2018 Thanksgiving cruise

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For Thanksgiving vacation this year we went on a 7-day western Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Pearl!

Day 1 (Sunday, Tampa)

This is the first time we’ve cruised out of our local port. It was nice just being able to get up at a normal time on Sunday morning and drive over to the terminal at the Port of Tampa. By 11:30am we were parked across the street and in terminal #5. Check-in was delayed, however, and we ended up standing in a non-moving line for about 45 minutes before finally getting checked in. Like our last cruise to Alaska on the Norwegian Jewel, we were booked in a suite. When we went to get our key cards we were amazed to find that Bruno, our concierge from the Jewel, was on the Pearl! He even remembered us … incredible! That was a sign that we were going to have a great cruise, despite the slow start.

We were escorted on-board and it was like we had never left after Alaska. Being the same class of ship as the Jewel (just about a year newer), the deck plans of the Pearl were basically the same so we already knew our way around. Instead of going right to eat, we first went to the Entourage teen club to get my daughter registered. Then we went back to Moderno for lunch. Afterwards we walked around the ship a bit before going to check on our stateroom on deck 11 forward (the Sapphire Suite). We met our butler (Peter) and steward (Ruste) and found our luggage had already arrived! That gave us time to unpack and settle in before the mandatory muster drill at 3:30pm. Then we were sailing into Tampa Bay and (eventually) under the Sunshine Skyway and out into the Gulf:

After a family dinner at Cagney’s we split up (something that was going to be a familiar pattern in the days ahead): my daughter headed off to Entourage to be with her fellow teen cruisers and my wife and I did our own thing. We caught the late “Welcome Aboard” show in the Stardust Theater, watched a crazy “Sing It If You Know It” game show in the Spinnaker Lounge, and even went bowling in the Bliss Lounge. Following a late night snack from the buffet on deck 12, we turned in for the night.

Day 2 (Monday, at sea)

Today was a relaxing at-sea day. The gulf was calm, it was a beautiful day with blue sky and scattered clouds with temperatures in the low 80s, just perfect. We started with a trivia session in the Crystal Atrium (something we did a lot in the upcoming week) and then grabbed breakfast at the buffet. After a crazy carpet scavenger hunt my daughter went off with her friends and my wife and I found some lounge chairs on deck 7 and just sat reading for a while. We had lunch at O’Sheehan’s (which I realized is a pun for “oceans” … how did I miss that on the Alaska cruise?) and then did some shopping in the duty-free store, picking up a Pearl Christmas ornament. We managed to score our same lounge chairs back on deck 7 and after seeing some flying fish in the waters below, went back to reading and relaxing (I even took a nap).

We met my daughter for another trivia session and then went back to our room to get ready for the Captain’s reception and dinner. My wife was straightening my daughter’s hair with a flat iron when suddenly there was a beeping in our cabin. Then the phone was ringing … and it was the bridge! Apparently my daughter’s hair smoked slightly and it set off the smoke detector! Oops! We were also paid a visit by ship security who came to confirm everything was okay and clear the alarm.

After that excitement we finished getting dressed and then headed to the Bliss Lounge for the Captain’s reception. There we got to meet Captain Paul von Knorring who was gracious enough to sign the Christmas ornament we had purchased earlier. After a drink and some conversation with Jodie (the cruise director) we went to dinner at the Lotus Garden. My daughter took off again to hang out at Entourage so after finishing dinner and walking around my wife and I went back our stateroom and packed for our excursion tomorrow. Late night entertainment was the “Impersonator Game Show” in the Spinnaker Lounge and then we grabbed some dessert from the buffet. Tomorrow, Mexico.

Day 3 (Tuesday, Cozumel, Mexico)

We woke up this morning docked in Cozumel next to the Norwegian Breakaway. We had breakfast in our room before meeting Bruno who escorted us and some other guests down to the end of the dock to meet up with our excursion group. We took a bus to Playa Mia where we participated in a Mexican cooking class.

Our host chef, Moses, and his assistants walked us through preparing our meal. First, caramelized plantains for dessert (which went into the fridge). For the main course we prepared grouper and vegetables (cooked in the pan and then roasted in a foil pouch in the oven). The appetizer, which we prepared last, was a spicy shrimp and salsa on a fresh pressed tortilla. The whole time the margaritas, cervezas, and piña coladas were flowing and it was a really fun atmosphere (they even accommodated my vegetarian daughter). After finishing our appetizer we went upstairs from the kitchen and ate the meal we prepared … and it was really good!

We still had a few hours after lunch before the bus back to the port so we did some shopping and walked around the resort, even spent a little time sitting on the beach). Back at the port we did some more shopping before heading back to the Pearl. After unpacking back in our room we went out and my daughter had a chance to climb the rock wall while my wife and I did some more walking around deck 7 to get our steps in. After another trivia session, we had time to relax in our room and watch the sunset from our balcony as the Pearl left Cozumel.

