I've memorized Port and Starboard. What else do 2 cruise n00bs need to know?
May 24, 2011 10:19 AM   Subscribe

The Lady and I are taking our first cruise this Sunday. Leaving New Orleans and heading to Belize, Roatan, Costa Maya and Cozumel. I've been to N.O. before, but neither of us have been any of the other places. Any pro-tips, suggestions or amusing anecdotes about any of those places? We really have no idea what to expect...

We're both very excited, but a little nervous since neither of us have cruised before.* To be honest, neither of us has ever been to Mexico or Central America, but we're adventurous and looking forward to all of it!

I've been to CruiseCritic and doodled around there a bit, but I wanted to ask the MetaFilter community for their thoughts and experiences.

We'll be on the Norwegian Spirit (I think?) and as I said: stopping in Belize, Roatan, Costa Maya and Cozumel. I believe we've signed up for a tubing trip through underground rivers/caves in Belize and to see Mayan ruins in Cozumel (both through the boat). But we're really flying blind, so to speak, when it comes to the rest of the trip.

What should we be expecting when we get off the ship? Has anyone been to any of those ports? Are there any "Must Sees" that we should be aware of? And how should I handle carrying cash; just in American Dollars or would it make sense to change it?

I guess I'm mostly asking about these four specific places, but any general cruise advice will also be appreciated. Thank you SO MUCH in advance!

*(full disclosure: technically I went on a Big Red Boat Disney cruise for a couple days with my family when I was 9, but I feel this will be a much different experience)
posted by indiebass to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We went to Roatan on a cruise and did the snorkeling. It was very enjoyable, but for the love of God bring sunscreen that doesn't wash off in the water!!!

It's a shame that you've already booked an activity for Cozumel because hubs and I did the Amazing Race and it was AWESOME. Easily one of the best shore excursions I've ever done. You got to get a great look at Cozumel and not just the touristy places. Don't worry, no eating weird foods, etc. Just a lot of fun. It helped that we won.

We also went to Costa Maya and that's where we went to see the Mayan Ruins. There's not much to Costa Maya as it is a relatively new port that was primarily designed for the cruising industry. You can see the pics of the Mayan ruins we went to in my Flickr stream in my profile.

As for cruising in general, it really depends on the line. I've never been on Norweigian but Cruise Critic is usually very helpful in terms of realistic views of the experience.
posted by Leezie at 10:26 AM on May 24, 2011

Cozumel is pretty amazing. I didn't go on a cruise so can't speak to that part of it. But the sights and people watching were amazing. If your profile is current & you're in/from DC the pace is very different. The concept of Mexican time is very true.

Also don't feel pressured to buy extras. You'll have to learn & be comfortable with no - or be willing to "donate" $1 bills to people who will always be asking.

Have a great time
posted by TravellingCari at 10:31 AM on May 24, 2011

Response by poster: A brief look at the Google tells me that the Amazing Race Cozumel is a Carnival cruise thing. Y'erg! That does sound awesome. And for the record, I'm not opposed to eating weird foods at all, though the lady would be generally more opposed to it than me. =)
posted by indiebass at 10:32 AM on May 24, 2011

Response by poster: Cari: my profile is current, though some folks might argue about the glacial pace of government. =) I'm actually very much looking forward to slowing down and "being" more than anything else, but the lady is a planner and doesn't want to miss anything on her first cruise, which I can understand.

It's probably worth mentioning that I'm very much a go-with-the-flow/"let's see where things take us" kind of guy, and as I said: the lady is a planner. So we generally meet somewhere in the middle. But I'm sure no matter what we get up to, it'll be an awesome experience.
posted by indiebass at 10:37 AM on May 24, 2011

But I'm sure no matter what we get up to, it'll be an awesome experience.

I think you have the right attitude for a great time. Sometimes that hybrid is key.

Feel your pain, gov't wise. Enjoy your vacation
posted by TravellingCari at 11:08 AM on May 24, 2011

Best answer: I haven't done Mexico but cruise-wise, my wife and I did go on Norwegian Sky last year and enjoyed NCL's "Freestyle Cruise" deal a lot. Just a few tips for cruise experience:

Before boarding, your bags go through a scan for fluids. They're pretty strict about bringing alcohol on board and might also want to check water bottles to make sure you're not smuggling.

