Welcome to my first blog and thank you for visiting! I hope you enjoy all the detail and photos compiled from our holiday trip to the Caribbean. Any mistakes are my own, and if you have feedback for me, please feel free to contact me via the links. I am new to this, so appreciate your patience as I find the right balance of detail that would be helpful to you for your trip, and tech products that will make your trip easier.
We have this cool luggage digital scale and it’s saved our bacon a few times in reswizzling stuff from one bag to the next so we can board our plane easily…
Our ship boarded from the Port of Miami, Florida (Port of Miami). We have stayed at a variety of hotels near the Miami Port – they all have been just fine for a one night stay prior to cruises. It’s a very short taxi ride (or Uber/Lyft as we prefer), to the port. This view is from the Hilton Miami Downtown (Hilton Miami Downtown), but we’ve been equally as happy at the Hilton Doubletree next door (Hilton Doubletree Miami Biscayne Bay). It is SO much fun to book a room with an ocean view and see the ships in port when you wake up to this gorgeous sunrise! This is one of our favorite port boarding terminals as it’s clean, organized, and large enough to handle multiple ships embarking/disembarking at one time. Yes, there might be a bit of chaos with the taxi line, but we find if we arrive around 11a, it’s a bit quieter than waiting until noon and they’ve never turned us away at that time. The porters will take your bags curbside (and they do remind you to tip them, suggested $2/bag), and you will need to walk across the street to the nearest port entrance (appx 10 steps to climb to get to security). You will have passports and boarding passes checked, and then be security screened before entrance into the ship processing area. Make your life easier and order the bag tags early!
If you are booked into the Haven area (Norwegian Haven), there is a specific room that is used for obtaining documentation, taking pictures for key cards, and setting up payment terms. If you have children with you, you will be able to give them the ability to use their key card for charges (or NOT!) at this time. There are snacks and coffee/water in this area. Once a few people have checked in, there is an escort that will take you into the actual ship boarding area. This Miami port has a nice waiting room for Haven guests that also has comfy red couches and snacks while you wait for the ship to be cleared for boarding.
Also a good time to get your Lanyards out and load up your brand new boarding cards. You will these to get on and off the ship, every time. My child never seems to wear anything with pockets, so this has been a lifesaver.
Estimated time for this ship was 11:30a and they were spot on time.
Once the ship is cleared, you will again be escorted thru the terminal to board the ship. Your key card is used from this point forward for embark/disembark.
We were then escorted to the Haven, 16th Floor of the ship, to the main lounge area. At this point, we met our concierge (Virginia) and were greeted with welcome mocktails and sliders while we waited on our rooms to be cleaned. You are welcome to roam most areas of the ship and tour the Haven at this time as well. You also can drop your bags in your room (ensuring you are not blocking any access for the cleaning staff).
The Haven is a private “boutique” hotel at the top of the ship with many special amenities, such as a dedicated restaurant, pool area, hot tubs, sun decks, spa treatment rooms, saunas and the Haven bar. These areas are exclusively for Haven guests and allow for a very quiet spot away from the 4000+ people on the ship. The rooms are very upscale (as you’ll see from our photos below), and the service is top notch. There are dedicated concierge staff, butlers and housekeeping staff that truly spoil you silly during the week.
Note- each ship’s Haven experience is just a bit different, so take the time to understand what is offered on your particular ship. For example, the Norwegian Getaway (Norwegian Getaway) has an amazing two story pool/sun deck area vs. some of the ships have just one floor, pool area and a limited number of deck chairs. We will share photos below so you’re clear on what the Getaway ship offers as of 12/2017.
We booked a Haven 2 bedroom family villa with balcony (Norwegian Haven 2 bedroom family villa with balcony)
Main Living Room:
The main living room consists of your 4-chair dining table, kitchen station (coffee, glassware, refrigerator and ice), Couch (which also is a full size bed if needed), desk area that included phone, reference phone numbers and dialing instructions ($4.99/minute for ship to shore calls while at sea), pen & notepad & flat screen TV.
There is a power outlet in the desk area, and one behind an end table that is reasonably accessible. The desk also has several drawers, so if you do have someone using the couch, there is a bit of storage for them here.
There are 4 coathooks by the front door- we used these for light jackets as it rained a few mornings of our journey, and they are handy for lanyards so no key cards are lost in the room.
Note that in the Haven, not many surfaces are magnetic- so the cruiser tips of “bring magnetic clips, etc., as the walls are all steel” is not good information for this ship.
Note that items in the refrigerator will NOT be replenished, and even if you have a drink package, they are not included in your package. We learned this the hard way a couple cruises ago when we paid $6 per bottle of water. Be sure to note what is included and what is not!
