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Spaniel Lover

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  1. I never tried any of the pizza onboard. I get lots of pizza in my normal life, so I rarely eat it on a cruise ship. Cruise ship pizza tends to be in the traditional Italian style, which is not really the way I like it. I'm a California boy, who has grown up eating the pizza in California... and it's not the way they make it in Italy. Cruise ship pizza doesn't do it for me. I like a thicker crust and a lot more toppings than what they serve on cruise ships. I bet I would have a great time trying out pizza places in New York or Chicago... and I look forward to discovering the best pizza places in my new home in Washington state after our move there next Fall... but cruise ship pizza has always been a disappointment for me.
  2. We'll be on Carnival Panorama in January, in a Havana Suite. Same ports of call as the cruise on the Joy, but Carnival spent millions on upgrading their terminal in Long Beach... so the boarding process should be a lot smoother! I'm looking forward to Guy's Burger Joint and the Pig & Anchor for a week... and never having to make a reservation for a show. Oh, and the huge shower in the Havana Suite! There should be some videos on my YouTube channel by the end of January, and if you're in the "Jim Zim On YouTube" Facebook group, there will be occasional real-time updates during the cruise.
  3. I don't think there is. I think your best strategy will be to talk to the first NCL employee you see and ask if they could bring out a wheelchair for him while he waits in line. Actually, the best strategy might be to arrive there about 10:45 AM, before there's much of a line.
  4. There's a longer answer to that question than you might imagine there would be! There was conflicting information from NCL about time boarding was supposed to begin. My cruise docs said 11 AM, but then I got a text message from NCL that told me not to arrive until 1 PM. I assumed that this had something to do with the Norovirus outbreak on the previous cruise. I figured they were going to do some huge disinfecting of the ship and that they had decided to delay boarding until 1 PM so that they could get it done... thus the text message. And because they very clearly told me not to arrive until 1 PM, I figured it would be stupid to arrive at 11 AM because I would just end up standing around for two hours before they even began boarding. So, we arrived a little after 1 PM. Very bad mistake on my part!!! That is the last time I will ever believe a text message about delayed boarding from a cruise line. Carnival does the same thing... they start their boarding at 11 AM but they send you a communication shortly before the cruise telling you not to show up until 1 PM. They do it to try to spread the crowd out a bit, so that not everyone arrives at 11 AM. You'd think I would have recognized that NCL was doing the exact same thing to me when they sent me the text, but I made the mistake of assuming that this time it was different, because of the Norovirus outbreak the week before. Anyway, from what I could tell from talking to other people on the ship, boarding began at 11 AM. Regarding how I found that one NCL employee that understood that Haven guests didn't need to stand in that long line for security... I just got lucky! When three different NCL employees told me that Haven passengers needed to be in that huge long line, I believed them. So, we stood in the line for about 15 minutes. At that point, our place in the line was right near the spot where Haven passengers were being let in to a special bypass. I saw someone get taken through the bypass and heard them say they were Haven passengers... and I made note of who the employee was that let them through. Once that employee came back, I let them know that we were Haven passengers, too. I was really lucky to see that when I did, because if another ten minutes had passed, the line would have advanced enough that I would no longer have been able to see the bypass and I would have been stuck in that line for at least another hour more. I really wish that the folks at NCL would communicate to every one of their employees at the Port Of Los Angeles and educate them on the proper boarding process for Haven passengers. It's frustrating that three different employees didn't understand the process.
  5. I'm glad that you arrived early and had no trouble getting onboard quickly. For everyone else, be aware that the lines get outrageously long later in the day. For example, if you arrive at the Port Of Los Angeles at 1 PM, you might be looking at a two hour line to get through security. For Haven guests who arrive later, when the lines for security are outrageously long, be aware that as a Haven guest you actually DO NOT have to wait in that huge security line. They actually have an entirely different metal detector and x-ray machine that they use for Haven guests once the lines start to get long. What you need to do, rather than getting in the huge line outside of the tent, is find an NCL employee (not a luggage handler or other Port Of Los Angeles employee) and let them know that you're a Haven guest and ask if they would please get you past the line of other passengers. On embarkation day our December 1st cruise on Norwegian Joy, we asked three different NCL employees if Haven passengers needed to stand in that gigantic security line. All three told us that yes, we needed to be in that line. After about fifteen minutes wasted in that line, we saw some other Haven passengers get escorted around the line by a more senior NCL employee. We walked up to that NCL employee, showed them that we were Haven guests, and they took us around the line and directly to the completely separate metal detector and x-ray machine that they use for security screening of Haven guests. It saved us about two hours in that line. During our cruise, I checked with numerous other Haven guests to see if any of them had to stand in that gigantic line for security, and everyone I spoke to told us that they were escorted around that line and directly in to the terminal for boarding. It won't be a problem if you arrive early, but if you're a Haven guest and you get to the Port Of Los Angeles and find a huge line for security... remember this story! Three different NCL employees gave me incorrect information and had me wasting my time in line. Thank goodness I found the fourth one that understood how Haven boarding is supposed to work.
