I started writing this post in early January 2020 to extensively document our pre-cruise travel experience. After we returned home in February, I spent a few late nights writing with the goal of getting it published prior to our March 1-8, 2020 sailing on Norwegian Joy (yes, we had two cruises just over a month apart.) As we got to the end of February, I had a large chunk written and organized, but didn’t quite get it finished before we sailed again.
Returning to Canada from Los Angeles and our cruise on Joy, we were quickly thrust into a world where one night you’re out having wings with friends – and the next day you can’t find toilet paper (for bewildering reasons) and can only see loved ones through Zoom calls.
Things have improved slightly since then but I’m certainly sick of these “unprecedented times.” The cold yet carefree days of January seem like they were years ago. Much of what I’ve written here will no longer be relevant as cruises resume, but it seems like a shame to let this languish as a draft. For those of you continuing to read, I hope that it reminds you of better times on the ocean, and provides some insight into how we traveled with twin infants when they were under a year old.
We eventually settled on a 5-day February 2019 voyage that met both timing and budget requirements, and surrounded it by two days in Miami – one day before and one after the cruise.
Sky also offered a unique opportunity to compare our recent experiences with the newfangled, race-track-equipped Bliss. The Sky is one of Norwegian’s oldest ships in service – possibly the oldest depending on how you calculate Spirit’s age. Fortunately for us, our sailing was the second to happen after a dry dock from January 22 to February 7, which meant that a good portion of the ship would be newly refurbished and ready for us to enjoy.
The age and smaller size of the ship did not diminish our enjoyment, and we had a number of “Vacation Hero” experiences where staff and crew went above and beyond to make things stress-free and provide excellent service. It’s a tough decision as to whether this takes the title for “best cruise” for me, since other NCL cruises we’ve taken have their unique high points. If you’re debating Sky, though, assume that any review prior to February 2019 is prior to refurbishment, and give this ship a fair chance. My only regret is that we didn’t have a longer cruise.
As summer started disappearing in Southwestern Ontario, Kayla and I began to pine for another week on the ocean featuring better temperatures. With some finagling of work schedules and liberal use of credit card travel points, we secured an inside cabin on the new Norwegian Bliss for the week before Christmas.
This was our fifth NCL cruise, and the combination of ship and staff made it arguably the best sailing we’ve been on. We’ve gotten into a good position with pre-trip planning and now have a decent handle on Norwegian’s processes and amenities. Bliss is a decent refinement of the Breakaway class, so it was fairly easy to navigate having been on similar ships.
After finally publishing the 11,000-word epic that was the NCL Getaway review, I found there was far too much content for friends, well-wishers and Reddit stalkers to tolerate, even when split into seven parts. Perhaps I should have called it – BuzzFeed clickbait style – “7 Weird Things You Must Know About Cruising Or You’ll Fall Off The Ship!” Of course, then I’d have to pad the content with ads and create a quiz to find out which ship best represents you.
This review of our cruise on Celebrity Infinity to Alaska is about half the size, and will involve a number of comparisons between Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises (since those are the two lines we’ve sailed on so far.) I’m definitely glad we did the cruise with Celebrity, even at the least so I have a better idea of a premiumRCCL product, as well as an understanding of what older, slightly smaller “hardware” has to offer.
I would likely sail Celebrity again if the right opportunity presented itself, but with a few changes based on this experience. My wife Kayla was a bit more negative on Infinity, mainly due to the constant upsell of specialty dining.
Our last full day was at sea, involving a trip to the buffet for both breakfast and lunch. Again, there was nothing exceptional to point out at either meal, but both of us didn’t have any complaints about the food. We always seem to find quite a few things we like and the buffet has no shortage of options. It seemed like the bar stock at the Garden Cafe had deteriorated by lunchtime as there was a much more limited selection of beer available. Other bars didn’t seem to have the same issue throughout the day but it was a noticeable change upstairs, possibly indicating the impending end of the trip.
In the early afternoon we did a circuit of the Waterfront on deck 8, finding the Sugarcane Mojito Bar to be too windy, and the Sunset Bar to be less of a sunset and more of an oven-like heat and light experience. Kayla went to try and find a seat with a happy medium between the two extremes, while I milled around the Sunset Bar. Another indicator that the cruise was wrapping up was that the bartenders were actively soliciting people to fill out comment cards.
