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When we booked this cruise it was out of New Orleans, which is the main reason we choose this cruise line and ship. It was to be our first on Norwegian and we were planning on driving in for a one night hotel stay in Kenner and on to the port. NOLA is about a 10-11 hour drive from our house and this was a 10 day cruise--just what the doctor ordered. Well, Katrina changed all of that and the cruise port was switched to Houston, which is a tad over 1,000 miles from us. We decided that was just to far to drive so we contacted our TA and had her contact NCL to add on airfare, transfers, and a two night pre-cruise in Houston. This was to be our first flight since October of 2002 which was also to Houston for a cruise out of Galveston.
We flew out on December 27 to Cincinnati, and then on to Houston after a minor flight delay of about 45 minutes. After our arrival, and on our way to claim our baggage, we were pleasantly surprised when we saw a gentleman holding a NCL sign with our name on it. He told us he was here to help us with our luggage and had a town car waiting to take us to our hotel. In our cruise documents we had all transfers except the one for the airport to hotel, so we just figured we were on our own.
After about a 45 minute drive we arrived at the Doubletree Hotel next to the Galleria Mall. Our room was actually a suite and even had a fully functioned kitchen. Kind of a waste as we are on vacation and will not be doing any cooking. That evening, after walking around the mall for a while and checking out the ice rink, we decided to go to the bar and have a drink and try out the hotel restaurant. We were the only ones there and the food and service was very good.
We spent the next day relaxing and doing a little shopping at the mall, where we had diner. After returning to the hotel we went back to the bar for a nightcap. This nightcap ended about 4 hours later as we ended up hoisting a few with a bunch of Brits who starting arriving at various times throughout the evening. All of them were here for the SUN cruise. We had a great time introducing them to their fellow countrymen as they arrived.
The next day was finally here and we were ready for our first cruise in a year. The embarking process from the hotel to finally onboard the ship was one of those hurry up and wait events that began at noon. When we arrived at the port we were instructed that all the paperwork would be done on the ship because of the small port facility. It became quite a mess when 4 or 5 more buses arrived. NCL did a very poor job in this process, with no one really in charge. In one word it was a cluster-f***! After finally completing the process around 2:30 we put it all behind us. We were here to have a good time and this bad time was over.
We met our friends from Texas and headed to our inside staterooms and off to the buffet and our tour of the ship. We loved how our stateroom was laid out as it had plenty of storage for all our stuff. The bathroom seemed a little smaller, but it was okay. We were on the Viking Deck 8 inside on the port side, stateroom 8121. When we booked for us and our friends all that remained were inside cabins next to each other. After Katrina and a lot of the Louisiana and Mississippi folks canceling, we probably could have rebooked our preferred outside but never did. Inside worked out fine for us.
We liked the design and layout of the ship, nothing really gaudy looking. The pools on deck 11 are separated by four hot tubs. The Observation Lounge on deck 12 and Dazzles Disco on deck 6 had decent size dance floors. The center atrium was nice and the layout of the ship was easy to learn. The walking/running deck 6 outside was nice and 3 1/2 of our walking laps equaled one mile.
This freestyle with all the pay specialty dining was new to us. We decided to stick to the 'free' dining for now and play it by ear for other nights. Actually the first night is a better time to try specialty as the prices are half the usual. The 'free' dining rooms are Seven Seas (traditional) deck 5 aft and Four Seasons (contemporary) deck 5 mid. The menus are basically the same except for one entree.
The food was probably as good as other cruise lines, however the service varied from poor to outstanding depending on your waiter and how busy she/he was. Some times they were doing double duty that an assistant waiter would normally do. Also 'free' is the Garden Cafe buffet and the Great Outdoor Cafe buffet, Pacific Heights (light), Las Ramblas (Tapas), and Sports Bar (snacks). The Casino has late night snacks, as well.
We are not fans of buffets and the Garden Cafe buffet was probably the worse one yet of any cruise ship we've been on. No trays, so you had to come back to get your juice and coffee in the morning and fight thru the gauntlet of folks from both sides and the buffet line. Also, the scrambled eggs were terrible. We found the cure for this, get your food (minus the eggs) and go back for your coffee and juice at the Great Outdoor Cafe. Better yet--have breakfast in the dining room.
The specialty restaurants with cover charges are:
Ginza Sushi Bar and Teppanyaki with varying prices
East Meets West Steak House at $20 per person
IL Addgio Fine Italian at $12.50 per person
Le Bistro French/Mediterranean at $15.00 per person.
We thought about trying the Italian, but based on what other told us we never did.
