Spring Break at sea

   The Norweigan Star Cruise Ship                            

Norwegian Star

March 2016

I just got back from a Spring Break cruise with my family, on the Norwegian Star, sailing from Tampa to the Western Caribbean ports of Roatan (Honduras), Belize City, Costa Maya (Mexico) and Cozumel.  This was our first time in a suite, my first time taking advantage of NCL’s popular “Feel Free” promotion, and my first visit to Honduras/Belize, so I’m eager to share some impressions.


We all flew into Tampa separately on Saturday, as the kids were coming from their college campuses in Virginia and Vermont.  I had arranged that we’d all meet up at the Tampa Airport Marriott for a one-night pre-cruise stay, and that worked out perfectly!  The airport itself is big, modern, and easy to navigate, and the hotel is connected to the main terminal (a five-minute walk from baggage claim).  The room was spacious — two queen beds and a rollaway and plenty of room to walk around. We had dinner at Friday’s (right in the airport) and breakfast at the hotel the next morning before we headed out. We strolled out of the airport at about noon on Sunday and just grabbed a cab ($25) to the pier.  Would definitely stay there again!

The Suite Life

Lines were minimal at noon and, as suite guests, we got the VIP treatment. We waited for about five minutes in a dedicated check in line and then they walked us over to a VIP area, where a butler gave us all our paperwork, offered us some cool drinks, walked us onboard, and escorted us to a special lunch at Cagneys (the steakhouse). Quite the first impression!

After lunch, we went to check out our Two Bedroom Family Suite, and found champagne and canapés waiting for us 🙂  Our butler stopped by to introduce herself and to let us know how to contact her if we needed anything. She showed us how to work the nespresso machine and gave us a list of DVDs we could request (the suite had three separate TVs with DVD players).

plate of chocolate strawberries


The suite itself was gorgeous. Lots of teak and mirrors, and very “yachty” feeling. There was an entry hall with a door to the kids’ bedroom (sleeps up to three people, in one full bottom bunk and one twin upper) and their bathroom (with a nice big shower). Beyond that was a large living/dining room with pullout couch, TV, dining table, fridge, coffee maker and sliding door to a balcony with two padded loungers. From the living room, pocket doors led into a large, private master suite with king bedroom, plenty of storage, and a huge bathroom with closets, a sit-down makeup table/vanity, double sinks, a separate WC, a huge walk-in shower with multiple heads and an ocean view, and a jacuzzi tub with TV and windows to the ocean and the balcony (shades can be drawn for privacy). Bedroom area was very dark at night — like an inside cabin – perfect for sleeping.

IMG_0974 IMG_0981 IMG_1024 IMG_1002 IMG_0999 IMG_0965 relaxing table and chair with champagne on the balcony of a crusie ship

As far as the “suite perks”, they were fabulous.  We had access to a special sit-down breakfast and lunch every day in one of the specialty restaurants, priority tender ticket in the ports, priority embarkation and disembarkation, invitations to the Captain’s cocktail party, and special treats would appear in our suite every afternoon…chocolate-covered strawberries, fruit and cheese platters, sandwiches, cookies, etc.

The Ship

The Star is one of Norwegian’s older ships, though it’s been renovated recently, and I do have to admit that I like the newer ships better. Having recently sailed on the Getaway and the Escape, I found myself missing some of the things that I really liked on the bigger ships  —  like the gelato shop, Carlo’s Bakery, and the way the specialty restaurants open out onto the promenade deck, with outdoor seating. The entertainment was a little bit lacking (no Broadway-style shows like on the other ships), and I think the kids’ pool area on the Star needs to be re-vamped.  It’s small and there’s no seating for parents who are there supervising their children. All of that being said, however, we did not choose this cruise based on the ship itself, and it was MORE than fine for our purposes.

The one thing I didn’t fully think through was the fact that this was a Spring Break sailing. Obviously, I knew my own kids were on break that week, but I didn’t realize that it was the University of Tampa’s Spring Break (as well as many other nearby schools, apparently) and that the ship would be FULL of college kids. For the most part, that was fine. I was not out late at night in the bars/lounges where the kids would congregate, but they did take over the pool area during the day. All available seats, and every square inch of the (small) swimming pool was filled with spring breakers, so we did not use the pool at all.


As part of NCL’s “Feel Free” promotion, we received free Ultimate Dining and free Ultimate Beverage packages – which meant we could eat in all the specialty restaurants without paying any surcharges, and we enjoyed alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages without any bar tab 🙂 I have to say, this was a key factor in our enjoyment of the cruise. We did eat in the main dining room one night, just to see what it was like, and the food/service were definitely not of the same caliber as we found in the specialty restaurants. Our favorites were Cagneys (steaks) and La Cucina (Italian), but we also enjoyed Moderno (the Brazilian restaurant) and Ginza (where we ate at the Teppanyaki table one evening).  We had lunch one day at O’Sheehan’s, which I always find to have really slow service, across all of NCL’s ships (can’t figure out why), and we tried room service for breakfast one morning (which came right on time, piping hot, but with a couple of items missing).  The only dining outlet we really disliked was the buffet.


