Western Caribbean: HONDURAS (Roatan); BELIZE (NCL’s Private Island: Harvest Caye); MEXICO (Costa Maya and Cozumel)
January 14 – 21, 2018
Mid-Ship Balcony Cabin
Me (Mark): male, 60 (but I feel like I’m 42!). Wearing shorts and an obvious compression stocking [right leg, due to a scar from a motor vehicle incident last year], but completely ambulatory.
My Long-Term Partner (Bill): male, a little older than me.
We’d done three Carnival cruises every couple of years, 16 - 20 years ago.
We booked this NCL cruise through a casino players’ reward system. Caesars paid for the basic cruise costs; we paid for our flights, excursions and incidentals.
We live in Michigan, USA.
We flew from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale and bought NCL’s transfers to/from Miami.
I don’t think I can write a day-by-day trip report. Instead, I’ll try to break this review down into sensible sub-topics. Please forgive me if that makes it seem disjointed or if this gets long!
TRANSFERS / EMBARKATION
Upon landing at FLL, we found it easy to follow the signs through the long walk to baggage claim, where – as promised – an easily-identifiable NCL rep was waiting for us. We didn’t have to claim or tote our luggage. But we did have to wait around a frustrating amount of time for a bus to take us to Miami. Oh, well. We’d saved a bunch of money by flying to FLL instead of MIA (partly because Mr. Bill procrastinated on booking the flights) and NCL’s transfers were very reasonably priced. We were eager to get to the ship, but, all in all, it worked out just fine.
The ride was – what? – about 35 minutes. Comfortable bus, very friendly driver. Boring expressway scenery.
Upon arrival at the Port of Miami, things went completely smoothly. The line to have our documents checked was short, it only took a minute to fill out the health history questionnaire, the line to present a credit card and get our room keys was short (and they also had “Casino Player” cards printed out and waiting for us), the line to actually board the ship was short. And ALL the port and NCL staff were very, very friendly. A great welcome!
TIP: US passengers didn’t NEED a passport to board this cruise. But having one makes things faster and easier. I presented my state-issued ID and my tattered 60-year-old faded birth certificate. I had a couple minutes of anxiety as they examined that. Before next time, I’ll order a new copy of my BC from the State of Ohio. And I’ll get a passport. (A passport WOULD be necessary if you needed to leave the cruise and re-enter the US before the trip is over. And I think it’s going to be necessary in general starting next year.)
Once onboard, we resisted gawking and exploring and went directly to our cabin to drop off our carry-ons. One of our four bags was already there. The rest appeared throughout the afternoon.
Our copy of the “Freestyle Daily” (Day One) was in the room, as was the floral arrangement that I had ordered. It was beautiful, and – I think – not a bad deal: orchids and other tropical flowers for $50. (It stayed fresh all week.)
I don’t think there’s much I can tell you about our cabin that you haven’t seen in NCL’s diagrams or photos, except that it was exactly as described and pictured. Plenty of room, plenty of electrical outlets, plenty of storage space for people who brought a sensible amount of stuff (not me!). Everything worked well. The bathroom was outfitted with standard hotel toiletries as well as in-shower soap and shampoo dispensers. The shower controls were a little hard to figure out at first. (It always took several seconds for the cold water to kick in.) Bonus: there was a clothesline running across the top of the shower.
TIP: Bring along a few hanging plastic clips that you can use for wet bathing clothes. Available at Target and dollar stores, I think.
Almost as soon as we entered, Samuel, our room steward, stopped in to ask if we wanted the twin beds converted to a double. We did. Next time we went into the room – and for the rest of the week -- we had a very comfortable queen-size bed.
It never mattered how long we slept or how late we switched the electronic sign from “Do Not Disturb” to “Make Up This Room.” Very shortly after we changed it, the room became immaculate.
The balcony was very private -- except when we were docked directly across from another ship (Costa Maya and Cozumel). I could hear other people speaking on their balconies, but nobody would’ve been able to see me unless they were our immediate neighbors and made a big effort to lean around the barrier. Except when in port in Mexico, I could’ve been completely and comfortably naked on our balcony.
I loved having a balcony room. I’m slow to wake up in the morning, so rolling out of bed, making coffee, and vegging on the balcony for awhile was the perfect way to start my day. Can’t do that in Michigan. Other than that, though, neither of us took advantage of the balcony much. Bill says he’ll never be able to go back to an inside cabin. I think I could. We didn’t spend that much time in the room.
