We are a retired couple in our late fifties with more than a dozen cruises on Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess and Holland America. This was our second NCL cruise, our other one being a Transatlantic on the Epic. Our group consisted of us, a friend and our two adult daughters. We chose this cruise as we had two CruiseNext credits that we could use on any cabin on a double-up offer. It coincided with my wife's 60th birthday which she wanted to celebrate on a cruise. We also cruised out of New Orleans before and wanted to try it again.
We arrived by car two evenings prior and stayed at an Airbnb in Carrollton. On cruise morning, our group of five split with all the luggage going in my car and the overflow passengers in an Uber. I thought Sunday morning would be an easy time to get to the port.
This is no fault of NCL but getting to the ship was a chaotic mess. Many streets were either closed or temporary one ways (always in the wrong direction). I finally made my way around the Hilton, across the trolley tracks and along the pier in an agonizingly slow queue of traffic. Although the ship was clearly in sight, there absolutely no signage regarding luggage drop or parking. I finally got to an intersection and had no choice but to turn right and back across the trolley tracks. On the other side, we finally saw people taking luggage out of their vehicles and some baggage carts. Again, no signage but we dropped the bags and hoped for the best (it was legit, no problem with our bags). We were directed to an outdoor parking lot (I was expecting a garage at the port). The parking lot was labeled Hilton parking at $48/day with no mention of cruise parking. I was able to u-turn out and re-enter the hell of closed and one way streets. I was desperate to park anywhere but could not find my way back to any garage. Finally, I took another penalty lap all the way along the pier again. A very unhelpful police officer told me I couldn't miss the parking. With a sinking feeling of deja vu, I again made the mandatory right turn across the trolley tracks and this time spotted a tiny cruise parking sign just past the tracks before the aforementioned luggage drop point. It was the exact same outdoor parking lot but the back entrance was manned by a guy with a card reader and he charged the expected $140 for the week and gave me an exit ticket.
Completely frazzled, I made my way into the shopping center and rendezvoused with my group. The line for security was quite long at this point (again, not an NCL issue). There were a few employees (I think from the port) that were doing their best to manage the lines and the wait was probably about 20 minutes.
Check-in with the cruise line was prompt and efficient once we were through security and, because of the previous delays, general boarding was on progress so there was no wait to walk onto the ship.
Other than myself, my entire party was interested in spa packages/treatments so we went directly to the spa. My wife was able to secure a thermal spa pass for the cruise at $199. She enjoys the more sedate hot tub, steam baths and heated loungers. Others were booking massages and other treatments. As usual, there was the constant upselling.
With my blood pressure still spiking from the parking debacle, I was ready for a drink and lunch. My plan was to swing by O'Sheehan's to check on the crowd and proceed to the buffet if it looked too packed or backed up. When we got to O'Sheehan's, there was no line and we were seated immediately. A waiter quickly took our food and lunch order. Then, no clue what happened next. Our meals arrived first. The fish and chips were okay, not very hot and not very many chips. We asked our waiter about our drinks and he told us one minute. Shortly after that, a manager arrived and asked how was everything. We told him we were almost finished with our meals and still waiting on our drinks (two Moscow Mules, a glass of white wine and bottle of Stella Artois.). He said he would check and disappeared. As the waiter was clearing our dishes, we asked about our drinks again and were told just one minute. When he returned, he had one Mule and a glass of wine and said the others were ready, then disappeared. I flagged down the manager and asked about our other two drinks. He said they were coming. When the waiter finally brought the final two drinks, it included a Moscow Mule and a bottle of Corona. My wife asked for her Stella and was only told at this point that it wasn't available. So far, the cruise was looking disastrous.
After lunch, we made our way down to our cabin on deck 5. It was an inside and things finally started looking up. The bed was configured as a king, our preordered bottled water was there as well as a bottle of sparkling wine and the air conditioning was nice and cold. It was conveniently close to the elevator lobby but we always found it quiet. We met our room steward and she was excellent throughout the cruise.
Despite the terrible start, the rest of the cruise was smooth sailing.
The ship is larger than we would normally choose to cruise but it is a great ship. It is very well maintained and also very clean. I'm not a big fan of hull art but that is a personal preference. The Haven suites on top the ship lend a chunky appearance to an otherwise sleek ship. The officers and crew obviously have great pride in their vessel. Only complaint is the excessive smoke emanating from the casino into other public areas.
