Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Sailing Date: January 20th, 2002
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
Monday & Tuesday at sea:
I had read some negative reports about the condition of the Norway, and so was pleasantly surprised to find it if great condition. This was my first cruise so I don't have a wealth of other experiences for comparison, but I didn't see any evidence that the ship was 40 years old. The carpet was all in good condition, then stairs all worked fine and the lights in our stateroom worked clear up to the last day of our cruise (more on that later). We spent some time lying around the main pool, and then wandered up for a game of basketball. While the guys were getting primeval on the court, some of the wives went to the first class in the fitness center. They all participated in the motion-in-the-ocean program for the promise of a free t-shirt, and had a good time going to classes all week. They were all impresses with the quality of the instructors, and the quality and variety of exercise options. After getting a good sweat on we headed back to sun worship. There seemed to be an adequate number of chairs most of the time, but from about 11:00am to 3:00pm it got tougher to find groups of them so we could sit together.
Monday night was formal night in the main dining room, and so that was when we learned that there were no irons available on the Norway. I did have a number of shirts sent to the laundry for pressing, and the cost was only $1.50 each so the lack of an iron wasn't a big deal. Why iron your own ships when the laundry will do it so cheaply. If you have shirts or dresses to be ironed you will be best served to send them down Sunday so that you won't need to use the express service which is 50% more money. The formal night was a lot of fun, even though I did not rent a tux. After Dinner we spent some time back in the Great Outdoors playing cards, a favorite activity throughout the week.
Tuesday was another day spent hanging around playing cards and so on. I did finally break down and buy some time in the Internet Café. They have time available at 75 cents a minutes, or you can buy 100 minutes for $55. I used my time only to check email, and went through about 80 of my 100 minutes. Tuesday also marked the day that we discovered the staff coke machine on that had the 50 cent sodas. It is on Biscayne deck near the aft (I think) disembarkation port. I was told that then next deck down was where the crew's Internet Café was located. They have access cards that they can buy to get Net access at 25 cents a minute, but I never wandered down there to verify it.
Tuesday night we skipped the main dining room in favor of Le Bistro. The food was really good, and the service was awesome. The menu is always the same, and for $10 I had a really, really good Fillet Mignon. The appetizers were all good and the desserts were divine. We had a great time in the Bistro.
Wednesday at St. Maarten.
We purchased the dive excursion with Dive Safaris in St. Maarten for $95 each. As we signed up onboard the Norway we were told that we needed to have at least 20 dives under our belt to qualify for this excursion. We were told that this was due to the sea conditions at St. Maarten. We went anyway. The dive leaders were all very good, the wet suits (shorty) were all very bad. We joked that they all had a panel pre-ripped so you could scratch your butt if needed. In spite of their appearance they worked well. I don't think that anyone was cold at all, and a couple of divers went without a wet suit at all. The BCDs and regs were all pretty new and in good shape. We did the dive briefing on the pier outside the dive shop because the sea conditions made it tough to do the briefing at the dive site. We headed out to sea right past where the Norway was anchored to a site called the Fish Bowl. The swells seemed pretty big to me, and to compound matters they had a hard time getting tied off to the dive buoy. When we got into the water, the swells got even bigger (or we just got closer to them) so we headed down to the bottom immediately. The bottom was only about 50' feet, and there was still a pretty good current present. One of the DMs said that this was more current than he had experienced in the 6 months he had been in St. Maarten. Because of the current, we never made it the actual dive site. We did see a number of pretty fish and some assorted coral. To visualize our safety stop, imagine a wind chime in a hurricane. We were pretty jumbled up. The minute that we hit the boat we were chumming. We moved to the next dive site, Lucy's Barge, and hit the water as soon as we could gear up and drop. The current was a little more manageable here, and the barge was pretty much under the buoy so we did not have to swim to it. We saw a couple of nice barracuda, a nice Eel, and other assorted fish. There was more coral here as well. We did the wind chime in the wind safety stop, one more stop on the chum line and then we were done. The dive masters were very good. I was impressed that they told us that they would report us if we tried to take any flora or fauna home with us. One of them did tease the Eel out of hiding with his knife, but they did not do some of the hold this, puff this type of stuff that I have seen others do. They also took us out in smaller groups so that there was a better diver to dive master ratio that I have seen elsewhere. There are more experienced divers who prefer a more hands off approach, but I am still rookie enough to want a pro around. If you have a cast iron stomach, or if you don't mind doing some chumming between dives this was a good excursion. The DMs did say that the ocean is much calmer 6 months of the year during the summer.
