I, like so many folks, had my Eastern Caribbean cruise cancelled by Irma. I was a bit disappointed, because I was really looking forward to going back to St. Thomas. NCL refunded me and gave me a 50% (of the total cost of my cruise) ... Read More
I, like so many folks, had my Eastern Caribbean cruise cancelled by Irma. I was a bit disappointed, because I was really looking forward to going back to St. Thomas. NCL refunded me and gave me a 50% (of the total cost of my cruise) credit.
I had an itch to go cruising, so I stalked their website until I saw a good sale for the Norwegian Escape traveling out of Miami on a Western Caribbean itinerary. I booked this cruise just one week prior to its sailing and I got an amazing deal that I just couldn't pass up.
Ports - Honduras, Belize (fake), Costa Maya and Cozumel. I didn't learn until I began meeting folks onboard that this sailing originally had an Eastern Caribbean itinerary. However, because of Irma's damage to many of those islands, NCL changed it to Western.
Embarkation and Disembarkation -
Embarkation: I took an early flight into Miami and did a B-line to the ship. They had just begun allowing folks to check-in when I arrived around 11 AM. The crowd was growing by the minute. While I wasn't due to check-in for a few hours, I hopped in line anyways. Embarkation took about an hour from curb to ship. Not bad for NCL, since they really suck at Embarkation and Disembarkation.
Disembarkation: I had an earlier flight leaving Miami (11:59 AM) when we returned, and I was a little concerned about getting to the airport on time, so I opted to carry my own baggage off. I was in line to get off the ship at approximately 7 AM. At that hour, I want to say I was maybe the 20th person in line. I wasn't the only one with a before noon flight. We were set to arrive and disembark at 8 AM, but they let us get off at 7:40-7:45. I flew through Customs and out onto the curb where I hoped into a $27 cab straight for the airport. Since there was no traffic (Saturday morning), I got to the airport in less than 15 minutes. Had I known this would have happened, I would have booked an earlier flight.
But back to my disembarkation experience: Unfortunately, I found myself behind this family that allowed their inconsiderate sons to play Air Hockey at 7 AM. The noise was so loud you could hear them in the Atrium, which is located a level lower. The noise was so loud, it gave me a migraine once I got in line. There were elderly people in line in wheelchairs, and you could tell by the grimaces on their faces the noise hurt their ears and hearing aids. These kid's parents didn't care. They seemed asleep at the wheel when it came to parenting or discipling their three boys. The derelict mother actually joined them in a few games. I took one for the team and asked to play when they finished a game, and I just snatched one of the pucks, preventing them from further audio carnage. I got so many high-fives and quiet thank you's as we disembarked. To whoever that family was: Shame on you!!! To NCL: Please shut down those games during disembarkation, so people like me don't have to be confrontational to rude and inconsiderate people.
My room (9844) - I had a balcony on the 9th floor. I've done a few NCL cruises by this time, so this room is pretty standard. Its not the larger balcony rooms, but I didn't need large since it was just me. What I did notice was I didn't get the breeze I normally get with balconies on higher floors when we were at sea. I like to open my balcony door at night and hear the waves crash and feel the wind on my face. That experience was minimal to non-existent with this room. I think it was part the fact that I was on a lower level and part that we were going through the Gulf which was very calm with waves lower than 1 ft in height.
The Ship - I really liked this ship. Like most NCL ships, it had something for everyone. I loved that there's an area (H20) where children are not allowed. Even though this sailing occurred right after Irma and during the beginning of the school year, I was SHOCKED at the number of children on the boat. It wasn't a lot to where I felt suffocated, but it was more than I was expecting. Way more. Surprised at how many folks snatched their kids out of the first few weeks of school. This ship has 3 slides - one for those who aren't that adventurous, one for those who want to squeal like a child and one for the insane. The latter is a straight drop and ends in like 5 seconds. Let's just say I stayed sane and enjoyed the other two slides immensely. It brought out my inner child. I don't believe our cruise was fully booked, because I never had a problem getting a sunbathing chair near the pool on any day, to include sea days. There were 2 pools. The salt water pool can only have adults in it during the day. Kids can come in at 6 PM. I really enjoyed this. I mostly stayed on the pool deck when I was on the boat, if I weren't eating or at a show.
Dining - I mostly ate breakfast at the Garden Cafe (buffet), lunch at O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill, and dinner at either Savor or Taste (main dining rooms). For the first four or five nights, I ate dinner at Savor and I found the customer service lacking. I was most times a party of one and they seemed to always forget me. I'd have my food sitting over in the corner, covered getting cold, while I waited for someone to bring it to me. The one time on the final night when I went to Taste, I didn't have any of those problems. Everything was so prompt, I didn't know how quite to handle it. Everyone was so nice. Not to say the folks over at Savor weren't nice, but it was a completely polar experience. Made me wish I had gone to Taste the previous nights. The main dining rooms all have the same menu, so it really doesn't matter which one you go to when it comes to food options. I never explored any of the speciality dining options, which come at an added cost and I never went to the Manhattan Room (complimentary dining), which has a band every night. I went to the Manhattan Room on the Breakaway, the Escape's smaller fraternal twin, and wasn't impressed by it, so I didn't feel the need to visit it on this cruise.
