Western Caribbean Itinerary: Miami, Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize,
November 2- 9, 2002
Travelers: Jerry and Barb Hoehn
Ages: Mid to late 40s
Cruises: 14 total - CCL, RCI, Premier, HAL, NCL, Celebrity,
Windjammer, and Princess.
Traveling with: Friends Mike and Beth (Ages: Mid Forties, First
Stateroom: 9076 Category AC Penthouse Suite. Portside, Aft
Agent: Barbara Coe, BestPriceCruises.Com (free plug there)
I'll give you the Summary first and
save many of you the trouble of reading my rambling and ranting.
- Aft Penthouse Suite
- Concierge Service
- Food in Dining Rooms
- Tender operations
- Freestyle Dining
- The Passenger Mix
- Did I mention the Penthouse Suite?
- Pool Games
- Pool Deck and Show Lounge Bar
- Drink Prices
- Not enough time to do it all!
Summary - Rating 9 on a scale
of 1 to 10 (Not perfect, but nobody’s complaining!)
Whatever slight irritations there may
have been were very minor and not worth a second thought. Sometimes
you couldn’t find bar service on the pool deck and you had to go get
your own drink. But that was just another excuse to walk around, chat
up the other passengers, use the WC or graze at the barbeque for some
spare ribs. Everything is an opportunity for fun on a cruise if you
look at it the right way! It’s possible this rating may be somewhat
skewed by the fact that it was our first experience staying in a
penthouse suite. We were pleased by our BA cabin on the Grandeur of
the Seas. But the AC Penthouse Suite on the aft part of the Sun was
truly amazing. I know the AA owner’s suite was larger and the AB
Romance Suite had a heart shaped hot tub, but if I had to do it again,
I might pick this cabin over either of those cabins. More on that
When deciding if I had a good
experience on a cruise, I ask myself and my wife a few simple
- Did I get my money's worth? Yes.
We got a very reasonable price on the AC suite and jumped on it.
But beyond that, the ship was very well laid out, the crew was
hard working, the entertainment was great, the food in the dining
rooms exceeded expectations and the passenger mix was comfortable.
Not too old, not too young, not too many special interest groups,
- Would I go on this ship again? In
a second. It’s only a function of time and money. We enjoyed our
trip on the Sky, which is close to identical to this ship. We had
an inside on that one and weren’t disappointed. Our pleasure was
only magnified by the Penthouse Suite on the Sun. The crew was
generally terrific, it was clean, nearly new, and the choices of
dining and entertainment options seemed endless.
- Did we enjoy ourselves? Immensely.
We really enjoy Freestyle as it is practiced on the Sun and the
Sky. Not as much on the Sea, as it was not built with Freestyle in
mind. But the Sun and Sky have the program down to a tee! Only
once did we wait for more than a minute or two for a table and
that was at the busiest time on lobster night in the main dining
Tips - A few quick tips for
those of you who don’t want to read all the rest of my ramblings…
- Get to the port early. They always
say they won’t be boarding until 1 PM, but the truth is, if the
ship gets cleared early enough, they will start boarding as early
as 11 AM.
- When you ask for a drink, specify
the size and the type of glass you want. If you don’t specify,
you might get a large expensive drink or a “souvenir glass.”
If you want one, get one, but ask for it that time and don’t
assume you won’t get it the next time. If you don’t specify,
you probably will!
- Make your alternative dinner
reservations early. Suite passengers can make reservations for the
whole week in advance. Others can’t. We didn’t make it to East
Meets West because we decided too late to try it. And we were in a
suite! Reservations can be made one day for the next day. This
doesn’t mean that you can call at dinner time one night to
reserve for the next night at dinner. This means if you want to
get a reservation for dinner tomorrow night, make the call EARLY
the MORNING BEFORE you want to go there. You can always cancel if
you change your mind. If you can’t get a reservation, you can
always try showing up at the door and checking with the maitre d’.
People sometimes “no show” and this worked for us in the past
on the Sky.
- Put insect repellent containing
DEET on BEFORE leaving the ship in Roatan or for cave tubing in
Belize. I think the bugs know the cruise ship is in port and they
start swarming just like the hawkers. And don’t get DEET on
anything. It literally took the polish right off ladies nails and
eats into polymer plastics.
