Stephen C Johnson
Age: 56 to 65
Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sea
Sailing Date: January 17, 1999
NCL’s seven day Texaribbean Cruise aboard the Norwegian Sea was our first cruise. This is a round trip journey beginning in Houston, Texas, with ports of call at Cancun, Cozumel and Roatan. The ship is clean and well maintained, apparently having undergone some refurbishing prior to its recent transfer to Houston. The staff is universally courteous, and seems sincerely devoted to ensuring that their guests experience a great vacation. Since NCL has a thorough web site where one can gain facts and data about NCL’s ships, I will try to convey only my impressions and opinion of the trip.
This was a first cruise experience for both my wife and me. Truthfully, I am a bit ashamed for having previously referred to this as a practice cruise. Our first cruise was to be this coming May on HAL’s Grand Capitals of Europe Cruise aboard the Rotterdam VI.
Realizing that we might better enjoy the European trip if we had experienced at least one cruise beforehand, I booked us on the Texaribbean. If I had known what a marvelous experience our trip on NCL’s Sea would be, I would never have been so derisive in my pre-cruise comments. This was a wonderful vacation, enhanced by the crew, the daily activities and the shore excursions, which are plentiful and reasonably priced. The Sea offers twenty-two shore excursions and six snorkel and scuba trips at the three ports.
I signed up for snorkel trips at each stop, and thoroughly enjoyed them all. The Sea’s Dive-In staff of four instructors are all technically well qualified and abundantly endowed with people skills. Beginners are provided thorough instruction. Two of the dives I participated in featured marine life. The instructor/guides constantly stressed the delicate balance and beauty of the reefs and fish, as well as emphasizing recognition and characteristics of the many varieties of underwater life. The instructors were unfailingly patient and friendly, never condescending. All necessary equipment is provided, however, I advise bringing your own mask and snorkel for maximum comfort.
The snorkel trips begin with Manchones Reef at Cancun. This requires a tender trip to shore, then transfer to a catamaran boat out to the reef, which was only a few hundred yards from where our ship was anchored! Unfortunately, diving directly from the ship was not an alternative. Cozumel offered two snorkel trips. one a boat dive on Columbia Reef, the other a shorter trip to Dzul Ha Beach. There is a scuba dive at Cozumel, also. The Dzul Ha trip is perfect for beginners, and has an abundance of tropical fish and coral only steps from the shore. Both snorkeling and scuba diving are available from Tabyana Beach at Roatan. Unlike snorkeling, scuba divers must be certified prior to sailing.
The Dive-In staff advises that the dive/snorkel trips usually sell out early, so it is necessary to sign up first thing. The same is true for some shore excursions; however, normally all of the dives, and most of the tours, can be fully refunded with twenty-four hours notice. I must note that to sign up for dives and shore trips, one needs to queue up in long lines. This is very annoying and anxiety provoking. No one wants to spend their first night at sea standing in line. I don’t know if this is endemic to other cruise lines, but it should be totally unnecessary. Nearly all cruise ships have closed circuit television. It wouldn’t be a great technological leap to offer interactive TV from passenger cabins to sign up for shore excursions, as well as the on board activities that require subscription.
Regardless of age, it is wise to have adequate medical coverage. One passenger was seriously injured in a moped accident in Cozumel and had to be life flighted to Houston. The air lift alone cost $14,000. Another passenger was left behind in a decompression chamber in Roatan for air embolism treatment. NCL offers a passenger protection plan which includes both trip cancellation and limited medical coverage. The cost was approximately four percent of the brochure ticket price, a smart investment
A brief review of the Sea’s physical amenities begins with our cabin. We were located on the promenade deck, in what is described as a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom. The cabins are small, but adequate for two adults. There are two settees, one along the outside bulkhead, the other at a right angle along an inside wall. These convert into single beds by lifting the back rest straight up, thus exposing the pillows and about an additional six inches of width. I looked into a cabin designated for a third person. It has a fold down bunk bed above the inside settee. This cabin appeared to be about the same size, maybe slightly larger, than the others. OK for a small child, but not another adult. The cabin bathroom is tiny and difficult to maneuver in. The cabin has a large picture window, which on this deck, provides a good view. The joggers were not a distraction, but there was a persistent vibration noise in the cabins not evident in public areas. Surprisingly, the noise did not affect our sleep.