In the room there was a coffee-maker with single-serve coffee pods, an ice bucket, a safe, a hair dryer, a mini-bar ($$$), and a few wooden hangers on the rod of the ample closet.
TIP: You’re supposed to put your room key in a slot just inside the door to activate the electricity in your room (lights, etc.). But any card with a magnetic strip will work. I kept an old hotel key card in that slot so that we could always turn on the lights and I would never leave the room without my NCL passenger card.
Laundry: For whatever reason, Bill wanted to get our Day One clothes cleaned. (?!) So he put them out and the next morning, there they were: perfectly cleaned and pressed. Amazing service. Premium price.
The Getaway is huge and gorgeous and clean! Even though I had studied NCL’s website and had read cruise reviews in advance, I was still amazed when I actually got on the ship! So much to discover, so many bars and restaurants and other venues! At the end of the cruise, I still hadn’t explored all of the ship. (For example, if there was a Gift Shop [which there WAS, apparently], I never saw it!)
The ship was really nicely decorated and appointed. Getaway was fun and inviting and visually appealing. The Atrium is a little bit glitzy, but in a tasteful kind of way. Nothing like Carnival’s frequently-cheesy décor.
Out of seven days sailing, there were about 20 minutes when I could feel the ship moving slightly. NO big deal. [On smaller ships in the past, I had been jerked from side to side for a few minutes -- and I had also enjoyed being in bed and having the ships rock me to sleep every night.] Unlike all my prior cruises, I had zero “sea legs” after this one.
I thought NCL did a great job of balancing peoples’ ability to smoke and other peoples’ ability to stay away from smoke. There was a smoking “shelter” on the pool deck; the Sunset Bar allowed smoking; there was a cigar bar; there were probably other smoking-permitted venues. I never saw any conflict over it.
Getaway’s pools are VERY small, but there are tons of chaise lounges around them. Throughout our cruise, I never saw many people in the pools and also never saw that it would be hard to get a lounger. (But that’s probably because it was overcast and relatively cool for most of our trip.) The pool-area hot tubs always seemed to be full, though.
The elevators were quick. On the stairs’ landing of each floor was a listing of which important destinations were on which floors. And staff were always available and happy to help direct you. (I wish, though, that NCL would have put little pocket-sized maps of the ship in each room. I saw another passenger with one, but I didn’t find out where he got it.)
I cannot say enough good things about the amenities, condition, and service of this ship.
I’m sorry that I won’t be the best reviewer for this aspect of the cruise. I don’t eat much. I LIKE food, and I LOVE a good dinner, but I generally don’t eat during the day. Still…
The menu was extensive – and all free. Between the two of us, we used RS three times – always to get some kind of breakfast. It took about 20 minutes for it to arrive. Even though the advertised delivery charge was $7.95, they only billed us $4.38 each time. (Huh? Cool.) The fruit and mini-croissants were fresh and tasty.
The buffet food array was amazing! WHAT a nice variety! Such fresh-looking options, all on a clean and frequently-refreshed football-field-long counter. The line for food never seemed long. And so much indoor, deck-side, and outside seating! Bill said it was one of the best buffets he’s ever eaten at. (This from someone who’s done a million up-scale Vegas buffets.)
Taste and Savor
These are two of the three “public” restaurants on the ship. There’s not much to distinguish one from the other, IMHO, but both were wonderful. We walked up to each, no reservations, and were seated immediately at a table for two. Service was fast, menu options were plentiful, and the food was delicious.
I loved the “dinner club” feel of this third complimentary restaurant! Unfortunately, there was no band or dancing during our meal there. I wish NCL would have made it more clear when the place was going to be like having dinner with Ricky Ricardo. But still my favorite of the open rooms.
We had the Dining Package, which allowed us to eat at three of Getaway’s premium restaurants without additional charge. We ended up eating at four add-on dining places, and NCL, I think, charged us for the least expensive as our extra.
