Hopefully you’ve already read the first installment of my writeup of our recent 8-day cruise on the Norwegian Star to the Mexican Riviera. If not, you should probably read it first…
Avoiding Norovirus and Scary Germs
on our NCL Cruise
This time I want to talk a bit more about our dining experiences, about our one organized trip off the boat in Puerto Vallarta, and most especially about germs. Yes, if you haven’t been paying attention to the persistence and toughness of modern bacteria and viruses, you might not realize that there’s a scary stomach bug called the norovirus (aka viral gastroenteritis) that gives you a yechy few days of bad digestive problems. Its most common habitat? Cruise ships.
The US Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) has an entire section of its Web site focused on norovirus, including Cruising with Confidence, which explains that “CDC investigators believe that most of the recent norovirus infections on cruise ships were spread person-to-person through hand-to-mouth activity. “We suspect that people are probably coming on board with the virus,” says Dave Forney, chief of the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program. “On a cruise ship, people are out and about in very public areas, and so we have this depositing of the virus on various surfaces that then would be easily picked up by others.”
Great, another thing we had to worry about on the ship!
Fortunately, as you might expect, the cruise ship industry has responded with great vigor to this viral threat and we were particularly impressed with the Norwegian Cruise Lines and the omnipresent alcohol hand washing stations. One of them’s shown to the right.
We were apparently quite lucky that our kids really enjoyed washing their hands at the washing stations (heck, they washed them at every station we’d pass, sometimes three or four times in just a few minutes!). To give them credit, NCL added mint scent and some hand softeners to the alcohol wash. By the time we got off the ship, my hands were lovely and soft. Who would have thought? 🙂 The importance of on-ship hygiene was highlighted when I realized that there was a crew member assigned to remind everyone to wash their hands every time they came into the Garden Cafe for food. That’s all she did, just stand there and point to it with a smile.
Ironically, though, while perhaps that’s what we should have been most worried about on the germ front, we were rather quite more concerned about the different bacterial life in Mexico and originally had considered never getting off the ship at all.
To explain, it’s not that we’re completely germophobic and paranoid at all, but rather that K-, our 3yo, is licking, sucking on and generally getting everything near her into her mouth at all times. We’ve watched her lick handrails in stairwells, for example, much to our complete horror and disgust. Between bathroom hand washes and the nifty germicidal cleaners on the Norwegian Star, we knew that K- was as protected as we could make her from norovirus, etc., but on land? In Mexico? Where just about everyone I know who spends time there just accepts that they’ll eventually get sick?
When we got to Acapulco, in fact, we never even got off the ship. We just stayed on board and played in the pools, enjoying how quiet things were with most everyone exploring the port of call. My folks and sister got back from their Acapulco adventures, however, and we decided it was probably a bit daft to completely avoid getting on solid ground for the duration of the cruise, and so at subsequent ports of call we did get off the ship (though K-, G- and I never visited Cabo San Lucas, while A- and Linda went off on a shopping adventure with the rest of the gang) (maybe we just wanted to avoid shopping, now that I think about it!)
Excursions, or Visiting Our Ports of Call
So when I talk about our off-ship adventures, well, you can see that we were perhaps a bit less adventurous than some of the other passengers on the ship. Heck, even my folks went to see the cliff divers in Acapulco (I would have kept expecting Elvis to show up, but maybe I’m the only person in the world to understand that obscure reference!)
Beachfront Businesses in Ixtapa, Mexico
Nonetheless, when we got to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, we got off the ship and poked around the town a bit, mostly just enjoying the beach and the ability to stretch our legs and feel terra firma. Ixtapa’s a lovely little town, actually, and we were quite taken with it. Quaint. It feels very quaint and peaceful. The Ixtapans were generally pleasant, though being Tourists with a capital “T” off a cruise ship, our interaction was exclusively them trying to sell us something we didn’t want to buy. No doubt had we have stayed there and explored we would have found a less commercial interaction and had a different sense of the place.
Germ-wise, we had our little bottle of hand sanitizer and were careful not to let K- put anything in her mouth as best we could. We didn’t eat or drink anything on shore (paranoid? or just careful?) and had a splendid time on their beautiful beach. I also enjoyed watching the local boys shed layers of their school uniforms and play some enthused football [y’know, Americans call it soccer] on the beach too.
