This review is geared towards those who want to know what to expect, how to plan, are cruising on a budget, and those that want to do and see the not-so-touristy things in the ports we visited.
Feb. 12: Embarkation
My husband, Brad, and I arrived around 11:30 a.m. and there was already a lot of traffic in the port area. Two other cruises were leaving that day, Norwegian Start went out from the 2nd terminal, I believe, we had to go around the corner before taking a right to get dropped off.
We were pleasantly surprised with how quickly this went and how helpful the staff was at the counter. We had no idea what was going on, but the people organizing the lines explained what documents you needed to have out and pointed people towards open agents. Once at the counter, the agents were happy to answer questions and explain the process.
We only waited in line to get on the ship for about 20 minutes (you get your picture taken before you get on the ship). Once on board we were able to get into our rooms by 12:30 and had luggage by 2:00.
*One tip -- bring your own over the counter meds. The ship could only give out Tylenol or Dramamine without you seeing the ship's doctor, which cost $105. My husband got sick from the Dramamine (we think, or else he ate something bad) and just needed some Imodium, but was not able to get it. Luckily I went to the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet and a generous fellow passenger was able to provide some!
We had dinner at Versailles the first night; there was a big line and we had to wait, but we were given a buzzer and a complimentary drink pass to got wait at the lounge until it went off -- this was the norm for this restaurant if they were busy, so very nice!
Feb. 13: at Sea
It was unusually cold this day (Tampa was 30*F when we left!), so not much sunbathing as I had hoped. I joined the Pub Hop and had a great time - $25 for 5 drinks was a MUCH cheaper way to drink. The drinks were strong, but also VERY sugary -- the last one was a beer, which I appreciated but some did not. The fantastic staff "Bloody Mary" and "DJ Orlando" led some hilarious games along the way.
Being on my first cruise, and my husband being sick for this day, I was a bit lost and didn't really know what to do! I went to the meet and great, which was a great way to meet people, and some staff members. (I signed up for the bridge tour which the Captain offered at the meeting and greet -- we went on the last "at sea" day and it was very cool!) I got a workout in at the gym -- running on a treadmill on a ship with 7' swells takes a special level of concentration!! Otherwise I just kind of wandered around and explored the ship; luckily after getting the meds from a fellow cruiser my husband was feeling better and we had a bit more fun that night.
Feb. 14: Roatan, Honduras
This was our favorite day -- this island is beautiful and you have an amazing view of it from the dock. We paid for the SNUBA excursion through the ship and absolutely loved it. It is basically shallow water diving. We had a regulator with a 20' air hose attached to a tank that was floating on a raft above us. Our guide had scuba gear on and led us around the reef. We saw a variety of tropical fish, and I was able to see a sting ray right when we got down, but my husband missed it. A friend of ours had the Go Pro camera with the water proof camera case and took video of our dive.
After the dive we were able to just relax on the beach at the park we were at (other cruisers were there for the zip line adventure and snorkeling). There was a bar with a grill, we had a hot dog ($6 with fries) and a Port Royal ($4 each). Port Royal is a local beer, very good! We made it a goal to try the local beer in every country!
We had planned to have Valentine's Day dinner at La Bistro, but they upped the price per person to $50 each. We declined and went to Aqua and had a great meal -- splurged on buying a bottle of wine. I think we paid $24 for the wine and we were allowed to bring it back to our room, and then brought it to dinner later in the week.
Feb. 15: Belize
We did the Lamania ruins tour. This starts with about an hour bus ride from the port to a little restaurant on the water near Carmelita. If you do this tour, use the bathroom and apply sunscreen here before getting on the boats. You will be on the boat for about 45 minutes, but it is a very cool ride -- they do a little cruise around to point out wild life (they had a "spotter" boat out in front), we saw a baby alligator, variety of birds, iguanas, and spider monkeys. When you arrived at the park where the ruins are, they have you put on bug spray (bring your own -- they sell it for $8 a bottle if you forget) and use the restroom before heading out on the trail.
I would highly suggest wearing tennis shoes or hiking boots, there were people there in wedges or flip flops and were uncomfortable. The trail is not very difficult, but it is a longer walk with tree roots and rocks throughout. Also, if you want to climb the huge temple (33 meters), you will want good stable footwear as the steps are very steep. We did climb the temple and the view from the top is AMAZING -- if you are able, I highly suggest it. If you do not do well with heights, do not climb it as it is a very steep and tuff climb down -- getting to the top is considerably less scary than getting down! There is a rope on the steepest part of the stairs that you can hold onto, but it is frayed and if someone is "stuck" it can hold up the whole line if you need to hold onto it.
When back at the park (after the boat ride, before the bus ride to port) we were fed a wonderful meal of a couple variations of rice, beans, coleslaw, chicken, and desert. We tried the local beer, the only beer brewed in Belize, Belikin http://www.thebeerofbelize.com/, there are three kinds, we had the porter and it was delicious. Our only complaint about this excursion was that we had minimal time at the ruins -- we heard our guide yelling that we were moving out as we were at the top of the temple . . . had to scramble down without much time to enjoy the view! We got back to Belize with enough time to catch one of the last tenders to the boat, no shopping time.
I think this is the day we saw the Second City perform -- they were pretty good. Their improve was the best!
