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Norwegian Breakaway Cruise Review
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
3,650 Reviews

Plenty of fun! Too much noise, ship needs more color.

Norwegian Breakaway Cruise Review by RocketSci73

1 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Feb 2020
  • Destination: the Caribbean
  • Cabin Type: Studio Stateroom

Vacation review & journal

Norwegian Breakaway cruise ship, Feb29-Mar07, 2020

Western Caribbean itinerary sailing from Port Canaveral: Falmouth, Grand Cayman, Cozumel

Walt Disney World, Mar07-Mar10 (2 full days)

review by screen-name RocketSci73, Huntsville, AL

male, solo traveler, age 46, 14th cruise, 12th with Norwegian

Summary review:

Dark, drab, noisy, & depressing environment. NCL could do better this time.

Conclusions:

This was an overall good vacation, but ineffective. This was primarily due to the gloomy weather that persisted most of the vacation, and the gloomy interior of the ship. NCL needs to brighten up the interior of the Norwegian Breakaway with more colors, maybe some greenery. This ship is bustling with plenty of activities, and not ideal for a quiet peaceful retreat. Although the staff were all very nice and accommodating, no one really made me feel special, even when I presented my NCL Platinum status card.

My primary purpose in taking an annual tropical vacation is to break away from the gloomy winter weather that we get this time of year in the southern Appalachians. In this most dismal time of the year, a good vacation reminds me that life can be good, my life can be enjoyable & important, and to keep hope that sunlight and fair weather will return. Alas, this vacation did none of these.

Pros:

- The NCL staff are all very helpful and friendly, even the ones that work ashore.

- The NCL Breakaway is very easy to get around, and there is always something fun to do, even when activities are not planned.

- The NCL Breakaway has beautiful nature scenes in the elevator and stairwell areas. I found them very relaxing.

- The Breakaway class has several ping-pong tables, and they are in a good location on the ship, with plenty of equipment to use.

- As usual, NCL has a very good complete fitness center on this ship, with good views of the waves, and video screens that show nature trails.

- Norwegian is the best cruise line for solo travellers. They have very comfortable solo cabins, and an activities coordinator just for solo travellers.

- The Moderno Brazillian steakhouse was the best restaurant on this cruise, and one of the best meals I've had. It's also a great place for breakfast & lunch. It is a full buffet for breakfast, similar to the Garden Cafe restaurant, but feeling more upscale and not as hectic. For lunch it has a themed buffet that changes daily, such as Italian, Indian, Greek, or Mexican food. Breakfast & lunch are free of charge.

- NCL continues to have good child care service. I did not see many children on this ship. Sailing before the spring break season also helps with this.

- Jamaica is a great place to visit, and I would gladly return. The landscape reminds me of home, the people are friendly, I felt relaxed, and I never felt threatened.

- The Falmouth, Jamaica cruise port is very nice. It is easy to get around, offers a good variety of shops and restaurants, and is quite secure for tourists.

- For debarkation NCL used instant photo recognition technology to compare passport identities, which greatly simplified and sped-up the process.

- The Kennedy Space Center is truly an out of this world way to wrap up an Orlando based cruise vacation, especially if you like science & history.

Cons:

- The Orlando airport is very confusing. It needs more direction signs.

- The NCL Breakaway ship interior areas are rather dark. Most interior public spaces are painted black or dark wood stained, with glaring pink & blue neon lights. NCL should brighten the inside of the ship with more colors. Most interior spaces were also very loud. These two factors set a rather forboding mood throughout the vacation. Further, I had a sore throat by the end of the cruise, from having to yell so much.

- No one on this cruise vacation made me feel particularly special, even though I was one of the few NCL Platinum members on this cruise. However, service was overall good.

- NCL should have more karaoke, both in the afternoon and evenings. The venue they use for karaoke is very good, and mostly unused.

- The swimming pool and hot tubs closed each evening about an hour before most restaurants closed. This seems backwards. The pool and hot tubs should be open till midnight, instead of closing by 9:00PM.

- NCL still has great food. However, the food quality seems to have gone down a bit in recent years, according to several other repeat cruisers. The food does not seem as fresh, seasoned, and flavorful as before. This may be because I was dining with larger groups, and thus had to wait longer for my food to be served.

- NCL photo prices vary by when / how you purchase them, to spur impulse sales. The photographers were very professional & helpful in explaining the photo prices and packages.

- The Breakaway class vessels are mega-ships, so large that you can often forget you are on a ship, and thus forget to enjoy outside or maritime activities. Also, many of the windows on the Breakaway have curtains across them, adding to the effect.

Tips:

- Cruise ship restaurants can better accomodate smaller groups, especially individuals.

- The onboard electronic reservation systems can be nice to use (meals, shows, shore excursions, etc.), but if you cannot get what you want, don't hesitate to make your request politely in person at the service desks. The appropriate customer service agents will usually be glad to assist you.

- If you seek peace, quiet, sunlight / shade, and plenty of fresh air, then check out the Waterfront / Promenade area on the cruise. I wish I had done this more on this vacation.

- In Grand Cayman you can get most of your shopping done at the Blue Iguana and next-door Tortuga shop, within walking distance of the cruise dock. The Tortuga store can also deliver purchases directly to your cruise ship, if made at least 2 hours before sailing. You can even grab a hearty meat "patty" turnover pie sandwich here too.

