We recently took a seven day cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines. I like cruises in that I don’t have to unpack every night, yet get to wake up in different places in the morning. It’s a great way to ‘sample’ an area before I go full-throttle and book a trip at that one location.
Here are the highlights of our trip!
NCL Dawn Cruise Ship
Our cruise left from New Orleans, so there was lots to see in do on the day before embarkation.
New Orleans is one of my favorite foodie cities, so even though we had to navigate around thunderstorms, it didn’t stop us from enjoying hot beignets, gumbo, cajun tunes and French/Spanish architecture.
The New Orleans port is probably one of the best that I’ve ever encountered. The port itself has a huge mall next door, so it’s great to pick up any last minute items. The boarding process was smooth and hassle free.
We had an upgraded room on deck 12, so we enjoyed the extra space, balcony and butler service. The staff on the ship were outstanding and I can’t say enough good things about them. Service was always friendly and helpful, and everyone went out of their way to make sure we were happy. We even became Facebook friends with some. 🙂
The trip starts off by cruising down the Mississippi River to get into the Gulf. We passed urban city areas that melded into industrial plants (like this sugar plant below), and eventually into rural farmy settings and finally into beach mangroves.
NCL offers Freestyle Cruising, which means no set dinner times with the same servers and same group of people at your table. You may choose from many different restaurants and times. While I do enjoy the freedom to dine when we prefer, we did notice that dress code is all but gone. T-Shirts and shorts are allowed in the majority of the restaurants. To me, it just feels *weird* to be served by someone in a dress shirt and slacks if I’m wearing a T-shirt that I just rolled off the beach in. Our family did dress up nightly (dressy casual) but that is just what we like to do. I also want my daughter to understand that this is what SHE is expected to do as she grows into a young adult – Yes, even on vacation. #fuddyduddy
While the food was mostly good, it was often over-salted. This is an American taste bud problem, not an NCL Dawn problem. The food is also relatively mild, but again they are trying to please mainstream diners. San Diegans like spicy food. Not just Mexican spicy, but Thai Spicy, Indian Spicy… I’m not sure why this is, but regionally as a group, we love hot spicy food. Luckily we brought our own hot sauce on the ship. Many of the servers are from countries where spicy food is the norm, so they would also bring us red peppers, hot sauce, etc. so we could jazz up our food. They totally got it and were excited that we were on ‘Team Spicy’ as well. Our favorite restaurants on the Ship: Le Bistro, Cagneys and Los Lobos.
(Escargot in Le Bistro – great paired with Veuve Cliquot)
Here’s my only MISS for the NCL Dawn, and it’s entirely a personal issue for me. We didn’t go to one buffet, as we’re not fans of large group gorging. We prefer the organized sit down service as it’s a treat to be served in a nice setting. The buffets were often filled with loud families or people who probably shouldn’t be eating at a buffet in the first place. We had to walk through buffets occasionally to get to where we were going on the ship, and I can’t tell you how many times I saw plates stacked higher than the plate’s width with sausages, pizza, potatoes, etc. This is not a food enjoyment scenario, this is an abuse of food. But hey, for each their own. Buffets are also generally a germy place – and although the staff walks around and sprays hands (saying ‘Washy! Washy!), it just feels icky to grab serving spoons touched by everyone. So, yeah..not a buffet fan.
More on the NCL Dawn later in my review! Let’s get to the fun stops!
We took advantage of our priority disembarkation and headed straight for the Cozumel Country Club for a round of golf. Note to travelers: The port feeds you through a giant mall. To exit, they funnel you down into a parking lot into a huge long line to wait for taxis should you want to leave. However, if you just walk to the street side of the mall, take the escalator down, and you’ll find a line of taxis ready to go with no line.
The Cozumel Country Club (A Club Corp property) was complete with water hazards, sand hazards, saw grass hazards and oh yeah, Crocodiles!
There are warning signs everywhere – when you check in, on the course, in the brochure. Basically if your ball goes near or in water, leave it. Bye, ball! In addition to crocodiles (and yes, we saw one!), we saw many large iguanas and a cute little pecory (like a wild pig) run and play across the course.
The landscape is rugged, wild and beautiful. There were trees that were blooming big fluffy balls of what looked similar to cotton. The white fluff drifted across the course and got stuff in bushes – it reminded me of a Dr. Seuss creation.
We were able to get out on the course early, so had time to walk around the touristy shops near the port when we were done. There’s no shortage of Mexican blankets, Vanilla, Handicrafts, Masks, Jewelry, Beer and Pharmacies. Basically if you want it, you’ll find it.
This is a great Island port that has its own pier, so it’s an easy on and off. The port also has their own shopping area, but we like to get out and explore. I booked in advance direct with Daniel Johnson’s Monkey & Sloth Hangout via Facebook. We were met by our awesome driver, Lita, who drove us around the Island for a little tour before stopping off at the Monkey & Sloth (rescue) Hangout. The owner, Daniel Johnson, was there organizing groups in an orderly manner. He’s a big Pittsburgh Steeler’s fan, so make sure to wear your fan gear if you go. 😉 The guides take small groups inside so the experience is more personal. Once inside the ‘Hangout’, we were able to check off some major bucket-list items. Holding a Sloth – Check. And, may I add, holding a sloth is pretty much the best thing on the planet. Ever. Having a Monkey crawl all over our heads and shoulders – Another Bucket List Item, Check. Funny note: Although the guide gives the monkeys little sunflower seeds to munch on while they sit on you, a roach scurried across the floor and a monkey grabbed it, ran up the enclosure wall, jumped on me and then proceeded to eat it. On Me. But, I didn’t even care!! I was like, “Oh my God! That monkey is eating a bug on me!! Ha Ha! Let me take a selfie!!” (click)
My husband had several Macaws perch on his big arms and head. He was a happy, happy camper. Little girl internal squealing aside, I can’t say ENOUGH good things about this visit. Everyone had time to enjoy the animals and no one felt rushed.
After our amazing animal experience, we were taken for a private snorkel tour right off the shore in a boat. We brought our own snorkel equipment, but they had plenty to go around if you need to borrow some. We saw a great variety of corals, tropical reef fish, lobster, rock fish, lion fish and many cool conch and sand dollar shells. The water was warm, and lucky for us calm and clear.
After our snorkel excursion (about 40 minutes), Lita picked us up again and she drove us to Parrot Tree Beach resort.
There we ordered us a tasty snack of fresh ceviche and got a side of red beans & rice and fried plantains with salsa. Yum! The Honduran beers were inexpensive – I think 5 for $15. Since it was warm out, we had no problem sucking those down.
Great service, beautiful lagoon to do more swimming and relaxing tables to enjoy the surroundings. Lita was conscious of our boat departure time, so we headed back to the port. Traffic can be bad in the afternoons, so it was good we planned about 45 minutes to get back. We made one more quick stop at a grocery store (far from tourist zone) and picked up some inexpensive Honduran vanilla. Grocery stores are also a great place to get Honduran-made hot sauce as well. Roatan is absolutely beautiful, and we will be sure to come back again for a longer stay in the future.
Helpful Notes – We went from the Hangout directly to the snorkel trip. I wish we had brought more cash with us as I really wanted to tip our boat guys more, but sadly that was back in the car. The word is out how amazing Daniel’s trips are, so book this trip early!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this trip – Belize (Harvest Caye and Costa Maya, Mexico!) What to do…what to see…