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

Part 2 of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Western Caribbean Review…

Norwegian Sun

Norwegian Sun

As mentioned in part 1, some of these posts may be too detailed for most to be interested in. I’m writing it for personal reasons, and also attempting to make it a review with details others might find helpful if they’re taking the same cruise.

Sunday – Boarding the ship
After our horrible flight ordeal, it was huge relief to be at the port and know that we would make it onto the ship. I think, were I ever to do a cruise again, I would insist on flying out the day before. Just to give us that extra bit of time in case problems arise with the flight.

I don’t know why I find the Norwegian Sun to be so pretty. I remember looking at the ships when booking, and thought the loud paint job a little gaudy. Perhaps, after a week on board, it started to feel like home and I came to really like the ‘sun’ painted on her. Supposedly, the paint job was only a few weeks old.
Our cabins are in the middle of the red swirl Looking at the ship, I could guess where our rooms were, and I was pretty darn close. We had booked 2 rooms next to each other. Norwegian states that children under 18 couldn’t be on their own, so we booked our rooms so that Reid and Michael were in one cabin, and Ronnie and I were in the other. We had no intention of actually keeping those cabin assignments. Reid and I stayed in one cabin, and Ronnie and Michael in the other. It did make things a little difficult though, because we had to constantly swap Ronnie and Reid’s cabin access cards to get into the right rooms. These access cards are very important: you use them as charge cards (no cash is used), and you need them to get on/off the ship.

We had to leave our luggage with Norwegian staff. They were to deliver it to our rooms. (Which, by the way took HOURS.) I should have packed spare clothes into a carry on for all of us.
Our cabin
We spent time exploring the ship, had dinner at the buffet restaurant after our luggage was delivered, and spent yet more time exploring. Ronnie’s excitement rubbed off on Reid and I. Michael spent most of his time in the cabin. Can’t expect more than that from a teenager, I found.

The ship had started to cruise down the Mississippi on time at 5:30. Very smooth sailing. I had not realized how far up the Mississippi we were. By the time we bedded down, we were still on the river.

Elevators near reception

Monday – Day at Sea

I awoke about 5am, feeling the ship swaying quite a bit. I looked out our window: ocean as far as I could see. Neat. The swaying was a little disconcerting, and I felt a little drunk as I tried walking around in a straight line. Funnily enough, Reid woke up early, too. (And he did so every morning!! Very strange for him.)

We spent Monday exploring the ship. (Michael spent Monday exploring his cabin.) I found it far too windy for my tastes on the deck, but Reid and Ronnie had no problem and used the two pools and hot tubs in the afternoon. They had lots of fun. The water slashed back and forth with the ship, turning the pools into wave pools.

Ronnie at the bow

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

During March break, we were away on vacation… cruising via Norwegian Cruise Lines, on the Norwegian Sun to the “Western Caribbean” out of New Orleans.

On the whole, I’d say I probably won’t do a cruise again (at least, not to the Caribbean), although I can see how most people would really enjoy a cruise. We figured that on a cruise, it would be “all about the ship” and that we’d have to treat the ports as a side show. And that’s what happened. Even so, I did expect more beach time. And although the ship was great, most of the activities weren’t our kind of thing.

That said, if I had to cruise again, I think I’d stick with Norwegian. I liked the ship, the food was fine, staff was ultra-friendly (well, maybe not our cabin steward, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we pissed him off in some way).

Our last trip, to the Dominican Republic, didn’t go very smoothly. I’m starting to think we’re jinxed. This one started off horribly. But once we made it to the ship, all was fine (phew). I believe I’ll write a series of posts… which may mean readers are bored. Sorry. It’s mostly for myself – to remember the good (and bad) times. And perhaps for others out there hoping to find a review, like I was before our trip.

Friday Evening
I consider the trip actually staring Friday evening, when we headed off to Thorold soon after school/work. We decided to fly to New Orleans out of Buffalo instead of Toronto, saving ourselves a substantial amount of money. We stayed the night with my parents. The plan was to arrive in New Orleans on Saturday, with the cruise starting on Sunday. We were hoping to do a little exploring in New Orleans, and I was quite excited about it.

Arrived at the airport in record time, with absolutely no issues with the US border crossing. Sat in the airport for a few hours, paying absolutely no attention to the fog outdoors. A very short time before boarding, our US Air flight was cancelled. Along with almost all other US Air flights for the rest of the day. We only had an inkling that something was wrong a short time before, but thankfully, we were ready to make a dash to the ticket line when it was finally cancelled. We ran all out, and got close to the front of the line. (I hadn’t even realized it at the time. Michael had to point out how lucky we were after the hell that ensued.) It took hours to get rebooked. The entire time, we could hear folks saying they couldn’t get out the next day. Oh, oh… we might miss the cruise. Reid and I discussed trying to cancel the cruise, or maybe trying to drive back to Toronto to get on a flight, or maybe just driving all night and the next day to get to New Orleans. Poor Ronnie became extremely upset.

