Western Caribbean Cruise trav·e·logue


Here is an attempt to share my recent cruise experience as many people wanted to know how it was traveling with an infant. You can make your cruise a very pleasant experience if you could execute your plan well.Vacation with an infant certainly comes with its own challenges. You are bound to come across unexpected situations with kids(infant)around. Relax and tell yourself that it’s your vacation and you would make all possible attempts to make it a memorable one. Even a pinch of irritation may lead to cascading negative effects and eventually your trip can be a spoiler. So make your honest attempt to stay cool and try to get the best out of your vacation. Cruise is indeed a great opportunity to getaway from work and spend quality time with your family. It’s a merry if you are traveling with a group – bigger the better for the cruise. Unlike those vacations to popular destinations where you have a laundry list of places to check off which can be little stressful with the infants, cruises offer a very relaxing schedule. You have everything on board such as the finest dining places, pool, shopping, child care, shows, movies, fitness, basketball, casinos, live music, games etc. and if you feel like doing nothing you can always relax in your stateroom or one of the decks with the unlimited ocean views. So for those who are thinking for your kids to grow up little before you cruise,I would say reconsider. children of all ages enjoy cruise. 20151214_132827There is always something for everyone on board. However, note that the cruise line we sailed didn’t had the child care facility for kids under 3 years. So if you are planning for any activities just for yourself then it may not be possible. Also I noticed that certain shows may be very loud so it may not be suitable to go with your little ones. We took our infant to some shows while she was napping, but at times loud sound would scare her so unfortunately either me or my wife had to leave with the kid from the theater. However good the show is you have to be ready to give up.This adjustments are needed when you are traveling with the infant. Weighing all the pros and cons of traveling with the infant(or kids), I would still vote for cruise.I’m not exaggerating but I think It’s a bliss to cruise. Imagine the luxury of having all your favorite cuisines on board. Throughout your stay on the ship the fact that you don’t have to go find a place for your breakfast,lunch or dinner is indeed a big relief. 20151213_221456 20151213_185855You do have restaurant which are open 24 hours in the ship! Whether you choose a free style buffet or a formal dining, Cruise has it. Norwegian Star, the ship we sailed features 14 delicious dining options, a sprawling spa, an always-exciting casino, plus tons of fun for kids of every age. The 1083 ship crew would make sure that you have a pleasant stay throughout. The hospitality of the cruise staff would amaze you. I bet you would be little perturbed once your cruise vacation comes to an end. That’s the impact of cruise vacation on you.

There is always something for everyone in the cruise. Go through the event scheduler placed in your room and plan your day accordingly.Even though you wish to,you may not be able to make it to all the events as some events will be happening in parallel. So you have to choose the events based on your interest level. children of age 3 and above would find the cruise to be extremely entertaining. Their favorite places are the pool and children’s play area and of course the variety of shows exclusively designed for them. My six-year-old kid made lot of friends in the cruise. She always had a company in the pool, play area,Theater or in the dining place. If you are not with the group but just with your family, don’t be surprised as you are not alone. You would see a lot of families coming by themselves. Get to know the families and help your kids make friends. We happened to make friends with four different families and kids played along very well. We usually coordinated with these families for shows,pool,play area or dinner so kids had the companionship.20151216_173605However fussy eaters they are at home you would be pleasantly surprised to see they tasting the variety of foods,desserts and ice creams.I found Marketplace(Buffet place) to be lot convenient with the children as we didn’t have to wait for the food to be served. Also you get to try different types of food here as opposed to ordering from the menu in the formal dining place. You would be surprised that there are tons of vegetarian options. Well marked signboards in the buffet place was very helpful.See in the below pic. labels marked with Green means it is Vegetarian.20151213_185507A knowledgeable staff was always willing to help when I was staring at the food with my confused look. Seems like they been dealing with lot of vegetarians in the cruise. I also noticed that majority of the cruise staff were of Indian and Philippines origin. Apparently they are staffed through the agencies in these countries with a 8 months contracts and possible extensions. Most of them I spoke to have served their 3rd or 4th contracts with the company. They always looked cheerful and friendly.Also some of them were very talented and we witnessed it in a show exclusively performed by the staff. Their singing/dancing skills or other talents were no less to a professional artists.20151213_191826There was professional artists on board and we watched some exquisite shows. Me and my wife even managed to get our daily workouts. I had a goal of 6.25 miles everyday so whatever time it was I managed to get my workout done.I worked it out around other schedules without making it the center of attention. Our nine month baby was extremely cooperative which made our vacation even more pleasant. We ensured that she was getting her naps and food on time. When you are traveling with the infant make sure that you are carrying enough baby supplies with you as you may not find it on board. We carried more than needed baby food(Gerber), Baby water, Formulas, Bibs, Mixing bowls, Cereals, Diapers, Wipes, Diaper rash cream, Medicines,Dresses, Blanket,Toys etc. The little one was thrilled to try yogurt,Jello and some easily digestible foods.

