The Norwegian Experience

With so many items to check off your to-do-list, planning a vacation can be just as stressful as it is exciting. Packing, financial decisions, travel, safety, all play into your relaxing experience. Having just returned from my first cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line, I can say I’ve experienced all of these. It was my first cruise experience, and I’m happy to say, it was a successful one. The cruise line was accommodating, and respectful making this a trip I’m sure not to forget.

We boarded the Norwegian Getaway ship around 10:30 am, December 29, immediately greeted by staff members with huge smiles spread across their faces. I was nervous, because of the thoughts of all the things that could go wrong with a vacation like a cruise, but I was also excited to see what the experience had to offer. By noon, our rooms had been prepared and we made our way to our cabins. Waiting for us was a fresh set of sheets, drinks, a towel folded into an animal, and a murky, yet beautiful view of the port and Mississippi River ahead. The bathrooms had a modern look to them, with a large glass shower, two sinks, and plenty of space for all our products. If you walked down the halls of any level you’d be greeted with an enthusiastic hello and a smile.

Photo by Sarah Weinhaus. The port walk in Costa Maya, Mexico makes for a busy view of the Norwegian Getaway Ship on January 3, 2020. The concrete aisle leads you from your ship to your exotic day ahead on the various islands.

Of course one of the many highlights of the trip was the delectable dining and food. The Garden Cafe was the absolute go-to spot to indulge in any food you could imagine. With four long lines of buffet trays filled with foods of every ethnicity (Asian, Indian, American, Mexican, etc.), there’s no doubt you’ll eat your day away. One of my favorites was the 24/7 soft serve ice cream machine. There was one around every corner, tempting me to grab a cone piled high with sugary goodness. For fancier dining, a selection of steak and french style restaurants litter the ship’s decks. The entrees and appetizers stayed mostly the same throughout the cruise, but I didn’t mind since I ordered the fettucini alfredo and bruschetta almost every night. Any combination of pasta, cheese, and bread, and I’m all over it. Besides the mouth watering food, the service was great too, and the amount of bread and butter I consumed while waiting for my dinner probably covers about two-thirds of the weight I gained on the trip. But the best dining experience of the entire trip was on New Years Eve. Dressed up in our best clothes for the formal dress code, we decided to dine at the steakhouse onboard. After being seated in the restaurant, our waiter greeted us and we quickly ordered our main course. In the meantime, we were welcome to indulge in the large buffet that sprawled across the back wall of the room. The waiters would deliver these large steel poles wrapped in meat, like a meat-sampling, to each table. I tried the chicken, steak, and pork, each one better than the last. By the end of the meal I was stuffed, and although I really didn’t need anymore sugar, we couldn’t skip dessert. Of all the desserts we had on the trip, my absolute favorites would have to be the lava cake and tiramisu. The chocolate lava cake arrived drowned in mint ice cream, and topped with a cherry sauce. The liquid chocolate that poured out of the center after puncturing the cake was so rich, and definitely a favorite among all the chocolate lovers on board. I would scarf down my tiramisu, stacked with beautiful layers of ladyfingers and mascarpone, not only because of the smaller and fancier portions, but because it was just so delectable. All the desserts on board were by far some of the best I’ve ever had. Of course, drinks are also a highlight on any cruise. I’d suggest purchasing the drink package, or soda for those of us under 21 of course, if you’re thinking of embarking on a trip similar to this. It allows for unlimited drinks at any of the bars whenever you please. Just flash the bartender your room card and they’ll hit you up with absolutely anything. For the majority of the cruise I consumed multiple cups of Sprite, and virgin Shirley Temples, daily, but I also splurged on the occasional pina colada. Dinner concluded with everyone heading back to their own rooms before the evening festivities began.

Photo by Sarah Weinhaus. The staircase leading to the basketball court provides a gorgeous view of the main deck on board. The smoke-stacks sit at the highest point of the ship, and the Norweigan Cruise Line logo can be seen plastered below. Also shown is the array of water slides available on the ship, all behind a gorgeous sunset along the skyline on January 1, 2020.