Others in the group did the tour excursions and reported that they were interesting. Some of the group spent time on Orient Beach in search of Naked Baywatch and reported that it was more like Naked WeightWatchers. After the diving we all met up, stored our dive gear in a locker at the Every'ting Cool Bar ($4) and headed to the French side for dinner. We had seven in our group at this time so the van fare was $35, but we didn't even try to ask for a better price. We ate at Le Belle Époque, a restaurant recommended by one of the dive masters. The pizza was simply awesome, and the pasta dishes were also pretty good. We spent about another hour shopping for trinkets and then met the van driver for the ride back to the Dutch side of the island, and our tender ride back to the Norway. We ended up on the 6:00pm tender (last tender at 6:30) and so missed our seating in the main dining room. We went to the Sports Bar for their "Mexican Buffet" which turned out to be (cold!) baked potatoes and toppings. Half the group headed back to their staterooms for room service (which turned out to be pretty good) and the rest of us just ate a bunch of the very good Macadamia Nut Chocolate Chip cookies from the Great Outdoors Restaurant. In hindsight, if you are dining early and plan to do the Bistro, this would be a good day to do that. We did have one member of the larger group who hitch-hiked all over the island. We offered him a ride back from lunch, but he wanted to hitch-hike. He reported that the last tender from St. Maarten was like a large drunk tank, with at least half of the passengers less than fully dressed. I never had the heart to ask if it was Naked Baywatch, or Naked WeightWatchers.
Thursday, St. John & St. Thomas.
The ships itinerary says that there is an hour stop at St. John and then the ship moves to St. Thomas. Instead we stopped in St. Thomas and had a 45 minute ferry ride back to St. John and Low Key Water Sports. The scuba excursion for St. Johns meets at about 6:00am in the morning, but the whole ship has to get up and clear customs before 7:00am anyway, so we didn't feel to badly about the early start time. In fact, because of the early departure we were pre-cleared! We were met on the dock at St. John by one of the Low Key DMs who led us on a 5 minute walk from one side of town to the other to get on the boat. Low Key has an interesting setup: you get your wet suit (long sleeve shorty) and then wade to the boat. Not a big deal as the idea is to get all the way wet anyway, but wading through chest deep water with your dive gear could be a challenge for some. Again, the DMs were all very good, but this dive felt more like a cattle boat. There were 18 divers on board, plus the 4 dive masters. We told one of the DMs that we had done St. Maarten the day before, and asked him how the water conditions would compare. He told us that the worst day in St. John was miles better than the best day at St. Maarten. We took the short boat ride to Mingo Key and suited up. We stared in about 20' of water, swan out to the reef and then swam along the reef in about 45' feet of water until we were halfway out of air. We then headed back and explored the reef at 15' until we ran out of air. The reef was tons better that St. Maarten in terms of flora and fauna, and there was no current at all. We pulled anchor and headed to Stpehen's Key were we had a very similar dive. In this location we did have some current, but nothing like the day before. The wet suits at Low Key seemed very new, and the BC's and regs seemed to work fine. The easy diving was the reason that we had so many Norway divers on this trip than in St. Maarten, plus at $82 it was cheaper. Because of the way that the tender system works on the Norway, I don't know that you could plan to dive independently without some risk of missing the dive boat. In both islands those that purchased shore excursions got preference on the first tenders. In St. Maarten we were on the first tender and didn't hit the beach until almost 9:30am. St. Johns is a little different as the tender leaves to early, and you can get onto the ferry by purchasing an $8 ferry ticket (to get you back to St. Thomas) but I suspect that on many days the Norway fills one of both of the Low Key boats, so you might not have a boat to dive from. I did not see any other dive shops in St. John, but I wasn't really looking. By the time the first tender lands in St. Thomas I think that most of the dive boats would be at sea anyway.
The 1:00pm ferry to St. Thomas is the last one that you can buy a ticket for onboard the Norway, but there are others that run, and for another $7.00 you can change your ticket on the island. You will be warned that if there are not enough people that buy tickets the ferry will not run. Others in our group did the island tour at St. Johns and reported that it would be a honeymooner's paradise. They were very impressed by the beaches. We also had some in the group purchase the Coki Beach excursion and they reported that the snorkeling was very good.
After our dive we took the ferry back to St. Thomas and had lunch at the Garden Restaurant, which is just a couple of blocks inland from the ferry drop off. We all have tourist food, and it was very good. The menu also included a wide array of island food, but we were told that is usually sold out (to the locals) before noon. The owner did bring us a selection of what the locals called provisions, which were all roots. I tried them all, and while not up to the level of a Wendy's French Fry, I wouldn't starve if I had to eat that stuff every day.
After we bought shirts for the kids we were back to the Norway on the 4:30pm ferry, which pulled away from the dock at 5:00pm. We saw some concerned looks from those who did not make it on-board, but right behind us was the official last ferry to bring them back on-board. We did the shower and then headed for dinner. This meal was Caribbean night, and so many of the menu items had a Caribbean theme, and the waiters all wore their Caribbean uniforms. There was a flaming dessert delivered by the waiters as they sang to us. It was a lot of fun.