Upon boarding, you can't go straight to your stateroom for the first hour or two of the cruise, partly so they can finish cleaning up, and partly so you wander the ship's public spaces which are decked out with a bazaar of retail partners and specialty restaurant reservation promos. It can be a bit of a hard-sell so watch out for that. You'll probably want to drop off your suitcases at pre-boarding check-in so they get brought straight to your cabin and you don't have to lug around your wheeled bags while you walk around to get a feel for the ship. (Might be different for suite reservations, though.)

After you get to your room, be ready to leave again for a "muster drill," so everyone knows where to evacuate to if an emergency needing lifeboats occurs.

There's a shipboard TV channel which shows a live view overlooking the ship's bow. If you're in an interior stateroom, there's your porthole.

If you've reserved shore excursions, double-check the times on the tickets. We booked a snorkeling trip for a Saturday afternoon in Nassau and got bumped to a morning trip without notice, which conflicted with an independent SCUBA reservation I'd made. NCL's shore manager was nice enough to move us back to an afternoon excursion schedule.

At the end of the cruise, you have the option of "Easy Walk-off" disembarkation with your bags first before everyone else (but this means carrying your own bags off), or leaving your bags out in the hallway with a color-coded tag that corresponds to a disembarkation schedule. I recommend the former option.

Oh yeah, don't buy the art.
posted by brownpau at 11:23 AM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

We did an excursion called "Jungle Beach Break" in Costa Maya which was a lot of fun. Basically they just took us to a beach to swim around, and there was an open bar that was not even described in the excursion paperwork!

The snorkeling in Belize is amazing...we did it with some nurse sharks and then stopped at Caye Kaulker. Lots and lots of fun!

I'd also recommend lots and lots of sunblock on your back, and the back of your legs, while snorkeling.
posted by fyrebelley at 11:30 AM on May 24, 2011

Response by poster: Brownpau: thanks for the infos. This is a big help, though I must admit I'm not baller enough to have a suite. We're on a balcony room, so we have some fresh air which I think will be appreciated. And I was curious about the art gallery on board... I'll still look around, but I wouldn't have even thought to question it. Thanks!

Fyre: I'm definitely going to look into Jungle Beach Break... hopefully they're doing it when we're there! Thanks!
posted by indiebass at 11:42 AM on May 24, 2011

The Amazing Race is not limited to Carnival. I was on Celebrity. I think it's even possible to book it directly, without going through the cruise ship.
posted by Leezie at 12:04 PM on May 24, 2011

Got this comment first-hand from friends who visited Belize last year. (So now it's second-hand.)
What they consider gravel roads, we would consider boulder-strewn. And many of the roads dwindle unexpectedly and without signage warning into "gravel."
posted by BostonTerrier at 12:11 PM on May 24, 2011

Response by poster: Leezie: I'll look into it. If it's possible, I'll definitely report back here.

Boston: good info to know, actually. =) I was considering renting a moped at one of these stops and tootling around for the day (I had a scooter, but don't any more, so I do miss it!) so I will be aware whilst in Belize.
posted by indiebass at 2:32 PM on May 24, 2011

Best answer: My advice for NCL is go to the specialty dining rooms. They have better food then the general dining room. The food in the general dining room is only kind of meh, but you do get a lot. For some of the specialty dining rooms you have to pay more but not all of them.

Also because you can eat whenever you want the general dining room can sometimes be crowded. It is particularly crowded early. If you eat later it is less crowded. Though that might vary depending on the average age of the passengers. I went on a New England cruise and most of the passengers were older and liked to eat early.
posted by interplanetjanet at 2:38 PM on May 24, 2011

Best answer: The snorkeling in Roatan is absolutely gorgeous. If the cruise line has a private beach you can go to, that's the best, as the area is a bit more intimidating than some (Honduras has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world).

I've done cave tubing in Belize and it's fun. A little touristy but cool.

Cozumel is fun and easy to navigate. It's one of the places we never actually book a shore excursion, because you can just take a cab over to the National Park and swim and snorkel right from the beach. But since you have signed up for tours of the ruins, keep in mind that you will probably be riding a bus for a while, have some cash with you (yes, American dollars are fine), and keep an eye out for the cool giant iguanas!
posted by misha at 2:42 PM on May 24, 2011

Definetly have a ceviche on the beach at Costa Maya, yum!
posted by CrazyLemonade at 3:22 PM on May 24, 2011

Best answer: Wow, I took this exact trip 2 years ago (on the Spirit, same itinerary). In a hurricane (don't recommend that part). I'll second the poster who recommended taking advantage of the specialty dining rooms. Raffles (the general dining room) is pretty ho-hum. Get used to being sprayed with hand sanitizer every time you enter a new room.

