We are back in New Orleans where it is 68 F and very foggy. This is the first of several posts about our Western Caribbean Cruise
Our first cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines left the Port of New Orleans on Sunday afternoon, right on time at 4PM. We have cruised with other lines but never Norwegian, and after reading the reviews and hearing a few stories from friend Maryruth, we didn’t have any expectations for anything other than a simple cruise to escape some of the cold weather on the mainland. I had heard rumors about the food being ‘not-so-great’ and had my own hesitation about spending a week amidst those primary colors that so characterize this NCL ship.
I was right about the primary colors. They are everywhere, but instead of being jarring they are energizing. Actually, it’s a lot of fun walking the long hallways on this ship, with bright turquoise doors, brightly colored fish on the carpet, and warm teakwood walls. In fact, that brilliant turquoise is everywhere….in the tiles on our bathroom floor….in the brilliant velvet seats in the theater… in the main Atrium lobby mid-ship.
With no expectations for luxury, imagine my delight to find that the bed in the stateroom is one of the best we can remember on any cruise in the last 11 years. We had no need to beg for a piece of foam to make it tolerable, with the firm, non sagging surface nicely cushioned and honest to goodness real feather pillows. With calm seas last night, I slept like a baby.
The embarkation process was interesting, with much longer lines before the security checkpoint than we remembered in the past, but once through security the boarding process was quick and efficient. Unlike other lines, NCL not only takes the ID photo at the check in desk, but also registers your spending credit card at that time. No extra work required.
We had read about the restaurants, and knew that we wanted to try at least one paid restaurant. Having already decided on the Brazilian steakhouse, it was convenient to make a reservation at a desk along the walkway to the ship, even before we boarded. Once we entered the ship, there were bright balloons and banners everywhere, and a LOT of noise and a LOT of people. Everything seemed very festive.
Going on a cruise does require an ability to set aside a distaste for crowds, at least for a time, and just relax into the fun of watching all the crazy people who go on a cruise. This particular cruise seemed much different than others we have experienced in several ways, the kind of people cruising being one of the most notable. Although there are people our age along, there are also a great number, the majority, of younger folks. So far no one has been particularly boisterous in a negative way, but the high energy and willingness to have a good time is clearly evident.
We noticed it especially during the Sail Away deck party last night. No stuffy people here! Folks were jumping out and dancing and even with the cool temperatures the top decks were full of excited people having fun and enjoying the beautiful views of New Orleans as we cruised down the mighty Mississippi toward the Gulf of Mexico. The great river meanders in wide circles as it flows east and south, and a couple of hours after embarkation, we found ourselves looking once again at the New Orleans skyline.
Mo and I laughed as we passed an old building destroyed by Katrina, that we recognized from our drive back and forth from the NAS at Belle Chasse, and waved at the MoHo somewhere nearby waiting for our return. Accompanied by a beautiful red sun dropping below the horizon, we explored the ship a bit before returning to our room where our luggage was waiting. It is always good to see your luggage by that door! Since we are traveling for 3 months in the MoHo, with extra space somewhat limited, Mo and I managed to consolidate our cruise luggage for the 7 day cruise to one medium sized suitcase and a couple of carry-ons.
Our stateroom at first seemed smaller than we were used to, and the balcony holds two chairs and a very small table. Instead of the wide open balconies on Princess, these are enclosed, with the opening to the sea outside the sliding doors more of a very large porthole than a true balcony. However, the biggest reason for a balcony is to have the ability to open the doors to the sea, and fresh air, so the lack of direct sunshine isn’t too difficult to manage. The other nice thing about this is that no one is looking down on us from above, and so far it seems we have been spared the invisible smoking neighbors that can ruin a balcony cruise.
Our room has drapes that are bright shades of turquoise, the carpet is orange, turquoise, and purple. The walls are warm teak and the pictures on the walls are brilliant colors of the Caribbean. I wonder what that is like when the ship is cruising to Alaska as it does before it returns to New Orleans?!
Once unpacked and settled in, we found that the smaller cabin wasn’t a problem, since the bathroom was quite roomy, with separate areas for the toilet, the sink, and the shower, each enclosed by sliding glass doors. The closet is much smaller than Princess closets, but with only one case between us, that wasn’t a problem. Without the formal dress requirements on this cruise, maybe big closets are not a necessity. We have plenty of room, the space below the bed is large enough to store empty luggage with ease, and there are nice cubbyholes here and there that accommodate everything.
We opted for our first dinner on board in the Tsar’s Palace formal dining room. Dressed in capris and decent tops, we were a bit concerned about the written requirement that ladies wear skirts in this dining room. We didn’t bring skirts on this cruise and certainly didn’t want to don our dresses. We were among the more conservatively dressed people, however, and I think we saw maybe a skirt or two the entire evening. As I said, this is a very relaxed venue, and formality and stuffiness isn’t part of the experience.
We actually loved the dining room and enjoyed all the high energy conversation and people around us. With the reservation I made in the afternoon for 7 pm, we passed the waiting line and were shown to our table for two immediately. The service was excellent, and the food was great. Not gourmet, but just really good, well prepared food. I forgot to mention that our first meal onboard early in the afternoon was at the Garden Café buffet and it was also quite good.