- Most activities in Grand Cayman Island focus around sea-life, pirates, or beaches. Don't expect much scenery or culture.

- Cozumel Island continues to impress. My favorite Cozumel tour is the Cozumel Highlights & Shopping, which gives a wonderful overview of what Cozumel & Mexico have to offer. My second favorite is Cozumel by Land & Sea, which is similar, but replaces parts of it with an underwater tour of the coral reefs in a glass-bottom boat. Both leave ample time for local shopping too.

- Allow at least 2 days for the cruise to do your laundry, unless you wish to pay extra for expedited service.

- No matter how tempting, never stay up late on the last night of a vacation. Instead, take opportunity to prepare for the stresses of travel the next day.

Detailed review & journal:

The cruise!

Feb29 Arrival in Orlando and boarding

This was my 2nd time using Silver Airways. The new ATR72 turbo-prop airplanes are quieter than the old Saab 340, and the raised wing gives a nice view. My flight was about half full, and the aircraft strangely smelt of artificial strawberries. When we landed, Silver Airways told us the wrong baggage claim to pick up our luggage, so I wound up wandering all over the airport. Fortunately, just about everyone working in the airport was helpful. Along the way, I found several Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) representatives in the baggage claim area. I collected my luggage, and went back to them. They checked me in and gave me a ticket for the transfer to the cruise port. We were loaded onto the next available bus after aabout a 10 minute wait. This was just enough time to get a berry smoothie, as it was lunch time and I was hungry. The bus to the pier had a family comedy movie playing about the Tooth Fairy, which I found to be a nice entertaining touch, as our bus took us through the Florida swamps to Port Canaveral.

At the port, luggage check in and boarding were all straightforward. We arrived at the port around 2:00, and I was onboard by about 2:20, pretty good. There was an extra medical screening form to fill in, due to the recent covid19 virus scare. I can understand that they don't want any outbreaks. Once aboard, I was still hungry, and the lunch restaurants had all closed at 2:00, even O'Sheehan's 24 hour bar was closed. So I had to go to the buffet, which was not that bad. It was not as croweded and chaotic as I feared, and the food was pretty good. I got some Caribbean roasted chicken, an interesting spinach fish cream dish, and grilled mixed veggies. After lunch came the mandatory lifeboat safety muster drill, where we received instructions of what to do in case the vessel sinks. For me it was in the main theater. Next came the sail away party on the pool deck. By this time, I was worn out from a full day's travel, and took a brief nap in my cabin, and watched the ship depart the cruise port on my cabin TV. There's a channel where you can see exactly what is seen from the bridge. My luggage arrived at my cabin around this time.

Solo cabin 10521

NCL has done a great job with their solo cabins, as well as the accompanying Studio Lounge and solo activities coordinator for solo travellers. The solo cabins seem to be modular and identical among their ships. As usual, my cabin had everything needed: a bed plenty large for one person, with plenty of sheets & pillows, and luggage storage underneath, a shower stall, toilet stall, bathroom sink, closet cabinets, in-room safe, interactive TV, and telephone with messaging system. The bed is even large enough for two people my size, though the rest of the cabin would be a bit tight for two people. I had some trouble with the sliding doors on the closet cabinets getting stuck in place. Once I reported this to my cabin steward, he had it fixed within a day.

After my nap, I joined the solo cruisers in the Maltings bar for introductions and meeting our solo activities host Lester. He seemed like a fun guy and a good leader. He gave each of us a schedule plan of solo group activities for the week. There were about 40 solo cruisers at the meeting, a rather large group. After, a handful of us got together to dine at the Taste restaurant, one of the complimentary main dining rooms on the ship. Although a bit dark and subdued, it was very nice. I had arugula salad, rotisserie chicken, and hazelnut chocolate creme brulee. All were very good, though the chicken was a little bit dry. We talked about issues of the day, including the global corona virus outbreak and our experiences on prior cruises. Many cruisers stated that they had gotten a good last minute deal on this cruise, about one third the price I paid. Of course, they have the convenience of being able to go at the last minute, without much planning or travel needed to get to the port. I always love sharing experiences with others about cruising. After dinner, I was exhausted. I unpacked my bags, organized my room, and the gentle rocking of the ship lulled me to sleep.

Mar01 Great Stirrup Cay (cancelled -> Sea Day)

I woke around 6:00AM, refreshed and ready for the day. I looked over the upcoming shore excursion descriptions, and chose one for Jamaica, and reserved it using my cabin TV. I then ventured out of my room and explored the ship a bit before dawn and breakfast. On the ship's waterfront promenade, the sunrise, island views, other ships, and warm tropical breezes all told me that I was finally on vacation! I breathed a sigh of relief, and took it all in. I always look forward to this moment on vacation. It was chilly and breezy, so I went back inside to get some grub.

Looking over the options in my cruise newsletter (The Freestyle Daily) I decided to try the breakfast buffet in the Moderno Brazillian steakhouse. It was much like the main buffet, but a bit smaller without the crowds. During breakfast, the Captain announced over the loudspeakers that our stop in Great Stirrup Cay was cancelled. The island's manager had closed the tender boat port due to high swells and high winds in the harbor, so vessels could not transport passengers there. So our Captain sailed onto the next destination, and the crew added more activities onboard for the day.

