01-31-2014 Day 6 Costa Maya

Currently we are camped at NAS/JRB, Belle Chasse, LA Temperature: 47 F, and foggy

This is sixth in a series of posts about our NCL cruise on the Norwegian Jewel to the Western Mediterranean. Read about our first day at sea here,  about an evening onboard  here, Cozumel here, Belize here, and Roatan here. Also, keep in mind that the link to the left for my photos on google will take you to many more images of our cruise and the ports we visited

015It’s always nice when a ship docks at a pier and no tenders are required to go on shore.  The pier at Costa Maya is big and new, much like the cruiser’s village built in 2007 after Hurricane Dean decimated both the cruise port village built in 2001, and the older bucolic fishing village of Mahahual. 

We had no expectations for the last port on this cruise.  Reading in advance, I knew there were a few ruins to explore on excursions, that there was the Disneyesque cruise village, geared to bars and shopping, dolphin encounters, and swimming pools.  I did know the town was a short taxi ride away, but wasn’t at all sure the town was worth seeking out.

cruise day 6_043However, once we walked the very long pier to the village, I was dismayed to discover that the entire village was walled off on either side by private land, and the beach was non-existent.  For the second time on the cruise, I felt incredibly claustrophobic, and very frustrated that I seemed to be trapped in a bright, fake world of color and people.  Ack!  Mo was rolling her eyes at me as I struggled with my frustration, desperately seeking a way out.

If I had read just a little more, I would have realized that there was a rear exit from the ‘village’ that didn’t require an excursion or golf cart rental. We simply walked outside and found the old road leading south to Mahahual.  The extensive damage from Hurricane Dean was clearly evident as we walked.  Old electric boxes marked what once must have been small homes, but other than the paved road and stone street signs populated by iguanas, there was no sign of habitation.

053I did know that the town was only a mile and a half from the pier, so we walked in the general direction and within half an hour turned toward the lighthouse and the beach.  The skies were clearing from the morning overcast and the temperatures were quite warm.  As the day wore on, the water turned brighter and brighter shades of turquoise.  A cold local beer from the Blue Bay Beach Club and a couple of beach chairs gave us a chance to enjoy the view of the distant ship and watch people snorkeling.  Of course, we hadn’t lugged our gear, unsure when we left the ship if there was any possibility of a snorkel beach nearby.

002I had heard that, like most beaches in Mexico, there were entirely too many locals hawing wares on the beach.  Instead, we had only one woman approach us the entire time we were there, and after a couple of no’s, she left us in peace.  We walked the beach a bit, I went in the warm, clear water, and the kayaks sure did look tempting. 

Mo liked the look of those kayaks as well, thinking we would get the best price for a tandem.  Instead, the Blue Bay kiosk only had singles, but a delightful young woman gave us two individual kayaks for 5 bucks for an hour instead of the posted $5. per half hour, or $10 for two hours.  So we walked for free, kayaked an hour for ten bucks, and spent 4 bucks having a good beer and comfy chairs under a nice palapa.  I would say that was a good price and beat just about any excursion we might have found.

011It seems that snorkeling trips on a cruise are something that should only be purchased on site and on the day you want to snorkel.  Weather is completely unpredictable, as are water conditions.  Purchasing a snorkeling trip in advance could have been a real bummer.  However, finding good snorkeling beaches is also a bit of a crap shoot.  We hauled our snorkeling gear all the way from Oregon for this cruise.  I have hopes that we will get to use the gear in Florida, even though the weather didn’t cooperate much on the cruise.

After a few delightful hours at the beach, we walked back to the ship, managing to get in a three mile walk and an hour kayak for our day’s exercise.  I think we got an additional mile just walking the length of the pier back and forth from the ship as well.016

Deciding on an early afternoon lunch/dinner, we headed for the Garden Café buffet for some fresh salad and a table on the aft patio deck where I tried to get photos of the distant town and lighthouse that marked our kayak location.  The weather was perfect for dining outside.

late lunch on the patio before departing Costa MayaAfter lunch we walked up to the sports deck and watched part of a rousing game of basketball played by opposing crew teams, and then found an available ping pong table for a funny game of ping pong with wind, crooked table tops, and moving seas to add to our fun.

