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Biff Jones

Age: 49

Occupation:Programmer

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Nordic Empress

Sailing Date: March 15th, 2003

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

For a little background this was my second cruise and my wife's first. We are pretty much go-with-the-flow types and don't require being waited on constantly. We also don't require gourmet dining or lavish Vegas shows (although we have enjoyed them).

I dropped off the luggage and my wife at the terminal then drove across the street to long-term parking. $10 a day payable by credit card in advance.

Embarkation was a snap but mostly because my wife is not a U.S. citizen so we got to go to a special line. There were about 80 people in the main line but only 2 couples ahead of us at 1:45. They kept her passport and issued a receipt. She picked up her passport the morning of the day before leaving the ship.

They had little signs on the check-in counters saying the ship was full and there were no upgrades available so that took care of that.

We gave the agent our cruise folder with everything already filled out. We gave him a credit card to cover on-board expenses and got our "Sea Passes". These are used for all purchases and identification getting on and off the ship.

One note, the room keys are not magnetic. You must leave them in the slot and turn the handle to open the door.

Our room was 'cozy' but we aren't real big people ourselves so it was manageable. You do need to organize your shower/sink times since it is indeed a small room. Think airline lavatory with a shower. There were lots of little shelves to put things on. I would recommend getting a makeup kit that can hang on a towel rack.

The room didn't have large drawers but 8 small ones. They were about 10 inches wide and 18 inches deep. The closet had room for shirts and slacks/dresses to hang. We also had a safe that is opened and closed using a credit card but our stateroom attendant didn't know how to work it and I didn't want to bother calling housekeeping so I just put our valuables in it and closed the door. Of course nothing was taken.

We were in the aft section and we did notice some vibration from the engines at time. This wasn't too bad and sort of rocked us to sleep.

We were on deck 9 (Bridge) with an outside view. We did hear some foot traffic above us but since we were usually getting to bed late it wasn't much of a problem. I did notice the dragging of deck chairs a few times. Them rooms themselves were quiet except for our neighbors slamming the small, wooden drawers shut a few times.

Our stateroom attendant was very attentive to anything we needed. You will have 2 pool towels in your room each day. There is a $20 charge if you lose one. If you don't get new ones, just ask your room attendant. We had bath towels, hand towels and face cloths that were changed twice a day. We also had a small vanity table and chair. Anything we needed was taken care of immediately.

The outlet in the bathroom didn't work (I forgot to report it) but I had taken an extension cord and used the open slot next to the TV. We also took a small steam/travel iron($20 at Wal-Mart) and used the chair to iron. It worked great. The TV was about 13" but we had CNN International to keep up with the war in Iraq. We also had some old and new movies, a few TV programs, ship activities and info, video of the previous night's entertainment, info on ports-of-call and shopping info.

The Cruise Critic party was the morning of the 1st full day at sea. Dan, the cruise director, made a visit and gave us some info and answered some questions. We met in the Disco (Victory Crown Lounge) and RCI provided a tray of canapes.

We ate breakfast in the Windjammer each day except for two when we ate in the dining room. The Windjammer breakfast buffet was about what you would expect. Lots of fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy (a favorite of mine), danish, donuts, 3 types of sausage, bacon, waffles, french toast, juices and coffee. Everything we needed. No swimsuits or tank tops in the dining room at anytime. The breakfasts we had there were good. I had ham and cheese omelets both times.

We always ate late breakfasts so never did eat lunch. We did take advantage of the afternoon snacks in the Windjammer from 3-5. These were salads, hot dogs, burgers, french fries and pizza.

The dining room food was great. Four or five selections of appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts each night. They also offered 'Ship Shape' selections and vegetarian meals. I had filet mignon, lobster, turkey parmigiana, prime rib, fish (I forget what is was but it was good), cordon bleu and one more that I can't remember. Needless to say I never left anything uneaten.

Our waiter and his assistant were great. The assistant always had our ice tea ready without asking after the first night. She also had my coffee ready after dessert.

The casino was a little small if you like to play blackjack. There were 5 BJ tables, 1 Pai Gow and 1 Caribbean Stud. There were 2 roulette wheels and 1 crap table. They also had a number of slots and video poker. There were two blackjack tournaments and only one slot tournament due to a lack of entries.

We managed to cover our end of cruise tips and all other drinks, gifts and photo expenses from our winnings.

There were different shows/comedians/magician each night and all were very entertaining. We saw The Royal Caribbean singers and dancers premier show and they did a great job.

The cruise staff, let by "Dan, Dan The Party Man" did a great job. There were more activities from dawn to late night than you could possibly attend.

Due to weather we couldn't get into Grand Cayman so we spent that day at sea. We did go to Costa Maya as an alternative. The stop doesn't consist of much but there are free beach chairs and thatched umbrellas, a large pool, bars, Mexican entertainers and shops. You can also book some local excursions at the site.

The sea got rougher in Belize as the morning wore on so if you weren't on the first boats off (we anchored about 1 mile from the pier) you didn't get to go. The people that did get to go on their excursions said they had a good time. I believe the main choices were seeing the Tulum ruins and the cave tubing trips. We stayed on the ship.

Cozumel was a great day. The ship docked downtown, right down the pier from Carlos & Charlie's and Senor Frogs. We woke up and looked out our window only to find we were parked right next to the Norwegian Dawn. It was almost as long as the Nordic Empress and the other NCL ship parked behind us.

We took the "Catch the Wave" excursion. They took us over near the International Pier and we dropped anchor about 4 yards from shore. They offered snorkeling (they provide all equipment including life vests), BOND underwater scooters and supervision. There was also a guy taking underwater photos of you with fish. He provided the photo along with another stock photo in a folder before we left the boat for $10.

They also provided a Mexican snack of chips, salsa, rice, beans and salad. The best part was the open bar after the water activities. It was a 4 hour excursion and at $41 each we felt like it was money well spent.

You will have the opportunity to have your picture taken before getting on the ship (nice setup with a background of the Nordic Empress and a board with the date of your cruise). I mention this because it makes a nice souvenir so if you might want to buy this photo don't board looking like you just ran a marathon.

You will also have the opportunity to have photos take with different backgrounds on both formal nights. They also take photos at dinner and when leaving the ship on excursions. The photos are $9.95 for 5x7 and $19.95 for 8x10 formal shots. The photos are available for the length of the cruise.

The gift shop has many items including shirts and great booze prices. Wait a few days to shop for souvenirs and many items go "on sale".
Review your Compass each day as there is quite a lot of info provided and activities to keep track of. Don't try to do it all.

Disembarkation was quick and painless. We were issued green tags so we were in the 2nd group to leave. Don't rush as you'll have to wait in line that routes you from the Centrum through the Strike Up The Band lounge and off the ship. Immigration was fast even if the officer had zero personality. Next you find you bags that are lined up by tag color, grab a helpful porter and take everything out to the sidewalk.

The Nordic Empress is a nice ship. Very attractive and easy to get around. There are many deck chairs all over the top deck for sun bathing and along the sides of deck 6 if you prefer shade. My only complaint would be the low ceilings over the blackjack tables that held the cigarette smoke but I survived. The dealers were a great bunch and lots of fun.

My recommendation would be to go, relax, enjoy, catch the shows each night (main dinner seating will see the shows after dinner, second seating diners will see the early show at 7:15), eat, drink and have a great vacation. Things don't always go perfectly but the staff of the Nordic Empress will do whatever they can to make your cruise enjoyable.

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