- It’s cold in many of the
restaurants and lounges. Especially the Observation Lounge.
- It’s VERY cold in the caves in
Belize especially for the ladies. I would suggest wearing a wet
suit, but the walk through the jungle is pretty hot and you may be
uncomfortable doing that. We did Reggie’s Cave Tubing and at
least we had a jungle walk and a portion of the river to float
down in the sunshine. On the ship’s tour, they never got out of
the caves except to walk to and from the buses a short distance.
Just be prepared to be cold on either trip since the water is
about 65 degrees.
- Get a deck chair near the pool
early on sea days. As usual, there is a lot of saving. If you plan
to get a chair near the “action”, you’d better get your
breakfast in the Garden Café. Or get a cup of coffee and enjoy it
on deck for a while before you go to breakfast. I hate chair
saving. But once you’ve put your stuff on a lounger, the others
around you get filled up and people see you there, then I suppose
its “legal” to claim them. I think the rule is up to a half
hour. That should give you time to go the dining room for
breakfast or lunch if you desire. We personally don’t like to be
down where the pool is. Its noisy, too much foot traffic, not as
much breeze on a hot day and too much screeching and splashing
from juvenile cruisers (I’m including all ages in this
category). Our favorite spot was starboard side forward.
Just a quick suggestion for NCL if
they happened to be listening: It seemed like there were a lot of nice
young couples aged 30 to 45 walking around the ship sort of “unconnected.”
They have “singles parties,” “kids parties,” “friends of
Bill W” meetings, and even “gay and lesbian” get togethers. Why
don’t they have adults only “Couple’s Parties” of some sort? I
got the feeling that with Freestyle Cruising, it’s sometimes harder
to connect with other folks that you didn’t come with or connect
with on the Internet before you cruise. I realize that not everybody
goes on a cruise to socialize. Maybe some go for the relaxation, or
the food or the gambling or whatever. But most want at least some
interaction with other passengers. If not, then why cruise? Why not
take a land vacation where you’re not contained on a large floating
party barge for most of 7 days? I think these young couples would have
welcomed an opportunity to socialize with others on the ship. (See my
last paragraph for how important this is to making a cruise more fun).
OK. Drum roll please. And now ladies
and gentlemen, the full “MrTractor” review of our trip... (Cue the
snazzy show band music.) MrTractor enters wearing his black tuxedo
with Caribbean Plaid bow tie.
Good evening fellow cruisers and
thanks for listening! Tonight I’m inviting every one of you to
embark upon a voyage to exotic and exciting places never before seen
by grumpy whiners who don’t know how to relax and enjoy themselves.
If you are one of the above mentioned people, stop now. You’ll only
feel worse. Come with me and my fellow adventurers to a place where...
Even the life boat drill can be fun.
So turn on the calypso music, get
your self a frothy drink with fruit hanging off of it, put your feet
up and try to get through this incredibly long but hopefully
informative and entertaining review. Remember,
this is just one man’s
opinion. Your mileage may vary. (YMMV)
Trip to Miami - The main reason I
mention this is to tell you how great it was to fly on the newly
refitted American Airlines coach seats! Last year we flew Delta into
Ft. Lauderdale and it was tight. At 6’
4”, I really appreciated the new legroom and width on our American
Airlines flight. If you are tall and or large, it’s worth the extra
$10-20 RT to fly American. We arrived Friday night and stayed at the
Holiday Inn South Beach. Cheap room from Priceline.com. Rented a
Cadillac because It was the biggest thing they had other than a
minivan (hey, what’s
romantic about a minivan?). Also a car rental was better because of
our desire for flexibility and the amount of luggage being taken.
Should have rented a U-Haul truck. With all the school supplies and
our over packing we had the trunk full and the back seat stacked with
boxes and luggage. Any more and we would have had to make two trips!
More on the school supplies later.
Miami, South Beach - Had dinner on
Lincoln Road at one of the outdoor Italian restaurants “Carnevale.”