Your dining table will be the main ‘delivery’ area for daily Hors d’oeuvres, wine deliveries, etc. Our daily schedules for the following day were left on the master bed each evening along with cute towel animal creations. There will be an initial fruit basket delivered, and this was replenished freely throughout our cruise.
Your TV is a good source of information. You can access you current account balance (which is exceptionally helpful throughout the cruise), however, it does not track individual charges. You will see cards for each person, but they put all charges under one master name; so my husband’s account listed all charges from all cards. It does help to monitor how many arcade games your kids are playing! The TV also has pay-per-view movies, but the price listed on all was $0. They were fairly recent movies as well (similar to the selection on the plane ride to Miami on Delta). You can also make dinner and show reservations from your TV, however, if you are in the Haven, I would highly recommend you use the concierge as they usually have a hold-back for Haven guests that is not visible anywhere public.
The Master Bedroom is beautiful, as you can see from the pictures. In comparison to typical Cruise ship rooms, it’s a dream. The bed is incredibly comfortable and there is a “pillow menu” available (if you’d like a wedge or down filled pillow for example). Total heaven!
There are small nightstands on each side, however, one table is almost exclusively used by the phone. There are reading lights (adjustable) on each side of the bed as well as lighting switches to set a variety of lighting levels. There is also extensive cabinetry/drawers along one wall- and specifically double closets so you each have plenty of room for your things.
By the way, the safe is quite small; sunglasses demonstrate (our laptops did not fit).
The makeup desk has several drawers plus shelves that run up the wall, so you have plenty of room for makeup, hair supplies, etc. There is a blowdryer as well as a diffuser, which is a nice touch. A magnification makeup mirror is also bolted to the desk and has a day/night feature.
There is a sliding door (a real one!) to close the master bedroom door off from the living room. You do need to lock it into place at night, else you risk it opening and closing with the movement of the boat (made that mistake on our very first cruise years ago!)
As you can see from the photos, it’s gorgeous! The floor to ceiling windows out to the ocean (in the shower no less!) makes for stunning views. Yes, there are blinds too if there is a ship nearby- but for the most part, it’s just FUN and an experience you cannot miss. The toilet is a separate glass enclosed room; but there is just glass (striped) between the shower and the toilet. There is a heavy curtain (not a door) that separates the bathroom from the bedroom.
The bathroom supplies provided are from the spa and are wonderful products.
The bathtub is also awesome with ocean views; my daughter insists on one time she gets to use the tub uninterrupted during our trip for her hot bubble bath. Great feature.
There is some storage in the bathroom as well; drawers as well as a wall of shelves. We have yet to use all the space provided.
I believe the new Haven configurations only offer a full 2nd bedroom with bathroom (shower/toilet configuration) in the 2 bedroom family suite. I know there are other owners suite rooms in the Haven that offer 2 bathrooms, but the second is a guest bath with only a toilet and sink. Be sure to check the details and floor plan of your room specifically. I have included pictures of our daughter’s bedroom for your review. Not only is there a full size couch/pull out bed, but there is also a bunk that you can pull down from the ceiling, so you could fit three children in this room.
The bathroom is a decent size and no complaints from our daughter since she has her privacy.
There is a long shelf for her makeup and personal items, plus hanging closet space and shelves that can be hidden behind the curtain. There is a full closing door to her room. These rooms are VERY dark since there are no windows, so we like to bring a snow globe (holiday cruises) or night lite for the room with an automatic timer.
There is a flat panel TV in this room as well.
The balcony is pretty small, but two can fit out here fairly comfortably. There is a small table and it makes for a nice spot to have your morning coffee. The balcony is off of the main living room, so you don’t wake the kids at all entering and exiting, which is also nice. There are some small padded stools in the living room and it’s fairly easy to bring one of them out to the balcony- at least one fits! Just be sure to take them back in when you’re done as they are not outside furniture.
While you do have a metal wall on one side (your bathroom wall is typically on the other side), you do not have sound privacy from the room next door. If you (or they) are talking on the patio, you’re going to hear each other. Most times people are considerate and quiet, but just so you know 🙂
Haven Common Areas:
We’ve enclosed pictures of the main Haven areas so you can get an idea of the amount of space that is truly dedicated to the Haven suites. My favorite part is the pool area and upper sundeck. There is fabulous relaxing areas whether you want sun (or not), hot tub, pool or even breakfast or lunch by the pool. Fantastic layout on this ship and my very favorite Haven configuration.
