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Balann Line

Age: n/a

Occupation:n/a

Number of Cruises: n/a

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Sea

Sailing Date: April 9th, 2005

Itinerary: Texaribbean

Balann


What a good time…great itinerary…fine ship…wonderful food…good value!!

Booking this cruise, I too, was hesitant…but Fear No More. We are more than satisfied, and can recommend this ship to friends & family. Every day was an adventure, with a mixture of activity and relaxation for our party of 4 adults, in 2 cabins, 7th Star Deck. We actually enjoyed this smaller ship, and were able to easily stroll from forward to aft, with 3 small elevators spaced in between. At all times, everywhere, the crew was cleaning, painting, and keeping her in good repair.

DEPART --
Houston Seaport is very convenient for us, as we live in DFW area, and driving was an easy 4-5 hour trip along our Texas highways with springtime displays of Bluebonnets & Wildflowers. Flying family members to DFW was convenient, and spending the night before our cruise at home is an economy not found at Florida, or other ports. Unloading and parking is very easy as the SEA is the only ship leaving from this port at this time, with a 4 p.m. sail time. Parking is $49/week, prepaid, (possibly cash only?). Houston Ship Channel is ‘ugly’, but it gives a person a broader perspective of why Oil is so important to this city, and to our country.

MEALS --

We applaud the Head Chef and his hard working Staff, in making each meal a Delight! We opted to eat as many meals as possible in the main dining rooms, Seven Seas, Four Seasons, and/or Pasta’s (reservations, but no extra upcharge), with such outstanding service, and delicious offerings. Even if something was not to an individual’s liking, there are so many courses and alternatives, we always left Satisfied & Pampered. We did not particularly care for the Big Apple (buffet), or the Pool Side food stations, but they served the purpose for quick eats and drinks, and many fellow cruises ate exclusively at these venues. We did try the Le Bistro (reservations & $15 upcharge/$20 Steak & Lobster) one night, and felt somewhat disappointed, since there was very little difference between this restaurant and the other wonderful Dining Rooms, also the service there was lackluster. We thoroughly enjoyed the Freestyle dining, and never had to wait more than a few minutes for a table at the Dining Rooms, but we tend to eat early, to enjoy the early shows, etc. The 11:30 p.m. Chocolate Buffet (with chocolate milk) was fun. The only constant disappointment was their ‘ice tea’, but I circumvented this situation by ordering or preparing hot tea, and 1 or 2 glasses of ice, and made my own fresh brewed iced tea. We always took the opportunity to fill-out the comment card at each table, if we felt the service, and/or food was exemplarily, which was often, We felt the waiters appreciated this gesture, and we hope this is reflected on how they are compensated. This is the first cruise, where I felt the Head Waiters actually deserved some gratuity, as they kept the whole dining room running smoothly, and actually pitched-in helping clear tables & perhaps serving coffee.

You know NCL is doing something right…when after a few days aboard ship, you find yourself having a moment…after swiftly leading you through the Dining Room, seating your party at a lovely white-linen table, having someone remove your napkin and place it in your lap, and then presenting the Menu for that day’s meal service…and you take a deep sigh, smile, and hear yourself say, “I Love this Place”!

Really appreciated the hand-disinfectant stations at each restaurant and when re-boarding the ship, and I even went out of my way to clean my hands on other occasions, as transmitting bacteria by hand is a valid concern for gastroenteritis.  This ship showed their concern by encouraging both passengers and staff in frequent hand sanitizing.

We did bring aboard several bottles of wines to enjoy during our meals that were ‘found’ when luggage was boarded, and we had to retrieve these held pieces of luggage marked as ‘bottles’. However, we intended to pay the uncorking fee of $15 per bottle anyway, and did so at the onset of the cruise. Most liquor purchases bought on land (and at their duty-free shop) were secured until the day of departure, with a chaotic reclaiming at Oscar’s Bar for land-bought purchases.

