BACKGROUND: I am 23 years old and this was my third cruise, first on Norwegian (also went on Holland America's Westerdam and Celebrity's Mercury). This cruise was my college graduation present from my mother.
EMBARKATION: Arrived at the ship with not a whole lot of time to spare so that may account for the very long lines to check in. We waited in line for at least an hour. The port (or Norwegian, not sure which) went out of its way to pass out orange juice and ice water to those waiting in line - nice touch! Once we got through that line, we were on the ship and too our room very quickly. Our cabin was just down the hall from the gangway. Our floor (#4) did smell for most of the cruise, kind of a sewage smell.
My mother and I met our friend, Chris from California, that we had originally met on our Holland America cruise. We basically just hung out by the pool and drank a lot. It was loads of fun.
CABIN: Our room was very nice, the best we'd been in for an inside stateroom. It was very spacious and the beds were probably the most comfortable beds we'd ever slept on - every night I slept wonderfully.
PORTS: This cruise visited George Town, Grand Cayman, Belize City, Belize, Roatan Honduras and Cozumel, Mexico. We absolutely loved the itinerary and the shore excursions. It made the trip our most fun cruise, not best, but most fun.
We had been to George Town before but had never taken a tour of the island. We booked our tour through the cruise and it was a good time. Went to the Seven Mile Beach, the turtle farm, Tortuga Rum factory (just the gift shop) and Hell. Here's my quick comments on this - the tour was sort of rushed because we only got 5 minutes at Seven Mile Beach and 15 minutes at the Tortuga Rum factory. On the other hand, the rum was so delicious and the Turtle Farm (where we spent most of our time) was really cool. Hell was interesting but I would call it a "must see." On a bad note, I left my disposable camera in the bathroom at the turtle farm, someone took it, our tour guide called the gift shop from our next stop and they said they had it, he went out of his way to have the bus driver take me back there to get it and then the staff at the turtle farm acted like they had no idea what I was talking about. I was very upset for most of the day, mostly upset at my forgetfulness. Overall, good tour and thoughtful tour guide.
We really enjoyed Belize - took the best excursion ever! Keep in mind; this is the kind of excursion for the adventurous. It was a jungle horseback ride from the Banana Banks Ranch. A man from Montana moved there to open it and it is absolutely gorgeous. We took a bus ride way out to the ranch, walked a little path through the jungle, crossed the Old Belize River in a small boat, and climbed the hill to the ranch. There were monkeys and pelicans and other birds everywhere. We were led into the lobby where a woman made banana bread for everyone. I made a pit stop at the bathroom off the lobby and it was the most beautiful tropical bathroom I'd ever seen (minus the huge spider in the bathtub, but that's expected because the windows were wide open). We got to explore the ranch, pet the birds and take a boat ride up the Old Belize River where we spotted iguanas, monkeys and lots of birds. We had a wonderful lunch at the dining hall on the ranch with music and dancing and great food.
We were then divided into groups based on ability for horseback riding. My mom and I have done a lot of horseback riding so we went with the advanced group. Let me tell you - you better be good at horseback riding to be in this group! We rode for about an hour and a half right through the jungle (got cuts and scraps to prove it) and we didn't just ride, we flew through the jungle! I felt like I was in an old western movie! We were allowed to run around in a field near the end of the tour if we wanted. The tour guides were great and we definitely got our money's worth. But remember, wear pants! It is hot, but it's worth it.
Roatan was another favorite of ours. It was untouched by tourism and we enjoyed that for a change. We found the people to be very friendly. We took a bus ride to West Bay, hopped on a catamaran for a ride up the coast to a small restaurant where we had lunch, local beer and went snorkeling. The snorkeling wasn't good but I think it's only because the waves were rough (a storm came in) and it started raining making it hard to see under the water. We walked around that side of town, dirt roads, dirty dogs and all. I felt like I was on an adventure and truly felt, for once, like I was not in a place heavily influenced by the US.
Cozumel was fun as always. We happened to be there on Thanksgiving Day and because we didn't make reservations for dinner, we were told it would be a really long wait for a table that night. We decided to eat Thanksgiving dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe (I did, at least have turkey...well, a turkey burger). During the day, we took a bus to Tulum (Mayan ruins). The bus ride was so long and we made a very unnecessary stop at a jewelry factory in the middle of nowhere. We were given lunch when we boarded the bus (which was about 9 in the morning) so we pretty much ate our entire lunch on the 2-hour (approx.) bus ride. Tulum was very cool and we went off on our own to explore it. This was an expensive tour ($109) and I'm glad we finally got to see some Mayan ruins but I definitely wouldn't go again.
NIGHTLIFE: The nightlife and entertainment on this ship was a lot of fun. We met a lot of people in our age group. Karaoke was so funny; the disco was a lot of fun (our bartender was the best ever, he was nicknamed Quick by the staff). We were out till at least 2AM every night and surprisingly up around 7AM every morning. The shows were fun to watch and the talent show at the end of the cruise was great.
SHIP: I didn't really like the ship. It did smell, mostly on our floor and on a section of the jogging track. The only reason we used the jogging track was because the fitness center was so tiny and always full (I think it had a total of 10 machines, 3 treadmills, 3 stair climbers and 4 bikes) It was very hard to find a chair during "at sea" days. It was difficult to find our way around sometimes because certain elevators serve only certain floors. I think these problems happen when a ship is stretched for remodeling. I liked the Four Seasons dining room and found the other one (can't remember the name) to be kind of cheesy
FOOD: Dinners were very good (I ate the "Cooking Light" selections at dinner and they were very good). Breakfast was terrible. We ate at the poolside buffet a couple mornings. I am addicted to yogurt and got excited when I saw they had some. I took one bite and spit it out because it was so sour. I looked at the expiration date and it said Dec. 22, 2002 meaning it was over a year old! I could believe it! Breakfast in the sports bar wasn't much better, well, the food was better, but the lines were always long and there were never any seats available.
I did not enjoy Freestyle Cruising. I wanted to meet people at dinner and wanted to have an assigned table and waiter so we could get to know him or her and not have to wait for tables. I highly recommend avoiding Freestyle Cruising for large groups. I heard many groups complaining that the dining rooms did not have accommodations for any more than 6 at a table. I heard Thanksgiving dinner was a pain because if you didn't make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance, you should plan on waiting at least 2 to 3 hours for a table, but again that's just what I heard.
OVERALL: I think Norwegian does a good job with entertainment, itineraries, cabins and shore excursions. However, Freestyle cruising is not for me, I don't like the automatic tips (especially because I never most some of the people that my money was going to), and I did not like the ship itself very much. For those looking for a beautiful ship, amazing food and a quieter atmosphere, go to Holland America. This is the kind of cruise for cruisers on a budget who just want to have late night fun, I know I did!
If I missed anything that you were looking for an opinion about, don't hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.