After breakfast I went by the photo gallery to check my boarding photos, and ask the photography attendant about the details of the photo package that I had bought before boarding. For $200 I get a souvenir photo frame, 8 prints, choice of 10 photos on a memory stick, and a few other souvenirs.

Next I entered the ping-pong tournament, and came in 2nd place. My consolation prize was an NCL keychain clip and can cooler. I still had fun, even though I had not picked up a paddle in years. Next to the ping-pong, the spa was demonstrating free massage samples, so I had to try one. It had been years since I experienced a good massagge. The massage therapist worked on my neck & shoulders for about 5 to 10 minutes, pressing rather hard, but I felt tingling with relief afterwards.

I had lunch once again in the Moderno buffet, as they were hosting a Caribbean island bbq. The Jamaican jerk chicken was really good, with a good level of heat, but not enough spice. The calypso pasta salad was really good too, with roasted tomatoes. The desserts were all good too. I told one of the restaurant supervisors, and he was happy to hear the feedback. He said they would have an Indian buffet the next day.

Next, I went to the afternoon karaoke. It was way too short. I wish NCL had more karaoke on ships, and this is the only time I had seen an afternoon session. I'm still trying to figure out who Syd Norman is, as the karaoke bar bears his name. I played some cards in the courtyard outside Le Bistro, and then participated in a Harry Potter trivia contest. I got about 75% correct, which is plenty nerdy, but was nowhere near competition level. Still, I had fun. I then went back to my cabin for an afternoon nap, before meeting with the solo travellers. Well, that was the plan. I actually woke up around 9:00PM.

After scouting out some choices, I went to the Manhattan Room for supper. The dance troupe and band had just finished, and the place was somewhat clearing out, so I was seated right away. I had the Thai spring rolls, Mediterranean grilled vegetables, breaded fried flounder, and mint chocolate mouse. All were very good, especially the fish. The atmosphere was also very pleasant and elegant. I was worried the blue carpet that I had seen in photos would detract from the atmosphere of the place, but it was actually rather good, quite comparable with the same dining hall on the Getaway. My waiter Ben from the Phillipines loved to sing songs to his guests, which made me feel special. He should also work as a song host of some sort for Norwegian. He's a man of many talents.

With a full belly, I wandered around the ship, looking for a party and some company. My memories of navigating the Norwegian Getaway really helped me here, as the Breakaway is designed the same. I was even helping to direct fellow travellers about the ship. I discovered the Caribbean deck party in the Spice H2O area, at the very top & back of the ship. It looked fun, but it was still a bit chilly outside, but gradually warming up as the ship headed further south to the tropics. Once my belly settled from a wonderful meal, I decided to hit the gym and work off the calories. I did a full workout, including walking 2 miles, and some free weights. I liked the motivational posters all over, especially in a New York style. This ship was originally built and decorated to serve the New York harbor. I was worried that it might be a bit garish in places, but it's actually rather well done. I returned to the Caribbean deck party for a while, then O'Sheehan's pub to play pool and darts, then explored the outdoor sports areas of the ship under tranquility of the stars. Eventually I went to bed, after a full day of activity.

Mar02 - Sea Day

Behind the Scenes ship tour

After the breakfast buffet at Moderno, I went to my first of several meetings to start the day: a behind the scenes tour of the ship, only available to NCL Platinum and above level repeat cruisers. It included backstage areas of the theater, some of the crew facilities (no photos), laundry, and kitchen/galley. In the theater area, we got to the men's & women`s dressing rooms, where the various costumes are stored for the Broadway style dance productions, and a room where costumes are maintained, assembled, and repaired. We were next taken down one of the main crew corridors on the ship, where we got to see their human resources office, banking window, and atm services. Every cruise worker has a bank account onboard. We were next taken to the main kitchen galley on the ship, where meals are prepared for the 3 main dining rooms and room service. I was suprised to learn that all room service meals are prepared out of one storage room. The kitchen is divided into several sections: main dishes, vegetables, pastries, cleanup, and so forth. The tour ended in one of the main dining rooms.

Cruise Critic meetup

Next I attended the Cruise Critic website group meetup, this time held in the Italian restaurant. I always enjoy these. About 40 people attended, more than usual. We were introduced to the senior officers of the ship and their duties. Our leader then raffled off some prizes. After, I got to meet with fellow cruisers and exchange information about the best destinations, cabins, and activities to do on a cruise. I then had lunch in the Taste main restaurant.

Lattitudes meetup in Spiegel tent

After lunch I attended the Lattitudes party, which is for repeat cruisers with NCL. The captain introduced some of the senior officers. It appears the role of Hotel Manager on a ship has been renamed to General Manager, which makes sense as he oversees basically everything non-nautical on the floating resort. The captain apologized for the cold gloomy weather thus far on the cruise, and said the forecast looked better in the coming days. (Turns out he was right, thankfully.) Each captain has a unique personality. This one liked to tell embarrassing stories of the goof-ups of his crew. Our Lattitudes director George then introduced his staff Robin and Erica, and told us about some special offers for signing up for another cruise while on board. I also learned that on a ship of some 4200 passengers, I was one of 133 NCL Platinum or above members. We were then left to mingle. I always like to use this opportunity to exchange information with experienced cruisers, just as with the Cruise Critic meeting. After the meeting, I went to explore the ship, in particular the pool deck deck.

