Welcome back blog readers,
I had hoped that with the purchase of the internet package onboard the Norwegian Epic that I might have been able to post more frequently. That simply was not the case at all.
The connection was spotty at best and the only place we received a signal in our stateroom was just behind the door. Even then our plan was for 250 minutes over the course of 10 days (which isn’t horrible), but what is horrible is the fact that it took several minutes to log in, get a connection and log out so we wasted more time doing that than we did actually using the internet. I wish I was exagerating, but I’m not. The other morning I used the last 14 minutes logging on to the ships’ internet, signing into Facebook to post an update (two short sentences no pictures) watched it load to 99% before asking me to retry (I declined) and logging off right after.
There is much that I want to share about cruising for those first-time cruisers, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, I’ll just share the highlights and other memorable moments from this cruise.
Our first day is probably going to be the most memorable as it was December 5th, 2018 and we had arrived early enough to board the Norwegian Epic on the day NASA had a scheduled rocket launch.
I was able to get a few pictures and a short video, surprisingly as there was such a glare on my screen that I wasn’t sure I caught anything at all. Still, pretty cool and great timing and positioning to witness such an event.
Since we were celebrating our 10 year anniversary, I decided to buy the “Anniversary” Package which ensured that your stateroom will be decorated with streamers/balloons and you’ll have a fancy cake waiting for you as you enter your stateroom.
The cake was HUGE at least 10 inches in diameter and the streamers/balloons were a nice touch, they were Dollar store quality so it’s hard to justify spending $54.00 (USD) which is more like $63.00 CAD for a cake meant for two but could have easily have fed 12 generously. By day 3 we still had half the cake left before we asked our room attendant to dispose of it. While it was a nice touch and my heart was in the right place, it’s something I won’t do again. There was zero foresight with the cake as far as providing extra clean plates/forks after we used the ones provided and there wasn’t a cover of any sort to keep it moist (sorry, I know that word bothers some folks), or any container to store the leftovers in. The cake and plate was so large that it would not fit in the mini fridge. First world problems, I know, right?
The majority of day one is usually spent getting acclimated to the layout of the ship and getting familiar with where things are (Forward, Aft, Mid-ship and which Deck), when/if they open/close and scoping out the casino before it opens. I did however leave the last copy of my book in the casino for a lucky reader to find.
The ship did have a Library, which was my first place to leave it, but since the Library wasn’t easy to find on the first day. The Library is shown to be on Deck 5, I looked and found a door that had a sign “Library/Meeting Room” so I opened the door to find it was just a meeting room, no books. I asked a crew member to which they pointed me back to the direction that I came from, which wasn’t helpful. We stumbled upon the Game room which was off of the Photo Gallery and inside of the Game room was another door that lead to the Library. No sign on the door, no indication that the Library was to be accessed through the Game Room. Just another slight annoyance that I found on this ship (hidden/misleading signage).
Day 2 and 3 We were scheduled to stop at Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas, which is owed by the Norwegian Cruise Line. While the weather was beautiful, it was too windy for the tenders to safely transport the passengers to/from the island. One less day at port means you get your port fees refunded.
- This is not my video, I don’t own any rights to it. Just wanting to show you the port that we missed. The guy narrating makes some good points.
The shops and casino onboard are only open once the ship enters international waters (Sea Days and 30 minutes after we leave a port). Which sounds like fun, but can also be dangerous as it is so easy to keep swiping your room card at the slot machines. For those of you that have not been on a cruise, your room card key is typically how you pay for most things on the ship, this same card key allows you to enter your stateroom, pay for drinks at the various bars, pay for any excursions, pay for specialty dining onboard and buy souveniers at some ports and on this ship it’s also used to turn your lights in the stateroom on (although any credit card sized card seemed to work just as well, which I recommend as you are likely to forget your room card key in the fixture and risk locking yourself out). Also, your room card is what gets scanned each time you want to leave the ship on the port days and acts as identification when trying to leave the port and get back onto the ship.
Day 4 Ocho Rios Jamaica
Here is the view from our stateroom. For whatever reason, this cruise ship has their life boats that extend beyond the balconies which means most of the staterooms with a balcony will have an obstructed view. Here I’ll show you what I mean.
This was taken the same day as we finished shopping in Ocho Rios. We did have a stateroom with a balcony, as you can see most rooms (not interior) do. Our room was on Deck 8, Starboard side which is what we are looking at. Our room was located between the third and fourth lifeboat (left to right which is actually #13 & #15), first row of balcony rooms. At the first glance we were excited because it does extend farther out than most balconies above us, but we quickly realized that other passengers could look down and we didn’t have any privacy. Not that we planned on sunbathing nude, but you can kind of see that the balconies above are set inside while the first level are pushed out. Not only was there a lack of privacy, but we also had guests smoking on their balconies (NOT ALLOWED by the way) because there are designated areas onboard plus the casino to smoke in.
The first morning I woke up to finding that a guest from an above deck spit a loogie (also not allowed to spit or throw anything over the side of the deck) which landed on our chair. The second morning I found a cigarette butt on the floor of our balcony. We didn’t have the same interest to spend time out there, especially after hearing people above clear their throat and sounding like they were getting ready to spit again. Which is unfortunate because we love spending time out there, it’s how I start my mornings until my husband wakes up.