With our late lunch, we had no need to have dinner and instead relaxed in the stateroom until time for the last big show of the cruise, “Cirque de Bijou”.  Something else we noticed on the Jewel was the available seating in the theater for the shows, both early and late.  In the past, especially on Princess, it can sometimes be difficult to get into your chosen time for the evening show.  Not a problem here, although last night we did choose to go a bit early for a good seat and ended up down in the lower area toward the front of the theater.

the ping pong table is available!It was a great choice.  I can say, unequivocally, that the show last night was the best we have ever seen on any cruise ship, ever, on any cruise line.  Cirque d Bijou was a Las Vegas quality cirque show with breathtaking performances by all the regular artists from the evening shows.  If I had been a bit less than thrilled by their singing, I was completely taken by their ability to both sing and hang from the sky on cloth draperies as they spun and flew around the auditorium.  And for some reason, the singing was fabulous as well. 

Just breathtaking!! As usual in the theater, no photos are allowed, however at the end of the main show, the crew put on a tribute show that I could have photographed if I had lugged the camera along.  Jaime, the cruise director, introduced at least 200 members of the crew who marched down the aisles and to the stage, from room stewards to Executive Chef, to the Captain.  The crowd, all hyped up from the standing ovation for the Cirque show thundered their applause. 

poolside sailaway bb1Service on the Jewel is interesting.  Individual crew members are attentive and cheerful, however the service isn’t exactly “in your face” perfect.  We are not constantly plied with invitations to purchase alcohol, and used plates are not picked up the minute you finish eating. Our steward is adequate, keeping our cabin reasonably well kept, and creating great little animals for us every night, something that has gone by the wayside on Princess.

However, we didn’t get our ice bucket constantly filled, and the mirrors often were streaked after the room was freshened.  There are so few things we disliked about this cruise, it seems only fair to mention the few that were not what I might consider “cruise quality”.  A detail we especially liked was the tabletop baskets filled with napkin wrapped flatware.  We never had to hunt for flatware and if needed could use two napkins.

Atrium Lounge Mid ShipI have been trying to come up with a way to describe the ship décor, and this morning it hit me.  Without any glitz and sparkle, no fancy shined brass, interesting art, flowers in the bathrooms, crystal chandeliers…the ship seems a bit like funky Key West conch house.  Lots of bright wood, bright Key West colors, and not much that seems to be “cruise fancy”.  It is more like a good working class vacation resort, with everything you need in a pleasant environment.

Unlike my expectations for a possibly mediocre experience, I wouldn’t hesitate to cruise Norwegian again if the price, departure port, and destinations fit where I wanted to go. 

Tomorrow is the last day of this cruise, with a full day at sea.  Rumor has it that the unseasonably cold weather in the south has moderated a bit and the forecast is for a cloudy day in the low 70’s in New Orleans on Sunday.  Tomorrow at sea we can expect mostly sunny skies with temps in the mid 70’s.  Lucky lucky US!!ready to depart Costa Maya  no tenders but a very long pier

01-30-2014 Day 5 Roatan

Currently we are camped at NAS/JRB, Belle Chasse, LA Temperature: 47 F, and foggy

This is fifth in a series of posts about our NCL cruise on the Norwegian Jewel to the Western Mediterranean. Read about our first day at sea here,  about an evening onboard  here, Cozumel here, and Belize here. Also, keep in mind that the link to the left for my photos on google will take you to many more images of our cruise and the ports we visited

083Thursday morning the sunrise was somewhat muted by the rainclouds and fog hanging low in the sky around the island of Roatan.  Until recently, I had never heard of Roatan, and when we booked this cruise I had to look it up.  I read a bit about the island, the port, and then was delighted when friend Jeanne sent a quick email with pictures of, you guessed it, Roatan. 

Jeanne and her sweetie Alan decided to escape the Vermont winter cold for a week on the north side of the island at a lovely boutique hotel.  Photos were attached, and emails exchanged. 

Jeanne told us which beaches to avoid and gave us the name of their driver, Alex.  A few more emails were exchanged, and by the time we docked in Coxen Hole, on the south side of the island, arrangements had been finalized with Alex.  If anyone is reading this blog and wants information about a personal driver for time in Roatan, drop an email to me and I’ll send his email address and phone number. Alex was a sweetheart and I highly recommend his services.

Once again, the timing was near perfect.  With a rainy day ahead of us, we were really happy that we hadn’t booked any kind of excursion, trapped in a crowded bus with weather too rough for any kind of snorkeling. 

cruise day 6_003As we approached the port along the southern side of Roatan, I was surprised to see jungle covered hills rising above the port. The approach was quite lovely.My first impression of the port at Coxen Hole was much better than the previous day in Belize.  (See that post here). There was plenty of room for busses and taxi’s and the exit area was open and spacious. 