You’ve seen or done this before, right? Eight or ten or so people sit around a large hot frying surface; the chef chops and cooks and serves off that grill. I’d done this a couple of times. I’d always thought of it as mostly entertainment with the food as kind of an afterthought. Well, our chef was VERY entertaining! So much fun! But… BONUS! The food was REALLY good! I thoroughly enjoyed the salad. The rice side was great. I ordered seafood as a main course, and my squid, scallops, and shrimp were delicious! Bill was very pleased with his beef. BONUS #2: The chef asked straight-off if anyone had a food allergy. One of the other peeps did. Not a deal for him. He cooked around the rest of the food effortlessly, never interrupting his patter, never making that person feel “special,” nor contaminating that meal. So gracious. BONUS #3: We were seated with a cute young family of four. They could not have been better dining companions. We chatted and joked with the parents and the young-teen daughter and eventually drew her little brother out of his shyness. Such a great experience!
We walked in without a reservation and were offered the choice of indoor or outdoor seating. We chose to sit on the veranda. [What does NCL call it? Oh, yeah: “The Waterfront” – a row of restaurants’ and bars’ outdoor dining and drinking areas on the deck.] Hey, this is fun – we’re on a cruise and we can’t eat outdoors very often in Michigan. But once seated, we felt it was a little cool and breezy out there, and they very graciously moved us into a nice table indoors. I’m glad we switched. I love ambiance, and this Italian restaurant is very attractively done.
The service was outstanding, the food was wonderful. I had seafood pasta, and whatever Bill had, he loved. Even though our beverage package didn’t cover the bottle of wine we ordered, it was well worth it. Dessert and espresso were the perfect finishing touches. Highly recommended!
We live in a restaurant town, and I’ve been lucky enough to eat at several of the nicer ones. I’ve also eaten at a few Las Vegas “gourmet” rooms. Ocean Blue compares favorably to those experiences.
Service: perfect. Ambiance: beautiful. Food: amazing. My lobster was delicious. [Are you picking up a food preference here?] Bill’s fish was to die for. It’s not totally “fine dining” as you can find on land, but it’s pretty darned close.
Cirque Dreams And Steam
[See Shows / Entertainment]
Wow. Smallish (by on-land casino standards, anyhow) and oddly-configured (kind of an L-shape), but one of the nicest casinos I’ve ever been in!
It was exciting but without the typical obnoxious slot machine noises at every turn. Decently appointed without being in-your-face. (No wall art or posters that I can remember. What?! Why the blank walls?) Airy, open to the Atrium, room to move, comfortable. And clean: brand-new-looking machines, brand-new-looking table felt, no half-full ashtrays sitting around. The staff, from dealers to pit bosses to cocktail servers to porters, were all welcoming, smiling, and helpful.
Slots: There was a good array of even the newest machines, of all denominations.
Video Poker: Lots of machines (including at a nice VP sit-down bar). Double Double paid 7/5.
Blackjack: The tables were spacious (6 player spots). BJ pays only 6/5. Double after Split is allowed. Dealer hits Soft 17. Multiple decks; continuous shuffle. The available side bet is “Lucky Ladies.” (For whatever reason, that pay-out schedule [for getting 20 on your initial hand] is not printed on the felt, but the dealers always paid off according to the usual schedule.) The lowest table minimum was $6, and it was usually not hard to find a seat at one of those tables.
Tournament Blackjack: At times throughout the week, you could enter the Tournament for $20. For that, you’d sit with about five other players, with fake money, and try to come out the winner after – what? – eight or so hands. But if you won at your table, you’d also need to be a week-long high-scorer to go onto the finals. Whatevs. It was so much fun. If a player was first dealt an ace and then landed a 10-count card, we’d all yell and clap for him. That kind of sums up the whole spirit of the cruise. The guy drew a blackjack, and us – his competitors -- were happy for him.
You can charge casino chips to your room account while at a table.
There is a pit and a large slot area that is non-smoking.
SHOWS / ENTERTAINMENT
Burn The Floor
Oh, man! If you enjoy Latin and/or ballroom dance, SEE THIS SHOW! The routines were incredibly intricate and the performers were incredibly precise. SO tight! SO much energy!
I booked this ahead of time. I thought it was going to be a dinner show in the Tropicana. Instead, it was held in a standard-type theater. Whatevs. It was free and wonderful.
Million Dollar Quartet
I’m glad we went to see this, but I wasn’t blown away. I don’t know how accurately this show tells the story of that one night when Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley were in a Sun Studios room at the same time. The music was fun (even the unfamiliar songs) and the vocals were good. For me, the piano playing by the JLL character made the show worth watching. But… eh.
Cirque Dreams And Steam
GO. Just GO! Arrive. Sit down. And then relax. Surender your linear nature and your need to be in control. Don’t think. (Except when the waiter asks for your drink order). Just let the whole thing wash over you. It’ll be okay. Trust me, trust them.