We had an excellent slate of dining opportunities. Our two dinners in the MDR were good; no wait for a table, attentive service from both dining room and bar staff and decent food. I had a sliced sirloin one night which was flavorful if a little tough and a very nice broiled blue fish the other night. Both dishes could have been hotter. One night we made reservations for the Shanghai Noodle Bar and we enjoyed it. We were seated at the appointed time, had quick service and the food was excellent; served good and hot. It could have used a little more spice. Our other specialty restaurants included LaCucina, Le Bistro and Moderno. At all three, once again our tables were ready as reserved, bar service was prompt and the food was truly outstanding. I had the veal at Cucina, the escargot and filet steak at Bistro and we all had the meat sweats after our carnivorous exhibition at Moderno. I would rate my steak at Bistro as a lifetime top ten. Most of our breakfasts were at the buffet and we found the offerings varied, nicely prepared, well presented and had no problems finding seating. We also had a breakfast at Margaritaville and recommend it...no charge, no crowds, great views. A very welcome surprise was the Indian buffet at Moderno on the last sea day, watch the daily program carefully so you don't miss this wonderful treat. Our one visit to the MDR for breakfast was a fiasco, service took over an hour.
My wife and I made precruise reservations for the Million Dollar Quartet and we very much enjoyed it. If you are a fan of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, early rock and roll or rockabilly, you'll love this show. Although we had reservations, there were plenty of seats. I spent an evening at the Howl at the Moon dueling piano bar and had a good time. The three musicians were outstanding and the crowd was really into the show. Then, for some reason, they did an Eminem number which cleared the joint (I was leading the retreat). The lounge performers were fine but none really resonated with me. Did not see any comedy shows. The first trivia of the cruise was airline trivia which I won with 20 out of 20 right. I did not fare as well in subsequent trivia. The line sponsored two veterans gatherings which were well attended and much appreciated.
The service aboard was mostly excellent. All crew members seemed to be smiling and ready to chat. The only poor service we found was at the pool bars where they seemed to always be overwhelmed. Twice I gave up without ordering. Exceptional service was found at the Mixx bar and at the Margaritaville bar.
We had been Roatan before, Cozumel several times and many times to Belize but never to Harvest Caye. The grounds at Harvest Caye are beautiful and we enjoyed walking around, looking at the beaches and checking out the shops. Although I typically shop for excursions, I took the easiest path and booked two catamaran trips through the ship. We enjoyed both very much. In Roatan, we went with the Jolly Roger at $99pp. The snorkeling was good and the lunch and on-board party fun. In Cozumel, we went with Fury at $85pp and had good snorkeling with lots of fish and a very enjoyable beach break. I can recommend both excursions although we did benefit from small group sizes.
Disembarking was quite easy. We elected to do self-assist. It was crowded but the crew did a fairly good job of queue management. Once the line started moving right at 7am, it moved quickly and smoothly albeit with the usual inconsiderate line jumpers. No delay at immigration control and we were in the car before 7:30.
Overall, this was a highly satisfactory cruise. I think I will avoid New Orleans in the future as Galveston and Los Angeles are both closer. Still, the food and personal service make this a cruise well worth considering.
Horrible traffic flow around the port. No signage for direction. Surly or unhelpful local police. Disorganized bag drop. Expensive parking, $140 for an outdoor, uncovered space.
You are pretty much hostage to the cruise line offerings for excursions. Still, there seems to be plenty to do on the private island and the grounds are beautiful.
Booked the Jolly Roger catamaran. It included lunch ( rice, beans, cabbage salad and grilled chicken, all edible) and rum drinks after snorkeling. Boat was well maintained with excellent crew. Okay snorkeling, nice reefs but not so many fish. Decent value at $99pp.View All 345 Snorkeling Reviews
Went on the Fury catamaran. Part of the good experience was that the boat was only at about one third of capacity. Great crew and well maintained vessel. Snorkeling was okay, the reefs were pretty deep but there were still lots of fish. After snorkeling, the bar was open and the draft Dos Equis beer was ice cold. At the private beach, there was more complementary draft beer (didn't try the Margarita). Lunch cost $11 but we passed. Beach is very clean, no annoying vendors, fun floaty things in the water, free kayaks and paddle boards. A very decent value at $85pp.View All 151 Catamaran tour Reviews