  6. We recently returned from a 7-day Mexican Riviera cruise in The Haven on Norwegian Joy. This cruise was a pretty big milestone for us! It was our 50th cruise since we started cruising back in 1996. It was our ninth cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line and our sixth time in The Haven. While Norwegian has been steadily raising the prices for The Haven over the last few years, this one was priced a little more reasonably. It turns out that demand for cruises on Norwegian Joy had been a bit soft recently, so they had to keep pricing a little lower than on their other ships in order to encourage people to book it. My wife and I had a fantastic Panama Canal cruise on Norwegian Bliss last year... but weren't able to afford a suite in The Haven. Ever since then, I've been keeping an eye on the pricing for The Haven on Norwegian Bliss, looking for an opportunity to experience The Haven on that ship, but it's been tremendously expensive. It was a delightful surprise to find much more reasonable prices in The Haven on her sister, Norwegian Joy. At least, if you're willing to cruise during times of the year when demand is the lowest. The total cost for this cruise in The Haven was $4794... which seemed about right to me for a cruise in The Haven... and one of the few times I've seen prices under $5000 for The Haven lately. While cruise prices are always sky high for cruises over Christmas week and New Years week, if you're able to cruise in the weeks before Christmas, you'll find the prices to be among the lowest of the entire year. Our cruise was from December 1st through the 8th. And since this cruise began and ended in Los Angeles, we didn't have to fly to get to it. LA is a four hour drive from our house. The Haven Courtyard We stayed in a very nice suite that was located directly adjacent to The Haven Courtyard. I loved being so close to the courtyard because it felt like we had our very own sunroom with a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, loungers, and daybeds. I could step out of my suite and take a quick look in the courtyard to see if it was empty before deciding if it was the right time to put on my swim suit and use the Jacuzzi. It was literally a 15 second walk from our front door to the courtyard... about a minute walk to The Haven restaurant... a minute to get to The Haven Sun Deck... 30 seconds to get to The Haven Bar. This was one of the greatest suite locations we've ever had in all of our cruises! This view only shows a portion of our suite We really loved the color scheme they used in decorating the suite. It was mostly warm earth tones such as brown, tan, and beige. We're going to be using a similar color scheme in our dream house, which will begin construction in early 2020 in anticipation of our move to Washington state in the Fall of 2020. Now I'd like to share a video I put together, which does a pretty good job of explaining something about our suite that was very different than on most of our previous cruises in The Haven: To start the video playing, click the triangle in the middle of the video screen Since we were on a Mexican Riviera cruise that visited Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, and Mazatlan, the weather was quite warm once we got down in to that area. Kellyn and I spent a lot of time at The Haven Sun Deck... lounging around on the very comfortable loungers, or sitting in the Jacuzzi which looked out over the side of the ship. I liked that the sun deck is for adults only. It's not uncommon for families to stay in The Haven... in fact, there are suites specifically designed for families. But children aren't allowed on the sun deck... so they tend to use the pool in the courtyard during the day, and the adults gravitate up to the sun deck to be away from the commotion the kids make when they're in the courtyard pool. Families have every right to enjoy their vacation in The Haven, just as do the people who are cruising without children. But when families do take over the courtyard pool area, it gets quite noisy in the entire enclosed courtyard. So, it's good to have that adults-only area out on the sun deck. On a cold-weather cruise such as Alaska, I bet noisy kids might be more of an issue since adults wouldn't be able to just escape out to the sun deck. But in that case, adults could move to the Haven's private observation lounge at the front of the ship, which tends to be a quiet place. Another quiet place within The Haven is The Haven Library... which doesn't get much use, as far as I could tell. It's fully enclosed... so it would be a fantastic place for a noisy group of Haven guests to have a Cocktail party or a loud card game. I found this unique piece of art in The Haven Library to be interesting... I've stayed in The Haven on NCL six times now, on six different ships. This was definitely the best Haven of them all! The sun deck is twice the size of the one on Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway, and Norwegian Escape... and features two Jacuzzis instead of just one. Between the Jacuzzi in The Haven Courtyard and the two up here on the sun deck, there are three Jacuzzis for the exclusive use of Haven guests... and that's a lot, since there aren't that many Haven guests! The enclosed Haven courtyard is fantastic for itineraries such as Alaska where the weather isn't as warm as it is in the Caribbean or on the Mexican Riviera. That previous picture shows that in addition to all the seating on the lower level of the courtyard, there is also an upper level with additional chairs and loungers... all with very thick, soft cushions. That upper level gets used more on cold-weather cruises like Alaska more than it does in warmer locations. Also, that overhead glass dome can be retracted on sunny, warm days to make the courtyard an outdoor venue instead of just an indoor one. But even if you don't stay in The Haven, the Norwegian Joy is a really great ship! All the rest of the photos of this page are of things available to ALL passengers on Norwegian Joy, not just the ones staying in The Haven. One of the most unusual features on Norwegian Joy is a go-kart track... something you wouldn't really expect to see on a cruise ship! Another really fun feature on Norwegian Joy is the free-fall waterslide. You climb the tower, get in to a glass tube, and suddenly the floor drops out from under you and you free-fall. It scares the heck out of you for a few seconds! But there's more to it than just that first scary drop! There are curves and loops, and at one point