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About ratfam

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  1. So for what its worth, my parents did a B2B and were on the prior cruise where there was no noted noro issue. They have friends in Florida and had received an email that one of them had a bad stomach bug and that it was going around the area, so presumably it came onto the ship with someone who boarded in Florida. My parents emailed a few days ago or so that the buffet was no longer self service, that was the first sign to them that something was going around, then the missed ports. Presumably the ship will have a deep cleaning before the next cruise and also it seems that they were not going to be able to make their planned ports of call. My parents are well, fortunately, and probably have been overly cautious--they are not going to the buffet and have not been to shows but have gone to the MDR at night, and have probably limited themselves more than they needed to but I an appreciate the concern particularly as they are in their late 70's. There is one big production show that they was not able to be performed on the prior cruise and I have encouraged them to attend. They are disappointed but have been anxious about getting sick so say they will be glad to be off the ship. They said that the crew has been out in full force cleaning and wiping down everything, so it sounds like appropriate actions are being taken. Very unfortunate all around, and Princess will undoubtedly get terrible press for it between this and the Diamond Princess incident but my parents felt like they were doing all they could.
  2. My parents are on this cruise, just emailed us and we are trying to figure out if we can help with their air rebooking. Feel terribly for the sick folks but also for all those whose probably long planned for vacation has not turned out as hoped. Naive perhaps as we have cruised often but I didn't realize that norovirus could end up preventing shore stops. Sounds like there was not much information yet.
  3. We had the drinks package as a "free" perk (had to pay for the gratuity on the cost) on our recent cruise on the Encore. We had never done this before so weren't sure what to expect but we really enjoyed it. It pretty much covered everything in terms of cocktails at the bars--I think there were some premiums liquors that may have been extra but the vast majority of the menu at the cocktail bars were within the $15. There were a number of wines by the glass that were within the package price. There were 6 of us and it did allow us to order different things rather than being committed to getting everyone to agree on a bottle. And at dinner in the MDRs the servers tended to bring a really generous pour or sometimes they even kept the bottles close by and just kept topping us off--probably made it easier for them than needing to run back and forth to the bar. The rule was you could get two drinks at a time, which was nice because we would pick up drinks for each other. The only thing I would do differently next time is bring a lot of small bills since we realized we have no idea whether the bartenders gets the gratuities that we prepaid. We didn't regularly frequent the same place so we hadn't established relationships with particular bartenders that we would have gone back to tip but it would have been nice to have something to tip along the way and we were just too dumb to think about it until the end of the cruise.
  4. I think easiest to book anything is the screens by the elevators, you will see them right when you board. Only challenge is that you need to book room by room so to use the board you need to have a key card for every stateroom with you. It shows you how many tickets are available for each option so you will know whether you will be likely to be able to get your whole group in.
  5. Go in with an open mind and positive attitude and you will have a great time. We were on the New Years' cruise with a group of 6 and if everything I read happened we would never have had a lounge to sit on, would have waited an hour for dinner every night, wouldn't have been able to get a drink at a bar or get into the Cavern, and wouldn't have been able to get reservations at things like laser tag and go karts if we weren't first on the ship. None of these things happened even though it was a jammed holiday week cruise. I stopped reading reviews that were negative and instead focused on research that was going to help me plan ahead to understand how the ship worked for things like reservations so that I could make the most of what I wanted to do. While I did note in my review that for reasons like too much loss of complimentary activities and space our family did not think we would return to NCL, we had a fabulous time, thought it was a beautiful ship and that the staff was great, and we have no regrets about going. Kindness and flexibility pay off!
  6. If you are willing to forego the official party on the pool deck then anywhere in the "waterfront" area is probably great. We ended up in the outdoor seating by the District, grabbed a drink and watched as we headed out to sea. I think there were only two other people there so it was peaceful (although we had a nice chat with them) but we got to enjoy the views, particularly good since we all had inside cabins and wouldn't have seen it otherwise.
  7. Yes the beach and snorkel excursion does go to Trunk Bay
  8. For the snorkel and beach excursion the afternoon start would allow plenty of time if you wanted to get off the ship and walk around St. Thomas area near the ports first, which could be a plus--since we aren't big shoppers, have been fortunate enough to have visited St. Thomas before and since we had been out late the night prior for New Year's Eve we just used it as a chance to sleep in. There was not really time to do anything after the excursion prior to departure. Pros were great crew on the ferry, a lot of interesting information and narrative from the guide over the loudspeaker system during the ride and a large and fairly comfortable ferry with a smooth ride. The beach I would say was just ok--we didn't spend much time on it, we pretty much used all our time snorkeling, and the snorkeling was pretty good, we saw a lot of fish and coral particularly near the rocky area. If you really just want a beach this wouldn't necessarily be the best excursion. The beach had restrooms/places to change, which was nice. It also had a restaurant/bar which we didn't take advantage of, we ate on the ship. Beyond not necessarily being the greatest beach if that was all you wanted, the other biggest con would be timing--maybe 1.25 hours at the beach, but we hadn't visited St. John before and enjoyed the overall experience. There were people of all ages. We really enjoyed it even though the weather was not great and it rained much of the ferry ride there. The Baths, really it is a beautiful and unique area and we were really glad we went, not what I have seen before in the Caribbean. The only downside is that it is a little more challenging--because of my back problems I did a lot of research and it does stop and start at the same place, but it is a one-way-through path for the most part so if you decide you can't make it you are doubling back. The hike to the first beach is not super challenging but the terrain is very uneven. You start at one beach, which was by far the nicest of the two, but knowing that particularly around the holidays the entrance to the caves backs and that it might take me a little longer we went straight to the caves. You do have to wait to get into the caves because it is a ladder down one person at a time, it probably took us over half an hour to get in and longer for others. The second beach was rockier and that was where we had our time but we were still glad to have phased it that way. The ferry ride was just a ride, no information, but it was pleasant enough. Staff was just ok, you were pretty much on your own. Second beach did have restrooms and you could shower off or change. Highly recommend hiking sandals like Tevas versus water shoes. If you are claustrophobic the caves may not be for you, there are some tight spaces. There were people of all ages on this as well. Let me know if you have any questions I may have missed!