We had 4 days of shore excursions and glad that we managed to do sightseeing on all the days. We were leaving for the shore excursions without any rush and be back by 4ish. All planned according to kids schedule thus didn’t book any shore excursions through the cruise line. We traveled around the island in the taxis and thus beat the heat. Most of the days we were on the beach. Fortunately all the beaches we went to had nice shades making it very comfortable. Our little girl was happy to nap in the hammock with the nice breeze coming along and the soothing sound of the ocean. 20151217_142945It was feel at home for her as she is used to ocean(water) sound when she sleeps. One of us would watch her while the other would go and play with the older one.

Overall, Cruise is a great experience and not to be missed. if you are thinking of not doing it now because your kids are still very young then I would strongly recommend you to reconsider. There are definitely things for everyone to do.With Infants, Toddlers, Kids, Preteen,Teen, adult or old, I think cruise is more relaxing compared to regular travels for sightseeing. However it is subjective to individuals interest level.

I’m thinking of doing my next cruise in 2017. Happy cruising !

Our Itinerary.

Day 0  – Left from Chicago to Orlando. 2015-12-12 10.25.32Surprisingly Spirit airlines was on time even though the weather was little rough.Reached Orlando at 1.50 pm. The car rental was across the airport which avoided the hassle of taking the shuttle. rented the car with Alamo for $ 22/day. Upgraded to $33- Full size. Evening well spent in Disney downtown.

Day 1 – Tampa, Florida( Embark)

I did a 10.5 miles run in the gorgeous sunny weather in Orlando,FL.We started from Orlando at 12.30 and reached the Tampa port at 2 pm and checked our bags. Dropped family at the port IMG-20151213-WA0002[1]and I went to drop off the car. To my surprise, the rental location was closed and there was no key drop-off facility. The Alamo location was in Westin hotel and when I called the airport location(next close by), I was asked to drop off the car there. I didn’t have enough time to do that as I would have missed my cruise. When I told them my situation they advised me to leave the keys with the hotel staff or in the Alamo office drawers. The hotel staff refused to take the keys as they said it was not their responsibility. Fortunately I found the drawers open and put it there even though the staff scared me that it may be misused. The choices I had been to keep the car with me for a week till I return from the cruise which means another $400-500 for rental and parking or take a chance and leave the key in the drawer.I had to make the decision on the fly and I decided to take a chance. Must admit that I was worried the whole day ! I called the taxi to go to Port and was told it would take 15 mins. I decided to run (1.2 mi to port) as I could run in 7-8 mins. Just that I had to run barefoot as I wasn’t wearing proper running shoes.Once I reached the port, I called Alamo and asked them to update on rental contract that I dropped the keys in the drawer. Finally we went through the security check and completed the process. Probably we were one of the last to board the ship. We had to assemble at the 7th deck for the mandatory security drill. Ahana, my nine month infant was completely drained by then and was inconsolable. She was fine once she got some food and sleep in the room. We liked the size of the room as we could fit all our baggage and there was space for baby bed and kids bunker bed. The rest of the evening breezed through as we were in the process of settling down. We explored the ship and then ate our dinner at the Market place Buffet. We had variety of foods to choose from (Salads, pasta, Burgers, Chinese, Indian, Fruits, Desserts etc).20151213_185445 20151213_185552