The pool deck is quite large, containing two spas and two swimming pools. One is smaller in size providing a good wading pool for tikes. It’s impossible to take a nap here due to attendants pushing drinks and unsolicitedly spraying water. The ice cream parlor resides on the pool deck, but is virtually useless. It is seldom open and frequently out of ice cream. The aft end of the pool deck houses the Big Apple Cafe. Food quality here is a cut or two above chain cafeterias. Seating is comfortable and the cafe is open round the clock for coffee and pastries, excellent for early risers and night owls.
The two dining rooms are on deck four, one amidships, the other aft. We dined in the aft Seven Seas. The room is well lighted and pleasant in appearance, although the tables are close together, providing a tight fit. The wait staff is excellent, but there is often an extended time lag between courses, probably due to the kitchen schedule. I wasn’t in a hurry, so it didn’t bother me, but some passengers seemed to be annoyed. The seafood was good, but there was a tendency to overcook the meat entrees. The dining room food quality would have earned a higher rating except for this failing. Fortunately, the menu offered a number of choices and I quickly learned to avoid the beef and lamb. The chef who overcooked the rack of lamb would have been strung up from the yardarm, if we had a yardarm. On two occasions the dining room lights were lowered and the wait staff formed a procession, parading and dancing to Caribbean music. A marvelous show which rivaled the show room’s productions.
Main seating is 6:00PM, late is at 8:30PM. There are two formal nights, but this seems to be a less formal cruise than most. There were tuxes and formal gowns in evidence, however, business suits and cocktail dresses were more common. Of course, portrait photographers were ever present, although not overly obtrusive. They actually produced some very nice pictures. An extravagant midnight chocoholic buffet was offered second night out. I, unfortunately, overpartook, but it was fun anyway. We enjoyed the main dining room enough that we didn’t sample Le Bistro.
Both our waiter and bus boy were attentive and worked hard to serve. For those who are undecided, I recommend requesting a table for four, or even six. The meals are a festive occasion, and having company enhances the experience. In fact, I intend to change my request from a table for two on the Rotterdam.
The Sea has two show rooms. The main room is the Cabaret Lounge. The slightly smaller room is called the Stardust lounge. Both are on deck five at opposite ends of the ship. The shows offered are no threat to Broadway, but they are diverse, and the performers youthful and energetic. Unfortunately, the Cabaret Lounge is a disaster. Chairs and lounges are squeezed together making seating and maneuvering extremely uncomfortable. Sight lines are awful and often totally obstructed by posts. The stage is much too small for the shows presented, and the sound system antiquated. This room is beyond fixing. It needs to be wrecked out and rebuilt. This is a shame; the performers deserve better.
The Stardust Lounge is much more comfortable and better suited to dances and the other activities scheduled there such as bingo. There are two or three dance sets offered each evening, but the ball room style dance band Rama III is awful They are consistently off beat and off tune, often simultaneously. A high school band would be an improvement. The other western and mariachi groups were much better This cruise taught me at least one valuable lesson: Have an off ship activity planned for port days! There are continuous and varied on board activities during sea days, but the ship is absolutely dead in port. Not only the casino, but all the shops are closed, and most of the passengers and crew are ashore. Be prepared for this. If you don’t want to take an organized tour, at least get off the ship and take a taxi tour or walk around the local communities. Otherwise, you’ll go mad with boredom.
I’ll conclude by saying we fully enjoyed our first cruise. The Sea and its crew were delightful. My criticisms are minor when taken in total context of the wonderful time we had. As a result of this experience, we are eagerly anticipating our next cruise, and we would not hesitate to.