Nice meal, great service and great atmosphere. The Holiday Inn South
Beach is too far north. Stay further south on the beach if you can or
over near the port. It was a lot nicer than the HOJOs, but not as
Embarkation Day - We loaded up our
Caddie after breakfast at the hotel. Barb and I took a walk on South
Beach while Mike and Beth checked in with the kids back home. We took
a quick tour of downtown South Beach and headed past Bayside shopping
center over the causeway and into the port of Miami. Our ship was
waiting. After so many cruises there is still something amazing about
driving over that bridge in Miami and seeing those humongous vessels
lined up like great white circus elephants ready to parade down
Government Cut. We dropped off our bags and the ladies stayed with
them while we took the car back to Enterprise Rental Car. It's right
downtown Miami instead of the airport and they have a very prompt and
courteous shuttle service to and from the port. The driver seemed to
sense our excitement and anticipation. There was another couple in the
van with us. “What
ship are you guys on?” I asked. It was a Carnival ship. It looked
nice, too, as we turned into the port parking lot. But we were happy
to note that although it didn’t have the sheer size of the Voyager,
moored behind the Sun at the port, our ship was as handsome as any
ship there and at least from the outside, far more attractive than the
Carnival ship. We puffed up a little when they asked us and we said
simply “The Sun.”
We decided to use Enterprise on the way back, too.
Since we were “Suities”
or “Suite People,” we had a priority embarkation area. But our
traveling companions didn’t. We asked one of the agents if they
could go with us and, at first, she said “no.” We asked her to
check with Julie, the concierge, if it would be OK. Julie came out and
introduced herself and said, “No problem.” Things were starting
out nicely. I introduced myself and our little group and said “You
must be Julie Sedgwick. Your good reputation has preceded you.” She
looked up at me not the slightest bit surprised and said “Cruise
Critic Dot Com.” “Right,” I said and we all laughed. We
proceeded to check in where we were offered tea, coffee, water, juice,
pastries, sandwiches and comfortable chairs. When it was our turn we
were individually checked in and our photos were taken digitally. We
waited a couple of minutes and then Julie personally escorted us on
the ship. We didn’t feel rushed or pressured and could have walked
right past the photographer for our embarkation photo. Darn! No Las
Vegas style showgirls! I was disappointed. My wife wasn’t. We
stepped on the ship. There is something about the feeling of getting
onboard at the beginning of a cruise that is unique. Maybe it’s
the smell or the uniforms or the sheer relief of getting there after
weeks or months of anticipation. We felt the rush of cool air
conditioned air and got our first glimpse. Unlike many other ships
where your first step is into a grand atrium, we entered deck 6 aft
near the library. The atrium would have been a more dramatic first
impression. But what the heck we were there, finally.
assistant named Maja (?) was there to escort us. He took our carryons
and knew just how to get to our cabin. I realize this may not be the
way most passengers embarked, but I didn’t hear anyone else
complaining and when I looked over at the lines of other passengers,
the lines didn’t
seem long at all.
The Cabin - We had seen the 360 degree
tours on the internet and knew pretty much what to expect. It did not
disappoint us and the pictures only did it partial justice. This is
possibly the best on the ship. Not the largest or the fanciest I
suppose compared to the owners suite, but considering the amenities,
services, size and especially location, it was the favorite of all who
surveyed it. IMHO, there is no better location on the ship than one of
the aft penthouses between passenger decks. They are not only huge,
but have all sorts of cool stuff in them. We hooked my laptop up to
the surround sound stereo system in the living room and had continuous
music playing from my MP3 library. The balcony--scratch that... the
veranda, was truly that--a veranda. I was about 8 feet deep and 20+
long. It wrapped around about a third of the width of the ship. The
veranda floor was made up of the same blue decking material you find
on the upper sun decks. Teak would have been nicer, but the effect was
like a cool blue pool of Caribbean water. Really very soothing and it
dried instantly. It had two full sized deck chairs, two full sized
lounges and a table, but could have easily accommodated more. It would
be perfect for our Champagne Sailaway Gala. Just close your eyes and
imagine Grand Cayman fading gently off in the distance as the sun goes