Day 2 – On the Sea

We sailed the whole day. It was an opportunity to spend the day in the cruise. We woke up late and then ate our breakfast. Aditi enjoyed playing in the pool. 20151214_122035Shwetha, my wife and I took turns and finished our running in the spacious fitness center.Then we had our lunch and watched some shows in the Stardust theater. 20151214_082037 20151214_122247 20151214_123705We all had a nap for a while. Fully refreshed in the evening we did the photo shoot 20151216_223039and later Aditi went to Splash academy( kids play area). We picked her up at 10pm. A long eventful day ended around midnight.

towels

Day 3- Roatan Island, Honduras

Roatan, located between the islands of Útila and Guanaja, is the largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands.20151215_163043It is approximately 77 kilometers (48 mi) long, and less than 8 kilometers (5.0 mi) across at its widest point (wiki). Roatan is on CST time zone so we had to set our time an hour behind.The local language is Spanish and local currency is Honduran Lempira (HLN). US Dollars are widely accepted everywhere.

The ship arrived at Roatan,Hondurus at around 8.30am. We stepped out of the ship at around 10am 20151215_113748after our breakfast for the city sight-seeing. We didn’t book any shore excursions with the NCL as it was very expensive. You can get all those shore excursions for 1/3 price if you do it yourself outside with local guys. We hired a taxi for $30 for 4 hours of city sightseeing. The friendly taxi guy showed us places around. The highlight was the Gumbalimba Preserve & Animal Sanctuary. The admission was $10 per person. It was so fun to interact with the monkeys and the birds. A great place to visit. We spent a while playing with the monkeys and took plenty of pictures. 20151215_14452120151215_145703Aditi was hesitant to go near the monkeys initially but was fine later. Ahana surprisingly was brave enough and didn’t cry. We went to Bananarama beach after that and spend an hour there.20151215_152949Obviously it wasn’t enough for Aditi but we had to leave as it was very hot and Ahana wasn’t feeling good. We reached the ship at 4pm. 20151215_164710I had to go back to the taxi as we had left the stroller there. Later I went for a run in the beautiful island. It was a fantastic experience to run in the island in the neighborhoods amid curios local onlookers. After my quick 5 mile run 20151215_165741I reached the ship on time before the scheduled 6.30pm departure. The rest of the evening breezed through watching shows followed by formal dinner at Versailles restaurant.Aditi went to Kids play area after playing in the pool. The rooms were spotlessly clean and well looked after. 20151215_132816

Day 4 – Belize City, Belize

We reached Belize at 8am. The ship was docked 2 miles away from the port so all had to take the tender boats to reach the port. I was impressed the way the whole process was organized without any chaos. 20151216_094218People were called in groups based on their time to leave. We left at 10am and got into a shuttle for sightseeing. I paid $83 for four of us and the driver/guide told he would take us to Altun Ha Mayan Ruins, Country side, city sightseeing and other attractions on the way. Altun Ha Mayan Ruins being the important one. The guide was very knowledgeable and provided good insight of the place and attractions.Altun Ha is the name given to the ruins of an ancient Mayan city in Belize, located in the Belize District about 30 miles north of Belize City and about 6 miles west of the shore of the Caribbean Sea. The site covers an area of about 5 miles square.We saw the largest of Altun Ha’s temple-pyramids20151216_124151 20151216_130628, the “Temple of the Masonry Altars” which is 54 feet. It was very interesting to know about Maya civilization and visit their temples (wiki).

