Michael’s 17th Birthday

Today is Michael’s birthday… 17 today. Good lord.

I can still see him in my mind as my little baby. I can see him now. I can’t seem to link the two of them together as the same person. How did he get to be so big, so fast?

Reid and Michael

Reid and Michael

Part LAST of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Western Caribbean Review…

I thought I’d wrap up the review with a list of things I did and didn’t like about the cruise. It might be useful to some, although I’m sure ‘regular’ folk would have a different take on it than nerdy folks like us. [Well, *I’m* not nerdy. It’s just the rest of my family that is! ;-p ]

Things I liked about the cruise

The staff was very friendly. I only had a brief encounter with the reception desk, and they seemed a little less friendly, but that’s probably because they’re harassed all the time. The staff managing the excursion desk were enthusiastic, and tried to be as accommodating as possible. There’s almost a 3 to 1 staff to guest ratio, which is impressive.

The cabins were very comfortable. Even for a bigger guy like Reid, we only felt cramped when all four of us were hanging out in one cabin. The shower was small, but somehow, Reid found that comfortable, too. And the water pressure on the shower was strong, which was nice.

I had heard some bad reviews of the food, but we found it to be quite adequate. Because of my food restrictions, we spent a lot of time at the buffet, which did get a little boring by the end of the week. We were pretty happy with it. Our expectations weren’t too, too high. Reid, Michael and Ronnie had Teppanyaki one night, and they really liked it.

The singing/dancing troupe was fantastic. I hadn’t expected them to be all that good, so perhaps they simply exceeded my expectations. They put on shows every other night, and I didn’t miss a single one. I’m not sure Reid was as impressed, so there you go.

There was lots of entertainment planned… for the most part, it wasn’t the kind of entertainment for us, but they did try really hard by offering lots different things. (After all, there’s no pleasing most in my family unless they put on some ultra-techie entertainment, and where would we get that other than on geek-cruises?) Ronnie really enjoyed the show on hypnosis, and the sushi-making session. I enjoyed the game-shows, and evening shows by the dance troupe. None of us were into the sports stuff, self-improvement lectures, or wild parties (celebrations for St. Patrick’s day, and a ‘New Years Eve’ party). I missed a historical lecture on pirates, unfortunately.

Things I didn’t like about the cruise

I didn’t like the feeling of getting nickeled and dimed to death.

We had to pay for pop (~$2.00 USD per glass!! Isn’t that bar prices??) Only tea, iced tea, coffee and water were free. They claim you can’t bring your own food or drinks on board (I ignored that as far as food went. I never go without some food to such places due to my restrictive diet). They DO x-ray your luggage every time you come back on board at each port (for security reasons), so I’m not sure if you can sneak bottles of drinks back with you. We would have if Reid could find diet coke at the ports, but he could only find coke-light, which he claimed didn’t taste right.

The excursions were very expensive and added up incredibly for a family of four (For example, the cheapest was the 20 minute tender (boat ride) from the ship to/from the Belize island was $39 per person).

There were lots of restaurants on the ship, but many of them required you pay extra per person. For example, the Japanese and Steak restaurant were $20 extra per person. The Italian restaurant was less, $10 or $15 per person. We didn’t think much of it at first, but we did by end of week.

They really pushed buying Evian water on your way off the ship. I refused to pay for it, and tried to fill my own bottles of water, which didn’t fit in any of the water dispensers (sized for glasses). But Reid found a fountain on the jogging deck, so we managed.

There was far too much emphasis on buying jewelry, both on the ship and at the ports. Jeez. Lectures on jewelry, deals on jewelry, tables of jewelry at various locations on the ship, and so on. If I wanted to get deals on jewelry, a cruise would be the last place I would think of going.

A few final words
Whew! Can’t believe how long it took me to get this review together. How on earth do you bloggers out there do it?? I think I left out half of what I had wanted to remember about it. My hat’s off to writers out there. So glad I’m not one!!

Part 4 of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Western Caribbean Review…

Thursday – Third port of call: Belize City, Belize

At Belize, the ship does not dock, but rather drops anchor in the ocean. We could take boats to Belize city, but we opted for excursions. Reid was going scuba diving, and the boys and I planned to go to an island so we could do some swimming.
The ship anchored in Belize
The whole process of getting off the ship, onto boats (tenders), is not very much fun. Those scheduled for excursions were to meet in one of the large restaurants while they organized you getting off the ship. Things were very loud with all the announcements, people were squeezing in and out of the restaurant, we had to wait about an hour before it was our turn.

Sounds like Reid had a wonderful time at the scuba lesson. He’s been wanting to try scuba diving for a while now, so it was great to have the opportunity.

