Myself (Lisa) John and our boys Kyle(18), Brian(15), and Tyler 8.5) were on this trip.
Saturday, August 27th
Leaving NYC hours before the transit system is to be shut down.
The original departure time was changed from 4PM to 1PM due to the impending doom upon NYC by Hurricane Irene. We were told to arrive at the cruise port by 10AM. It took no time to get into the city, but once there we waited on a line of cars outside the cruise port for probably an hour. A Carnival ship was also receiving passengers and both the Jewel and the Carnival ship were still unloading passengers from the previous week's cruise. It was a taxi nightmare, but our spirits were high and we didn't mind.
Once we got to the front of the line of cars, we jumped out of the car (lovingly driven by nephew Bobby) grabbed our bags, threw them on the porter cart and went inside to get on line for check in. The line snaked and swirled all over, but it did move at a slow yet steady speed. We reached the check in counter in probably a little less than an hour, and all our papers were in order and we boarded right away.
Once on the ship we just kind of followed the crowd to the buffet and had lunch, then we walked around the outside decks a bit, checking out the ping pong tables and giant checkers and chess. At about 1:10 we pulled out of NY and watched the emptying city engulfed in fog slowly drift away. We didn't know what we'd be coming back to, but we were trying to be optimistic.
Shortly after departure, the announcement was made that the rooms were ready and we went down to check them out. Our rooms were actually bigger than I expected! It was the next to smallest type cabin (the smallest being an inside room) but NCL made great use of the space. There was a king sized bed (two twins and a bunk in the boys' cabin) small table, a desk, a closet and plenty of shelves to keep stuff on. We did not want for space at all. The bathroom was pretty small, but adequate, clean and stylish. We had a porthole window from which to watch hurricane Irene's waves lap at our window.
It was pretty bumpy the first day and night. We were going as fast as we could to get away from the storm, but the sea had already been churned up quite a bit. At the lifeboat drill around 3PM, we ended up in the Stardust Theater in the front of the ship. I'll never forget how those stage curtains were swaying back and forth!
For dinner, just John, Tyler and I were up to eating. We went to Azura, which is one of the main dining rooms, where we had lobster tails and red snapper. Tyler discovered that he likes both of those! The tails were small and likely previously frozen, but who cares? John asked for and got two, no problem.
The Stardust Theater probably holds around a thousand people, yet at the opening night show on Saturday, there were only around 30 of us there. Yep, most of the passengers were sick, including all three of our boys. John and I had taken Dramamine, as had the kids, but we were only slightly dizzy and they were actually nauseous. We left them watching TV in the cabin and went to the show, which was a little bit of all the acts that would be performing during the week. After the show we went back to the cabin and let Irene rock us to sleep.
Sunday, August 28th
Sunday morning the waves were still huge outside and we were still rockin' inside. Tyler was able to come with John and I for breakfast, so we hit the buffet. The food was really pretty good, and there were many choices. I loved the omelet station where you could tell the guy what you wanted in it and he'd make it right there for you. As we were looking for a seat in the very crowded buffet, I remembered a tip I read on the Cruise Critic message boards- if the buffet is full, go sit in Mama's Italian Kitchen. What a great tip! Hardly anyone was in there, and while a bit of a walk from the actual food stations, it was worth it to escape the crowd. We made that our "home base" for buffet meals for the week. Get your food, then head over to Mama's.
I really don't remember what activities were Sunday or Monday, or Thursday or Friday. Those days at sea all run into each other pretty easily. We participated in several trivia competitions (Brian and John won one) played ping-pong, bingo and other miscellaneous stuff like that. There was also a Lego robot building contest and a towel folding demonstration. Brian was able to join us among the non-nauseous on Monday morning in time for his birthday breakfast, and Kyle finally was able to leave his cabin Monday evening for dinner.
Monday, August 29th
Brian turned 15 on Monday, when we were supposed to be in Florida. (Irene knocked the private island out of our itinerary and things were moved around) He was disappointed to spend his day on the ship, but dealt with it well. All 3 boys walked in on the crew decorating their cabin for Brian's birthday (which I had ordered and paid for ahead of time) and thought that was pretty funny. He even got a card signed by the captain! There was a cake, but it has some kind of berry filling, so it wasn't a big hit, but I'm glad we were able to acknowledge Brian's birthday.
