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Summary: This was a great cruise. There's plenty to do on this mega-ship, something for everyone, but not too many quiet places to relax. The itinerary is great, featuring several of my favorite Caribbean ports, with a great variety of activities. review by RocketSci73, Huntsville, AL male, solo traveler, age 44, 12th cruise, 10th with Norwegian Pros: - The YVE Hotel is a great place to stay before a cruise, or anytime in downtown Miami. It is convenient, well kept, and offers many great services. - The folks in Miami were very friendly, compared with other cruise ports I have been to. - Norwegian always has excellent music and entertainment, no matter where you are on the ship, or what you are doing. This includes background music, entertainers, commedians, musicians, etc. It is generally at the right volume and appropriate mood for the occassion. The stage theater shows were awesome! - Food, atmosphere, and service in the restaurants were all great! This is something I have come to appreciate on Norwegian Cruise Line over the years. - There were display boards strategically placed around the ship showing which restaurants were filling up at what dinner times. This can really help someone to figure out where they want to eat. - I had no problems with unruly children on this cruise, which shows the NCL child care programs and activities are great. - The ship is large yet easy to get around, with a variety of entertainments and services. Indoor activities are on decks 6-8, outdoor activities are on decks 15 and up. - The Studio solo cabins and accompanying Studio Lounge are a great setup for solo travellers, offering plenty of room, good prices, and extra security. Norwegian has always been the cruise line that best caters to solo travellers, in my opinion. - This ship has a really great setup for ping-pong, with tables in a protected area, and supplies in good shape. - The baffles which block the breezes on the ship's promenade and outer walkways are very effective, and make the promenade area very comfortable. - Norwegian usually offers a mid-week laundry special, which is a great bargain. I always use it: all the laundry you can stuff in a 20 gallon bag for around 20 dollars. - The following vendors on this itinerary all have good chocolate to sample and buy: Roatan Chocolate Factory in West End, Mayan Cocoa Company in Cozumel, and Kakaw Cocoa Company at the Costa Maya cruise port shopping village. I found the Moho Chocolate on Harvest Cay to be rather dry and bitter. - O'Sheehan's Pub on the ship is always open, with good hearty and free food, and lots of pub/carnival entertainment games, such as billiards and darts. The mini bowling was definitely a hit. This place is also a great choice to dine any time other restaurants are closed, such as late at night or if you board the ship late. - The photographers on board the ship were all very courteous and professional, and took some excellent photos. They were not pushy as before on cruises. The photo selection process is now more personalized, and saves time by not having to review everyone else's photos. If you purchase a package deal, you get electronic copies of your photos on a usb stick too. Cons: - Many complimentary activities required reservations (meals, shows, etc.). This contradicts Norwegian's highly touted Freestyle Cruising concept, where you don't have to plan your vacation days ahead of time. There was also much confusion over which activiies required reservations, and which ways to get reservations for different types of activities. - Both my travel agent and NCL pressured me into pre-reserving tour excursions, claiming many sell out ahead of time. This backfired. All tours I went on had plenty of room for extra guests, and some got cancelled due to low enrollment, and I did not see any sell out. - There is a minimum of trash cans on the ship, especially in the cabins. - There are only 2 stairwells and elevator sections on the ship, which concentrates foot traffic around these areas. The decor in these areas is also rather dark and scary, as it is meant to resemble a Miami Latin night club. - The central Atrium area was always noisy, with a concert or game show or such going on. This disturbed the adjoining customer service desks, internet cafe, and library. There should be somewhere else on the ship where these loud activities can occur. For example, the Bliss Lounge was not used much. - Credits and discounts took up to a full day to appear on my on-board spending account. I also had to go to the service desk in person and show my NCL Gold status card to get them. What a pain. Tips: - Around the Miami cruise port, there is nothing to do, such as shops, restaurants, or museums. The wait to board the ship can be long, so bring your own entertainment and some snacks. It may be best to arrive earlier or later than the crowd. - This is a larger ship. Even though the layout is rather straightforward, it's good to print and bring a map of the ship with you. Most activities are described as "mid-ship" which is usually not specific enough to find a particular activity or location. - This is a larger ship. Although there are lots of people everywhere, it does not feel crowded at all. There is always something exciting going on. Don't try to do it all. You can't. Just enjoy yourself, every minute. - Most restaurants are toward the back of the ship. The theater, spa, and gym are toward the front. - A larger ship has more variety of simultaneous activities, and more spaces to host them. Get ready to stay busy, and don't expect much rest. I could not find a quiet place anywhere on the ship to relax, enjoy peace, read a book, and watch the waves go by, in air conditioned comfort. - The Sun Deck on the top of the ship offers some great 360 degree views of the ship's surroundings. Norwegian could turn this area into an observation lounge of some kind, as I did not see any sun-bathers there. - Instead of pre-reserving tour excursions, I recommend making a deposit into your onboard spending account before the cruise to cover them. It is easy to do through the NCL website, or your travel agent. Plus, I found any discounts that you are due can only be verified and processed once you are onboard. - The best way I found to make any kind of reservations is to use your in-cabin interactive TV, which can handle all of them at once, without waiting in line. However, if you make an error through the TV (easy to do), you will have to go to the customer service desks and wait in line to modify or cancel your reservations. - The uppper level of the Roatan dock shopping complex has some of the best souvenirs and prices on the island. Be sure to check out the old guys playing the marimba within the right corner of the upper level. They have been playing for over 15 years, and simply amazing. - Most shops in Harvest Cay close over an hour before the ship departs. This can be a frustrating surprise, so get your shopping done early there. - Try to get a map of the Costa Maya port ahead of time, as the layout can be confusing. (see my photo below for an example) It's a tourist trap. The scenery is fake, the shops are overpriced and harassing, and the restaurants are limited. - If travelling or dining solo, be sure to ask the wait staff for sharing a table. You will meet some wonderful people, and have opportunities to learn about some fascinating places and adventures from your fellow travellers. So much more of the ship... There is so much to see and do on this ship, there is no way to see and do it all in one trip. This made me want to come back for more. Here are some things I did not get to try, but wanted to do: swimming pool, water slides, spa massage, gymnasium, rock climbing wall, walk the plank, zip lines, mini golf, casino, dining on the waterfront promenade, noodle bar, and more! Mar03 - My Arrival in Miami My flight to Miami went well, as usual. There was the usual hustle and bustle changing planes in the Atlanta airport. The landscape while flying over Florida started getting interesting as we passed Tampa and the Everglades. It was like entering another world, with mud-flats and small volcano structures. The Fort Lauderdale airport was hectic and crowded. I am told such is usual for spring break and a cruise weekend. I took a shuttle to my hotel, which my travel agent had arranged for me. The weather was great, sunny and clear, low humidity, with gentle sea breezes. It certainly helped put me in a vacation mood. The locals said the weather was cooler than usual, due to a recent cool front. YVE Hotel I stayed at the YVE Hotel in downtown Miami. This place is amazing. Although not cheap, it is a great value for downtown Miami. The location is ideal, right in the middle of downtown, and across the street from the BigBus tour central station, and the Bayside Marketplace. The staff are all professional and friendly. The lobby and rooms are spacious, calm, white, clean, and bright, wih soothing decor. I had a great view of the harbor and cruise port just a few blocks away. Everything seems clean and modern, with great use of technology. They use all natural cotton sheets, which were so comfortable and restful. There is even a concierge desk in the lobby which guests are free to use, to make travel arrangements, book tours, handle reservations, and such, and they even give tour discounts for hotel guests. I had never used a concierge before, and this was very helpful. Bad things about the hotel: The bathroom was tiny but functional. They use soft water, so it takes longer to wash clean. The elevators were slow and tiny, and had mirrors which made them look bigger but defeat the purpose. People kept walking into the back walls of the elevators as a result. The lobby had a lot of beautiful marble tile and corresponding echo. Miami Big Bus Tour Through the concierge, I chose to take the Miami "Big Bus" tour of the city, the Deluxe version which includes both day and night versions. At a price of $75 for the Deluxe tour I am not sure I would do this again, for the amount that I under-utilized my pass. The Deluxe pass is valid for a second day, and also includes a water tour of the wealthy mansions, which I did not get to do. Traffic was bad during the tour, but the announcers were very informative, pointing out sights and facts about the city, and the music they played when not making announcements certainly put me in a good Miami vibe. I got off the bus in Little Havana and got to try some very good authentic Cuban food at the restaurant El Cristo, recommended by the bus driver. I had the marinated Creole style chicken, with stewed black beans and a side salad. Although service was slow, the food, atmosphere, and value were all good. Back on the BigBus, I got to see downtown Miami, the Brickell financial district, the street art graffiti of the Wynwood area, South Beach, Little Havana, Coconut Grove, and more. After the evening BigBus tour featuring the city lights, I took the public transit MetroMover to check out more of downtown, including alternate hotels for next time in Miami. But I found nothing could beat the YVE Hotel. Mar 04 - Boarding the ship Boarding and checking out the ship I had breakfast at a local diner a block away from my hotel, Cafe Papillion, recommended by the hotel staff. They had lots of good choices, quick service, reasonable prices, and all food choices are available any time of day. I can tell it is a popular grab-and-go breakfast diner with the locals. My hotel then arranged a shuttle to take me to the cruise port, which was ready within minutes of my request. I later found out that calling a taxi would have been about the same price and speed, but the convenience was certainly a help. I got to the cruise terminal around 10:30AM. I thought I was early when I saw not many people were there yet. Check-in at the cruise terminal was straightforward. Then I was lead to an upstairs holding area, where thousands of people had already checked in, and were waiting to board the ship. Everyone was assigned a boarding group number, based on check-in time. I was in group 12, even though I was there early, and saw at least 20 groups altogether. After waiting over an hour, my group was finally called to board. Folks were still boarding around 2:00PM. I have come to believe that to avoid the crowds at boarding, it is better to be quite early or late, like after 2:00PM. That way, I can grab lunch, do some souvenir shopping, and then head to the port, and get on the ship with little wait, and not be hungry, since boarding occurs around lunch time. I have seen this seem true at all cruise ports. Unfortunately, at the Miami dock there is nothing to eat, see, shop, nor do. It is good I brought my tablet to pass the time. Once aboard the ship, I dropped off my carry-on luggage at my solo cabin within the Studio Lounge area (see description of it below), and went to the Savor main dining hall for lunch. Food was good, but service was a bit slow, probably due to some chaos of loading supplies for the upcoming week. This is a normal part of beginning any cruise. After, I walked around and explored my way around the ship. I saw folks having fun at the pool, and playing ping-pong nearby. The location for ping-pong is much better on this ship than others I have seen. They have 3 ping-pong tables, located under the great shelter of a staircase near the pool area. The paddles and balls for customer use appeared to be in great shape too. I was impressed. I really like ping-pong, and came back several times later in the week. Then came the emergency lifeboat drill. For my cabin, it was in the main theater, a very crowded jumbled mess. The cruise director was yelling too close to the microphone during the emergency instructions, so his words did not come through too well. After the drill, I went to the Spice H2O adults-only lounge at the top-rear of the ship for the sail away party. I got some nice views and photos of Miami harbor as we sailed away out of the sunset, and felt my blues slip away. I also discovered that the Sun Deck is the highest point on the ship, and offers some really great views from the top of the ship. I did not see any sun-bathers up there. If Norwegian were to enclose part of this Sun Deck, they could set up a really good Observatory Lounge, something this ship class is seriously missing. It was so beautiful up there, I nearly lost track of time. Studio Lounge and solo cabins In the evening, I went to participate in the solo cruisers event, first meeting in the Sugarcane Lounge, then to show off the Studio Lounge, then we ate in the Tropicana dining hall. The Studio Lounge is a neat idea. All passengers