01-31-2014 Day 6 Costa Maya

Currently we are camped at NAS/JRB, Belle Chasse, LA Temperature: 47 F, and foggy

This is sixth in a series of posts about our NCL cruise on the Norwegian Jewel to the Western Mediterranean. Read about our first day at sea here,  about an evening onboard  here, Cozumel here, Belize here, and Roatan here. Also, keep in mind that the link to the left for my photos on google will take you to many more images of our cruise and the ports we visited

015It’s always nice when a ship docks at a pier and no tenders are required to go on shore.  The pier at Costa Maya is big and new, much like the cruiser’s village built in 2007 after Hurricane Dean decimated both the cruise port village built in 2001, and the older bucolic fishing village of Mahahual. 

We had no expectations for the last port on this cruise.  Reading in advance, I knew there were a few ruins to explore on excursions, that there was the Disneyesque cruise village, geared to bars and shopping, dolphin encounters, and swimming pools.  I did know the town was a short taxi ride away, but wasn’t at all sure the town was worth seeking out.

cruise day 6_043However, once we walked the very long pier to the village, I was dismayed to discover that the entire village was walled off on either side by private land, and the beach was non-existent.  For the second time on the cruise, I felt incredibly claustrophobic, and very frustrated that I seemed to be trapped in a bright, fake world of color and people.  Ack!  Mo was rolling her eyes at me as I struggled with my frustration, desperately seeking a way out.

If I had read just a little more, I would have realized that there was a rear exit from the ‘village’ that didn’t require an excursion or golf cart rental. We simply walked outside and found the old road leading south to Mahahual.  The extensive damage from Hurricane Dean was clearly evident as we walked.  Old electric boxes marked what once must have been small homes, but other than the paved road and stone street signs populated by iguanas, there was no sign of habitation.

053I did know that the town was only a mile and a half from the pier, so we walked in the general direction and within half an hour turned toward the lighthouse and the beach.  The skies were clearing from the morning overcast and the temperatures were quite warm.  As the day wore on, the water turned brighter and brighter shades of turquoise.  A cold local beer from the Blue Bay Beach Club and a couple of beach chairs gave us a chance to enjoy the view of the distant ship and watch people snorkeling.  Of course, we hadn’t lugged our gear, unsure when we left the ship if there was any possibility of a snorkel beach nearby.

002I had heard that, like most beaches in Mexico, there were entirely too many locals hawing wares on the beach.  Instead, we had only one woman approach us the entire time we were there, and after a couple of no’s, she left us in peace.  We walked the beach a bit, I went in the warm, clear water, and the kayaks sure did look tempting. 

Mo liked the look of those kayaks as well, thinking we would get the best price for a tandem.  Instead, the Blue Bay kiosk only had singles, but a delightful young woman gave us two individual kayaks for 5 bucks for an hour instead of the posted $5. per half hour, or $10 for two hours.  So we walked for free, kayaked an hour for ten bucks, and spent 4 bucks having a good beer and comfy chairs under a nice palapa.  I would say that was a good price and beat just about any excursion we might have found.

011It seems that snorkeling trips on a cruise are something that should only be purchased on site and on the day you want to snorkel.  Weather is completely unpredictable, as are water conditions.  Purchasing a snorkeling trip in advance could have been a real bummer.  However, finding good snorkeling beaches is also a bit of a crap shoot.  We hauled our snorkeling gear all the way from Oregon for this cruise.  I have hopes that we will get to use the gear in Florida, even though the weather didn’t cooperate much on the cruise.

After a few delightful hours at the beach, we walked back to the ship, managing to get in a three mile walk and an hour kayak for our day’s exercise.  I think we got an additional mile just walking the length of the pier back and forth from the ship as well.016

Deciding on an early afternoon lunch/dinner, we headed for the Garden Café buffet for some fresh salad and a table on the aft patio deck where I tried to get photos of the distant town and lighthouse that marked our kayak location.  The weather was perfect for dining outside.

late lunch on the patio before departing Costa MayaAfter lunch we walked up to the sports deck and watched part of a rousing game of basketball played by opposing crew teams, and then found an available ping pong table for a funny game of ping pong with wind, crooked table tops, and moving seas to add to our fun.