There was good pool chair availability during Christmas week (full ship), and while sea days were generally packed, we had no problem finding chairs upstairs on the sundeck. There is bar service provided, and the staff was fabulous at ensuring you had what you needed. If wind safety is not an issue during travel days, they will also bring around lunch menus between Noon and 2. I’ve included a picture of the pool menu so you can get an idea of what is served. If you want full lunch, you simply go to the Haven restaurant (or this outdoor Haven seating by the pool) and they have a more extensive selection. Also, the way the sundeck upstairs is configured DOES help with sea day wind- it’s not perfect, but you can typically find a corner chair or two that isn’t getting hammered with wind. They’ve done a nice job with glass walls here and there to help with this challenge while the ship is moving.
There are two hot tubs near the pool; on sea days, kids were in them during the day (as it is holiday week!), but I can imagine during non-school holidays this would be a bit calmer.
There is a central lounge area with quite a few comfy couches and places to gather. The bar is here as well and you’re typically served by a wonderful staff who are cheery and willing to get creative with drinks (if you wish).
It tends to be quieter at the Haven bar- so if you desire a bit of respite from the craziness of the bigger bars on the ship, it’s perfect. If you want a party crowd- all you have to do is head down a floor or two to one of the other public bars to join in the fun. There are limited snacks provided during the evenings; we had toasted lentils and some type of fried peas. Some ships have canisters of chips/snacks, so it just depends on what was stocked. When it gets late, it’s nice to have something salty with your drink.
A note on stairs- on this ship, you can get most anywhere via the elevators, so whether you are on 15 or 16 in the Haven, you don’t HAVE to take stairs. You may have to exit Haven to use the public elevator, so you can get to the concierge desk without taking stairs if you need.
There are two spa treatment rooms and a sauna area if you wish. You can book your appointments via the concierge and use these rooms if you wish to only trek around in your robe in the Haven 🙂 Very nice offering!
The concierge desk is on 16th floor and right by the bar/lounge area. The desk is usually manned and is very busy. You can find brochures on excursions, future sailings, spa menus etc. here. Also, the concierge is truly very, very helpful in getting show tickets, excursions, dinner reservations, etc. This is also the main meeting spot for pre-show Haven benefits- which I will explain below.
Early embark/disembark: I’ve described early embark above in the Boarding Section above. A very nice Haven benefit is that you get to disembark in an expedited fashion at port stops via a back elevator on 16th floor. You simply head to the concierge desk when you’d like to disembark and they will escort you to the elevator and down to 4th floor and you’re basically slid into the front of the line to exit. Fantastic feature and saves a ton of time waiting in line.
Early access to shows: If you’ve booked show tickets (Like Cirque or Illusionarium), your concierge will let you know what time to meet at the concierge desk. They will escort you to the show via a back entrance and you get prior seating before they open the doors to the public. For certain shows (like Million Dollar Quartet or the other Musicals) there is a dedicated Haven area seating (on this ship it was rows 1-10 stage left) and there is a representative checking ship cards to ensure you are a Haven guest before you can sit there. They will keep these seats held until 10 minutes prior to show time, at which point they remove the signage and anyone can fill in the remainder of the seats.
Private spaces: (reviewed above in Haven Common Areas); key card only access into the Haven.
Concierge Desk (invaluable!)
Butler: The butler ensures everything is running smoothly; delivers afternoon canapes; room service if you’ve requested. You can take them just about any issue and they will see to it that it is resolved. They also coordinate any room service requests and ensure timely delivery and professional setup (linen table cloths, silverware, pours the coffee, etc.).
Room Service: On this ship, room service is free only in Haven/Suites, else there is a $7.95 convenience charge. We had room service breakfast scheduled a few days and it arrived on time, was nice and hot and we were able to lounge around a bit longer than usual!
Afternoon Canapes: These typically arrive between 2:30-3:30p each day. There were usually 2-3 plates delivered, each with finger sandwiches, chips, cookies, etc. Very rarely was anything healthy, but I’ve been able to make a few requests in the past (i.e. skip the candy bowls) and the butler has been good about finding those elsewhere.