The evening’s entertainment in the Stardust Theater was comedian Fred Bevil. After the show, my daughter headed off to hang out with her friends again so my wife and I went to the sushi bar for dinner. Jordan and Ferdi were amazing sushi chefs and even introduced us to some new (yummy!) rolls. Then we headed up to Spinnaker for the 70s dance party before turning in for the evening.

Day 4 (Wednesday, Harvest Caye, Belize)

Wednesday morning was overcast as we sailed into Harvest Caye. This was the day we were most worried about before leaving as the forecast called for a 90% chance of rain in Belize. After having breakfast in Moderno we changed into our beach clothes and met Bruno again (with all the other suite guests who were debarking) and were escorted down to the dock.

We spent the day in a private villa and it was amazing. I hooked up my phone to the Bluetooth speaker for music and we had free WiFi for checking in on things at home while sitting out on the beach. Very relaxing. 🙂 We even had a visitor on our deck!

The sun peeked out occasionally and we had some time to swim and enjoy the beach, but some heavy storms came through and drenched everything. While we were waiting out the rain we ordered lunch from the Horse Eye Jack Bar & Grill. Since my daughter is vegetarian I asked if we could get a veggie burger and our server said no problem. What arrived was a pile of vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce) on a bun! Oops! (I think that was really our only food fail on the trip). Unfortunately, while Harvest Caye is used exclusively by Norwegian Cruise Lines, they don’t own the island (like Disney’s Castaway Cay) so you have to pay for your food and drinks out-of-pocket (no charging to your room either). Since it was still sprinkling on and off we walked around the island and checked out some of the shops. I tried soursop ice cream, my daughter got a henna tattoo, and we scoped out the wildlife exhibit.

It wasn’t a complete beach day due to the rain, but we had a little more time to relax in the villa before heading back to the ship. Our evening pattern was now familiar: trivia, daughter leaves to be with friends. My wife and I went to the buffet for dinner and I was able to catch the Cavs/Lakers game (Lebron’s first return to Cleveland since leaving (again)). We got our steps in again walking around the promenade on deck 7 and watched the late night “Movie Sketch Show” in the Spinnaker Lounge.

Day 5 (Thursday, Roatan Bay Islands, Honduras)

Happy Thanksgiving! We awoke docked at Roatán. We had no planned excursion in Honduras and were just going to spend the day on the ship while everyone else was ashore. My daughter slept in while my wife and I did our daily walking exercise on deck 7 and then caught the morning trivia session. After cleaning up back in the stateroom and collecting my daughter, we went to the buffet for breakfast and then left the ship to wander around the port area.

We did a bit of shopping while my daughter purchased a Spanish orange soda and got to speak Spanish with some of the locals. Back on board, we had lunch at Moderno (I had the turkey burger because, Thanksgiving) and then ran around the ship like crazy people for 15 minutes in the Digital Scavenger Hunt (we won!). We also played fast food logo trivia before the ladies went to the spa and I spent some quality time relaxing on our balcony. I woke up in time to watch the crew cast off the ropes as the Pearl left the harbor. I met my wife (nice and relaxed after her massage) for Thanksgiving trivia in the Crystal Atrium. Back in the stateroom we got dressed up for Thanksgiving dinner but stopped for formal family photos before our reservation at Teppanyaki. Yes, we specifically chose the Japanese Hibachi restaurant for our Thanksgiving dinner. It was tremendously entertaining (and the food was good, too!).

This evening’s entertainment was a French magician: Titou. He was pretty good (if I haven’t seen him on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us (he’s based in Vegas like them), I’ve at least seen some of his tricks before). Then we saw Fred Bevil’s do his adult comedy routine in Spinnaker (which was hilarious, although too many drunk people tried to take over the show).

Day 6 (Friday, Costa Maya, Mexico)

This morning we woke up in Costa Maya, once again docked next to the Breakaway. After a quick (slightly rushed) breakfast at the buffet we left the ship (no escort from Bruno this time) and walked down the pier to find our excursion meet-up point.

We were supposed to be in a group of about 12 but ended up in a smaller group of just 5 (including us). After meeting our guide (Arturo) and driver (Angel) we were off for the hour drive inland to the Chacchoben Ruins. During the drive, Art spoke to us about the Mayans, their culture, and even taught us how to count in Mayan (Angel was actually a Mayan and would translate words into Mayan as Art asked him). The ruins were just incredible … photos don’t do them justice compared to seeing them in person. Just, wow. Our last excursion of the cruise turned out to be our favorite. My only problem with it was Art’s “hard sell” tactics on Mayan silver pendants while we were a captive audience in the van during the drive.

Back at the pier, we did a little more shopping before re-boarding the Pearl. From deck 12 we watched the sunset as the ship left Costa Maya behind. With only one full day of the cruise left, we ordered a small dinner via room service and spent some time in the stateroom packing our suitcases with items and clothes we wouldn’t need again. My daughter disappeared to Entourage again so my wife and I went to the evening entertainment, the “Legends in Concert” show featuring Michael Jackson (our personal favorite), Tina Turner, and Elvis. Up at Spinnaker, we watched the “Perfect Couple” game show and then grabbed a late dinner at Indigo before heading back to the room to change for the White Hot Party. We had a late drink in the Crystal Atrium and watched a little of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” before heading to bed.

