Number of Cruises: 15+
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Dream
Sailing Date: May 1st, 2005
Itinerary: Repositioning From New Orleans via Panama Canal to Los Angeles
We chose this cruise because we were looking for a longer cruise at an affordable price and repositioning cruises are just the ticket. We had taken this itinerary with Carnival five years earlier, aboard “Ecstacy”. That was a good cruise. This cruise was 16 days for the price of seven and promised to visit Aruba, which we had not visited before, as well as Huatulco Mexico, another new and interesting port. .
We flew to New Orleans a day early and stayed at a motel to the northwest of downtown. Transportation was reasonable considering the distances involved. We had arrived a day early to have dinner at the Court of the Two Sisters, one of the best restaurants in New Orleans and probably in the world. After an hour or so walking off our dinner in the French Quarter (but making a stop for beignets and coffee at the Café du Monde), we were ready to call it a day.
Next day we spent a leisurely morning and hailed a cab for the trip down to the cruise terminal. We arrived at 1:00 pm, right at the start of the embarkation process and were delighted to find the lines relatively short. The embarkation staff was very efficient, but as we stood in line, we were informed that the itinerary had changed. Instead of Aruba, the ship would call at Grand Cayman and Cartagena. The stop at Huatulco was cancelled. We were given no reason for this but although we had been to both of the new stops before, we found both of them very pleasant and interesting. Apparently some of the other passengers had been notified via their travel agent of the change, but not us.
Our inside/inside cabin on the 4th deck was oriented fore and aft rather than port-starboard, but after we got used to the unfamiliar orientation, it was OK. A sofe-bed situated behind the desk chair made moving back and forth in the cabin a bit difficult at times. The steward said he’d move the sofa out but he never did.
The trip out the mouth of the Mississippi was very interesting and beautiful, and we did not finish the long passage until well after dark.
Dinner time: Meals aboard Norwegian Dream are arranged according to the line’s “Freestyle cruising” system, where one can choose to dine at one’s own schedule and in any one of four different restaurants, including the Trattoria, which specializes in Italian food. Very good. There are neither assigned meal times nor assigned tables. In addition there is “The Bistro” where there is a $15 per head service charge, but the food, service and atmosphere in that little place were magnificent, and it is well worth a try at least once.
The dining rooms fill up at the beginning of the dinner hour, but if you are willing to wait until eight PM or so, you can dine at your leisure. You can put in your name and enjoy a drink in the nearby bars while waiting your call.
The “Sports Bar” restaurant on deck 12 aft, which usually is defined as the “Lido Restaurant” in other ships, was much too small and generally pretty crowded. This is especially true in the early AM hours when it is available for coffee and Danish until the buffet line is opened about 7:00.
There is a very small pizzeria on the Deck 11 pool area which is open for lunch and in the afternoon for “snacky” foods.
There are pros and cons to this “Freestyle Cruising” concept insofar as dining is concerned. While you no longer make the close associations with your tbale mates as you might with assigned seating, you can dine with whomever you wish any time. But, shared tables allow you to meet more people. You don’t have to put up with the impromptu “shows” by the waiters, either.
We got used to the freestyle system and it generally worked well. It is a matter of personal taste whether it will work for you. Overall, the restaurants are well appointed and the food and service were impeccable- no complaints at all. Dining more than met your expectations. There are great ocean views from all but the Bistro but the ambiance there is very elegant.
The ship itself underwent the addition of some 130 feet in the midships portion after it was originally built, and this is evident in the layout- I found the ship cumbersome with respect to access to many areas. This would only be a problem on a short cruise however, as by the time we reached Cartagena, I had figured out ways to avoid many of the stairways that somehow seem to be the only way to get some places. There are three pools, forward on Deck 11, midships on Deck 11 and aft on Deck 8. There are two hot tubs near the forward pool. The pool water was always a comfortable temperature, regardless of the weather.
We had three days at sea before reaching Grand Cayman. Much has been written about this beautiful small island- it is well worth a special trip. There were a number of tours available. Diving is the favorite sport and the water is gin-clear. Shopping downtown is plentiful and civilized.
Cartagena, Colombia: Only one tour was made available by the ship, but it was a good one. We visited the huge fortress in the center of the old city, a monastery on top of a high mountain affording magnificent views of the city and its beautiful harbor. While at the monastery, keep an eye out for “Pepe” the sloth and his owner, who will let you hold this most wonderful of animals and take a picture for a few bucks. Meeting Pepe will be a highlight of your trip. The sloth has huge long arms and legs and a perpetual and endearing blissful smile on his face. His owner, a breeder of sloths, is very knowledgeable about these animals and will tell you anything you want to know. We went to two quite impressive churches in the old town via a mile or so walk through the narrow streets. As for security, we were usually surrounded by the “Tourist Police” many of whom were armed with automatic weapons- I feared nothing. There is the usual practice of steering tourists to shopping areas. Emeralds were the hot ticket. I got the impression the prices were at least fair if not good. Bargaining is the norm. The jewelry work is beautiful, and I approached the stores as if they were museums rather than shops. We visited the Hilton Hotel for a beer and some rest under the shade trees. Watch for iguanas around the Hilton grounds. They are beautiful and are interesting but should not be approached too closely.