  9. I don't know where the Vibe passes were being sold, but the kiosk was super easy to use, same kind of touchpad functionality as a phone app and when we boarded (much later than you will with priority) no one was waiting, although we did have 1 or 2 people behind us when we finished. You did need to have a key card for every room that you wanted to include in a booking though, with that you could select who in the room you wanted to add to a particular reservation. The app was easy too, although we only did dinner reservations through that. Even though we kept trying to link our reservations we still always had to book separately for everything other than the dining reservations, for that through the app I was able to book a reservation for 6 people without needing to add other cabin numbers and they just took the other cabin numbers or scanned other cards when we checked in. The kiosks showed how many spots were available, so we could tell whether we would have enough room for our group of 6 even though we had to effectively book 3 separate reservations for 2.
  10. We just got off the Encore NYE cruise. There were a lot of options! There was a Latin party and balloon drop in the main indoor area (there were a lot of Spanish speaking families, which I think is why this was the main indoor space party), a weather-permitting outdoor pool deck party with the cruise staff I believe, a through-the-decades party in the nightclub area, and a one-hour set with the Beatles cover band in the Cavern, which is what we did. We weren't sure if there would be a new year's observance in the Cavern but they were watching the clock and counted down, and a little before midnight servers from outside of the cavern came in with trays of small plastic champagne glasses, all of which was nice (we all had the beverage package and had tried to order glasses of champagne at about 11:45 and the Cavern server said they had no more champagne glasses!). We had done a RCCL NYE cruise and I will say that the Encore had many more options. It is a great way to spend NYE, especially if you are traveling with a large or multi-generational group
  11. Thanks that is great information! Also I was assuming that since the "Adults Only" was just a placard and based on the references to younger kids in the rules that it was a temporary thing but since I never asked I may have been wrong. While laser tag was great fun the one time we did it, I would gladly have foregone those 10 minutes (and saved the $60!) for an adult pool and hot tub area
  12. The entertainment is the best we had ever seen for sure, and the way they had designed and included smaller spaces was definitely an improvement over the Oasis to us. We did have a great time!
  13. We did have a great time but also may not be mega ship people. On RCCL our favorite was the Anthem, which then moved to the Asian market, and our second was Freedom. Oasis we felt overwhelmed by and like everything was chaotic, we didn't feel that way on Encore so they made some good choices on how to make a huge ship still have smaller and more intimate spaces. My parents were definitely a bit overwhelmed until they got the lay of the land, and I admit sometimes we would just be walking around the buffet aimlessly not even knowing where to start because it was so huge
  14. The Adult Pool thing at the main pool was a pleasant surprise. There was a non-permanent sign at one end of the pool that said "Adults Only" but the pool rules sign talked about supervising younger kids and similar. I never asked but assume that it was done as an accommodation due to the large number of young kids during a holiday week cruise? I suspect it didn't relate to the hot tubs since no Adults Only hot tub was created. There was no indication what constituted an adult, and there were some middle and high school kids there but no young ones and no behavior issues even though it was really just self-policed I think. Honestly without that it would have been impossible to get into a pool without being surrounded by wild kids, so I give NCL kudos for the decision. The beach and snorkel you could definitely just do the beach--it isn't a huge beach but totally fine, and I think that there may have been chairs available for rent. We were at the beach over an hour (we just got lucky and got loaded onto a safari bus that left immediately so we were the first to arrive). The outdoor seating on the ferry required climbing stairs but I believe there was indoor seating on the level you boarded the ferry. The ferry ride itself was very nice and one of the guides provided a ton of information about the houses on St. Thomas, living on the island, St. John and the neighboring islands, etc. so that was a great part of the excursion as well (the ferry crew were all from the US so had interesting experiences with their moves). My parents didn't join us but I think that 70 year olds who are reasonably mobile would be fine. We had actually tried to get the champagne catamaran and snorkel but it was sold out and since she was tired of feeling queasy our daughter had us drop our wait list since she wanted to be able to be on the beach. For the catamaran trip you snorkel from the catamaran and can only get to the beach by swimming there, so you should probably stick with beach and snorkel. We all really enjoyed it.
  15. Last week we arrived around 2pm and were able to get off the ship prior to 3pm. I think that they really pushed to arrive early because our departure time was changed to 9:30pm due to closures around the port because of it being New Years Eve, and I would say if that was part of the reason our trip was so extremely bumpy until then it may not have been worth it. We had no notice that getting in early was even a possibility but luckily we were able to pull ourselves together quickly. I would say ask if an early arrival is a possibility and just plan to be ready a little early if you would want to take advantage of extra time.
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