I sailed on the Western Caribbean tour the week of Thanksgiving. This is my 7th cruise -â€" 2nd on NCL and I would give them a solid "B+". The holiday week probably changed the normal demographics of my fellow travelers somewhat. I met a lot of multi-generational families celebrating the holidays. The "children" ie mid 40's seemed to enjoy the atmosphere of the ship. The "parents" 60's + complained frequently about the lack of service and poor attention to detail. If you are a traveler who likes to slip the Matre D some cash to get preferential treatment and your idea of an excellent vacation is to be pampered by the staff then stop reading now because we have nothing in common and we probably won't like the same trips.
The overall condition of the ship was good -â€" The stateroom, towels and linins were clean. My steward did a good job keeping everything fresh. However the carpet on the stairs was worn at the place where everyone pivots to descend to the next level. The lights in my vanity stopped working for 3 days and most annoying to me - fellow travelers left drinks/plates of food around the pool deck and strong winds blew the trash all over. Wait staff routinely just stepped over the blowing cans and went about their business. Most of the deficiencies seemed to be esthetic and not functional. I had read previous reviews that getting on-board the ship in Tampa was a nightmare as they were new to this terminal. They seemed to have mostly worked out the bugs on embarkation-â€" We got through the rather long line in < 30 minutes. However I saw some older people struggling as you were required to first queue up in the hot sun to go through security and then once again inside to get your sea pass. They need some strategically placed chairs for these folks to sit on. I can not say the same for the debarkation process. It was a nightmare. I was in the last group to exit based on my 5 pm flight time. There was no organization to exit through customs. Porters had their own line and for a "tip" one could grab a porter and jump the rest of the line. People just followed the porters and then when they could not exit through the porter only customs checkpoint they just tried to merge with the other folks who had been patiently waiting in line for 30+ minutes. The well being and happy atmosphere quickly vanished as people cut the line and pushed their way toward the exit. Since I was on a bus and in no hurry I waited in the line and it took me nearly 45 minutes to get through customs.
In summary I recommend NCL to travelers where the expectation is the ship should be a pleasant vehicle for getting to the various ports of call. This is my personal view on cruising. If I can be off the ship exploring I will be. If the ship is supposed to be the end all destination of the vacation then I think people may be disappointed. Less
Norwegian Star Cruises to the Western Mediterranean
In Belize I did the cave tubing and rainforest trip. It was a long (1+ hr) bus ride to get through the city and to the venue. Not a whole lot to see on the way -â€“ but it did give you a flavor of the city and surrounding areas. The guides on all my organized tours were great -â€“except for this one. He was completely apathetic. Only one time did he even try to talk to the bus. When we got to the park he disappeared. This venue is really crowded and more directions on where to meet would have been nice. We finally convened -â€“ were split into groups of 8, got our hard hats, lifejackets and tubes and started our 30 min walk through the rainforest to the start of the tubing. The local guide who took us through was terrific. He told stories about local happenings, pointed out interesting flora and fauna and made everyone enjoy the downpour we were walking through. Once we reached the river we linked tubes -â€“ your feet under your neighbors arms and started in a line through the cave. As I mentioned before this is a VERY popular trip and the cave was full of groups. Our guide did a good job with spacing our group so we were not on top of another group and could hear his comments. The cave was interesting -â€“ there was a nice waterfall, and some cool rock formations. Once we exited the cave our guide allowed us to free float the last 30 or so minutes. I noticed some guides kept their groups linked together the entire time....that would not have been as much fun. My one regret is I had not brought money to tip the local guide I only hope that the monies we gave to the guide on the bus were shared. We had about 30 minutes after the trip to look around at local crafts and eat at a buffet (included). I spent about 30 minutes walking around Belize when we returned -â€“ the shops near the pier were pretty typical. I really can not comment on the city itself.
I had read there was a long bus ride -â€" but no one said 2 hrs 15 minutes....The bus was comfortable. There was a bathroom for emergencies only. The trip was long stretches of jungle followed by a village then back to jungle. A lot of people slept so local commentary was kept to the beginning and end of the trip. I had read other reviews about the sack lunch provided so I brought a snack. From what I saw the sandwich, nuts? and desert were palatable but I saw a lot of people wrapping them back up partially eaten. We had about 2 hours to spend at the ruins. Again we had a great guide who explained the history of the site, the use of the buildings, the culture of the inhabitants...etc...I had previously toured some ruins in Belize and this site was much more impressive. Some of the buildings had been partially reconstructed but not so much that it lost the ancient feel. There were several areas to view including the carved masks. There was plenty of time to roam around and focus on what was of interest. Our guide was very knowledgeable -â€" he mentioned the exhaustive training he was required to maintain to stay a licensed guide. I did use the bug spray at this venue. Then a quick restroom break and back on the bus for the return trip. We only had 45 minutes to look around the city before the ship left -â€" there were a lot of stores in the local area -â€" good mix of tee-shirt shops and more high end shopping.
I thoroughly enjoyed the ATV portion of the tour. People could choose to rent crocs and bandanas to handle the mud. Note two people slipped due to the fact that crocs and mud do not go together. Surprisingly we had 1.5 hrs to ride. We took two brief stops to look at a cave and a fresh water pool. The trails were "rough" and muddy by design which prevented us from comfortably exceeding 30 mph for long. Bugs were present -â€" so bring bug spray. They had a photographer taking pictures of us holding a baby alligator, riding the quads....After the tour we were given the hard sell to buy the pictures. We recommended they switch to selling digital....they then put us in taxi's to a private beach. We could stay at the beach as long as we wanted and they paid to get us back to the ship. The snorkeling was only so/so. You could go on your own or there was a guide. The guide did what he could -â€" diving down to show us a lobster and pointing out other interesting features -â€" but it just was not a great area for snorkeling and the current was very strong. The beach access to the water was rocky but they had a nice deck area and another area with beach chairs. Typical bar scene. 2 hr all you can drink special enticed several of my group. We chose to head back to the city an hour before departure and went to Margaretville for our free drink. Cozumel is a tourist destination -â€" there is plenty to do for everyone within walking distance of the pier.
I was slightly disappointed with the variety of shore excursions in Rotan. I want to "do" something -â€" not shop or sit on a beach. I chose the Jolly Roger Catamaran and Gambalia Park tour. We had a big group so they split us in half. Our half went first to the park. I had read other reviews so I was prepared for the $3 locker charge as they do not allow lose articles (bags, purses) into the park. I brought bug spray -â€" but the bugs were not bad that day. I was expecting to stroll along a jungle path and see monkeys and other wildlife in the trees. Instead we were shown an area with Birds in cages, a clearing with monkeys on perches (one could be placed on your shoulder if you wanted) and a building with mounted insects. Then we had 15 minutes to look around the area. I felt sorry for the local craftspeople trying to sell their goods as our entire bus queued up to buy food and no one even stopped to look at what they were selling. Our guide had a great personality and turned this from a boring stroll to a decent morning. The catamaran portion was pretty typical. Decent snorkeling, friendly guides and rum, rum and more rum on the way home. I did not get out and explore Rotan much on my return -â€" there were a few shops at the pier selling the normal tourist stuff but from my vantage point on the bus there did not appear to be a lot to see. I recommend the snorkeling but would skip the park and do the zip line or some other option.