Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cruisin' - The Review

The short story: We had a fun time on our 3 day cruise on the Norwegian Sky making stops in Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay.  We napped, explored, stuffed ourselves, and overall had a nice time.  However, there were some drawbacks and we probably would  not recommend this same cruise to friends.

The long story:

We flew in on Friday morning wondering the earliest we could get on board. Turns out Noon was just about a perfect time to arrive and grab lunch.  Our first interaction with a Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) employee exceeded our expectations as one of the greeters located Band Aids for Jason after he opened an old renovating wound.  Then we were greeted on the boat by a crowd of employees high fiving us.Then a photographer looked at our tickets, assumed we were German because of our surnames, and asked us if we spoke German.  Mr. Palindrome replied, in German, that he spoke a very little.  The photographer told us, in German, that we spoke nothing.  Then he took the worst picture of us that has ever been taken.  NOt that the exposure was bad, we just looked like we had walked through a wind tunnel and had wounded German speaking egos.

After lunch, we napped on the dorm like comfort of pushed together twin beds.  When I woke up, I realized that the sun was setting and we were pulling out of port.  I cracked my back into place and rushed up to take a few photos.

You'll notice that we're wearing fleeces.  Right after this picture, we rushed back "inside" to warm up.  This became the story of our lives for the rest of the trip.

Mr. Palindrome, ever the negotiator, wanted to attend a shopping seminar that promised to teach us how to get the manager's price when we pulled into Nassau.
The seminar turned out to be an hour long sponsored infomercial with a hard sell.  There were no tips on haggling, just story after story about how Nassau was a premier shopping destination.   The only redeeming factor was that I won a free bamboo t-shirt for yelling, "Woo!" at the appropriate time.  In port, I went to buy the incredible bargain of bamboo sheets, but at $140, even with the manager's discount of 10% and shipping, I might as well buy these from Brookstone for a sale price of $79.95.  The shopping was a tourist trap with two capital Ts.  Tourist. Trap.
 We did have a nice morning on the boat eating breakfast and imagining ourselves in a Bond film.  I survived an attack of the gulls by acting like an enraged lunatic and flapping my hands like an Angry Bird.  The only casualty was a sausage link.


Mr. Palindrome stripped down to his t-shirt, but if you can see my reflection in his sunglasses, you can see I was still wearing a long sleeve running pull over.  I figured I could always take it off later if I got too warm on our excursion.  We had two really good guesses about our knee-padded excursion, but I was really doubting anyone would guess.  We're such nerds.



 In my little, naive, and overly optimistic mind, I had grandiose visions of seeing the real Bahamas.  I wanted local guides to give me the inside scoop on the best conch chowder, local beer, and meaningful souvenirs.  What we got was a 10 minute ride down to the Fish Fry, a 30 minute free for all on a cricket pitch, and a hard selling market where children were begging me to buy their mother's goods.  But gosh, riding a Segway is fun.  For reals, if I ever live in a place where it would be plausible to ride one to work, I'd totally get one.
One nice thing about our tour guide is that he took several pictures for us and didn't charge us for the prints.  His directions were hilarious: "Face each other.  Lean over the handlebar.  Give the peace sign.  One knee up!"  This is our one knee up pose.

After the tour we thought about heading back to the Fish Fry area for local food, but since we had passed it twice on the Segways and it was out of the way from down town we skipped it.  Big mistake.  We ended up eating at the Iguana Cafe Bar and Grill.

At this point, it was overcast and windy but I still insisted on eating outdoors.  After earning my nickname of the Bee Slayer though, I thoroughly regretted it.

I had just read an in depth article in the Delta magazine about bee keeping, so I felt bad about killing off a dying species, but not bad enough to risk getting stung.  Been there, done that and never want to get stung again.  Mr. Palindrome said he would take over, but after a few missed swats, I knew he wasn't a killer and I took the duty back.

In retrospect, we should have made the extra effort to walk back to the Fish Fry because as I alluded to before, the shopping was not worth the effort of walking around down town and the lunch was so-so.

Actually there were a series of things that were advertised on the boat that turned out to have strings attached.  The shopping seminar's "Free Charm Bracelet" was only if you visited a certain store down town, presented a coupon, and then you had to buy the first charm.  The poker tournament rules weren't announced until after the initial buy in and it turned out that they were offering 3 additional rounds of re-buying in and a waiting list that could get spots for the first hour.  The art auction advertised a free print, but when you got there it was explained that you had to apply for a credit card that you could only use to buy art with their auction company.  The gimmicks went on and on.  I haven't felt more nickled and dimed since the last time I did my own taxes.  Soda mugs were being sold for $6.95 a day.  Coffee was only free in the buffet not at the bar in between meal times.  Printed photos were running $10-30 depending on the size.