down over the Caribbean. That’s
what I was doing the moment I stepped out and put my hands on the teak
railing. When I opened my eyes, I was in Miami and the adventure was
”Let’s see the rest of this place” I
turned to say to my wife Barb. She was gone. I heard a sound somewhere
between a sigh and a scream. She had found the bathroom. The bath and
dressing area was bigger than the last stateroom we stayed in! “What
no hot tub?” she joked. When she pulled back the curtain to the
whirlpool tub, she almost cried. The whirlpool tub was big enough for
a family of four (although two seemed to fit perfectly! HA!). A
separate shower, separate commode, 5 foot long marble top sink,
separate dressing area with vanity and phone, more storage than you
could ever use on a 14 day cruise, individual zoned heat and A/C and
computerized combination safe. The living room was separated from the
bedroom by two frosted French doors to allow access for the butler or
room service and provide complete privacy. It had a fridge, plenty of
extra glassware, a large sofa, two chairs, a large high coffee table
that we used for dining and serving. There was a wall unit that
included a desk, the menus from every restaurant on the ship for room
service, a 25-inch TV and entertainment center with DVD. The surround
sound speakers were mounted around the room to an amazing effect. One
large sliding door was in each of the two rooms adjoining the veranda
and gave the entire suite a warm and airy feel. It was more cabin than
two people could use. The bedroom had a king size bed and another TV
(who cares since we never turned either one on!) and a complete
gentleman’s wardrobe that was twice the area I needed to store my
things. Everything worked, even the refrigerator. The only thing that
bothered me was an occasional unpleasant odor from the commode room.
(Usually I blame this on the dog, but he wasn’t around).
Later that week, we met the couple that was
staying in the Owner’s Suite at the Captain’s reception. They
wished they had their cabin in our location! They much preferred the
stern location. Also, our room was between passenger decks while
theirs was directly under the Observation Lounge where dancing and
music was played until very late. I could go on about this cabin, just
allow me to say... Heeyouuuuuweeee!
GolDANGit that was a great cabin!
The Ship - I realize this was not the
fanciest or most exclusive cruise ship sailing the seven seas. But it
was very nice. I personally prefer the color schemes on Royal
Caribbean ships, but the décor
on the Sun was very pleasant. Some of the colors seemed a little
disjointed, but overall, the interior was tasteful, pleasing to the
eye and comfortable. The Sun was a handsome gal on the outside, too.
And it was a nice size. Not too big, not too small. 9 restaurants. Two
pools separated by four hot tubs. Pool Deck was all teak, while the
Sun Deck was the same blue mesh that was on our veranda. It kept the
decks cool, dried instantly, and it made moving deck chairs around
easy. On sea days, our little group of four camped out on the upper
deck forward near Champs bar and the outdoor barbeque. It was much
easier to get a lounge up there. I could close my eyes and drift off
to the sounds of the Calypso band. From here, the noisy pool games
weren’t quite as annoying and it was on the other end from the
thump, thump, thump all day from bouncing basketballs. Up here, you
could get the sun all day. It was near the bar, had a nice breeze and
you didn’t have to go far to get to the barbeque. You definitely
want to try the ribs. If I lean back in my chair and close my eyes
right now, I can still hear the music and smell the smoke from those
ribs. Mmmmmm. If all you want is sun and relative quiet, then try the
area all the way forward on the port side. It was too far from the
pool and the band to hear them and the port side is away from the
kiddie’s pool on
starboard side. I hope you have two beautiful days in the sun on the
Sun like we did!
The Sun had some great lounges. Our favorite
was the Windjammer. Roger Hernandez was terrific. He sounded more like
Billy Joel than Billy Joel does! “Twice
as Nice” plays mostly in Dazzles and brought back memories of being
young in the seventies and the DJ in Dazzles was great to shake your
tail feather to until the wee hours. Corey in the sports lounge made
great acoustic music. I love that kind of music and wish I had picked
up a few of his songs to play when I get home (on my guitar, not on
the stereo!). Rick and Vince are really outstanding musicians. They
played in the Observation Lounge. I called them Elvis and Clapton.
They smiled when they heard that. That’s
also where karaoke was held.
The ship itself was well kept and clean. The
promenade deck has the most lively and colorful murals on the walls.