As each day rolled by, it was amazing how our minds about mid-afternoon would start wondering about…’Hmmmm, Wonder what’s for Dinner?’, and we were not disappointed!.  Again, Wonderful meals, Excellent service.

ROOMS –
I believe our rooms on the 7th Deck Forward had been updated. The blue/turquoise/coral ‘tiny bubbles’ bedspread was pleasant decor, and the bed & 2 pillows were most comfortable. The best part was that the comforter had a fresh white duvet cover, which totally encapsulated the comforter…and there was no ‘Eeyeuuw’ factor in touching a blanket used weekly. This duvet was comfortable, but a bit too warm for me, and I had asked our Cabin Attendant for a plain sheet that worked nicely. The desk/vanity chair and window covering were also in a nice dark pattern, and the blue carpeting was stain-free. The air-conditioning in our room was adjustable, and kept our room nicely cool. We asked and received a room refrigerator for keeping our wine chilled. There were no room safes, but used the lock boxes at the pursers office and then we had to keep this key secure. The girls had room service every morning for coffee (before going on to breakfast) and thoroughly enjoyed this treat. I felt that our room was extremely clean…and let me tell you why. I make it a practice to bring a small bottle of bleach to thoroughly disinfect our cabins, and I was very impressed that the white terrycloth towel I used was still white when I finished. We were friendly with our Cabin Attendant, and frequently told him not to bother making-up our room, especially on days that I know that he may be trying to go ashore after his chores are done. We did enjoy the chocolates on our pillow, and towel art on our beds. Comfortable rooms and our ‘home’ for the week.

PORTS –
COZUMEL
–This is an easy island to self-tour. Taxis are plentiful, and rates are somewhat standardized, but always ask the fare before jumping into any vehicle, making sure the fare is for the numbers of passengers you have and in which currency (USD is no problem, and in fact change is returned in USD, instead of pesos). We wanted to visit as many beaches as possible, for snorkeling and beach swimming. We visited Dzul Ha, Playa Corona & Palm Beach Club (New Club, next to Playa San Francisco.). We had no trouble hailing a taxi at each beach, to go to the next. Except sometimes we’d declined a ride if we felt it was a little out-of-line…and, of course, the next taxi would be a few dollars cheaper. We paid $8, $5, $8 & $15, for each leg of our trip, and when divided by 4 people this equals to $10pp for a fun day of beach hopping. Enjoyed each beach respectively for their different characteristics, plus the Pina Coladas in whole pineapples at the pretty Palm & S.F. didn’t hurt our experience any. .Each beach had no fee, but we did purchased drinks and/or food, and we had our own snorkel gear. I think our favorite snorkel beach was probably Corona, because the access to the water is calmer, and sandier. Then we had a taxi take us to the town of San Miquel for some souvenir shopping and phoning home (see Phone Notes), before an easy walk to the ship and re-boarding at Punta Langosta pier. The Pedi cabs (tips only) on the pier where a treat if you didn’t want to walk to the end of the long dock. Fun Day!

ROATAN –This Honduras Island has a small pier where we had the ‘honor’ of tying-up to the dock, because of the ‘tradition’ of our ship’s ‘seniority’, age-wise. Compared to other ‘younger’ ships also docking that day, they instead anchored and tendered in small boats. Yea, for being old! Native band and dancers greeted our ship as we pulled in, plus photo opportunities to pose with them were available as we disembarked. Hawkers for pricy tours cornered anyone who would stand still (or not), but once you left the secure compound, taxis will approach you with more reasonable fares. (We understand that taxis when no ships are in port are most reasonable, but alas, tourists are creating an industry of ‘exploiting pirates’. And we must wonder…Why not, if they can get someone to pay $100/day? I probably would, too.) Agreed to $30 USD (gratuity extra) to Santos (Taxi #003) for an all-day tour for 4 people. He took us to a pretty beach with free lounge chairs at Half Moon Bay near West End, and then to Luna Beach Resort, for the rest of the afternoon.