Okay, so much for the food, now for the entertainment. We never attended any of the shows in the Stardust Lounge. We always seemed to be to busy dancing on deck 12 in the Observation Lounge to the great music of Wesley and Shelly, AKA 'Twice as Nice'. They are definitely A+ entertainers! We purchased their CD which has East Coast Swing, Fox-trot, Waltz, and Rumba music, as well as other songs. We also went to Dazzles Disco a few times and danced a couple times and also listened to some karaoke until our ears started to hurt.
We did attend the Martini tasting in the Windjammer. Four Martinis for 10 bucks. My favorite was the French and Rita's was the chocolate. We left very happy! We also attend Dima's and Olga's Cha-cha lesson, however, it was just to crowded.
On the afternoon of New Year's Eve the Sun rescued two men in a un-powered makeshift styrofoam raft between the Florida Keys and Cuba. The raft was spotted and the ship turned around and went back to pick them up. One man was in pretty bad shape from dehydration. They were treated by the medical staff and evacuated to a Coast Guard ship later that day. We did not witness any of this as we went back to our stateroom and took a nap as we figured on being up very late for New Years. We did not even know the ship turned around! The NYE party was supposed to be outside on deck 11, but due to high winds was moved indoors around the atrium on decks 5, 6, & 7. It was a great party with 'Twice as Nice' providing the music and we had a ball welcoming 2006, and we were up very late!
The ports were okay, but nothing to write home about. Great Stirrup Cay was not really great when we compared it to HAL's private island, Half Moon Cay. Nassau on Jan 2 was a holiday since the first fell on Sunday and not much was opened. The new port for us, Montego Bay, Jamaica was not as good as advertised in the song. Caymans, been there done that many times. Cozumel, did not get off the ship as Rita was getting sick watching the tender boats bounce around in the high seas. She said no way! With five ships anchored the Cozumel economy sure needed the business, however we were a little surprised the cruise ships took the risk. Some who did tender told us how bad it was and how they got wet from the waves and how long the trip took. Others told us it was not as bad as it looked. The time to get there and get back seemed to long for us so we stayed aboard and hung out at the pool and drank rumrunners. We watched them set up the tables, etc. for the sail away party barbecue and watched them take it all down later as the winds picked up and rain threatened.
We were told about the person falling off the Costa ship the night before. The ship was still anchored in port when we left. We heard at least five versions of how the incident happened. Later in the early evening our ship encountered even higher seas and Rita was to ill to go to diner. Was it the seas or was it the rumrunners, or was it a combination of both? She said it was just the motion of the seas. Anyway, we just stayed in our stateroom and watched a couple movies. After we went to bed the seas got even worse, up to 15-20 foot swells. It was kinda like trying to sleep on a roller coaster, but we did manage to.
The next morning Rita was fine and very, very hungry! It was a sea day and my birthday and the seas calmed down a lot from the night before. It was a little chilly for the pools, so we watched some football in the sports bar and made some additional donations to the casino to make up for missing a night. That evening we had reservations at Le Bistro with others to celebrate my birthday. We asked for a certain waiter that we were supposed to get, however when we arrived we were assigned to someone else. The service was not good. The food was fine, but in our opinion not any better than the 'free' dining rooms. A couple of us ordered the chocolate fondue for dessert and they brought the fruit and forgot the chocolate. (duh)
The dreaded disembarkation day did not concern us to much as our flight was not until 4:20 in the afternoon and our day would be spent just waiting. We looked at taking a Houston excursion tour, however it did not include the Space Center or Aquarium and included the Galleria Mall. Not again, we were malled out.
Once disembarking the ship we sat on the bus for at least and hour before getting into the log jam of buses leaving with the old and arriving with the new cruise paxs. We did not get to the airport until after 1:00. Our friends from Ft Worth were able to use express checkout and take their luggage off themselves. They were gone by 10:00.
The first leg of our trip home was a couple hour layover in Memphis, on Elvis's birthday. Thank you, thank you very much! We arrived home at 8:30 and a daughter and two of our grand kids picked us up and we walked in our door about 9:00 pm. Rita spent the next 3 hours removing the braids that took 2 hours to do in the Bahamas.
We had great weather the entire cruise except for the high seas on day and night 8. Although it threatened that day, it never rained. All in all we had a great cruise with great friends and met a lot of folks from all over--England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and of course, the good old USA. Freestyle dining is probably not our cup of tea. You don't really connect with any of your waiters and the service varies a lot. We are glad that freestyle is offered because it is a choice that many folks would like. With as many cruise lines and ships available there is plenty of room for choices, just like most other products.