We put on our life jackets for the drill and even enjoyed strolling
the deck looking for our muster station. I had my digital elph camera
and we hammed it up with someone’s
aunt or gramma by taking a few self portraits. She thought it was
neat. I don’t
remember who she is, but she is now part of another happy cruise
Cayman - We had been there numerous
times on past cruises, but our friends had not. Sting Ray City is a
must for first timers, so we finally decided to do it together. We
wanted to get a full day in, so we had to start early. This would give
us enough time to do SRC, hang out and have lunch at the 7 Mile Beach
Club, the wife’s
favorite spot on the island, and still do some shopping. Since we had
to use the ship’s tour, we hoped it wasn’t sold out. It was. We
enlisted the help of our concierge. She sprang into action. She said
she would get back to us as soon as she knew anything. The response
for SRC was so great that the Dive In desk decided to start a second
group at 9:00. This allowed Julie to slip us in to the first group. I
felt like Julie had started the second group just so we could get what
we wanted. Maybe she didn’t, but it still felt GOOOOD! The ships
tour left a little later than expected due to the large number. It was
a little more expensive than Nativeway or Captain Marvin’s, but left
a little earlier, so it fit our schedule better. Either of those two
local operators would have been fine, but the extra hour or two really
helped out. The ship’s tour was a real “cattle call.” But it was
fun and we got to talk with a lot of people from the ship, some of
whom we invited to our “Gala Sailaway Party” at “Penthouse 9076
Portside Aft” that same afternoon. When the tour boat returned to
its slip, we didn’t even get back on the bus. We walked to the main
road and then west towards the tendering dock two blocks and we were
at The Beach Club. They tried to charge us $8.00 just to walk in as a
cruise passenger. We were highly indignant. We snuck in. HA! They didn’t
know who they were dealing with! We had lunch. Great ambiance, but the
food was nothing special. We took a cab back to the port. The cab
driver wanted payment in advance and wouldn’t
take my One Dollar U. S. Coins! He thought they were counterfeit! I
handed him greenbacks because it was easier than walking.
Tip: This is a tendering port, so if you don’t
go on an early ship’s tour or have a suite with priority tendering,
then don’t figure on getting off too early. There are always plenty
of independents willing to take you to SRC. But don’t wait too late.
Remember the PRIME DIRECTIVE: DON’T
MISS THE SHIP! Tendering was pretty efficient, but it does take time
to get that many people off the ship.
Roatan - We got into port around 10:30
and stepped off the ship around 11. We had planned something unusual
this cruise. I had heard about others who tried to help some of the
local schools with supplies and equipment. After seeing all the
poverty in these third world countries, I thought it was time to do
something nice while there and I heard about a couple who was
attempting to build an orphanage on the island. We arranged to meet
with Brad Warren, director of Child Sponsorship International in
Roatan. We have enough enemies in the world. I thought this might in
some small way make a positive difference in the way the people of
this area saw Americans. Something other than a meal ticket stepping
off a giant ship. Then we would go to Bay Island Beach Club for some
snorkeling at the famous “Spooky
Channel.” We called and made a reservation with the resort operator.
Their web address is www.bibr.com.
(Free plug there Cam). The resort sent “Tex” a tall friendly man
who is native to the island. He brought the van right up to the gate
at the pier and helped us avoid the gauntlet of hawkers waiting there.
We brought with us several hundred dollars worth of school supplies,
children’s medicines and toothbrushes and even some cash contributed
by generous fellow cruisers John and Cynthia who heard about our “do
gooders” project. At first we went to the Methodista school in Coxen
Hole, but we quickly realized this was not the place we were to meet
Brad. They would have gladly accepted our donation, but we didn’t
feel comfortable leaving all this booty with just anyone. Tex finally
figured out that the orphanage was only a mile or two from the resort.
It wasn’t too far out of the way, so we didn’t inconvenience any
of the folks going to the resort with us too terribly much. After this
slight mix up, Tex dropped us at the orphanage to meet the energetic
Brad and his charming wife Debbie. The rest of the group went on to
the resort and the Warrens took us over there in their van after a
tour of the orphanage he is building for 40 orphaned and abandoned
children. The Warrens had lunch with us as a guest of the resort. They
shared their thanks with us again and left. We had plenty of time to
go snorkeling. Tex was our guide for this as well. I promised not to
go into ALL the details of our trip (a promise I seem to have already
broken!), so if you want to know more about Brad’s
work, check out their web site www.csiroatan.org.