007As we emerged from the only open gate, Alex was waiting for us with a big sign with my name on it.  His car is a nice newer model Toyota SUV with comfy seats and we were his only passengers.  We originally negotiated for a simple ride out to the beach and then a later afternoon pick-up, but with the rainy day, we discussed shifting to a mini tour of the island.  Alec is quite popular it seems, and his English was more than adequate for our day. For $50 US for both of us, Alex took us to a few sights on the south side of the island, before dropping us off at Sandy Beach on the north side.

003Negotiating the narrow, winding roads, Alex drove slowly enough that we could enjoy the views and conversation.  We stopped at a few historical sites, but in the rain everything seemed less than spectacular.  Once at the top of highest hill on the island, the view opened up and through the light rain that was starting we could see the ship in the harbor below. The road only opens when ships are in port.  At this view site are several covered stalls where local people were selling their wares.  We took some photos, and explored the items for sale, finding some very well priced goodies to purchase. (Can’t believe I never got a photo of Alex!)

011Even in the rain, the jungles were lush and beautiful and the ride to the next site was enjoyable.  At the butterfly/flower garden we spent $10. each to enjoy a walking tour of the grounds by Joshua, a 13 year old boy who was very knowledgeable and well spoken. It was a bit of a touristy trappy kind of place, but Joshua made it fun and interesting.

Alex then took us to a more commercial area that was some sort of “official” tourist souvenir site, and we wandered around looking at lovely items for sale, with prices up to three times as much as similar items seen at the stalls on the hilltop.  I was really glad that Alex took us to the hilltop first! After perusing the shop, we settled in for an espresso and hot chocolate while we waited for the rain to abate a bit.  The sudden runoff was thick and brown and flowing in torrents down the rough roads.

050Among the most interesting items made on the mainland in Honduras were carved chests, doors and tables, all worked by hand in Honduran mahogany.  Raw mahogany is no longer exported from the country, but crafted items made from the tropical wood are allowed.  According to our guide, people plant mahogany trees to attempt to replace the old growth mahogany from the rain forests. 

Before lunchtime, we made our way to Sandy Beach and the Blue Bahia Grill, where the open air restaurant was nearly empty.  With an agreement to pick us up at 2, Alex left us to have lunch, wander the beach, and possibly go for a snorkel.  By then the rain was coming down in torrents, so we were especially happy to have a nice place to relax  and enjoy the view through the plastic curtains that kept us dry.

059Jeanne had warned us that West Bay and many of the larger beaches are thick with cruisers, and Alec agreed that we might enjoy the little Sandy Bay area.  There were no shops, but there was our restaurant, and the attached hotel that was evidently a popular diver’s hotel, with a dive company in the courtyard. 

Lunch was fantastic, where I tried the smoked beef brisket sandwich Jeanne recommended and Mo had a BLT that was huge and delicious.  The rain let up a bit and we decided to walk the beach, sadly carrying along our useless snorkel gear.  The water was just too rough to attempt any kind of swimming or snorkeling, even if it stopped raining.  Not a snorkel day. 

086Just down the beach from the restaurant was the hotel where Jeanne and Alan were staying a few days prior.  We walked up from the beach to check it out, and there wasn’t a soul in sight. 

The owners were nowhere to be found, but all the doors were wide open, with the front desk computer open and running, jewelry sitting on a side table for sale, the restaurant closed but cash registers all exposed, and unoccupied rooms open for viewing. 

The small infinity pool was gorgeous, and we sat in the lobby enjoying the view for awhile before we found a brochure to read about the hotel.  Prices were notably absent, but the descriptions of the amenities were glowing, and from what we could see, were not the least bit exaggerated.  Might be more than we would ever spend, but it surely would be a great place for a luxury vacation on Roatan.

057Wandering back to the beach, the rain started in earnest and we asked our waitress at the Grill if we could wait inside for our driver.  She said, “Sure!” and we settled into a table to watch the rain, share some conversation with her, and wait for Alec.  Showing up just 15 minutes late, Alec was all apologies for a delayed flight for his previous passengers, and trundled us back to the ship in plenty of time for us to relax a bit before sailing.

