Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sea
Sailing Date: April 23rd, 2005
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
This was our (wife & myself) first cruise, and we entered with an opinion of “What’s so great about this ‘cruising’ thing everyone has been telling us about?” Basically, daring NCL to impress us. Overall, NCL didn’t really make much of an impression on us: neither good, nor bad. We may go on a cruise again in the distant future, but more than likely we’ll spend a week in one spot (Roatan, see below). Our next cruise (if it happens) may be with NCL, but most likely it’ll be with whoever decides to include alcohol with the “all inclusive”.
We flew into the Houston International Airport and took NCL’s transfer bus to the ship. Very convenient, and for $20/each/oneway that sure beats a 1.5hr cab fare. The Houston (Galveston, really) Port was orderly and all employees were more than helpful in setting up your onboard account and getting you checked through customs. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t attempt to smuggle a bottle of booze onto the boat because their security was so lax. Seriously, for all the warnings they give for bringing alcohol onto the boat, this is your best chance. Just put it in a Nalgene bottle, and throw it in your suitcase… it’ll save you a bunch of money on drinks later.
The only negative thing I can say about the departure was that there is nothing pretty about this port. It is a shipping port. Tens of thousands of shipping crates are all you can see until you get into the Gulf.
Day1 (at sea):
Once we arrived on the ship, we were basically told where to go and what to do (set up room then eat then safety drill). More details on our room below. The cafeteria (Big Apple) was open for lunch, as was the poolside barbeque area. Had I known, I would have done 5 minutes more exploring to find something better to eat. The food offered poolside at this time wasn’t all too appetizing.
Immediately upon stepping foot onto the pool deck we were bombarded with options to buy alcohol (umbrella drinks and “buckets of beer”) and the ridiculously overpriced “bottomless cup of soda”. There were no less than 8 people in Blue Shirts trying to sell us something to drink. They do NOT let up about it either. Please see the “Wish I Had Known” section for more information on this.
The rest of the day was spent with the lifeboat drill, and general pool lounging. Sunny day, good band, cold beer (though overpriced)… the beginnings of a great vacation.
Day 2 (Cozumel)
We had been to Cozumel before, so we pretty much knew what to do and where to go; none of what we did/saw were even remotely suggested by NCL. We brought our snorkeling gear with us with the intent to find a snorkeling trip when we got there and not pay the exorbitant fee to book through the boat. This was an excellent decision. We simply walked off the ship with a mesh bag of gear and found the first person to peddle us for a snorkel trip. For $35 (gear included) each we got to see 2 great sites and 2 Coronas (each) on a glass bottomed boat with 12 people, while we watched the booked-through-NCL people board a boat with 40+ people and no beverages. Suckers.
After snorkeling, we were dropped off on the same pier the ship was on, so we dropped our gear off in our room, showered, and still had plenty of time to shop, eat at an obscure place, and walk around downtown Cozumel. I highly recommend Mis Charros (across the street from McDonald’s, and upstairs). It’s a bar with great appetizers and a fun atmosphere that is nothing like the over-touristy Senor Frogs or Carlos & Charly's.
Back on board the ship, we had another bucket of beers and watched the sunset as we sailed into the night.
Day 3 (Roatan)
Now here’s a little, poverty-stricken island. There are tremendously nice people in Roatan. I highly recommend grabbing an air-conditioned cab and just doing an island tour that gives you at least 2 hours for beach sitting and snorkeling. Again, don’t bother getting suckered into an NCL sponsored “beach day”. A cab ride to Half Moon Bay is all you need. The driver will even stay there as long as you want for no extra fee. Just be sure to snorkel. The reef is no more than 6 inches below the surface in some parts, and the fish are everywhere. Many people have kicked the reef and killed most of the coral, so the color isn’t as good as it could be, but the fish don’t seem to mind.
Day 4 (Belize)
This was our first day of a booked-through-NCL shore excursion. We did the “Aerial Trek & Cave Tubing” excursion for $129/ea. This was all kinds of fun. The zip-lines really move you over the jungle and the cave tubing was just the ticket for a scorching hot day. Great lunch also. Only downside is the 1.5hr bus ride (last half hour is a gravel road) in an non-air-conditioned bus. With this tour, we didn’t get a chance to do much of any shopping or sightseeing (other than out the bus window) of Belize. If you are planning on doing this excursion, sign up for it as soon as you possibly can, it fills up quick.
Day 5 (Cancun)
Cancun is clearly a party town. We skipped right past all of the touristy stuff and hopped on a bus to Tulum (also booked through NCL) to see the Mayan ruins. I would recommend this excursion to anyone that is interested in this culture, but it kills the entire time allotted at this port. We even got back 45 minutes later than we were told was allowable. Needless to say we got absolutely no time to enjoy the beaches. They appeared to be very nice. Also the box lunch was terrible, someone we passed on the way to the bus offered to trade my wife a T-shirt for her lunch. We laughed, and 3 hours later threw out her lunch. What a waste.