Entertainment - I must say...Andre, the Cruise Director and his team did an amazing job. I typically go into port during port days, do an excursion, go eat dinner and pass out in my room from pure exhaustion. During sea days, I sunbath all day and eat. That's it. I don't gamble and I always felt like the ship's entertainment wouldn't be... dare I say it?... not entertaining! So, I'd never go, never check anything out. But for my sailing on the Escape, boy was I wrong and I believe that's largely due to Andre, Dave and their team. I laughed and screamed and cried and looked forward to whatever audience included game, show or skit they'd do in the Atrium. They really did a good job. Their entertainment sets aside, there were quite a few good singers and bands on the boat. There was a woman and a two piece band that played poolside called A Minor Trio. They mostly played Caribbean or Caribbean themed music. Now, the lead singer was this woman with a beautiful voice. She's one of those cruise ship singers you look at and go: Why aren't you a recording artist? Her voice was insane. There was another 5-piece band called Groove Addiction from St. Lucia with a guitar player from Colombia with a female lead singer, played most nights in the Atrium. The band was amazing... I mean AMAZING, but the lead female singer? She sucked. Majorly. No matter what she sang, she sounded like a wounded, dying animal. There would be times I would listen to them and try to cancel her voice out in my head, and just hear the band, but that was impossible. The guitar players, the young guy from St. Lucia who played bass and the Colombian guy on electric, should be on the road with some A-list artist like Santana or Rihanna, because they're just that good. I mostly stayed in the Atrium before and after dinner, so whatever was going on there, I partook in. In addition, I saw the After Midnight: Broadway's Cotton Club Musical, an all black cast production. I didn't see the original Broadway production. I really enjoyed it.
Solo Travelers - Dave, the Assistant Cruise Director, managed the Solo Travelers group during this cruise and he SUCKED MAJORLY. Great guy. Funny. Wildly popular. But his attitude about this group impeded him from making it great. He believes (and these are his exact words) that the Solo Traveler's Group is a "babysitting job." I felt insulted. Like... are you freaking kidding me? If anyone doesn't need to be babysat, its solo travelers! We are independent people, hence why we can travel alone. His attitude about this group was such a huge hindrance that I never even bothered meeting up with the group again after I attended the meet-up on the second night and I heard him say that. I was done. I hear from folks who were on the ship the week prior that the guy who was doing it the 9/16 sailing was amazing. I can't remember his name. If I could tell NCL anything, it would be: This group should be fun and led by someone who gets solo travelers, someone who wants to create memorable experiences among a group of unique people who likely share a lot in common.
Honduras was insanely beautiful. I went to snorkel and with it having the second largest reef in the world only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, I had an AMAZING time. I did the Jolly Roger in Roatan – Catamaran Sailing & Snorkeling excursion, which I booked through the ship, and I can't say enough good things about it. The actual excursion was great! The food was blah. Chicken good, but rice and sides sucked. The sail was nice. Slow and since it was hot it was kind of miserable on the lower deck, but the actual snorkeling? It just doesn't get any better! I can't say enough how amazing it was.
Belize was super fake. Fake island. Fake experience. Felt like we were dropped off at some low-end amusement park. Took my snorkeling gear with me with hopes that I could snorkel from the beach. Nope. Not a chance. As soon as I grabbed a beachside chair, the island's workers put up a purple flag that warned against jellyfish. As we walked the damn near mile trek from the ship to the island, I could see them in the water. I think I counted a dozen or so. While they were beautiful to look at it, I didn't trust getting in the water and then I spoke to a few folks who had gone in before the flag went up and they said the water was murky and there was nothing really to see. Bummer. So, then I tried to parasail. The woman manning the list and booth told me at 10 AM, she couldn't tell me about the 2 PM sail until the Captain returned. She told me to come back 2-3 hours later. It was so hot the day we arrived, I knew I wouldn't just hang around that long, especially after I saw the island's one small pool was full to capacity. So with that, I took my happy butt back on the boat and enjoyed the boat's pool. Before going back, I tried my hand at some shopping to feed their economy, since we were told actual Belizians "owned" the shops, but they were so over priced it was insane and I actually felt disrespected. I had one guy quote me $675 for a wooden mask. $675!! For a mask that should have cost no more than $100, he finally came down to $390 and when that didn't work he began with guilt trips on how he needed to pay his shop's rent. Unbelievable! Yeah, to say I didn't enjoy this port is an understatement.
Costa Maya and Cozumel - Been there, done that.
In Costa Maya, I walked by all the mostly Made in China vendors and took a $3 cab to the public beach to get $25 massages. The guy who wrangles folks to get massages inflated the price to include a $5 tip. He does the same thing for the food he sells from the restaurant directly across the street when he talks you into sitting in one of their chairs. He automatically included a 20% tip with the price. Beware of him. Nice man, but a total hustler. I ordered guacamole and it sucked. Drinks were $17 and the guacamole $10. I talked him down to $12 per drink and $9 for the guacamole.When another cruiser and I got the bill it was $37 when it should have been $31. I don't mind paying folks, but when I know they're overcharging me, I resent it. There's no way in the world a local would be charged those prices.
In Cozumel I did the Starfish Sanctuary and Snorkeling excursion through the Ship. Had a great time! Great sail. Beautiful breeze. Gorgeous water. Decent snorkeling. It wasn't fair, because the whole time I was, of course, comparing it to my experience in Honduras, which was unparalleled. But honestly, it wasn't bad. The water was very choppy due to the wind, but I still had a good time. Great drinks. I walked off the boat a very happy person. Read Less