The cruise port area is pleasant enough, but there was nothing for sale there to compare with our perfect previous purchases, so within a few minutes we went back to the ship and our waiting comfy stateroom with a view of the island.  The port side was a good choice for this particular cruise, where we had good views of both Cozumel, Roatan, and Costa Maya, morning sunrises for most of the cruise, and sunset on our last day returning northward.

cruise day 6_006A light supper salad sustained us for our evening meal since we knew that the late evening entertainment included a Chocolate Buffet.  We ambled up to the Garden Café a few minutes early and were surprised to find a huge line of folks waiting for the doors to open.  It was a perfect example of why people often say they can’t imagine going on a cruise.  There were soooo many people!!!  And all jammed up and lots of noise and all that chocolate.cruise day 6_021

The buffet was just OK, with a few ice sculptures, a little bit of chocolate carving here and there, and did I mention the people?  I tried a couple of desserts, but they were also just ok, and Mo settled for a cup of good coffee while we watched all the activity around us. 

cruise day 6_025There was more entertainment throughout the evening, but we passed on all of it and went back to the quiet and peace of our stateroom.  Even with my ability to temporarily ignore crowd phobia, I was ready to get back home and away from all the raucous stuff.cruise day 6_009

01-28-2014 Day 3 Cozumel, Mexico

Currently we are in Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Belle Chasse, LA Temperature: 45 F, cloudy and windy  This is third in a series of posts about our NCL cruise on the Norwegian Jewel to the Western Mediterranean. Read about our first day at sea here, and about our evening  here.

turquoise water here is breathtakingCaptureMo and I have cruised the Eastern Caribbean, and I did the Southern Caribbean with daughter Deb in 2011.  For some reason we had no burning desire to cruise the Western Caribbean, but when searching for something to do from a port on our RV route this winter, this NCL cruise was our best choice.  I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again, especially to Cozumel.  The water was gorgeous breathtaking turquoise and crystal clear on the northern somewhat rocky side of the island where we docked, and I have seen photos of the quieter south side beaches. 

cruise day 3_021Having never been in this part of Mexico, we decided to simply walk the town, and see what we could see on our own.  We heard later that some folks actually snorkeled near the port, but we will save that adventure for another time.  In fact, after spending a day on the island, we decided that a nice little funky hotel on the south side beaches would be a great place to spend a couple of weeks in winter, minus the cruise ship. 

cruise day 3_020We have a Rocky Point friend who does that for a few weeks every winter, and now we get it.  Of course, Roatan is also a possibility for a winter getaway for us, but more about that later. There are three cruise docks on Cozumel, and we weren’t sure of our specific landing site.  When it was announced that the landing was to be at the Punta Langosta Terminal, right in the center of San Miguel, we were delighted.  The International Pier is more than 6 miles from town and would have required a taxi ride to get away from the cruise shops that are always crowded around the docking site.

cruise day 3_026It seems that walking is the best way to get a feeling for a location, and we set off early toward the central town Plaza and the artisan shops that are just south of the main square.  The square was quiet in the early morning, and there seemed to be extensive refurbishing in process.  With a bit of searching, we found the upstairs visitor center for a local map and information.

Especially enjoyable was the long walk along the beach promenade.  In the process of being refurbished, the views of the sea were gorgeous.  On the land side of the main road, the walkways were thronged with cruisers shopping and walking, but where we walked, we nearly had the walkway to ourselves.  Crossing the street requires vigilance, however, since scooters and mopeds are in abundance and come up fast.

cruise day 3_043By 11 the plaza and restaurants were getting even more crowded, so we located the Palmeras Restaurant on the square and settled in for the recommended margueritas.  Well, margueritas for me and wine for Mo.  Only after she tasted her wine did Mo remember that when in Mexico, drink beer, not wine! I later read that I should have checked for purified ice, but I neglected to do that and it didn’t even occur to me to worry about it.  Many years ago I did the same thing in Puerto Vallarta and was incredibly sick for a few days.  How could I forget?! No problem here at all, however. Lunch was excellent, with a shared plate of chicken tacos that were perfect for the two of us. 

cruise day 3_046After our leisurely lunch, we wandered into some of the back streets and bought a few little trinkets for folks back home.  The shopkeepers are quite aggressive, entreating you to come into their stores, with the most common phrase being, “Almost free!”

Funny how you can ignore most of them, but then for some reason a particular person will strike you just the right way and in you go.  We found that shop and that person for our simple purchases and it was a pleasant experience.  In fact, too pleasant!  After my marguerita I was feeling pretty happy, and after my purchase the shopkeeper offered me a taste of some kind of tequila.  I had a shot, with no idea what kind it was and it went down as smooth as butter.  Oh my. It was yummy…no salt or lemon required…and I got a lot happier.

cruise day 3_033The weather was absolutely perfect, gorgeous blue skies, crystal clear water, fresh air, it couldn’t be better.  As often is the case, the little taste of a place that a cruise ship offers is only the beginning.  However it does give enough of a taste that it is easier to determine if the area might be a place to return.  Lahaina, Maui comes to mind.  Until we dropped in one day on a cruise last year, we had no idea it might be someplace we would choose to experience in more depth.01-28-2013 Cruise Day 3

We returned to the ship in late afternoon, with some time to enjoy a poolside lounge and great reggae music from the band that sings mostly in Spanish.  Love the sound of that language in music. 