The boat ride to the island with Michael, Ronnie and I took about 15 to 20 minutes. I liked the fellows operating the boat… a couple of young fellows from Belize. They were lively, and lots of fun. The island wasn’t very large, had lots of chairs available for our use. We arranged ourselves a nice spot under some trees and Ronnie and I ran off for a swim. Michael lay out in the shade and promptly fell asleep.

Reid on the way to scuba diving
Ronnie and I had some difficulty with the sand. We found it to be quite sharp, and had to wear our sandals while swimming. It was great to be in the ocean, though. After about an hour or so, Ronnie started to get anxious that the boat had gone back to the ship without us. Indeed, it was nowhere to be found, but I figured they were running folks back and forth from the ship to Belize city. They were there as promised, though, when it was time to leave. Michael woke up… the sun had moved, and his whole right side was very burned (right ear, right arm, right leg).

We were back on the ship by early afternoon. I would have liked to go to Belize City on a tender, but everyone was quite tired (I can’t blame Reid, after scuba diving), so we spent the rest of the day relaxing on the ship.

I only met a few locals from Belize. Those I did meet were great. I hadn’t realized Belize was an English speaking country… huh, an English speaking country in the middle of Central America. I think it might be fun to go back there one day. I’ll have to keep that in the back of my mind for a future vacation (sans children). Lots of scuba diving for Reid in Belize!

Friday – Last port of call: Cozumel, Mexico

We were docked at Cozumel (thank goodness, no tenders!!) Reid had another scuba lesson scheduled for the morning. Michael was supposed to go to, but found his burn hurt quite a lot so it was best he didn’t go. I decided to wander around the city. (The boys wanted to stay in their cabin.) I really enjoyed Cozumel. Unlike Costa Maya and Santo Tomas, there was a whole city to explore. I wandered around for a few hours and even bought dad more brandy.

Ronnie at the hot tub, overlooking the pool
Back on the ship, while waiting for Reid, I took Ronnie swimming. I really liked the hot tubs… but found the pools too cool for my taste (they were about 78 degrees F). But I couldn’t wimp out – Reid wasn’t around to play with Ronnie, so I had to tough it out. It’s funny… Ronnie spent 20 minutes trying to get used to the hot tub… first his toes, then his feet, then his ankles, and so on. I was the same way, but in the pool rather than the hot tub. Michael joined us as well, to soak his poor burned leg in the nice, cool pool.

Reid was back on the ship by early afternoon, after another successful scuba lesson. I think he enjoyed Belize a little more. But that may be due to the fact that they were all amateurs and couldn’t go out in very deep water.

I was anxious to go swimming in the ocean again, so Reid and I went out, hopped in a cab and went to a beach. It took about 20 minutes to get to the closest, large sized beach. And guess where the boys were? Yup, you guessed it. They didn’t want to come, so they stayed in the cabin. (Did I mention Reid bought the Power Book? Guess what the kids were doing?)

Ronnie really regretted not coming with us when he saw the pictures of the trampolines and “rock climbing” inflatable slide thing in the water. Reid and I didn’t try the slide (it looked impossible to climb!) but we bounced on the trampoline. He found that the water really dampened the bouncibality (is that a word?), but I found it more than adequate. I screamed every time I bounced. We only spent about an hour on the beach… it was late afternoon, we had both gotten tired, and we could see a storm rolling in. In fact, it was pouring by the time we got back to the dock. (The whole week was a little cold and rainy)

Beach near Cozumel, with trampoline and rock climbing slide

Saturday – Day at sea, back to New Orleans

We woke up Saturday to find the ship rocking quite a bit. We were back in open ocean. The waves were much higher going back to New Orleans. I think we actually enjoyed the ship rolling. A very unique experience. None of us were sick at all – although we brought gravol just in case.

We spent the day pretty quietly on the ship. Didn’t go swimming, but did enjoy just relaxing.

Sunday – New Orleans and home

The ship pulled in bright and early Sunday morning. We opted for the “leave early, carry your own bags out” departure. We had to really, our flight was at noon, and if we had NCL take our luggage for us, we would have missed our flight.

Despite being Canadian, we had to go through US customs. I hadn’t expected that (if we were in an airport just stopping in the US, I don’t think we would have had to go through customs). It was completely uneventful, despite honestly telling them that I was bringing food with me.

The flight back to Buffalo wasn’t uneventful. It involved the flight in New Orleans being late, Michael getting sick on the plane, running all out in Charlotte to make our connecting flight, and spending over an hour waiting for our luggage in Buffalo. (We KNEW the luggage made it on the plane in Charlotte this time. Michael and I saw all 4 of our bags being loaded on the plane out the window) But Buffalo had had more flight problems, and there was luggage piled up, from days before, everywhere. Tons of it.