Most of the passengers on this Spring Break cruise seemed to have selected the free Ultimate Beverage package as their perk (only suite guests get ALL of the perks), and I was afraid there would be long lines and watered-down drinks, given the fact that everyone was drinking for “free”. Fortunately, this was not the case. There were occasional waits at the pool bar (totally understandable) and we did not see servers roaming the pool area taking drink orders (even more understandable, since they were not getting any gratuities), but our drinks were good, and we really enjoyed being able to have that extra glass of wine, or an after-dinner drink, without thinking about whether we really needed it. One thing I really liked on this ship was the open-air Biergarten up above the pool. It was a great (less-congested) place to grab a cold drink during the day, and we sat up there one evening after dinner enjoying a cocktail under the stars.

Shore Excursions

The weather was sunny and windy all week, and the seas were rough enough that we had to skip one port entirely (Costa Maya) because the ship could not safely dock. We enjoyed the other ports tremendously, and we were very lucky that we did not have to skip Belize, because the Carnival ship that was in port with us that day decided it was unsafe to send their (smaller) tenders in to shore. In Roatan my family did a SNUBA adventure that I skipped (you will not find me breathing from a tank…I can barely handle snorkeling), but they absolutely loved. They came back sunburned and exhausted.

SNUBA diver holding up a starfish for the camera Ev underwater CEP underwater

In Belize we visited the Lamanai Mayan ruins. It was a long day — with a bus ride from Belize City, a boat ride up a river, hiking around the ruins, and then boat ride, lunch, and bus ride back – but it was very interesting, and I actually enjoyed the exhilarating boat ride the most!  Costa Maya turned into an extra sea day, given the rough seas, and we docked in Cozumel that evening (instead of the next morning) which meant all the college kids could spend the night drinking at Senor Frogs!

IMG_1032 mayan ruins in Belize

Our Cozumel tour was a snorkeling excursion that visited two reefs and then included lunch, open bar, and some free time at the Playa Mia beach club. It was the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure.

FullSizeRender IMG_1075

Overall, this was a very relaxing, enjoyable week with my family. The ports were fun, we liked the ship, and we loved the suite.  Because we had the extra space, we spent a lot of time hanging out in the cabin – lounging on the balcony, watching movies in the living room, etc.  I think it was especially nice to have the private space since the pool area was so crowded and busy on this sailing. The “Feel Free” perks were amazing – when you add up the value of the specialty dining, free drinks, shore excursion credits and prepaid gratuities, along with all the perks that came with the suite, the cruise was an incredible value, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


An Epic Vacation

A very thoughful client just took her extended family (14 people!) on a Western Caribbean cruise on the brand new Norwegian Epic. Here are her thoughts and feedback about the trip:


This vacation was well thought out and well organized. The destinations were beautiful and the timing of the trip was perfect. I think it was the perfect way to celebrate with a family of 14.  

Our Southwest flights were great. On the return flight I was nervous about checking in because on the way back the internet was down the last day on the ship. But we just got in line with the family group and no one stopped us. Our attendant Thomas on the way to Ft. Lauderdale was a great guy – really enjoyed him.

Overall, the transfers went well. My brother in law was not pleased with the driver from SAS transportation when we were leaving the port, though, because he was very vocal about me getting on board to leave…I wasn’t going to leave until I had the van next to me for the Miami people since my step father was so ill. He did not explain that there was a $1000 fee for standing for transfer services until I was on board the van. It was only a few minutes.  And Miami Jet felt so bad about their mistake on the arrival transfer … Obama was in town causing a mess! Had I known that, I would have been kinder when I called them. Jackie told me the driver was afraid to talk to me at the hotel. The Miami jet folks were fine…it was out of their hands.

We LOVED our pre-cruise stay at the Hampton Inn Miami Airport South!! The pool was a bit chilly but not for my kids who are part fish. They had great menus and we called for delivery from a pizza place and a Cuban restaurant. They even had beer in the lobby for sale. It was a great property!!  The breakfast was the usual Hampton Inn fare and they had waffle makers. That dining area was terrific for us all to gather and eat dinner!

Embarkation at the Miami pier was FLAWLESS…so easy!!  The only thing is that I thought I could put our room bill on one card and the others on another. They could not allow that. Fortunately I had ample credit available so there was no crisis. But had I known that I would have been more careful to allow ample credit for our NCL check out. But as I said it there was no crisis and I was able to keep an eye on our bill tally on our room TV and if I was concerned I am sure I could have gone and closed out with one credit card and but the balance on another.

The wheelchair rental worked out well, but next time I would recommend that they get a scooter. It sat in the room a lot because my Mom couldn’t push it. People on scooters were all over. I was really grateful to have it be so easy!