who have booked Studio solo cabins have their keycard coded for access to the Studio Lounge, which provides a 2nd layer of security to accessing the solo cruiser cabins within. The Studio Lounge also provides a living room or meeting place for solo travellers to meet. It has a small bar, some sports TVs, some meeting tables, drinks and cookies laid out available all the time free of charge, and a few board games to socialize. I have been impressed with the solo cabins on this ship. They are a nice size for one person, and I like the extra layer of security of having to go through the Studio Lounge entrances to reach the solo cabins. The sink is in an odd location. It would make more sense to put it between the shower and toilet, rather than the wall directly opposite the entry door, where it overlooks the bed. It would also be nice to have a hanger basket or shelf of some kind in the shower, to hold shampoo, soap, and other shower items. The shower took a little while to warm up, but reached a plenty warm temperature. There was plenty of room to store and organize my belongings in the cabin. I did find that there was plenty of room for my luggage under the bed, which had been a prior concern of mine. There were too many light switches located all over the cabin, which were not in logical places for the lights that they controlled, which was a bit confusing. The lights are regular white, not the blue "mood lighting" which is shown in brochures. The sheets were comfortable, as usual on Norwegian vessels. Tropicana Dining Hall The Tropicana dining hall was very nice. It quickly became my favorite evening place to eat, even including the upcharge restaurants. There was dark, rich wood everywhere. Some tables had ocean views at the side and rear of the ship, although window screens would cover these during intense sunlight hours. The food was always very good. There was always something on the menu to impress everyone. Service was rather slow on the first day of the cruise, as explained earlier, but great through the remainder of the cruise. The live band and singers every evening were great! The music was appropriate, and just the right volume. They mainly performed old standards and slow Broadway songs, but did well. There was a dance floor too. Norwegian has always impressed me with their entertainment. After an indulgent meal, I went to my cabin, and fell fast asleep to the rocking of the ship. Mar 05 - Day at sea I awoke around 4:30AM, about an hour before dawn. So I decided to get some cereal in the buffet, then walk around and explore the ship a bit. It is rather easy to get around, once everyone is aboard and the traffic settles down. I met a nice fellow cruiser on the promenade, and we exchanged cruise stories and learned tips from each other, always a favorite activity of mine. After finishing my vigorous walk, I took a shower back in my cabin, and had a small breakfast in the Taste main dining room, opposite from Savor. My waitress this time was prompt and good, and I even recommended her to the maitrede. I found out this was her second day as a waitress. The food was also very good, a Belgian waffle cooked to perfection, with a little creamy yogurt to dip it in for zing. I next attended the Cruise Critic member meeting, and met with fellow frequent cruisers. We organized a group slot pull and pub crawl for later in the week, but did not have enough volunteers to do a cabin crawl, where we could view several different types of cabins on the ship. We exchanged some tidbits on cruising, which is always helpful. All through the day we had the island of Cuba going by on our port side. So in my life, I finally got to see Cuba! It appears to be a beautiful country, with mountains and tropical rain forests, worth visiting someday. Next I continued walking around the ship, and finished learning my way around. I got to see several game shows in the atrium: Deal Or No Deal and Celebrity Heads. In the second game, a contestant would ask the audience yes or no questions about a pictured celebrity that was hidden from his view and have a limited amount of time to guess who it was. I also saw a behind the scenes presentation on the laundry and kitchen and crew quarters on the ship. It is amazing how they take care of so many guests in a week! I also signed up for my next cruise and got some Cruise Next vouchers for half price, which can be used for deposits on later cruises. After a nap I went to supper in the Tropicana Room once again. The service was much better. Perhaps the crew needed some adjustment on the first day. I had a very good Szechuan chicken with an amazing strawberry chocolate lava cake. It's crispy on the outside and runny in the middle. After, I relaxed with some smooth jazz in the Fat Cats nightclub. The band there was also really good, called Groove International. Headliners Comedy Club I next decided to check out the comedy club show. This was the first time I had attended a comedy club, certainly a positive experience. It was just like on TV, but even better, and there was no smoking. The comedians were Keith Bender and Frank Townsend, and both were very good. They told stories everyone could relate to, such as observatons about cruising, growing up, and going through a job interview. Since this was not the late night show, and there were some teens in the audience, they were careful to keep the show age appropriate. I appreciated that. "Burn the Floor" - Latin Cuban dance show This show is amazing! It is very popular, and I can see why. Norwegian has always had great shows and entertainment, and this was one of the best. This is a stage show featuring Miami / Cuba style singing and dancing. This was also quite an educational experience for me, as I further came to realize that Cuba is a beautiful country, and another wonderful offshoot of the Latin culture. The costumes were all great. The music and dancing was upbeat, and expertly synchronized, with high energy dance steps. The action almost set the floor ablaze, figuratively of course.The scenery and animated backdrops of Cuba were also dazzling, complete with moving shadows, moving clouds, and fireworks! After a night of music, I went onto the promenade and found the moon casting its reflection over the waves. This was a beautiful, tranquil scene to set me to rest for the evening. Mar 06 - Roatan, a jungle hills island off the coast of Honduras I woke up ready to go, chowed down at the buffet, and then played some ping pong on the decks.The buffet always has some good items to eat, and today was no exception. It was crowded at the buffet, which is normal the morning before folks go ashore. I had a little time to spend, so practiced ping-pong with a family of youngsters that had never played before. They showed some potential. I always enjoy ping-pong on cruises. I was pleased to see that the ping pong tables were in a good location on the ship, protected under one of the poolside stairwells, and the equipment was all in good shape, tables, paddles, balls, everything needed all provided. Roatan Semi-sub, West End, and Cameo Factory tour I then gathered my belongings, and exited the ship to join my tour. We boarded a small bus at the cruise dock and tourist shopping village, then drove about a half hour through narrow jungle roads to the village of West End, where we boarded a glass bottom boat. The water was a bit murky, but we were able to see lots of sea life: underwater grass, corals, and lots of beautiful multi-colored fish. My pictures of the sea came out better than I expected. We then went to a local beachside bar & restaurant for some complimentary lemonade, and were given about an hour to browse, eat, and shop around West End on our own. The town looked like a place where Jimmy Buffet would hang out, lots of bars and eateries, lots of boats, and a few souvenir stands. Browsing around, I wound up at the Roatan Chocolate Factory. They had great samples available, especially the dark chocolate and passionfruit infused chocolate, so I bought too much to take home. They also give folks a quick free tour of the factory, and I got to watch cocoa beans get boken into nibs, and then ground into cocoa butter, and then molded into chocolate. They also have really good ice cream, so I got a great cup of mint chocolate chip. When time was up, we boarded the bus, and drove to the Cameo Institute near our cruise ship. Here they take conch shells and carve them into intricate jewelry designs, such as pedants and ear rings. Some are translucent or have deep relief features. They were a bit expensive, but not a pricey as I expected. Each is a unique masterpiece. Photos and questions were welcome all throughout the cameo shop, and we even got to see some craftsmen at work. Our tour then dropped us off back at the cruise port. I shopped for more souvenirs, such as bottles of vanilla, figurines, and a few fridge magnets. I have found that the upper floor of the Roatan shopping complex has lower prices and good assortments. I also love the sound of the old guys playing marimba in the upper corner of the shopping building. They have been playing since my first cruise to Roatan in 2004, and are always mezmerizing with their wonderful music. Escape Room - the Big Top Back on the ship, I had another great meal in the Tropicana, accompanied by great music and company. It has certainly become my favorite restaurant so far. I then put in reservations for upcoming shows, and found the lady in line next to me was cancelling her reservation for the escape room that very evening, called "escape the big top" with a circus carnival theme. I had always wanted to try one of these escape rooms, and finally got to do it. The participants were divided into about 8 competing teams of 8-10 people, and given a set of circus themed word puzzles to solve. Half of the puzzles would lead to nonsense magic words that would win the game, and half of the puzzles were distractions to slow you down, but no one knew which were which. All are very hard, and you have to think exactly like the guy who created the puzzles to solve them, catching on the right clues and puns. So creative thinking would often lead you astray from the solution. Our team did very well, but we found out afterward that we solved the wrong puzzles and wasted time, while another team raced to the solution in 15 minutes. Very frustrating for us. Fat Cats karaoke Afterward, checking my schedule, I found that karaoke was in the Fat Cats Saloon from 8:00 to midnight, and just had to go. There was only one device available to sign up for songs, and the song selection was quite limited. People would come and go, so at times the que was rather short. But everyone had fun, and the accoustics and host were quite good, and there was no smoking in the lounge. Many times I was the star, entertaining the crowd. After a night of accomplishment, and naturally a bit of a sore throat, I headed to bed. Mar07 - Harvest Caye, Mayan Medicine Trail tour Our ship docked at Harvest Caye, an artificial tourist island off the coast of Belize. I proceeded off the ship to the ferry dock and waiting area in the northwest corner of the island, to board my shore excursion to the mainland of Central America. While waitng, there was a local drum & dancing band in the plaza by the ferry dock to keep everyone entertainted. This was a good move on Norwegian's part, an improvement over last year at this same place. I have always been pleased with Norwegian's handling of entertainment. All the folks going to the mainland were boarded on the ferry, about 300 in all, and we took off for a half hour ferry to the mainland. After about 15 minutes, an elderly traveller got sick, and we had to go back and drop him off, resulting in a total 45 minute loss. This affected some of the other shore excursions, but not ours. After about half an hour, our ferry landed at the Independence, Belize ferry terminal. We were then loaded on a bus, for a half hour drive to the home of Ernesto and Aurora, who have learned and practiced Mayan traditional medicine. Mayan Medicine Trail This tour was very educational and fascinating, and our hosts were so gracious. Although most members of our tour group were elderly, none had difficulty with the jungle walk path or rest of the tour. Ernesto was there to greet us, and led us to a large hut, where there were displays of local herbal treatments, taken from nearby plants. We sat on wooden stools before a table, while a pot of copal incense sweetened the air. Ernesto and Aurora introduced themselves, and their backgrounds in Mayan heritage and folk medicine. They offered us use of their all natural insect repellent, which they stated was just as effective as store bought. Ernesto then led us on a leisurely half hour walk through the nearby jungle, pointing out various plants and trees, and their medicinal properties. Some could relieve pain, restore hormonal balance, or fight infections. And in the jungle, we found their natural insect repellant worked great. Back at the hut, Aurora showed us how to make the all natural insect repellant formula by hand from crushed herbs and citrus oils. She also told many success tales of herbs, treatments, and patients. We were then taken to another hut, the kitchen, and given a warm mug of authentic cocoa drink and corn wafers. The cocoa drink was like a bean soup in texture, slightly sweet and bitter. The corn wafers were like sweet tortillas. After this refreshing snack, we were then taken to Aurora's herbal shop, where we could purchase herbs for all kinds of treatments, all at reasonable prices. I bought some soap, and some copal for clearing the sinuses. Our bus took us back to Independence, and we boarded a small 10 seat speed boat to take us back to Harvest Cay. Wow, what a rush as we zoomed across the waters. When we arrived, it was over an hour till our ship was scheduled to sail, but most of the shops were closing. This was a major dissappointment, and the shop keepers could have made a lot more money from shoppers returning from excursions. I wanted to buy some pepper jelly, but the chocolate store was the only one still open. Dragging my heels, I headed back to the ship, and ate another great meal, this time at the French restaurant Le Bistro. Le Bistro French restaurant The food was amazingly rich and delicious. For appetizer I had a buttered artichoke and steamed asparagus with a creamy dill herb sauce. For entree it was the shredded roast duck meat with potatoes. And for dessert, a classic apple tart. Service and atmosphere were also very good. My water glass never fell empty. The decor was classical French, and I felt like I was in a regal palace. With a full stomach, and an early tour