I believe in planning vacations far in advance to allow for maximum research time to make the trip as perfect as possible. But, sometimes life throws you a curve ball between the booking date and the actual vacation date. That was the case when my wife and I divorced between our January booking and December cruise dates.
Luckily, we get along and deciding to still go on the cruise was a rather easy decision. We both were in dire need of a vacation and our son was thrilled to go on his first cruise. There was no way I could take that away from him. So, despite some awkwardness, we embarked on an eight day cruise to Mexico and Central America, showing that co-parenting can be fun. It was not only beneficial for our son, it was necessary for my ex and I to coexist in tight quarters and learn to be friends again. 2016 was full of highs and lows, and this cruise was the perfect way to cap the year.
Our cruise took place from Dec 18, 2017 thru Dec 26, 2017 on the Norwegian Jade, out of Tampa, FL.
It was a fairly easy process. We got dropped off at Terminal 2 of the Port of Tampa by an Uber driver, the porter took our bags that we had tagged to be checked, then proceeded to a quick moving line where our docs and passports were checked. From there, we took an elevator to a higher floor, went through a security screening, filled out health forms, then got in another quick line to get checked in, receive our keys, and get our credit line established. My only other cruising experience was about 14 years ago and this was much smoother and quicker.
Rooms were still being cleaned so everyone was encouraged to head poolside or have lunch. We dropped off our carry-ons in our room to change then headed to the pool. There’s only one pool area in the middle of the ship that has two pools, two hot tubs and a pool slide.
The balcony stateroom was great. Like all other rooms, it was a little tight compared to a hotel room, but still offered a good bit of storage. The pull out sofa was really small. Even for my 8 year old it was too small — his feet hung over the edge of it — and he spent many nights sharing the king bed with us. The layout of the bathroom was nice. A large sink was the center point of the bathroom with a partitioned toilet and shower on either side. There’s a soap dispenser for the sink and a shampoo and body wash dispenser for the shower.
The magic show on the second night was entertaining. The tricks were good, the banter was funny. The worst thing about it was the magician constantly plugging his DVDs for purchase.
The “Uptown” show was entertaining. The three singers took turns belting out classic Motown hits for about an hour.
Another night we were late getting to the Russian acrobat show. By the time we got to the theater right at 7:30 all the seats were taken and we were informed that it was standing room only and we should return for the 9:30 show. That seemed to be the case throughout the week — the 7:30 shows filled up fast and if you didn’t get there early you may be out of luck.
We didn’t make it to the country show one night or the comedian another night.
The Star Bar was one of my favorite spots. Located on the 13th floor across from the steakhouse, it’s out of the way from high traffic areas and on our visit it was virtually empty, providing some much needed quiet time. The service was good, my caipirinha was excellent, and the seating was oversized and comfortable.
The Ultimate drink package was included as part of our vacation package promotion. While it was great, if we had to pay for it we probably wouldn’t have gotten our money’s worth. The package covers drinks under $15 — that’s just about everything. Most drinks were in the $8-10 range. I’m not a big drinker and probably only had about 3-4 drinks a day.
A small gripe about our vacation was that dining reservations I made a few days prior to our trip were lost. Even though I received a confirmation email showing the restaurants, dates, and times I requested, when I tried to check in for one of the specialty restaurants they couldn’t find any record of them. However, the two people at the host stand did a great job fitting us in and were apologetic for not having the reservations.
The most popular spots seemed to be the teppanyaki spot and steakhouse. Make reservations there ASAP. Other places weren’t as busy. For reviews for each restaurant, see below.
Use of the gym was free. There are some aerobic classes that you have to pay for. The gym has about a dozen or more treadmills, ellipticals, and stairclimbers along with some free weights, benches, and machines. It was crowded when I went but still managed to get a decent workout in. The cardio equipment mostly faces the windows so you get a great view of the ocean from 12 floors up.
The spa is located close to the gym but I didn’t check it out.
There were plenty of kid friendly activities on board, including the daycare/kid’s club. My kid loved the dance party that they had one night in the Medusa Lounge.
For adults (or older kids) a basketball court and driving cage are located towards the back on the 13th floor.
- Cozumel, Mexico
- Harvest Caye, Belize
- Santo Tomas, Guatemala
- Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras
- Costa Maya, Mexico
Many of the excursions sold through NCL fill up quickly, so I would advise you to make reservations for them as soon as you can. Purchasing excursions prior to your vacation would be best. We only did one through NCL. Two other excursions were booked through a third party prior to the cruise.
The process was easy. The easiest thing to do is keep your luggage and walk off on your own. If you prefer, you can set your luggage out the night before for the crew to pick up. Then you can walk off, grab your bags in the terminal. In the terminal you have to go through customs, which was a quick line and process.
For those that have a later flight out, you can check your bags in a office/storage area in the terminal. They’ll also sell discounted tickets to the aquarium.
- Dolphin excursion in Cozumel
- Snorkeling in Roatan
- Mayan ruins in Costa Maya
We arrived in Tampa the day before the cruise departed and stayed, for one night, at The Westin Tampa Harbor Island. It’s not a place I would recommend, but the price and location did make it convenient.