Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sea
Sailing Date: September 11th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
My friend and I went on this cruise to celebrate each of our birthdays, and we had a great time. I live in California and she now lives in Houston, so it was relatively convenient. On Saturday we got to the port and giggled over how ugly and industrial it was, but I knew to expect that, and the Port of Houston surely wasn’t our destination, so that was just the time to get acquainted with the ship and unpack. It was so hot there, so we stayed off the pool deck. It did not take long at all to check in and get on the boat, and our luggage was delivered within an hour, which was a pleasant surprise. I thought there would be lunch available, but in the terminal I heard someone say there was no lunch until after 3:30 so we didn’t go looking, but this was wrong. There was food available somewhere, and then there was bbq on the pool deck. The bbq was not good at all (very tough ribs and chicken). But that was only a snack. There were also cookies and coffee in the terminal for everyone. Several people wasted no time getting into their bathing suits and getting up to the pool deck for drinks and the first bit of sun. We ended up leaving an hour late because of a pilot problem, but that was no big deal. There are lots of introductory tables around to explore.
I had researched this cruise extensively and was prepared for a small room. We each booked our own rooms, and that was great; the rooms are perfect for one person!! Bargain to do that, it is not, but for your own space, it’s great. There really is a lot of clothes storage. And the bathroom... This was the one part of the experience that consistently made me mad. The shower is not even 2 feet square. I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining excessively, just telling you how it is. There is a shower gel and shampoo dispenser, but you have to pump the buttons 10 times to get just a little out. I stored my own shampoo on the counter. Forget the shower curtain and just shut the door to the bathroom and put a towel on the floor. Ladies, you may as well prop your foot on the counter to shave your legs because that’s the only way. We were on the third floor in window rooms and both of our bathrooms smelled like sewage. We had brought Yankee Candle air fresheners (like for your car), so then the bathrooms smelled like mango sewage! We met other people on the floor and they said theirs did not smell though. I guess we were just the lucky ones. The room never did get very cool. I actually need to rest a lot so I did spend a lot of time in the room, and it was overall passable. Not much on tv, but I survived. My room guys were great; my room was always made up and they were very thoughtful and thorough. I have medicine to be refrigerated and they kept my ice bucket fresh twice a day and always placed my medicine and water bottle back in it nicely. They wrapped up my blow dryer cord every day. They gave me towel animals I think 3 nights. I always got 2 chocolates on my pillow at night. I took a Boyd’s bunny along for company and on the stormy night I found him holding a drink umbrella. That was so cute; I couldn’t have been more tickled. (yeah, I’m 34...) They got extra tip money for these details.
We got a reservation in the Pasta Cafe the first night, and were both very happy. They have 2 types of mozzarella appetizers that were awesome, and everything we had was pretty good, and fantastic service. Their tiramisu was different, much more marscapone than cake, but tasted ok overall. I thought there would be an ocean view, but the windows had a covering on them and the restaurant basically overlooked the Big Apple Cafe, so that was a disappointing view. Sunday was the one and only formal night, and we ate at Le Bistro. There is a $15 pp cover charge, or $20 for the surf and turf. It is a small place, you go through Pasta Cafe to get to it, but many of the tables are against the windows and it was beautiful and quaint. This night happened to be when we were a wee bit too close to Hurricane Ivan, so it got rather rocky. I slept through it all, but apparently most people did not, and the gift shop and drug store suffered some damage, as many of those alcohol bottles fell on the floor and made a huge mess. The ship will give out seasick pills for free, and I partook of those, which was probably a good idea. The rest of the time the weather was pretty much great. We had to skip the first port, Cozumel, because of the weather, so we sailed on to Roatan and had from 8 to 8 there, I think. A lot of Houston and Texas people go on this trip and my friend knew someone who went there and was scared that there were ‘guerillas’ at the port. There were not; they were security in blue camouflage uniforms for our benefit (police or MPs). But because that’s what we heard, I looked elsewhere for something to do weeks before the cruise, and we wound up going to the Sante’ Day Spa. We were picked up at the ship’s port, went for a 30 min. drive and a short boat ride to Angela’s home/massage place. It is very nice there, with water access on one side and the ocean on the other side. She and her husband are California transplants, and they built the home recently, which is very, very nice. We had massages, facials, salt scrubs, and mud wraps. There were salads with big, boiled shrimp all around the edge of the plate, and it was great. We were made to feel completely welcome there for as long as we wanted to stay. There is a small pool, hammocks, several parrots (that you can hold), and three friendly dogs. When we were ready to go, she drove us back to the boat, and we went shopping by the pier. This was scary. Kids kept coming up to us begging for money or for us to buy something from them. Covered shopping areas did not have lights on so we were shopping in the dark. There are lots of nice wooden items everywhere. One kid asked for my friend’s diet pepsi, another said ‘give me a dollar.’ There are lots of skinny, stray dogs. It was very warm there and not pleasant shopping. We later heard that people did not enjoy their snorkeling trips and were bitten up by sand fleas. And they were of course jealous that we had a pampered day and chauffeured around in a newish Bug (with a/c!!). Plus Angela had some kind of phone service that was tied into their flat-rate dsl, so no phone charges to the U.S., and they let me call my husband! That was so great. And, I had told her it was our birthdays, so her husband, Leon, made us a birthday cake! This was truly a great experience. It was about $200 each, but that’s about what you pay in America too, and I think it was worth it, considering how nice everything was. We felt so welcomed, relaxed, and pampered.