the next morning, I went to bed. There was a note with a 25 gallon paper laundry bag on my bed, offering to wash and fold all the laundry I could fit for 20 dollars. I always look forward to the laundry special in the middle of the week, as it is a real bargain. I took all my soiled clothes, carefully slid them into the bag, left it on one side of my bed, and went to sleep. Mar 08 - Costa Maya, Chacchoben Mayan Ruins Chacchoben Mayan Ruins From the Costa Maya port, our bus and tour guide took us to the Chacchoben Mayan ruins, about an hour away. Our tour guide was Alexandro, also known as Alex. He was good, but not as interesting or informative as some I have had. The ruins were grand and impressive, but not that large. The oyramids were roped off, so you could not climb above the 4th step. There are three main pyramids here, and a large courtyard connecting them together, but not much else. The ruins are partially shaded, but the pyramids are open to sun. There are also several souvenir shops and restrooms at the site entrance. It was somewhat crowded, as there were about 5 or 6 tour busses full of people here. I had considered taking the deluxe tour with a smaller group, and now see its advantages. Maybe I will do that next time. Our tour returned to the Costa Maya port. Costa Maya port This place always puzzles me. The shops and restaurants are laid our in a confusing J shape, which leaves me wandering in circles. It's also completely artificial and touristy. After my tour, I was starving. I had to check several restaurants before I found a sit down place with food for my diet concerns, and so I was not in a happy mood. I finally located the Cantina Latina behind the beachfront swimming pool. There are some signs leading to it, but they are poorly placed. I also found they do not take US dollars cash! I ordered the chicken tacos, which came with small cups of black beans and rice. The food quality was good, but the place was noisy. Since I was travelling alone, they wanted to seat me at the bar, right by the marimba band. After lunch, I felt much better and did some shopping. After browsing around, I picked up some fridge magnets, and got a free charm at one of the diamond jewelry stores by enduring a sales pitch for a watch that I could not use nor afford. As usual in Mexico, store hawkers everywhere were pressuring me to come into their store and buy their overpriced goods. Once again I found the chocolate store, sampled their wares, and bought too much. The tequila museum was closed, bummer. No one had my favorite tequila in stock, Coralejo. It comes in tall, decorative blue bottles, is smooth, native, and reasonably priced. I also found a group of enthusiastic, fun, energetic guys posing as "Lucho Libres" or those famous Mexican professional entertainment wrestlers. I was thrilled to get my photo taken with them, for a tip of course, but they were not pushy about tips. This made me want to tip them even more, such fun! Back on board and to the Tropicana Room. The fried flounder with mixed greens side salad was delicious. At dinner, I learned that many folks in suites throughout the ship get access to the private Haven area, not just those in the Haven courtyard at the top of the ship. After dinner I saw the amazing "Million Dollar Quartet" show in the main theater. Million Dollar Quartet This was a very good show, though Burn the Floor was slightly better in my opinion. It features 4 classic rock & roll performers coming together with their record producer one night early in their 1950s recording careers. All the performers were great. I especially liked the guy portraying Jerry Lee Lewis. The guy portraying Elvis had the moves and look, but not the voice, and the same could be said of the Johnny Cash performer. I did not like the way the performance attempted to follow a script of how the singers interacted with their studio record producer, but at least that gave an opportunity for their personalities to come through. Some were solo acts, some were duets, some featured the whole band. All were great. This is another must see. I did not realize the show was an hour and half long, and had to leave early to catch my reserved seat at Cirque Dreams - Steam in the Illusionarium. "Cirque Dreams - Steam" in the Illusionarium This was another great show. I would describe it as a steam-punk themed talent show. As with most Cirque type shows, it had elaborate costumes, with acrobats and other amazing talents. The show takes place in the Illusionarium, a purpose built circular theater, with Victorian magician advertisements all over, to set the mood. My favorite act was the guy who balanced on a rolling pipe, kicked dishes off his foot, and caught them in the air in a stack on top of his hat. There was also a bicycle trickster, various jugglers, and a guy who shot playing cards out of someone's hand with a crossbow. This impressed me, until I noticed a red glow from the end of his crossbow, indicating he was using laser sights. The show came with a meal, but the menu was never published as far as I could tell, and there were many mix-ups around the food service. When I arrived on time and was seated, half my table had already finished their appetizer. The wait staff brought and took away many dishes for folks that were not ready for the next course. I also had difficulty communicating with the staff about my diet requirements. Be sure to let the box office know about any diet restrictions you have at least 4 hours before the show. The show is normally $35, but if you have the meal plan it is just $18. Mar09 - Cozumel, Mayan Cocoa Company and Mayan Village Instead of this tour, I recommend the Island Highlights and Shopping tour, which I took last year. Today's tour was similar but did not include as much, and the other is a better bargain. Plus, the other tour gives you the option to be dropped off at Pancho' Backyard, a great Mexican restaurant about 8 blocks from the cruise port, which then lets you walk back to the ship past lots of great souvenir shops on the way. My original tour of the Amazing Secret River in the Mexican mainland was cancelled, due to a terrorist incident on the Cozumel ferries, so I had to make a last minute decision of remaining available tours. We were taken by bus from the Cozumel Punta Langosta cruise port to the Mayan Cocoa Company, about 20 minutes southward. Clouds were gathering and the weather looked threatening. At the entrance, we received a traditional blessing from a Mayan shaman, dressed as a jaguar. This was a new feature of the tour, which I liked. We then got to see how cocoa is processed into chocolate, and try a sample of the original drink. We never saw a recreation Mayan village, as advertised as part of this tour, so I was dissappointed. In the gift shop, I got to purchase several kinds of Mexican chocolate and cocoa soap. The chocolate here is very good, and I recommend buying some if you can. I think their products are sold throughout Cozumel as well. We were then taken by bus tour around the perimeter of the island, past low lying jungles and beaches, to El Mirador, which is a rocky photographic point that sticks out the west side of the island. There are also some local souvenir vendors here. Our bus took us back to the Punta Langosta shopping mall and cruise port. Punta Langosta shopping mall and MegaMart near the cruise dock The name of this port and mall means Lobster Point. Today the rain was coming down in buckets by now, so I stayed in the mall area, and got my souvenir shopping done. Although the vendors were a little more pricey than the rest of Cozumel, I did not want to wander in the rain, and it was rather convenient. I wanted to get tequilla, vanilla, and some local chocolate spiced mole sauce (pronounced moe-lay). I found good variety and deals on tequila in the Plaza De Fiesta store, in the central lower level of the mall. They had plenty of my favorite brand, Coralejo, (pronounced like coral lay-ho) in the beautiful tall blue bottles. I had been searching for it all week. I found the best deal on vanilla on the upper floor, midway to the back on the side which leads to the ship boarding. The vendor was an older man, who seemed to genuinely care about his customers, rather than make a quick sale. His vanilla was also authentic, no artificial flavorings. Be sure to check labels for this. I asked him for mole. He did not have any, but knew that the MegaMart grocery store one block to the south would have it. I walked to the location, and found that this huge grocery store (plus more!) is on the upper floor of the building. It certainly deserves the name MegaMart. This is where the locals shop, and prices are cheap, and about a quarter of the checkout lanes are labelled with a bilingual cashier, which was helpful to us tourists. I found the mole, three jars for four dollars, and returned to the old man at the mall, to show my success and thank him for his help in my quest. This completed my shopping checklist, so I went back to the ship. Back on the ship, I had another great meal in the Tropicana, another plate of fried flounder with mixed green salad and chocolate brownie cake parfait dessert. After, I noticed several of the ship's photographers about the ship, and had some professional photos taken, as you only have to pay for the ones you buy. Also, before the day was over, my laundry had arrived in my cabin. I set it aside, and went to bed. Mar10 - Final Day At Sea After the previous day's excitement and exhaustion, I spent most of the day sleeping in, relaxing and discussing cruise experiences with fellow travellers, and preparing for disembarkation the next day. I woke up late, and ate breakfast in the Taste dining room. I had a nice sea view of the relaxing waves going by, along with some French toast. Upon leaving Taste, I met some fellow travellers from my shore excursions, and we passed the afternoon away, talking about what we enjoyed on this cruise, and others. I then proceeded to explore the ship for things to do, both now and on my next reserved cruise, which will have the same ship layout. I found a line-up of carnival type games in O'Sheehan's bar. My favorite was the miniature bowling. Folks were having a blast playing that. I also saw billiards and dart boards in the pub. I also spent my afternoon sorting my laundry, packing my bags for departure the next day, and tallying my souvenirs for customs. I went by the photo studio, picked out my favorite photos, and purchased a package deal, which includes electronic copies of those on a usb stick. The photographers took some very good photos of me this time. They were always courteous and professional, offering their services, and never pushy, which was an improvement over previous cruises. After this, I was getting hungry, and had one last meal on my meal plan to spend, so I started searching for an upscale restaurant. After finding many were booked up, I settled on Cagney's steakhouse. Even though I do not normally eat steak, they still had plenty choices to please anyone. I had an amazing grilled sea bass. For dessert I had a crumble cake, that was pretty good. From the menu description, I thought it would be a pear tart with figs, but it was still rather good. Service and atmosphere were both excellent. With a full belly, and disembarkation coming in the morning, I headed to bed. I made sure to set my luggage outside my cabin with my group luggage tags for the porters to handle. Mar11 - Returning Home I set a wake up alarm, and awoke groggy. I was so excited by all the activities on the ship, I just could not sleep. Next time I will know to better pace myself on vacation. I was supposed to take a bus tour of Miami on my way to the airport, but it got cancelled the very night before due to poor enrollment. So I opted for a cruise to airport transfer instead. Next time I will know to just take a taxi instead of the transfer, so I do not feel rushed or herded off the ship. But I did save about one third the cost of a cab fare. I went to breakfast in the Taste dining room, and shared a table with a lovely couple, and we exchanged cruise tips and stories. When my luggage color group was called, I had to leave the restaurant and get in line to exit the ship. The line reached all the way around the 7th deck of the ship. Wow. Every public space was filled with people lined up for the exit. After wasting about an hour in line, I exited the ship, and was guided to the cruise terminal warehouse to claim my luggage. It turns out since I had booked the transfer, my luggage was in a side chamber of the warehouse, hard to find. I collected my luggage, and followed the signs to go through customs. No customs forms were used this time; they were just checking passports. Evidently, only those who brought customs controlled items aboard were given customs forms, such as alcohol and tobacco. Outside of customs and the cruise terminal I found our transfer bus to the airport. There were a lot of people in the bus line, so it actually took at least 3 busses to transfer everyone. The scenery and weather were all nice. We got to see the Miami skyline dissappear into the forest of palm tress covering the city. At the airport, we were dropped off at a luggage and flight check-in station, then proceeded through security screening into the airport. I then had time to explore the Miami airport. Miami airport I like this place. American Airlines is the dominant airline here, and its traveller area is sectioned off from others. The airport did not feel crowded or noisy, but I could tell it was plenty busy. There is beautiful dark tile on the floor, with shells and other sea life decorating the floor and walls. There are plenty of lights and windows, so the airport does not feel dark or dingy. The airplane gate areas are carpeted in a sand color. I like it all, very soothing. I can see how this would be a wonderful retreat from the hot Miami weather. There is an elevated train that takes guests quickly between about every group of 20 gates. I had no trouble finding my gate, or a good place to eat. There is a full gamut of price and service restaurant options. I then boarded my flight to Charlotte to change planes. Charlotte airport and the flight home This airport is usually a peaceful, well organized place to change planes, and one of my favorites. Not so on this Sunday afternoon. It was full of screaming children, and the ceilings and light fixtures were ripped out for repair. All the screaming children may have been due to spring break starting. I grabbed a snack at the Pino Gelato stand, one of my favorites, and boarded my flight home as soon as possible, to get out of here. My vacation was over. Oh, I want another!