Near the pool deck, I found an Indian family playing ping-pong, and joined the fun. There are 3 ping-pong tables on this ship, and they are in a good location, outdoors under protection of one of the poolside stairwells. Next, I attended a brief introductory seminar in the spa on Chinese & Asian traditional herbal medicine. I joined in a riddle-based trivia contest in the main atrium. I did not do very well, but it was still fun. I then met with the solo travellers in the Studio Lounge for some "get to know you" games, and we had dinner in the Manhattan Room. I then went to bed, as I had an early day in Jamaica to look forward to.

Mar03 - Falmouth Jamaica, Mystic Mountain bobsled & zipline tour

This was my first time to Jamaica, and I was really impressed. The land reminds me of my home in the Appalachian Mountains in north Alabama: lush forests, mountains, abundant rivers, limestone rocks, and red clay dirt. The red clay dirt is from bauxite, an aluminum & iron ore, and bauxite mining is the 3rd industry behind tourism and agriculture. I had heard that Jamaica was a center for drugs, crime, and corruption, but found everyone to be friendly, honest, and hard working.

I heard from some fellow travellers and online reviews that the area outside the port is very sketchy and unsafe, full of drug pushers and shady tour brokers. If you come here, be sure to either stay in the secure port area, and/or take an organized tour. The weather was partly cloudy, warm & humid, with light breezes, just perfect. Based on my experience this day, I would definitely travel back to Jamaica.

The Falmouth port is very impressive, built to look like a British Empire colonial fortress. Inside are all the souvenir shops you would expect: rum, cigars, t-shirts, etc. The main local rum is Appleton; most others are imported. There are also a few bars (such as Margaritaville), restaurants, a craft market, a music performance stand with Caribbean steel drum band, local tour sale stands, and such. Many shops do sell much the same merchandise, and prices seemed reasonable. Here after my tour, I got to try a pattie! I had heard of these spicy, fried turnover, meat pie sandwiches and always wanted to try one. They are good, and only 3 dollars! The filling is like a spicy meat pot pie, not too peppery hot either. There's also a Dairy Queen, Nathan's hot dog stand, and a couple other American food shops, for those who want something less adventurous.

Mystic Mountain is near Ocho Rios, about an hour bus ride from Falmouth. Our tour bus driver and guide were both very friendly, but kept chatting in their native language and laughing for no apparent reason, which disturbed me and made me wonder if they were sharing insider jokes about us tourists. Our bus driver did good pointing out various sights along the way: the largest hotel on the island, a bauxite mineral mine, several jerk chicken stands, and even a small wooden shack jokingly labelled as a future Wal-Mart!

Mystic Mountain is a mountain top outdoor activity comlex, and so the first activity on arriving is the charilift gondola to take you to the top. The ride is very beautiful and peaceful, gliding above the tropical forest canopy, listening to birds and other wild critters of the jungle. Along most of the way up, you can see the beaches, city, and cruise port of Ocho Rios. At 2 clearly marked stops along the chairlift a camera takes your photo. You can then purchase print or electronic copies of the photos in the museum gift shop. Electronic photos are $10 for the first one and $6 for each after, which is quite reasonable. No one was pushy for sales throughout the entire complex. At the top, our tour guide introduced us to the many activities here: bobsled, jerk chicken buffet lunch, observation tower, hummingbird farm, bird trail, craft vendors, local museum, and gift shop. All activities were included in my tour package. There was a drumming band under the buffet pavilion, which cast a jungle mood over the whole place. Our tour guide then ushered our group to the bobsled ride.

The bobsled ride is like a wheeled single person roller coaster, going over bumps and curves whooshing through the tropical rain forest, except you have a hand brake lever to control your speed. The whole ride lasts about 3-4 minutes. Excited screaming is totally normal on this ride. At the bottom of the ride, you must slow your vehicle to about walking speed, and a roller coaster style chainlift then takes you along the remaining track back to the start point. I enjoyed it immensely.

I then hit the buffet lunch, smoked chicken with jerk sauce, red beans & rice, and cole slaw. It is served in a large shaded outdoor pavilion with plenty of wooden picnic tables and benches for seating. All was very good, and you can go back for more. The food was served in cute bobsled looking trays. We had discussion as to whether the beans or the sauce had the most pepper heat. Drinks were not included. A small bar is available here, and bottled water is $3, a tad pricey. The small mural museum highlights the history and athletic victories of the Jamaican people, rather nicely done. I spent too much money in the gift shop, as I often do, and our tour guide rounded everyone up for the zipline part of the tour.

For the zipline, we geared up with helmets and harnesses, and were introduced to our four zipline guides. They did a good job of keeping our group together on the course and keeping everything safe. They would call to each other using interesting bird noises, to let the other tour guides know what was going on. The zipline course here had 5 ropes and a suspension bridge. The views are breathtaking, whooshing through the tropical rain forest, and occassionally seeing the beach and city of Ocho Rios. They take your photo once on the zipline course, but don't tell you when, so my photo came out rather poor. The zipline course finishes on a platform mid-way down the return path of the gondola ride, which then takes you back down to the exit to the park, and our bus took us back to Falmouth port.

The port area was very windy upon our return. I had a couple hours to grab a very satisfying patty turnover pie and do some souvenir shopping, before getting back on the ship. Somewhere I had heard that we had to go through a customs inspection before entering the port area, but this was false. The large building at the head of the cruise port, which you must go through to get on/off the ship, is merely called the Customs House, because of its architecture style.

