Bill, Carla, and Laura
Age: 34, 33, 4
Number of Cruises: Two
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Nordic Empress
Sailing Date: NOT FOUND
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Sailing Date: November 2nd, 2002
We had the privilege of sailing on the
first Nordic Empress cruise from Tampa this fall, to
Grand Cayman, Belize, and Cozumel. We had a great time,
and would highly recommend this cruise.
Boarding and Departure
We arrived around noon to begin the boarding process. I dropped my wife and daughter, along with our luggage, off at the curb, and proceeded to the parking garage across the street. We were early, and the line moved relatively quickly. We checked in and were ready to board in about 30 minutes. I waited longer to check with the pier coordinator to see if upgrades were available. We had a category F on the Bridge deck, which was very nice, but I wanted to see if any of the balcony rooms on the stern were available. None were, but I was told to check with the purser after the ship sailed to see if any came open. We also checked with the maitre’d prior to boarding, and were glad we did. We had asked our travel agent to reserve a table for four, so we could dine alone, but that had not been done. The maitre’d made a change, and we ended up with the private table we wanted. Overall the service at the port was excellent, even though the staff was adjusting to a new terminal, new computers, and a new itinerary.
The Welcome Aboard buffet in the Windjammer was good, and our first cabin, 9182, was very nice. After the lifeboat drill, we went to dinner in the Main Dining room. William, our waiter, and Wesley, the assistant waiter, were both wonderful. The food was excellent, the first of many wonderful meals with great food and great service.
After dinner we checked with the Purser’s Desk, and were able to upgrade to a stern balcony after all. We moved down to Deck 7, room 7188, and settled in. I highly recommend the stern balconies. Because the back of the ship is slanted, you have a great view of the stars, straight up from your balcony, unlike the bridge deck balconies on the sides of the ship, where you look up at the floor of the pool deck. I spent a lot of time on the balcony, watching sunsets, a sunrise, more stars than I could ever see at home, and just beautiful views of the ocean. The cavitation sounds from the props while the ship is moving are also very relaxing.
Day at Sea
Our first day was at sea, and we took the opportunity to explore the ship, take pictures, and also attend several onboard activities. Our daughter enjoyed the Adventure Ocean activities immensely, and often requested to go to “Kids Konnection” whenever it was open. We also enjoyed the activities hosted for families together, and the first was Bingo. They hosted a bingo game for kids and parents, with nice prizes for the winners, but no charge to play. We are members of the Crown and Anchor Society, so we were able to attend the wine tasting at no charge. They did an excellent job, and we had the opportunity to try a variety of wines from around the world. The Captain’s cocktail party was also very nice.
Our first port of call was Grand Cayman. I had booked the Atlantis submarine tour online prior to departure, and the tickets were delivered to our cabin on Sunday. After a short tender ride to the island, we had a half hour or so to explore the waterfront before our tour. The Atlantis Submarine tour was excellent. A boat took us out the dive area, where we were able to watch the sub surface and pull alongside. After the previous passengers disembarked, we boarded the sub, and spent the next 40 minutes or so seeing the beautiful fish, turtles, coral, and other life in the waters off Grand Cayman. The sub was very comfortable, the viewports clear. I got over 100 pictures through the windows of the sub, almost all came out well.
Back on board, the Buccaneer Buffet in the Windjammer was excellent.
Day at Sea
After Grand Cayman we had another sea day. As we were sailing almost due west from Grand Cayman to Belize, we had an excellent opportunity to watch the sunrise from our stern balcony. Other highlights of the day were the ice carving demonstration, an Adventure Ocean water balloon toss, and the Welcome Back party for Crown and Anchor members.
If there was a high point of the trip, it would have to be Belize. This was Nordic Empress’s first call in Belize, so the excursion staff was unfamiliar with trips available, and had no brochures from the tour operators, so we had to make our decision based on the order form provided by the ship. I’m sure that problem has been corrected by now, as one of the excursion desk staff was along on our tour, and others went on other tours, so they should be more knowledgeable about the options available.
We took the Wildlife Adventure tour, and it was awesome! We started with a bus ride into the jungle of Belize, for a tour of the Belize Zoo. All the animals are indigenous to Belize, live in their natural habitats, and have been rescued or donated to the zoo, not captured for display. We then had a Belizean lunch at the Old Belize River Tavern, before boarding a speedboat for a ride down the river through the jungle. The boat stopped frequently, and we were able to see crocodiles, iguanas, monkeys, and many birds, all along the riverbank, only feet from the boat. The guide was wonderful as well. After the tour, we had a few minutes to shop. There were several stalls outside the tourist village exit, and I bought several things. The prices were very reasonable even in the tourist shops.
The only day it rained the entire cruise was our day in Cozumel, and it rained all day. Our catamaran sail and beach party was cancelled due to weather (the tour ticket prices were refunded automatically, no hassle or line whatsoever. My wife enjoyed shopping, but it is well worth the walk into downtown to the artesanias markets, rather than staying by the pier.
Back on board, the Grand Gala buffet in the Carmen Dining room was held around midnight. It was fabulous, with many ice sculptures, food, and interesting displays. They opened for pictures only before the buffet actually opened. This was a GREAT idea, as on our previous cruise to take pictures you had to dodge people getting food, and vice versa. This way was much more efficient.
Day At Sea
The last day at sea was very relaxing. I enjoyed the Nautical Notes presentation, a slide show with a talk by a bridge officer. A poor substitute for an actual tour of the bridge and engine room, but the best they can do after September 11. The slides were good, and the presentation very informative. My wife and daughter enjoyed the towel folding demonstration.
Arrival and Disembarkation
Again, it was very smooth, and handled professionally and efficiently. We were in the first group called to disembark, and had our luggage in the car and were leaving Tampa well before 10 am.
The dining room was excellent, the food great, the service wonderful. I would highly recommend this cruise, the prices are quite reasonable, and the cruise is everything I would expect from Royal Caribbean.