Plenty of fun for everyone!

Norwegian Getaway Cruise Review by RocketSci73

6 people found this helpful
Trip Details
Summary:

This was a great cruise. There's plenty to do on this mega-ship, something for everyone, but not too many quiet places to relax. The itinerary is great, featuring several of my favorite Caribbean ports, with a great variety of activities.

review by RocketSci73, Huntsville, AL

male, solo traveler, age 44, 12th cruise, 10th with Norwegian

Pros:

- The YVE Hotel is a great place to stay before a cruise, or anytime in downtown Miami. It is convenient, well kept, and offers many great services.

- The folks in Miami were very friendly, compared with other cruise ports I have been to.

- Norwegian always has excellent music and entertainment, no matter where you are on the ship, or what you are doing. This includes background music, entertainers, commedians, musicians, etc. It is generally at the right volume and appropriate mood for the occassion. The stage theater shows were awesome!

- Food, atmosphere, and service in the restaurants were all great! This is something I have come to appreciate on Norwegian Cruise Line over the years.

- There were display boards strategically placed around the ship showing which restaurants were filling up at what dinner times. This can really help someone to figure out where they want to eat.

- I had no problems with unruly children on this cruise, which shows the NCL child care programs and activities are great.

- The ship is large yet easy to get around, with a variety of entertainments and services. Indoor activities are on decks 6-8, outdoor activities are on decks 15 and up.

- The Studio solo cabins and accompanying Studio Lounge are a great setup for solo travellers, offering plenty of room, good prices, and extra security. Norwegian has always been the cruise line that best caters to solo travellers, in my opinion.

- This ship has a really great setup for ping-pong, with tables in a protected area, and supplies in good shape.

- The baffles which block the breezes on the ship's promenade and outer walkways are very effective, and make the promenade area very comfortable.

- Norwegian usually offers a mid-week laundry special, which is a great bargain. I always use it: all the laundry you can stuff in a 20 gallon bag for around 20 dollars.

- The following vendors on this itinerary all have good chocolate to sample and buy: Roatan Chocolate Factory in West End, Mayan Cocoa Company in Cozumel, and Kakaw Cocoa Company at the Costa Maya cruise port shopping village. I found the Moho Chocolate on Harvest Cay to be rather dry and bitter.

- O'Sheehan's Pub on the ship is always open, with good hearty and free food, and lots of pub/carnival entertainment games, such as billiards and darts. The mini bowling was definitely a hit. This place is also a great choice to dine any time other restaurants are closed, such as late at night or if you board the ship late.

- The photographers on board the ship were all very courteous and professional, and took some excellent photos. They were not pushy as before on cruises. The photo selection process is now more personalized, and saves time by not having to review everyone else's photos. If you purchase a package deal, you get electronic copies of your photos on a usb stick too.

Cons:

- Many complimentary activities required reservations (meals, shows, etc.). This contradicts Norwegian's highly touted Freestyle Cruising concept, where you don't have to plan your vacation days ahead of time. There was also much confusion over which activiies required reservations, and which ways to get reservations for different types of activities.

- Both my travel agent and NCL pressured me into pre-reserving tour excursions, claiming many sell out ahead of time. This backfired. All tours I went on had plenty of room for extra guests, and some got cancelled due to low enrollment, and I did not see any sell out.

- There is a minimum of trash cans on the ship, especially in the cabins.

- There are only 2 stairwells and elevator sections on the ship, which concentrates foot traffic around these areas. The decor in these areas is also rather dark and scary, as it is meant to resemble a Miami Latin night club.

- The central Atrium area was always noisy, with a concert or game show or such going on. This disturbed the adjoining customer service desks, internet cafe, and library. There should be somewhere else on the ship where these loud activities can occur. For example, the Bliss Lounge was not used much.

- Credits and discounts took up to a full day to appear on my on-board spending account. I also had to go to the service desk in person and show my NCL Gold status card to get them. What a pain.

Tips:

- Around the Miami cruise port, there is nothing to do, such as shops, restaurants, or museums. The wait to board the ship can be long, so bring your own entertainment and some snacks. It may be best to arrive earlier or later than the crowd.

- This is a larger ship. Even though the layout is rather straightforward, it's good to print and bring a map of the ship with you. Most activities are described as "mid-ship" which is usually not specific enough to find a particular activity or location.

- This is a larger ship. Although there are lots of people everywhere, it does not feel crowded at all. There is always something exciting going on. Don't try to do it all. You can't. Just enjoy yourself, every minute.

- Most restaurants are toward the back of the ship. The theater, spa, and gym are toward the front.