the tube even has you going upside down. Note that in that last picture, the direction of travel inside the waterslide is from left to right across the picture, and the woman is basically shooting upside down through that section of the tube. The other thing that jumps out at me is that she is wearing a one-piece swimsuit. That's actually not such a good idea on this type of waterslide. You'd think that a one-piece suit like that would be the smart choice, because a bikini might tend to have a "wardrobe malfunction" on a ride involving so much speed. But actually, the more fabric you wear in the waterslide, the more friction there is with the tube and the more likely you are to get stuck in it! With a lot of friction from your swim suit, your speed inside the slide is slightly lower, and you might not have enough speed to make it over the hump of the tube that the woman in that last picture was approaching. So, the skimpier the swim suit, the less likely you are to get stuck! Girls should wear bikinis on this waterslide, and guys... do not wear a t-shirt. Too much friction! Also, the more you weigh, the greater the speed you'll have during the free-fall, which will give you enough speed to get over "the hump". The ones that tend to get stuck are usually the skinny ones, or wearing a lot of fabric. In the following video, you can actually see a skinny girl get stuck in the ride... I consider myself something of an expert about cruise ship water slides! It's an aspect of cruising that I've always found fun, and when a video I made about a waterslide on a Carnival Cruise went viral and got 94 million views, it turned me in to something of a cruise ship waterslide fanatic! In case you've never seen that viral waterslide video, here it is: 94 million views of that video is crazy, isn't it? I doubt I'll ever replicate that, but I'll keep trying! I do have a model train video that recently passed 65 million views, so I guess it's not out of the question to think that it might get in the 90 million range someday. So far, eighteen of my YouTube videos have gotten at least a million views... so I feel like I'm doing something right! If you do like a few thrills during a cruise, you might also like the Virtual Reality Gaming area on Norwegian Joy, known as the Galaxy Pavilion... In that last photo, note that the big flat panel display isn't actually for the rider... everything he sees is in the goggles. I think that big display is so that family members watching during the ride can see what the riders see. Also, when you're considering whether you want to spend your money to do the ride or not, the display helps you get an idea of what the ride is all about. Of course, there's a lot more to Norwegian Joy than just thrilling stuff like go-karts, waterslides, and virtual reality gaming. In fact, for the older passengers who probably couldn't give a hoot about any of that stuff, the Norwegian Joy is still a great choice. There is a lot to love about this ship! One of my favorite things is the big observation lounge that takes up the entire forward portion of deck 15. This is one of the most brilliant design ideas I've seen on a cruise ship in quite a long time. They're not looking to make money from you here... they're just giving you a place to be comfortable on the ship, with fantastic views, plenty of places to sit or stretch out, and no weather worries. No matter what the weather is doing outside, it's always perfectly comfortable in the observation lounge! The buffet is just one floor above, if you're hungry... but there are also free snacks here in the lounge. And on Norwegian Joy, they took it even one step further than they did on Norwegian Bliss. Joy has a Starbucks in the observation lounge that Bliss doesn't have! Believe it or not, there are actually two Starbucks on Norwegian Joy! Besides this one in the observation lounge, there is also a larger one on deck 6, near the atrium and the guest services area. One other thing about the observation lounge... it's huge! There's much more to it than just the section at the very front of the ship, which you saw two pictures ago. That's only about 1/5 of total space in the lounge! It stretches from the front of the ship almost all the way to mid-ship, and on both the starboard and port sides. It's tremendously bigger than anything like it on other cruise ships... and they made it really comfortable by outfitting it with very plush furniture. Here's a photo showing another part of it: The furniture was more comfortable than what I've got at home, and it's fantastic that the observation lounge is available to all passengers at all hours of the day or night, at no additional charge. There's even a bar, for those who would like a drink while they relax. And the views out the windows are fantastic! They don't call it the observation lounge for nothing! On a Mexican Riviera cruise, the ship travels in the busy shipping lane that runs along the Mexican coast... where you'll not only see a lot of cruise ships, but also a lot of cargo ships that are traveling between the Panama Canal and California. If you'd rather relax outdoors rather than indoors, a great place to do so is on the "waterfront" which runs along both sides of deck eight. There are several outdoor bars, outdoor seating for several of the ship's specialty restaurants, and numerous places to just sit and relax and enjoy the views... A small thing that I like about the Waterfront on NCL ships is that they put these big binoculars along the railing, so that you can take a closer look at any interesting things that you might see. And there's no charge to use them... which is a refreshing change from the way that some cruise lines charge you extra for every little thing! Another considerate little thing that Norwegian Cruise Line does involves the carpet in the hallways outside of the cabins. The carpet features fish that are all swimming in the same direction, and they're always swimming towards the front of the ship. So, when you come out of your cabin, if you're trying to figure out which direction to go, you can use the fish in the carpet to help you figure out which direction takes you to the front of the ship and which takes you to the back. Other cruise lines should do something like this! It's such a simple thing, but so helpful. Another little detail you might overlook on a big ship like this is a small feature on the Waterfront, at the very back of the ship. There are several parts of the deck that feature glass panels providing a view straight down to the