The experience is so totally fluid and effortless. Somebody brings you salad. Performers in elaborate costumes come out onto the stage and into the audience for photo ops. There’s a quick overhead announcement that the show will include lighting effects. Somebody brings you filet mignon (medium) and three shrimp and a side – even though you never ordered. Your drink is refilled. Your plate is cleared. A dessert appears. People finish eating. More dishes are cleared. Performers walk around. The room goes completely dark. A spotlight appears, and the action is on.
The show makes ZERO sense. It just IS, and it’s amazing. NO language is spoken, and it’s impossible to characterize what genre of music plays. It’s a cabaret, a circus, a succession of acts that just flow into each other non-stop. Extraneous and wonderful nonsense happens during.
I could tell you about how one of the acts made me question my own sexual orientation or about how another act made me cover my eyes. But I don’t want to give “spoilers” here.
TIP: Seats aren’t reserved. Arrive maybe 30 minutes or so early to get a seat close to the stage. (Actually, there are no bad seats. And “center” is probably as good as “close.”)
TIP: When performers come out in costume pre-show, snag the opportunity to photograph them and/or get a selfie. Get up, move if you need to, ask for a pose. They’re accommodating. You can’t take pics during the show, and there’s no post-show meet-and-greet.
ACTIVITIES / FEATURES
(This will be limited to my own experiences. There are LOTS more features that I can’t personally report on.)
Upper Outside Decks
The number and size of pools on The Getaway are surprisingly small! I’m not a pool person, so I didn’t care, but I was amazed at how very little water this ship offered compared to the much smaller Carnival ships I’d been on. There were ample pool-side jacuzzis, but… if I WERE a “pool person,” I would have been majorly disappointed
On the other hand, there are five amazing tubular water slides on the ship. Three of them are enclosed, spiral, and long. Two of them (blue and green) are “sudden drop” slides in which you start off standing on a trap door that instantly disappears below you. Cool, cool, cool!
Unfortunately, it was SO uncharacteristically cool in the Caribbean all week that after I went down the very fun first slide, I felt just wet and cold and wanted to immediately go downstairs to my cabin and change into dry clothing. Waaaah! I didn’t do any of the rest of the slides.
This is amazing! Two stories above the pool deck is an extensive network of wooden planks, rope bridges, tightropes, and other paths to navigate.
You get in line, get outfitted into a harness, get tethered to the overhead cable, climb the steps, and you’re on your own. Seriously: on your own. There’s no explanation, and once you get up there, there’s no obvious path. You just do your best to go toward the exit, I guess.
For me, it was great to scamper across the course from platform to platform until – early on – I had to do the tightrope thing. I got to the end of it and had a mini-anxiety-experience. I froze. [“What?!”] I needed to get off the course. NEEDED to. [Me: “Mark, this is not you!” Me: “Shut up. I need OFF of this thing!”] Unfortunately, there is NO built-in “escape” feature on this Course. I couldn’t go forward, and I couldn’t go back. I just hugged the pole I’d reached and tried to catch the attention of one of the NCL guides on the deck. I did, and I mimed a “Please – I need off!” to him. In the meantime, I’d apparently caught the attention of other adventurers. Mr. Man harnessed himself and climbed up to where I was and adjusted the stops on the course so that I could go backward – which meant going across the tightrope again. I steeled myself as best as I could, started across, and all the other passengers on the Ropes Course stopped where they were and yelled encouragement to me: “You got it!” “You’re doing great!” “You’re okay!” I was simultaneously embarrassed, numb, grateful, and petrified [if that makes any sense]. When I got back down to the entrance, the NCL staff were incredibly gracious to me.
TIP: You have to wear a shirt that has sleeves to enter the Ropes Course. I’d gone up to the pool deck in a bathing suit and sleeveless t-shirt, thinking I would do the Course and then the waterslides. As I was in line for Ropes, a friendly NCL staffer notified me that I had to wear a shirt with sleeves. He was completely nice about it. He said I wouldn’t lose my place in line if I went down to my cabin to change and then came back up. Sure enough, as soon as I re-appeared, he happily ushered me back to my place in line.