- A larger ship has more variety of simultaneous activities, and more spaces to host them. Get ready to stay busy, and don't expect much rest. I could not find a quiet place anywhere on the ship to relax, enjoy peace, read a book, and watch the waves go by, in air conditioned comfort.

- The Sun Deck on the top of the ship offers some great 360 degree views of the ship's surroundings. Norwegian could turn this area into an observation lounge of some kind, as I did not see any sun-bathers there.

- Instead of pre-reserving tour excursions, I recommend making a deposit into your onboard spending account before the cruise to cover them. It is easy to do through the NCL website, or your travel agent. Plus, I found any discounts that you are due can only be verified and processed once you are onboard.

- The best way I found to make any kind of reservations is to use your in-cabin interactive TV, which can handle all of them at once, without waiting in line. However, if you make an error through the TV (easy to do), you will have to go to the customer service desks and wait in line to modify or cancel your reservations.

- The uppper level of the Roatan dock shopping complex has some of the best souvenirs and prices on the island. Be sure to check out the old guys playing the marimba within the right corner of the upper level. They have been playing for over 15 years, and simply amazing.

- Most shops in Harvest Cay close over an hour before the ship departs. This can be a frustrating surprise, so get your shopping done early there.

- Try to get a map of the Costa Maya port ahead of time, as the layout can be confusing. (see my photo below for an example) It's a tourist trap. The scenery is fake, the shops are overpriced and harassing, and the restaurants are limited.

- If travelling or dining solo, be sure to ask the wait staff for sharing a table. You will meet some wonderful people, and have opportunities to learn about some fascinating places and adventures from your fellow travellers.

So much more of the ship...

There is so much to see and do on this ship, there is no way to see and do it all in one trip. This made me want to come back for more. Here are some things I did not get to try, but wanted to do: swimming pool, water slides, spa massage, gymnasium, rock climbing wall, walk the plank, zip lines, mini golf, casino, dining on the waterfront promenade, noodle bar, and more!


Mar03 - My Arrival in Miami

My flight to Miami went well, as usual. There was the usual hustle and bustle changing planes in the Atlanta airport. The landscape while flying over Florida started getting interesting as we passed Tampa and the Everglades. It was like entering another world, with mud-flats and small volcano structures. The Fort Lauderdale airport was hectic and crowded. I am told such is usual for spring break and a cruise weekend. I took a shuttle to my hotel, which my travel agent had arranged for me. The weather was great, sunny and clear, low humidity, with gentle sea breezes. It certainly helped put me in a vacation mood. The locals said the weather was cooler than usual, due to a recent cool front.

YVE Hotel

I stayed at the YVE Hotel in downtown Miami. This place is amazing. Although not cheap, it is a great value for downtown Miami. The location is ideal, right in the middle of downtown, and across the street from the BigBus tour central station, and the Bayside Marketplace. The staff are all professional and friendly. The lobby and rooms are spacious, calm, white, clean, and bright, wih soothing decor. I had a great view of the harbor and cruise port just a few blocks away. Everything seems clean and modern, with great use of technology. They use all natural cotton sheets, which were so comfortable and restful. There is even a concierge desk in the lobby which guests are free to use, to make travel arrangements, book tours, handle reservations, and such, and they even give tour discounts for hotel guests. I had never used a concierge before, and this was very helpful. Bad things about the hotel: The bathroom was tiny but functional. They use soft water, so it takes longer to wash clean. The elevators were slow and tiny, and had mirrors which made them look bigger but defeat the purpose. People kept walking into the back walls of the elevators as a result. The lobby had a lot of beautiful marble tile and corresponding echo.

Miami Big Bus Tour

Through the concierge, I chose to take the Miami "Big Bus" tour of the city, the Deluxe version which includes both day and night versions. At a price of $75 for the Deluxe tour I am not sure I would do this again, for the amount that I under-utilized my pass. The Deluxe pass is valid for a second day, and also includes a water tour of the wealthy mansions, which I did not get to do. Traffic was bad during the tour, but the announcers were very informative, pointing out sights and facts about the city, and the music they played when not making announcements certainly put me in a good Miami vibe. I got off the bus in Little Havana and got to try some very good authentic Cuban food at the restaurant El Cristo, recommended by the bus driver. I had the marinated Creole style chicken, with stewed black beans and a side salad. Although service was slow, the food, atmosphere, and value were all good. Back on the BigBus, I got to see downtown Miami, the Brickell financial district, the street art graffiti of the Wynwood area, South Beach, Little Havana, Coconut Grove, and more. After the evening BigBus tour featuring the city lights, I took the public transit MetroMover to check out more of downtown, including alternate hotels for next time in Miami. But I found nothing could beat the YVE Hotel.

Mar 04 - Boarding the ship

Boarding and checking out the ship

I had breakfast at a local diner a block away from my hotel, Cafe Papillion, recommended by the hotel staff. They had lots of good choices, quick service, reasonable prices, and all food choices are available any time of day. I can tell it is a popular grab-and-go breakfast diner with the locals. My hotel then arranged a shuttle to take me to the cruise port, which was ready within minutes of my request. I later found out that calling a taxi would have been about the same price and speed, but the convenience was certainly a help.

I got to the cruise terminal around 10:30AM. I thought I was early when I saw not many people were there yet. Check-in at the cruise terminal was straightforward. Then I was lead to an upstairs holding area, where thousands of people had already checked in, and were waiting to board the ship. Everyone was assigned a boarding group number, based on check-in time. I was in group 12, even though I was there early, and saw at least 20 groups altogether. After waiting over an hour, my group was finally called to board. Folks were still boarding around 2:00PM. I have come to believe that to avoid the crowds at boarding, it is better to be quite early or late, like after 2:00PM. That way, I can grab lunch, do some souvenir shopping, and then head to the port, and get on the ship with little wait, and not be hungry, since boarding occurs around lunch time. I have seen this seem true at all cruise ports. Unfortunately, at the Miami dock there is nothing to eat, see, shop, nor do. It is good I brought my tablet to pass the time.

Once aboard the ship, I dropped off my carry-on luggage at my solo cabin within the Studio Lounge area (see description of it below), and went to the Savor main dining hall for lunch. Food was good, but service was a bit slow, probably due to some chaos of loading supplies for the upcoming week. This is a normal part of beginning any cruise.

After, I walked around and explored my way around the ship. I saw folks having fun at the pool, and playing ping-pong nearby. The location for ping-pong is much better on this ship than others I have seen. They have 3 ping-pong tables, located under the great shelter of a staircase near the pool area. The paddles and balls for customer use appeared to be in great shape too. I was impressed. I really like ping-pong, and came back several times later in the week.

Then came the emergency lifeboat drill. For my cabin, it was in the main theater, a very crowded jumbled mess. The cruise director was yelling too close to the microphone during the emergency instructions, so his words did not come through too well.

After the drill, I went to the Spice H2O adults-only lounge at the top-rear of the ship for the sail away party. I got some nice views and photos of Miami harbor as we sailed away out of the sunset, and felt my blues slip away. I also discovered that the Sun Deck is the highest point on the ship, and offers some really great views from the top of the ship. I did not see any sun-bathers up there. If Norwegian were to enclose part of this Sun Deck, they could set up a really good Observatory Lounge, something this ship class is seriously missing. It was so beautiful up there, I nearly lost track of time.

Studio Lounge and solo cabins

In the evening, I went to participate in the solo cruisers event, first meeting in the Sugarcane Lounge, then to show off the Studio Lounge, then we ate in the Tropicana dining hall. The Studio Lounge is a neat idea. All passengers who have booked Studio solo cabins have their keycard coded for access to the Studio Lounge, which provides a 2nd layer of security to accessing the solo cruiser cabins within. The Studio Lounge also provides a living room or meeting place for solo travellers to meet. It has a small bar, some sports TVs, some meeting tables, drinks and cookies laid out available all the time free of charge, and a few board games to socialize.

I have been impressed with the solo cabins on this ship. They are a nice size for one person, and I like the extra layer of security of having to go through the Studio Lounge entrances to reach the solo cabins. The sink is in an odd location. It would make more sense to put it between the shower and toilet, rather than the wall directly opposite the entry door, where it overlooks the bed. It would also be nice to have a hanger basket or shelf of some kind in the shower, to hold shampoo, soap, and other shower items. The shower took a little while to warm up, but reached a plenty warm temperature. There was plenty of room to store and organize my belongings in the cabin. I did find that there was plenty of room for my luggage under the bed, which had been a prior concern of mine. There were too many light switches located all over the cabin, which were not in logical places for the lights that they controlled, which was a bit confusing. The lights are regular white, not the blue "mood lighting" which is shown in brochures. The sheets were comfortable, as usual on Norwegian vessels.

Tropicana Dining Hall

The Tropicana dining hall was very nice. It quickly became my favorite evening place to eat, even including the upcharge restaurants. There was dark, rich wood everywhere. Some tables had ocean views at the side and rear of the ship, although window screens would cover these during intense sunlight hours. The food was always very good. There was always something on the menu to impress everyone. Service was rather slow on the first day of the cruise, as explained earlier, but great through the remainder of the cruise. The live band and singers every evening were great! The music was appropriate, and just the right volume. They mainly performed old standards and slow Broadway songs, but did well. There was a dance floor too. Norwegian has always impressed me with their entertainment. After an indulgent meal, I went to my cabin, and fell fast asleep to the rocking of the ship.


Mar 05 - Day at sea

I awoke around 4:30AM, about an hour before dawn. So I decided to get some cereal in the buffet, then walk around and explore the ship a bit. It is rather easy to get around, once everyone is aboard and the traffic settles down. I met a nice fellow cruiser on the promenade, and we exchanged cruise stories and learned tips from each other, always a favorite activity of mine. After finishing my vigorous walk, I took a shower back in my cabin, and had a small breakfast in the Taste main dining room, opposite from Savor. My waitress this time was prompt and good, and I even recommended her to the maitrede. I found out this was her second day as a waitress. The food was also very good, a Belgian waffle cooked to perfection, with a little creamy yogurt to dip it in for zing.