Norwegian iConcierge app: this was a tough experience on Getaway (worked better on Epic last year). You load the app before you leave home, then you start the app after you board. At this point, you have access to some of the features (such as booking dinner or shows, reviewing the daily schedule, and looking at your onboard account expenditures). We used the app on the Epic to text with our daughter, which was $8.95/person for the whole week. On Getaway, the pricing was increased to $14.95/person for the whole week, so we had to pop for $45 (ouch) just to text our daughter for the week. They have disabled iMessage (which worked on prior ships, and of course was free and no revenue to NCL, so this has been shut down, at least as of 12/2017). What was worse is that app was incredibly inconsistent, you had to restart it regularly and then there would be a flurry of texts arrive. My daughter was very frustrated with this as well. Some days, the app messaging wouldn’t even open. Huge flaws in this. The internet cafe manager has extremely limited hours and every time we went down to try to talk to her, the line was 15 people deep. We did see some passengers who brought walkie talkie’s for their kids, but there is no way I would be able to get our teen to keep a handle on one and not lose it. Her phone is her camera, so not an option to go without the phone. Big fail on this app at the moment. For us, it’s a safety issue, I want to keep tabs on my teen; so until the app can have consistent performance, to ensure safety, they need to leave iMessage alone (my opinion).
Onboard Internet: Very difficult on this trip. I attribute some of the speed issues to the fact that the ship was very full (Holiday trip), but also we are at sea, so understand the technology is not perfect in this area. It’s very expensive and the “meter” that tracks your minutes doesn’t consistently log you off. We really struggled with this issue. We had 250 minutes included “free” as part of our cabin purchase, but they were pushing upgrades for business type access (think VPN, etc.). These options were very costly, and we determined that you would have to pick a different land based vacation if you really needed to work. We both had backups for work, so it wasn’t as critical for us, but I saw quite a few frustrated people who really needed to access a document or two trying to work with the internet manager to make something work correctly. A “special” on the last day was 30 minutes of internet for $25 so you can print boarding passes (or 99c a minute if you think you can do it faster). And that was a special folks- so it’s very expensive!
Smart TV: This worked a little better, although while in Haven, it’s best to use the concierge for dinner and show reservations as they have usually held back a block for Haven reservations, in most cases. Account review functionality worked, however, it showed all charges (for all 3 of us), on my husbands account only, so if you’re trying to track a specific child, it did not display under the child who charged the item. Pay per view was very good and other than it reset once and we couldn’t resume the show (had to FF from beginning), all worked well. Pay per View prices were $0 for all shows.
Touchscreens throughout ship: These were ‘iffy’; those in highly congested spots seem to have lost their touch ability, however, if you found a screen that was in a quiet part of the ship, those seemed to work. I still could not book a dinner reservation as the restaurant showed full; but when I called concierge, they handled it directly. They were good for schedules and to see what was currently happening on the ship.
Ship Phones: We did have two regular phones and one handheld phone in our suite. We primarily used them for calling the concierge, etc. and they were completely functional. I had to make a ship to shore call to deal with a stolen credit card number, $4.99/minute and it worked fine as well. Lastly, my husband took the handheld to the customer service desk (10 floors away), and I was able to reach him without an issue by dialing from the room. If your child is willing to carry the handheld around, you could use this method of finding them, but my guess is the phone would be lost in about 5 minutes!
Photo technology: There are stations around this ship where you can take random photos of your group. Nice feature and the quality was pretty good. You enter your stateroom number for tracking. You can visit the photo area at any time to see the entire collection of all photos taken of you (disembarking at ports, restaurant shots, etc.) and chose those you wish to purchase. The photographers on the ship are absolutely fantastic. Most nights, there were several stations setup throughout the ship so you could take a posed shot in dressy attire. As it was Christmas, there were many families taking large group photos and this was done fairly efficiently. There is one area by Le Bistro on 6th floor that the staircase was used for large group photos- basically blocking the staircase from being used at all during those moments- so that was a bit of a klunky design!
Roatan, Honduras, Rony’s Tours (www.ronystours.com):
Note this stop is an island near Honduras, not mainland Honduras. The port was a typical Caribbean port, and once you left the area, it was extremely crowded with people offering taxi rides, fees to pet a monkey, etc.
As we had prebooked with Rony via his website above prior to our trip, we were given very specific instructions on the exit gate and where to meet our driver. Arnold was at the designated meeting spot, waiting for us with a sign, so we were off to a great start.
The area around the port is a bit rough; garbage piled around the street and buildings, starving dogs, etc. It had rained recently, so it was also VERY muddy and the roads are in pretty rough shape. (Taken from a moving car, sorry about the photo quality!)
You can completely customize your trip based on what you want to see and we desired to see some of the wildlife, get a good overview of the island layout, economic and political climate, and spend a bit of time at the beach where we could have a nice lunch with a view. Arnold first took us to an ‘overlook’ area where we could see our cruise ship from the top of the mountain.
There were a few tent/booths setup with local artisans selling their wares. Arnold said these were folks from his neighborhood. He showed us the local school and a few of the typical homes.