I had read ahead and was expecting a night-time “White Party” on the pool-deck floor. So I’d packed an all-white outfit, because I love to dance and I wanted to check it out. Turns out it was an “H2GLOW” party instead, in which it didn’t matter what you wore. Okay. It was held in the dark, there were disco lights and lasers all over us, and staff handed out glow sticks. Very Ibiza!
It didn’t quite work for me. Even at my age, I love Electronic Dance Music. But the tunes they played totally sucked, and our Cruise Director, Andre, was the worst, most-stereotypical, most incredibly vapid emcee of all time: “Are you having a good time, Getaway?!” “Put your hands in the air!!!” “Put your hands in the air!!!” Over and over again. Over and over again. Over and over again. C’mon, Andre. Shut up and just play some music that we recognize.
But… The music at least had a beat. I danced by myself, un-self-consciously. It was cool. There were couples on the dance floor, other singles, clusters of friends, families. And a group of young guys – presumably straight – who were dancing together “took me in,” danced with me, and invited me to join them downstairs at BLISS (the ship’s interior Dance Club) when the GLOW Party ended. Cool, cool, cool.
Taking a break, I walked from the deck/dance floor to the bar. NCL had left a heavy, metal-and-glass, invisible-in-the-dark cocktail table in the path. I walked into its sharp edges, banged up both shins, and bled from both legs.
Okie-dokey. I don’t freak out at the sight of blood, even my own. At the bar, I grabbed some napkins and swabbed my legs. And went back to dance. And noticed that since I’d been injured, someone had placed a large centerpiece on the cocktail table, making it visible.
TIP: Do NOT have more than two glasses of chardonnay before entering the Spa!
I am one of the gayest men that I know. I don’t care if I’m photographed at a Pride event. I’m out to everyone. Totally gay. Yet… not a “flamer.” In many ways, I’m very much just an American guy. I like to dress nicely – mostly casually – but I’m no fashionista. Grew up on a farm. I was the star pitcher on my work group’s all-city championship softball team. Pragmatic, practical. I have exactly two settings for my nails: long or cut back to the quick. I don’t have the time or inclination to do anything else with them. If they get long, so be it. I’m not embarrassed. But as soon as one of them cracks or chips, they’re all totally gone. Whatevs.
Going into the cruise, my nails were longish. I mentioned to Mr. Bill that I was tempted to book a manicure on the ship, but that I was afraid of what it might cost. He told me that he would pay for my Salon treatment. Cool! (Especially since I had a job dealing cards the next week, and it’s easier to work with casino chips when you have some nails.)
I walked into the Spa on Tuesday and told the receptionist that I was there to get a manicure. She said, “Great! We can get you in on Thursday.” [Huh?] Uh, okay.
So I had a day and a half to remind myself: “Mark, they’re going to try to up-sell you. Just get your nails trimmed and polished. Don’t buy anything!”
I arrived as scheduled on Thursday. Marilyn greeted me, took me back to a normal-looking nails station, put hot stones on my hands (“Fire And Ice” treatment). She oiled me and did my cuticles. She filed me. She put an amazing clear polish on me. [How can one coat spread so evenly, dry so quickly, and BE so shiny?] Then, “I see bags under your eyes. I can help with that.” Me: “Okay.” Her: “And…” Me: “Okay.” Her: “And…” Me: “Okay.” I ended up buying $250 worth of products.
And then a physician (a REAL physician, apparently) came in: “You’re stressed. Let me recommend an acupuncture treatment.” [Me, to myself: “What the hell?!” But… Whatevs. Never done it, and it was on my bucket list.]
So Mr. Second Doctor greeted me and we went down an elevator and walked a couple of halls to a room. [I started to feel as though I was in “Get Out.”] I got mostly naked and laid down on the table and he stuck needles all over my back. It didn’t hurt AT ALL. And – as far as I could tell – it didn’t help AT ALL. I laid there for about – what? – fifteen minutes with the needles in me, and then he plucked them out. “Ugh, thank you.” It was $200 to cross that experience off my Bucket List. Absolutely NOT recommended.
If I’d presented with a specific pain, maybe I would have felt differently about the treatment. Maybe there would have been results. But in this case… I just felt it was a total waste of money.
I occasionally saw groups of kids – along with two or so staffers – parading around the decks. They all looked like they were having a great time.
For parents: it looked to me like the kids’ camps were WAY cool.
Others: if you want to avoid kids on your vacation… I don’t think you’d get yanked on this cruise by the presence of children.