At l/2 Moon, children with arms full of necklaces & bracelets, ply their wares as you lounge, so the best tack (for me) is to immediately buy some (2 for $5) and then tell the following ‘No Darling, I have some’. If you can stand their disappointed little chocolate faces, you’ll be Ok, plus these trinkets are nice mementos and gifts for those at home. Try the Honduras beer there, with ‘table’ service from an infrequent server, or walk up to the adjacent bar/restaurant. The shady elevated sand beach and black rock area with about a dozen lounge chairs was enjoyable, with interesting snorkeling convenient with steps down to the water, plus a fresh water outdoor shower. Although there were some people here from the ship (probably brought by their taxi also), and others that have rented cottages there, it felt private and very relaxing. Our only moment of concern this day is when we realized our driver was actually taking us back to the ship, and not to our second destination…but once we alerted him to this fact, he turned around and took us to where we desired. Saw some pretty destitute areas along this dirt road, but along the blacktop road, it was very tropical & picturesque. We not sure if this premature return to the ship was intentional or not, but Santos was pleasant enough, and all was good.

Luna Beach Resort (www.lunabeachresort.com) is a handsome resort of many wooden structures, restaurant/bar & swimming pool, on a palm-studded beach. The approached our taxi used to this resort was the sand road on the beach along the shore line, and made for an exciting drive, trying not to get stuck in the sand. (Sounds like Paradise? It is!) Debbie welcomes visitors by internet (she lives in Colorado) to spend the day and enjoy their facility at no fee. Next time we won’t spend too much time before arriving here so we can take their boat out to the reef to snorkel at their best spots because their beach is probably a better swimming beach than snorkeling. Better yet, we should come back and reserve a cabin/room for the week! Lunch was nice…and fresh-water pool swimming was refreshing.

Before we arrived back to the ship, Sis and I jumped out of the taxi to shop at the town Coxen Hole, again for the obligatory t-shirts, etc., with an easy walk to the ship after shopping. Before long, we’d have a bunch of pre-adolescent boys, chatting us up, as we wandered the shops. Of course, we know they are quasi-guides, with the intentions of getting a tip for their trouble. Again, I’m not opposed to this, as long as they don’t whine or beg, and some of their ‘stories’ are quite entertaining, as they would walk & talk with us. Oh sure, I unloaded my pocket of the local lempira currency, with maybe another dollar…so they can get an Orangeade. (The temp was really warm this late afternoon, and I’m sure they got quite thirsty, with All their talking.) They are beautiful children, and seemingly happy people on a beautiful island and I hope they prosper. ,Another Good Day!

BELIZE – If it’s Wednesday, We must be in Belize!! Again, another beautiful day, and after securing early tender tickets, we take the 20 minute ride to Belize City. Here our group was going to split up with Daughter #1 & Dad finding a Snorkel Tour, and Sis and I doing our own self-tour Cave Tubing/Belize Zoo trip. Belize (and Cancun) is a tendered port, and moderately rough seas can keep any tenders from docking and shore excursions cancelled, so we choose to wait until landing before scouting out satisfactory tours. We didn’t take too much time before finding the reputable company which we have read while interneting…Coral Breeze Limited (www.coralbreezelimited.com). $60/pp USD Cash whisked our two snorkelers to the Barrier Reef to the coral Garden Wall & Shark & Ray Alley, with a relaxing lunch stop at Key Caulker. They loved it. Daughter said the island and waters were “insanely beautiful’, and she looks forward to coming back to these picture-perfect postcard islands as soon as possible. This was the highlight of their cruise, and returned ‘home’ to the ship with many exciting tales, and great video.