Sailaway was beautiful and I took way too many photos of the sunset before we ambled back to the Garden Café for a delicious dinner from the buffet.cruise day 3_035_01

Again, all the salads are fresh and tasty, with the choices from the Indian menu and the fresh made stir fry always excellent.  Many times there are Thai choices as well, with a tasty Thai roasted chicken and Thai noodles high on my list of favorites.

MBZ said something to me recently about cruising Norwegian that sums up the experience perfectly.  It isn’t Celebrity and doesn’t try to be.  There were so many positives that outweighed the very few negatives, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go on this cruise again for a simple getaway. 

cruise day 3_009POSITIVES:

  • The food was great, with plenty of choices and kinds of dining available
  • The crew was friendly and pleasant, and we especially enjoyed the diversity of the staff, from 60 different countries.
  • The ship was easy to navigate, big enough to be entertaining, but not so big we got lost all the time.
  • The entertainment was excellent and most of the time something was going on somewhere that was interesting.
  • There was enough time in the ports to actually enjoy them and we only had to be tendered to shore once during the cruise.
  • Embarkation and Disembarkation was slick and quick.
  • The ship wasn’t glitzy but it was clean and in good repair.  Launched in 2005 as one of the older ships, it was refurbished in 2009.
  • The bed was great.
  • We weren’t constantly harassed to buy alcohol
  • “washy washy”  I guess you had to be there to appreciate the singing, dancing staff dispensing antiseptic hand wash
  • Freestyle cruising a positive for us since we are often spontaneous with our decisions and can’t get back in time for a formal scheduled dinner
  • We enjoyed the lack of formality in the regular dining rooms
  • Our steward made great animals! 


  • We missed the navigation channel on the TV which was out of order for the entire cruise
  • The daily activities sheet was very limited, had no port history, and very little information about the area we were visiting
  • There were no informational kinds of lectures on board during the cruise
  • The ship décor was kind of kitschy.
  • The patio and deck service was often very limited.
  • The food wasn’t high end gourmet cruise food (not necessarily a negative thing).
  • Regular dining room service was a bit sketchy and rushed at times.
  • Freestyle cruising – a negative if you enjoy the formal dining room meals and service of a regular dinner seating
  • Our steward was adequate, not great, he didn’t always refill our ice bucket and the mirrors were sometimes streaky

01-27 2014 Evening on the Norwegian Jewel

This is the second in a series of catch-up posts about our Western Caribbean Cruise.  If you missed the first one, find it here.

sunset from the deck on our way to dinnerWe decided that after a full day at sea, a special dinner might be in order. 

We chose the Moderna Churrascaria, a traditional Brazilian Steakhouse complete with the extensive vegetable and salad bar that characterizes Brazilian style steakhouses. These restaurants seem to be all the rage, but they are not inexpensive in the “real” world.  What better way to give it a try than a $20 cover charge, per person, complete with gorgeous ocean view and no waiting lines.

There is no such thing as “formal night” on this kind of Freestyle cruising for which Norwegian Cruise Lines is famous.  I think they were one of the first lines to promote this less formal style.

01-27-2014 Cruise Day 2There are many venues to choose from, and if you don’t wish to wait, it is a good idea to make a reservation for dinner at your chosen venue.  Throughout the ship, and on your stateroom television, are electronic reader boards, much like those seen in an airport, which lists seating times for each restaurant and how quickly those seating times are filling.

With our reservation at Moderna early in the evening, we had time to catch a quick shot of the setting sun before we were seated at our window table.  Our waiter explained the process to us, encouraging us to help ourselves to the extensive salad bar, and then showing us the “green” and “red” side of our little table cards.  These are used to say “Stop” or “Go” for the serving of the spit grilled carved meats that will continue to arrive until you are filled.

This salad bar is nothing like an everyday salad bar, and even makes the extensive choices at some of the best salad buffets seem limited.  My favorite was a succulent celery and pear salad with candied walnuts, a lovely hearts of palm salad, a piquant tomato, fresh feta, cucumber and onion salad, the fresh and delightful cheviche…oh….I said my favorite??  No way could I decide. 