PORTS OF CALL
I had a plan going into the cruise. Roatan (Honduras): zip-line over the jungle. Harvest Caye (NCL’s private island): whatevs; not much interest. Might not even get off the ship. Costa Maya: take a cab beyond the initial array of t-shirt shops and interact with actual locals in Mexico. [Si, hablo espanol!] Cozumel: be a total tourista. I’d been there before. Hard Rock was my only goal.
It didn’t quite work out that way, but it worked out fine.
This was the only shore excursion I purchased through NCL. I still don’t know if that was the best choice or not. Through Norwegian, it was $99. If I would have purchased it on-line directly from South Shore, it would have been $50 for exactly the same experience (ship-side pick-up and all). But buying it from NCL meant that if anything went wrong and I got back late to the ship, Getaway would be waiting for me. I bought that insurance (though I needn’t have).
I got up relatively early that day – plenty of time to wake up with coffee on the balcony before the 12:30 meet for the expedition. Headed out of the ship with time to spare; looked at the souvenir shops all lined up in a row at the port. Very cool stuff – from little souvenir magnets to hand-made goods -- but I wasn’t in “buying” mode. Easily found my group assembling for pick-up at the dock: a lovely extended family, two young couples, and me. About 12 of us. We all chatted.
The van arrived; we piled in. There was a hostess/narrator who was great. As we travelled, she told us about the history of the Honduras, pointed out the banana, breadfruit and pecan trees we passed on the increasingly muddy and nasty roads we were traveling on, and kept us engaged. Wonderful ride! Then we got dropped off.
TIP: Unlike the only other zip-line I’d ever done [Fremont Street, Las Vegas], they did not make us surrender our glasses, phones, etc. I just put my stuff in my cargo shorts’ pockets. Take your phone/camera!
WHAT FOLLOWED WAS THE MOST ENJOYABLE TWO HOURS OF MY LIFE!
First, you arrive and you wait for a minute, sitting around picnic tables on a beautiful patio. Then a guide appears in front of where you’re waiting and gives safety instructions. And then a crew appears and fits you with a harness. And then you all walk together a little way to the first line, and…
There are about 8 zip lines in this course. I didn’t know how it would work. The way it worked: the super-friendly, super-fun guides were with us the whole time. When we were about to go on another line, one or two of them went ahead of the group so that then they were there to “catch” us.
I don’t know what it was. I honestly don’t know. Maybe because I’m outgoing and friendly. Maybe because under my shorts I was obviously wearing a colorful compression stocking. Maybe because I sometimes slipped into Spanish while speaking with them. Maybe because I started singing “Despacito” and they all joined in and we had fun singing together… Whatevs. They completely adopted me.
So it’s me and all these young black/latino guides, and they’re treating me like I’m their favorite papi ever. When the first or second of them was ready to go to the next platform: “Mark! C’mon! Sit on my lap, like you’re going to kiss me! Okay, now lean back and let me hold your ankles. There you go! Now lean ALL the way back. Have fun!”
Even if I hadn’t been taken under the wings of the guides, this would be one of the best experiences I have EVER had in my life.
When we got back to the staging area to wait for the bus, there was a souvenir shop (consisting entirely of tank-tops and t-shirts) and a small outdoor bar. There was a guy (employee) in front of the bar with a monkey on a leash. The monkey got loose while I was there and it scampered around a bit, but then got caught. Ugh, okay. I don’t think it showed that I peed my pants a little bit about that.
I went up to the bar and said I wanted something to drink.
Mr. Nice Guy: “You want to try our local beer?”
Me, not a beer drinker, and not really caring that they would grossly over-charge me: “Sure.”
Him: “$3, please.”
[Oh, man. I love this place even more! They’re not gauging me!] (And the beer was tasty!)
TIP: There are three opportunities to give gratuities. (1) Your guides. Tip all of them with one donation to any of them at the end of the zip-lines. Be generous. They share. Or prepare yourself with tens, fives, or singles for each of them. (2) The “tree people.” There are additional staff you’ll see on the platforms. There’s a tip jar for them in the Gift Shop. (3) The bus host(ess) and driver. Tip one of them directly when exiting to the ship.
Harvest Caye, Belize
The island was gorgeous. SUPER-clean. Very accommodating: large side-walks; lots of beach loungers. Tons of walk-way bars and braid-shops and souvenir places and snack shacks. Jimmy Buffet’s place was really nicely done. The whole island was totally nicely planned, manicured, and visually appealing.