Tyler went into the kids' club, but was happy to come out about two hours later. He only went in one other time for about an hour. Brian never went to the teen club. Brian is very shy, and has anxiety about meeeting new people, fitting in, etc. The teens I did see around the ship seemed to be having a great time together.
For dinner we went to the Blue Lagoon, which is a small but "included" restaurant. Brian was able to get chicken wings (one of his favorite dishes) for his birthday dinner, and the rest of us were all able to get some comfort foods as well.
Tuesday, August 30th
We finally got to get off the ship! Before the trip I had looked up places to go in the area of the cruise port. I found what I hoped would be a nice little beach where we could hang out, rather than going to Coco beach, which is huge and tourist filled. It worked out great! The beach was at Jetty Park. It's a free beach (parking fee) which we got to by cab for just $10 for the 5 of us. Brian was thrilled the minute we got out of the cab because there were anoles around, just waiting for him to catch them. Word is there was also a snake, but I never saw it. The beach was beautiful and next to empty. The sand was very hard packed, which seemed strange, but was very easy to walk on, which was great. The waves were perfect. The temperature of the water was perfect. You could stand waaay out, which was awesome. We hung out in the water for a while, and unfortunately the sea took John's glasses. Good thing those were his spare ones! We had lunch at the snack bar, then John and I went to find a geocache while the boys looked for more lizards. We got back together and went in the water one last time, then showered off. Just as we were ready to call for a cab back to the ship, the sky opened up for a heck of a storm. The cab came in the middle of it, so we got soaked getting into and out of the cab, but it was worth it for such a nice day. We had to go through metal detectors before we got back on the ship, and had to run through huge puddles to get to the ramp. I don't know why Florida doesn't have nice covered gangways like New York does.
Wednesday, August 31st
We woke up early to find ourselves pulling into the harbor of Nassau. (John got up early most mornings to watch the sunrise) The water was such a beautiful aqua color! It wasn't long before we were allowed to go ashore. We had originally booked a sting ray snorkel encounter for myself and Brian and Tyler, but with the change in itinerary we arrived too late. We were disappointed, but life must go on, so we booked a city tour that included a visit to a small local zoo and garden. The city tour just made us sad. Apparently the Bahamas is a pretty poor country to begin with, but we were also seeing hurricane damage from Irene just days before we were there. Our tour guide/van driver, Mario was very informative with his running commentary and we learned a lot. We stopped at The Queens Staircase, which was hand cut out of the limestone by slaves back in the day. I'll have to find out more about it online as my information is a bit garbled. It was there that we found a geocache with the help of a local named Tony.
Next it was on to Ardastra Zoo and Gardens, where we had hoped to hand feed the Lorry Parrots, but the exhibit had been damaged by the hurricane. We did see lots of other birds and a few animals. Birds like peacocks and flamingos were just waling around everywhere. The boys had fun feeding berries to a black swan and watching the flamingos march in lines.
After the tour and zoo, we had Mario take us to Paradise Island where Atlantis is, so we could go to the public beach there. My sister-in-law Pat had told us we'd be able to find guys hawking jet ski rides there, and we did. That was the only thing Kyle was looking forward to on the trip, and he wasn't disappointed. He got his ride, and even took Tyler along for part of it. While they were doing that, Brian and I wandered over to Atlantis to find a place to change into our bathing suits. We had to walk through gardens between the villas to get to a bathroom. There were man-made streams there with small sharks and large starfish. Very cool! By the time we got back to the beach we were exhausted and sweating to death, and Kyle was done with his jet ski ride. We jumped right in the water to cool off. It was nice water, but it was more like a bay or sound than an ocean in terms of waves. The beautiful aqua color was very welcoming and relaxing.
We easily got a taxi right where we'd been dropped off earlier and went back to the cruise port. We bought some small trinkets in the market then got back on the ship.
Thursday, September 1st
Friday, September 2nd
As I said previously, the days at sea all run together in my mind! More trivia, John entered and did not win a Texas Hold 'em tournament, more card playing in the card room (John and Brian), novel reading and buffet eating.
Speaking of eating...