The next day was Belize, which I was most excited about of all the stops. I love Jerry Jeff Walker and Jimmy Buffett music, and I knew Jerry Jeff has a birthday week-long celebration/concert at Ambergris Caye each year, so I had to go there because it looks like the most relaxing, awesome, tropical place in the world. It is to the northeast of Belize itself. There is one excursion that goes there: shark ray alley snorkeling. We were taken by boat from the ship to Belize City (in about 10 minutes), where there is a shopping trap right there, then we got on another boat and went to Caye Caulker to pick up sardines to feed the fish where we were to snorkel. There were 16 of us passengers, 3 boat guides, and our cruise ship guy, Paul. Several people got out of the boat there and walked around a little, although there’s not much to see. There was a bathroom available for 50 cents. Then we took a much longer ride to shark ray alley, where the water was as clear as the tap, perfect temperature, and the nurse sharks and sting rays came right up to the boat, we could touch them. Once we got in the water they disappeared and we looked at different fish and lots of coral. It was such an awesome experience. Then we went to Ambergris Caye where we could get a freshwater shower or jump in the pool, and lunch, which was not that great but ok. Then we walked down the beach about 15 minutes, past resorts, to the shopping area of town. The roads are dirt and it was hot, but the shops had neat stuff and were air conditioned. We took a cab back to ‘Crazy Canucks’ –the bar where we had docked. The cabs are all old Toyota minivans that are barely still holding together, and we could not even outrun a golf cart. (but we didn’t want to walk back) We almost ran over an iguana crossing the road. Ambergris is apparently the resort area that is most popular for vacation diving trips. Back on the ship, people were talking of disappointment over Belize, and were jealous we had such a great time in a beautiful place. You can also take a puddle-jumper, rickety flight there from Belize City; takes 20 minutes they say. A speedboat ride is about an hour. And try the Belikin beer, made right there in Belize; it’s pretty good. This is the one place I would love to return to.
We would have gone to Cancun the next day, but it had sustained damage from the hurricane, and somehow Cozumel did not, so we went there after all. This was just shopping. We docked at Punta Langosta, and there was a long strip of shops to the left. The ship’s guide suggested taking a cab to the other end and shopping your way back. That worked well. There is another cruise dock further down to the right of our dock, and we ended up there too. There is a cruise terminal/open air shops, with very cool stuff and I think better prices than the other section. Beware of all those Diamond International stores! The cruise ships are in on that scam, and it feels like haggling over a car. The prices are not good at all. In Belize’s little shopping center there was a big store, and across a courtyard there was a smaller store. My friend found a ring she wanted in one, and they said they could sell it to her for $800-something. Then we ended up in the other part and there they said the same ring would be $500-something. And that was still too much. In Cozumel I think there were about 6 of these same stores on the one strip. And they ask you which ship you are on, because they supposedly give a better discount to Royal Carib. passengers because they own the store, and Norwegian passengers got a lesser discount. What?! It’s a scam. The ship pushes this stuff too, and their port guide hangs out at these stores, making you think it’s a great deal. Be the wiser and steer clear, unless you just don’t actually care. There is a Carlos ‘n Charlie’s right there, if you want a crazy, loud, drunken experience. The pictures of us there are embarrassing, haha. We later heard Chankanaab Park was nasty and no good shopping or swimming.
We ate in the main dining rooms most meals, and it was hit or miss. I sampled lots of things and didn’t eat all of hardly anything. Some things were very tasty and others were not. The tiramisu there was more like what you usually get in American restaurants. The ship’s water was fine to drink, but my friend said the tea was absolutely awful. They also have Evian and Pelligrino for sale. I bought the Coke pass for $28.75, and you get a Coke cup and a sticker on your ship card, so either way worked. (cokes are $1.73 individually) In the dining rooms they didn’t want those tacky red cups on the tables so you got it in a glass. In the cafe, they had convenient stands where they would fill it for you and that was great. The food in the cafe was really not great the times we went there, but if you just want to grab something and not worry about being well-dressed, it was passable. There are 3 buffet sections with a lot of variety.
And the photography part of it... there were 3 nights when portraits were available to be taken. At each port you can take a picture with a life ring that has the port name on it. And there are photographers floating around the ship. And one night a ‘Mexican’ posed with everyone in the dining rooms, and another night a ‘Pirate.’ Those made for very cute photos. Be prepared though- the pictures are anywhere from $8, 15, or 20. That adds up. We used the internet service plenty, and that goes fast too. Depending on what package you want, you can pay 40, 55, or 75 cents a minute. There wasn’t one member of the crew that was not super friendly and service-oriented. Everyone was very nice.
Overall, we had a great time. If you don’t have a good time, you’re not trying. The size of the boat is fine, and at 1500 passengers, there were always deck chairs available, we never waited for a dining table, and you got to recognize, meet and befriend others better than on the bigger ships. The one comedian, Sam Greasbaum, was wonderful. I loved that he was relatively clean and not full of cheap bathroom humor. Several big, belly laughs there. Another guy, Doug Anderson, did a little magic and comedy. I have seen a lot of Vegas shows so knew the stuff he did already, so he wasn’t that enjoyable to me, but most people laughed. The dancers are very talented and performed well, although with the stage so small and a low ceiling, the productions were kind of cheesy. 2 nights I left early and we didn’t go each night. That was ok though. My friend loved this trip so much she plans to go next month too! I’m not sure I would take the same boat again, but we did have a pretty good time. It’s not too bad to sit up on the top deck of a cruise ship, watching the water, being waited on, not a care in the world except wondering what’s for dinner!