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Great Family Vacation
Panama Canal & Central America
Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
This was our second family cruise. There were seven of us (grandparents, parents and 3 kids aged 13, 11 and 8). Previously we had sailed to the Western Caribbean on the coincidentally named, and similar sized, Norwegian Jewel. We booked connecting superior balcony cabins directly through Royal Caribbean. We booked 8 months out but periodically checked the website for price changes and were able to take advantage of a sale to get our price lowered. We booked this cruise because the ports were ones we wanted to go to and it was over our kids spring break.
We booked the superior balcony since it had a little more space. With 4 in the cabin it was very tight but manageable. They are creative in having hidden storage spots all over and we used every one to put clothes in. We found the beds very comfortable, even the sofa bed and the bed that hung from the ceiling. The cabin was quiet, we rarely heard anything from outside. The balcony was small with a table and two chairs More
but adequate and a nice place to sit. The bathroom was smaller than on the NCL ship but was probably average size. Our attendants were very good and we got to know the main one a little bit. We loved the towel animals she made for us. She was very helpful and the room was always well looked after despite how many of us there were. The water in the room scared us some as it often was dark brown when it first came out. Just outside the Windjammer by the ping pong tables there was a water and coffee station that always open and so we got water from there.
The food was generally very good. We preferred the lunch and dinner at the main dining room on Royal Caribbean, but preferred breakfast, the buffet and alternative restaurants on NCL. We had traditional seating for dinner at 6pm. We liked getting to know the staff and by the end they got to know our preferences. They were kind with the kids and joked around. Our waiter was honest with us and would occasionally tell us what not to order. We had no disappointing meals and ate at the main dining room every night. We also generally ate at the main dining room for other meals on sea days. The food was excellent and meals were generally quick. Lunch particularly had a salad station where you chose the ingredients and they made it for you. The quality of the lunch menu at times I felt surpassed dinner, and it varied every day. In particular the steak sandwiches were extremely good. The Windjammer was usually busy but easy to navigate. We sometimes had trouble finding seats but the food was OK with lots of choices. Our only real complaint was that the coffee machines were often empty at breakfast. We did like the afternoon snacks which sometimes had hard ice cream sundaes and always had lemonade and ice tea. The Seaview Cafe was OK as well as a choice for a quick bite. We only did room service once, to get a pizza at 10:00 for a child who was not hungry at supper. It was very quick and looked good. We also loved the coffee bar with its complimentary desserts around the clock. The kids often went for a cookie.
The ship was well looked after with lots to do. We did the climbing wall and mini golf multiple times. We were mostly in the main pool (with the age of our kids the adult pool and kids pool were not practical). It was good. There was some saving of chairs by the pool but we usually found some. We found the band by the pool was too loud and were not really that good. There were lots of games and demonstrations by the pool that we sometimes joined in. We did not use the spa (other than a tour of it on the first day) but they had mini massages by the pool that my wife made use of. There were lots of other quiet nooks around the ship.
The kids and teen programs were OK. We preferred NCL but this was partially because there were not lots of kids on the cruise. We thought with spring break there would be more but with the length of the cruise I guess not. My daughter made several good friends at Fuel (teen club) and we saw her less and less as the cruise went on. Often events were cancelled because of how few teens there were but she did have a blast and liked the leader. The kids club was well run and organized. We felt our boys were in good hands there and they did a lot of activities and they also made good friends.
The evening shows varied from OK to excellent. Unfortunately there were more OK than excellent (the magician was our favourite). I know it is hard to find quality acts for 11 nights. Many of the shows were aimed at seniors (which was the largest demographic). We found you had to arrive early to get a seat.
All in all it was a great cruise. We liked the longer itinerary (we are from North Western Canada -we had to drive 4 hours to the airport on Thursday night and then flew all day Friday and half of Saturday to get to Fort Lauderdale - so short cruises do not make sense). I would have trouble choosing between NCL and Royal Caribbean as we loved both of the Jewels we have sailed on. The staff was excellent, we met many friendly people and enjoyed ourselves. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
There were seven of us together on this cruise (grandparents, parents, and 3 kids aged 13, 11, 8). We looked at many excursions for Aruba but in the end decided we would just find our way to the beach since the kids wanted to parasail. Upon leaving the port area we tried to catch a taxi but it was not a lot more to take a private tour that ended up at Eagle Beach. It was $20 for adults and $10 for kids. We went to a rock formation (very worthwhile -incredible view) as well as to the lighthouse and chapel (OK)and then a drive. After about 2 hours we were dropped off for 2 hours at Eagle Beach. We were right by a booth that sold parasailing for $60 each and came with lounge chairs they set up for us by the water. 4 of us went 2 at a time. We were shuttled by boat over to Palm Beach and had a really great ride for about 10 minutes each before being shuttled back to Eagle Beach (the quieter of the two). The water was so clear and warm at Eagle Beach. The only thing was there was not much in the way of ammenities at Eagle Beach (bathrooms were in the hotels and were for guests only). The driver came back promptly to take us back to the centre of Oranjestad where we found some lunch and looked around town. There were two flea market style shopping areas near the port that were worth looking at.