As for Ocho Rios, it’s a lovely port with lots of local vendors looking to sell their goods. For those first-time cruisers, here’s a tip when it comes to shopping at the ports. As far as the basic souvenirs, you will see them in ALL of the shops, so don’t buy from the vendors closest to the port. Walk around, window shop, check the prices because in most cases what you wanted to buy for $20 can be found for less if you walk further from the port entrance/exit. Expect to be harassed by the taxi drivers, private excursions/tour guides and forced to haggle on pricing in Jamaica. Not all shops, but a majority of them. You can easily spot which ones they are because none of their items are priced, nor are there signs with pricing. Again, these shops that haggle also carry the same things as those that clearly price their goods. Enter at your own risk. The key is to not make eye contact or touch anything, that is seen as an invite to start haggling and price negotiating. If you don’t mind a bit of bargaining, you’ll be in heaven. If you’re like me and don’t want to be harassed or pressured into offering a fair price for a trinket they ask $35 USD for, but you know that’s way too much and you feel that offering $10 is reasonable but you don’t want to insult them, then stick to the shops that have prices on everything. Don’t get me wrong, I could spend all day admiring the work from the locals, there is so much artistic talent that I can appreciate, but I’m not a haggler. Just know that ALL SALES ARE FINAL, so make sure it fits and it’s not damaged before leaving the shop.
Day 5, Grand Cayman Island
Grand Cayman, another lovely port, very historical with lots of shops, restaurants with Wi-Fi, and local vendors that set up in the marketplace as you arrive. This port also requires a tender for transporting guests to/from the port. We spent a good two hours walking around, window shopping and taking it all in. The only downside (as a tourist) is that we arrived on Sunday when many of the shops were closed. Just a few things to note, be careful crossing the streets, they drive like Europeans (nothing wrong with that, just might catch the North American tourists off guard) and don’t be alarmed to see chickens and roosters walking about. The advice I gave about not buying from the first vendor also applies here. We talked to a shop owner a few blocks away that mentioned that he supplies the vendors with the trinkets to sell, which those vendors mark them up knowing many tourists may not venture a few blocks to find the same thing for cheaper. The best thing (in my opinion) no high-pressure sales, all items are priced. Feel free to explore, as there are many hidden gems located upstairs and in courtyards. Take advantage of the various stores/restaurants that promote each other by offering coupons for discounts on your meals/purchases at nearby shops.
Day 6 was a Sea Day.
Day 7, Harvest Cay, Belize
To this point, this was my favorite port. We did opt to go on an excursion through the mangroves in hopes to see local wildlife (MANATEES). This picture was taken at the Marina were many of the excursions were meeting up and leaving from. We had a great tour with Captain Curtis and Sue who was very friendly and bubbly. Before we got started they offered all their guests Rum Punch, once everyone had a cup in hand, we started our search for wildlife. We did see a manatee as it kept coming to the surface to breath. As the boat stayed still with the engine off, it grew more curious and ventured a bit closer. Sadly, I wasn’t able to capture our manatee sighting as they are quick to stick their nose up and go back down. We also saw jelly fish, oysters on the trunks of the mangroves, two termite nests and what Sue called a bamboo chicken (Iguana). This island is well maintained, the locals are friendly, there are local vendors as well as big named stores like Del Sol, Cariloha, Harley Davidson. There was a little haggling but not as pushy as Jamaica. There is also a local chocolate making shop, MOHO, If you love chocolate as much as I do, stop in for a free sample. There is so much to see and do, so check out this video
Day 8, Costa Maya in Mexico
Costa Maya, Mexico another great port and by far the most entertaining as the locals really love to show off their culture. Great bargains in many of the shops, some haggling, but not as high pressured as Jamaica. My husband was looking for a button down Hawaiian shirt, most shops are geared toward women shoppers. I did catch a men’s shirt hanging up in a doorway to one of the shops just before we left, and as I mentioned, once you touch an item, you’ve just initiated the haggling process. My husband touched the shirt to gauge the quality and without missing a beat the vendor notices and pounces. He was trying to reel us in with an opening line of “Oh, you like that shirt sir, for you it’s practically FREE”! My husband has played this game before, so he knows the opening offer isn’t going to be close to FREE, the opening offer after showing him a few styles in various colors was $135 USD. There is no way my husband was going to pay anything close to that, as he only had a little over $40 USD on him at that time. My husband declined, the offer went down to $85 to which my husband said no thank you, I just don’t have that much on me. The vendor asked how much he wanted to pay for the shirt, my husband said he didn’t want to insult him offering a low amount considering he had dropped the price from $135 to $85. The vendor is hell-bent on making a sale, he places the shirt into a shopping bag, places it in my husband’s hands and lowers the price to $45. Still not having enough money, my husband declines but counters with $35. The vendor was less than thrilled, or at least he made it look that way, but agreed to that price of $35, SOLD! With bag in hand we were quick to leave before the vendor could change his mind. Haggling does work if you appear less interested and let them drive the price down.
Day 9, Cozumel Mexico
Another great port for shopping, snorkeling, laying out in the sun and enjoying the local cuisine and cheap drinks. You walk off from the pier right into an outdoor shopping plaza with local vendors, big named stores and recognizable restaurant chains like Starbucks and Hooters. Some vendors will invite you in to haggle, most have their items priced. If you’ve noticed that you’ve got quite a bit of sun, stop into the drugstore for some aloe as it will be much cheaper to buy in Mexico than on the ship, the same goes for snacks or travel sized toiletries. Just be careful not to bring food (veggies, fruits, meats) off from the ship or back onto the ship. They will check your bags, backpacks, diaper bags and pass them in front of a dog. So finish your breakfast before you leave the ship, don’t walk off with a banana because it will get taken from you.
Overall I give this cruise experience a 6.5 out of 10. The score has nothing to do with the ports/destinations and everything to do with the Cruise ship and some of the crew members. You’ve heard my grievance with the balcony location, here’s a video to give you an idea as to what most of the rooms look like (ours was reversed, but the same awkward set up).
I’ll come back with another post that compares Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Holland America and Norwegian. As it is I’ve spent all day (since I got back home from the airport) putting this post together… To be continued….
* I don’t have any rights to these videos, I do own the pictures that were taken by me on this cruise.