As a teenager, we all can agree that one of the biggest struggles when going on vacation is being away from friends, as well as trying to make friends under certain circumstances. If anyone reading this has ever been on a cruise, I think they’ll be able to relate. There’s this big hype revolving around having ‘cruise friends’ and rightfully so; it’s super fun. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard to be social and meet other kids your age. I’m one of the lucky few to have another teenage companion aboard the ship with me, as my family traveled in a group of twelve, with some of our closest family friends. For those without a friend, Norweigan provides a fun environment for teens to hangout. The teen lounge, known on my ship as ‘Entourage’, fulfills every teens’ favorite activites. Bright LED lights, shine all over the room and on dance floors, and a large pillar with TVs sits in the center of the room surrounded by a couch so that teens can play Wii and Xbox. Every night is a party with bonding activities, like a game of tag or a glow party, to close out your day aboard. With events like this, everyone found their temporary friend group in no time, and could be found hanging out across the decks, but mostly in the arcade or the pool. The arcade included every game imaginable, accessible to you with the simple swipe of your room key. This was more than enough to keep my younger brother and friends occupied throughout the day, but my parents were less than happy when they saw the bill at the end of the trip. The pool deck was one of the most memorable areas on the ship. Four large hot tubs surrounded the kiddie pool located in the center of the ship. A stage sat in front of the main pool, and there was always either loud and funky music booming from the speakers or a live performance. The main pool sat in front of the kiddie pool, divided by a small concrete ledge.Surrounding the ship were four swirly slides of various colors and speeds, wrapping around the top deck. Each slide presented a new challenge with the scariest water slide aboard being the blue one. On the slide, you were placed in a capsule, standing vertical atop of a platform. After a short countdown, the platform would open, and you would shoot through the slide; definitely a way to get your adrenaline moving. Although I didn’t actually get to experience the slide, because it didn’t show as much of an interest to me personally, I did get to enjoy the ropes course on board. The course started below deck where you were hooked into a harness before being sent up a staircase that leads above the ship. From there, you had the ability to navigate yourself through the various obstacles, such as walking across hanging pieces of wood, or swinging across rope vines. Of course, you were always hooked to the steel poles above, but it’s still enough to fill the adrenaline junkies’ days on the ship.

They say you rarely get any sleep on cruises, and they aren’t wrong. We woke up, bright and early on day three, ready to embark across the first port in Cozumel, Mexico. The first two days were both at sea, with days three through six spent at various ports. We traveled along the Carribean, visiting Mexico, Honduras, and Belize. Around 9:30 in the morning, we exited the ship and sped through the crowds to make it to our excursions meeting point. Through the provided transportation, we made our way across the island to Dolphinaris Cozumel. With a gorgeous view of the bright blue ocean, we sat and waited for our group experience with the dolphins. With our life vests tightened, we entered the water, and began to watch the dolphins perform various tricks. The exhibit included a tropical villa where you could watch the dolphin encounters, as well as enjoy a drink while you wait. Large separate pools, designed much like the animals' natural habitats lined the decks and the open ocean. The reservoir staff make it clear that their efforts are in favor of the animals, and want the dolphins to feel as comfortable as possible. The animals are free to dwell with one another throughout these huge pools, and are fed plenty throughout their human encounters. We entered one pool and stood on the rock-covered ledge, so the dolphins could approach us. Our guide was gentle as well as funny, and told us much about the species and the care of the animals during their stay at Dolphinaris. The young dolphins are able to socialize with their mothers whenever they please, and are kept in good condition. The native staff have known some of the dolphins since they were brought and born into the exhibit.

Photo by Sarah Weinhaus. The Dolphinaris Cozumel Center, located in Cozumel, Mexico, provides a stunning view on December 31, 2019. The large pools serve as homes for the dolphins, and a wall separates their beautiful habitats from the open ocean.

One by one, each member of our group of twelve crept towards the edge of the pool ledge to interact with the Dolphins. Using signals the dolphins are trained to recognize, we clapped the dolphins fins, received a kiss on the cheek, and pet their bellies. Their skin was soft like silk and they had a cheery glint in their eyes, just enjoying the attention. After enjoying their complimentary buffet, we headed back towards the ship to shop around. We entered little shops selling handmade art, bracelets, necklaces, sculptures, and woven items such as bags and clothing. The difference in culture intrigued me, especially because I’d never experienced anything like it before. Where I’m used to living, the stores are much more modern and the items sold usually aren’t handmade. The majority of the stores I entered were covered in beads, and woven clothing, because the majority of the population in Cozumel makes their money through family-run businesses. We re-entered the ship with a new ceramic lizard and some jewelry, looking forward to resting up for the night ahead.