waterline below. If you've got any issues with heights, it can be a little intimidating to stand on the glass and look down! If you've sailed on other Norwegian ships, you're probably familiar with the adults-only outdoor area known as Spice H2O. Horrible name, in my opinion... but it's great that they made such a nice adult's-only area on the ship. At night, they have big outdoor parties here... but during the day it's usually a good place to stretch out and get some sun. The downside to this part of the ship is that there's a bar right next to it where smoking is allowed. So, in those loungers you can see in the photo, not only are you downwind of all that cigarette smoke, but you here a lot of loud drunk people at the bar, too. They did something really great at Spice H2O on Norwegian Joy that is hugely better than on other NCL ships such as Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway, and Norwegian Escape. They put in a gigantic whirlpool tub... That might just be the biggest Jacuzzi I've ever seen on a cruise ship! If I hadn't been staying in The Haven, which has three Jacuzzis itself, I suspect I probably would have spent a lot of time in this Jacuzzi! One other thing I noticed on Norwegian Joy that I thought was a very thoughtful design was the amount of shade they offered out by the main pool at mid-ship. Getting a sunburn on a cruise is a good way to ruin your vacation, and on some cruise ships it's very difficult to find shade out by the pool. But on Norwegian Joy they had gone to the trouble of building in a lot of unobtrusive structures that provided shade... I've spent a lot of time talking about adults-only venues on Norwegian Joy, but kids will love this cruise ship, too. If you've got kids cruising with you, they will love the children's water park... As a 62 year old guy traveling without kids or grandkids, I didn't spend a lot of time shooting pictures of the features of the ship that kids would be interested... but if you've got kids and you like to cruise, Norwegian Joy would be an excellent choice of cruise ship. There is LOTS for kids to do. There was also a lot within the ship that I did not take the time to photograph. Decks six, seven, and eight are full of restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues. It's where you'll spend a lot of time at night. I couldn't resist taking a photo of the big chandelier that hangs from the ceiling of deck eight and is a focal point of this area... The early versions of NCL's Breakaway-class ships had a big design mistake in this area. The casino is located on deck 7, and the smoke from the casino would rise up through this open area by the chandelier... making the smell of smoke quite noticeable on deck 8. If you ever cruise on Norwegian Breakaway or Norwegian Getaway, you'll notice this when you walk through deck eight. But NCL learned from that mistake and Norwegian Joy is designed much better! Most of the casino is non-smoking, but there is an area of the casino where smoking is allowed... which is fully enclosed in glass and has its own ventilation system... I like the specialty dining options on Norwegian Joy... especially the Texas Smokehouse and the American Steakhouse. That's my kind of food! Sorry that I didn't get any photos of the food there... it's just too dark in most of the restaurants to get a good quality photo, and I don't like to use the camera's flash because it might bother other guests in the restaurant. One restaurant I was quite curious about is the American Diner. It's located in the space that was occupied by Margaritaville during my cruises on several of the sister ships. To give you an idea of the kind of food they serve at the American Diner, here's a menu... If you have any trouble reading the text in the menu, click here to bring up a larger version of the photo I got a kick out of the design of the tables at the American Diner. There was artwork on the tabletops... a photo of a collection of license plates. The thing that put a smile on my face was that out of the eight license plates, two of them were from Washington state... which is where we'll be moving in 2020. Internet Access Internet access on Norwegian Joy was slower than I expected. When I did a Panama Canal cruise on Norwegian Bliss, the Internet speeds were incredible. I was hoping that Norwegian Joy had the same technology, whatever it was, that produced those impressive upload and download speeds on her sister, the Bliss. But actually Norwegian Joy's Internet service was fairly slow. Royal Caribbean and Princess have the best Internet access because they use O3B Networks, which uses a series of low-orbit satellites to provide Internet service. Most other cruise lines, including Norwegian, use satellites that are in a higher orbit around the earth, which creates more latency in the signal, and slows down the feel of accessing the Internet. I did some testing using Speedtest.net to objectively quantify the Internet service on Norwegian Joy, and here some of the results: You can tell from the ping test that Norwegian Breakaway was using a satellite in a high orbit around the earth. On Royal Caribbean, using the O3B network, that ping number would be several hundred milliseconds faster. Of course, if you were at home, using a cable modem, the ping number would be ridiculously small... like 6 or 10. That's one of the reasons that the Internet feels so responsive at home... low latency, as measured by the ping time. 4 Mbps was about the fastest download speed I saw on Norwegian Joy, and 2 was a more typical number. That pretty much sucks. The upload speeds were about the same, as you can see in the chart. I'm sure that someday, perhaps when Elon Musk's network of satellites is fully operational, we'll shake our head and laugh at these kinds of Internet speeds on cruise ships. But for now, that's what we're getting on a lot of cruise ships. Norovirus About a week before our cruise on Norwegian Joy, I was surprised to find the ship making the news for a Norovirus outbreak that affected 127 passengers and six crew members. And then the day we were going to get aboard, it made the news again for a smaller number of Norovirus cases... I didn't worry about it too much, because I know that when there's a Norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship, the crew takes extreme measures to stop the outbreak. I figured by the time we got onboard, after two weeks of intense sanitation measures, it would probably be the cleanest cruise ship we had ever cruised on. Indeed, during our