Once we got our luggage in Buffalo, we drove to the border for an extremely easy border crossing (I don’t think he even asked us if we were carrying alcohol!). We stopped by my parents’ place on the way back to Toronto (they fed us!) and didn’t get home until 11pm. School and work the next day, ugh!

Monday – Toronto
OK – I know Monday is not part of our vacation, but I have to mention a very interesting thing that happened to Reid and I. While at work on Monday, the building swayed back and forth, back and forth, all day. It felt as though I were still on the ship. Reid had the same effect in the basement. I was fine by Tuesday, but the effect lasted until Wednesday for Reid. The boys didn’t notice a thing!!

Part 3 of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Western Caribbean Review…

Tuesday – First port of call: Costa Maya, Mexico

At Chacchoban

First thing in the morning, the four of us headed off on our first NCL excursion: to view some Mayan Ruins. Ronnie is very much into the Mayan culture. The trip there took about an hour on a bus – which is a bit long, but our guide filled the time with background about Costa Maya and the province in general.
Ronnie and Luisa at a Mayan temple
The ruins were way cool. It helped to have someone explain everything to us. We even purchased a book with details about the amazing Mayan calendar. We had it personalized for Ronnie, recording his birth date the Mayan way.

Back at the port, we decided to do some shopping. My dad had asked us to buy a particular (cheap) Mexican brandy for him, and since we only had two ports of call in Mexico, I wanted to make an effort to find it in Costa Maya. (My parents have spent the winter in Mexico for the last 20 years. As of this year, they decided not to go any more — they’ve become increasingly worried about their health. My dad rarely asks anything of us, so I was determined to bring back the maximum amount of brandy customs would allow us. He uses it to can cherries. Brandied cherries – Woot!)

I have to admit I seriously disliked the set up at Costa Maya. There was a good sized shopping area, and having been in Mexico before, I could see it was tailored to tourists… costs were higher than I expected. I couldn’t find the brandy my dad wanted (it’s local stuff). They told us we could find the brandy outside the enclave. We tried to grab a cab as they dropped people off, but they wouldn’t let us in. It seemed we would have to walk about a mile, away from guard-like folks patrolling the area, before we could get a cab. They were trying to keep tourists in. Granted, there wasn’t much happening outside the enclave, but I didn’t like the whole idea.
Ronnie's black & white shirt becomes coloured in sunlight
I had sprained my ankle slightly while visiting the Mayan ruins, so was unable to walk to get a cab. Reid did so, on his own, while I took the kids to the shopping area. We did spend a bundle on some cool t-shirts that are white indoors, but become coloured in the sun. We met up with Reid again (who had found the brandy!). We got our bathing suits on (Michael had had enough and went back to the ship on his own). We figured we could go swimming in the ocean.

That’s when I discovered another thing I didn’t like about the port at Costa Maya. There was no beach – just sharp rocks. We could swim in a pool – but what’s the point of going to Mexico if you have to swim in a pool? I could see some beaches further along, but we couldn’t get past a wall that enclosed the whole area. Guess we would have to walk out, get a cab and somehow hope to find a non-private beach. No way we were going to do that. Also, it started raining just as Ronnie and Reid decided to swim in the pool, so we headed back to the ship, somewhat disappointed.

Ship Canyon

Wednesday – Second port of call: Santo Tomas, Guatemala

We had no excursions planned for Santo Tomas, figuring we could enjoy the ship while most people were off board. But we did go out to explore Santo Tomas a little. Having gone to a talk held on board that described many of the ports, I was prepared for Santo Tomas. They told us there wasn’t much to do there – it was basically a cargo port. Boy, were they right! Why on earth would they even bother going there?

That's about all you get at Santo Tomas, a lonely warehouse
I think my plan to just sit back and enjoy the ship backfired a little (from my perspective). By Wednesday, the ship had become a little boring, and I was itching for something to do. We went on shore to find a smallish, warehouse type place with little booths selling tourist stuff. No place to go swimming. No place else to go. We wandered around for a bit. Locals did some dancing and singing to entertain the tourists, but we just headed back to the ship and watched movies in our cabin.

This was where we should have done an excursion. I heard later that the Banana Plantation tour was very interesting, and I regret not doing that. Reid had scuba diving lessons booked for Thursday. There was no way I was going to spend another day on board, and luckily one of the excursions to go to a beach that day was still open. I booked it for myself, Ronnie and Michael. Finally, a beach! If I had to pay for it fine, but I’d be damned if I didn’t get a chance to swim in the ocean the whole trip!

Guatemala shopping