I next attended the Cruise Critic member meeting, and met with fellow frequent cruisers. We organized a group slot pull and pub crawl for later in the week, but did not have enough volunteers to do a cabin crawl, where we could view several different types of cabins on the ship. We exchanged some tidbits on cruising, which is always helpful.

All through the day we had the island of Cuba going by on our port side. So in my life, I finally got to see Cuba! It appears to be a beautiful country, with mountains and tropical rain forests, worth visiting someday.

Next I continued walking around the ship, and finished learning my way around. I got to see several game shows in the atrium: Deal Or No Deal and Celebrity Heads. In the second game, a contestant would ask the audience yes or no questions about a pictured celebrity that was hidden from his view and have a limited amount of time to guess who it was. I also saw a behind the scenes presentation on the laundry and kitchen and crew quarters on the ship. It is amazing how they take care of so many guests in a week! I also signed up for my next cruise and got some Cruise Next vouchers for half price, which can be used for deposits on later cruises.

After a nap I went to supper in the Tropicana Room once again. The service was much better. Perhaps the crew needed some adjustment on the first day. I had a very good Szechuan chicken with an amazing strawberry chocolate lava cake. It's crispy on the outside and runny in the middle.

After, I relaxed with some smooth jazz in the Fat Cats nightclub. The band there was also really good, called Groove International.

Headliners Comedy Club

I next decided to check out the comedy club show. This was the first time I had attended a comedy club, certainly a positive experience. It was just like on TV, but even better, and there was no smoking. The comedians were Keith Bender and Frank Townsend, and both were very good. They told stories everyone could relate to, such as observatons about cruising, growing up, and going through a job interview. Since this was not the late night show, and there were some teens in the audience, they were careful to keep the show age appropriate. I appreciated that.

"Burn the Floor" - Latin Cuban dance show

This show is amazing! It is very popular, and I can see why. Norwegian has always had great shows and entertainment, and this was one of the best. This is a stage show featuring Miami / Cuba style singing and dancing. This was also quite an educational experience for me, as I further came to realize that Cuba is a beautiful country, and another wonderful offshoot of the Latin culture. The costumes were all great. The music and dancing was upbeat, and expertly synchronized, with high energy dance steps. The action almost set the floor ablaze, figuratively of course.The scenery and animated backdrops of Cuba were also dazzling, complete with moving shadows, moving clouds, and fireworks!

After a night of music, I went onto the promenade and found the moon casting its reflection over the waves. This was a beautiful, tranquil scene to set me to rest for the evening.

Mar 06 - Roatan, a jungle hills island off the coast of Honduras

I woke up ready to go, chowed down at the buffet, and then played some ping pong on the decks.The buffet always has some good items to eat, and today was no exception. It was crowded at the buffet, which is normal the morning before folks go ashore. I had a little time to spend, so practiced ping-pong with a family of youngsters that had never played before. They showed some potential. I always enjoy ping-pong on cruises. I was pleased to see that the ping pong tables were in a good location on the ship, protected under one of the poolside stairwells, and the equipment was all in good shape, tables, paddles, balls, everything needed all provided.

Roatan Semi-sub, West End, and Cameo Factory tour

I then gathered my belongings, and exited the ship to join my tour. We boarded a small bus at the cruise dock and tourist shopping village, then drove about a half hour through narrow jungle roads to the village of West End, where we boarded a glass bottom boat. The water was a bit murky, but we were able to see lots of sea life: underwater grass, corals, and lots of beautiful multi-colored fish. My pictures of the sea came out better than I expected. We then went to a local beachside bar & restaurant for some complimentary lemonade, and were given about an hour to browse, eat, and shop around West End on our own. The town looked like a place where Jimmy Buffet would hang out, lots of bars and eateries, lots of boats, and a few souvenir stands. Browsing around, I wound up at the Roatan Chocolate Factory. They had great samples available, especially the dark chocolate and passionfruit infused chocolate, so I bought too much to take home. They also give folks a quick free tour of the factory, and I got to watch cocoa beans get boken into nibs, and then ground into cocoa butter, and then molded into chocolate. They also have really good ice cream, so I got a great cup of mint chocolate chip. When time was up, we boarded the bus, and drove to the Cameo Institute near our cruise ship. Here they take conch shells and carve them into intricate jewelry designs, such as pedants and ear rings. Some are translucent or have deep relief features. They were a bit expensive, but not a pricey as I expected. Each is a unique masterpiece. Photos and questions were welcome all throughout the cameo shop, and we even got to see some craftsmen at work. Our tour then dropped us off back at the cruise port. I shopped for more souvenirs, such as bottles of vanilla, figurines, and a few fridge magnets. I have found that the upper floor of the Roatan shopping complex has lower prices and good assortments. I also love the sound of the old guys playing marimba in the upper corner of the shopping building. They have been playing since my first cruise to Roatan in 2004, and are always mezmerizing with their wonderful music.

Escape Room - the Big Top

Back on the ship, I had another great meal in the Tropicana, accompanied by great music and company. It has certainly become my favorite restaurant so far. I then put in reservations for upcoming shows, and found the lady in line next to me was cancelling her reservation for the escape room that very evening, called "escape the big top" with a circus carnival theme. I had always wanted to try one of these escape rooms, and finally got to do it. The participants were divided into about 8 competing teams of 8-10 people, and given a set of circus themed word puzzles to solve. Half of the puzzles would lead to nonsense magic words that would win the game, and half of the puzzles were distractions to slow you down, but no one knew which were which. All are very hard, and you have to think exactly like the guy who created the puzzles to solve them, catching on the right clues and puns. So creative thinking would often lead you astray from the solution. Our team did very well, but we found out afterward that we solved the wrong puzzles and wasted time, while another team raced to the solution in 15 minutes. Very frustrating for us.

Fat Cats karaoke

Afterward, checking my schedule, I found that karaoke was in the Fat Cats Saloon from 8:00 to midnight, and just had to go. There was only one device available to sign up for songs, and the song selection was quite limited. People would come and go, so at times the que was rather short. But everyone had fun, and the accoustics and host were quite good, and there was no smoking in the lounge. Many times I was the star, entertaining the crowd. After a night of accomplishment, and naturally a bit of a sore throat, I headed to bed.

Mar07 - Harvest Caye, Mayan Medicine Trail tour

Our ship docked at Harvest Caye, an artificial tourist island off the coast of Belize. I proceeded off the ship to the ferry dock and waiting area in the northwest corner of the island, to board my shore excursion to the mainland of Central America. While waitng, there was a local drum & dancing band in the plaza by the ferry dock to keep everyone entertainted. This was a good move on Norwegian's part, an improvement over last year at this same place. I have always been pleased with Norwegian's handling of entertainment. All the folks going to the mainland were boarded on the ferry, about 300 in all, and we took off for a half hour ferry to the mainland. After about 15 minutes, an elderly traveller got sick, and we had to go back and drop him off, resulting in a total 45 minute loss. This affected some of the other shore excursions, but not ours. After about half an hour, our ferry landed at the Independence, Belize ferry terminal. We were then loaded on a bus, for a half hour drive to the home of Ernesto and Aurora, who have learned and practiced Mayan traditional medicine.

Mayan Medicine Trail

This tour was very educational and fascinating, and our hosts were so gracious. Although most members of our tour group were elderly, none had difficulty with the jungle walk path or rest of the tour. Ernesto was there to greet us, and led us to a large hut, where there were displays of local herbal treatments, taken from nearby plants. We sat on wooden stools before a table, while a pot of copal incense sweetened the air. Ernesto and Aurora introduced themselves, and their backgrounds in Mayan heritage and folk medicine. They offered us use of their all natural insect repellent, which they stated was just as effective as store bought. Ernesto then led us on a leisurely half hour walk through the nearby jungle, pointing out various plants and trees, and their medicinal properties. Some could relieve pain, restore hormonal balance, or fight infections. And in the jungle, we found their natural insect repellant worked great. Back at the hut, Aurora showed us how to make the all natural insect repellant formula by hand from crushed herbs and citrus oils. She also told many success tales of herbs, treatments, and patients. We were then taken to another hut, the kitchen, and given a warm mug of authentic cocoa drink and corn wafers. The cocoa drink was like a bean soup in texture, slightly sweet and bitter. The corn wafers were like sweet tortillas. After this refreshing snack, we were then taken to Aurora's herbal shop, where we could purchase herbs for all kinds of treatments, all at reasonable prices. I bought some soap, and some copal for clearing the sinuses.

Our bus took us back to Independence, and we boarded a small 10 seat speed boat to take us back to Harvest Cay. Wow, what a rush as we zoomed across the waters. When we arrived, it was over an hour till our ship was scheduled to sail, but most of the shops were closing. This was a major dissappointment, and the shop keepers could have made a lot more money from shoppers returning from excursions. I wanted to buy some pepper jelly, but the chocolate store was the only one still open.

Dragging my heels, I headed back to the ship, and ate another great meal, this time at the French restaurant Le Bistro.

Le Bistro French restaurant

The food was amazingly rich and delicious. For appetizer I had a buttered artichoke and steamed asparagus with a creamy dill herb sauce. For entree it was the shredded roast duck meat with potatoes. And for dessert, a classic apple tart. Service and atmosphere were also very good. My water glass never fell empty. The decor was classical French, and I felt like I was in a regal palace. With a full stomach, and an early tour the next morning, I went to bed. There was a note with a 25 gallon paper laundry bag on my bed, offering to wash and fold all the laundry I could fit for 20 dollars. I always look forward to the laundry special in the middle of the week, as it is a real bargain. I took all my soiled clothes, carefully slid them into the bag, left it on one side of my bed, and went to sleep.