cruise we saw a lot of disinfection activities and protective measures designed to prevent any further cases of Norovirus... and by about the fifth day of the cruise there had been such a reduction in new cases that they were able to reduce the level of precautions they were taking. Neither my wife or I came home sick from the cruise, nor did we hear of anyone onboard who had been sick during the cruise. So, it sure seemed like they did a good job dealing with the outbreak. Special measures to prevent the spread of illness were noticeable all over the ship. In the buffet it was especially noticeable... they didn't let you serve yourself at all. You would tell a crew member what items you wanted, and they would place them on a dish and hand it to you. But there were other things we noticed all over the ship. In the Haven Library, all the books were removed! In the public restrooms, the outer doors were propped open so that you wouldn't have to touch the door with your hands to enter the restroom. We also saw the cabin stewards taking extreme measures to disinfect in the cabins. They even wore a hazmat-type of protective suit to do certain cleaning procedures in the cabins. I felt bad for all the extra work the crew had to do, but it worked... and Norwegian Joy stayed out of the news the week we sailed on her. Entertainment The big musical onboard Norwegian Joy was "Footloose", based on the 1984 hit by Kenny Loggins. People who were teenagers in 1984 are now in their 50s... so that's a nearly perfect era for a cruise ship musical. I thought the show was OK, and I certainly enjoyed all the music from that era... but at more than 90 minutes long, this show seemed about twice as long as it really needed to be! Big theater shows are not really a strong suit for NCL. If you're looking for the best big theater shows at sea, give Royal Caribbean a try. There was a lot of other entertainment onboard Norwegian Joy besides the big production shows in the main theater. They have some fun audience participation game shows in the atrium on deck six, and lots of music in numerous venues around the ship. After 50 cruises, one thing really stood out for me on Norwegian Joy... a country music band. You don't see that very often on cruise ships. They play in Q, the Texas Smokehouse specialty restaurant, and they call themselves "Top Shelf". Sorry about the purple lighting! Cruise lines like to use unusual colored lighting for musical performances, to add some extra excitement. It looks OK for the audience watching live, but it never looks very good in photographs of the band! Another musical performance that tickled me was an Abba tribute performed by this duo (known as "Cryptic Duo") in the Cavern Club... The Ports Of Call This was a 7-day Mexican Riviera cruise embarking from the Port of Los Angeles and visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas. We actually made an unscheduled stop in Cabo San Lucas on our way to our first scheduled port of Puerto Vallarta. A passenger onboard had some kind of medical emergency and needed to be evacuated to a hospital. Mexico sent out a helicopter on the first sea day, but their helicopter was unable to successfully evacuate the passenger. The US Coast Guard makes it look easy, but I guess it's not as easy for Mexico to make it happen. So, the next day the ship made a detour to Cabo San Lucas to evacuate the passenger by tender. While we were there, I took this shot of the famous arch there in Cabo San Lucas. After completing the medical evacuation of the passenger, Norwegian got back on course for our scheduled first destination of Puerto Vallarta. I guess we had a lot of extra time in our travel schedule because it took them about two hours to complete the medical evacuation in Cabo, but we still managed to arrive on time in Puerto Vallarta the next day. In Puerto Vallarta, we took one of my favorite cruise ship shore excursions. It's called the "Las Caletas Hideaway" excursion, and we've done this same excursion on several previous visits to Puerto Vallarta. It's such a fun day, that we pretty much do the same excursion on every visit to PV now. Basically, it's a beach day at a private beach, including an open bar and a lunch. To get to the beach at Las Caletas, you have to get on an excursion boat for about a one hour ride south. The crew does a good job of entertaining you during that time, and they make it fun. Upon arrival at Las Caletas Beach, you are free to roam around choose your favorite place to spend your time there. There are hammocks, lots of loungers, remote isolated places where you can have privacy, or rows of chairs and loungers at several different little beaches. The whole time you are there, roaming bar servers will take drink orders and deliver your drinks right to you at no additional charge. There are kayaks and stand-up paddle boards that you can use, and floatation devices for those that just want to swim or hang out in the warm water. About 50 feet off shore of the beach are several little floating wooden platforms with hammocks on them. You can swim out to them and call one your own... They also have a whole bunch of macaws at Las Caletas, and they sometimes let them fly around. My wife and I just totally love macaws... we used to have one as a pet, years ago. It is so cool to see them flying free above Las Caletas Beach. We spent several hours at the beach, enjoying the drinks they brought to us, and swimming in the warm ocean water. It's one of my favorite ways to spend a vacation day! After a few hours of that, lunch is served... and they have things like barbecue chicken and ribs, plus a few Mexican items like taquitos. And then, all too soon, it was time for the one hour boat ride back to our cruise ship. I can't wait to come back to Las Caletas beach again during our next Mexican Riviera cruise! The next day, Norwegian Joy was docked in Mazatlan. Frankly, I don't find Mazatlan to be all that interesting... so we decided to just stay onboard Norwegian Joy and enjoy a lazy, relaxing day in The Haven! I spent some time in a Jacuzzi on the Haven Sun Deck, with a nice view of Mazatlan. One of the things I always get a kick out of seeing near the dock in Mazatlan is the Pacifico Brewery, where they produce several types of beer for export to the United States. At one of my favorite restaurants in my hometown in California, they have a big painting on one of their walls that is all about one of the beers they sell at the restaurant, imported from Mazatlan. While we're on the subject of Mazatlan... it's