Sometimes on Princess, the buffet food is lifeless, without flavor, almost institution style. Here we had great salads that were fresh and flavorful, and the flow of the food areas seemed to be much less congested and easy to navigate than we have found in the Horizon Courts on Princess. Hmmmm….so far, NCL is doing a pretty good job of winning us over. We still enjoy Princess, but if this cruise continues as it has begun, we won’t avoid NCL opportunities if the price is right and the destination fits our needs.
The introductory show last night in the theater was just OK, with an interesting mix of performers. There are people from 60 countries serving on this ship and that is reflected in the entertainment venues as well. Especially entertaining, however, was a couple from France that performed a short Cirque routine that was impressive. I am sure we will be sure to catch that one when it is scheduled.
The cruise director seemed to address the audience as working people who were on vacation rather than retirees on a cruise. There seems to be a lot of entertainment on board in the various bars and restaurants, but we opted for those comfy beds. Our morning waiting around in the hotel had been exhausting. Can’t figure that out at all, but we were worn out and ready for bed when the show ended at ten.
This morning we slept till 7, very late for us, but with no cat walking on our head and no dog clicking her paws on the tile, there was nothing to wake us at 5. We are on deck 8, right by the elevators, so are doing well at avoiding getting lost. The Garden Café is on the 12th deck and again, we found the breakfast to be flavorful and delightful. The bacon actually tasted like bacon and the watermelon was fresh and perfectly ripe.
Taking our coffee to the aft covered patio, we relaxed and enjoyed the slightly warmer breezes coming from the Gulf. Still sweatshirt weather, but much warmer than New Orleans. Took to the track to walk a mile, then down to the shopping area to see what was on board. This area is much different than the individual shops on Princess. Here the duty free shop is one large venue and has the usual mish mash of cutesy stuff for sale, as well as liquor and cigarettes, candy bars, sweatshirts and perfume.
Wandering back to our room, I decided I wanted a good cappuccino and stopped in at the mid ship coffee bar. We managed to get to the central atrium just in time for the cooking demonstration, yet early enough to snag a couple of comfortable chairs. I must say that this was the most entertaining mid-ship show I have ever seen.
Of course, I didn’t have the camera with me….so I don’t have any kind of record of the fantastic demonstration put on the by sushi chefs, making a California Roll recipe, and then passing around perfect bites and an entire plate of beautiful sushi that was shared by the lucky recipient in the front row. That demonstration was followed by the Executive Chef who seared a perfect filet and then made a fabulous green peppercorn sauce as accompaniment. Perfect little bites of filet and sauce with the potato au gratin were again passed around the crowd. The final demonstration was of a delightful little French apple dessert with caramel, and of course we all got a bit of that as well. The highlight of the show, however, was put on by the knife wielding tableside chefs of the Teppanyaki Restaurant.
Of course, they were tempting us to pay the various fees for the 8 specialty dining venues that range in cost from $15 to $30 per person and as much as $99 for some fancy French 9 course dinner. Some folks are not happy with the paid venues, thinking that a cruise should provide this kind of dining experience as part of the package cost. There are two formal dining rooms available with no extra charge. This cruise was relatively inexpensive, and for the cost we are getting a great deal. I am willing to pick and choose from more luxurious meals if I wish to do so.
I must leave in a few minutes for my pedicure! Can’t hit the beaches of Cozumel with chipped toenails!
Late afternoon: The seas are still calm, and with our east facing cabin on the port side of the ship, we are in the afternoon shadow. The warmth in the air seems to increase with every hour. I am from the west side of the US. Disliking humidity is supposed to be part of the western genetic makeup, and like most anyone else, I don’t particularly like 99 percent humidity and 99 degrees on a hot summer day. But there is something about being enveloped in warm, moist, tropical air that smells of sea and flowers that is so incredibly soothing. My skin, dry and cracked from winter cold and dry air, sucks up the moisture like an old cactus that hasn’t seen rain in a year.
My time in the spa was delightful, with a pampering foot massage to accompany my pedicure. Surprisingly, it cost no more than such treatment costs back home in Klamath Falls, without the addition of a sea view and a few flying fish to entertain me here and there.
Mid-afternoon Mo and I decided to go to the pool deck, and while there was the usual shortage of deck chairs around the pool, Deck 13, just above the pools, had a couple of chairs for us near the railing with a view below. Mo settled in with her book and I went back down the stairs to the pool. There are two pools mid-ship on deck 12, with one designated for adults only. There were a few people in the water, but no one was really swimming. I jumped in and had enough room to do a few laps after I adjusted to the chilly water. Diving below the surface, I was surprised to come up for air with salty water in my eyes. These pools are salt water from the ocean, crystal clear but very salty. The salt makes the water especially buoyant, which is fun for swimming and just floating on your back looking at the sky.
Beside the pools are hot tubs, popular on this moderately cool afternoon, and a nice fresh water shower to get the salt out of your hair. Back to my deck chair in the sun and a bit of an afternoon snack. Are you getting the idea? The people around me are basically irrelevant. They provide visual entertainment to go along with the very good Latin band that is playing poolside. Some folks are really enjoying the Spanish lyrics and singing along. Mo reads, I nap until I get too chilled from my wet swim suit and suggest we might go back to our cabin.
As I watch the sky, feel the air, and listen to the music, I keep thinking of all those people I know who say they would hate to go on a cruise. Too boring, too confining, too many people….all the usual responses of non cruisers who insist it must be just awful. I am an outdoor person, I love to hike and bike and kayak, I love camping in wild places, boondocking in the desert, and yes….I do love a good cruise! Especially with interesting skies, calm seas, and warm air.