Mar 08 - Costa Maya, Chacchoben Mayan Ruins

Chacchoben Mayan Ruins

From the Costa Maya port, our bus and tour guide took us to the Chacchoben Mayan ruins, about an hour away. Our tour guide was Alexandro, also known as Alex. He was good, but not as interesting or informative as some I have had. The ruins were grand and impressive, but not that large. The oyramids were roped off, so you could not climb above the 4th step. There are three main pyramids here, and a large courtyard connecting them together, but not much else. The ruins are partially shaded, but the pyramids are open to sun. There are also several souvenir shops and restrooms at the site entrance. It was somewhat crowded, as there were about 5 or 6 tour busses full of people here. I had considered taking the deluxe tour with a smaller group, and now see its advantages. Maybe I will do that next time. Our tour returned to the Costa Maya port.

Costa Maya port

This place always puzzles me. The shops and restaurants are laid our in a confusing J shape, which leaves me wandering in circles. It's also completely artificial and touristy. After my tour, I was starving. I had to check several restaurants before I found a sit down place with food for my diet concerns, and so I was not in a happy mood. I finally located the Cantina Latina behind the beachfront swimming pool. There are some signs leading to it, but they are poorly placed. I also found they do not take US dollars cash! I ordered the chicken tacos, which came with small cups of black beans and rice. The food quality was good, but the place was noisy. Since I was travelling alone, they wanted to seat me at the bar, right by the marimba band.

After lunch, I felt much better and did some shopping. After browsing around, I picked up some fridge magnets, and got a free charm at one of the diamond jewelry stores by enduring a sales pitch for a watch that I could not use nor afford. As usual in Mexico, store hawkers everywhere were pressuring me to come into their store and buy their overpriced goods. Once again I found the chocolate store, sampled their wares, and bought too much. The tequila museum was closed, bummer. No one had my favorite tequila in stock, Coralejo. It comes in tall, decorative blue bottles, is smooth, native, and reasonably priced. I also found a group of enthusiastic, fun, energetic guys posing as "Lucho Libres" or those famous Mexican professional entertainment wrestlers. I was thrilled to get my photo taken with them, for a tip of course, but they were not pushy about tips. This made me want to tip them even more, such fun!

Back on board and to the Tropicana Room. The fried flounder with mixed greens side salad was delicious. At dinner, I learned that many folks in suites throughout the ship get access to the private Haven area, not just those in the Haven courtyard at the top of the ship. After dinner I saw the amazing "Million Dollar Quartet" show in the main theater.

Million Dollar Quartet

This was a very good show, though Burn the Floor was slightly better in my opinion. It features 4 classic rock & roll performers coming together with their record producer one night early in their 1950s recording careers. All the performers were great. I especially liked the guy portraying Jerry Lee Lewis. The guy portraying Elvis had the moves and look, but not the voice, and the same could be said of the Johnny Cash performer. I did not like the way the performance attempted to follow a script of how the singers interacted with their studio record producer, but at least that gave an opportunity for their personalities to come through. Some were solo acts, some were duets, some featured the whole band. All were great. This is another must see. I did not realize the show was an hour and half long, and had to leave early to catch my reserved seat at Cirque Dreams - Steam in the Illusionarium.

"Cirque Dreams - Steam" in the Illusionarium

This was another great show. I would describe it as a steam-punk themed talent show. As with most Cirque type shows, it had elaborate costumes, with acrobats and other amazing talents. The show takes place in the Illusionarium, a purpose built circular theater, with Victorian magician advertisements all over, to set the mood. My favorite act was the guy who balanced on a rolling pipe, kicked dishes off his foot, and caught them in the air in a stack on top of his hat. There was also a bicycle trickster, various jugglers, and a guy who shot playing cards out of someone's hand with a crossbow. This impressed me, until I noticed a red glow from the end of his crossbow, indicating he was using laser sights.

The show came with a meal, but the menu was never published as far as I could tell, and there were many mix-ups around the food service. When I arrived on time and was seated, half my table had already finished their appetizer. The wait staff brought and took away many dishes for folks that were not ready for the next course. I also had difficulty communicating with the staff about my diet requirements. Be sure to let the box office know about any diet restrictions you have at least 4 hours before the show. The show is normally $35, but if you have the meal plan it is just $18.

Mar09 - Cozumel, Mayan Cocoa Company and Mayan Village

Instead of this tour, I recommend the Island Highlights and Shopping tour, which I took last year. Today's tour was similar but did not include as much, and the other is a better bargain. Plus, the other tour gives you the option to be dropped off at Pancho' Backyard, a great Mexican restaurant about 8 blocks from the cruise port, which then lets you walk back to the ship past lots of great souvenir shops on the way. My original tour of the Amazing Secret River in the Mexican mainland was cancelled, due to a terrorist incident on the Cozumel ferries, so I had to make a last minute decision of remaining available tours.

We were taken by bus from the Cozumel Punta Langosta cruise port to the Mayan Cocoa Company, about 20 minutes southward. Clouds were gathering and the weather looked threatening. At the entrance, we received a traditional blessing from a Mayan shaman, dressed as a jaguar. This was a new feature of the tour, which I liked. We then got to see how cocoa is processed into chocolate, and try a sample of the original drink. We never saw a recreation Mayan village, as advertised as part of this tour, so I was dissappointed. In the gift shop, I got to purchase several kinds of Mexican chocolate and cocoa soap. The chocolate here is very good, and I recommend buying some if you can. I think their products are sold throughout Cozumel as well. We were then taken by bus tour around the perimeter of the island, past low lying jungles and beaches, to El Mirador, which is a rocky photographic point that sticks out the west side of the island. There are also some local souvenir vendors here. Our bus took us back to the Punta Langosta shopping mall and cruise port.

Punta Langosta shopping mall and MegaMart near the cruise dock

The name of this port and mall means Lobster Point. Today the rain was coming down in buckets by now, so I stayed in the mall area, and got my souvenir shopping done. Although the vendors were a little more pricey than the rest of Cozumel, I did not want to wander in the rain, and it was rather convenient. I wanted to get tequilla, vanilla, and some local chocolate spiced mole sauce (pronounced moe-lay). I found good variety and deals on tequila in the Plaza De Fiesta store, in the central lower level of the mall. They had plenty of my favorite brand, Coralejo, (pronounced like coral lay-ho) in the beautiful tall blue bottles. I had been searching for it all week. I found the best deal on vanilla on the upper floor, midway to the back on the side which leads to the ship boarding. The vendor was an older man, who seemed to genuinely care about his customers, rather than make a quick sale. His vanilla was also authentic, no artificial flavorings. Be sure to check labels for this. I asked him for mole. He did not have any, but knew that the MegaMart grocery store one block to the south would have it. I walked to the location, and found that this huge grocery store (plus more!) is on the upper floor of the building. It certainly deserves the name MegaMart. This is where the locals shop, and prices are cheap, and about a quarter of the checkout lanes are labelled with a bilingual cashier, which was helpful to us tourists. I found the mole, three jars for four dollars, and returned to the old man at the mall, to show my success and thank him for his help in my quest. This completed my shopping checklist, so I went back to the ship.

Back on the ship, I had another great meal in the Tropicana, another plate of fried flounder with mixed green salad and chocolate brownie cake parfait dessert. After, I noticed several of the ship's photographers about the ship, and had some professional photos taken, as you only have to pay for the ones you buy. Also, before the day was over, my laundry had arrived in my cabin. I set it aside, and went to bed.

Mar10 - Final Day At Sea

After the previous day's excitement and exhaustion, I spent most of the day sleeping in, relaxing and discussing cruise experiences with fellow travellers, and preparing for disembarkation the next day. I woke up late, and ate breakfast in the Taste dining room. I had a nice sea view of the relaxing waves going by, along with some French toast. Upon leaving Taste, I met some fellow travellers from my shore excursions, and we passed the afternoon away, talking about what we enjoyed on this cruise, and others. I then proceeded to explore the ship for things to do, both now and on my next reserved cruise, which will have the same ship layout. I found a line-up of carnival type games in O'Sheehan's bar. My favorite was the miniature bowling. Folks were having a blast playing that. I also saw billiards and dart boards in the pub. I also spent my afternoon sorting my laundry, packing my bags for departure the next day, and tallying my souvenirs for customs. I went by the photo studio, picked out my favorite photos, and purchased a package deal, which includes electronic copies of those on a usb stick. The photographers took some very good photos of me this time. They were always courteous and professional, offering their services, and never pushy, which was an improvement over previous cruises. After this, I was getting hungry, and had one last meal on my meal plan to spend, so I started searching for an upscale restaurant. After finding many were booked up, I settled on Cagney's steakhouse. Even though I do not normally eat steak, they still had plenty choices to please anyone. I had an amazing grilled sea bass. For dessert I had a crumble cake, that was pretty good. From the menu description, I thought it would be a pear tart with figs, but it was still rather good. Service and atmosphere were both excellent. With a full belly, and disembarkation coming in the morning, I headed to bed. I made sure to set my luggage outside my cabin with my group luggage tags for the porters to handle.

Mar11 - Returning Home

I set a wake up alarm, and awoke groggy. I was so excited by all the activities on the ship, I just could not sleep. Next time I will know to better pace myself on vacation. I was supposed to take a bus tour of Miami on my way to the airport, but it got cancelled the very night before due to poor enrollment. So I opted for a cruise to airport transfer instead. Next time I will know to just take a taxi instead of the transfer, so I do not feel rushed or herded off the ship. But I did save about one third the cost of a cab fare.

I went to breakfast in the Taste dining room, and shared a table with a lovely couple, and we exchanged cruise tips and stories. When my luggage color group was called, I had to leave the restaurant and get in line to exit the ship. The line reached all the way around the 7th deck of the ship. Wow. Every public space was filled with people lined up for the exit. After wasting about an hour in line, I exited the ship, and was guided to the cruise terminal warehouse to claim my luggage. It turns out since I had booked the transfer, my luggage was in a side chamber of the warehouse, hard to find. I collected my luggage, and followed the signs to go through customs. No customs forms were used this time; they were just checking passports. Evidently, only those who brought customs controlled items aboard were given customs forms, such as alcohol and tobacco. Outside of customs and the cruise terminal I found our transfer bus to the airport. There were a lot of people in the bus line, so it actually took at least 3 busses to transfer everyone. The scenery and weather were all nice. We got to see the Miami skyline dissappear into the forest of palm tress covering the city. At the airport, we were dropped off at a luggage and flight check-in station, then proceeded through security screening into the airport. I then had time to explore the Miami airport.