With our late lunch, we had no need to have dinner and instead relaxed in the stateroom until time for the last big show of the cruise, “Cirque de Bijou”.  Something else we noticed on the Jewel was the available seating in the theater for the shows, both early and late.  In the past, especially on Princess, it can sometimes be difficult to get into your chosen time for the evening show.  Not a problem here, although last night we did choose to go a bit early for a good seat and ended up down in the lower area toward the front of the theater.

the ping pong table is available!It was a great choice.  I can say, unequivocally, that the show last night was the best we have ever seen on any cruise ship, ever, on any cruise line.  Cirque d Bijou was a Las Vegas quality cirque show with breathtaking performances by all the regular artists from the evening shows.  If I had been a bit less than thrilled by their singing, I was completely taken by their ability to both sing and hang from the sky on cloth draperies as they spun and flew around the auditorium.  And for some reason, the singing was fabulous as well. 

Just breathtaking!! As usual in the theater, no photos are allowed, however at the end of the main show, the crew put on a tribute show that I could have photographed if I had lugged the camera along.  Jaime, the cruise director, introduced at least 200 members of the crew who marched down the aisles and to the stage, from room stewards to Executive Chef, to the Captain.  The crowd, all hyped up from the standing ovation for the Cirque show thundered their applause. 

poolside sailaway bb1Service on the Jewel is interesting.  Individual crew members are attentive and cheerful, however the service isn’t exactly “in your face” perfect.  We are not constantly plied with invitations to purchase alcohol, and used plates are not picked up the minute you finish eating. Our steward is adequate, keeping our cabin reasonably well kept, and creating great little animals for us every night, something that has gone by the wayside on Princess.

However, we didn’t get our ice bucket constantly filled, and the mirrors often were streaked after the room was freshened.  There are so few things we disliked about this cruise, it seems only fair to mention the few that were not what I might consider “cruise quality”.  A detail we especially liked was the tabletop baskets filled with napkin wrapped flatware.  We never had to hunt for flatware and if needed could use two napkins.

Atrium Lounge Mid ShipI have been trying to come up with a way to describe the ship décor, and this morning it hit me.  Without any glitz and sparkle, no fancy shined brass, interesting art, flowers in the bathrooms, crystal chandeliers…the ship seems a bit like funky Key West conch house.  Lots of bright wood, bright Key West colors, and not much that seems to be “cruise fancy”.  It is more like a good working class vacation resort, with everything you need in a pleasant environment.

Unlike my expectations for a possibly mediocre experience, I wouldn’t hesitate to cruise Norwegian again if the price, departure port, and destinations fit where I wanted to go. 

Tomorrow is the last day of this cruise, with a full day at sea.  Rumor has it that the unseasonably cold weather in the south has moderated a bit and the forecast is for a cloudy day in the low 70’s in New Orleans on Sunday.  Tomorrow at sea we can expect mostly sunny skies with temps in the mid 70’s.  Lucky lucky US!!ready to depart Costa Maya  no tenders but a very long pier

01-28-2014 Day 3 Cozumel, Mexico

Currently we are in Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Belle Chasse, LA Temperature: 45 F, cloudy and windy  This is third in a series of posts about our NCL cruise on the Norwegian Jewel to the Western Mediterranean. Read about our first day at sea here, and about our evening  here.

turquoise water here is breathtakingCaptureMo and I have cruised the Eastern Caribbean, and I did the Southern Caribbean with daughter Deb in 2011.  For some reason we had no burning desire to cruise the Western Caribbean, but when searching for something to do from a port on our RV route this winter, this NCL cruise was our best choice.  I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again, especially to Cozumel.  The water was gorgeous breathtaking turquoise and crystal clear on the northern somewhat rocky side of the island where we docked, and I have seen photos of the quieter south side beaches. 

cruise day 3_021Having never been in this part of Mexico, we decided to simply walk the town, and see what we could see on our own.  We heard later that some folks actually snorkeled near the port, but we will save that adventure for another time.  In fact, after spending a day on the island, we decided that a nice little funky hotel on the south side beaches would be a great place to spend a couple of weeks in winter, minus the cruise ship. 

cruise day 3_020We have a Rocky Point friend who does that for a few weeks every winter, and now we get it.  Of course, Roatan is also a possibility for a winter getaway for us, but more about that later. There are three cruise docks on Cozumel, and we weren’t sure of our specific landing site.  When it was announced that the landing was to be at the Punta Langosta Terminal, right in the center of San Miguel, we were delighted.  The International Pier is more than 6 miles from town and would have required a taxi ride to get away from the cruise shops that are always crowded around the docking site.

cruise day 3_026It seems that walking is the best way to get a feeling for a location, and we set off early toward the central town Plaza and the artisan shops that are just south of the main square.  The square was quiet in the early morning, and there seemed to be extensive refurbishing in process.  With a bit of searching, we found the upstairs visitor center for a local map and information.