A couple tips: with just about all of these ports, the boat funnels you right into what is essentially a shopping mall, many of which are hard to get yourself out of. I believe in Costa Maya you actually have to weave your way through an outdoor shopping mall and onto a bus before you can get anywhere. Once you do leave the shopping mall areas, you're going to be followed by kids and adults wanting to offer you rides or handicrafts, pretty relentlessly. For these and other reasons I'd suggest actually purchasing an excursion for each port. If, like me, you'd prefer some kind of "authentic" experience, prepare to do a lot of explaining and/or haggling with a taxi driver, as most have relationships with some kind of tourist trap that charges a cover fee just to sit/swim on the beach. The pre-purchased excursions, for all their touristy anti-charm, streamline this whole process.

To that end, book your excursions way in advance, and show up for them early (they generally leave around 8am or so). I would estimate that about 90% of our attempts to do an excursion failed because they were full already or they were canceled at the last minute (the hurricane was responsible for some of this. Also, we are lazy people who never got to anything on time).

I probably haven't made this sound especially amazing, but I'm not the cruising type--nevertheless, it was pretty fun. Roatan is eye-gougingly gorgeous. Wherever there are nature-related excursions (as opposed to hang-out-on-the-beach-and-drink-novelty-cocktails-excursions), choose the nature ones. If I recall, there are many nature-preserve options in Roatan, which in and of itself was worth the whole trip. Belize City is a little cruddy. Not the type of place to walk around without a predetermined itinerary.

posted by EL-O-ESS at 6:33 PM on May 24, 2011

Oh God, I almost forgot (you asked for anecdotes): right above the Reservation desk (across from the elevators in the open atrium) there is a little bar (overlooking the atrium) that had the most amazing Filipino lounge singers (I think they were pretending to be sisters?). They take requests, are hilarious and frequently lewd, and--best of all--can really, really sing. I highly recommend that you seek them out for the ultimate cruise-camp experience, if they're still working there.
posted by EL-O-ESS at 6:43 PM on May 24, 2011

Best answer: As a cruise veteran, I second everything brownpau says, but I want to stress that when s/he says that there is a muster drill, it's required. If you don't turn up at your muster station when that drill signal blows, expect to have security or your room steward knocking at your door and possibly busting into your room. They are absolutely required to account for every passenger onboard at that drill, and they will not be happy with you if that requires stalking you into your room or around the ship.

I did cave tubing and a zipline in Belize on my last cruise - I think the company I did it with was called Jaguar's Paw or something like that. Awesome time, though getting to the start of the cave tubing was an unexpectedly long hike.

If you find a port activity that you like through the cruise line, you may want to consider googling the company and booking the excursion yourself rather than through the cruise line. Upside: almost always cheaper. Downside: you lose the assurance that, should your tour be delayed, they will hold the ship for you.

I've never had trouble using American dollars at any of the Caribbean ports I've been to. They are usually only too happy to relieve you of your dollars once you're on shore.

Main dining room food on Norwegian ships is, in my experience, adequate but not spectacular. Pay restaurant food, however, is fantastic. I suspect this is all part of an evil plan to get people into the pay restaurants.

Let's see, other small tips:
*Cash isn't used on board the ship, pretty much at all (with the exception of in the casino). Your room key becomes your credit card for any drinking, onboard activities, etc you want to do.
*You're expected, at the end of the trip, to disburse a set amount to your waiter, room steward, etc. Some cruise lines add this automatically to your bill; some give you an envelope to fill and hand to the people in question. Find out which Norwegian does and how much per day that sum is expected to be; if it's automatically added, you can change the amount of the the tips you leave by going to the Purser's desk and making the request before the end of the cruise
*If you plan to not be in each others' pockets all the time on sea days, consider bringing along a pair of walkie-talkies to use to communicate.
*See if there's a thread on the Cruise Critic forums for your particular sailing. Sometimes you can meet "cruise buddies" who will be onboard that week, and you can board the ship already "knowing" someone.

Hm, I'm sure there's more tips I could give. I'll think on this some more and see if I come up with anything to add, but in the meantime, feel free to memail me if you have any odds and ends you're wondering about.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 7:12 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Really quickly, I wanted to mention to EL-O-ESS that the Lady did some checking, and apparently the Filipino sisters are, in fact, still rocking it in the same space! We'll definitely put in a request for you. =)
posted by indiebass at 7:39 AM on May 25, 2011

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