Back on the ship, I freshened up in my cabin, and hung out at the Studio Lounge with fellow solo travellers, and told them about my exciting day, and compared stories. We all had a good time, and decided Falmouth was a great port, worthy of visiting again.

Dinner Disaster

At least 20 of us solo travellers showed up for the solos dinner at the Manhattan Dining Room. We were crammed into 2 long banquet style tables, with very little room between them, right next to the amplifier speakers for the band. The band was playing way too loud, and we could not conduct a normal conversation at our table. Plus, they were playing slow, depressing 1930s jazz standards, not the best choice for a satisfying meal. Service also seemed rather slow, with such a large group. With these poor conditions, about half our group decided to leave after the appetizer course, and seek other places to dine. On cruises, I have learned that smaller groups tend to offer more flexibility and accomodation for meal arrangements. Also, some complained that the food did not seem as fresh or flavorful as on previous cruises. I noticed this too. After a frustrating dinner, I decided to relax in the hot tub by the pool deck for a while, then go to bed.

Mar04 - Discover Grand Cayman Island tour

I awoke early, to the motions of our ship maneuvering and dropping anchor. I turned on my cabin TV to find the time, weather conditions, location of our ship, and view from the bridge. I immediately saw three large tender vessels heading to us, each about 250 people capacity, to transport us to Grand Cayman Island. This island has no dock due to a large offshore ocean trench, so vessels must anchor and use tenders. The locals have tendering down to a science! My tour did not start till lunch time, so I had a leisurely breakfast in the Savor restaurant, then did some shopping ashore once all the tendering crowds were settled down.

Blue Iguana & Tortuga stores - very good

Cayman Islands is a large banking center that handles lots of money, and so I had experienced high prices on everything here before. Walking around is very safe, due to local security guards being everywhere.

I had read online ahead of time that the Blue Iguana shop had good variety & prices on souvenirs, and they were right. The staff is also very helpful & friendly. The shop is located right next to the Hard Rock Cafe, an easy walk from the southern side of the cruise port. All your standard souvenirs are here under one roof, and the upper floor is a complete island clothing boutique.

Right next door is one of the famous Tortuga rum stores. I discovered their Caribbean jerk sauce is authentic and very good, and they can ship your order directly to your cruise ship. Thus I did not have to lug around liquor bottles while on tour. They had a special where you could order a variety pack of 5 flavors of rum (they choose) 200mL of each for $20. I also bought some local postcards here, which turned out to be helpful later. And they have patties! These turnover fried pie meat sandwiches were as good as the ones I had at the Falmouth, Jamaica cruise port. As my tour was during lunch time, this was a lifesaver for having something to munch on. Between these two shops, I was pleased to accomplish all my shopping on the island. After shopping I returned to the port to join up with my tour. The weather was hot, clear, and humid, just perfect.

Tour - Discover Cayman

This tour felt very rushed compared with my tour the previous day.

Our tour guide Papi loaded us on the bus and took us straight to Hell, our first attraction. It's a small village named for strange volcanic rock formations. There's a small post office here, where you can send a postcard from Hell to someone. I was glad to have purchased and filled in my postcards ahead of time, as we stopped barely long enough to buy some stamps and drop the cards in the mailbox. I sent one to my boss and one to my girlfriend. Then Papi took us to a different Tortuga shop, where we were given free samples of rum and rum cakes, and encouraged to buy some, but again there was not enough time. This store also offered delivery of products to our ship, which is a nice feature. Then we went to the Turtle Center, also known as the Turtle Farm. There is a small museum here about turtles, along with a large outdoor tank and several smaller tanks, which hold the various breeds of turtles in various stages of development. The green sea turtle grows about six feet long, which is the Cayman national animal. One year turtles are about a foot long, and included in about half a dozen touch tanks near the back of the facility. However, folks are no longer allowed to hold turtles, as in previous years. The gift shop here is rather large, featuring all sorts of sea & turtle things. Our tour guide Papi took us back to the cruise dock, telling us all about the island, pointing out several government buildings and landmarks along the way. He is a true native of the island, full of tales & trivia! Look him up at Papi's Tours.

Back at the port was a crowded mess! Thousands of people were lined up to get on the tender vessels to get back to their cruise ships, mainly ours and a Royal Caribbean vessel anchored near us. So I passed time wandering the nearby shops, grabbing some ice cream since my patty sandwich had worn off, sitting in the hard to find shade, and chatting with fellow tourists about the situation. It took well over an hour for the boarding line to die down before I got on a tender back to the ship. I might have finally been on the last one. Lucky me.

Back in my cabin, I organized my souvenir purchases, then set out my laundry for pickup, and took a nap. I then joined the solo cruisers for another group introduction game. Smetimes these were a tad embarassing & personal. Most of the group then went to the Manhattan Room to eat, but a handful of us decided to go to the Taste restaurant instead, based on the prior bad experience we had in Manhattan Room. Our meal in Taste was great, and restored my faith in the complimentary main dining rooms. We had decent views of the sea, atmosphere was quiet, food came out quickly, salads were fresh, fried fish was crisp & tasty, and the cherry chocolate mousse cake dessert was rich and filling.