Now, we had to pursue our adventure. After wading thru several ‘eager’ taxi men, we found Mr. Ernest August. He offered a tour, we countered, he re-offered, then we had to walk away to decide if we wanted to spend this much. We were thinking maybe we’d take the local buses out the Western Highway to the Zoo, and wing-it from there. We did find the Tourist Information Desk at the Tourism Village, and they did give us a nice map, but neither of the 2 desk attendants, nor another, could give us a precise location for the bus station, saying it was along the Canal somewhere. It was very hot, probably in the 90’s and 100’s inland, and we made final arrangements with Mr. E to escort us around Belize, with his assurance that his car has A/C! Yes it did…and a large, comfortable Mercury Marquis to boot, which he is very proud of…and we very much enjoyed.

Mr. E. is an older gentleman who we felt comfortable with, and we entrusted our care to him. I’m glad we did because we enjoyed his company, and I’m sure he profited from ours. $65pp USD Cash for all day, and he will pay for our water guide/equipment during Cave Tubing. We will pay our admission into the Zoo ($8pp USD) and admission into the Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve (near Frank’s Eddy Village) ($5pp USD). The Belize Dollar is based on our US Dollar, 2 BZD=1 USD, and our currency is equally accepted, but always make sure which $ is indicated. Tourism is a fairly new industry, and so far, Belize is eager for tourist dollars. We found our driver patience and informative with our questions. He took pride in his many years’ association with deep-sea fishing tours, and his ability to guide us around his country. His Mayan heritage also gave him some authority on the peoples of this country. He is well traveled himself, with near yearly driving jaunts to the U.S. to escape Belize’s hot, rainy season beginning in June. I see him as a ‘modern’ Mayan man, with a cell phone, and have more cable channels on his TV than I do! Nice guy. English is the national language of Belize, making this an easy country to navigate, and enjoy.

So off we go, with the Zoo as our first stop, hopefully, during the cooler (hot) morning. We actually stopped for gas before leaving the City, with us advancing our driver $20 to put a few gallons in the tank. Gas is $8.40/gal. BZD. Ernest actually led us around this small, but interesting Zoo, probably to make sure we didn’t spend too much time there. Then off we go, further west on the Western Hwy not too many miles, until the Jaguar Paw (large sign) dirt-road exit, where we turned south. At Cave Branch, Ernest entrusted us to Rudy, our guide for the float trip. Rudy was a very competent guide showing us everything of interest as we walked thru the jungle to the river entry. He took great care by holding my hand on inclines/declines and across river beds, once he knew of my knee arthritis. Although, we had a somewhat abbreviated tour because of time constraints, we had plenty of time to float the cave and the river, within our allotted time schedule. We didn’t have too much tourist traffic on the river as they had all been here earlier that morning. I know we had a good time, but after developing film and seeing pictures of ourselves and our big grins, I can’t help but smile again.

Refreshed, but thirsty, on the way back, I offered to buy a ‘round’ at ‘Cheers Restaurant’ (www.cheersrestaurant.bz/pages/680309/index.htm) mile marker 31, and with our ‘Lite’ Cokes & Belikin Beer ‘to go’, wrapped with paper napkin tops, we continued on. Ernest offered to show us another stop of interest, right on the Highway back, the Old Belize Port (www.oldbelize.com) at mile 5, Western Highway, not too far from Belize City. This was very interesting, and I will remember this for our next trip, for it had an interesting Cultural & Historical Museum, nice water-front restaurant, and an oasis-like Cucumber Beach & Marina. This would be a good beach to play at (fee?), if staying near Belize City, and not able to get out to Ambergris or Caulker Key. Last but not least, Ernest took us to the T-shirt factory in the City, once he knew I had to get a Belize t-shirt for the grandbebe. I felt that all the taxi/tour guides get some sort of commission from each sale, as his name is noted on the receipt…but for a $2.50 USD tee, that’s all right. We said our good-byes to our kind Mr. E, exchanged phone numbers, bought some Cashew wine & caught our tender ‘home’. I would recommend Ernest August to anyone looking for a license tour guide, whether for a land or boat tour, and he can be contacted by phone: From the U.S. (011) 501/202-4962 home or 501/602-2118 cell. Great Day.