Click on this link to know more about Maya Civilization

We couldn’t stay there for long as we noticed there were plenty of mosquitoes. 20151216_130408Aditi and I went to the top of one of the ruins while Shwetha was watching Ahana. We were already exhausted and wanted to get back to ship. Took the rest of the evening easy. We met a friend from Mysore and we dined together in the Aqua restaurant.I managed to do a 6.25 mi run later in the night. Aditi watched some kids shows and played in the play area. Meanwhile I called Alamo rental and ensured that the car was safely returned and contract was closed.20151214_180820

Day 5 – Costa maya, Mexico

We were excited to be at the Mexican islands. We got off the ship and headed to one of the popular beaches 20151217_103114 20151217_104010there with another family who hailed from the same town I grew up. We took a shuttle to beach($3 per head). 20151217_105456The beach was awesome and we were provided Hammock, Tables and chairs,umbrella just for ordering food there. Also Kayaking was free to use. It was the best day so far. Ahana slept peacefully for couple of hours in the Hammock while Aditi and her friends played non stop in the water. We all did kayaking20151217_120117,took lot of pictures20151217_114845 and ate our food. I had not planned for a run so I hadn’t got my running shoes. But I had time and also was a beautiful day to run. So I decided to run barefoot on the sands and on the pavement in hot 85°F20151217_140919.It wasn’t easy at all as I was not used to this. However the pain was suppressed by the beautiful sight of the ocean. I managed to get a quick 5k run. I had to get back as we were getting late to ship. We did shopping near the port and got back to ship on-time. We watched the very famous Cirque du Soleil -type of gravity defying extravaganza in star dust theater. This is the main entertainment venue with a 1,100-seat inspired by classic European opera houses and spanning three decks (5, 6, and 7). Nightly shows include magicians, comedians, lavish Broadway-style production numbers.During the day the space is transformed into a cinema. Those who stayed back in the ship during the day watched movie Minions. Aditi participated in Pirate show and parade. We also watched” The perfect couple Game show” before heading out to Aqua for dinner. A day well spent.

Day 6 ( 12/18/2015)- Cozumel,MX

We reached the last island in the itinerary, Cozumel at 7.30 am.This is the biggest island of all the four islands in the itinerary. 20151218_152904We stepped out of the ship by around 10ish after breakfast. The place looked colorful. We took a lot of pictures and spent couple of hours shopping. We hired a cab to go to beach for $24 (one way) for two adults. Paid $24 as entry fee to the resort which would cover snorkeling gears, table and chair and umbrella. 20151218_164322 20151218_164529Unfortunately the moment we sat in the taxi it started to pour heavily. We reached the resort but it was still pouring heavily. After a while the rain stopped and we were ready for snorkeling. I had never done that before but after little instructions I was able to do it comfortably. Cozumel Mexico is very famous for its diving and snorkeling because of the magnificent coral reefs that are only a short distance from the shore. Had a good time in the resort but had to head back to ship as it started raining again. Ahana slept for a while and later we went to Aqua restaurant for Dinner20151214_213738. Spent good couple of hours with friends in the restaurant with mouth-watering food. We did another photo shoot after that. It was 10.30pm by the time we went back to room. Kids were totally exhausted. The boat was very rocky that night due to bad weather. I wanted to run 6.25 mi but ended up running just a mile as I found it very hard to run in the rocky ship.

Day 7( 12/19/2015)- On the sea

Woke up late in the morning. The ship was still rocky. To the disappointment of the kids the pool was closed. We still had other fun things to do. I managed to get a 10 mi run on the track. we ate our food in the Market place and watched the talent show exclusively performed by the cruise staff. Aditi was super excited to see our room housekeeper in charge Raj performing. Came back to room and packed our bags to keep it ready for the checkout process. We were told that the bags will be picked by 11.30 pm. We watched the very famous Cirque du Soleil -type of gravity defying extravaganza in star dust theater.It was one of the best shows I have watched so far. We got back to room around 11 pm and went to bed. A day well spent in the ship.20151218_200503

Day 8 – 12/20/215Tampa,FL

Woke up to see that the ship was already docked in the Tampa port. We choose the time slot of 9.30-9.45 am to get off the ship. Fortunately the line for disembarkation was not that bad and the whole process completed within an hour’s time. Picked the rental car from Hertz which was in the port facility and drove to Orlando. We had flight back to Chicago the next day morning.

All good things have to come to an end and so was our memorable trip. For sure, a trip to remember for three of us( me, Shwetha and Aditi). For Ahana, we will preserve all the pictures20151218_175653 and would tell her that it was her first cruise !!

 

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