Especially enjoyable was the long walk along the beach promenade.  In the process of being refurbished, the views of the sea were gorgeous.  On the land side of the main road, the walkways were thronged with cruisers shopping and walking, but where we walked, we nearly had the walkway to ourselves.  Crossing the street requires vigilance, however, since scooters and mopeds are in abundance and come up fast.

cruise day 3_043By 11 the plaza and restaurants were getting even more crowded, so we located the Palmeras Restaurant on the square and settled in for the recommended margueritas.  Well, margueritas for me and wine for Mo.  Only after she tasted her wine did Mo remember that when in Mexico, drink beer, not wine! I later read that I should have checked for purified ice, but I neglected to do that and it didn’t even occur to me to worry about it.  Many years ago I did the same thing in Puerto Vallarta and was incredibly sick for a few days.  How could I forget?! No problem here at all, however. Lunch was excellent, with a shared plate of chicken tacos that were perfect for the two of us. 

cruise day 3_046After our leisurely lunch, we wandered into some of the back streets and bought a few little trinkets for folks back home.  The shopkeepers are quite aggressive, entreating you to come into their stores, with the most common phrase being, “Almost free!”

Funny how you can ignore most of them, but then for some reason a particular person will strike you just the right way and in you go.  We found that shop and that person for our simple purchases and it was a pleasant experience.  In fact, too pleasant!  After my marguerita I was feeling pretty happy, and after my purchase the shopkeeper offered me a taste of some kind of tequila.  I had a shot, with no idea what kind it was and it went down as smooth as butter.  Oh my. It was yummy…no salt or lemon required…and I got a lot happier.

cruise day 3_033The weather was absolutely perfect, gorgeous blue skies, crystal clear water, fresh air, it couldn’t be better.  As often is the case, the little taste of a place that a cruise ship offers is only the beginning.  However it does give enough of a taste that it is easier to determine if the area might be a place to return.  Lahaina, Maui comes to mind.  Until we dropped in one day on a cruise last year, we had no idea it might be someplace we would choose to experience in more depth.01-28-2013 Cruise Day 3

We returned to the ship in late afternoon, with some time to enjoy a poolside lounge and great reggae music from the band that sings mostly in Spanish.  Love the sound of that language in music. 

Sailaway was beautiful and I took way too many photos of the sunset before we ambled back to the Garden Café for a delicious dinner from the buffet.cruise day 3_035_01

Again, all the salads are fresh and tasty, with the choices from the Indian menu and the fresh made stir fry always excellent.  Many times there are Thai choices as well, with a tasty Thai roasted chicken and Thai noodles high on my list of favorites.

MBZ said something to me recently about cruising Norwegian that sums up the experience perfectly.  It isn’t Celebrity and doesn’t try to be.  There were so many positives that outweighed the very few negatives, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go on this cruise again for a simple getaway. 

cruise day 3_009POSITIVES:

  • The food was great, with plenty of choices and kinds of dining available
  • The crew was friendly and pleasant, and we especially enjoyed the diversity of the staff, from 60 different countries.
  • The ship was easy to navigate, big enough to be entertaining, but not so big we got lost all the time.
  • The entertainment was excellent and most of the time something was going on somewhere that was interesting.
  • There was enough time in the ports to actually enjoy them and we only had to be tendered to shore once during the cruise.
  • Embarkation and Disembarkation was slick and quick.
  • The ship wasn’t glitzy but it was clean and in good repair.  Launched in 2005 as one of the older ships, it was refurbished in 2009.
  • The bed was great.
  • We weren’t constantly harassed to buy alcohol
  • “washy washy”  I guess you had to be there to appreciate the singing, dancing staff dispensing antiseptic hand wash
  • Freestyle cruising a positive for us since we are often spontaneous with our decisions and can’t get back in time for a formal scheduled dinner
  • We enjoyed the lack of formality in the regular dining rooms
  • Our steward made great animals! 

NEGATIVES:

  • We missed the navigation channel on the TV which was out of order for the entire cruise
  • The daily activities sheet was very limited, had no port history, and very little information about the area we were visiting
  • There were no informational kinds of lectures on board during the cruise
  • The ship décor was kind of kitschy.
  • The patio and deck service was often very limited.
  • The food wasn’t high end gourmet cruise food (not necessarily a negative thing).
  • Regular dining room service was a bit sketchy and rushed at times.
  • Freestyle cruising – a negative if you enjoy the formal dining room meals and service of a regular dinner seating
  • Our steward was adequate, not great, he didn’t always refill our ice bucket and the mirrors were sometimes streaky

Cabo San Lucas and our final day at Sea January 15 and 16

01_15_SeaDay (35)
Mo and I visited Cabo San Lucas on my daughter’s wedding cruise in 2006 and were unimpressed. On that cruise, we did a sea kayak trip to Lover’s Beach. It was crowded and the tandem sea kayak was heavy and unwieldy in the big waves compared to our sleek personal kayaks. We initially thought we would just stay on board this time and not bother doing anything in port. However, during our previous sea day we decided that another good snorkel trip would be fun, and probably more worthwhile than trying to find a place to snorkel on the crowded beaches on our own.