always a little sad for me to see the air pollution there. I work at a nuclear power plant in California, where we proudly generate electricity without producing any significant carbon emissions. California environmental regulations are some of the strictest in the world, and that means that where I live we have amazing air quality. So it's sad for me to visit Mazatlan and to see how the power plant there, which probably burns either coal or oil, creates tremendous air pollution. This picture has not been doctored in any way... it's what the air looks like there in Mazatlan. After a nice day relaxing in The Haven while the ship was docked in Mazatlan, we sailed north to our final port of call: Cabo San Lucas, part two. There is no dock in Cabo San Lucas that is capable of handling cruise ships, so all visiting cruise ships (and there are usually several of them!) position themselves just off shore and tender their passengers ashore. I certainly expected to see other cruise ships in Cabo San Lucas... but as I sat on my balcony that morning I was completely surprised and delighted by what cruise ship pulled up next to us! It was the Carnival Panorama. This was quite a surprise, as the Carnival Panorama is a brand new ship that just came over from the shipyard in Italy and hadn't even had her maiden voyage with paying passengers yet! There were only crew members and a few Carnival big wigs onboard. Notice in the following picture that there isn't even one passenger out on the balconies! My wife and I have a cruise scheduled on Carnival Panorama in January, since we do like to sail on brand new ships, but we generally like to wait a month or more for them to work all the kinks out. It was a real treat to see her, quite unexpectedly, in Cabo that day! While she was there, someone came aboard via tender. I don't know if it was local dignitaries welcoming the brand new ship, or what. She also launched a lifeboat as a training exercise. Carnival Panorama only stayed in Cabo for about two hours, and then headed north to her new home port of Long Beach for her official naming ceremony and maiden voyage. We had originally planned to take a tender in to Cabo and have lunch at "The Office"... a fantastic little restaurant on Medano Beach that has delicious Mexican food. With no decent Mexican restaurant onboard Norwegian Joy, going ashore for Mexican food sounded great to us when we planned our cruise. But upon arrival in Cabo, we were feeling quite lazy! We had such a nice day the day before, staying aboard and just enjoying the amenities of The Haven, that we decided to do it again on this day in Cabo. Perhaps on our next Mexican Riviera cruise, on Carnival Panorama in January, we'll make it to The Office for lunch. Downloads Here are links to a couple of pdf files that I think you would find useful: Norwegian Joy Deck Plans All 7 Norwegian Joy "Freestyle Daily" Newsletters List of all the shore excursions offered (including prices) Disembarkation Information A Map Of Las Caletas Beach in Puerto Vallarta Room For Improvement We had a really good cruise on Norwegian Joy... in fact, it was one of the most enjoyable cruises we've ever been on. I love the design of the ship, and I think that Norwegian does a pretty good job of running things. These days, we consider NCL our cruise line of choice, and Norwegian Joy and her sister ships are clearly the best ships in their fleet. But with all that said, there is always room for improvement! No cruise line gets everything right. So here are a few things that I think could have been better on our cruise... The Cruise Director was from Italy and spoke with a very thick Italian accent. I would expect that on MSC or Costa... but not on NCL. In fact, in my nine cruises with NCL, I've only had one really great Cruise Director and quite a few really bad ones. Whoever hires the Cruise Directors for NCL needs to pick much more qualified people... and especially people with excellent speaking skills, with no trace of an accent. After all, the vast majority of NCL passengers are Americans. Embarkation at the Port Of Los Angeles was a complete and total mess. Prior to embarkation, I received conflicting information about what time embarkation actually started. I arrived at the port to find a line that took people about two hours to get through in order to board the ship. That part was mostly not NCL's fault... the Port Of Los Angeles has failed to modernize their cruise ship terminals and they are completely unable to handle the number of passengers on today's mega cruise ships. Other ports, such as Long Beach, Miami, and Ft Lauderdale have amazing cruise terminals that can get you onboard in 15-20 minutes. The facility at the Port Of Los Angeles is dysfunctional. But NCL employees were also disorganized during certain aspects of the embarkation. Three different NCL employees told me that there was no special line for Haven guests at embarkation and that I need to wait in the massive line outside of the terminal. Finally, a more senior NCL employee came along and took me to the special Haven security line when she found out I was a Haven guest... and this probably saved me two hours of waiting in line outside the terminal. The Musical, "Footloose", at over 90 minutes long, was about twice as long as it really needed to be. The gigantic balcony on my suite was so large, it could have easily fit several loungers or a daybed... but NCL didn't bother doing this. That was a missed opportunity to "wow" your Haven guests. At a minimum, put two loungers out on that big balcony, not those two regular chairs. Internet access was bad compared to the state-of-the-art on cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Princess that use the O3B network of satellites. There are eight specialty restaurants onboard plus six complimentary dining venues... yet not one restaurant serving Mexican food, other than the buffet. NCL must not realize how popular Mexican food is with Americans. I love what they've done with Q, the Texas smokehouse. Whoever thought of that was a genius. But the ship really needs a restaurant for casual Mexican food. So, that's it! Or as the Brits say, "Bob's your uncle". That's the story of our cruise on Norwegian Joy... one of the best cruises we've been on, and we've been on 50 cruises! If you have some time to kill and you'd like to read some of my reviews of other cruises we've been on, head on over to my web site at JimZim.net I'd love to hear your comments about what I've posted here today, so now it's your turn...
