We chose this itinerary because the timing was perfect to escape the cold weather and post holiday stress. And the price including the airfare was too good to pass up. Let me start by saying this was my 10th cruise but the first cruise I ... Read More
We chose this itinerary because the timing was perfect to escape the cold weather and post holiday stress. And the price including the airfare was too good to pass up. Let me start by saying this was my 10th cruise but the first cruise I had a cruise line book airline, hotel and transfers for me. I was very skeptical hearing of other cruisers experiences doing so but I was pleasantly surprised on my vacation.
Once NCL emailed me with flight arrangements, I called the airline directly to seat my friend and I together. I expected issues at the airport since my friend’s name was not hyphenated on her airline ticket. However, check in went smoothly. The flight arrived on time to Miami. Finding the NCL staff at baggage claim to escort us to our transfer was easy. We did wait some time for our transfer bus but it was rush hour during the week.
The hotel NCL selected, The Pullman Miami Airport Hotel, was stylish. Our room was large and well appointed. At check in, I asked for recommendations to get a taste of Miami in the few hours we had before our cruise disembarked the next day. As suggested, we arranged for an Uber and headed off to South Beach. It’s mainly a strip of restaurants with hosts trying to entice you in. We visited two restaurants, took in a quick show at Palace, watched Antilles dancers at another club and stepped onto the beach under the moonlight.
The next morning at the hotel, my friend and I debated breakfast options. She wanted more than a pastry and I wanted only coffee. Overhearing our conversation, Leah at the check in desk, offered to give us two complimentary tickets to the buffet. After a few morsels, we had time to relax by the pool and waterfall in the sun which we had been missing living in the Northeast.
Transport arrived after noon to drive us to the pier. The drop off at the pier and transfer of luggage to the porters was smooth and efficient. The line was a little longer than I’m used to but I usually arrive before check in begins and I was already an hour and a half after that start. Upon our turn to check in, we learned we were VIP and could have skipped waiting. NCL quickly rectified that and ushered us past the line and up a private elevator. We were escorted on board and brought to Moderno for a VIP reception area where we met our Concierge, Anoop Bhanu. Since this was my friend’s first cruise, she was beyond excited at all of this. I was so happy watching the cruise excitement unfold through her eyes. After a leisurely glass of wine, we were reminded to head over to Cagney’s for our first VIP lunch. The hot smoked salmon as an appetizer was good but the pan seared scallops and shrimp over artichoke and chive risotto with veal au jus was the star of this meal. Next stop, let's see our stateroom!
I selected Cabin 8064, partially obstructed ocean view, when planning this cruise. The room was surprisingly spacious. I have always stayed in balcony or better state rooms but I would certainly book this stateroom again. The only noticeable difference besides the view was the lack of a couch which we wouldn't need for two of us. It had more than enough storage space for two people to keep the room clean and clutter free. And you can see the ocean and sky in between life boats.
The next area we explored was the viewing room for the bridge. We spent some time watching the crew do their job. The captain walked past the window and waved to us. A few minutes later, Captain Giovanni was in our viewing room introducing himself and having a little Q&A session with the few people who had entered with us. This was actually an exciting thing for myself and my friend to have a moment to talk to the captain. Usually, he is just a voice on the intercom system on most cruises.
The only complaint I can make about our vacation was the missing communication for a change in the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet date. Prior to flying out to Miami, I had posted on the board that we would meet the first day as was stated in an email to me from the events coordinator. After I was on the ship, we learned it had been changed to the following day through a letter placed in my stateroom. The mishandling of communication was between the office on land and the members on the ship and I was left out of the correspondence. Because of the logistics of sail away, I was advised that it was not possible to have the ship’s officers attend our meeting so that is why the change was made. Jana at NCL apologized and offered to contact the guests in attendance. I had not acquired stateroom numbers from the attendees to respect their privacy on vacation so I was not able to contact them. I waited 20 minutes after the scheduled start of the Meet and Greet near the meeting room to inform anyone of the change doubtful we would have the turn out of the members the following day.
We went about exploring the ship and taking pictures until we sat down for dinner at Lotus. This was my first time at this restaurant despite being on a jewel class ship 4 times prior. Not being able to decide on a cocktail, our waiter surprised us with 4 selections. Two being different types of sake. I chose kung pao chicken for dinner but I’m still thinking about dessert a week later: red bean triangles with green tea ice cream. You must try them!
