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Don Janes Jr

Age: 43


Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Pearl

Sailing Date: 01-18-2009

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

This was my first cruise, so I have no experiences with which to compare it. I took my parents (active healthy seniors in their 60s) on a 7 day cruise in the Caribbean. I booked us in one of the Courtyard Villas, which included a lot of VIP perks, and made the entire experience very luxurious. Our suite had a master bedroom and bathroom, a dining area, a living room, a private balcony, and a smaller bedroom with its own bathroom. The suites are arranged around a central courtyard that is reserved for suite guests only. We had a butler, Lanie, who brought us snacks (including chocolate-covered strawberries) every night and always made sure we had everything we needed. We had two room stewards, Joseph and Guillermo, who were great at keeping our suite neat and tidy, and made great towel animals most days. We had a concierge, Erika, who was always available and helped us numerous times. The VIP experience included priority embarkation and disembarkation, reserved seats at the nightly shows in the Stardust Theatre, early access to the chocoholics' buffet, and probably other perks I didn't even know about. Overall, this was a fantastic experience. The food ranged from good to fantastic. The sushi was the only food I had that wasn't excellent - it was passable but just didn't taste as fresh as what I'm used to. The French restaurant, Le Bistro, seemed to have the most excellent food, followed by Cagney's Steakhouse, but really the remainder of the restaurants were very good. The freestyle dining experience is THE way to go. We never had difficulty finding a table when we felt like eating, and the computer monitors around the ship helped us to pick a restaurant that had little to no wait. I suppose if you really need to have a table in a specific restaurant, at a specific time, you could make a reservation, but if you're a little flexible there's no need. Excellent stateroom, very spacious, but of course it was a suite. The very best part of the whole cruise was the courtyard. Most of the suite guests did not seem to use the courtyard very much, because it was very often empty. There's a lap pool, a jacuzzi, several chairs and daybeds, tables for dining, and a snack bar with juice, coffee, tea, cookies, and candy available until around 4pm. There are steam rooms (one for men, one for women), and a fitness area with one exercise bike and one treadmill. There's a sundeck above also reserved for suite guests. It was so easy to relax in that courtyard, away from the crowds. The courtyard is covered, which makes it not great for suntanning (UV doesn't pass through glass very well) but means that the courtyard is usable regardless of the weather. Fair to good overall. The most entertaining activity was bingo - I didn't even play, but hung out in the Spinnaker Lounge and listened to the Bingo caller crack jokes that were often corny but pretty funny. The shows in the Stardust Theatre did not hold a lot of appeal for me, and I stopped going after the first two shows. They weren't terrible, just not appealing enough to want to sit through them. I didn't use many of the other onboard ship activities admittedly, but did enjoy seeing the film Destino by Salvador Dali and Walt Disney. The excursions overall were good, but most of them felt rushed. In Honduras, we went on the "Mayan Reef Clear Kayak and Snorkel" excursion. We jammed ourselves into buses at the port and rode across Roatan to Tanyana Beach. The weather wasn't very cooperative, and was somewhat cloudy and very windy. The group was so large we split into two: one group used the kayaks first, and the other snorkeled. The snorkel trip was about 20 minutes, led by a group leader, and the underwater scenery was fairly bland and uninteresting. If we had been allowed to be in the water for longer, without having to follow a leader closely, it might have been a better experience. The clear kayak is a neat idea, but there was such a sheen on the bottom of the kayak that it was difficult to see anything - and in reality we kayaked over a field of turtle grass so there wasn't much to see anyway. After the snorkeling and kayaking, there was time to either hang out at the beach, or walk through Gumbalimba Park, which cost $10 and is a pleasant small botanical garden with some captive squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, and one baby black howler monkey, and several macaws, mostly scarlet macaws. There is a very cheesy "pirate cave" at the entrance to the park - just walk through that and don't expect much. Next stop was Belize, we went on the Lamanai River Safari, which was a bus ride for about an hour, then a boat ride up the New River for an hour. The boat ride was great - our tour guide stopped to show us several animals such as crocodiles, iguanas, a few birds, and a group of tiny bats. Lamanai is a Mayan ruin site - we stopped there for lunch that was fairly good (rice and beans, chicken), and then a great walk through the jungle to some Mayan Ruins. The tour guide (Captain Chino) was really good, knew a lot, and knew how to present the information in an engaging way. The next stop was Cozumel. We took the "Jeep and Snorkel Tour", which involved meeting our tour guides (Fito and Pancho) in the shopping mall at the port, then getting into Jeeps and driving most of the way around the island. We stopped at a very small Mayan ruin (warning - using the bathroom there cost $.50 or 5 pesos), then drove to Puerto Moreno where we stayed for about 2 hours, snorkeled, and had lunch. The snorkeling was better here than on Roatan, but still a very limited 20 minutes during which we had to stay close to the tour guides. Frustrating. Then we got back in the Jeeps and drive to the "Pee Pee Station" (I am not making this up), which is a tourist-trap market with a bathroom. The guides were very funny, but we seemed to spend more time listening to their stand up routine than actually doing things, so overall this excursion felt somewhat wasted. The last stop was Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. This was the best excursion, because we took a boat to shore and then had no schedule and very few restrictions. We hiked across the tiny island to see the lighthouse (not much to see there admittedly), and then to a small, quiet bay. Hiking back to the beach, there's a great, shallow, protected bay with surprisingly lots of cool fish to see while snorkeling, and you're allowed to swim outside the bay and snorkel along the coast. The water was pretty rough and I had to keep blowing water out of my snorkel, but it was well worth it. At this time of year, the water is a bit cold, so I recommend wearing a light (3mm) wetsuit for all the water-sports at all the destinations. This trip was a way for me to pamper my parents with a luxury cruise, and it was a great experience. The whole freestyle cruising idea is great, and from what I've heard about other cruises where they tell you what you can do and when you can do it, NCL's way is much much better. The only complaints I can come up with are that the cruise staff often seems hell-bent on trying to get you to spend more money (indeed, after a week of unlimited drinks, dinners, and shore excursions, the tab for all those extras for three people was $2600), and the cruise-organized shore excursions often seem rushed and limited. So I might recommend that if you're a little intrepid, try to either do excursions on your own or maybe with a local operator instead of the cruise line. The only risk is that if you are late getting back to the ship, it won't wait if you're not on a cruise-organized excursion.

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