Friday at sea:
Monday revisited. By now we were all vacationed out and willing to just sit around and do nothing. Thursday night the seas got pretty rough, and so the ship was rockin' and rollin'. In addition to the side to side action, we were also going up and down on the pointy end. It started as we left St. Thomas and went most of the night. I slept through it, but apparently the guy in the stateroom next to us was up most of the night. My wife finally got a little sea sick the next morning and took some of the free sea-sick pills. Of course they knocker her out so she took a nice 5 hour nap. After she woke up it was all over, she was fine. The dinner was the Captain's Farewell, a formal night. The menu was about like the other nights, and then we had the waiters singing to us again, before presented the Baked Alaska Flambé. The food was good, they day was good.
Saturday at Great Stirrup Key:
We managed to get most of our party tickets for the first two tenders, so after eating breakfast in the main dining room we headed to the beach. The water temp was a little cold for come of us, but I thought that it was just right. In spite of the 2000 passengers on the same beach there seemed to be an adequate number of beach chairs. We spotted sting rays, a large barracuda, flounders, octopus, lots of jellyfish and so on. We actually got onto the beach at about 10:30am, and left for the Norway at 4:30pm. We had filled out the card for the snorkeling vest on the ship, so we didn't have to fill out the release forms on the island, even though we hadn't brought the tickets with us. Those that didn't fill the out the form onboard had to fill one out before they could get the snorkel vest. The lunch was the same as the Great Outdoors Restaurant. There was a tour available that took you around the island, and from the tour you could see lots of empty beaches on the other side of the island, so even with 2000 fellow passengers on the island, you could find some time to be alone. The island was very nice.
Sunday in Miami, disembarkation:
We got up and had breakfast, and then waited for the announcements to disembark. Preference was given to those who had early flights, but by 10:00am we were in the luggage sorting area looking for the bags we had placed in the hall the previous night. There were about 7 different colors and it only took a few minutes to find our bags. In a party of about 60, we only had one bag lost. Sadly, it was the bag that she had packed all of her souvenirs in, so it was not a happy moment. The NCL rep promised to send the bag if it showed up, but if not NCL was only willing to pay $100 total for any lost luggage. It's too early to know what happened, but I suspect that someone else mistakenly took it home, and she'll get it back. We did a tour of the Everglades and by 5:30 we were in the air on our way back to cold and snowy Salt Lake City.
Food. The food in the main dining rooms was pretty good. The food in the Bistro was really good. The food in the Great Outdoors Restaurant was edible. The other buffets (sports bar, casino) were not really food. The Chocoholic Buffet was pretty good, but not worth spending more than about 30 minutes in line for, and I saw some people wait over an hour. The cookies in the Great Outdoors Restaurant were really good, but they were not always available. There was always milk, tea and coffee available in the Great Outdoors. The room service food was pretty good, but you had to spend time in your room waiting for it to show up.
Service: The service was AWESOME. We met Roberto, our room steward on the way to dinner Sunday night and he made a point of stopping us to say hi and make sure that he knew of any special needs that we had. Roberto took great care of us, and always seemed completely happy to be there for us. Jose, our dinner waiter was also awesome. He was from India, so we asked what Jose would translate into in English, and he told us Joseph. When we commented that Jose was not really an Indian name, he told us that he mother had been Portuguese, and that he came from the one state in India that had been colonized by Portugal instead of England. One of the deserts offered Monday night was a strawberries and sugar creation. My wife asked for just the strawberries, but the cook said no. We ate in the Bistro on Tuesday and on Wednesday we missed dinner because we were still on St. Maarten. Thursday when we finally came back to Jose, he had a bowl of Strawberries for her! Jose was always there to make sure that we got a second entrée if we needed it, a second dessert or whatever we needed. Napoleon, our waiter in the Bistro was also very good. He sang to us all night long, and managed to make everything be just right.
Stateroom: We didn't spend much time in the stateroom, but there were some things that I will do differently should I ever sail the Norway again. In room V90 we were in about the middle of the ship, both front to back and up and down. The stateroom was a pretty good size for us (huge for $199/week!) and the beds were pretty comfy. My only complaint was that we had people walking up and down the hall all night long. It would be tough to be asleep at 3:00am, and have a group of fellow cruisers walk by talking like they were still in the sports bar. If we had gotten the outside stateroom we would have had another room between us and the hall to help insulate us from the noise. Of course, that is not always proof against sleep loss. The last night there was a pipe that burst in the outside stateroom next to us. The people in that room called for help, and then we all got to listen to the emergency plumbers deal with the water. We heard a whoosh, and then the sound of water. I thought that our shower must have magically turned on (It was 4:00am and I was still sleepy) so I got up to turn it off. Anyway, the cavalry arrived and took matters into hand:
"I need a towel,
"I need another towel, mon!!"