We all loved the Epic. We were so lucky, though, because the attendance was around 3,000 for our week. Capacity is 4,200…I can’t imagine it with 1,200 more folks. We never stood in lines, we were waited on like royalty and it was so beautiful. We loved the entertainment options. The pool area was our favorite spot and I loved how it was laid out for kids. My husband said the water slides were the perfect stair master. He ate like a lot and didn’t gain a pound! My kids LOVE the water slides!I would have preferred the larger balcony cabin, but the one we had was nice. There was a queen bed  — which I wanted to put into my suitcase it was so comfy —  and then the couch pulled out to a bed (which I slept on one night and it was comfy) and the other was a bunk.  This was great for my kids who thought that was the coolest thing EVER, but for the family with young ones, that didn’t work at all. The cool thing about the bunks is that they are in the ceiling. There was so much storage to unpack!! But it was tricky to find. I was glad we all shared the tricks we learned….Especially when I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights!! (you insert your key card.) The toilet and shower are on either side of  the door and there was a curtain. That was odd to me because it didn’t feel very private even though there was a curtain.

When we went to see the Blue Man Group they let us take over a balcony area – move  seats and everything.  It was like being the royal family. LOVED that, and the show was so amazing!! The Cirque Dreams was fun – but I have seen the big shows they do and so I was entertained but not impressed – it was vaudeville with great circus aerial acts. There was one man who did this act in a bath tub, who was a favorite of all the ladies…OMG!! Never saw a body like that so close!!

The food was delicious everywhere we went, and abundant! I told my family if they were hungry it was their fault! We especially liked Moderno – the Brazilian restaurant! Went two times and took all 14 the last night. The Garden Cafe is really super to serve something for everyone – with fun tastes to try and always a soft serve ice cream machine going. Their nightly crepe stations were so fun to think of how to make a new taste sensation.

All our meals were lovely – we ate at the Manhattan Room as a family the night we all dressed up and had our photo taken. It was so nice that when I shared that it was my mother and father’s anniversary they brought a cake and sang “Let me call you sweetheart” We shed a few tears at that since he is so sick. It was lovely!

Costa Maya was so fun to sail into.  The port is so newly done and brightly painted and beautiful. There were three ships there on the dock with us but we were well organized and really enjoyed our outings. There was even a nice bathroom in the excursion gathering area there if you need one before leaving on your adventure.

The crew that went zip lining thought it was safe and fun – they were especially happy that they took such good care to prep them, and the girls road tandem with their dads on part of the line. It was a long zip line ride too in three parts. The sandwich they got for lunch wasn’t too delicious but they really didn’t care – they weren’t in it for the sandwiches.

The group that did the beach getaway thought that it was amazing! Such a beautiful spot – there was the most spotless bathrooms with showers and a canopy where you could order food. Open bar was included and the tequila they served was just fabulous. My favorite moment from the entire week was when the kids were done with the sand and the water and I was in the bathroom with them while they showered and my mom came in to find me….she brought us shots and we sat and enjoyed our tequila and chatted….what a memory!! The bus service was amazing – there were vendors there and a few of our party got  henna tattoos and souvenirs. It was a nice day.

The dolphin experience in Cozumel was very stressful getting there with 14 people and several children who were not happily anticipating the experience. However, in the end, everyone loved it!!!! The park is beautiful and offered a lot to do from shopping and eating, sea lion shows, beach and pool. The sky grew very dark but it didn’t rain on us which I was grateful for. The pictures were very pricey, but I ended up working a deal and getting a disc of all the pics. Can’t have a priceless moment like that and no photos!

The port at Cozumel was so beautiful and so organized. I really would enjoy going there for an extended time. Didn’t get to see much but the park and the immediate pier area and it all looked so fun!!

The park at Roatan was lovely – I didn’t go see the monkeys (my son wasn’t up for it) but I had a great time in the general area. Everyone really enjoyed the monkeys and the other animals they experienced. There is a nice beach and even a beautiful pool there. We stayed under a beautiful canopy area that had a concession area and A LOT of bats in the ceiling. Of course I had everyone else wear a ton of bug spray so they didn’t get any bug bites – my family got a few and are still itchy from them…but nothing horrible by any means. A little itch relief and it’s ok.

The dock at Roatan had entertainers there that were so fun – from the moment our ship pulled up they were singing and dancing. My step father skipped this excursion (as well as the dolphins) and he was so happy to have a show from his balcony since we were facing the port. There were also a lot of options for shopping and the guide for the park was articulate and nice.

Here are my thoughts/advice for someone considering a similar cruise:

Don’t ever take 14 people on one trip! It was very stressful to be in charge. I know a lot of that is my personality being a planner person but I would limit a group size to 8-10.  Although our group size was manageable for the staff of the EPIC and the excursions we all attended.  I think that our group was special in that we had a very sick man with a desire to be independent…and several children with ADD..

We took walkie talkies….we got the cheapest ones at Radio Shack and they were worthless on the ship. That would be a service that NCL could rent for the week to large groups and it would be so worth it!!

NCL had so many options for all the age groups in our group and that made it so easy in a lot of ways. The Nickelodeon team was fun for all ages.

I was especially impressed with the Recess kids area. My son had trouble being there and instead of suggesting he not return – they gave us a phone so if he had troubles they could contact us. We only sent him there twice because it was hard for him but the 2 year old autistic child went there without issues several times. They only got one phone call for a potty issue.

Thanks for every little thing!! Without you I would have jumped overboard planning this family trip!!

Most Sincerely,


You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)