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Mike O'Connor

Age: 46 to 55


Number of Cruises: First Cruise

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Wind

Sailing Date: January 29. 2000

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

We had nine of our family with us. A birthday cruise for my wife. Our first 7 day cruise: two sons (and their wives), a 24 yr. old daughter and our ten-year old twin boys. We all enjoyed the cruise. The staff was very helpful and attentive. As mentioned by others that have sailed on the Norwegian Wind, chairs in the swimming pool areas became a premium on the nice days – which was all of them - I believe we got very lucky. It took a while to get the ship's layout right - like all week for some of us. The tenth, eleventh and twelfth decks are separated by the pool areas - with various facilities located at the aft end or bow end of the ship. The twins 'went exploring' on the first day at sea and promptly got disoriented and 'lost'. It was a teary reunion with mom. I took it upon myself to carefully go over the ship's layout with them and gave them an 'escape' plan. Namely, regardless of where they are on the ship, they just had to go down to deck 6 and follow the corridor to our room. There was a room key (magnetic card) available for each of us. With that safety net, they were eager to find new paths to familiar places throughout the week. They definitely enjoyed 'racing' the elevators. Mom and I would get on and they'd take the stairs and see if they could intercept us on the way up or down. They always won. One of our older sons brought a few games from home and these provided nice family gathering activities in lieu of the shows – we only caught the first one. It was OK, entertaining and colorful -- but not very satisfying. My wife and I would have rather been watching a first run movie. (The ship provided five or six recent video releases, run in sequentially throughout the day and night over the in-cabin 15 in TV -- we weren’t that desperate.) By the way, our cabin had a large window-maybe 3-ft x 3 ft. A very nice amenity as my wife is somewhat claustrophobic and the window went a long way, according to her, to relieve any anxiety in this area. The kids and I enjoyed it too – very pleasant to look out as well as have the daylight pour in. Our older kids were in inside rooms (no windows) and commented upon the desirability of the windows. Given the choice-get a window (I assume they call them ‘windows’ – porthole is just not descriptive – perhaps it’s “large, squar-ish porthole” ;-). Our older kids & wives, as well as we signed up for a tour at every stop. For the Grand Cayman , we wanted to do the ‘snorkel with the stingrays thing but we mistakenly signed for the ‘Stingray City Island Tour’ – rather than the ‘Dive In/ Stingray City’. Mom the twins and I took the former, even though not ‘what we wanted’. We’d paid for it (almost $200 for the four of us). It’s a bus ride (with sights pointed out) on the way to a boat that takes you out to a duel-hulled glass bottom boat. A diver goes into the water and feeds the stingrays, guiding them past your window. Very clear water, lots of other fish and very good views of the stingrays. The bus then took us to Hell (a post-office, a few shops and a visually interesting limestone formation). Unfortunately, checking out the limestone, buying a few postcards for mailing, then writing a note and addressing the card, buying the stamp – well, the bus was pulling out as I stood in line for the stamps-we never got the cards off. Suggest: take pre-addressed gummed labels for addressing, get the stamps needed first thing, get the cards, write the message, drop in the slot there on the porch – then go see the limestone out in back of the post-office. As I mentioned, this was not the intended stingray trip. Our older kids and their mates were going to go along with us rather than ‘loose’ the money. But when we got to shore via the tender (no dock in Grand Cayman), we discovered very inexpensive dive tours run by the locals - $25 per person - roughly half of the ship sponsored tour price. (NB-if you haven’t signed for a tour, there is a fee for the tender – cost unknown.) They all signed up and went off to swim with the stingrays. All reported a fine time. My daughter scored a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Stingrays don’t use their teeth. They swim along the bottom smelling and sensing prey under the sand – they vacuum the food up (according to our glass-bottom boat diver/guide, with a force 50 times that of the home vacuum cleaner). Well, our daughter must have wiped squid or her squid-oil fingers (which the guides caution against) on her upper thigh. A stingray latched onto her there, did it’s sucking thing and left her skin oozing blood through tiny holes where the skin was apparently sucked away from its moorings. That ended her water play with the Mother Nature. On the up side, she was the unofficial ship celebrity for the rest of the cruise. The stingray hickey as it came to be called was the size of a man’s fist and very nasty looking. She did a few ‘show and tells’ for the interested in the casino and the restaurant and the swimming pool – she should have charged a dollar a look! Roatan has a port but that may be it. Very poor. Makes one feel somewhat embarrassed/guilty/ugly American to be spending so much money on an extravagance like a cruise. We took the Tabyana Beach tour. Basically, you get on a bus and travel for 30 to 40 minutes over the roughest roads imaginable, all the while looking out the windows on both sides at 1000-foot drop off – magnificent scenery. Anyway, the Tabyana beach is great; good food provided for lunch, plenty of seating room, there was a Caribbean band playing while we sunned on the beach – very, very nice. We all took a ride on a banana boat (a rubber eight-seat rubber float that looks – in some incarnations --like a banana) – lot of fun for $5 per person. By the way -- the ship offer’s the same beach with a guided snorkel tour of the nearby reef, for an additional $10 (the ship has its own snorkel gear). The Tabyana beach provides snorkel rentals for $15 – and theirs is without a buoyancy jacket and guide. If you want to snorkel, go with the ship’s tour. Belize City – we took the Dive In/Goff’s Caye & Manatee Watch tour. The Manatee ‘watch’ is not very exciting -- if you’re lucky you get to see them poke their nose out of the water for a few seconds and dive back down for another five minutes. Ho-hum. But if you’ve never seen a manatee -- I suppose it could be of interest. Then the boat took us to an incredibly small island- maybe 75 x 75 yards. A reef surrounds it. The ship’s Dive-In crew provided instruction and the reef tour was much fun for all. My ten year olds were diving down to see things – but no touch – some of the coral can cause sever cuts and stings. A good lunch was provided, although the line was long, and another opportunity to go further down the reef (on the boat) and snorkel there – those that went (I took a nap) reported great numbers of fish and beautiful coral. I was sorry I didn’t go. Cozumal – Here, Mom, the twins and I went off to see the Mayan ruins in Tulum. A 45-min boat ride to the mainland, another 40 to the site. But worth it. Ice cream for the eye and soul. Video cameras for some reason or another are charged a fee in here. The ship’s brochure quoted $10, the signs posted outside the ruins for those buying tickets asked for $30. When our guide saw a few folks with v-cams, he wanted to collect $4 from each. It was my distinct impression that the charges were nothing more than a semi-legal scam. We got back to the boat with four or five hours before departure, so we went into Cozumel to do some shopping and sightseeing. Braided hair, typically at $1 US per braid, was a style thing. Both of the young wives and one of our older sons got them in Roatan. This prompted one of the twins to have the desire. Cozumel was the place. He and I walked to the La Plaza (center of San Miguel, the port city) where it was easy to find ‘braidmeisters’ . He got two -- and held fast though encouraged to go for more. He was quite proud to be part of the braid group. We shopped for a T-shirt and headed back for the ship. On the pier, as we walked toward the ship, he began skipping, and offered that he thought today was the ‘happiest day of my life’. Just as in that commercial that highlights the money charging to the card and the payoff with the ‘priceless moment’ – it really happens sometimes. I glowed inside as he skipped along to the gangway, carving every skip into my memory. The others went a-snorkeling and report a great time. Cozumel waters are remarkably clear. Fish and coral 150 to 200 ft down are visible. Addendum from Sara, one of the wives – “I would only add that we do not recommend the Fiesta Party Cruise in Cozumel, but we would recommend the beach we ended up at (Play Del Sol) if one were to forgo the excursion. I would say that the theme nights/ buffets/ parties that the cruise directors put on were entertaining. They also seem to have plenty of activities to keep young and old entertained. And then I don't know if you want to go into what a pain it was to find a Norwegian Cruise Rep. at the airport in Ft. Lauderdale.” [we flew into Ft. Lauderdale and were bussed down to Miami-I think they had a tough weekend as this cruise got out between two snow storms in the northeast] Downside: I wasn’t mentally prepared for the constant barrage of money sucking contrivances aboard the ship. While I’m sure this is no different than other cruise lines, the net effect for this first trip was to take the edge off of an otherwise very nice experience. Beers and drinks were premium priced and 15% put on top of that for tip. A glass of soda (pop) was $1 plus fifteen cents. A relative bargain was a can of coke for $1.50 – but ask for it, else an order of ‘coke’ gets you a glass of ice and four or five ounces of soda - not much to quench the thirst. The tap water on the ship was undrinkable (and they should post a sign to that effect). But there was a way to get decent water in your room. Buy a quart bottle of Evian for $2.50. The older ‘kids’ were turned-off of the cruise experience because of the constant sense of having their pockets picked as they signed for a round of drinks -- if I measure there remarks correctly. Just a note here -- you can begin signing the checks as soon as you are on-board. Just your room number and signature will do. They even allowed my twins (10 yr old) to sign - that was a kick for them. Sometime in the next few days they will want you to present a credit card against which to charge the tab – or a cash down payment against the eventual bill. Be careful – those rounds and incidental purchases build quickly. Two hundred to two-fifty dollars a day for two is not far off. And that’s without consuming the many amenities offered. And remember to bring cash for the tipping frenzy on the last night of the cruise. The tipping ‘experience’ really began as the bus from the airport arrived at the departure pier. I typically tip porters (because the one time I didn’t have but two dollars, a twenty-dollar bill and five bags – they got the two dollars …and my bags missed my flight – even though I was an hour and a half early). Extortionists they are. I watched them as (don’t know if they were Norwegian Cruise employees or not) they confronted those that failed to notice them or those that figured they were paid employees of someone. “Hey, you – don’t you think you forgot something” was the call to the man (or unescorted woman) who hadn’t contributed. They actually chased people down. Ugly start. Norwegian (or should I say Carnival-who now owns ‘em) should do something about that practice.

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