They are doing great things in very difficult circumstances.
be intimidated by the crowd around the last gate from the pier. We
talked to people who stayed on the ship because of them. Get off the
ship! It’s a wonderful island; you just have to get out of the port
area to the resorts. And if you use one of the taxis to give you a
tour, or you plan to have them return you to the pier from a resort,
don’t pay them until you return. That’s kind of a rule the
government has put in place to make the island more “cruise
friendly.” The people of Roatan in general are poor, but they are
very friendly and accommodating. The same precautions you would take
in any foreign country apply, but don’t
come all that way and not experience this island and its people. This
port is also known as a dive and snorkel paradise, so if you plan to
only snorkel or dive once on your trip, this would be the place to do
Belize City - The harbor is very
shallow and the ships must anchor far from the pier. So this is
another (the second and last) tender port on this itinerary. The
secure pier area is new and nice. Lots of shopping for almost anything
you would want to bring home. Local crafts and jewelry, Cuban cigars,
local rum, t-shirts, and the usual junk. Try the 190 Octane smoothie
at the food court if you feel daring. Smooth, but kicks like a mule!
The first person we saw when we stepped off the ship was Reggie. We
went with Reggie Cave Tubing after hearing recommendations on CC. The
ship has a similar tour, but we figured on living dangerously! (See
tips in summary section). Belize seemed to be a nice enough place, but
somehow I felt a little less secure there than I did in Roatan,
despite its relative wealth. Perhaps because the port was right in the
middle of the country's largest city. Rudi, our driver and cave guide
told us that there were a number of ethnic groups including many
Chinese from Hong Kong and Taiwan fleeing the imminent and/or possible
takeover of those areas by the communists. This gave the city a more
international feel. If our guide Rudi and the shopkeepers at the port
were any indication, these were also a friendly and accommodating
people. I just don’t
think I would wander around in the city the way I might in the other
ports we visited.
Cozumel - It rained all day, but we
still got off the ship. To a real cruiser this was just “liquid
sunshine.” My wife quickly came up with a plan B (the B is for
Barb). No little bit of rain was going to prevent MY wife from
exercising the traditional rites passed down for generations from her
foremothers - SHOPPING! We had planned to go to Chankanaab to do some
of our favorite activities - sunning, eating, snorkeling, drinking,
and snoozing, but the weather turned this into a shopping and Carlos
and Charlie’s kind of a day. Oh, well. Shielded by our cheap clear
plastic rain parkas, credit cards and cash, we bravely stepped into
the tempest. We spent the morning stepping over rivers of rain in the
flooded streets, shopping around on the high ground and having lunch
at one of the restaurants on the square. As the tourists, locals and
cruisers all huddled in the shelter of the colorful cafés it felt
good to be somewhere else than in beltway traffic. The margaritas
flowed and the guacamole was tasty. Watch out for that yellow habanera
hot sauce, though. YOWEEE! I drizzle one drop too many and tears begin
rolling down my cheeks. Even that felt good just then. Everything
feels good after three margaritas! The four of us slipped back to the
ship and caught up with fellow CCers Rumncoke and Planers Edge and
headed back to town for some Carlos and Charlie’s fun. If you haven’t
been there, it’s a real experience. My wife and I even saw a few new
moves on the dance floor that modesty will not allow me to describe.
Let’s just say that if you enjoy having sex standing up with your
clothes on, you already know how to dance At Carlos and Charlie’s.
Lots of tequila shooters, wild dancing and debauchery. And this was 2
o’clock in the
afternoon! Ah, the tasteful ambiance of it all.
I needed a nap. After all we had to keep our
strength up. Tonight, Thursday was a special night…
LOBSTER NIGHT! What’s
that honey? Oh, yeah. It was also our 21st wedding anniversary. Sure I
remembered, Suitie, er, I mean Sweetie…….
Tip: This is an all new pier area. When you
get to the end of the pier, straight ahead looks like the best and
safest way to get to the town. In truth, you are being “herded”
into the new shopping mall where you must walk for about a half a mile
through an upper level of the shopping mall before finding your way
down to the sidewalk. If you want to see these all new shops, feel
free. If not, just as you get to the end of the pier, turn left. You
will head to an area that looks like it dead ends into a loading dock.