  7. There's a LOT that I love about Norwegian Cruise Line, and my recent cruise on Norwegian Joy certainly reinforced that fact. I'll be working on editing several new videos about my cruise, but here's the first of them. The video touches on some of the many great things about a cruise on NCL, and then focuses on one particular aspect I like better about Norwegian compared to Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess, etc.: NCL has the best waterslides! It's just a two-minute video, so it doesn't require much of a time commitment to endure it!!!
  8. I'm onboard the Joy this week. The brief unscheduled stop in Cabo was to evacuate a passenger that had a medical emergency earlier in the cruise. They tried to evacuate the passenger by helicopter the day before, but were unsuccessful. The ship made it to Puerto Vallarta on schedule the next morning, and also made it to Cabo as scheduled later in the week. It's been a great cruise on a great ship!
  9. I'm glad you liked Ovation Of The Seas. Royal Caribbean really did a nice job with the Quantum Class of ships. That's my favorite class of Royal Caribbean ships. The Oasis class gets all the attention, but the Quantum Class actually are better in several aspects that are important to me. I actually really started out doing cruise reviews on Cruise Critic, years ago, long before I got any followers on YouTube. I've slacked off on my Cruise Critic reviews in the last year or two simply because between my "real job" and YouTube I just didn't have the time after I got home from a cruise to put together a quality Cruise Critic review with photos and videos. But with my retirement coming up next year, I am hoping to be able to get back to doing a full review on YouTube and a full review on Cruise Critic after each cruise.
  10. I'm in Cabo San Lucas today (aboard Norwegian Joy) and as I was sitting on my balcony enjoying the morning sun, Carnival Panorama pulled up right next to us! Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think she's even carrying paying passengers yet. If I'm not mistaken, she just came out of the shipyard in Italy, did a transatlantic crossing, sailed around the tip of South America to get in to the Pacific, and sailed up the west coast of the Americas on her way to her new home port in Long Beach, California. By the way, can anyone explain why she didn't sail through the Panama Canal? I don't think she's too large for it. I came through the Panama Canal (the new side) on Norwegian Bliss about two years ago. Seems to me that the new side of the canal could have fit Carnival Panorama, but perhaps I'm wrong about that. Maybe Carnival just didn't want to pay the canal fees. So, if there are no paying passengers aboard... who is onboard besides crew members? Some VIPs perhaps? I wonder if she'll spend the full day in Cabo today, or if this is just an exercise for her crew to get used to visiting here. In any case, I sure am delighted to see her! I'll be sailing on her about a month from now. If you'd like to see some video of her interior, shot at the shipyard just before she began her voyage to California, take at look at this:
  11. This is the story of our 7-day Caribbean cruise on the MSC Seaside... I often find that one picture will stand out from all others of a particular cruise. This photo is what I'll always remember about the MSC Seaside: Our suite's most important feature: the Jacuzzi on the balcony. Before I dive in to the story of our cruise, I think I should probably introduce myself... so that you know who's telling the story, and what my perspective is. My name is Jim Zimmerlin, but everyone calls me Jim Zim. I live with my wife, Kellyn (it rhymes with Helen), in a small beach town in California. We've done a lot of cruises! Our first one was back in 1996, and since then we've done 43 cruises... including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Viking Ocean Cruises, and now MSC. I've done more cruises with Carnival than any of the others, but lately I've come to think of Norwegian as the cruise line I most closely identify with. I work in an administrative job at a nuclear power plant, and back in the 70's and 80's I was a radio announcer and the Program Director of a radio station. In recent years, I unexpectedly developed a side job as a creator of YouTube videos. My YouTube channel has over 160,000 subscribers, and my videos have had over 175 million views! Much to my surprise, I discovered there's money to be made from YouTube videos... and that money pays for the cruises these days. As things have gotten more lucrative with YouTube over the last year or two, I've been able to stay in some much nicer cruise ship suites than I ever was able to before. Our first nine cruises were on the west coast of Mexico, but after that we started cruising in the Caribbean... and that's mostly what we stick with now. We love spending time on the best beaches in the world, and almost all of our shore excursions involve either hanging out on a beach and/or having some fun in the water. Vacation time is precious, and we have no interest in touring towns, visiting historical sites, or exploring the history. For us, vacation is all about warm beaches, warm water, good food, and some tasty beverages With every additional cruise, we learn a little more about what makes "the perfect cruise" for us... and one of the things we've figured out in recent years is that we totally love having a Jacuzzi all to ourselves. It