Our next stop was a wildlife reserve that is home to monkeys, sloths and a variety of birds. The fee was $10 cash/person for entry (you are able to use credit cards for other “goods” purchased, but not the entry fee apparently). Arnold arranged a dedicated guide for us and we spent about 45 minutes enjoying playing with the animals and learning about their habitat and eating habits. My daughter said this was her favorite part of our entire trip! The sloths were incredible to hold!
After scrubbing up, we then headed back to the car to meet Arnold for our next stop, West Bay. He took us to a private beach area thru a restaurant called “Bananarama”. ( Bananarama Roatan Honduras West Bay/) We paid $10 each (and could use a credit card here) for beach access, a table for dining and access to the beach chairs in front of the restaurant. There were security people monitoring the use of the chairs pretty consistently. There were hawkers on the beach, but they did not frequent the restaurant tables as much. We were seated “beachfront” so we had a great view!! I decided to enjoy a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich and fries, hubby had the pulled pork and my daughter had fish tacos. We also decided to try the local beer. Total bill was $57 pre tip and they accepted credit cards. Very slow service, but you’re on island time.
We spent a couple hours at the beach, and then met Arnold for our last leg of the trip, the “Island Tour.” Arnold showed us a variety of villages around the island, along with some of the newer developments for Ex Pats living in Roatan. There are definitely some beautiful condos, hotels and golf course resorts on the island, and many new developments. All in all, it was a very nice day, Arnold was super informative, the car was clean and he was a great driver (albeit very difficult to work around those potholes!). Total cost for Rony’s tour was $90 for 3 people, plus a tip.
Belize, Harvest Caye
This port is a “cruise ship stop”, so basically an island area that has been specifically built up for the cruise ship access (easy in/easy out), with plenty of facilities for the large ships that can be very difficult to replicate in a Caribbean town. Of course, if your purpose for cruising is to actually explore Belize, then this isn’t a stop you’d be very interested in, but if you just want a beach day, or a great big play pool, then here you are! (Harvest Caye, Belize)
What’s really nice about this stop is that it is so LARGE! Granted, we were the only ship in port today and it looks like two can stop at a time, so it may not feel so roomy in that situation. There are plenty of experiences to select from including, a huge pool with waterslides, etc. The beachside has tons of umbrellas, chairs, etc., or you can splurge for some of the ‘villa’ options that give you your own HOUSE on the island for the day, including air conditioning and bathrooms! You can build the experience you want to have!
The cruise ships DO offer excursions to mainland Belize, but be prepared for long commutes from this particular location. It is also quite a walk (if you have difficulty with this) from the ship to the beach, however, Norwegian had golf carts available for transport back and forth- you may just need to wait in a line a bit for access.
We decided to stay beachside in a few lounge chairs under a couple palm trees- it was quite hot and direct sun would have been very intense. We were quickly greeted by a server. We had local beers (4), virgin daiquiri (1) and nachos by the ocean, total bill was $37 pre-tip. This is also a great spot to watch the zip liners fly by! They also have water sports and water slides and some pretty cool play areas for the kids.
There were several food options, but the main restaurant was Landsharks (they mentioned Jimmy Buffet franchise). I’ve included pictures of the drink menu so you can get an idea of selections and pricing. It wasn’t too bad! My husband had a burger and his was the best meal at the table; my Chicken Caesar salad was passable (although huge) and my daughter had wings and said they were super hot. We each had one drink, total bill was $60 pre tip.
Bathrooms on the island were super clean as well.
Costa Maya, Mexico, Mahahual Beach, “Krazy Lobster”
Our 3rd stop was Costa Maya; this is definitely another “cruise ship stop” where the port has been built specifically for (and by) the cruise ship companies. The port facility is HUGE, has it’s own activities, such as a big pool right in the middle of the port area, many bars, shops and restarants. It’s really quite well done if you just wish to get off the ship for a couple hours to browse or sun.
We typically build our own itinerary’s and work with local businesses (if we can and feel safe doing so), and we had researched the best ‘local’ flavor beach, which was Mahahaul beach. First, it is DIFFICULT to find the exit to the port- they’d rather you just stay there, but eventually, you wind around behind the pool and there is a “shuttle to city” sign that will take you out to the front gates. You have to walk out those gates and you will generally see taxi availability.
TripAdvisor contributors recommended a place called “The Krazy Lobster” that sits right on Mahahual beach. (Krazy Lobster Costa Maya Mexico) The taxi will drop you right in front of the entrance and you will be welcomed quickly ($2/person port to resort, confirm before you get in the car). You are taken to a table on the beach (and expected to order something); great views here of course, and you are also welcome to use the few beach chairs they have in front of their area. We were told most restaurants will let you use their lounge chairs as long as you are ordering. Initially, service was very quick; they have Coronitas (mini Coronas), 10 for $10- pretty good deal. They bring them out in an ice bucket.