01_15_SeaDay (32) We signed up for a Zodiac boat trip to a snorkel site with a bit of whale-watching thrown in. What a day it turned out to be! The port at Cabo is touristy, busy, but still fun to walk and explore a bit. We saw what we could on foot, and then found a great little waterfront cafe for beer and snacks and people watching.
Our tour didn’t depart until afternoon, so we didn’t feel the least bit rushed. The Zodiac rubber boats are fast and stable, used for rescue work and tourists. By the time we boarded, the wind and waves were getting wilder, and we remembered kayaking through those waves the last time we were here. The boatman was a young, slim boy who seemed to be at home with the boat and as if he knew what he was doing. He took us over the big waves out to Lover’s Beach again, and then along the coast to our first beach snorkel site. The snorkeling here was excellent, with clear water and the waves were gentle. After 45 minutes, the guide took us to another beach where there were more fish. Again, the snorkling was decent, nothing too spectacular, and the water was a bit murky because of the wind and not very warm. We did see some beautiful schools , some Queen angels and other varieties, and there were more fish in this location because they were fed at this beach. By the time our guide whistled us back to the boat, the waves were big and strong and Mo and I were close to the beach. The swim back to the boat was wild and rough, and I was really glad I had a snorkel on or I would have swallowed a lot of water.

01_15_SeaDay (41)Back on the boat, we headed south along the shore, in the opposite direction of the port. It was obvious that the waves were so big that the boatman was afraid to turn around. He went a long way before finding just the right swell to turn us. We whipped around, bounced high, and held on tight. It was a very wild ride, and the next day our bodies were sore but not bruised from all the holding and bouncing. It was great fun.




01_15_SeaDay (4) Our final day at sea was quiet and relaxing, with our usual schedule of eating, walking, playing cards, sunning, reading, and knitting. The morning walk was especially beautiful as we rose before sunrise to see the sun coming up in the eastern sky over the ocean. The rest of the day was sweet. The cruise was a long one, but every single day was a treat, and the extra sea days gave me the chance to really, fully, completely relax. What a great beginning to my life of retirement!
The rest of the photos of Cabo San Lucas are here.

Acapulco, Mexico and then a day at sea January 13 and 14

01_13_Acapulco (3) We arrived early in the morning at the port of Acapulco to foggy, hazy, smoggy skies. Getting from the ship through the gauntlet of hawkers was a bit daunting. Unlike Huatulco, there were no rules about keeping away from the tourists, and we were bombarded with people trying to take us somewhere or sell us something. It was overwhelming. 01_13_Acapulco (9)We crossed the very busy main street to check out the Fort of San Diego, high above the bay. I was wishing that my iPhone could work in Mexico because it was hard to tell where the streets were leading.
We managed to follow the poorly drawn map through the main square, but the entertainment there was some kind of puppet show, and didn’t seem to have a Mexican theme at all. We checked out the Byzantine white church in the square.

01_13_Acapulco (17)We then wandered up the steep streets to the area where the cliff divers jump. It cost several dollars just to stand and watch them, and the show wasn’t going to happen for hours. We walked along the cliffs, found a place to sit and enjoy the view, and tried to cool down a bit. Acapulco was very hot and smoggy and didn’t feel that great. After a bit of thinking, we decided that seeing the cliff divers wasn’t really worth the long wait for a few seconds of diving and we wound our way back down to the beach.




01_13_Acapulco (26) 01_13_Acapulco (23) It was lunch time and both of us thought that some good Mexican food would hit the spot. We walked and walked along that famous beach, and couldn’t find a single restaurant that was open. Finally, after some miles, we found a little open air place that was a fish restaurant, and instead of chips and salsa they gave us bread and salsa. geez. We did at least manage a good Pacifica beer. It was surprising that the beaches were empty and the restaurants closed. Not once while we were in any Mexican port did we hear the traditional mariachi bands that used to be everywhere in Mexico. I missed them a lot, remembering long days at Puerto Vallarta and the sound of the constant music.

Hot and tired, we went back on board to nap, and managed to miss dinner again because we didn’t wake up in time. I found myself feeling grateful for one last lovely day at sea before our cruise was over. Later in the evening, as we reviewed our photos, we were amazed at how lovely Acapulco looked. The smog wasn’t evident, the sands looked lovely. It was a good lesson in tourism; photos can be very misleading!