really started with the Haven Spa Suites on Norwegian Cruise Line, which have a Jacuzzi inside the cabin. We tried that, and loved it. But we came to realize that what we really want is an outdoor Jacuzzi all to ourselves. So, we tried several different cruises where we were in suites with a private outdoor Jacuzzi on the balcony. That's usually pretty expensive! The closest thing to "the perfect cruise" that we ever experienced was the Deluxe Owner's Suite on the Norwegian Pearl, where we had a nice big Jacuzzi all to ourselves on a big balcony with a spectacular view of the ship and the ocean. But that was $1600 a night... so ever since then, we've been trying to find ways to do something similar, but more affordably. And that eventually led us to the "Suite With Whirlpool Bath" on the MSC Seaside, at less than $500 a night. It's a VERY unusual cabin. Let me give you a full tour... The inside of our cabin - MSC Seaside suite 14211 It was just the two of us... me and Kellyn... sharing the cabin for the week. We figured that since it had a Jacuzzi on the balcony, MSC probably designed the cabin for a romantic couple. But when we started to explore our cabin further, we were surprised to find that MSC really designed this particular cabin for a family to share. I don't know if all 28 of the Jacuzzi suites on MSC Seaside are this way... and my guess is that they might not all be... but ours actually had enough beds to sleep up to six people. You just had to start popping things open to find them all. As you can see, the loveseat opens up to become a single bed and the couch opens up in to bunk beds! If you look real carefully above the main bed, you'll see that there's an additional single bed that pops down out of the ceiling. We were able to open up the loveseat and the couch ourselves... but the pull-down bed in the ceiling requires a special key to get it to pop out. Only your stateroom steward can do that for you. An odd thing about this setup is that when you pop out all those extra beds, the room can sleep six people... but MSC only allows a maximum of five people to book this room. Odd! The bed that pops down out of the ceiling is really awkward, and makes it very difficult to get out to the balcony... so, my advice is not to use the pop-down bed at all. Just use the other beds if you'll have a whole family staying in this cabin. The cabin stewards are VERY overworked, because MSC has assigned 20 cabins to each steward. That's a LOT of cabins to maintain each day. On some of the other cruises I've been on, stewards have had as few as 12 cabins assigned to them. So, if you do have a family that will be staying in one of these cabins, be aware that your stateroom steward is not going to want to put the extra beds away each morning and pop them out again for you each evening. He's going to want to pop them out once at the beginning of the cruise and leave them that way the entire time. That's going to make the room look kind of messy for the whole cruise, but that's the way it is when MSC has stretched their resources so thin. I didn't want to make our cabin steward do a bunch of extra work, so I popped the couch and the loveseat out myself for this photo, and I didn't ask him to put sheets and blankets and pillowcases on them to make them pretty for the photo. I figured leaving the beds un-made would be good enough for this photo. An important thing to understand about our cabin is that it is huge compared to a regular balcony cabin! Take a look at a close-up of the deck plans, and compare the length of our cabin, 14211, with the cabin next door, 14205... Notice that 14211 is nearly twice as long as 14205 and the other standard balcony cabins! The width of the cabins are all the same, but the "suite with whirlpool bath" is tremendously long. That allows for all those extra beds, plus the walk-in closet, and a bathroom long enough to fit a bath tub. By the way, if you'd like a very nice PDF of the deck plans for the MSC Seaside, you can download it here. I made it myself, created from the individual deck plans on the MSC web site. It's set up to be printed double-sided on 11x17 paper... and then just fold it in half and take it with you on your cruise. It's handy to have a printed set of deck plans when you're trying to figure out where something is. Also, it's a nice thing to download on to your computer or tablet so you can just look at it on screen and zoom in to any areas of interest. Something else that you need to understand in order to fully appreciate the "suite with whirlpool bath" is that it comes with some pretty great perks! When you stay in this cabin, you automatically receive "the Aurea experience". On an airplane, there's coach for most passengers, business class is a lot better, and first class gets all the best treatment. It's a lot like that on MSC. There are five different "experiences" available on MSC... with the Yacht Club being the best (first class?) and Aurea being the second best. There's a table here that shows you all the differences between the five experiences. When you stay in the suite with whirlpool bath, you automatically get the Aurea benefits... and that includes free drinks at all the bars, free gelato, two free massages (per cabin) in the spa, priority boarding, priority tendering, free 24-hour room service, and the ability to dine in the main dining room at any time in the evening rather than at a set time.
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