The big adventure was when we were in Puerto Vallarta. We signed up for their “Pirate Boat Adventure”, about $80/adult and $58/child (meaning we dropped a cool $335 on a five hour excursion) and found it a mixed bag. The ship was very cool, as you can see in the photo on the right, and the crew was generally friendly and enthused, but the show was loud and mostly incoherent (imagine English and Spanish, alternating, fast) and while the brochure on the Norwegian Star advertised the excursion as having “authentic Mexican foods” we were actually served traditional American breakfast and lunch foods. Pancakes but no huevos rancheros, bbq ribs but no tortillas. I was disappointed, though the food itself was good and of good quality.
The Marigalante for the Puerto Vallarta Pirate Boat Adventure
Puerto Vallarta is an enormous harbor, many miles across, and on the pirate vessel Marigalante we went north to a small private beach they owned. Small being the operative word: we had about 200 passengers with us on the boat and when we were all on the beach it was a pretty tight fit. More frustrating, however, was the disorganization of getting from the ship to the beach and the rudeness of the crew when we found ourselves stuck with the snorkeling party though every announcement we’d heard suggested we were in the right spot to go straight to the beach. Their solution? We got to sit on the boat and watch the snorkelers. Fortunately, G-, A- and Linda jumped in for a few minutes (the entire snorkeling time allocated for even the most die-hard diver was about 15 minutes max) and we did eventually get to the shore.
On the other little boat being used to ferry passengers from the pirate ship to the shore, they apparently went to the snorkeling area and not one person wanted to snorkel. So the crewmember had to bring the boat back to the main ship and ask permission to take everyone to the beach. Ugh, who’s running this navy? If we’d have been real pirates, at least one or two of ’em would have walked the plank, the scurvy dogs!
Even given the frustration of getting to the beach, we did have a good time, and most importantly, the kids had a really great time. We bought G- (who is by far the most pirate-enthused) a $20 t-shirt and $6 keychain from the boat too, much to his delight. Indeed, we’ve had to prise the shirt off his body, even after it got scary-dirty!
When we did get back to the docks at Puerto Vallarta, I was a bit dismayed to see that to get off the Marigalante we needed to pass a gauntlet of crew standing, wanting to shake our hands and, surprise, at the end, the “captain” holding out a box asking for additional tips. I figured that we’d just paid almost $350 for a few hours on the boat, being shaken down for more was not so cool. So I didn’t offer up any additional money.
Ultimately would I recommend the Pirate Boat Adventure as a shore excursion? Yes, I would, especially if you have children. You’ll have a good time, I bet!
And What About That Food, Anyway?
Linda and I were blessed to have my folks and sister and brother-in-law all ready to help field the wee ones so the two of us could sneak away, and so we did. Twice. The first time we went to see Music of the Night, a dance production based on Andrew Lloyd Weber’s most popular musical numbers, as performed in the Stardust Theater by the talented Jean Ann Ryan dance company. After about half the show we ducked out and went up to one of my favorite spots on the ship, the Red Lion pub on Deck 7 to share a beer and chat.
Colorful tables in Cabo San Lucas
(photo credit: J. Wellnitz 🙂
The second evening we planned ahead a bit more and had an early dinner at Cagney’s Steakhouse, a lovely 15-table restaurant tucked away on Deck 12 above the Oasis pool area. While food is all included with your cruise charge, it turns out that a few of the higher-end restaurants did charge an additional cover, Cagney’s being one of them. Linda had a splendid filet mignon and I enjoyed a very large tuna steak, beautifully prepared. We also had side vegetables of spinach, sauteed mushrooms, asparagus, and corn, having started with both crab cakes and a caesar salad as appetizers. We shared two deserts, bananas foster and a chocolate decadence cake and liked the bananas so much we ordered another one and chowed down! Yum!! Including our alcoholic beverages (wine for Linda, a Gin and Tonic for me) the supplemental cost was about $50, I think. Well worth it for a delicious dinner.
Candidly I admit that I ate far more at that meal than my body needed and I have a memory of not eating much at all the next day, just trying to burn off the extraneous calories. But don’t tell anyone, okay? 🙂
Food is always a big part of cruises from everyone I’ve spoken with, and since this was our first cruise, the “Freestyle Cruising” of the Norwegian Cruise Line, where we didn’t have assigned tables or assigned eating times, made it feel very much like being in a small village with various restaurants and entertainments. Very nice, relaxing, and good to know that just about any time we could grab something good to eat.
