Vacation 2014: Eastern Caribbean

28 May 2014


Notes and impressions from our April 2014 Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line Getaway.

Our first cruise was in 1990 on the Premier Cruise Lines Star/Ship Majestic. The cruise was part of a Disney World Land & Sea package that included 3-night cruise and a 4-night stay at a Resort hotel. The cruise departure was from Port Canaveral and the destination was a private island in Abaco, Bahamas. Then in 2000, we took another cruise after our daughter’s college graduation. For our second time around, we sailed on the first cruise ship custom-built for Carnival Cruise Lines the “Fun Ship®” Tropicale from Port of Tampa. Again, this was a short cruise with ports of call in Key West and Cozumel, Mexico. Now, since it’s been fourteen years since our last cruise, we wanted to take a longer trip. So, we decided on a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Getaway, Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship during its inaugural season sailing out of Port Miami.

Parking at the Port of Miami cruise terminal can be expensive at $20/day. So, I decided to google for alternatives. I decided on the 150 NE 7th Street Port of Miami Cruise Parking Lot. You can make a reservation with a credit card right on their website, which was very easy and straightforward. When you arrive at the fenced in outdoor lot just present your printed reservation confirmation and park your car. The parking spots are tight, so some fancy maneuvering may be necessary. The lot was fairly easy to find especially since I was able to see a picture of the area beforehand. The cruise terminal is less than a 10 minute ride from the lot and there is a van service available which costs $8 per person round-trip. So, with parking, van, and tip, I paid about half of what I would have paid if I had parked at the cruise terminal. The van driver will give you a sticker to place on your person so that you can be identified for pick up at the end of your cruise. As a precaution, I would keep the parking lot phone number handy just in case.

For our accommodations, we decided on an Inside stateroom on deck 10 forward. Jen picked a Studio stateroom on the same deck. The Studio staterooms are geared for singles and are located in a keycard access controlled area. These Studio staterooms also include a shared private lounge for guests.

We also decided to include prepaid gratuities when booking our cruise. However, the prepaid gratuities didn’t include drinks; gratuities were automatically added to our bill for all drink orders.

As expected, we had to attend the mandatory life vest safety drill before the ship left port. However, instead of having to muster on deck in our life vests, we only had to attend a safety presentation in the Getaway Theater. It’s required that you participate and they do check attendance by scanning your guest card before you are seated.

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has opted for “Freestyle Dining” on its cruise ships. Gone are the days when you had to sit at the same table in the same dining room at the same time every night during your cruise. Now you have a choice; you can either eat in one of the complementary dining rooms, cafes, and buffets or you can try one or more of the specialty restaurants. We decided to purchase the Ultimate Dining package which allowed us to eat in any of the specialty restaurants every night of the cruise for $118/person. The only restriction is that you could only order one entrée from the menu. But there were no restrictions on how many appetizers, soups, salads or deserts you could order. In addition, jeans and shorts are now acceptable attire in most restaurants so I brought along a couple of Hawaiian tropical shirts, a few dress shorts, one pair of khakis, and a pair of top-siders. I wore dress shorts and top-siders for all dinners except at the Le Bistro where I wore khakis instead.

As far as the specialty restaurants go, we rated Cagney’s, Moderno, and Teppanyaki in the top three. Cagney’s Steakhouse has awesome sliders as an appetizer that shouldn’t be missed. The Moderno Churrascaria is your typical Brazilian Steakhouse. My favorite meats were the picanha, the signature cut sirloin, and chorizo sausage. The Teppanyaki Japanese Steakhouse not only has excellent steak and seafood, but the chefs put on a good show to boot.

From our first night on ship, we found a niche in the Sugarcane Bar. We quickly became acquainted with our server, Deana, and she took care of us whenever we dropped in—most every evening.

Some form of entertainment was always happening from 7:30 AM until 12 midnight so it wasn’t easy to get bored. The ship had two really good lounge bands, Groove International and Summer Breeze. Also available on board were a number of shows and musicals but we were only able to catch one, and that was Burn The Floor, a Latin dance extravaganza.

The very distinctive hull artwork for the Getaway was done by Miami artist David “Lebo” Le Batard who was also on board and gave an impressive live art demonstration.

Our cruise made ports of call at Philipsburg, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Nassau, Bahamas. Since we wanted to do some sightseeing and shopping in addition to having some beach time, we decided to do the beach and snorkeling in the U.S. Virgin Islands and use the time in St. Maarten and Nassau for sightseeing. That being said, we signed up for the following shore excursions:

  • Discover St. Maarten Dutch & French
  • St. John Beach Escape and Snorkel
  • Charm & Beauty of the Bahamas

As soon as we were able to disembark at St. Maarten, we headed straight for the shopping mall area in Phillipsburg. On the way, we were stopped many times by tour operators and cab drivers wanting to take us on a tour of the island. Since we already purchased our excursion tickets, we declined. The stores were incredible, especially the jewelry stores. The sales staff were all attentive to the point of being aggressive, but in a polite way. At one jewelry store I was introduced to some watches made from parts recovered from the Titanic with prices starting around $15,000—wow!

Our tour driver took us around the Philipsburg mall area and then headed up to the French capital, Marigot. When we got there, he just dropped us off at the dock area and gave us the time when he would pick us up. His narration during the tour was kind of repetitive and the excursion excluded the airport which I was anxious to see.

Our day in the U.S. Virgin Islands started at 8:00 AM in the Getaway Theater. After they called our excursion, we walked to the end of the dock to pick up our water taxi for the ride over to St. John. The water was rough on the way over, but the trip still took only about 45 minutes. Once there, we got on our open-air taxi to for the 10 to 15 minute ride to Trunk Bay. The tour operators kept everything moving along so everyone could get the maximum time on the beach. I’ve read a few reviews where people complained that the beach was too crowded or that they didn’t get enough time on the beach. On the contrary, the beach wasn’t crowded at all when we were there. If you don’t believe me, check out one of my photos (untouched) posted on OneDrive. And, as far as there not being enough time on the beach, I would have to ask, “Is there ever enough time?” Even so, I had plenty of time to snorkel the entire course and even had some extra time to just hang around the beach. I would advise giving yourself an extra 15 minutes or so to turn in your equipment and hit the rest room/changing area instead of waiting until the last minute. On the way back to St. Thomas the ocean was calmer and the trip only took about 40 minutes. The driver slowed down while pulling into port so that we could take pictures of our ship. All in all, an excellent excursion.

If you have never been to Nassau, Bahamas, I would strongly recommend the Charm & Beauty excursion. Our driver really gave us a lot of information about the area, and the tour covered a lot of ground including stops at Fort Charlotte, John Watling’s Distillery, and Gone Fish’n, a famous barbeque place on the beach. The tour also passed through the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island.

While we were walking back to our ship from where the tour left us off, we heard loud music playing that sounded like a real party was going on. Naturally, we thought it was coming from the Disney Dream that was docked next to our ship, but we were dead wrong; all the hullabaloo was coming from our ship! As it turned out, Sinan, our cruise director, along with many of the chefs and crew were out there lined up all along the gangway welcoming us back with signs saying, “Welcome Home.”

The Farewell Variety Showtime brought many of the cast members from Legally Blonde and Burn The Floor for the last show of the cruise. Many of the performances had members of the NCL crew spoofing other cast members. But the best was when Sinan gave his “Top 10” of actual questions guests have asked—really hilarious.

After having our last breakfast in the Garden Café Buffet, we disembarked and went through customs without incident. Outside, we waited about 30 minutes to get picked up by our parking lot van service. Back at the lot, my vehicle was just as I had left it.

In conclusion, I would definitely cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line again.

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