Saturday morning we woke to our usual gentle rocking sea, and planned another round of our normal sea day routines. Breakfast, walking, checking email, back to the pool deck for hot tub and swimming, then a good read. One of the nice things about gentle sea day cruising is the opportunity to converse with new people.  While in the hot tub we met a very interesting woman from the Peace River Country in the Northwest Territories of Canada.  She was a wheat farmer, an artist, and a teacher, and told us some delightful stories about her life, her husband, and her farm.  The Peace River Country has always been a place I would like to see, so I especially enjoyed meeting her.

01_14_Formal (4)During the late morning we went up to the 11th deck to tan in the cooler breezes. Lunch at the Seaside cafe was a surprise with a great Mexican buffet, best Mexican food we found on the trip. Spent our afternoon in the Martini Bar playing cards and Mo won again! Back to our room for showers before our last formal night, and we had a ton of fun and laughed ourselves silly taking photos in the mirror of our “dress-up” selves.
More photos of our day in Acapulco are here.

A Sea Day and Huatulco, Mexico January 11 and 12

01_11_SeaDay (3) This morning we awakened at 2 am with very high seas. Even though I haven’t been sick at all on this trip, I thought maybe I should be prepared and put on half a prevention patch. I probably could have done without it, though, and by 7:30 I took it off. They just make me feel too strange. The waves were so high that they sloshed all the water out of the swimming pool! We went to the library and I picked up a couple of books, then decided to do our sunning in the morning before lunch so it wouldn’t be so blazingly hot. We tried lunch in the San Marcos restaurant for a change, but were seated at a huge table for 10 and it was so weird that we got up and left and went instead to our usual salad buffet at the Seaside.


Another day of walking, checking email in the computer lab, playing cards in the Champagne Bar, and knitting. Lovely. After another evening walk we listened to some nice music as the sun set. We previously purchased an excursion for Huatulco that included another crocodile river trip, but decided to trade it for a snorkeling excursion. Neither of us particularly wanted to see more crocodiles, and we knew that good snorkeling might not be easy to find on our own. At first the excursion personnel said we would have to take our chances, but within an hour they sold our old tickets and sent new tickets to our cabin. Excellent service. After dinner we went to the casino, and decided to skip the theater show in favor of an early evening.  Our stop in Huatulco was to be a short one, with the ship landing at noon and our snorkel excursion at 1 pm. We skipped breakfast because there was another big brunch planned for the day from 10 to 2. This time we knew what to expect, and how to decide what to eat and where to find it in the midst of all the extravagant offerings.


01_12_Huatulco (37)The city of Huatulco is a perfect little port, perfect little town, perfect weather. It is situated near the older town of Santa Cruz on one of nine beach-ringed bays along 20 miles of pristine coastline. It is part of the Mexican government’s first eco-tourism resort, with an ecologically sensitive plan including strict building codes. Seventy percent of the area is held in ecological reserves to preserve the natural habitat. There was no sewage visible, no pollution going into the bay, and all the drinking water is distilled from sea water. Huatulco was the first port we visited that required a tender to go ashore, but the ride was short and interesting as we traveled into the coves and harbors of the main port. Everything seemed clean and fresh, including the air, with crystal blue skies. Mo and I both said we would enjoy spending some more extended time in the future.

01_12_Huatulco (47) Our tour was via an open air bus/van and instead of just snorkeling, the guide took us to the lighthouse so that we could have a view of the Sierra Madre mountains in the east and the ocean. It was lovely, warm and windy. We then traveled to a small bay with an open air restaurant where we snorkeled with the guide. We saw some queen angel fish, Achilles tangs, blue damsels, and parrot fish, but again the fish weren’t anything as wonderful as what we saw in Kauai last year. The guide led the group into an underwater cave but I had no desire to do that so I just swam back on my own. It was nice to swim without a life vest or fins, and I really enjoyed the snorkeling and the clear water.

After a beer at the beachside restaurant, we went shopping for some nice cotton dresses, and then headed back to the ship. We missed our formal dinner seating and instead had a great burger and fries at the poolside deck. Since a big tropical pool party was planned for 11 pm, we went back to our room for a nap. Our trusty alarm woke us in time to head up to the top deck for the party. The deck was decorated with trees, flowers, palm leaves, and a fabulous fruit buffet.
We had a great time at the party, enjoying the good music

and fresh fruit. I even joined in the obligatory Conga line, and had a great time dancing. The photo is blurry, I know, but I was dancing so fast, as the old saying goes, “As if No One Was Watching”. We didn’t get to sleep until after 2 AM.

More photos of Huatulco are here.