It doesn’t. At the end of the fence you can step right out to the
sidewalk on the waterfront side of the main street and proceed
directly to town or cross the street and go right to Carlos and
Charlie’s. I personally resent being “tricked” into a shopping
area, so we avoided the mall area until our second trip off the ship.
The town has become so commercialized in recent years. Most of the old
shops that we used to go to for bargains on quality Mexican jewelry
and silver have been bought up and the prices raised. The shops on the
town side of the main road are full of aggressive hawkers all pleading
with you to enter their stores. One was even rude to my wife when she
turned down his “final” offer on some jewelry. Avoid most of the
shops along the main drag. Walk on the other side of the street until
you can see the town square on your right slightly up the hill. Turn
right off the main road there and walk up the far side of the square.
Several streets of shops radiate off the square including some
interesting shops for crafts, jewelry, pottery, Cuban cigars and more.
If you don’t mind the walk, you’ll find the shops there less
pushy, the prices better and the merchants more interested in
negotiating. There is also a cash machine in a kiosk at the far left
hand corner of the square that dispenses cash in US dollar or pesos.
And look out for the birds that often nest under the tables at Carlos
and Charlie’s. Did
I mention to take it easy on that yellow habanera sauce?!
Entertainment - As I previously
mentioned, the choices were many. Jane L. Powell was entertaining as
usual and had great fun bantering with the audience. Billy Prudhomme
juggled and joked to the delight of all. As I mentioned, the lounge
acts were simply great. Fabio Zini entertained us for wine and Tapas
in Las Ramblas several nights with a Flamenco guitar style that exudes
passion with the fiery Latin rhythms of his Spanish/electric guitar.
He had many of us on our feet dancing and clapping along. Ok, so maybe
the wine helped a little, but he was still great. We only saw the
welcome show in the Stardust Lounge and a short portion of the “Cirque
Pan”, but they all
had the same full production value you can expect from the Jean Ann
Ryan Company of dancers, IMHO the best at sea. We had seen the
comedian, Jeff Harms, on the Sky a couple of years ago. He was even
funnier. We both have teenaged daughters and he always kills with his
shtick on them. We chatted up with him at the Observation Lounge bar
and he said he remembered talking with us at the bar on the Sky. Maybe
he just said that to be nice, but he was still funny.
TOO MANY ENTERTAINMENT OPTIONS, just TOO LITTLE TIME!
Tip: As usual, try to get to the shows about
20-30 minutes early to get the best seats. The seats within the first
ten rows are the best. The seats in the balcony and behind that have
decent sight lines and comfortable chairs (better than the Sky and
many other ships), but there are some support poles in the way in
several locations. Again, when you order a drink from the waiters in
the show lounge (or anywhere else for that matter), be specific! In
any case, there always seemed to be plenty of seats for the shows. I
would guess due to the number of choices available to passengers at
the same time as the show and the Freestyle dining concept. But the
Windjammer was usually packed when Roger was playing.
Here is another interesting tidbit for you.
Jane L. Powell usually does a portion of her show down from the stage
at the level of the seats. For whatever reason, she always seems to
favor the left hand side of the stage as you are facing it from the
audience. If you want to be up close and almost “part
of the show,” sit there. But be warned, she has an entertaining, but
sharp wit and won’t
tolerate anyone not paying full attention!
Food - I was generally pleased with the
quality of the food in both the main or alternative dining rooms. The
service was not consistently excellent, but we had no major
complaints. I can mention one thing that was irritating with the wine
service. We got the wine we wanted when we asked for it, it was served
properly and at the right temperature in the proper glass. It was just
that it seemed like there was always a great deal of confusion when we
left a bottle unfinished in one restaurant and wanted to finish it in
another the next night. They even tried to convince us that we had
finished a bottle of wine that we knew full well that we had not. We
insisted that they keep looking and intimated that we wouldn’t
be ordering any more wine until they found that one. Lo and behold, it
appeared. With so many restaurants, I can see how it might be
difficult to keep track of all that, but NCL needs to fine tune that
aspect of Freestyle to avoid confusion and possible customer
Never ate at the buffet until the last morning
for breakfast. “Wifey”
found a few interesting things there, but didn’t
expect a gourmet meal either.