The All Aboard Variety Show was good. Not the most memorable show I have seen on an NCL ship though. We even bought into the “scratch off”/ pull tab game tickets (a first for me) and won $14. So much for saying they are just a sucker’s bet. We went on to watch the Dance Battle in the Spinnaker Lounge which had us laughing. After that, we “had to” get a late night snack at O’Sheehan’s. This was the only restaurant where the wait was unusually long for food to arrive at our table. The excitement of eating so much wonderful food still trumped our impatience. But our stomachs and energy levels called it a night after that. We went to bed with hopes we would have an appetite and enthusiasm for more food and fun just a few hours later. Remember, this was late night/early morning Number 2 for us. Regardless of age, it’s still a lack of sleep.
The alarm went off way too soon and we jumped out of bed ready for our first VIP breakfast. I had the crab cakes Benedict years ago so I had already planned on them if they were still on the menu. And they were! As well as indulgent French press coffee which we bragged to our friends that we “didn’t even have to press the coffee ourselves”. If you are a Disney fan, it has been said that there is a “life changing” chocolate croissant for purchase in France. The ones served on this ship are comparable. Make sure to get one. (You can even find them in the buffet.) It was at this meal my friend was starting to realize what I meant when I said cruise eating is a whole different level of feeling full and this was only the beginning. Before we left, we had already planned breakfast for the next day even in our bloated state.
Our first port was Key West. Even though we had priority disembarkation, we walked off at a later time and had no wait. Our trolley tour was easy to find and our tour guide for the first leg of the trip, Pam, was entertaining and informative. Hemingway House was the first stop for us. I love cats but I also enjoy the history of a brawling, bar loving character with the ability to write a compelling story.
Then it was back onto the trolley to see the remainder of the island and to make it back for the tasting portion of the excursion. Dessert first: key lime pie at Kermits... because life is short and that’s how I roll. Next, drinks, a sloppy joe sandwich and some conch fritters at Sloppy Joe’s. Though not at the same location from way back when, I tried to imagine Ernest sitting at the bar getting rowdy and flirting with the women. Last stop: Hemingway Rum Company to sample some Pilar rum. The tour was also very informative about the carousing Hemingway. Even if rum is not your thing, make sure to sample the mix of the two rums. Back on the ship we went to get ready an evening of back to back events. My friend, who once asked if there was enough things to do on a cruise ship, is starting to realize at this point just how little time you have on a cruise ship to do everything you want.
The Meet and Greet starts with only 4 attendees and two of them voted as Best Dressed since we had dinner reservations that evening. The crew begins to make their introductions and cruise critic members start to fill the empty seats. Though not the number I had hoped, we shared stories and put faces to names we had talked to for months online.
On our way to the VIP Cocktail Reception, we stopped to pose for professional pictures because selfies only go so far. While at the reception, my friend basked in the luxury of being served canapes and cocktails while sitting on the tufted velvet loungers in Bliss Lounge. Before rushing off to our dinner, we spoke briefly with the captain and requested a group photo with him which became one of my favorite vacation photos.
A gentleman was performing in the lounge area of Maltings Whiskey Bar as we approached Le Bistro for dinner. Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman was the selection. It could not have been more perfectly timed for two well dressed women to walk through the lounge. But alas, dinner, escargot and veal, awaits. Ego, check yourself at the door.
What was meant to be a brief stop before going to the Not So Newlywed Game ended up being Cruise Critic Meet and Greet Number 2 at the Cigar Lounge. One whiskey, one bourbon, one cigar and many stories later, I headed back to my stateroom only to say “want to see if the hot tubs are free?”. I wanted to check it off my “vacation to do list” but I also needed to soak the cigar smoke out from my pores. (Cue dramatic music) And it becomes another packed day of events that turns into a late night.
Still excited for food, we head to Moderno for breakfast for Fruits de Mer, scallops and shrimp on toasted brioche with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce. We lingered over breakfast as our port of call was changed from Grand Stirrup Cay to Nassau due to weather conditions and safety. We decided to get mimosas at another bar and make new plans for the day. Not interested in Nassau, I suggested we get massages, another first on a cruise for me. It was probably the only time we slowed down since the start of the trip. Not having a plan after that, we decide it must be time to eat again because what else do you do every two hours on a cruise? So a leisurely lunch of mixed greens salad with mandarin and coconut, sesame crusted fish and carrot cake commenced. The carrot cake was my least favorite dessert out of all the meals.