I explored and ended up playing volleyball in the sand with a very nice family for a little while.
But… I’m not a beach person. The island was gorgeous -- really, REALLY well-designed and maintained. But there’s zero native culture there. It’s shops and bars and beach. It had little appeal for me. Your results may vary.
Costa Maya, Mexico
This was where I’d hoped to take a cab ride behind all the t-shirt shops and actually interact with locals.
Well, they don’t tell you about THIS in the cruise brochures, do they?!...
When we arrived, it was raining heavily. And that kept up ALL day. Okie-dokey, then. I amused myself on the ship until we sailed off. No speaking Spanish with the locals, no getting cool authentic souvenirs from the natives.
Ninguna Costa Maya pormigo! Lo siento, mis amigos!
The casino wasn’t open while we were in port, but everything else was. I’d never stayed on-board while we were docked before, but the ship was hopping and offering tons of options.
[Mr. Bill took the $550 Chitzanitza tour. He came back RAVING about how wonderful his experience was. NO regrets about buying this tour! He said NCL and the flight operator were great. And he said that the Mayan guide who led his small group was WONDERFUL – EXTREMELY knowledgeable and personable.]
Even though Costa Maya had been a bust, I continued with my plan: be a total American tourist in Cozumel.
The port/shopping center was lovely. REALLY nicely done. I pretty much ignored it and caught a cab ($8) inland, to the Hard Rock.
Oh, man. Oh, man. I got a glass of wine and sat outdoors on Hard Rock’s street-side patio and listened to THE BEST band ever! These three guys kept playing songs I loved, the overhead tree kept raining down with pods, the waiter kept coming by. Perfect! I can be a little “high-strung” sometimes. There, I found myself uncharacteristically relaxed and blissed out.
Finally, with time to spare, I got up and started walking down the street, just to check the place out. There was a latino guy leaning against the wall of a gas station, and he gave me the international “Come here” signal. Duh. I am SUCH the midwestern nice guy. I went over.
“I will sell you some weed.”
“Oh. Then some nose candy.”
“No, thank you.”
“I will get you a girl.”
“No. I’m okay.”
“Then what do you want?”
“Uhhh, Viagra.” [Because I knew you can get it cheaply in Mexico without a prescription. It seemed like the thing to say at the time. And I wanted to be nice.]
Jose came over and asked me how many tablets I wanted. Errr... “I don’t know.” “How much money do you have?” I pulled out a twenty, and he looked at me as if I had just spit on his mother’s grave. But he went to his truck and then came back with two blue pills in the centerfold of a magazine. Okay. I’m supporting the local economy.
Then – duh! – I noticed that I was 30 yards from a Walgreens. For $20 there, I probably could have bought a whole blister-pack full of blue pills. Oh, well!
The cab ride back to the port was $8. I tipped $7. Money is weird when you’re on vacation.
ATMOSPHERE / PASSENGERS / “FREESTYLE”
I cannot say enough about how comfortable this cruise was!
I brought dress pants. I never put them on. Jeans worked whenever I needed long pants (premium restaurants).
I was worried that there might be pressure for a “Dress Up” night. Nope, nope, nope. NCL’s assurances about “Freestyle” cruising were totally honest and on-target! I was never, never uncomfortable wearing my comfortable clothing.
I’d worried a bit about being gay and going on this cruise. Well, DUH! First off, Samuel immediately offered to make our twin beds into one bed. NOT a deal, a complete NOTHING to him. Secondly, every day, NCL hosted an LGBTQ get-together in one of the lounges. (It was never very well-attended, probably because you could run into gay folks all over the ship. Very much appreciated, though!) Three, on the Sunset Bar, where I hung out, there were lots of gay men and women. And straight folks. And it just DID NOT matter. We were all simply friends. Period.
BOTTOM LINE: “Free Style” is real. You can be yourself. You can dress how you want (except pants for dinner). “Free” means “free.” Show up for meals whenever you want. Be gay. Be black. Be Muslim. Be not a model. Be comfortable. Dance all by yourself. Sleep in, and then expect your room to be cleaned when you’re ready. Order room service or stumble out to the buffet. NCL wants you to have the vacation of your life, and your fellow passengers aren’t being critical.
On one day, I wore “harem” pants down to the bar. Okay, I’m obviously not MC Hammer, but I never got a second look or any judgmental comments.
