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

01-29-2014 Day 4 Belize

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

This is fourth 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, and Cozumel 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

Atuln Ha Mayan ruinsMy son lived with his father in Belize a few years ago.  Son John and father are both dive instructors, so the crystalline waters of Belize were a great attraction for them.  I think John’s dad wanted to establish a dive shop there, he had one in Missouri at the time.  He also had some idea about reclaiming old mahogany logs that are submerged in the waters around Belize.  Son John says that Belize has changed a lot in the last few years, and that his father has lost some friends to the drug cartels.  Hmmmm. 

On a cruise ship, for just a single day, however, all this is irrelevant.  I was enamored with all those great photos that show up on Pinterest of crystalline turquoise water and white sands.  Remember those ads on HGTV?  Gorgeous houses, and “come to our great little country!”  Looked pretty darn inviting.  I am sure that in some places it is incredibly inviting.  After all, it is an English speaking country with a stable banking system.  Or so they say.  I probably won’t ever need to find out for sure.

cruise day 4_004The reef that borders the coastline of the country is the second longest in the world, next to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  Along that reef are hundreds of small islands.  According to John, that is where all the beautiful little beaches with white sand and perfect water are located. 

Belize is the place where we decided to pay for a ship’s excursion, choosing to visit the Maya ruins at Altun Ha.  There are many ruin excursions to choose from, both on Belize and in other port cities that we visited, but this one appealed to us because it was a smaller site, and unlike Chichten Itza, on the Yucatan Peninsula, you can actually climb the temples at Altun Ha. We later decided, for several reasons, that it was a good choice for our day in Belize.

cruise day 4_002Because of the reef, the ships are anchored some distance from the port town of Belize City.  The tenders are quite different from others we have experienced, holding a about 150 people, with no top side deck.  The tendering process is similar to most ships, with tour groups gathering in the theater and waiting for their number to be called.  The tender trip took about 20 minutes and wasn’t rough or crowded due to the size of the large tender.  There were two other ships anchored nearby, including the Norwegian Dawn and a Carnival ship. 

cruise day 4_003Once at the port, however, my impressions of Belize City began to deteriorate.  The port is very small and very crowded, with a terrible bottleneck between the dock and the tour busses.  Standing in a crowd of people in a narrow tunnel waiting for a bus is not something to do if you are at all claustrophobic or have a problem with crowds.  The tropical city was warm and humid and the people around us were kind of obnoxious.  We just ignored them for the most part and waited.

Once on the bus, the air conditioning kicked in and in spite of the broken seat Mo drew, it was OK.  We had two guides for the day and a driver.  Don’t forget to plan for tips to the guides and drivers on these tours.  It is how they make their living. Our first guide was OK, he thought he was funny I guess.  He would say something, then wait with a enigmatic smile for us to laugh.  I am not sure if he wasn’t funny, or if the group had no sense of humor, but the funniest thing was watching him wait for the laughs.

Atuln Ha Mayan ruinsThe ruins are about an hour from the port, just 59 kilometers, but the roads are bumpy and the last few miles are extremely rough dirt tracks into the jungle.  We toured around the city a bit on the way north, and I wasn’t exactly impressed.  There is an area for expats that is considered the “upscale” area, and the southern part of town near the port where the worker bees live.  The main buildings of the town that we saw looked pretty ugly…square gray things with no real architecture to speak of. 

Belize used to be the country of British Honduras, controlled by the British for much of its history, hence the English language.  However most local folks speak Spanish or Creole.  The country is understandably proud of its complex ethnicity, including three tribes of Maya, Mestizo (Spanish and Indian) and Creole (African and European).

Atuln Ha Mayan ruinsOnce we arrived at the temple site, the air was warm and humid and the skies were gorgeous.  I said to Mo, “Remind me that I like tropical humidity!”.  I like it when I can experience it and then leave it, I think.  Can’t imagine living in it long term.  There were several large groups of people at the site, and the guides insist that groups stay together so they can tell their story.  We had about 45 minutes of listening to the guide standing around under hot sun and then about half an hour to explore on our own.

Atuln Ha Mayan ruinsI have always wanted to visit some of these ruins, enjoyed reading about the cultures that built them, enjoyed seeing them and climbing the temples.  Believe me, climbing those steps is an exercise in balance, and I was glad for the handrails on the way back down.  We had a great time, yet I felt none of the internal awe and recognition that I have felt in other similar sites.  Guess I never was a Mayan in some past life.  I wasn’t “moved” by it.  I never did ask Mo about this part, how she felt there. I am the touchy, feely one and she mostly enjoys stuff for what it is, while I am always trying to “feel” it.

Atuln Ha Mayan ruinsThere are places I have been in the world that wake up my soul, wake up genetic memories.  Sites in Turkey and Malta come to mind, and of course, my beloved Colorado Plateau.  Maybe I was just a bit jaded by the groups and the guides and by traveling through a country where roadside garbage was the worst I have seen, ever.  Everywhere.  The waterways were thick with garbage.

Still, it was an experience I wouldn’t want to miss, and I do hope to someday see some of the other sites.  I wanted to read more about the culture, especially David Pendergast, the famous archeologist who explored these ruins and put Belize on the map.  The famous jade head, more than 9 pounds and the largest ever found, was discovered here in this temple.  Much like what has happened in other parts of the world, the artifacts were supposedly taken from the country, but this skull is now in Belize, and resides in the Central Bank of Belize vault under heavy guard.

Atuln Ha Mayan ruinsOf note during the guide’s discussions of Maya culture was the lack of sensationalism regarding the possibility of human sacrifice at the temples.  He discussed extensively the various blood rites performed by the priests, although how these are documented, I have no clue.  Piercing the tongue and genitals was a common rite it seems.  I would have to do a great deal more research to discover the source and validity of the various theories about how these temples were used almost 4,000 years ago.

We were hot and tired when we returned to the ship in late afternoon.  Heading for the pool deck, we had an especially tasty burger and fries and retreated to our cabin for a cool, air conditioned nap.  Supper again was a fresh salad from the Garden Café on the aft deck. Evening entertainment for us was some delightful music in the Magnum Champagne bar by Duo Luna, accompanied for me by a tasty cucumber basil martini.  It was to be a big night on the pool deck, with a Mardi Gras parade and some kind of big party, but our music lasted until the parade was over, so we skipped the whole thing. 

Gotta take a break from all the cruise stuff now and then.Atuln Ha Mayan ruins


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.