Day 6 (at sea)
Homeward bound now. There was nothing all too exciting to report. We played cards, and lounged by the pool. Could have taken in a show or something, but decided that napping would be a better idea. Packed up our luggage for overnight pick-up, and went to bed.
Day 7 (Disembarking)
Disembarking is apparently a Norwegian word for “Hurry up and wait”. That’s all we did that day. First we woke up early to get in line for breakfast. Then we waited in line to settle our onboard account. Then we waited in line to get the booze we bought in Belize that they “safely held for us”, followed by rushing out of our room so it could be cleaned for the next occupants. This was capped off by waiting for our luggage-tag color to be called so we could step off the ship and wait in line to wade through a sea of luggage to find our bags. (Why do they do this? There has to be a better way.) Then we got in a short line for Customs (another joke of security, but no problem if you brought Cuban cigars back). One more line to get on the bus to take us back to the airport where there are plenty of more lines.
We had a 7000 series room with a view, about midship. Nice location, 2 floors below the pool, and 3 floors above the restaurant. The room was small, but we were expecting that. I was impressed at just how small the shower was. No complaints though. Our room was always cleaned sometime while we were on shore and the bed turned down every night while we were at dinner. Very good service.
Big Apple Café: It’s a cafeteria. Bland food, and lots of it. Good for breakfast and maybe lunch.
Poolside Grills: Great Omelet and Waffle bars for breakfast and decent grilled foods for lunchtime.
Seven Seas: Great sit-down dinner. Attire can be formal, but doesn’t need to be. I wore khakis and a Hawaiian shirt every night and never felt underdressed. The food was always excellent (lobster, veal, beef Wellington, etc) and the waitstaff were great.
Four Seasons: We never ate here, but it looked identical to the Seven Seas.
Le Bistro & Pasta Cafe: We also never ate here. We felt the food at the Seven Seas was fantastic enough and didn’t want to spend a cover charge followed by the price of a “specialty encore”.
Eh. Nothing special at all. I was really expecting more. Other than having to actually buy drinks in a casino, I was hoping to play some Craps, but the table was always empty, and one can’t play craps alone. It’s just not as much fun. Had they lowered the table limit, they may have seen some action. Blackjack dealers were robotic, no humor to any of the dealers. NCL clearly hasn’t realized that there is potential to drain people’s pocketbooks here. They’d rather concentrate on alcohol sales.
Card Room, Library, Oscars, Gatsby’s:
We visited each of these places, but didn’t stay long in any of them. There wasn’t much to grab our attention in any of them. Oscars had some good music a couple of times, but we just weren’t in the mood.
Wish I had known:
“All inclusive” isn’t INCLUSIVE, and it certainly isn’t ALL of your options.
The “Bottomless cup of Soda” is a 12 oz tumbler that they pour a can of soda into. It costs $40.25. A can of soda is $1.50. That’s about 27 cans a week. Can you drink 4 cans of soda a day for 7 straight days (half of which time is spent on shore where the cup is no good)? Me neither. Also, there are only 3 choices… Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite. Seriously, what a rip-off.
The pool-bar waitstaff are relentless in pushing alcohol. They’ve got a number of gimmicky ways to do it, and they try them all. They will bombard you the minute you enter their area and continue until you pretend you have passed out. We found the best way to get rid of them is to give them garbage/empty plates or ask for a glass of water EVERY time they come by. Eventually they get the hint.
Shiner Bock is a great beer, and it counts as “Domestic” when purchasing a bucket of beer. Yes, the bucket is the way to go. It is 6 beers for the price of 5 ($18 for domestic plus a $5 deposit) in a football-helmet-shaped bucket (yes, quite gimmicky). The Blue-Shirts push these constantly and are dying to refill them.
Yes, you can collect discarded buckets and return them for the deposit.
Shore excursions are stupid expensive, especially the shorter ones that leave plenty of time to get back to the ship. Only book ones that will take you far away from the ship and guarantee the boat will wait for you. Any other snorkeling/SCUBA/parasailing/beach can be done much cheaper with a cab.
All ports/countries visited take US currency. Know the current exchange rates and carry a bunch of $1’s for tipping.
A cold Corona (with lime) in Cozumel costs $1 at any T-shirt, purse, or gift shop and you can walk around town drinking it. They cost $4+ on the ship.
Do NOT apply bug spray unless the locals tell you to do it. We never put any on and were perfectly fine, even in the jungles. Those that doused themselves on the ship only got everyone pissed off.
Water from the sink in your room is drinkable. Bring a full water bottle with you on any shore excursion. You might not want to trust the local water. No need to buy an insulated bottle from the Blue-Shirts. It’s so damn hot wherever you go, your water doesn’t stand a chance of staying cold anyway. Also, it just lets the locals know which cruise ship you came from and how much they can charge you for things.
Don’t bother to tip on anything you pay for with your onboard account. There is always an “AutoGratuity” of 15% attached to all charges. This is in addition to the $10/day “service fee”… which is of course not part of the “All Inclusive”.