Apparently, one of the nights they had a midnight chocolate buffet, but we were long since passed out by that point so never got to see it. The reports I received were favorable, however, and other passengers were still talking about it the next morning. Too bad they don’t cater!
I’ll wrap this up here as I ‘m tired of typing. Next installment will be all about the chaos of getting on the Norwegian Star and then the complete failure of the crew to help with disembarkation, which was a shambles bordering on a horror. You can read about it here: the terrible experience of embarkation and disembarkation.
Great Blog! I mentioned your blog on the Parent List. Check it out!
Thanks for all the details, Dave!
So many people have talked to us about cruises, but they make me kind of nervous… mainly because we have an extremely squirrelly 2 1/2 year old boy who doesn’t seem to care if we’re not around (i.e. he recently took off in the largest Half-Price Books in the country and had a ball until the manager grabbed him in Self-Help. Ironically, we were there to find the book “Raising Your Spirited Child”)…
did it feel safe to have a 3 y/o on board??
Yes, completely safe. There was never a moment when I was afraid she’d leap off the side, and generally everyone on the ship, from the crew to the passengers, was friendly, cooperative, and ready to help out (e.g., grab her, stop her running away) as needed. But then again, one of us (often me) was “assigned” to watching and staying with her, and it helped to have additional family along too. But if there are two of you and one of him, you should be able to manage!! 🙂
My husband and I just returned from an Alaskan Norwegian Star cruise. He became ill during our trip and we later found out that 41 other cabins were quarantened at one time or another during the week of 5/19/07 thru 5/26/07. We saw a body bag taken from the ship the day of embarkment. Do you know how we can find out if this person died of natural causes or the viral outbreak onboard?
I was on the 5/12-19/07 NCL Star trip. While eating breakfast we heard some folks saying that a woman had passed away and the body bag was in the hallway waiting to be taken off the ship. They did not know what had happened to her. Also, while we were in Skagway a man suffered a heart attack and med flown to Juneau. We later heard that he had passed away.
Um, I can’t see a body being left in the hallway like so much luggage to clean up, guys, so let’s at least try to stick to some semblance of reality? 🙂
This isn’t to make light of a possible fatality during a cruise, but if something like that did occur, don’t you think that they’d have a bit more decorum?
This is the first time where taking the NCL. Can you tell me how many formal night, casual night and special dress up dinning night…they have? I just want to now what to pack…Do they also have laundry facilities.
Thanks in advance
WE just came back from a Norweigen Star cruise, DEC 6th we sailed for 7 days. WE both had diarrhea on the ship the last few days and were very careful. There was one serious injury, and one serious medical condition on this cruise, which is very depressing. This was our first cruise and we were on the 9th deck, front ship, very rocky! THe room was excellent, except the bed kept pulling apart to singlton’s beds. My husband now has fevers and severe diarrhea, controlled by imodium, but I’m sure he can’t take that for more than a few days without reprocusions. We both agree, for the money we spent on it, the service was fabulous, but for the money, we should have had some free drinks, and some lobster with that..we had to pay for that. TO expensive, I will be on an all inclusive vacation, with meals and drinks and bottled water for free. THe water on the ship tasted terrible, chlorine or something. Bottled waters were about 5.60$. Drinks were outragously priced, and you can buy a pop for about 2$, and you had to pay for milk and juices. WE will be heading to the dr for a stool sample to name the culprit, an extra expense for a cruise. Be prepared, the food is of average quality and average selection, considering the price we paid for the balcony room, and if you don’t want to drink the water in the room, which I highly suggest you don’t, be prepared for that expense. A cold beer is about 4.50$ and a fancy drink is about 9$. Ridiculous.
We just got back from the Norwegian Star Christmas cruise to Mexico.
The bad: my daughter got food poisoning after eating at the Market Cafe, and was in bed most of the last 3 days of the cruise; the boat was crowded, and eating at the free restaurants during normal meal times was a zoo; drinks are still too expensive; we had rough seas on the last day, and a lot of people were sea sick.
The good: they seem to have worked out embarking and disembarking problems: both went smoothly; the ship was recently remodeled, and generally clean; the food at the Aqua and Versailles restaurants was generally good, but service was slow.
In sum, not a bad cruise for people who like cruises, and don’t mind crowds. It was too crowded for us, and we spent too much time waiting in lines or searching for an empty table, so we won’t be back.
i plan on booking a cruise on this same ship tomorrow and found your blog articles candid and helpful to me..