Miami airport

I like this place. American Airlines is the dominant airline here, and its traveller area is sectioned off from others. The airport did not feel crowded or noisy, but I could tell it was plenty busy. There is beautiful dark tile on the floor, with shells and other sea life decorating the floor and walls. There are plenty of lights and windows, so the airport does not feel dark or dingy. The airplane gate areas are carpeted in a sand color. I like it all, very soothing. I can see how this would be a wonderful retreat from the hot Miami weather. There is an elevated train that takes guests quickly between about every group of 20 gates. I had no trouble finding my gate, or a good place to eat. There is a full gamut of price and service restaurant options. I then boarded my flight to Charlotte to change planes.

Charlotte airport and the flight home

This airport is usually a peaceful, well organized place to change planes, and one of my favorites. Not so on this Sunday afternoon. It was full of screaming children, and the ceilings and light fixtures were ripped out for repair. All the screaming children may have been due to spring break starting. I grabbed a snack at the Pino Gelato stand, one of my favorites, and boarded my flight home as soon as possible, to get out of here. My vacation was over. Oh, I want another!
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Cabin Review

Studio Stateroom
Cabin T1 10507
Studio Lounge and solo cabins
The Studio Lounge is a great idea. All passengers who have booked Studio solo cabins have their keycard coded for access to the Studio Lounge, which provides a second layer of security to accessing the solo cruiser cabins within. The Studio Lounge also provides a living room or meeting place for solo travellers to meet. It has a small bar, some sports TVs, some meeting tables, drinks and cookies laid out available all the time free of charge, and a few board games to socialize.

I am impressed with the solo cabins on this ship, and believe they are the same design within all NCL ships built since 2010. They are a nice size for one person, and I like the extra layer of security of having to go through the Studio Lounge entrances to reach the solo cabins. The sink is in an odd location, along the wall directly opposite the entry door, where it overlooks the bed. It would make more sense to put it between the shower and toilet. It would also be nice to have a hanger basket or shelf of some kind in the shower, to hold shampoo, soap, and other shower items. The shower took a little while to warm up, but reached a plenty warm temperature. There was plenty of room to store and organize my belongings in the cabin. I also found that there was plenty of room for my luggage under the bed, which had been a concern of mine. There were too many light switches located all over the cabin, which were not in logical places for the lights that they controlled, which was a bit confusing. The lights are regular white, not the blue "mood lighting" which is shown in brochures. The sheets were comfortable, as usual on Norwegian vessels. I rested well.
Deck 11 Inside Cabins, Outside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

  • Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
    Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
    From the Costa Maya port, our bus and tour guide took us to the Chacchoben Mayan ruins, about an hour away. Our tour guide was Alexandro, also known as Alex. He was good, but not as interesting or informative as some I have had. The ruins were grand and impressive, but not that large. The oyramids were roped off, so you could not climb above the 4th step. There are three main pyramids here, and a large courtyard connecting them together, but not much else. The ruins are partially shaded, but the pyramids themselves are open to sun. There are also several souvenir shops and restrooms at the site entrance. It was somewhat crowded, as there were about 5 or 6 tour busses full of people here. I had considered taking the deluxe tour with a smaller group, and now see its advantages. Maybe I will do that next time. Our tour returned to the Costa Maya port.
    View All 359 Chacchoben Mayan Ruins Reviews
  • Best of Cozumel
    Mayan Cocoa Company and Mayan Village Tour
    Instead of this tour, I recommend the Island Highlights and Shopping tour, which I took the previous year. Today's tour was similar but did not include as much, and the other is a better bargain. Plus, the other tour gives you the option to be dropped off at Pancho' Backyard, a great Mexican restaurant about 8 blocks from the cruise port, which then lets you walk back to the ship past lots of great souvenir shops on the way. My original tour of the Amazing Secret River in the Mexican mainland was cancelled, due to a terrorist incident on the Cozumel ferries the past week, so I had to make a last minute decision of remaining available tours.
    We were taken by bus from the Cozumel Punta Langosta cruise port to the Mayan Cocoa Company, about 20 minutes southward. Clouds were gathering and the weather looked threatening. At the entrance, we received a traditional blessing from a Mayan shaman, dressed as a jaguar. This was a new feature of the tour, which I really liked. We then got to see how cocoa is processed into chocolate, and try a sample of the original drink. We never saw a recreation Mayan village, as advertised as part of this tour, so I was dissappointed. In the gift shop, I got to purchase several kinds of Mexican chocolate and cocoa soap. The chocolate here is very good, and I recommend buying some if you can. I think their products are sold throughout Cozumel as well. We were then taken by bus tour around the perimeter of the island, past low lying jungles and beaches, to El Mirador, which is a rocky photographic point that sticks out the west side of the island. There are also some local souvenir vendors here. Our bus took us back to the Punta Langosta shopping mall and cruise port.
    View All 110 Best of Cozumel Reviews
  • Harvest Caye
    Mayan Medicine Trail Tour via ferry to mainland
    This tour was very educational and fascinating, and our hosts were so gracious. Although most members of our tour group were elderly, none had difficulty with the jungle walk path or rest of the tour. Ernesto was there to greet us, and led us to a large hut, where there were displays of local herbal treatments, taken from nearby plants. We sat on wooden stools before a table, while a pot of copal incense sweetened the air. Ernesto and Aurora introduced themselves, and their backgrounds in Mayan heritage and folk medicine. They offered us use of their all natural insect repellent, which they stated was just as effective as store bought, and we found this to be true. Ernesto then led us on a leisurely half hour walk through the nearby jungle, pointing out various plants and trees, and their medicinal properties. Some could relieve pain, induce sleep, restore hormonal balance, or fight infections. And in the jungle, we found their natural insect repellant worked great. Back at the hut, Aurora showed us how to make the all natural insect repellant formula by hand from crushed herbs and citrus oils. She also told many success tales of herbs, treatments, and patients. We were then taken to another hut, the kitchen, and given a warm mug of authentic cocoa drink and corn wafers. The cocoa drink was like a bean soup in texture, slightly sweet and bitter. The corn wafers were like sweet tortillas. After this refreshing snack, we were then taken to Aurora's herbal shop, where we could purchase herbs for all kinds of treatments, all at reasonable prices. I bought some soap, and some copal for clearing the sinuses.

    Our bus took us back to the dock town of Independence, and we boarded a small 10 seat speed boat to take us back to Harvest Cay. Wow, what a rush as we zoomed across the waters. When we arrived, it was over an hour till our ship was scheduled to sail, but most of the shops were closing. This was a major dissappointment, and the shop keepers could have made a lot more money from shoppers returning from excursions. I wanted to buy some pepper jelly, but the chocolate store was the only one still open.
    Dragging my heels, I headed back to the ship.
    View All 1,162 Harvest Caye Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Harvest Caye Cruise Port Review
  • City Tour
    Miami Big Bus Tour
    Through my hotel concierge, I chose to take the Miami "Big Bus" tour of the city, the Deluxe version which includes both day and night versions. At a price of $75 for the Deluxe tour I am not sure I would do this again, for the amount that I under-utilized my pass. The Deluxe pass is valid for a second day, and also includes a water tour of the wealthy mansions, which I did not get to do. Traffic was bad during the tour, but the announcers were very informative, pointing out sights and facts about the city, and the music they played when not making announcements certainly put me in a good Miami vibe. I got off the bus in Little Havana and got to try some very good authentic Cuban food at the restaurant El Cristo, recommended by the bus driver. I had the marinated Creole style chicken, with stewed black beans and a side salad. Although service was slow, the food, atmosphere, and value were all good. Back on the BigBus, I got to see downtown Miami, the Brickell financial district, the street art graffiti of the Wynwood area, South Beach, Little Havana, Coconut Grove, and more. After the evening BigBus tour featuring the city lights, I took the public transit MetroMover to check out more of downtown, including alternate hotels for next time in Miami. But I found nothing could beat the YVE Hotel where I was staying.
    View All 142 City Tour Reviews
  • Island Tour
    Roatan Semi-sub, West End, and Cameo Factory tour
    I gathered my belongings, and exited the ship to join my tour. We boarded a small bus at the cruise dock and tourist shopping village, then drove about a half hour through narrow jungle roads to the village of West End, where we boarded a glass bottom boat. The water was a bit murky, but we were able to see lots of sea life: underwater grass, corals, and lots of beautiful multi-colored fish. My pictures of the sea life came out better than I expected. We then went to a local beachside bar & restaurant for some complimentary lemonade, and were given about an hour to browse, eat, and shop around West End on our own. The town looked like a place where Jimmy Buffet would hang out, lots of bars and eateries, lots of boats, and a few souvenir stands. Browsing around, I wound up at the Roatan Chocolate Factory. They had great samples available, especially the dark chocolate and passionfruit infused chocolate, so I bought too much to take home. They also give folks a quick free tour of the factory, and I got to watch cocoa beans get boken into nibs, and then ground into cocoa butter, and then molded into chocolate. They also have really good ice cream, so I got a cup of mint chocolate chip. When free time was up, we boarded the bus, and drove to the Cameo Institute near our cruise ship. Here they take conch shells and carve them into intricate jewelry designs, such as pedants and ear rings. Some are translucent or have deep relief features. They were a bit expensive, but not as pricey as I expected. Each is a unique masterpiece. Photos and questions were welcome all throughout the cameo shop, and we even got to see some craftsmen at work. Our tour then dropped us off back at the cruise port. I shopped for more souvenirs, such as bottles of vanilla, figurines, and a few fridge magnets. I have found that the upper floor of the Roatan shopping complex has lower prices and good assortments. I also love the sound of the old guys playing marimba in the upper corner of the shopping building. They have been playing since my first cruise to Roatan in 2004, and are always mezmerizing with their wonderful music.
    View All 227 Island Tour Reviews