After dinner, I went to the shore excursion desk to pick out what to do in Cozumel the next day. The staff were not very helpful, although I could tell they were overwhelmed. Rumor had it that there were too many ships stopping at Cozumel for us to dock, and we would have to take tender shuttle boats. Then there was a rumor that a Carnival ship had a disease outbreak, and had to cancel her stop, leaving room at the dock for us. Since I wanted to leave time for shopping, and might have to find my way around an unfamiliar port, I selected a shorter excursion than what I had wanted originally.

Afterward, I reviewed my photos thus far in the photo gallery, and marked which ones I liked best. I learned that there are 4 different categories / prices of photos: boarding photos, gangway photos, dinner photos, and portrait photos. When someone buys a "photo package" it unsually includes only portrait photos. Photo prices vary by when / how you purchase, in order to spur impulse purchases, which I think is bad customer service. However, the photographers were all very professional and helpful in explaining the photo options and prices. Before cruising, I had purchased a package online that included 8 photos, plus 2 boarding photos, and included some souvenir bonus items. The boarding photos could be printed out by themselves or in a special format that included a picture of the ship, captain, and itinerary. On board, I purchased another photo package that included 2 of my gangway photos, along with some magnetic photo display frames. Every night of the cruise, the photographers would set up stations with different backdrops all over the ship, so you can capture just the right vacation photo that you want. They can even do passport photos, however prior reservations are helpful for that.

After this, I wandered the ship a bit, met with friends, and nearly played a round of billiards in O'Sheehan's Pub, but I was getting tired, and went to bed.

Mar05 - Cozumel by Land & Sea

The Punta Maya cruise dock

I have been to Cozumel many times, and it is one of my favorite cruise ports. Norwegian usually docks at the Punta Langosta port. But this time, we were docking at the Porta Maya, which is usually used by Carnival cruise ships, so it was new to me. This is a very nice cruise port, but you can tell it was artificially created, custom designed for cruise ships, much like the Costa Maya port. Everything you want to shop for in a Caribbean cruise port is here: perfume, jewelry, boots & leather goods, tobacco & cigars, liquor, local souvenirs, t-shirts, handicrafts, bars, restaurants. The only thing missing is a beach. There's even a pharmacy where you can purchase many medicines that require a prescription in the United States, but not needed here. After my tour, I did as much shopping as time would allow. My favorite store was the "junk store" or cheap, tacky souvenir store along the back wall of the shopping complex. Every Caribbean port, especially in Mexico, seems to have one. Here you can get seashells, postcards, shot-glasses, figurines, t-shirts, all at bargain prices. Before shopping, I was scheduled to go on our tour.

This tour is very similar to the Cozumel Highlights & Shopping Tour, but with a glass bottom boat tour for the second half, in place of circling the vegetation of the island and seeing the El Mirador land point. It also does not include the Discover Mexico local art museum and diaramas of historical life. So, I consider that tour slightly better than this, but both are great. The weather was overcast, hot, and stuffy, like a large tropical rain system was moving in. I had to keep an eye on the weather while shopping, but it appeared to stabilize as the day got hotter. Humid systems often behave that way.

Cozumel by land & sea

We met up at marked signpost #5 in the center of the cruise port, with our tour guide Rueben, who led us to a small bus. We were off to first see the Mayan Cocoa Company, a popular local Mexican chocolate factory. I have been here before many times, and it's still a favorite. We got a blessing from a Mayan priest dressed as a wild cat. We got to see replicas of several small Mayan village buildings. We got to sample the original Mexican formula for chocolate, and see it made by hand from cocoa beans. And all of this was among beautiful gardens.

Then we went to a local tequila tasting. Another tour guide explained to us the history and categories of tequila, and we got to sample several types. Once again, I confirmed that my choice is tequila blanco, which is the clear, raw, unaged form of tequila. Most folks prefer smother oak aged tequila. I learned that oak does not grow in Mexico, so most tequila aging barrels are purchased second hand from whiskey distilleries in the south-east United States.

We were next taken back to the cruise port, and told to wait for the sea part of our tour, which was to be hosted by Jesus (pronounced Hay-sues in the Hispanic tongue). We had to wait standing in the heat for over 45 minutes unitl he arrived. Several people in our tour became impatient and hungry and left to go to a restaurant instead. We felt abandoned, but still safe. Jesus finally showed up, and walked us to the glass bottom boat tour. The windows in the bottom of this boat were large and flat, perfect for broad views and photography. The water was also quite clear. We saw all kinds of beautiful corals and fish and other marine life. Our tour guide told us about them, but I could barely understand his accent. Although I have been on other glass bottom boat tours, this was one of the better ones. I loved the paintings of ocean life on the topside interior of our boat, truly making us feel like we were immersed under water.

We were then returned to the cruise port, where I spent the rest of my time in port shopping till I got back on the ship. Getting on the ship was rather routine. As this is a walk-on dock, the que to board was not too bad.

Moderno Brazillian steakhouse

Tonight I had a reservation in the Moderno Brazillian style steakhouse on the ship. This was very good, even though the ambiance is rather dark. You are given a huge three sided bowl, and sent to the salad bar, which has quite a selection of South American side dishes: pasta, salads, beans, cheeses, lots to choose from. You are given a card, green on one side and red on the other. When you display the green side, it tells the waiters to bring meat to your table. You can even use this to indicate what kinds of meat, based on what waiters are near. The red side tells them to bypass your table. There are all cuts of succulent beef, pork, and chicken. I only had the chicken (due to my diet), but it was all tender, juicy, and absolutely delicious. At last came the desserts. I chose the chocolate coconut cake, wich was one of the best I ever had. It was like a rich chocolate layer cake, with buttercream coconut frosting, and topped with a toasted coconut merainge with toasted coconut slivers in it. Absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend Moderno!