01-27-2014 Cruise Day 21We had a nice glass of Zen of Zin Old Vine Zinfandel, a favorite from Lodi, California, and robust enough to handle the ten varieties of carved meats that were to follow.  In addition to the meats carved at the table by the passadores (meat waiters), we were served little Brazilian cheese breads, excellent red beans and onions with peppers, mashed potatoes, rice, and deep fried plantains. After dinner, instead of a palate cleansing sorbet, we were served grilled fresh pineapple. Our dessert, served with excellent coffee, was a traditional flan, a silky papaya crème, and a coconut bread pudding.01-27-2014 Cruise Day 22

It was a delightful meal, and we enjoyed every minute of it .  Although there is no formal night, this first night at sea was designated, “Norwegian’s Night Out” and passengers were encouraged to dress up as much as they wanted.  I like to dress in something flowing, but it was great to wear sandals and a sweater with my silky sundress without feeling the least bit underdressed.  Some of our dining neighbors were in typical cruise sparkles, and others were wearing shorts.  I thought the idea of shorts in the nice restaurant was a bit tacky, but they were treated every bit as nicely as we were.

around the shipAfter dinner we wandered toward the casino, spending a bit of change at a couple of the flashy, noisy machines and ended up with the same amount with which we started.  Too bad that little bit of luck didn’t last through the next couple of nights, but for twenty bucks, it was cheap entertainment.

The evening show was a comedian who actually made both of us laugh out loud.  My cheeks hurt from laughing when it was over.  His humor was the best kind, based on simple observations of the humans around us.  It is the kind of humor that strikes a chord in most everyone.  It seems as though the older I get, the more it takes to get me to laugh like that.  Sure does feel good!cruise day 2_023

When we returned to our room, our steward had it all turned down and ready, complete with towel animals.  I think the towel animals are fading from cruise memory, so it was surprising to find them here on the Jewel.  Maybe a silly thing, but it does remind us that we are actually on a cruise.  The seas have been so calm and beautiful that there has been very little movement at all.  After my last experience crossing the incredibly rough Pacific Ocean to Hawaii, I was afraid I might not be able to cruise ever again.  A bit like getting back on the horse after a fall, and so far the horse has been just fine.


1-26 and 1-27 2014 Cruise Like a Norwegian

We are back in New Orleans where it is 68 F and very foggy.  This is the first of several posts about our Western Caribbean Cruise

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New OrleansOur first cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines left the Port of New Orleans on Sunday afternoon, right on time at 4PM.  We have cruised with other lines but never Norwegian, and after reading the reviews and hearing a few stories from friend Maryruth, we didn’t have any expectations for anything other than a simple cruise to escape some of the cold weather on the mainland.  I had heard rumors about the food being ‘not-so-great’ and had my own hesitation about spending a week amidst those primary colors that so characterize this NCL ship.

delightful hallwaysI was right about the primary colors.  They are everywhere, but instead of being jarring they are energizing.  Actually, it’s a lot of fun walking the long hallways on this ship, with bright turquoise doors, brightly colored fish on the carpet, and warm teakwood walls.  In fact, that brilliant turquoise is everywhere….in the tiles on our bathroom floor….in the brilliant velvet seats in the theater… in the main Atrium lobby mid-ship. 

With no expectations for luxury, imagine my delight to find that the bed in the stateroom is one of the best we can remember on any cruise in the last 11 years.  We had no need to beg for a piece of foam to make it tolerable, with the firm, non sagging surface nicely cushioned and honest to goodness real feather pillows.  With calm seas last night, I slept like a baby. 

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New OrleansThe embarkation process was interesting, with much longer lines before the security checkpoint than we remembered in the past, but once through security the boarding process was quick and efficient.  Unlike other lines, NCL not only takes the ID photo at the check in desk, but also registers your spending credit card at that time.  No extra work required. 

We had read about the restaurants, and knew that we wanted to try at least one paid restaurant.  Having already decided on the Brazilian steakhouse, it was convenient to make a reservation at a desk along the walkway to the ship, even before we boarded.  Once we entered the ship, there were bright balloons and banners everywhere, and a LOT of noise and a LOT of people.  Everything seemed very festive. 

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New OrleansGoing on a cruise does require an ability to set aside a distaste for crowds, at least for a time, and just relax into the fun of watching all the crazy people who go on a cruise.  This particular cruise seemed much different than others we have experienced in several ways, the kind of people cruising being one of the most notable.  Although there are people our age along, there are also a great number, the majority, of younger folks.  So far no one has been particularly boisterous in a negative way, but the high energy and willingness to have a good time is clearly evident.

