The Norway Eastern Caribbean Cruise March 15, 1997
After having been on several cruises ourselves, my wife and I decided it was time for our sons (21 and 24) to experience a cruise. We had sailed on Norwegian Cruise Line's Dreamward just this last October, and had a wonderful time. We felt the Norway would be a unique and rewarding experience for us all. We were not disappointed.
We traveled on NCL's Air Program, and landed in Miami on 3/14/97, the day before we were to set sail. A representative of NCL met us at the gate and escorted us to the baggage claim area where we retrieved our bags, and had a porter bring them to the bus. Other cruise lines obtain your baggage tags and transport your luggage for you, but I would just as soon see that my bags have arrived and not be surprised on the ship. NCL had arranged for us to stay overnight at the Crowne Plaza in Miami. The Crowne Plaza has huge rooms, and is located above a Shopping Center. This is a major convenience for those of you traveling from cold climates, where it is impossible to obtain warm weather gear in the middle of winter. We were able to register and receive our boarding passes at the Hotel. That is a definite time saver, as the lines are much shorter than at the pier.
We boarded the bus for the pier at 12:30 PM. Having done all our pre-boarding paperwork, we had only to clear security before entering the Ship. Once on board, we were directed to our cabins. My wife and I had chosen an S2 cabin #P115 on the Pool Deck. Our cabin was wide as opposed to being deep as on most ships. I know there are larger rooms for less money on the Viking and Norway Decks, but I prefer large picture windows, as opposed to portholes. There was plenty of storage space, a refrigerator, a TV, a love seat and chair, twin beds, and a bathtub. For our two sons, we had chosen cabin #F043. Ironically, although a C category cabin, their cabin was identical to ours in every way, except they had a view obstructed by a lifeboat. Not that it mattered much, they were far too busy enjoying themselves outside the cabin to care about looking out the window. Cabin TV's showed CNN, ESPN, movies round the clock, and re-ran all of the port talks and such.
The welcome aboard buffet was somewhat disappointing. Hot dogs, Hamburgers, a do-it-yourself Taco stand, and Cold Salads. Except for the addition of a daily special, this was pretty much the standard fare at the Great Outdoor Restaurant every day for lunch. They should really re-name it the Just Okay Outdoor Restaurant.
The ship was to have left Miami by 4 PM, however they made an announcement that we would not leave until about 5:30, as they were waiting for a group of late arrivals at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. Our luggage arrived by 4 PM. After unpacking we made our way to the back of the ship for departure festivities. At 6 PM we departed Miami. Our new adventure had begun.
Our cabin steward Alex was superb. We asked him for extra towels, and he accommodated us each day with 4 fluffy bath towels. We asked for bottled water, and each time our bottle got low, he promptly replaced it for us. Our ice bucket was always filled. He also put a towel under our toiletries, on the ledge in front of the mirror in the bathroom. Small touch, but certainly appreciated. Our cabin was always immaculate.
We were assigned to the Windward Dining Room, which is strikingly beautiful. It has a wide sweeping stairway at the entrance, highly varnished wood panel walls with engraved murals, and a large dome in the center with simulated twinkling stars. This was the first class dining room on the SS France, and I am sure it remains largely the same as it was then.
The meals we were served in the Windward Dining Room were exceptional. Most nights were themed. French night, Italian, Caribbean, etc. They had started a new menu that week, and everything we ordered was excellent. Certain menu items stand out: Beef Wellington, Osso Bucco, and Wiener Schnitzel, just to name a few. We did complain that our main courses took an inordinately long time to arrive. However, it was explained to us that since it was a new menu, nobody was quite sure how the pick up areas in the galley were to be arranged each night. In addition, our waiter Nigel, had just got promoted to Waiter, from Busboy that very same week. That also explained the food not always being as hot as it should be. However, Nigel was so accommodating in every other way, that we overlooked the shortcomings. The bread and rolls were good. The desserts were for the most part good, but not exceptional. The appetizers and soups were excellent. Needless to say, being a new experience for them, my sons were overwhelmed by the pampering and the quality of food they received at dinner each night.