We ate all but one breakfast in the buffet. On Friday, John and I ate in the main dining room at Tsar's Palace. It was nice to have the service, but it was the same food as the buffet. The breakfast buffet was amazing, with nothing left out. There was ham, bacon, sausage and even turkey sausage. There was oatmeal, grits and cream of wheat. There was cold cereal. Eggs were scrambled, poached (even hollandaise sauce was available) fried, hard boiled and custom omelets. There were bagels, lots of different rolls and breads, pastries, muffins, you name it. Waffles, French toast and pancakes. Lots of fresh fruit. There was more, but I can't imagine what I missed. It was really great, and the French toast and the custom omelets were the best part.
We had lunch some days but not others, and always at the buffet. There were hot dishes, some typical American (sandwiches) but also an Indian section and an Asian section. The salad selections were plenty and it was fun to try new things!
For dinner we ate twice in Azura main dining room, twice in Tsar's main dining room, once in Blue Lagoon, once in Tapinyaki and once in Tangos.
The main dining room food was good but not gourmet, which is fine and what we expected. They had a nice variety of choices, some which stayed all week, and some which changed daily. Brian had french onion soup at least twice. I had two different kinds of steak, plus some fish and pasta. Tyler ate mostly chicken from the kids menu, but he did enjoy the lobster and red snapper the first night.
Tango's was just John and I. I had a delicious tortilla soup and chicken fajitas. John had lobster tacos. The food was good. The only thing I didn't like was that the nachos I ordered as an appetizer had cheese sauce (like Taco Bell) rather than melted cheddar on the chips. That sauce was on the lobster tacos as well.
Teppanyaki was all of us except Kyle, who would never eat such things. The place was like Bennihannas. The chef made fried rice with garlic, vegetables and steak, shrimp or chicken (or a combo) for each person. The food was great and the "show" was as well.
I did miss snacking while we were on the cruise. Occasionally we'd be near they Fyzz Lounge when they had small bags of popcorn, but otherwise there were no snacks. I'm guessing this is to keep crumbs at bay, as it's a very clean ship.
We absolutely loved comedian Andrew Kennedy. He was very funny talking about being half Columbian and half British, but also was making lots of cracks about the ship, the waves, etc. He made the act very personal on Sunday and again on Friday when he performed for the finale.
Then there was "Band on the Run" which was a lot of singing and dancing to hits of the 70's. Very enjoyable for people of a certain age, not sure about those younger than say 40. Fortunately we're over 40 so we really liked it!
Cirque de Bijou had lots of amazing acrobatics and dancing. A wonderful, high quality show.
The hypnotist show had some of us believing (me) and some of us not (everyone else) but was funny and enjoyable regardless.
The finale show was great, with a bunch of song and dance from Mama Mia, Andrew Kennedy and an absolutely hysterical and disgusting bit put on by the Cruise Director, Big Ken and some other crew members. It was called Fountains and consisted of them dressed in togas with pitchers of water which they proceeded to spit on each other (like fountains) to choreographed music. Way too funny.
Saturday, August 3rd
We had no problem getting off the ship. NCL has a great system where you pick up luggage tags the night before that correspond to a time. I chose purple for a 9:45 departure. Our bage were left in the hallway Friday night. Saturday morning we packed up the last of our things, had breakfast and waited in a nice lounge for them to announce passengers with purple tags could leave. We were quickly able to find our bags (in the purple section of customs, of course) then had to wait about a half an hour in line to go through customs.
We had a good time, but think cruising may not be for us. Our kids need outdoors to explore and the two days we were ashore were not enough for them. They were quite stir crazy and bored. The two older boys are very shy, so they were never going to go make friends with strangers or anything like that. Also, we don't really drink or dance, (not that there's anything wrong with those things, we're just not good at them!)so the bars and clubs were out. Bingo started at $40 (we did play once). None of us would ever do karaoke either. Well, John might, just to embarrass the rest of us! We did really enjoy the shows, the games (the not-so-newly wed game, Majority rules, numerous trivia contests and a photo scavenger hunt) the meals and the ports, but that's not enough to make us want to cruise again as a family. Would I go with my mom or friends? Sure! Or with John when we're empty nesters? Possibly.
Also, five days may be our vacation limit before we all start trying to kill each other. Seven days is just too much for our family.
On a scale of 1-10, I'd say this was a 7 or 8 for us. (that's pretty good considering the rocky start!)