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Paul Vivian

Age: 46

Occupation:Accountant

Number of Cruises: 8

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Sea

Sailing Date: August 21st, 2004

Itinerary: Texaribbean

We found NCL’s Texaribbean cruise out of Houston to be an enjoyable cruise experience. This was our 8th cruise, 4th on NCL. We decided to spend a couple of days in Houston before the cruise, and for anyone else planning to do the same thing and intending on renting a car, here’s a tip. If you can find a rental company (we used Thrifty) that will allow you to pick up at Bush airport and drop off at Hobby airport without an extra charge, you can save some money and time on the subsequent cab ride to the cruise terminal. The taxi from Bush is $80 (45 minutes) versus $40 (25 minutes) from Hobby. We stayed at Bradford Homesuites (Galleria) in Houston and found it good value and fairly convenient.

Check in at the cruise terminal was a breeze, thanks to a tip from a previous reviewer who suggested arriving between 1:30 and 3:00 pm. We arrived at 2:15 and were on the boat within 10 minutes. This was not what we had formerly experienced on NCL cruises (or most others for that matter), so from now on we will make a point not to try to check in at 1 pm or before, when most of the other passengers are trying to do the same thing.

There’s no question that seeing the size of the staterooms is an initial shock to the system, since the room sizes are indeed much smaller that other ships we have cruised on. In addition the rooms do show the wear and tear of the 16 year age of the ship-drawers that do not easily open, chipped counters etc. However we were prepared for this, and we merely reminded ourselves that the price we paid for our family of four for two rooms (one ocean view, one interior) was about the same as we paid for one interior room on a Carnival cruise last year at the same time of year for a similar itinerary. I think I can live with undersized rooms. Personally, I think that NCL is aware of the ship’s limitations and prices this cruise accordingly.

The remainder of the ship is fairly well maintained, but we found a few of the facilities (notably the fitness center and the show lounge) to be a bit on the smallish side. The small fitness center meant only that a few people had to wait for equipment (I never did though). The smaller size of the show lounge resulted in sight lines that were not always the greatest. Also, I felt that the evening entertainment was not quite as good on this cruise as on other NCL cruises I have been on. NCL typically does a good job in the quality of their entertainment. I think the smaller show lounge was a limiting factor that contributed to this. Not that any entertainer was bad- I just wasn’t “blown away” by any of them such that I would term any of them “can’t miss” entertainers,

The other lounge entertainment was just OK-if you happened to be there when they were playing, they didn’t make you run from the room (OK, I was tempted once, when the show band from Thailand did a Beatles tribute that they appeared to have learned via phonics), but nether did any of them draw me to any of the lounges.

Speaking of lounges, a welcome new addition for NCL was designating a lounge (Gatsby’s) as one that would give a 20% discount to members of Latitudes, NCL’s past.cruisers club. We really appreciated this and often went there to buy the bottle of wine that we would enjoy at dinner or later in the evening. (We never stayed there as Gatsby’s is also the cigar lounge-Yeck!) The 20% discount was a nice tangible benefit to being a past cruiser.

Generally we found the food on the Sea to be average or maybe a bit below average. The salads in the dining rooms in particular were uninventive-every evening they seemed to take the same vegetables as the night before, rearrange them, advertise a different dressing , and voila, a salad with a different fancy name. We never got to the specialty restaurants-the pasta bar because it was always fully booked, and the Bistro because we didn’t think the menu justified the extra $15 pp cover charge. We like the freestyle cruising concept, particularly on a cruise like this one where the times in port tend to vary so much-it makes it much easier when you don’t have to be on the boat at a certain hour to make your appointed dining time. However, having been on a much newer NCL ship a few years ago where the choice of specialty restaurants was much larger, the concept can be more attractive than how it is demonstrated on the Sea. Having said all that, the food wasn’t bad-it just didn’t quite measure up to most of the previous cruises we’ve been on. The cappucino was great though, and no extra charge in contrast to some of the other ships we’ve been on.

Service on the ship was fine-competent, but nothing extraordinary. With the freestyle cruising concept you don’t tend to get to know your dining staff the way you do on other cruise lines. We can’t say too much about the cruise director and staff-once you’ve been on a few cruises, you don’t really go out of your way to attend the same poolside and newlywed games as on every other ship. Our kids (16 and 13) gave a big thumbs up to the teen staff though. They had a great time, although I can’t for the life of me tell you what they did while on the ship.

We’ve also tended to book our own shore excursions, so we can’t comment on the ship’s versions, other than to say that they have the same 30%-50% premium built into them as every other ship we’ve been on, and people that we talked to who did them seemed satisfied. We are all scuba divers (the Sea has an outstanding itinerary for divers) and we dove in all ports except Belize ($135 pp is too rich for my blood). For those of you who are divers, Cozumel Sports in Cozumel, Sueno Del Mar in Roatan and Ocean Sports in Cancun are all operators that we would recommend. The first two we contacted on the internet, the third had someone selling dive excursions at the pier. In Belize we prearranged horseback riding with an outfit called Belize Cruise Excursions. I wouldn’t recommend that one- $70 pp for an hour and a quarter of driving on terrible roads to get a 40 minute stroll on a horse through the rainforest was underwhelming. The excursion was saved however when the driver allowed us to visit Altun Ha Mayan ruins on the way back, so we actually got two excursions for the price of one. For first time visitors to Belize I’d recommend Reggies cave tubing (also on the net) which we did on our first cruise to Belize. One other tip in Belize-the “duty free” area of the cruise terminal is no bargain-liquors are cheaper at the shops in town. Could it be the cut that the cruise lines no doubt get???

So, my final thought would be, if this is your first cruise, this is a good introduction-a reasonable cruise at a bargain price. If you have been on a few cruises before, then be prepared for the likelihood that the facilities may not quite live up to some of the past cruises that you may have been on, but if you accept it for what it is, you will have a great time as we did.

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