn't any better about having iceberg lettuce. Service was normally paced well (about 1 hour to 1.25 hours for dinner) but was slower a couple times. Raffles consistently had a great selection of food and the waits were not long. However, food temperature varied. My daughter is vegetarian and was able to find a couple options at nearly every venue. The kids visited Blue Lagoon about 15 times throughout the week! They also ate in the main dining room with other 'tween friends most nights with little resistance from the staff. The chocoholic buffet was well-presented and a lot of fun but most of the flavors were bland.
Pool: The pool is not terribly large, and during spring break the kids wanted to jump in, much to the chagrin of adults getting splashed. We always found chairs but I witnessed many people getting there later and having trouble finding one. The upper decks are very narrow and difficult to walk through past the pool chairs. On April Fools night, my son set our clock 3 hours ahead while I was asleep. I got up on our last sea day in a panic at "9am" and rushed to get a chair. They were still putting chairs out so I easily got a couple. Soon I looked at the pool clock and saw it was only 6am, but I stayed. Sitting out there for three hours gave me a new perspective on chair saving: my entire row of chairs was saved but unused from 6am-9am.
Ports: The itinerary and embarkation port was one of the major draws for me.
New Orleans: The 100+ mile cruise down the river let us see more of New Orleans and the Mississippi. And the nighttime return was even more brilliant with dozens of ships passing at all hours.
Costa Maya: Took the bus to Tropicante where I had reserved some loungers from Steve. He welcomed us and spoke to us for a while. Got a bucket of beer to stay and a bucket of beer to go, $10 each (they wrapped them up for me). Had some chips and salsa ($3) and some sodas as well. The snorkeling was not great but there were some fish out there. There are a couple of lanes where you can make it all the way out to the barrier rocks where the waves come crashing in. We ate a late lunch at 100% Agave behind the malecon and had a full authentic dinner for four with several drinks for $29! One note: There is a new shopping area outside the port by the taxi (not bus) stand. If you spend $20 you can get 4 vouchers to go to downtown, which would have saved us $10 if we would have gone there in the morning.
Belize: Booked cave tubing through cavetubing.bz ($50pp). Tender tickets were handed out at exactly 8am. I was in line at 7:45 and got on tender #3, but by then they weren't even collecting tickets anymore. Quickly found the .bz guys and after a short wait we were on our way. It's an hour drive on a highway and then a 20 minute drive (5 miles) on a very bumpy road. They have to slow town to nearly a stop to get over the giant potholes, dozens of them. Had a great tubing hike and trip and home-made lunch. One tip: the guides suggested we not bring our cameras so we got no pictures. Although there is some risk of getting it wet, we would have been fine bringing it. After our return we shopped a bit at the port and at the small market outside terminal #2. Drank some Belikin on land and bought some Belikin Premium to take home with me (more info in the beer section below).
Roatan: We reserved a private tour from Victor Bodden ($100). After walking out of the terminal and up and down the fairly steep hill, we saw all the private tours. Laura was our driver and we have a nice new minivan. First stop was Victor Bodden's house for the monkey experience ($5pp). What fun! The monkeys jumped on us and put on my hat and took our sunglasses. We were able to stay as long as we wanted, and took nearly an hour playing with them and some other animals. Next stop was South Shore Canopy ($40pp prepaid on PayPal). We got right in and zipped for about an hour. Next stop was Bananarama at West Bay. We got in free, changed our clothes there, bought a couple drinks and promptly headed left to the end of Tabyana beach to snorkel, ate some pastelitos from a beach vendor, and fed the iguanas on the rocks. We were able to put our clothes and towels on the sand for free. Last stop was West End / Half Moon Bay to a free beach resort. More snorkeling here off a small pier. Both beaches were unique and provided great snorkeling.
Cozumel: First we walked to Mega (Mexican Wal-Mart) to get some sunburn relief and candy. Next we took a taxi ($10) to the Money Bar / Dzul Ha. We immediately went into the water to snorkel. Close to the beach there was very little coral or fish. There was a reef not too far out, but the current was very strong. Before we knew it, we were a hundred feet down the way and found it nearly impossible to swim against the current. When we finally made it to shore we watched snorkelers on boats at the reef and they were drifting fast too. The Money Bar's food and drink were a little higher priced than we expected and we didn't want to swallow any more salt water so we left to go shopping. We walked a few blocks away from the malecon and found some $1 pork tacos, $1 beers, and shopping. It's nice that the Punta Langosta pier is so close so you can go back and forth from the ship several times if needed.
Debarkation: Self-debarkation was scheduled to begin at 8am but I saw people walking off at 7:15. We ate a quick breakfast and were off and out of customs by 8:00. Called the shuttle from the Howard Ave garage and were at our car before 8:30.
Beer: I like to try beers at every port so if you like beer, read on. I put a * beside the beers I enjoyed. New Orleans: Tin Roof Pale*, Crescent City Amber*, Abita Jockamo. Costa Maya: Montejo*, Victoria*. Belize: Belikin* and Belikin Premium*. The Diamonds International store at Terminal #4 was selling Belikin Premium for $7 for a 6-pack! Roatan: Salva Vida*, Imperial*, Barena, Export.
Thanks to NCL for a great trip! Questions? Ask away.