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New OrleansWe noticed it especially during the Sail Away deck party last night.  No stuffy people here!  Folks were jumping out and dancing and even with the cool temperatures the top decks were full of excited people having fun and enjoying the beautiful views of New Orleans as we cruised down the mighty Mississippi toward the Gulf of Mexico. The great river meanders in wide circles as it flows east and south, and a couple of hours after embarkation, we found ourselves looking once again at the New Orleans skyline. 

Mo and I laughed as we passed an old building destroyed by Katrina, that we recognized from our drive back and forth from the NAS at Belle Chasse, and waved at the MoHo somewhere nearby waiting for our return. Accompanied by a beautiful red sun dropping below the horizon, we explored the ship a bit before returning to our room where our luggage was waiting.  It is always good to see your luggage by that door!  Since we are traveling for 3 months in the MoHo, with extra space somewhat limited, Mo and I managed to consolidate our cruise luggage for the 7 day cruise to one medium sized suitcase and a couple of carry-ons.

our stateroomOur stateroom at first seemed smaller than we were used to, and the balcony holds two chairs and a very small table.  Instead of the wide open balconies on Princess, these are enclosed, with the opening to the sea outside the sliding doors more of a very large porthole than a true balcony.  However, the biggest reason for a balcony is to have the ability to open the doors to the sea, and fresh air, so the lack of direct sunshine isn’t too difficult to manage.  The other nice thing about this is that no one is looking down on us from above, and so far it seems we have been spared the invisible smoking neighbors that can ruin a balcony cruise.

around the shipOur room has drapes that are bright shades of turquoise, the carpet is orange, turquoise, and purple.  The walls are warm teak and the pictures on the walls are brilliant colors of the Caribbean.  I wonder what that is like when the ship is cruising to Alaska as it does before it returns to New Orleans?! 

Once unpacked and settled in, we found that the smaller cabin wasn’t a problem, since the bathroom was quite roomy, with separate areas for the toilet, the sink, and the shower, each enclosed by sliding glass doors.  The closet is much smaller than Princess closets, but with only one case between us, that wasn’t a problem.  Without the formal dress requirements on this cruise, maybe big closets are not a necessity.  We have plenty of room, the space below the bed is large enough to store empty luggage with ease, and there are nice cubbyholes here and there that accommodate everything.

dinner at the  Tsars Palace dining roomWe opted for our first dinner on board in the Tsar’s Palace formal dining room.  Dressed in capris and decent tops, we were a bit concerned about the written requirement that ladies wear skirts in this dining room.  We didn’t bring skirts on this cruise and certainly didn’t want to don our dresses.  We were among the more conservatively dressed people, however, and I think we saw maybe a skirt or two the entire evening.  As I said, this is a very relaxed venue, and formality and stuffiness isn’t part of the experience.

We actually loved the dining room and enjoyed all the high energy conversation and people around us.  With the reservation I made in the afternoon for 7 pm, we passed the waiting line and were shown to our table for two immediately.  The service was excellent, and the food was great.  Not gourmet, but just really good, well prepared food.  I forgot to mention that our first meal onboard early in the afternoon was at the Garden Café buffet and it was also quite good.

cruise day 1_087Sometimes on Princess, the buffet food is lifeless, without flavor, almost institution style.  Here we had great salads that were fresh and flavorful, and the flow of the food areas seemed to be much less congested and easy to navigate than we have found in the Horizon Courts on Princess.  Hmmmm….so far, NCL is doing a pretty good job of winning us over.  We still enjoy Princess, but if this cruise continues as it has begun, we won’t avoid NCL opportunities if the price is right and the destination fits our needs.

The introductory show last night in the theater was just OK, with an interesting mix of performers.  There are people from 60 countries serving on this ship and that is reflected in the entertainment venues as well.  Especially entertaining, however, was a couple from France that performed a short Cirque routine that was impressive.  I am sure we will be sure to catch that one when it is scheduled.

cruise day 2_019The cruise director seemed to address the audience as working people who were on vacation rather than retirees on a cruise.  There seems to be a lot of entertainment on board in the various bars and restaurants, but we opted for those comfy beds.  Our morning waiting around in the hotel had been exhausting.  Can’t figure that out at all, but we were worn out and ready for bed when the show ended at ten.

This morning we slept till 7, very late for us, but with no cat walking on our head and no dog clicking her paws on the tile, there was nothing to wake us at 5. We are on deck 8, right by the elevators, so are doing well at avoiding getting lost.  The Garden Café is on the 12th deck and again, we found the breakfast to be flavorful and delightful.  The bacon actually tasted like bacon and the watermelon was fresh and perfectly ripe. 