Did I mention we had leisurely, yet strong, cocktails with lunch? Nassau started to sound like a good idea so we decided to explore. We were back on the ship within an hour. My friend was frightened by the aggressive sales tactics of the straw market vendors. Most shops were closing too. Unless I book an excursion to a resort for the day, I will remain on the ship if I return to Nassau.
Night activities begin after dinner in the main dining room, Summer Palace, where we were greeted by name by our server. I was impressed. The first show of the night is Legends in Concert which we arrived to late for standing room only. I could feel the seas start to rock the ship. Personally, I like to feel like I’m on a ship on the ocean but I was afraid for my motion sickness prone friend. Walking to the next show, The Perfect Couple Game Show, felt like we were floating at times as the seas started to rock us a little more. I realized bringing my friend to the top deck of the front of the ship was a bad idea just a few minutes into the show. She valiantly tried to hang with me but I lost her to the stateroom and not to the Glow Party for a night of dancing like we had planned. Did we get to bed early? Of course not. We stayed up talking about staying up so late the past few nights. Do you see a reoccurring theme?
Alas, we realize morning comes too soon and our last breakfast in Moderno is upon us. Oh why even try at this point? Unless I stop eating all together, my pants are not going to fit so just eat the good stuff! Steak and eggs it is. It’s a “low carb” choice so I’m feeling sort of good. Wait... I have to put on a bathing suit today to swim with the pigs in Freeport? (Groan). Suit up, get on a bus and get to a small beach: check, check, check.
I wasn’t expecting much after reading reviews for this excursion but no other excursion jumped out at me... and pigs are really cute. I’m happy to say, the pigs were very interactive and much more entertaining than any posted review. We got to sit on the beach and get a little color to brag about when we got back home. One pina colada later, some time in the water, and a few hours in the sun, we were back on the bus. And that is when we couldn’t fight the exhaustion from the go go go lifestyle with late nights and early mornings. I think Freeport looked like a beautiful island but we were asleep for most of the ride to the Straw Market. We got our eagerly awaited conch salad made fresh at a stand in the market, bought a few cigars and waited to get back on the bus. I think the sadness of End of Vacation Blues was starting to set in.
The last night is always a night to cash in winnings at the casino (her big win of 30 cents off the slots), buy professional photos, check your onboard account for discrepancies, and to pack. The true depression kicks in when you see the suitcases lined up in the halls. Could we really stay any longer? We love food and eating but could we do it any longer? Afterall, the clean clothes we had left didn’t fit. So THAT is how the cruise ship gets you to leave!?!
It was time for denial to set in so we could enjoy the rest of the night and make it yet one more late night followed by early morning. First, dinner at a main dining room, Indigo for some lamb kofta and smoked pork. I even called in the big guns after dinner and said “coffee please” with cheesecake because we can sleep on the plane the next day. One more show: the variety show. One more dance night: the 80’s dance party. But we have one question for NCL about that: why would you plan an 80’s dance party at 10:45 when the people who remember the 80’s most are ready for bed at that time? A couple of dances and two cocktails later, I’m heading to my stateroom for one final towel animal photo shoot... and the last night of chocolate truffles, chocolate covered strawberries or canapes being delivered to our room nightly from the general manager, Cary Turecamo. Surely, re-entry to my normal life would be very difficult after this VIP treatment.
I swear I slept the deepest that night. As we walked to the buffet for our first buffet breakfast but yet our last meal on the ship, I turn to my friend and say “we needed a few sea days to recharge”. She says “we needed a longer cruise because there is a lot we didn’t do.”. I said “there is never enough time to do everything. The cruise lines plan it that way so you will book another cruise.”. She says “well, you nailed planning this cruise. Let’s make it an annual thing for us.”. Rough seas and all, she was sold. She “gets” cruising now and is already planning sailings for the two of us "in old lady life". And yes, we both purchased CruiseNext deposits on this sailing.
Debarkation was smooth until we reached the customs line which is always a long wait. The transfer took us to the airport. A word of caution: Miami airport has all the good eats and shops before you check in. Once you are on the other side, it is slim pickings. Our flight was delayed due to high winds back home. But we made up for it with a good tail wind but it was a bumpy ride. Believe it or not, we stayed awake. And then it was back to work the next morning, sleep deprived and depressed. I can say with certainty, it was another memorable cruise for the books. Well done, NCL.
A word to the wise for any newer cruisers, if you have an issue, make sure to let the cruise staff know when it happens. VIP or not, they want to make your trip memorable and happy. Don’t wait until the last night or after you get off the ship to make a complaint. Many times, they will try to make it right so why wait? And yes, I asked for towel animals. Read Less