A few days ago we returned from a totally unique experience: we boarded the massive, beautiful Norwegian Star ship and embarked on an 8-day cruise out of San Pedro, California (LA harbor) to the so-called Mexican Riviera. Our ports of call were Acapulco, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, and also on board were my LA-based parents (who are cruise experts: this was their 17th cruise by their count) and my sister and brother-in-law, who flew down from Alaska for the journey. [My sister has a blog too, btw: art dolls.info]
In the interest of retaining our sanity, Linda and I booked two adjoining cabins on Deck 5, one for the kids and one for us. At least, theoretically. One further cabin over was my parents, who didn’t realize they were setting themselves up to hear the late-night cries of the wee one when we arranged everything!
Deck 5 is pretty low on the ship but we found that a benefit because the ship was more stable and we experienced less sway and motion than my sister did up on Deck 11, where their fancy cabin with a deck was located. We didn’t have a deck — too dangerous with K-, our 3yo! — but we did instead have a very large window in each room, about 6×5 or so. Plenty big enough for sightseeing!
The ship was amazing, with more large, open space than I ever imagined was possible. To the right is a photograph of the Grand Atrium, looking down on the Deck 7 from Deck 12: The open space in the middle is where a four-player group played pleasant muzak every evening. I found it a bit hard to listen to their pablum covers of ABBA, the Beatles, and more, but everyone else in my party thought they were very good. What do I know about music? 🙂
As I said, the ship was amazingly large, sufficiently so that their jogging track on Deck 13 is marked to inform that four times around the track is one mile in length, that is, the ship is a quarter-mile around or roughly 1/8 mile in length. No kidding.
In addition to the twelve restaurants, there was a library, reading room, two game/card rooms, conference facilities, a 300 person movie theater and the Stardust Theater, a beautiful venue that must have seated at least 800 people, spanning Decks 6 and 7, and the site of a variety of short musical and dance productions on different nights. What else. There’s a large store with jewelry, clothes, toys for the kids, sweets, and various trinkets and souvenirs. We managed to only buy lanyards for the kids to keep their cabin keys, a few shot glasses (we collect ’em in a rather informal manner), and I think that’s it.
One of the things we most enjoyed about being on the ship was that every single meal was prepared by their pleasant crew. Surrounded by rather chic restaurants offering cuisine ranging from sushi and teppanyaki to Tex-Mex and a steak house we actually ate almost all of our meals at the Garden Cafe buffet. But the buffet was better than you may think: mornings included cooked-to-order omelets, fresh waffles, and a wide variety of traditional breakfast foods. I typically eat oatmeal and fruit, both available each and every morning.
Lunch we more often than not ate at The Grill, basic hamburgers and hotdogs served poolside by the main Oasis pool on Deck 12. Rather to our surprise the kids ate and enjoyed beef hotdogs with cheese and ketchup on a bun, the kind of food we rarely get them to eat at home. Must have been that invigorating sea air!
Dinner was back at the buffet again, and we were again impressed with the fare. From turkey breast and lamb to custom stir-fry with the vegetables of your choice to fresh dessert crepes, there was always something delicious to eat, and being a buffet, as much as you wanted to eat. Yes, everything I’d heard about cruises being pigfests proved true, and there were a lot of seriously obese people really piling it on, meal after meal. I think we managed to show some restraint!
An eight-day cruise and three, no, four days of it are “at sea” days as you travel from port to port. The longest haul was the beginning, it takes three days to travel from San Pedro to Acapulco, meaning departure day plus two “at sea” days. Boring? Not at all, not with a children’s pool complex at the back (aft) of the ship and the larger adult-scale Oasis pool complex midship. Both had fun waterslides and K- especially just loved ’em and couldn’t get enough, which surprised and delighted me. She’s only just 3, but was definitely a girl on the move, zooming down the big slide laughing the entire way, then zipping up the stairs and waiting her turn with all the big kids.
We also learned after a few days to get new books from the library. They had about 50 kids books, which is ridiculously few for a land-based library, but plenty to keep all three happy with new reading materials. A secret: the library also has games, so we also checked out a Yahtzee game that we kept in the room for the duration of the cruise, offering a nice alternative to the games we’d brought, Uno and Rat-a-Tat Cat.
I’ll write about our shore excursions in a different posting, and then a separate note about the weirdness of embarkation and disembarkation and how the Norwegian Cruise Line’s complete and pathetic inability to manage crowds getting on and off the ship left a terribly sour note in our mouths and left Linda saying “If that’s what it’s always like getting off a cruise ship, I’ll never go on another cruise in my life.”
For now, however, I’ll stick with positive stuff and tips.
Here’s one: of an evening, we’d pop our head into The Spinnaker Lounge and get a few bags of popcorn for in-cabin munchies. Dunno if our cabin attendant appreciated the cleanup every morning, but it was good popcorn and the kids, esp. 10yo A-, joined me in munching away while reading books or playing games. The Lounge also featured a four-piece rock combo that played a wide variety of contemporary and classic rock music, sometimes with some verve and other times, well, let’s just say that a jukebox isn’t always something to shun. 🙂
Nonetheless, they were entertaining and the kids just loved experiencing so much live music, which there was no shortage of during the cruise. In one of the lounges we enjoyed a female folk singer with her obligatory guitar too, I think she might have been the most talented musician of the crew. When we were in Acapulco, a splendid Mariachi band came on board and performed at the Oasis Pool.
A few quick numbers. As I said, the ship’s about 1/8th mile long and has cabin space for 2,200 passengers. To service them, the ship also holds 1,100 crew, and if you can visualize the below-waterline decks, that’s mostly where they sleep and live when they’re not working, though plenty of them also eat at the Garden Cafe and mingle with the passengers, especially on shore excursions. I chatted with and was befriended by many of the international crew, including chaps from Australia, St. Lucia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and mostly from the Philippines. All were pleasant, and all talked candidly about how many hours they work (a lot), how much time they get off (precious little) and how much they’re enjoying their work anyway (just about all of them).
Most amazing to me was that I didn’t touch a computer the entire cruise and lived to tell the tale. Yes, 8 days with no email, no blogging, no news, nada. Just playing with the kids, relaxing on deck, and wandering around Mexico. Great fun and really, given that I can’t remember the last time I went offline for more than a day or two, probably critically good for my mental health too.
Well, that’s enough for this first entry on our cruise adventure. I hope you enjoy the pictures I’ve included too! Have you been on a cruise with your family? How was it?
Continued in Part II: Food, Norovirus and Excursions and Part III: The Terrible Experience of Embarkation and Disembarkation.