We made a reservation to have dinner at Le Bistro on Tuesday evening (Country and Western night), as I knew there would be no special menu items that we wouldn't want to miss, and no special dessert presentations. The dinner at Le Bistro was superb, and was included at no extra cost, except for a tip to the waiters of $5.00 per person. Well worth it.
We ordered room service for breakfast our first day at sea, and thereafter on each day we were in port. Our Continental breakfast was always delivered at the specified time we had requested. Other days we had breakfast in the Dining Room (open seating) or at the Buffet. The Dining Room breakfasts were very slow. We did however meet lots of new people that way. The Buffet breakfast was more limited, but surprisingly good. We ate lunch mostly in the Dining Room. The lunch menu usually consisted of a light pasta or a hot sandwich plus a juice appetizer, a soup, salad, and dessert. Lunch was good, but not as inspired as the dinners.
The midnight buffets were quite good. I had a piece of seared tuna one night that was sensational. The Chocoholic Buffet was excellent, but get there early if you want to see it all. The Grand Buffet was also superb, but again, get there early.
Dress on the Norway is pretty much the same as other mid line cruise ships. T-shirts and shorts, or bathing suits with coverups are the order of the day. There are two formal evenings, where men are required to wear tuxedos or dark suits. Most men opted to wear dark suits, although sport jackets with ties were not frowned upon. The ladies of course usually outdressed the men, in everything from lavish gowns to very chic pants suits. Other evenings are themed...Country and Western night, 50's and 60's night, and Caribbean night. On those nights you may dress in the theme of the night or dress casual. Casual for men is a sport shirt and slacks, while for women it is usually a blouse and pants or skirt. There are no semi-formal evenings. The first and last night are casual, and there is a bit more leeway as many people have either not yet received their bags, or have put their bags out for pickup.
There are two pools on the Norway. One in the back of the Pool Deck, with a live band and festivities. The other pool is on the Sun Deck and is much quieter. We spent much time exploring the ship. There is so much to see on the Norway, it is a destination unto itself. The International Deck is beautiful. There is a tree lined boulevard on each side. The Port side is named Fifth Avenue, and the Starboard side is the Champs Elysees. My wife and I would spend many a late afternoon walking around the International Deck, peeking into the shops, and usually end up at the ice cream parlor.
Daytime activities were too numerous to mention. The scheduling of these activities could be better, since the planned activities sometimes excluded either early or late seating passengers.
Entertainment on the Norway is exceptional. The Broadway style shows are very professional. However, because of the large crowd of people on board, they schedule three showings for everything. Passengers are given different colored tickets for the corresponding show they are to attend. Everything went well at the beginning of the week, but by the end of the week they were running out of time to get all the shows in. We were on late seating and although most of the shows were scheduled after dinner, they did schedule one or two shows before dinner, and we opted not to see them because we were too exhausted from our shore excursions.
There are bars and lounges everywhere on the Norway. Checkers Cabaret is open to all hours with an upbeat group that plays easy listening and dance music. Dazzles, the Disco, is reserved for the teenagers every night until 11:30 PM. Thereafter, they open the bar, and all 18's and over get involved. The North Cape Lounge also has dancing for the slightly older crowd, but closes fairly early. The Club Internationale is leftover from the SS France, and it's decor is exactly as it was when the France was an ocean liner. They serve a High Tea there every afternoon, and the setting is marvelous. There is a little lounge set forward on the port side of the International Deck called The Windjammer. As its name implies, The Windjammer is nautical in nature and a great place to have a drink in a subdued atmosphere.
The Casino on the Norway is huge by ship standards. It has it all. Slots, Craps, Roulette, Blackjack, Let it Ride, and our own personal favorite Caribbean Stud Poker. The staff in the casino is friendly and helpful, much more so than in Las Vegas, where I live. At least they smile while they take your money.
The Norway, because of its draft, has to use tenders at each port. Although each tender holds 450 people, it does take several trips to get all the passengers to shore. There are 2 ways to get on shore rapidly. 1) Book a shore excursion. All passengers with morning shore excursions are automatically assigned to the first tender. 2) Get to the North Cape Lounge early when they hand out tender tickets. Sit by either corner of the stage, as that is where they hand out the tickets.