Mar06 - 3rd day at sea

Not much to report here. Most of my day was spent wrapping up this trip, and getting ready for the next one. I sorted and tallied my souvenirs. When I awoke there was a message on my cabin phone: They had a special where if I reserved my next cruise while on this cruise, I could use a second half-price CruiseNext deposit on an upcomng cruise, and get all 4 perks on my next cruise: wifi package, drink package, meal package, and shore excursion credits. Sign me up! After all, you can buy CruiseNext deposits for half price while on board, which saves money. So I set up my next cruise reservation, and I am happy with my choice.

I went to the photo gallery to make my last selections among professionally made photos on this cruise, and have them put on a usb stick. You cannot buy a usb stick onboard, which is why I purchased a photo package online before the cruise. Not sure if I will do that next time, as my own camera captured some really good photos, including photos of me. I have found that whenever I offer to take a photo of someone at a memorable place on vacation, they usually offer to do the same for me.

I met with the solo cruisers for one last meal together, then afterwards found my laundry finally delivered to my room, around 8:00PM. I had been waiting for it all day, so I could pack up my bags, and then relax the rest of the evening. I had an early tour to prepare for in the morning. I got everything hastilly packed up, and my bags set outside my cabin for the porters to handle when we docked in the morning, and got what sleep I could. Thankfully, I tend to rest well on cruises.

Mar07 - Cruise Debarkation, Space Center tour, and Arrival at Disney

I miraculously awoke about 10 minutes before my wake up call, and got ready for a busy day. I chowed down in the Taste restaurant, and then proceeded to the main theater. This is where our tour group for the Kennedy Space Center met, before debarking from the ship. We had to wait a while, about half an hour, before our tour group was called, and we were led off the ship, through the usual process. There were a couple of differences this time. Before leaving the ship while still in the main theater, we individually had our photo taken and then instantly electronically compared with our passport photo on file. How they did this is amazing, and really sped up the process, as to my surprise there were no customs agents in the terminal! All I had to do was collect my luggage from the properly sorted pile, and follow the arrows directly to our awaiting tour bus. The bus took us through the Florida swampland to the Kennedy Space Center & launch complex.

Kennedy Space Center museum

As I have said before, this place is amazing! On this 2nd visit, I got to see everything I missed the first time. Last time I took the bus tour of the launch complexes, so I skipped it this time, and had plenty to time for everything left. Our tour guide was much older and low key than last time, but still had impressive knowledge. We got to see the Astronaut Hall of Fame. I got to see some exhibits on local Florida wildlife, and how the Space Center is working to protect it. I got to see what technical challenges a journey to Mars would involve, and found out that volunteers are still wanted for it. I got to watch a 3D show about exploring the stars and the boundaries of the universe. I got to see proto-types of the space capsules for launching people, equipment, and supplies into space on upcoming missions. I got to try several simulators of various tasks & skills needed for space missions. I had lunch at the Orbit Cafe, which offers the most complete dining experience, even though it is still a fast food cafe. I really liked the futuristic touch screens used to order your meal, and you pick up your order when ready at one of the assigned "docking bays." I also had plenty of time to browse the gift shop and pick up some souvenirs. This place is truly out of this world, and a great way to wind up a vacation. Our tour bus took us back to the Orlando airport around 3:00PM. But I had further plans this time, a couple days in Disney World!


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Cabin Review

Studio Stateroom
Cabin T1 10521

NCL has done a great job with their solo cabins, as well as the accompanying Studio Lounge and solo activities coordinator for solo travellers. The solo cabins seem to be modular and identical among their ships. As usual, my cabin had everything needed: a bed plenty large for one person, with plenty of sheets & pillows, and luggage storage underneath, a shower stall, toilet stall, bathroom sink, closet cabinets, in-room safe, interactive TV, and telephone with messaging system. The bed is even large enough for two people my size, though the rest of the cabin would be a bit tight for two people. I had some trouble with the sliding doors on the closet cabinets getting stuck in place. Once I reported this to my cabin steward, he had it fixed within a day.


Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

Sky Explorer Chairlift

Mystic Mountain is a mountain top outdoor activity comlex, and so the first activity on arriving is the charilift gondola to take you to the top. The ride is very beautiful and peaceful, gliding above the tropical forest canopy, listening to birds and other wild critters of the jungle. Along most of the way up, you can see the beaches, city, and cruise port of Ocho Rios. At 2 clearly marked stops along the chairlift a camera takes your photo. You can then purchase print or electronic copies of the photos in the museum gift shop. Electronic photos are $10 for the first one and $6 for each after, which is quite reasonable. No one was pushy for sales throughout the entire complex.