From our outstanding room steward to the bartender who slipped me a drink when it looked like my account was janky [it wasn’t] to the staff at the restaurants to everyone who caught me looking lost and gave me direction… I cannot say enough good things about NCL’s staff!
I had done a little shopping ahead of the trip…
I asked Berwyn (bartender) how to get to another bar on the ship. He gave me directions and saw the confused look on my face [I’m really spatially challenged], and he noticed that I was wearing an NCL-logo polo. “C’mon, Man – I’ll take you there!” And he did. But he didn’t plop me down at the bar. He pushed me BEHIND the bar. “Ramon! This is Mark! He’s working with you this shift!” Ramon: “But where’s his name-tag?”
That became Berwyn’s and my running gag throughout the cruise. He’d drag me to other bars, introduce me, and – inevitably – the other bartender would question my lack of a name-tag.
So much fun!
Okie-dokey, then. Tips that didn’t fit in elsewhere…
…Consider flying to Fort Lauderdale. It can be cheaper, and NCL’s transfers work.
…Overpack? Underpack? I don’t know. I seriously over-packed. This was my first time with NCL, and I didn’t trust its “free style” assurance. Delta and NCL let me bring as much as I wanted, without charge. So I brought a load of clothing. I’m not sure I’m sorry I took at least one suitcase too many. It didn’t cost me anything, and I only had to lug everything twice (no big deal). But my second bag didn’t need to be sitting there on our sofa, unopened, the whole trip long.
…Print up “business cards” before you go. Well, no, not “business” cards, but something with your name, e-mail address, and maybe your face. And maybe include your cell number. (Cards are easily and cheaply available on-line.) And keep a pen in your pocket. You’ll meet people. And…
…There is NO cell-phone service on this cruise. And not just not being able to upload travel pics to FaceBook. Bill and I – two decks apart – could not check in with each other. For one whole week. You cannot just whip out phones to exchange numbers with a new bud.
…People who paid to go to the Ice Bar told me it was a “Must NOT Do.”
…If you have questions before your cruise, use NCL.com. The reps are knowledgeable and friendly.
We were in the last group off. That morning, Bill had breakfast and I slept in.
Out in the hangar, we claimed our luggage and got in line for the bus to Fort Lauderdale. This was messy. Many people wanting to board the Getaway for its next cruise got in line with us. [“Nope! This is not where you want to be. There! Have fun!”] And – oops! – there had been some kind of miscommunication. NCL needed two buses, but there was only one at Miami. So half the passengers got on the first bus and took off; the other half waited about 20 minutes for another bus to be dispatched to us. No biggie. The host apologized and kept us informed, and it wasn’t unpleasant to stand there with our luggage and carry-ons and talk with the other people in line.
Once we got to the airport at FLL, we checked our luggage with Delta and had 5 hours to spend. Ugh…
Fort Lauderdale / Kennedy Airport has a place where you can leave bags. $8 each, and they need to be claimed by – I think – 5:30 pm. So we left our carry-ons there. And then we caught a cab to go to the nearest entertainment/restaurant/shopping center.
Man, oh, man! Our driver didn’t recognize the name of the complex. I had to turn on MY phone’s GPS to get him to it. And despite what the Delta agent had told us, the fare wasn’t “like $8.” It was $30.
So we arrived and had lunch at TGIFriday. Lovely! And then we walked to the next-door movie theater and bought tickets for whatever was coming up next (Phantom Thread). The movie was good and the theater was luxe, but during the film all of a sudden Bill looked at his phone and said, “We have to get OUT of here!” [Someday I’ll see the ending of that pic!] We went out to the curb and called a cab. (WHY does Bill NOT know how to use Uber?!) It finally arrived. We made it back to the airport in time. ($25)
At FLL, we re-claimed our carry-on bags. Then, once we were in the TSA “Pre-Screened” line, I was “randomly” selected for a special security check. I frequently am. I’m used to it, but I still don’t get it. I’m the blandest-looking guy in the world. But fine. I WANT the skies to be safe. Make me turn my pockets inside-out. I’ll take off my shoes. Pat me down. Feel my armpits. Whatever.
Delta was wonderful. We had a beautiful flight back to Michigan. Our friend showed up at Metro to pick us up, and we were suddenly at home. We’d been somewhat sorry that the temperature was only in the low seventies in the Caribbean. But now in Michigan it was in the 30’s. All’s good. Read Less