We had decided that we didn't want to pay too much for extra food and drink, so we didn't sample any of the upscale restaurants which had $25 cover charges.  We hit up the two for one martini (STRONG!) and the two for one mojito (weak!) specials to limit our alcohol bill.  Even with fairly conservative on-board spending, the cabin bill still seemed high for a vacation that is marketed as inclusive.

On the last day of the cruise, we moored near NCL's private island, Great Stirrup Cay which they tout as this pure, untouched paradise.  Some of it certainly was very scenic and nature-y.  However, when they're in the middle of construction on half the island and there are 1000 people all in the same little strip of beach, it's not quite the paradise you'd imagine from the description.
Mr. Palindrome and I braved the water for about 15 minutes when the sun managed to peek through the clouds.  We donned snorkel gear and swam about the cove with about 20 other snorkelers until we got separated.  Mr. Palindrome swam with another woman for a few minutes before realizing she wasn't me.  By that time I had headed toward shore with blue lips and chattering teeth.  We went back to the boat and took a nap.

Besides the poker tournament, our other evening entertainment consisted of a newly wed/not so newly wed game show, a Elton John/Billy Joel sing-a-long and a comedian.  The game show was only as good as the contestants, but we had a lot of fun talking about our answers to the various questions.  The sing-a-long was a ton of fun - even though we were the only ones under 50, we knew all the words and belted them out with the gusto that accompanies a bucket of beer.  The comedian was hands down the funniest comedian that I've seen in a long time.  Guttural laughs are the sure sign that it's darn funny.

We didn't know the check out time until the night before the last morning.  Turns out that latest time to disembark is 9:30. AM.  In the morning.  The 9:30 we hadn't been awake to see the whole cruise.  We actually had to set an alarm.  What a way to end vacation!  We weren't about to skip the included breakfast, so we crammed that in too.

The bottom line is that we got a good deal ($229 per person for the 3 day cruise with an ocean view picture window)  which is reasonable for food and lodging on a vacation.  Our excursions, Segway and snorkeling, were fun but did not meet expectations.  Our favorite part about the trip was spending time together with no technology.  We realized that we're more into travel vacations than tourist vacations.  If you were interested in going on this same cruise, I wouldn't recommend it but would rather encourage you to try other ports and go later in the year.

Have you been a cruise?  Give me your recommendations!

14 comments:

  1. I've been on a few cruises - 2 through NCL and 1 through Royal Caribbean. The thing about being at a different location every day is that it doesn't really allow you to get "off the beaten path" at all, as the area surrounding ports are all extremely commercial. I can understand how for your first "cruising experience" this might have been a little disappointing. Unfortunately, you kinda have to expect to be a bit "nickel-and-dimed," as that's how the cruise line makes its money. But now you know the things to avoid, right? I tend to avoid all shopping and "seminar" type activities and instead go for fun things like bingo, trivia, singalongs, and karaoke. One cruise I went on even had arts and crafts classes! The evening entertainment is always fun, but I bet that they save their "best" acts for the longer, more expensive cruises. On my last cruise there was an awesome Cirque du Soleil-type performance. Some bigger ships actually have ice skating shows! I have also found that it's generally not worth the up-charge to book excursions through the cruise line. Before my last cruise, I researched all of our ports on the forums on CruiseCritic.com - there is a LOT of good info there! We booked excursions for every port at a fraction of the cost NCL was charging. And I think that Great Stirrup Cay kinda sucks in general.. So that's like the longest comment ever.. hopefully it helps for the future!

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  2. I have to admit that I have never been on a cruise and that I am pushing it off for as long as possible (at least for the ones to the Caribbean. As a Caribbean person, I know that sounds horrible). I have to admit that I have been seeing these really amazing cruises of the Mediterranean that might change my mind about cruising. What's most fascinating though was your experience with all of the unseen mark-ups. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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  3. Segway tours...ON A SEGWAY! Haha, that looks like a ton of fun. Mr. N and I totally would have done that too. We went on a bike tour in Jamaica, but if segway had been an option, the bike tour would not have happened.

    Sounds like a trip you'll definitely remember... good or bad... and I am glad you got a good deal on it too, even though a lot of stuff was upcharged once you got on. We're thinking of taking a cruise sometime in the future (not soon though), and posts like this really help us figure out what to look for. Thanks!