View All 14 Sky Explorer Chairlift Reviews
Ziplining

For the zipline, we geared up with helmets and harnesses, and were introduced to our four zipline guides. They did a good job of keeping our group together on the course and keeping everything safe. They would call to each other using interesting bird noises, to let the other tour guides know what was going on. The zipline course here had 5 ropes and a suspension bridge. The views are breathtaking, whooshing through the tropical rain forest, and occassionally seeing the beach and city of Ocho Rios. They take your photo once on the zipline course, but don't tell you when, so my photo came out rather poor. The zipline course finishes on a platform mid-way down the return path of the gondola ride, which then takes you back down to the exit to the park, and our bus took us back to Falmouth port.

View All 74 Ziplining Reviews
Jamaica Bobsled Experience

The bobsled ride is like a wheeled single person roller coaster, going over bumps and curves whooshing through the tropical rain forest, except you have a hand brake lever to control your speed. The whole ride lasts about 3-4 minutes. Excited screaming is totally normal on this ride. At the bottom of the ride, you must slow your vehicle to about walking speed, and a roller coaster style chainlift then takes you along the remaining track back to the start point. I enjoyed it immensely.

View All 32 Jamaica Bobsled Experience Reviews
Island Tour

This tour felt very rushed compared with my tour the previous day.

Our tour guide Papi loaded us on the bus and took us straight to Hell, our first attraction. It's a small village named for strange volcanic rock formations. There's a small post office here, where you can send a postcard from Hell to someone. I was glad to have purchased and filled in my postcards ahead of time, as we stopped barely long enough to buy some stamps and drop the cards in the mailbox. I sent one to my boss and one to my girlfriend. Then Papi took us to a different Tortuga shop, where we were given free samples of rum and rum cakes, and encouraged to buy some, but again there was not enough time. This store also offered delivery of products to our ship, which is a nice feature. Then we went to the Turtle Center, also known as the Turtle Farm. There is a small museum here about turtles, along with a large outdoor tank and several smaller tanks, which hold the various breeds of turtles in various stages of development. The green sea turtle grows about six feet long, which is the Cayman national animal. One year turtles are about a foot long, and included in about half a dozen touch tanks near the back of the facility. However, folks are no longer allowed to hold turtles, as in previous years. The gift shop here is rather large, featuring all sorts of sea & turtle things. Our tour guide Papi took us back to the cruise dock, telling us all about the island, pointing out several government buildings and landmarks along the way. He is a true native of the island, full of tales & trivia! Look him up at Papi's Tours.

View All 209 Island Tour Reviews

This tour is very similar to the Cozumel Highlights & Shopping Tour, but with a glass bottom boat tour for the second half, in place of circling the vegetation of the island and seeing the El Mirador land point. It also does not include the Discover Mexico local art museum and diaramas of historical life. So, I consider that tour slightly better than this, but both are great.

We met up at marked signpost #5 in the center of the cruise port, with our tour guide Rueben, who led us to a small bus. We were off to first see the Mayan Cocoa Company, a popular local Mexican chocolate factory. I have been here before many times, and it's still a favorite. We got a blessing from a Mayan priest dressed as a wild cat. We got to see replicas of several small Mayan village buildings. We got to sample the original Mexican formula for chocolate, and see it made by hand from cocoa beans. And all of this was among beautiful gardens.

Then we went to a local tequila tasting. Another tour guide explained to us the history and categories of tequila, and we got to sample several types. Once again, I confirmed that my choice is tequila blanco, which is the clear, raw, unaged form of tequila. Most folks prefer smother oak aged tequila. I learned that oak does not grow in Mexico, so most tequila aging barrels are purchased second hand from whiskey distilleries in the south-east United States.

We were next taken back to the cruise port, and told to wait for the sea part of our tour, which was to be hosted by Jesus (pronounced Hay-sues in the Hispanic tongue). We had to wait standing in the heat for over 45 minutes unitl he arrived. Several people in our tour became impatient and hungry and left to go to a restaurant instead. We felt abandoned, but still safe. Jesus finally showed up, and walked us to the glass bottom boat tour. The windows in the bottom of this boat were large and flat, perfect for broad views and photography. The water was also quite clear. We saw all kinds of beautiful corals and fish and other marine life. Our tour guide told us about them, but I could barely understand his accent. Although I have been on other glass bottom boat tours, this was one of the better ones. I loved the paintings of ocean life on the topside interior of our boat, truly making us feel like we were immersed under water.

View All undefined undefined Reviews
Kennedy Space Center

As I have said before, this place is amazing! On this 2nd visit, I got to see everything I missed the first time. Last time I took the bus tour of the launch complexes, so I skipped it this time, and had plenty to time for everything left. Our tour guide was much older and low key than last time, but still had impressive knowledge. We got to see the Astronaut Hall of Fame. I got to see some exhibits on local Florida wildlife, and how the Space Center is working to protect it. I got to see what technical challenges a journey to Mars would involve, and found out that volunteers are still wanted for it. I got to watch a 3D show about exploring the stars and the boundaries of the universe. I got to see proto-types of the space capsules for launching people, equipment, and supplies into space on upcoming missions. I got to try several simulators of various tasks & skills needed for space missions. I had lunch at the Orbit Cafe, which offers the most complete dining experience, even though it is still a fast food cafe. I really liked the futuristic touch screens used to order your meal, and you pick up your order when ready at one of the assigned "docking bays." I also had plenty of time to browse the gift shop and pick up some souvenirs. This place is truly out of this world, and a great way to wind up a vacation. Our tour bus took us back to the Orlando airport around 3:00PM.

View All 235 Kennedy Space Center Reviews

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