The third night rolled around, and 2019 was coming to a close. I had the privilege to ring in the new year with the 3000 other people aboard. With multiple parties around the ship, it was hard to choose which one we wanted to count down with. My friend and I made our way around the ship, until we made it to the teen club. We socialized, people watched, and eventually made our way to the atrium to listen to live music and party with our families. The staff members were plastered with smiles and happiness, excited that they’d made it to another year. With only a few seconds of 2019 left to spare, we began to count down from fifteen. When the clock struck twelve, cheers erupted throughout the ship, and a large ice sculpture which read 2020 was sliced in half with a large knife. After the excitement of the new year, it was time to celebrate the past decade. Everyone was celebrating with a young adult party on the top deck of the ship. Crowded mosh pits, and electro music echoed across the silent sea. Live music played on the lower deck for the middle aged and older adults providing them with a good time. They enjoyed pop, classic rock, and posts of dancing We all turned in late that night, after a long and hectic day at sea. Our cruise had just begun, and we were ecstatic to experience the rest of it.

Because of the time change traveling from Mexico to Honduras, we got an extra hour added to our day, which meant more partying! Just kidding. It meant an extra hour of sleep, which is what we all needed. On our itinerary for the day, included a visit to the Gumbalimba Animal Sanctuary and Preserve, located on the island of Roatan, Honduras. Once again, we swiped our key cards, and exited the ship onto the port. We ended up in a parking lot, and began to board the busses for our 35 minute drive to the sanctuary. Everyone’s gaze was centered out the windows of the bus. The island of Roatan is a smaller area located between the islands of Útila and Guanaja. As of 2008, the population of Roatan was around 50,000. The island isn’t very wealthy, and the majority of the people on the island have been there for generations, as they’re born and raised there, and rarely leave. Our wonderful tour guide led us through not only the animal preserve, but also the bus ride, feeding us so much enriching information about the island. The houses were bright colors, and I learned that was part of their method to structure their city. The colors of houses help give directions. We met another tour guide on our way out of the preserve, and asked about his house. I remember him saying it was the pink and white house, behind the sweets shop that his mother owned. Sure enough, on our drive back to the port, we passed a big white building with a sign across the front that read ‘SWEETS’, and a smaller pink house peeking out from behind. The thought of communicating with the colors of houses was so incredibly unique.

I loved viewing a city like this first hand: seeing kids my age running through the streets barefoot, mothers hanging their clothing on clotheslines because they don’t have a washer or dryer, and wooden planks holding up these people’s run down houses. Watching this, while I was about to re-enter my thousand dollar cruise vacation, gave me a new outlook on my life and how privileged I am. Although the other islands and ports were more exciting then Roatan, I think seeing the lifestyle that these people live everyday, compared to mine, left the biggest impact on me.

Along with the long ride to Roatan, and the impact it had on me, the animal preserve was fabulous. Our tour guide took us through the thick woods, visiting many locations, and receiving an explanation about the significance certain plant or animal species have on the island. We got to see a sloth that dwells in the preserve, and exotic fruits that only grow on that island, but the main reason we wanted to visit the preserve was because of the tiny monkeys.

We arrived at a wooded area surrounded by monkeys. They were perched on trainers’ shoulders, eating sunflower seeds. Leading us next to the monkeys, either on the tree, or the other trainers, a few seeds were placed on top of our heads, and the monkeys immediately jumped on top of us. While a little off putting at first, the monkeys were adorable. Their hands were just the size of a sticky note, and their fur was so soft. They lept freely throughout the available swings hanging from the trees, and people’s heads. This is definitely a recommended and memorable experience of mine from the trip.

Photo by Sarah Weinhaus. A mother and her son perch on a wooden plank, in the Gumbalimba Park of Roatan, Honduras, on January 1, 2020. The area allows visitors to interact with the monkeys, through the help of instructors and trainers.