The service slowed down tremendously after we receivedd our meal (Fish Tacos, 3 for $9, they were “ok”; Guacamole was $4 and was fabulous and Sprites were $2/each). A TripAdvisor writer stated they are NOT to add sales tax, but our server did and said it was required, so tip added to that as well. Note that there are hawkers everywhere and we were interrupted every 2 mins or so. Doesn’t bother us, but I know some folks who get grumpy about it. However, you can’t beat the view!!
There are MANY restaurants with the same type of setup here, so do your homework on TripAdvisor and find the spot best for you. There is also alot of shopping in this beach area; behind the restaurants are tons of shops with trinkets, pottery, rugs, etc. All negotiable of course. $2 cab fare back to port as well; some folks did let us know that the later in the day you wait to take the taxi back, your pricing may increase.
Cozumel, Mexico, Cozumel Cooking Class
We have been to Cozumel quite a few times, so we felt comfortable arranging our own excursion here as well. We selected the “Cozumel Cooking Class” which is held at the Kondesa restaurant. Cozumel Cooking Class This was MY favorite stop of the trip 🙂 If your ship is docking in the port of Punta Lagosta (there are multiple cruise ship ports), this one is just a few short blocks walk from the port- and for those Starbucks fan, there is one on the way.
Class started at 10a and we had just 7 people in our class- very comfortable size. The restaurant is under a huge Palapa, so where else can you take a cooking class like this??
We were given a very warm welcome from Chef Daniel and he gave us a nice overview of the day, along with a bit of a history lesson on the origins of some of the foods (including Mayan) that we would be preparing. We then moved to our assigned tables and over the course of appx 3 hours, made 3 different kinds of salsas, made our own corn masa tortillas (they helped a bit with chef made “fillings”), learned to make amazing Margaritas (with tamarind no less), prepared our fish in a banana leaf, and topped the day off with churros in dipping sauces.
We did sit down to a “family style” table to enjoy all our dishes at the end of the class. The restaurant chef augmented our menu by preparing 3 different kinds of Guacamole and fresh chips, Chicken tortilla soup (amazing) and a side of black beans. Our meal was fantastic and we would definitely do this excursion again (~$250 for 3, plus tip, appx 3 hours).
Ship Common Areas:
The Getaway is my absolute favorite ship from Norwegian when I am traveling with the entire family. There is SO much to do, but it also has nooks and crannies to find a few minutes of quiet (crazy when there are 4000+ cruisers on the ship!) We have cruised Norwegian on the below ships for comparison.
There are just too many activities and spots on the ship to review them all, so I will focus on those that seem most popular for the 40-60 age set; plus my teenager’s favorites.
Restaurants: Here are our top 5 (and it’s tough as there are 26 of them on this ship!)
- La Cucina: We love the outdoor patio on the Waterfront in La Cucina. This was the perfect sail away spot. Just book your reservation at “all aboard” time and it will take about an hour for the ship to be prepared to leave (usually while watching a gorgeous sunset).
The food at La Cucina is also fabulous; try the Osso Buco!
- Le Bistro: For a very upscale experience, we love Le Bistro. Men need to wear a jacket and they do suggest dressier attire for women. It’s a beautiful restaurant with top notch service and food. The menu is traditional French and there are a few must try items.
Must try items include Coq au Vin (amazing), the Dover Sole was very good, and the frisee salad with goat cheese was fantastic. My husband and daughter said the French Onion soup (with Gruyere crust) was out of this world. Of course, we had to enjoy the profiteroles and wonderful French press coffee as well. Fabulous meal.
- Cagneys: Cagneys is typically my husband’s favorite restaurant on the ship. Big Steaks, big potatoes, you get the picture 🙂 However, this particular visit wasn’t all that great (Unfortunately, we went on Christmas Day for dinner); the steaks were over cooked, and the overall meal with sides was just mediocre. The sommelier was the highlight of the meal and made it all better however! He recommended a beautiful Vanilla liqueur for dessert after asking me a few questions as to my post dinner preferences. As we’ve had such a great experience at Cagneys on the other ships, we will assume the just had an “off” night or it was super busy due to the holiday. Don’t miss it.
- Haven Restaurant: What’s great about this little spot is it is just for Haven guests. Usually quite quiet (unless it’s a holiday week and then you will have large family groups and multi-generation tables). The Haven restaurant on this ship seems quite a bit smaller than others, so spillover seating ended up in the bar area and the pool on several occasions. The menu did not change for the week; but we did have several good meals here. Breakfast is a no-brainer here; there is a breakfast buffet with fruit, cheeses, pastries and cold meats; plus a menu to order items such as eggs benedict, french toast, etc.