"Give me a blue towel, MON!!!"
When we left the carpet had been pulled up in the room and there was some pretty big fans pushing the air around in there. We did hear the woman in the room thank the plumber for keeping her stuff dry, so I guess it wasn't a total loss.
The Stairs: We are both pretty young, so I don't know if I can comment fully on the stairs/elevators issue. Coming back from the shore excursions I had a pretty big, pretty heavy bag full of diving gear (mask, fins, booties, reg and such) so I used the elevators to get from Biscayne to Viking. If I walked some distance from the tenders I was able to get an elevator pretty quickly. I did notice that whenever we walked past an elevator there was a group of people waiting for it, but never more that 5 or 6 people. On the last day I did see one woman who had earned her Motion-in-the-Ocean t-shirt waiting for the elevator!?!?! We kinda looked on the stairs as a way to help work off some of the cruise food, so walked the stairs. We did eat breakfast with one elderly couple from Florida, and I asked them how they were dealing with the stairs. She said that they were tough the first day or so, but then they limbered up and they were no problem. What a great attitude, and what a great couple. Anyway, the Norway would not be a fun ship for people in a wheelchair, or stair-challenged, but for us it was not a problem.
The Tenders: If you wanted to hit an island and do you own thing it might be frustrating to have to wait until all of the excursions had gone over, but I don't know how big of a deal it would be as we always did the shore excursions. The only thing that I could suggest that might help the whole process would be to send the tender when it was only 90% full. We would fill the tender up to 90% in about 15 minutes and then wait another half hour for the last 10% to find seats. By then we could have been half way unloaded on the beach.
Shipboard entertainment: Jeff Harms (the comic) and Fernandez (the hypnotist) were both pretty good. The song and dance shows in the Saga Theatre were uneven at best. Sea Legs Goes Hollywood was the best of the three I saw, but the other two were not very good at all. Jeff was good in a low key way. The closest he ever came to naughty humor was in the liar's club show where he said that he'd had to quit stripping because the customers where getting tired of squinting. If you happen to run into him on a future cruise tell him I am sorry for the whole "all Winnebagos are 25' long" thing. He won't remember, but it will make me feel better. Fernandez was also very entertaining, and he was more accessible after the show.
Tipping & final bill: The Norway is the only NCL ship that is not a freestyle ship, so tips are not auto-magically added to the room bill. We had planned to fill out the vouchers for tipping, but that turned out to be a common plan so the line was pretty long at the information desk. I asked for some vouchers to take to my room to be filled out, and they said that the vouchers needed to be filled out at the information desk. Because of the line, we decided to use cash to tip, and that made it all much easier. See tip #4 below for a quick and easy way to get cash from your credit card on board.
The procedure for final settlement is that they slip a copy of all of your shipboard purchases under your door between 3:00am and 6:00am on debarkation day. If there are any discrepancies you are supposed to get them worked out before 8:00am so that they can finalize the bill. I didn't want to be rushed, so I asked for a print out Saturday night. This allowed me to see that everything was in order while there was still time to fix any problems. It turns out that there were no problems so we just left everything in the credit card.
Things I learned:
1 - Bring your own snack food on the Norway. I have been told that other cruise ships have food available 24x7, but this is not true on the Norway. I brought a bag full of fruit snacks and candy and used lots of it.
2 - If you are a juice or soda drinker bring it with you. As you drink the juice you will discover a nice place for all of your souvenirs to go home in.
3 - If you didn't bring the soda with you and you want to have a coke, get it from the vending machine on Biscayne deck.
4 - If you go to the credit desk or ATM for cash from your credit/debit card you will be charged at least $4.95 per transaction, maybe more. If you go to the casino they will sell you chips from your credit/debit or onboard account for free. When we were ready to tip, we needed to get cash so I bought $150 in chips from the Casino. The cashier gave me a voucher for the $150. I turned the voucher in at the roulette table, won $5, lost it back and cashed out. The whole process took me about 6 minutes and I was done.
5 - If you are going to the beach on St. Maarten or St. John/St. Thomas it is easier to stash a towel from the pool the day before and take that with you, rather than checking one out the day of the excursion.
6 - The shopping and debarkation talks are worth seeing, but you don't have to do it live as they will be rebroadcast on TV all day long. We watched the briefings while getting ready for dinner each night and it worked out great.
Final Thoughts: The Norway really is the Grande Dame of the seas. At the end of Sea Legs Goes Hollywood, they brought out some of the crew and officers from the ship to get their applause. The captain then made a short speech wherein he said that the Norway would be cruising the Caribbean for two more years. If for no other reason than that she is so dreadfully expensive to operate, I am sure that the days of the Norway are numbered. If you get a chance to take a cruise I would recommend it as she is the last of a dying breed.