Feb. 16: Costa Maya
This was my second favorite day because it was all about relaxing! When you get off the ship you can stay and hang out in the tourist village, there is a pool and a band and multiple shops and bars. This was built about 5 years ago after a hurricane wiped out the town. We chose to walk out of the village, past the gates and into town to the first cab stand we saw. We got a ride for $3 per person into Mahahual -- about 5 minutes away. Word of warning -- there are about 20 people in the tourist village that work for different beach clubs in the area that will try to get you to spend your money with them, paying ~$30 per person (plus cab fare, some of which I hear spend $16 one way) to go to their beach where you are guaranteed a chair, and have open bar/food. They are very persistent and the price will drop as you walk away -- we had them down to $20 without even trying, just kept walking!
We decided to go on our own as I had read some reviews. We asked the cab driver to take us to Tropicante. This is a restaurant/bar across from the beach -- if you go to the beach in front of the bar (across the road) and ask for a table/chair, they are happy to provide so long as you buy drinks from the. Our server was working the whole beach and he did a fantastic job -- probably the best service I've ever had anywhere in the states!! He was keeping about 30+ people fed and hydrated! We got a bucket of beer -- 5 for $10 -- the local was Montejo, very good. We also ordered the shrimp ceviche (~$8) -- I was told it is boiled first then cooled and the lime juice added, it was superb!!
For a late lunch we went to 100% Agave which was only a block away, look for the big liquor bottles on the outside. If you are looking for an up-to-code traditional restaurant, this place is not for you! Sand floors and thatch roof, resident cat, etc., but the food was to die for and plentiful! They brought out tall shot glasses of tequila with grapefruit juice and salsa and chips, complimentary. I had a chicken/veggies dish (seemed like fajitas) and my husband had the fish tacos -- he said they were the best he's ever had, tasted like the fish was caught that day. The menu items are listed in pesos, our bill after a margarita and two huge plates of food was around $20.
We went and saw the Angels show -- a man and woman that did acrobatics on the ground and in the air. It was phenomenal, I suggest catching this one!
Feb. 17: Cozumel
This day we did some shopping and not much else. We didn't want to pay for a beach club, and I wasn't able to find any other places online that were free. Might want to ask the crew where to go, maybe they would have a suggestion. There is a lot of shopping here, I would suggest going off the main street to find some more unique shops or you will see all the same stuff.
We did come across an older woman from our ship who had tripped on the curb (roads/sidewalks are uneven at best). She had a considerable gash on her shin and was bleeding a lot -- we stopped to help but weren't able to do much more than use some tissue we had to help her try to wipe off the blood, and I used some extra water we had to wash out the wound. The local street vendors got her a chair and called the "Americanos" :) -- there were very nice about it, but no one really had anything to help in the form of medical supplies. An ambulance responded (the woman was adamant that she was fine, but she was on a blood thinner, the gash was deep and would not stop bleeding, and she was maybe 100 lbs soaking wet), and the woman was told that it would take her back to the ship at no charge -- she agreed so that she could get it bandaged. Next time I plan to have a small first aid kit with me!
This is the evening we had dinner at La Bistro. We tried the escargot and it was delicious -- but it was literally floating in butter and covered in cheese, so hard not to be good! I had duck and my husband had a seafood dish in a pastry -- lots of lobster in it, he said it was very good.
Feb. 18: at sea, last day
We went and saw the crew talent show -- ended with "Fountains", which was hilarious! Later that night we went to Elements, which is a must see. It ties in the acrobatics of the Angels performers, the dancers, magician, and everything -- fantastic! There was a bit of a cheesy ending -- think Dirty Dancing end scene with the whole crew . . . but that was short and it was a nice way to give an applause for your crew!
Feb. 19: disembarkation
We chose to carry our own stuff off versus pick it up in the warehouse and were very glad we did this -- we were given priority to get off the boat first, went right through customs without a problem, and to a cab stand on the sidewalk where you come out. We took Super Shuttle to the airport -- there were four of us in our group so it cost us $7 pp (I think), and they dropped us all at our respective terminals.
We had breakfast out by the pool each day -- there is a buffet and it is CONSIDERABLY quieter and less stressful/chaotic as the main dining area inside. Inside buffet was loud and crowded almost all the time. The food inside was average buffet food, and there was a great selection, I just couldn't handle the crowds and noise early in the morning! The pool area was much more enjoyable -- there was an omelet/egg station and other breakfast basics in that area. They also had a BBQ here for lunch which was very good.
I thought the beds were very comfortable and slept like a log! My husband had pillow issues, however, so if you need a certain pillow to sleep, might want to bring one.
They gym was sufficient, and was usually fairly busy in the morning. Many of the treadmills were not working, but I never had a problem finding an open one. There were classes you could participate in, but they were about $12 each.
We never got in the pool -- it was small and crowded, same with the hot tubs in the main areas during the day. We found an empty one on the front of the boat (deck 13?) that was empty in the evening, as were a couple in the main area. The pool area was fun to hang out at though -- live music or games much of the day hours.
Great over all trip!! The food and the staff were terrific -- the service was amazing! We tipped our steward on the last day as we were consistently amazed at how fast they cleaned and replenished our cabin. Same in the dining areas -- tables did not sit empty with food on them for long! Everyone was friendly and went out of their way to make sure you were enjoying your trip.
Here is a link to a video my friend made - his name is Geno Mallo, a very amazing editor - this would make a great commercial for Norwegian so I want to make sure he gets credit! http://vimeo.com/37350134