We booked a private tour guide for the 7 of us through Lee Miles. We emailed each other a few times to get the tour just right. Our guide and driver were very good and took us exactly where we wanted. Ronaldo was our guide and he spoke great English and knew the city well. He was very friendly and helpful. We got a longer tour than any other we saw offered and really enjoyed it. How often do you get to this beautiful city - why rush? We spent a long time at the fort including through the underground tunnels (which most tours seemed to be skipping or at most doing one tunnel- we were the only ones down there). Then we shopped at the dungeons, went to the monastary (incredible views -do not miss), took almost two hours in the beautiful old city on a walking tour that included the gold museum, more shopping and the sobering Inquisition Palace, we then went for lunch at a nice restaurant having a typical meal of fish, coconut rice and plantains. We finished off at the shopping area where Lee Miles has his emerald shop (where we paid), and a short drive around the ultra modern new city. Cartagena is worth the trip, although I would find doing it without a guide intimidating. It was extremely hot and humid (we really felt it in the Old City) but the vans air conditioning worked great.
Booked a tour through My Friend Mario to the Canal, Embera Indian village and waterfall. Unfortunately the waterfall was cancelled because of low water levels. Our guide was from there but had lived in the States for several decades and spoke great English. We went to the locks first and found them very interesting. Since explanations were given in the viewing areas, we were sent off individually and just asked to return to the bus in about 1/2 hour. We also drove around the old canal zone and saw the construction for the new locks. Then we headed to the river and canoed out for about 1/2 an hour to the village. We were welcomed, given explanations on their culture, shown dances (and invited to participate), then fed lunch of fish and plantains in a big banana leaf. We then had some time to walk around the village and shop for handicrafts. The trip on the canoe back was a little rougher and left us drenched and refreshed. While the tour was good we found at times we were confused as to where we were supposed to go, what time to be back at places and what was coming next. We also only learned of the waterfall being cancelled from other guests not the guide, although he had warned us it was possible first thing when we got on the bus. On the plus side, we found it interesting, loved the locks and were provided plenty of drinks (water, beer, coke and squirt - a carbonated grapefruit drink). After the tour we shopped a little around the port. Note that several of the ship crew warned us against just wandering around Colon as the crime rate is extremely high. Also, Mario emailed us a warning that other tours may be outside the ship but before our rendezvous spot claiming to represent him - we did find this but knew to ignore them.
Booked two tours through Captain Marvin. The tendering process was very slow and despite an early tender we barely made it. We did two stops - snorkeling and sting ray city. We changed the order on the basis that no other boat was snorkeling first, I appreciated that attention to details. The snorkeling was beautiful in clear seas and we saw lots of fish. Sting Ray city was lots of fun. We were allowed to help ourselves to fruit punch and loved it. After this we were met by a driver who took us around the west end of the island. Our party were the only one who booked the island tour add on and so we had the bus to ourselves. We were shown around with short stops at "Hell", a rum store (with lots of samples of rum and rum cakes), and a longer tour of the turtle farm. After the tour we shopped in Georgetown for an hour or two - very expensive but nice.
Best excursion ever! The only one we booked through Royal Caribbean. We did easy white water rafting with a tour of a tropical garden. The drive to the river took a bit over an hour and half but was interesting. We went to the operation centre to get changed, use the facilities and get drinks. Their facilies were clean and very impressive. We were allowed to store our stuff in the bus as it was attended by the driver. Then we went to the river to meet our guide. We had 7 of us (aged 8 - 66)plus our guide in the raft. We were given lots of clear instructions and spent a few minutes practicing. Then we spent an hour and a half going down the river. We were quickly drenched and it was tons of fun but still safe. We only needed to paddle about 5% of the time but when we did the instructions of what to do at that moment was very clear. During some of the quieter sections were given the chance to jump off the raft and swim in the water. Our guide often pointed out the vegetation on the banks as well as bird life. After we had a Costa Rican lunch at the operation centre (in a nice garden near an active volcano!) and a chance to buy pictures of our adventure. The gardens were a bit of a drive but well worth it. We did not see any sloths but lots of interesting plants. Highly recommend this excursion.