CANCUN –It is a refreshingly cooler day, when we boarded the tenders again for a 20 minutes ride to the Playa Tortugas pier, next to Fat Tuesday’s marina. Again once we docked, we had to work our way thru the hawkers touting tours & taxi rides. We intended to cross the street & catch the local bus heading south thru all of the ‘Hotel Zona’ with the destination of the El Rey Ruins near the Hilton Cancun Golf Club, (if you can imagine the Hotel Zone as the number 7, our pier is along the top, and the ruins are near the bottom of this number). Bus transportation along this Hotel Zone is easy with frequent buses marked ‘Ruta 1’ and ‘Ruta 2’, there are other ‘Routes’, but I’m not positive of where they go. Bus fare at this time is 6.5 pesos pp, with approx 11 pesos=$1 USD, and surprisingly the bus drivers did accept dollar bills, and returned change with pesos. (Note on our paper bills…If there is a rip or tear on any of our paper money, they won’t accept it. Don’t know why.)

The El Rey Ruins are of the same archeological time period as the Tulum Ruins, and admission is $3 USD. We were able to see real Mayan ruins, without a large time or dollar investment, thanks to Daughter #2 recommendation. If you’re squeamish about rogue iguanas crawling about, this may not be the place for you, but we found them prehistorically fascinating, as long as you don’t get too close. (We have seen Native-American ruins, Greek ruins and Roman ruins, and although you can appreciate these great ancient civilizations, a ruin is a ruin.) Once these Mayan ruins were seen in about an hours time, we went on to our ‘highlight of the day’, which was a visit to the Harley Davidson store, and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville!! Again, 6.5 pesos gave us a ride on the bus, northward, to these stops. We again split-up, and pursued our varied interests; one went back to the ship for a nap, another went to Fat Tuesday’s to find the local flavor, and my Sister and I took the bus to the downtown area and back to the marina, to make our final purchases to bring home. This bus downtown passed under that absolutely most gigantic Mexico national flag, which can be seen far from shore and was dynamic to see up-close. We all re-grouped on the ship before this day’s early departure, heading back to Houston, with one more Sea Day to enjoy. Nice Day, (hiccup). ( Hmmmmm, Wonder what’s for Dinner?)

ENTERTAINMENT –
We enjoyed the immensely talented singer…Lady Jane (Love) Powell, ‘The Chocolate Goddess of Love’, and Sam Griesbaum, the comedian. There were many other amusing shows, which kept us entertained until we couldn’t stay awake any longer. Our only Casino night we won $30, at the nickel slots…and came home with $15…so, not too bad.

Phone Notes: -- Instead of buying a phone card in each country, I always bring my AT&T Prepaid Phone Card. You may have severely reduced International minutes, as to Domestic, but I find it works. However, You Must Always get each Country’s Access Number, before you leave the U.S. You can find it on the AT&T website, or by calling their Customer Service number. After accessing AT&T through each countries number, you first use the *800* on your card for ‘Placing a call within the U.S.’, before entering your ‘phone card number’ or the ‘number you are dialing’. Saw many people trying to use their Prepaid cards…but didn’t have the country’s access code. The ship does have phone service, but I believe it is $6.95/min. For AT&T the access numbers at this time are:

Mexico Ladatel or Telmex phones 01-800-288-2872 or 001-800-462-4240
Honduras 800-0123
Belize 811 (or from Hotels 555)

Miscellaneous Notes: - We always stay on Houston ‘Ship’ Time
Biodegradable Sunscreen is an eco-saver for delicate coral, and may be insisted on. Just leave ‘footprints’ thinking.

We used 100% Deet for Mosquito & Sand Fleas, but found no mosquitoes present, maybe a problem during wet season.

Bring lots of $1 Bills ($50?) Always handy for quasi-guides, bus fare, slot machines, tips and can always be spent.

Maps!! Always a good place to start when planning your trips. Did utilize the ‘Can-Do’ travel guides for Mexico.

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