During the afternoons, after returning to the ship, our families would relax and spend time together for a few hours before dinner. We were exhausted after our excursions throughout the day, but my friend and I still made it to the gym for a 30 min run, and the adults had their scheduled massages. The spa and gym on board were very accommodating with lots of elliptical equipment as well as weights and a view of the open ocean while running on a treadmill. Although I stuck to the treadmills, the boat also offered a track surrounding the upper deck of the boat. After showering, we all met for dinner and enjoyed our food. Around nine or ten o’clock, our evening event began. On one of our first nights we viewed a Latin themed performance entitled “Burn The Floor”. The show didn’t have a storyline, just a ton of dancing. The performers were impressive, doing some of the most difficult dance routines I've ever seen, in such a short amount of time, to the fast pace of Latin music. Another evening activity we saw was the Journey Tribute Band. My parents, and their friends have always been huge fans of Journey, so they really enjoyed the tribute band’s performance. Growing up being influenced by my parents music, I also appreciated the songs they were singing. Those on board definitely knew we were coming from Michigan, because when Don’t Stop Believing was performed, we hollered the lyrics “born and raised in South Detroit.”

Harvest Caye, Belize was the next stop on our journey through the Caribbean. Belize was probably my favorite port because it was so relaxing. Our three families decided not to schedule any excursions for the day so we could just relax with a much needed beach day. One of the reasons I liked Belize so much is because it had the most modernized port. We exited the long dock connecting the boat to the island, and were greeted with cool mist machines. Cute little shops were spread along the pathways leading up to the beach: A paddle boarding area, restaurants, and bars, all with tropical music playing through the background. At the beach we rented six small cabana tents on the shore. The ocean was shallow, and a bright blue color, with calm waves lapping on the shore. One of the coolest attractions on the island would have to be the zipline. The 1,300 foot zipline spread between a lighthouse and a landing pad, sending you flying over the ocean in the “Superman” position. Viewers sat in the ocean and looked over their heads to see zipliners speed overhead. Both my parents decided to risk it all and try the zipline. They enjoyed it, and even got complimentary “I survived the zipline'' do-rags.

Photo by Sarah Weinhaus. This view depicts the five exhilarating slides for you to ride on the upper pool deck of the Norwegian Cruise Line’s Getaway ship. I enjoyed my exhilarating experience on the purple slide the most, during the afternoon of January 3. 2020.

Our trip was slowly coming to a close, as the next day was our last port: Costa Maya, Mexico. The port doesn’t have as rich a history, considering it was only established in 2001, for a cruise ship stop. The port includes many ethnic and souvenir shops. I was happy that there were souvenirs because I had yet to get a t-shirt, and I ended up boarding the ship with two in tow. Palm trees and benches surrounded the shops, and big colorful tarps acted as protectors from the sun. Handmade creations such as painted sculptures and jewelry lay across the tables for people to observe and purchase. There were many gorgeous jewelry stores at every port, and my mom had the opportunity to buy multiple pieces. At around one o’clock, we decided to head back on the ship. Although I was sad that our time in the various countries was over, I was ready to get back to the daily routine in Michigan.

The last few days at sea, we soaked up the amenities of the ship as much as we could. This meant multiple trips to the ice cream machines, mini golf course, and casino. Everyone was making the most of the time they have left of their vacation. On our last night, my friends and I went to the ‘glow party’ they were throwing on the front of the ship. We got glow sticks and facepaint, and partied until we were way too tired. We woke up the next morning, dreary eyed, tired, and not excited for the day of travel and leaving our friends. After eating a healthy breakfast, and saying goodbye in the Garden Cafe, we headed back to our rooms, and packed up our last things, before entering the atrium and waiting for our exit group to be called. One of the three families with us left for their flight earlier, and we were planning on spending some extra time with the other family after leaving the ship. Our group was called, and we exited the ship. From there we went through customs, and we were off the ship. Our cruise vacation was over.

I definitely learned a lot from this trip: about different cultures, lifestyles, and animals, but also the importance of enjoying a relaxing vacation with friends away from stress and school. My experience with Norwegian was both relaxing and exciting. Every night presented us with a new activity and memory that we laugh and reminisce about often. Norweigan Cruise Lines was everything I hoped it would be, and I’m sure I’ll be cruising with them again. They’re so absolutely accommodating, and made this a vacation I’m sure not to forget.

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