The following day we approached and transited the Panama Canal. Cabin TV’s showed an in-depth documentary on the Canal so we were pretty well informed about it when we arrived. Additionally, the ships agent in Panama rode along and pointed out some of the highlights and gave some history. It is truly impressive. The transit takes the full day, and at sunset we were anchored in the western approach, surrounded by dozens of ships silhouetted by a magnificent sunset.
After another day at sea, we reached Puntarenas Costa Rica: A number of tours were available but we took the Coffee Tour 2 hours by bus to a demonstration coffee plantation where we were treated to a 1 hour infomercial about Café Britt, and then given the opportunity to buy some in the plantations gift shop. This was the only opportunity to shop in Costa Rica. Next time I will stay in Puntarenas or else take a wildlife tour, or the river rafting trip. Costa Rica is a beautiful place, and warrants a bus tour. The cloud forest trip is popular, and includes a trip to see the huge caldera of Poas volcano, if it isn’t filled with clouds.
The ship stopped rather briefly in all the ports, usually demanding that we be back on board by 2:30 or 3:00 PM. I would have liked a little longer stay in port.
Acapulco is interesting if only for the cliff divers- don’t miss that. I did find they were a little bit more “show-biz” than five years ago when I was there last. . Its old area seems like it is stuck in the early 60’s, and has little to offer. Try the beaches and resorts to the south of the cruise ship dock. The old Spanish fort immediately adjacent to the cruise terminal is interesting and has a well-done and air-conditioned historical museum. The cruise terminal has a well-equipped shopping area for after the tour. Thos who took the beach tour to La Roqueta Island seemed split on its merits- some found it boring- others thought it fascinating.
With the limited number of ports visited, there were a substantial number of “sea days”, but there are many activities to fill your day. The cruise staff, including Cruise Director Simon and his lieutenant, Karl were very efficient and friendly. We participated in, and, incidentally WON, the team trivia contest which extended over the full length of the cruise, with events each day. Lots of fun and very nice prizes including a dinner for four on the last night of the cruise at “Le Bistro” as well as a goodie bag of company logo items.
There is the usual bingo and a pretty well equipped and well-attended casino. It is open for slots 24 hours a day. They seemed as loose as you could expect- I saw quite a few big winners. There are table games too.
The shows were first rate and entertainment featured a good comedian, an EXCELLENT ventriloquist a fine magician and a great vocalist. The showroom is a bit awkward with a combination of fixed “sofas” and moveable little barrel cocktail chairs. There is no middle aisle so getting in and out is also difficult, especially for the older people, of which there were a LOT. I’d estimate the median passenger age at no less than 70. This demographics understandably cut into late night entertainment as they all tended to turn in early. Rounding out the entertainment was the Jean Ann Ryan Dance company- very good and very professional. The star was definitely a young Australian woman named Charlotte Jones, I believe, who turned up in a Betty Boop hairdo and the best “little black dress” I have ever had the privilege to see. She could sing and dance and could definitely “make a good boy go bad.” I’ll be following her career. The others in the troupe were also excellent, and they put on a great show.
Room service was excellent- except for the couch problem. With the chaotic meal schedule, things must have been difficult planning-wise for the room stewards but they always seemed to get it done unobtrusively. Room food service was also fast and efficient.
I used the internet café for email- cost was 55 cents a minute if you buy $ 50 or 100 dollars worth of time. There are wireless internet stations all over the ship so you can use your own laptop or rent one of theirs. There is a pretty well equipped library with a number of good reference books for settling bets or researching about the destinations and port stops. My wife spent a substantial amount of time undergoing various spa treatments and she was effusive in her praise of the staff. While I don’t go for the gym activities, my other traveling companion thought it was a well equipped gym.
Overall, a good trip with little to complain about, and a surprisingly active schedule for a repositioning cruise- they can be a little slow sometimes, especially because the . passengers tend to be much older. I stepped aside for a lot of walkers, wheelchairs and powered scooters, but activities abounded for all on the Norwegian Dream.
Bar musicians were exceptionally good, although on a ship of this smaller size the sound could have been turned down a little to facilitate conversation. Suggestions to do so fell on deaf ears. Other concerns were addressed immediately.
The ship continued from Los Angeles up to Alaska and will sail, I believe, out of Alaska. I think the design of the ship will be good for Alaska’s conditions. The pool deck was surrounded by high white walls, with no windows and in the Panamanian sun it could be an oven. In Alaska though, I think the protection from the wind afforded by those walls would be a help.