They had only a couple people working our ‘cancelled’ line. When we finally got to someone, I was happy to get to a man named Louis who seemed to be very knowledgeable. I had noticed he kept saying he couldn’t get people on flights the next day, but then he had winked and put his finger to his lips in a “shhh” sign while servicing the people ahead of us, so I figured he had some tricks up his sleeve. Not so for us, at least not at first. After we got to the counter, he walked walk off for 15-20 minutes into the airport yelling out announcements to folks (can’t they get someone else to do that??). He come back and asked about our details, shook his head, walked off again, to help some other US Air employees. Then came back (and when I looked at him incredulously) he said he had someone working on it. The he walked into the airport, yelling out announcements yet again for 15-20 minutes, waylaid by people with questions constantly. Finally, he came back, asked us for details yet again, and booked us on a flight the following day. I should mention that there were only he and one other person servicing our cancelled flights line. (The other person was upset, and kept telling Louis she couldn’t find flights… “just tell these people to go home”.) Good lord. I was in an incredibly horrid state by the time we were rebooked. Michael was beside himself. The only reason I didn’t kill Louis was because I was afraid of pissing him off and never getting on a flight.

Our flight left at 8:30am Sunday, and we didn’t want to take any chances with border crossings, so we spent the night in Buffalo rather than go back to Thorold. A far cry from spending the night in New Orleans. No complaining though, looked like we would make the cruise. The New Orleans hotel kindly didn’t charge us for the hotel room when they heard our flight was cancelled. The Buffalo hotel gave us a deal on the room when they heard about the cancelled flight. We went to the hotel restaurant and then went to a movie Reid and Michael were anxious to see: 300.

Ever see the movie The World According to Garp? I remember a scene when Robin Williams sees a plane flying into his house, and happily exclaims… “We’ve been pre-disastered!!” Nothing else could possible go wrong. I said the same thing. (Perhaps I should have touched wood.)

Sunday morning, no fog. No snow, sleet, thunderstorms, or hurricanes either. Whew. Got to the airport, and anxiously waited to see if the plane actually showed up. We started getting really worried when we could see that there was no plane by boarding time. Flight departure time arrived… still no plane. We only had an hour to make a connecting flight in Charlotte. The plane finally did arrive and they seated us quickly. They seemed to delay the flight to try to get every seat filled. Perhaps folks who had missed their flight the day before were trying to squeeze on. That must have been it, I saw Louis come onto the plane, and it was lucky for him I wasn’t on an aisle seat. The flight was delayed about 20 minutes, maybe half an hour.

There were plenty of people on the plane from Canada. It seems that taking a flight from Buffalo is very popular among Canadians – much cheaper. The folks next to us did it all the time and weren’t worried about making the connecting flight, so I calmed down.

Once we got to Charlotte, we realized we were very far away from the gate for our connecting flight, so we had to sprint. At the gate, they couldn’t seem to print up our boarding passes, and had to hold us to the very end saying they’d see if there was room. Again, we started to freak. We kept hearing about the US Air reservation system being really screwy. In the end, they found our seats had been reserved after all, just had lots of difficulty printing them. So we made it onto the plane. We should be in New Orleans by about noon. Half hour trip to the dock. Had to be on the ship by 4:30, sailing at 5:30. No problem.

At New Orleans, we headed to the basement to pick up our luggage. And guess what? No luggage. That’s when we met all the other folks from Canada on the same cruise who flew out of Buffalo that day. None of them had been on the cancelled Saturday flight, so I had no sympathy for them. We had already been through a disaster.

What the hell does one do without their luggage on a cruise? How many things can you buy on a ship? You look down at yourself, in your tired jeans and long sleeves heading for the Caribbean, and wonder if a pair of scissors might do the trick. The US Air baggage fellow was less thna helpful. “See the sign? Only one person in this room at once!! Don’t know when you can get your luggage. Fill out this form and we’ll get it to it. Going on a cruise? We’ll deliver it to the first port that has an airport. In your case, that’s Belize.” Oh nice. That’s Thursday. What will I do without luggage until Thursday. Lovely.

One of our fellow Canadians, a knowledgeable fellow it seems, figured our luggage might come in on the next flight from Charlotte. Next flight was scheduled to arrive around 2:30pm. It was delayed (of course!!). We would have to leave the airport by 4pm to make it to the ship in time. Norwegian Cruise Line staff were at the airport, picking up folks who booked flights through them. None of us Canadians had done so. They told us that if we purchased transportation to the ship through them, they’d wait for us. So we did. They also kept telling us to go on ahead, they’d pick up the luggage. The same knowledgeable fellow said there was no way he would trust them to pick up his luggage. He was waiting. We followed suit thank goodness. They only looked for baggage with Norwegian Cruise line tags, which none of us had on our bags.

Our luggage did indeed arrive on that flight. The Norwegian staff pressed us to start leaving (it was 4pm) while we were still waiting for the last couple of bags. So glad we didn’t let them try to find them. But all of us got our luggage. Happy, happy, joy, joy.

As for our visit to New Orleans, we saw it out the bus windows 🙁 But we were going to make our cruise. Yay!!!

I’ll write about the actual cruise in the next post. It may take a while… still waiting for Reid to put up pictures!!