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New OrleansTaking our coffee to the aft covered patio, we relaxed and enjoyed the slightly warmer breezes coming from the Gulf.  Still sweatshirt weather, but much warmer than New Orleans.  Took to the track to walk a mile, then down to the shopping area to see what was on board.  This area is much different than the individual shops on Princess.  Here the duty free shop is one large venue and has the usual mish mash of cutesy stuff for sale, as well as liquor and cigarettes, candy bars, sweatshirts and perfume. 

Wandering back to our room, I decided I wanted a good cappuccino and stopped in at the mid ship coffee bar.  We managed  to get to the central atrium just in time for the cooking demonstration, yet early enough to snag a couple of comfortable chairs.  I must say that this was the most entertaining mid-ship show I have ever seen.

first morning at seaOf course, I didn’t have the camera with me….so I don’t have any kind of record of the fantastic demonstration put on the by sushi chefs, making a California Roll recipe, and then passing around perfect bites and an entire plate of beautiful sushi that was shared by the lucky recipient in the front row.  That demonstration was followed by the Executive Chef who seared a perfect filet and then made a fabulous green peppercorn sauce as accompaniment. Perfect little bites of filet and sauce with the potato au gratin were again passed around the crowd.  The final demonstration was of a delightful little French apple dessert with caramel, and of course we all got a bit of that as well.  The highlight of the show, however, was put on by the knife wielding tableside chefs of the Teppanyaki Restaurant. 

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New OrleansOf course, they were tempting us to pay the various fees for the 8 specialty dining  venues that range in cost from $15 to $30 per person and as much as $99 for some fancy French 9 course dinner.  Some folks are not happy with the paid venues, thinking that a cruise should provide this kind of dining experience as part of the package cost. There are two formal dining rooms available with no extra charge. This cruise was relatively inexpensive, and for the cost we are getting a great deal.  I am willing to pick and choose from more luxurious meals if I wish to do so.

I must leave in a few minutes for my pedicure!  Can’t hit the beaches of Cozumel with chipped toenails! 

Norwegian Jewel Sailaway from the Port of New Orleans inside the Spinnaker LoungeLate afternoon:  The seas are still calm, and with our east facing cabin on the port side of the ship, we are in the afternoon shadow.  The warmth in the air seems to increase with every hour.  I am from the west side of the US.  Disliking humidity is supposed to be part of the western genetic makeup, and like most anyone else, I don’t particularly like 99 percent humidity and 99 degrees on a hot summer day.  But there is something about being enveloped in warm, moist, tropical air that smells of sea and flowers that is so incredibly soothing.  My skin, dry and cracked from winter cold and dry air, sucks up the moisture like an old cactus that hasn’t seen rain in a year.

cruise day 3_009My time in the spa was delightful, with a pampering foot massage to accompany my pedicure.  Surprisingly, it cost no more than such treatment costs back home in Klamath Falls, without the addition of a sea view and a few flying fish to entertain me here and there. 

Mid-afternoon Mo and I decided to go to the pool deck, and while there was the usual shortage of deck chairs around the pool, Deck 13, just above the pools, had a couple of chairs for us near the railing with a view below.  Mo settled in with her book and I went back down the stairs to the pool.  There are two pools mid-ship on deck 12, with one designated for adults only.  There were a few people in the water, but no one was really swimming.  I jumped in and had enough room to do a few laps after I adjusted to the chilly water.  Diving below the surface, I was surprised to come up for air with salty water in my eyes.  These pools are salt water from the ocean, crystal clear but very salty.  The salt makes the water especially buoyant, which is fun for swimming and just floating on your back looking at the sky.

Cozumel sailaway with a reggae band on the pool deckBeside the pools are hot tubs, popular on this moderately cool afternoon, and a nice fresh water shower to get the salt out of your hair.  Back to my deck chair in the sun and a bit of an afternoon snack.  Are you getting the idea?  The people around me are basically irrelevant.  They provide visual entertainment to go along with the very good Latin band that is playing poolside.  Some folks are really enjoying the Spanish lyrics and singing along.  Mo reads, I nap until I get too chilled from my wet swim suit and suggest we might go back to our cabin.

As I watch the sky, feel the air, and listen to the music, I keep thinking of all those people I know who say they would hate to go on a cruise.  Too boring, too confining, too many people….all the usual responses of non cruisers who insist it must be just awful.  I am an outdoor person, I love to hike and bike and kayak, I love camping in wild places, boondocking in the desert, and yes….I do love a good cruise!  Especially with interesting skies, calm seas, and warm air.  Cozumel sailaway with a reggae band on the pool deck