A suggestion: If you fly in to Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) [Ed: An you are sailing from the Port of Miami], renting a car is cheaper than a taxi to the Miami port ($65 with tip). We rented a car from Hertz at FLL, dropped it off at the Miami airport after touring around Miami Beach, then took Hertz' free shuttle to the port, all for $46. Norwegian charges $30 per person roundtrip from FLL to the port, and there is often a long wait time as the bus fills up.
Good Points, Ship & Shore
We arrived at noon and embarkation took 10 minutes for four people.
The wines onboard are reasonably priced, as is all the merchandise in the gift shops. They even offer a price guarantee to give you a refund if you find the merchandise cheaper within 60 days.
The Jean Ann Ryan Dancers put on three extraordinary shows. I mean, these are top notch - the best we have ever seen at sea. They have two acrobats that are astounding, a husband and wife couple from Hungary that will amaze you. The farewell show where the dancers and the crew sing to you is charmingly sweet.
Cruise Director Patti Honecki was always perky, helpful, friendly, and didn't camp on the PA to sell things like some CD's do.
Norwegian automatically charges $10 per person per day for tipping your waiter, assistant waiter, and cabin steward. The traditional Captain's Welcome was nice; unlike on many Carnival ships these days, you actually get to shake hands with him. The photo staff was pretty laid back and didn't hover too much.
In Cozumel, the best way to tour the island is to rent a jeep, which is cheaper to do in town than by the piers. Go to Chakanaab, a national park that is great for snorkeling, swimming, swimming with dolphins, sitting under a palm shelter and drinking piña coladas out of pineapples! There are many beaches all around the island that are quite gorgeous. The Horseback Riding tour is a big favorite, with part of the ride going to Mayan ruins.
We took the Jeep Safari tour which puts people in 4WD jeeps heading into the deserted beaches of the eastern island. What a trip! They provided lunch and a short tour of the ruins of a Mayan temple to the Goddess Ixchel. The hosts Eduardo and Shelley are wonderful.
The Norwegian Sea started out as the Seaward in 1988. But it looks and feels much older; the décor screams late seventies. Signs point to rooms (such as the Ice Cream Parlor and the Palm Tree Restaurant) that no longer exist, or have been moved or renamed. The ship rolls, clangs, and shudders, especially about 6:30pm each evening in the Seven Seas Restaurant. Dishes and glasses rattle with a roar that fills the room for about five minutes at a time.
The cabins are small -- very small. Ours on Biscayne Deck (2019) was 110 square feet, including the bathroom. Measure this out in your living room and you'll see how small we're talking. The bathroom is tiny, with a shower only about 6' high and 2' across. Tall or fat? You'll be hitting the shower wall or ceiling. If you push the two twin beds together to make a queen, there's only a few square feet left to stand in, and you'll be getting in and out from the foot of the bed most of the time.
Food by the pool and at the Big Apple was average at best. Dinners in the lower deck restaurants were quite nice, though not exceptional. The best item was the almond-encrusted fish. And forget about the "Flaming Babaloo on Parade" dessert: it's no longer flaming, and there's no longer a parade. ('Freestyle Cruising' eliminates entertainment by the wait staff during dinner).
Norwegian touts Freestyle Cruising as the most wonderful thing. In theory, this means more choices about where and when you eat -- but on the Norwegian Sea, your only choices are the poolside buffet, the main buffet, Le Bistro ($10/person surcharge), and the two main restaurants. The bigger NCL ships have multiple small restaurants where you can dine in a different place every night. What 'Freestyle' means on the Norwegian Sea is long lines and 30-minute waits to get into the Four Seasons or the Seven Seas, unless you want another average buffet poolside. Best Tip: Once you get on board, go to the Seven Seas dining room and make a standing reservation for the same table for the same time for the entire cruise. This will avoid long waits and assure a great table with the same wait team. We got table #1 for four with a splendid view. We did not try Le Bistro but heard not a single rave about it from anyone. The buzz on the ship was that the food wasn't any better than in the main restaurants.
Unlike Carnival and other lines, Norwegian does not sell adult soda cards which give unlimited soft drinks for a fixed price. They do sell cards for kids.
As for the hot tub . . . got your gas mask handy? NCL takes pool additives to a whole new level; within three minutes the chlorine fumes were so overpowering we had to get out to attend to burning eyes and skin. The little pool you see in the expansive bow view on Norwegian's webcam (which you will also see on the ship's TV) is only for the crew.
Bingo is incredibly expensive, so much so that we didn't play. $29-39 for strangely named "Cheeseburger" packs of cards and Bingo "computers" which manage six cards at a time. Payouts did not match the cost of playing, unless you achieved a hard-to-do coverall bingo in less than 51 numbers.
Our Overall Rating
If you're looking for a good short cruise, the Norwegian Sea brings travelers a wonderful combination of charm and entertainment for not much money. We especially liked the Cruise Director, Patti Honecki, who besides being a smart and lovely host, can also sing.
PHOTOS courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Lines.
George Smart and Eleanor Stell can be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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