For dinner, the menu had items such as prime rib, short rib on polenta, a sea bass option and fantastic soups.
- O’Sheehans: This is the family fun spot (in our opinion). They offer the earliest breakfast, bar snacks and a full menu for dinner. It’s right in the middle of the ship and always super busy. It is also centered around the Atrium, so when there are programs in the Atrium, it’s a good spot to watch from above. In addition to the food (fairly mediocre, but think homestyle comfort food like meatloaf or fish & chips), they do have many games (pool tables, dart boards, skeeball, etc.) PLUS a bowling alley. All the games have a nominal charge to them.
Speaking of the Atrium- there are MANY activities happening in this location; funny games like Deal or No Deal, Not so Newlyweds, dance offs, lip sync competitions, demonstrations on folding towels, meeting the officers, etc. Be sure to watch the schedule for what is on the schedule, sometimes it’s a nice break from the sun.
Bars: There are many bars on the ship; but we had three that became our “go-to” for the trip.
- Haven Bar: Since it is private, you get to know the bartender quite well and most evenings, he would have a favorite drink ready to go upon arrival (maybe we spent too much time a the Bar!)
- Sunset Bar & Cigar Lounge: Inside and outside venues and VERY comfortable! There is also a cigar bar right by here with comfy couches and an enclosed area for specialty cigar smoking.
- Sugarcane Mojito Bar: enough said 🙂 Inside and outside venue
Teen Club: I would be remiss not to do a review of the fantastic teen club. My daughter makes sure to go to the “break the ice” party on the first cruise night. So far, the counselors that work these clubs do a great job of ensuring the kids to get to know a few people, and work hard to keep a safe and orderly (but fun) environment. Parents are only allowed to see the place one time, when you sign up your child on embarkation day and then it’s a parent free zone. You are provided a phone number to the club in case you need to try to locate your teen. The teen club does NOT restrict access or exit, so you need to work your own plan to stay connected with your teen. See our review in the Ship Technology section for our experience with the on-board texting app. I’ve included the schedule for the week so you can get an idea of what they do for teens.
Ropes Course: (including a Plank walk!) The kids LOVE this and its usually super busy on sea days.
Slide, Bungee Jump, Chess, Mini Golf and Rock Climbing Wall: It’s difficult to actually get to enjoy all of this! There is also a sport court with something ALWAYS happening on the deck in this area.
Main Pool Area and Kids Play Pool: This area is really huge; there are multi stories and very cool water slides for the kids. The kids play pool is awesome as well and is “just the right size” for toddlers.
Spice H2O & Bliss: The two ‘hot spots’ on the ship for the after hours parties. Spice H2O is an sun spot and bar during the day and a party place at night. They have a HUGE screen on the back of the ship and there are scheduled movies here on certain evenings. Great spot to party if the weather allows at night as well.
Bliss is a great venue for music at night; and during the day, there are scheduled activities in here. It’s adult only in the later evenings, and they offer many ‘theme’ events like “ABBA” memories, 70’s or 80’s theme nights, etc.
Casino: Of course, every ship has a huge casino; we’re not gamblers, so I can’t comment on the quality, but the place was packed round the clock. These pics were taking around 7a 🙂
Spa: I was not able to take any good photos in the spa… they were absolutely PACKED during the holiday week, however, I have included a copy of the menu of services for financial planning purposes. 😉
Waterfront Gelato shop; If you just want to take a walk in the sunshine, there is a wonderful little Gelato shop on the Waterfront (upcharge applies). As you walk this entire deck, you will find many nooks and crannies with comfy outdoor couches to relax. If you prefer, there is typically soft serve ice cream in the Garden Cafe and you can get it ‘to go’ out to the waterfront deck.
Atrium Coffee Shop and Bakery: Prettiest macaroons you’ve ever seen! Nice little respite when you need a shot of caffeine (upcharge applies).
Entertainment: During our holiday week, the scheduled entertainment was a musical, Million Dollar Quartet, which the story about a Nashville record label exec who managed to get Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. GREAT talent and a fantastic show.
We also enjoyed Howl at the Moon dueling piano bar several evenings. This video will not do them justice, and next time, I will figure out how to get better lighting, but this snippet should give you a brief idea as to the level of talent that NCL hires for their ships.