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  4. We booked a 7-night cruise through the western Caribbean/Central America for our Anniversary and I'm really excited. I have always been an anti-cruise person but in the spirit of compromise (my husband was vying for the gambling and all you can eat of Vegas) we got a great 800/pp deal with a balcony. Plus, we live near Tampa so free parking and what not :)

    I'm definitely taking notes from your experience! I don't think I would have gone to some of the seminars (hello, vacation - I don't like lectures!) but I do hope our entertainment is fun! Oh, and we will be bringing on the maximum alcohol allotment!

    Thanks for sharing your experience! In the end, I hope you remember all the good times had together :)

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  5. SEGWAY!! Haha, I love your photo from that! We really enjoyed the Segway tour we did on our honeymoon, and Dave totally wanted to buy one when we got back, too :)

    Thanks for giving such an in-depth review of your cruise - I'm sorry it was sort of rough, but I'm glad you were able to at least enjoy spending time together! Dave is trying desperately to convince me we should do a cruise for our 1-year anniversary, but I have never been on one and have no desire to go. Now I have ammunition against going! ;)

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  6. I've always wanted to go to the Bahamas, glad you warned us about the tourist traps! I commend you on the bee killings though, bleck! No thank you bees!

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  7. @hernewleaf - that's a really good point about the time you're in port. I think now having been on a cruise and realized the time restrictions, that a better fit for my personality is a land based option where we can really explore. I definitely thought the entertainment was fun, though when I start to think about it, I have access to all of those things in my city. If you're from a more rural place, I can see where having all those things together would be a big benefit, but to me, it was just sort of normal weekend fun. Great tip about checking the boards for excursion tips!

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  8. @TryAnythingOnceTerri - Mr. Palindrome and I both agreed that we still wanted to try a cruise out there. We'd love to try an Egypt, Greece, Israel type of cruise.

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  9. @Hannah - I think if you live near a port that the benefits really start to add up. We paid for flights to Miami in addition to the cruise (which were more expensive than the cruise tickets!) Definitely budget for the extras so the cabin bill doesn't surprise you in the end. You'll have a really fun time! I definitely look back on the time as a nice time with Mr. Palindrome.

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  10. @Megan - Some people just aren't cruise people. I think it's similar to theme parks, some people love 'em and some people can leave 'em. I think a lot of my disappointment came from an expectation that it would be more spa like, when in actuality it was more theme park like. I love theme parks, it's just not what I wanted for a romantic getaway.

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  11. Have you seen this? It totally makes me think of your 1000 people on the beach.
    http://articles.cnn.com/2011-01-19/travel/hotel.photo.fakeouts_1_hotel-marketers-photo-palm-trees?_s=PM:TRAVEL

    We now plan to check oyster before we head anywhere.

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  12. Since we live near a port, my family and I have been on a few cruises here and there over the years...and we have definitely had varying experiences...depending on the cruise line, etc!

    We took a New Year's cruise with Royal Caribbean and it was amazinnnng. I remember that they stopped the boats out in the middle of the ocean and shot off fireworks at midnight! The sky lit up - and there were other cruise ships all around that were also shooting fireworks - it was so cool to see!

    Anyway, I can definitely see how you might not have liked that experience as much as going to a land destination where you can explore more! Also...the drinks are freaking killer! We've learned some tricks in the past..which are kind of tricky but they work! Most of the cruise lines offer the ability to buy a card for the duration of your trip that will allow you unlimited soda, etc. (I think we usually paid $40 for the week). You just need to buy one and pass it off between the group to go up to the bar. Also - smuggling on your own alcohol! Some cruise lines will allow you to bring it on, but most don't. However, if you pour some into different bottles and put them with your shampoo bottles, etc...they won't find them and make you give them up! I just buy a few small plastic travel bottles that you can get at WalMart and just fill them up. It definitely helps out a little bit to have some stashed in your room! I'm so cheap...haha.

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  13. Next time, go to CruiseCritic.com before you go. It tells you all the places to go in different ports, what the rip-offs are, etc. We've looked at it the past two cruises and have had the best time! It's people who have been on the cruises that give advice. Also, cruisecompete.com is a great way to get really good deals on cruises and often gives onboard credit for free.

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  14. We also took a NCL cruise - it was really fun, but I got food poisoning! Never eat all-you-can-eat sushi on the 4th day of a cruise!!

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