One of our more in-depth excursions this trip was to take a fishing charter while in Cozumel. We’d done some research and settled on Cozumel Charters, selecting a 4-hour bottom fishing tour on an economy-class boat good for up to 4 people. We picked the bottom fishing option over deep-sea fishing, again mainly due to online reviews claiming that there was a higher likelihood of catching something. I am pleased to report that the collective knowledge of the Internet did not disappoint and we had a great time.
After submitting our details and 30% deposit by credit card, we got a confirmation email shortly afterward, containing a list of detailed instructions including where to meet the charter, what to bring, keeping the fish (they’re yours) and where to get them cooked if you’d like to eat your catch. There was also a handy PDF acting as confirmation and an invoice. The rest of the payment is made in USD at the port when you get picked up.
Our instructions were to take a taxi to Puerto Abrigo after disembarking the ship. There’s a bit of up the stairs, dodging the shops, and down the stairs to get to the taxi pickup at the port, but the first person who asked if us if we needed a cab was in fact a legitimate port representative. The 10-minute ride there cost $10 US plus tip; there is a whole conversion racket and they don’t take credit cards, so you might do better with pesos if you already have them. As of May 2018, apparently the standard rate was $15 US so I don’t feel like we did too badly.
Awoken to the rattling of the VOIP/PoE phone across the desk, and combined with the time change of minus one hour, Kayla and I were able to rouse ourselves in enough time for a full service breakfast at Savor. She selected the Eggs Benedict, and I chose the eggs to order (over easy) with a side of link sausage. It was a fairly standard breakfast offering, but nothing to complain about.
The title of this section comes from a TripAdvisor review (filter by 3 star/Average) in which the reviewer is unimpressed with the Chacchoben Mayan ruins, declaring them “a pile of rocks”. I mean, points for calling it like you see it, but they’re historic rocks – what exactly were you expecting?
The docking process this morning seemed unreasonably lengthy and loud, but I’m only an amateur and any loud noises in the morning have been a subject of contention since a very early age.
Before disembarking, we went to the buffet and acquired some food. I’m not typically a breakfast person, but made a good attempt as it wasn’t clear when lunch would be offered on our tour. One noticeable omission from the morning buffet was bananas, which I’d figured would be a standard and highly available breakfast item, but none were to be seen. Of course, I didn’t actually ask anybody, so this could just be chalked up to early-morning grogginess.
Keep in mind that in general, you can’t take food off the ship into the ports lest ye incur the wrath of vessel security and foreign customs officers, so that “apple to go” better be down to the core and ready to be pitched by the time you’re on the lower decks.
The downside of being at the extreme front end of the ship was apparent in the early hours of Monday, when we were jolted awake overnight several times with cabinets rattling and above-average movement of the ship. Both of us woke up at 5am and tried to get back to sleep, then later awoke at 9am to different kinds of noises: a high-pitched, whistling, wind sound from the front door, accompanied by low-pitched, repetitive bass from the cabin next to us.
It turns out that when your cabin is directly at the end of a long hall, the design of the passageway causes an effect not dissimilar to that of a wind tunnel. Kayla, who has less tolerance for soothing ocean sounds than I do, gave the cabin door a mighty hipcheck to silence the noise.
Unfortunately, this action only remedied half of the problem – I was still very conscious of the bass line emanating from the next cabin over. Eventually I was irritated enough to get up and on with my day, while my wife was able to ignore the low frequency and fall back asleep. Upon exiting the cabin, the stateroom beside us had its door slightly ajar, leaking the cacophony of noise into the hall as well.
I’m really not sure what to do in these circumstances – it didn’t feel worth a complaint, and I think the price difference between the rooms (Haven vs. oceanview) might make the staff more reluctant to enforce any sort of noise bylaw. In any event, I don’t recall similar morning music happening for the rest of the cruise, so the problem didn’t come up again.
I ambled up to the buffet and encumbered my plate with pork, waffles and potato products. Very shortly after I sat down, a server came over and offered coffee right at the table, which was a nice perk.