Favorite dishes in the dining rooms - Beef
Wellington, Lobster (Thursday night after Cozumel), Prime Rib, Shrimp
with Forty Cloves of Garlic (Il Adagio), Imperial feast in Teppanyaki.
- Best place for hors d’
oeuvres - Las Ramblas
- Best Place for a Martini - Windjammer
- Best place for Dancing - Dazzles
- Best Outdoor Bar - Champs
- Best Bar Service - Champagne Bar (ask for
- Best Place to see MrTractor and others Look
Silly - Karaoke in Observation Lounge
Disembarkation - There was an ugly
scene in Penthouse Suite 9076 the last morning of our cruise. A man
was holding a Penthouse Suite HOSTAGE! A negotiating team of four
cabin stewards, three executive chefs, a souse chef and a five man
security detail had to talk him down from his veranda. Finally an
executive chef came up with a plan. He coaxed him down by tying a
medium rare slice of Beef Wellington to a stick and leading him
quietly down the staircase. As if in a dream state of disbelief, they
led him through the atrium, past stunned passengers and crew alike and
down the gangway.
Women screamed! Mothers shielded the eyes of
their children. Grown men openly wept. It seems I had forgotten not to
pack the clothes to disembark in! UmBwahHAAAHAAA!!! By the time I
realized what was happening... it was too late. (Cue the spooky
background music.) MY CRUISE WAS OVER! (Blood Curdling Scream)
Relax, would you? That didn’t
really happen. Well maybe the part about walking naked off the ship in
a trance. But it didn’t
look that bad in the newspapers. They got my good side! HAAA!
doing Freestyle! Freestyle is the best way to get off a ship. Even
though we could have been with the first group due to our “suitie”
status, we hung around with our new and old friends and exchanged
email addresses and chatted. The ship was late getting cleared, but we
had a late flight. We used Enterprise for an SUV this time. Even
though we got rid of all those school supplies in Roatan, we had more
luggage coming back! I swear it never fails! It defies the laws of
physics! Our little group of four had lunch at Snappers at Bayside
(had to try those stone crabs), shopped, stopped into Hard Rock Miami
(yeah, been there, got the T-shirt). On to the airport and another
comfortable and uneventful flight home. I love flying into Washington’s
National Airport at night. The view of the monuments is stunning!
I could go on in detail about the butler and
the concierge, security, the casino, the ship’s
décor, the hardness
of the mattresses, the color of the carpet in the dining room etc.
etc. etc., but I think this review has already gotten out of hand. I
plead guilty to the charge of wanting to share the fun. There was so
much we enjoyed on this trip. I hope the next guy picks up a tip that
might help this cruise just a little more enjoyable. And those of you
who were on this trip, maybe it will help you relive some of the nice
times we had during that all too short week.
Let me finish by saying that this will go down
as one of our most enjoyable cruises. Someone asked me once to rate my
top five cruises. That was hard to do, since I’ve never had a bad
one! What I found was, that it was the people that made one cruise a
little better than another. Our interaction with the crew has often
been important, especially on traditional cruises. On a Freestyle
cruise, the crew isn’t as big a part of the experience, even though
they did a good job connecting with us. Most importantly, it’s the
people that we meet and the family and friends that come along that
make a cruise great. This cruise was a wonderful example of that.
People like Mike and Beth, John and Cynthia, Crysta and Chris, John
and Sue from Manchester U. K., Raul and Diane “Shananayia” from
San Luis Obispo California, Rene and Carlos the charming couple from
the Dominican Republic we talked to at dinner in Teppenyaki, Anne, our
next door (mini suite) neighbor from Sumter, SC who had just recently
lost her husband and came over to our sailaway for a drink and to tell
us she liked our music, Niki and Jeff from Cincinnati and all the nice
folks we met from Cruise Critic. All these people and more completed a
voyage which the grumpy, whining, crabby people that don’t know how
to have fun will never sail!
It’s back to steerage for Mr. and
Mrs. Tractor, but with great cruisers like these, it won’t matter.
Thanks to all of you for another great cruise!