I know all cruise lines have loyalty programs, but I thought I would take a moment and highlight Norwegian Latitudes specifically. (Norwegian Latitudes Program) They automatically enroll you from your first cruise, so you don’t have to remember to do this. Each time you cruise, you receive points based upon the room type and duration of your cruise. We have taken about 10 cruises in total on Norwegian and have reached the Platinum status; there are still two levels higher than where we sit today. With that said, this level comes with some very nice perks that keep us loyal at the moment!
- 30% discount on photos
- 10% discount on shore excursions
- 25% discount on spa treatments during PORT days
- 2 bottled waters for free in room (~$12 value)
- One complimentary bag of laundry (for us~$100 value)
- 15% onboard shopping discount
- 1 bottle of Champagne, chilled in room upon arrival
- Invitation to a Latitudes Cocktail party (although you had to know to go to the service desk and ask for the location & time)
- Coupon for Dinner for 2 at either Cagneys or Le Bistro WITH a bottle of wine (specific selection)
- Coupon for Dinner for 2 at either Moderno or La Cucina
- 30 mins Internet time
- Chocolate Covered Strawberry delivery (day 1)
- 1 behind the scenes tour
Tips & Tools:
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Here are our top Tips & Tricks for your cruise:
- Bring “Thank you” cards to enclose your last day cash tips for special service providers that do not get to partake in the service charge fee (i.e. Butler and Concierge if you’re in the Haven)
- Mark your bags well if you plan on checking them for disembark, they can be difficult to find in the sea of bags if they’re not placed with the right color group.
- Buy reusable embark cruise tags. Most cruises don’t send you tags anymore, you have to print them and somehow attach them to your bag. I saw all sorts of interesting approaches (Staples, clear tape, etc.). Save yourself the hassle and by reusable, waterproof cruise ship tags for embarkation. Easy Peasy, here are the ones we use: Itinerary Luggage Tags for Cruises – Etag Holders Zip Seal & Steel Loops Thick PVC – 8 Pack
- We bring a garment bag (with our own hangers) for very quick pack/unpack. Just shake them out and hang them in the closet. We love our Travelpro and have had it for years.
- Bring a lanyard from home, they are very expensive on the ship and they break easily or the plastic sleeve tears. Here are the ones I ordered on Amazon, they worked great (and are waterproof to boot): CarryLuxe Lanyard with ID Holder Sets (Black,2 Pack)- Flat Polyester ID Lanyard with Retractable Badge Reel & Vinyl Name Badge Holder
- Even though it’s Freestyle, the photographers on the ship are excellent, so take a few dress up outfits for nice family photos.
- Book a reservation for dinner at least once while in port (prior to departure) on the Waterfront- it’s SO nice to have a wonderful meal while watching the sunset while the ship sails slowly away. Typically, “all aboard” is about an hour before sail away. NOT all ships have a Waterfront, so double check the deck plan first.
- If it’s a holiday cruise, consider light up snow globes (with timers) to help keep the room festive at night. This is the one we bought for our daughters room, but there are MANY options on Amazon.
- Precut your wrapping paper for each presentand simply throw a roll of tape in your bag and you can wrap gifts easily on-board (since you cannot fly with wrapped packages)
- We love our Digital Luggage Scale to make sure we don’t over-pack bags with souvenirs on the way home! The one we use is: Etekcity Digital Hanging Luggage Scale, Rubber Paint, Temperature Sensor, 110 Pounds, Silver
- Drink Package– Is it worth it? Do your homework with the menus and prices I’ve provided to determine if the drink package is a reasonable option for you. If you only drink beer and wine, it may be less expensive to buy a multi wine bottle package on the first day and just enjoy those throughout your journey. In our case, it’s typically a better deal for us to have the package, and in the case of the Haven suite, it was included for free, so you can’t beat that.
- Specialty Restaurant Package- is it worth it? Our particular Haven purchase included three specialty restaurants for dinner; then we had two more for our Latitudes membership level (see details in Latitude benefits). So we had more than enough credits to cover our specialty reservations. Ocean Blue was NOT an option during our trip to use your coupons, so that menu would be totally ala carte. This is similar to the sushi restaurant and other options. I’m sure the food is great at those locations, but we were trying to be good at stretching our dollar and could not see paying even more for dinners with so many options “free” to us. I’ve tried to include copies of menus so you can do the math yourself on whether this upgrade is worth it for your personal travel style.
- Iphone Camera Tools:
- We used this entry-level wide angle lens (very affordable!) to help with photographs on our iphone
- This is our “starter” tool to help us with Video-making. Definitely an entry level tool, but it worked for us while we’re getting started blogging.
Enjoy this gorgeous sunset that we time lapsed from our deck 🙂