Our first port was Sint. Maarten/St. Martin. We had made reservations in advance for a rental car from Hertz at the airport. If you can locate a rental agency closer to town, do it. The airport is a 20 to 30 minute ride, depending on traffic, outside of town. The car itself was not a bad deal. $40.00 for the day for a compact with air and auto. They even deducted the cost of our taxi to the rental office.
Our first stop was Phillipsburg, the Capital of the Dutch Side. We did some minor shopping, perused a bunch of stores, took some pictures, and then took off for Marigot on the French side. The roads are not really bad, but they only have one lane on each side, if you get stuck behind a bus or slow truck, it can seem like forever to get someplace, and there are traffic jams everywhere. We had lunch in Marigot at La Maison sur le Port. It was wonderful. A taste of Paris in the Caribbean.
After some walking around and the purchase of some Cuban Cigars, we headed off for Orient Beach. Yes, Orient Beach is a clothing optional beach, but we only noticed some minor nudity, and all at the very end of the beach. My sons had been talking about parasailing ever since we got on the cruise, so the three of us decided to try it. My wife stayed on the beach to guard our valuables. It was already late by the time we started our parasailing adventure, and after some bad timing and a few minor snags, it was about 5:30 when we left the beach.
Knowing that the last tender leaves the pier at 6:30, we realized that we did not have enough time to get to the airport, drop off the car, and make it back on time. Instead, we drove directly to the pier, parked the car and called Hertz to pick it up. They were not happy, and we have not yet received the credit card charge. But I am sure it is cheaper than for four of us to fly to St. Thomas.
The next day we were in St. Thomas. We shopped around all morning. St. Thomas is a great place to buy duty free items, but make sure you know in advance what the same item sells for at home, or you may not end up with such a great deal. Our favorite shop is Monarch Jewelers. We got a great buy on a Citizen Titanium watch, and a pair of Bausch and Lomb sunglasses.
We had lunch at Cafe Sito, which specializes in real Spanish food, and is located on the waterfront. We discovered Cafe Sito during our last trip in October. At 1:30 we walked across the street and boarded the "Wild Thing". The Wild Thing is a tri-maran with 4000 horsepower, that holds about 140 people, and travels at about 50 MPH. The Wild Thing took us to a deserted beach in St. John, where we snorkeled (all equipment provided) and swam for about one and a half hours. On the way back, they had unlimited 151 proof rum punch, and most of us got soused. It was a great shore excursion (the part I remember) and well worth the $55.00 per person.
On Friday we stopped at NCL's Private Island. We were told ahead of time to rent snorkels and fins ($25. for the set, or $10. for fins only) for the snorkeling excursion. This insures you of being on the first tender. There is a limited amount of lounges and beach chairs available on the island, so you definitely want to be on that first tender. Take some cash with you as there are a few native stores on the island in which you can buy trinkets and last minute souvenirs. They serve lunch on the island, have a band, and the bars are open. The whole day is a blast!
There was an excellent mix of people aboard the Norway. They ranged from infants to oldsters, from middle income to wealthy, and included a lot of Europeans. We even had a group of spring breakers from the University of Indiana, who were very well behaved. It seemed that everyone mixed well, and I noticed a lot of new friendships being formed over the course of the cruise.
One important tip. If you are bringing along adult children, you must insist (as we did) that they join you for Dinner each night. Otherwise, you might never see them the whole week.
Alas, our trip had to end. My wife and I had a wonderful time on the Norway Our sons had the time of their lives. I think a cruise is what you make of it. If you are looking to find fault, than you will. There were some minor shortcomings, (no one is perfect) but not enough to stand in the way of us having a great time. The staff on board the Norway certainly made up for any minor faults that we might have encountered. We always found them to be cordial and very responsive to our needs. This was a wonderful cruise experience, and I highly recommend it to all.
Ron and Ferne can be reached for comment or thanks at: Popee143@aol.com.
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