Day 7 (Saturday, at sea)

Our last day at sea. After breakfast at Moderno we went on the behind-the-scenes tour of the Norwegian Pearl. We got to see the kitchens, garbage room, laundry, and theater. Very cool and informative. While my daughter went off to attend some final activities at Entourage, my wife and I visited Jordan and Ferdie again at the sushi bar for lunch. Back at our room we started working on the customs paperwork for tomorrow and then did some walking on the promenade before attending our last trivia session (dog breeds, we didn’t do too well). My wife continued her workout in the gym while I took a nap out on our balcony.

In the late afternoon we continued to pack. My daughter had one of her friends over to do makeup before their final dinner party and then my wife and I left for our final dinner at Moderno (Brazilian steakhouse, yum … the linguiça was our favorite). We eventually got back to our stateroom in time to finish packing and get our luggage out in the hall for pickup. Hard to believe we debark tomorrow morning.

Day 8 (Sunday, Tampa)

I woke up for some reason at 4:40am. Looking outside, I realized I had just missed the Pearl’s passage back under the Sunshine Skyway. I decided to go topside and watch the ship sail back into the Port of Tampa. We were following the Carnival Miracle and by 6:15am we were just south of Davis Island. I got to watch the sun rise over the port and by 7:00am we were docked at Terminal #2.

I went back to our stateroom and spent some final time on the balcony watching the port wake up, waiting for my wife and daughter to do the same. Once everyone was up and ready, we packed our final bags and went to our final breakfast at Moderno. Being in a suite, we had priority debark and could leave whenever we wanted so we were in no real hurry. We met Anthony, the assistant concierge at the Stardust Theater and he escorted us and the other families down into the terminal where we met Bruno for the last time. In short order we had our luggage, were through customs, and back at our car in the garage.

On the way home we stopped to pick up some groceries and were back at the house unpacking by 11:00am. Our 2018 Thanksgiving vacation cruise was over.

Post-Cruise Thoughts

Having Bruno as our concierge again was a pleasant surprise and really made our cruise great right from the get-go. He is an amazing concierge and I highly recommend him! In fact, all of the staff we interacted with on a daily basis (Peter, Ruste, George, Roderick, Caressa, Jodi, Tiara, Irene, Vaughn, Sunny, etc.) on the Pearl were incredible.

My wife and I had the Ultimate Beverage Package included with our reservation so I drank … a lot. Definitely more than in Alaska. I pretty much was working my way down every menu at each bar, trying everything.

The Cruise Norwegian app was much better than the old iConcierge app we used on the Jewel. Being able to review the on-board activities schedule and mark favorites was very convenient (although I still wish the app would remind you when an event was starting like the Disney on-board app does). I’d also like to be able to add custom events to the app (like dinner reservations or shore excursion meet times) but I worked around that by just putting those alerts in my calendar. $10 per device for on-board texting and calling seemed a little expensive at first, but over 7 days for the amount we used it the price was worth it.

We considered getting a larger internet package than the 250 minutes that came with our reservation, but that amount turned out to be just fine (we still had about 60 minutes left). We would just connect periodically to download e-mails or check in with family quickly via text messaging and then disconnect. Having free WiFi in Belize definitely helped with this too (that’s when my daughter did most of her heavy social networking). Still, we were on vacation and thus trying to limit our connections to work and the real world back home so the limited plan was perfect.

The Port of Tampa is not really well-equipped (in my opinion) to handle cruise traffic. It’s certainly no Miami or Port Canaveral but does OK with what it has. The terminals were crowded (both incoming and outgoing), especially when trying to retrieve our luggage at the end. In terminal #2 there was only one elevator so everyone with a wheelchair, motorized scooter, or stroller had to wait in a long line for that (they wouldn’t let anyone with a stroller use the escalator). Going through customs was fine, though.

There did not seem to be a lot of trash cans on the ship and the only recycling bins (for plastics) were on the deck 7 promenade. During our behind-the-scenes tour in the garbage room the office told us they used to make the guests sort their trash (i.e., recycling bins in the staterooms) but people didn’t want to “think” on vacation so they do all the sorting in the garbage room. Still, I don’t think having a few more plastic/paper/trash bins around would hurt. NCL should also have designated areas on the ship where you can leave dishes and glasses. It’s crazy where people just leave dirty dishes when they’re done with them: in the stairwells, on the decks, just about anywhere. People on vacation should still try to remember that they’re sharing the ship with a lot of other people and should try and treat their home on the water the way they would their own home (or maybe people just leave dirty dishes on the stairs at home, who knows).

Our next cruise is coming up in June 2019: Hawaii on the Norwegian Pride of America.

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