It’s no secret that I have an affinity for blue waters, sandy beaches and sunny days. Basically, paradise! Countless times have I had dreams of diving into unbounded turquoise waters, exploring the fascinating marine life, walking on white sand that tickles my feet, lounging on beach chairs sipping chilled fruity cocktails whilst the sun added some bronze to my skin. Days wearing straw hats, bikinis, sunglasses, flipflops breezing through streets of humid islands lined by coconut trees.
I guess it was high time to turn this dream into reality. And what better way to do that than a cruise vacation. Here’s the good news, there are loads of options to choose from when looking for cruises. But the bad news is, booking hotels is easier than booking cruises. (The search for cruises can be exhausting.)
Read more on Cruise : Bookings, Packing and Prep (Pssst! More pictures in there!)
OFF WE WENT!
We flew early from New York to Fort Lauderdale with Delta on the day of boarding, took the shuttle bus($25 pp) to Miami port and boarded the cruise in no time. Check-in was no hassle at all. People usually board early to make most of their time on board. Our bags were collected outside the port and brought to our cabin later during the day. It was wise of us to carry a cabin sized bag, stuffed with some of our clothes, by ourselves during boarding because the bags reached us much late that night.
The ship vessel itself was the biggest I have ever seen. Our ship had the capacity of entertaining 4000 guests (plus thousands of staff members). In the main atrium, we were greeted by a gigantic chandelier suspended from the ceiling two floors above. A spiral stair case from the casino above cascaded down to the ground level ending right under the chandelier. With the starry ceiling and the fancy lightings, felt like I was in a James Bond movie.
We rose at the crack of dawn to enjoy some quiet time at the hot tubs on the top deck.Once the public started swarming in, we picked up some breakfast and charged into our private cabin balcony for a peaceful breakfast with a view of the Caribbean sea with zero obstructions. We fell into a pattern instantly. Our breakfast usually included fresh fruits, juices, steaming hot coffee, warm chocolate croissants, eggs benedict, waffles, pancakes, crepes, hash and few of many many more choices. We were being spoiled rotten by the kitchen staff.
After the breakfast we would join in for one of the pool parties at the top deck whilst sipping some of the many delicious cocktails/mocktails from their wide array. I don’t remember being sans a drink.
The huge number of guests meant there wouldn’t be any place for impromptu plans. I’m so glad we made reservations everywhere. Cruise ships have a common buffet spread which is huge and honestly, more than you could ever eat. Its good enough for lunch but its a “common” buffet so its crowded and noisy. Not exactly what you have in mind for a romantic evening.
Same goes for theater, Broadway and comedy shows. For every evening, we booked one show and one dinner at one of the many a-la-carte restaurants. My favorite was The Manhattan Room. The view of the ship cutting through the ocean waves leaving a long trail behind, soft piano music playing in the background. There were other specialty dining restaurants, bars and lounges, most of them charged as per your order, few of them were included in the cruise charges.
We spent one evening at the huge casino gambling our luck, some evenings participating in interactive games hosted at the Atrium, and few afternoons engaging ourselves in the water rides, billiards, bowling, miniature golf, and rope course adventure. Early mornings were meant for sunbathing on sun deck and immersing in hot tubs located all around the top two decks of the ship. Late nights we partied and danced with the ship crew and crowd at the huge public club. I remembered a scene from Titanic where Jack and Rose dance their hearts out one night on the ship after getting sloshed.
The staff is very friendly. If you’re single or passing time alone, you can have long chats with the bartenders while sipping your favorite cocktails at any of the bars, swaying to familiar tunes echoing all throughout the top deck. They don’t leave out any detail to make it a party atmosphere.
Tip #7: If you wish to take pictures or just relax in a hot tub without a crowd, rise as early as 6am and head to the top deck.
ST THOMAS, USVI
First stop in our itinerary was at St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. I was eagerly awaiting this stop. The crystal clear waters looked so incredible and enticing. I couldn’t wait to immerse into it. The hot and humid island weather made it all the more necessary to dive into the ocean.
We had a reservation for a Sea trek helmet dive at Coral World Ocean Park. The activity organizers or vendors wait at the Charlotte Amalie port entrance and have their own shuttles for pick up and drop off service. You have to meet up with the appropriate organizers and they take you to your destination. It turned out to be a wonderful experience. While it costed over $150 for the two of us and lasted just about 30 mins, it was worth it. Mainly because it was our first underwater experience. It may not be as exciting for regular scuba divers. The marine life at the Coral World Ocean Park was amazing though. They also had little ponds at the park that harbored turtles, sharks, star fishes among other creatures. You could buy bird food and feed some tropical birds. While walking around the park, my man didn’t see an iguana crossing the path and stepped on the poor creature’s tail. It jumped right up and away. It was scary and funny at the same time.
The stop was a total of 7 hours and the entire time we kept to the waters. It felt unnatural to be anywhere else. The perfect weather and ideal water temperature gave us an opportunity to snorkel around for hours. We had carried our own snorkel equipment but there are shacks at Coki Point Beach where you can rent the equipment for as cheap as $5. I’d rather use my own because you never know who has used it before. The shacks also offer souvenirs, food, drinks and swim wear.
We met up with a German guy, our fellow cruiser, on our way back to the port. Chatted, had a few Carib beers($3) and exchanged life stories along with quite a few laughs. Its always fun meeting new people, hearing their experiences and sharing some of ours.
These are the typical beers you would find in the Caribbean islands.
Next destination on our itinerary was Tortola in British Virgin Islands. We had lot of options to explore here.
1. Stay in Tortola and head straight to Smuggler’s Cove.
2. Take a ferry to Jost Van Dyke.
3. Take a ferry to Virgin Gorda.
We had to pick just one from these options due to time constraints. So after docking, we went straight to the ferry terminal and headed to Spanish Town in Virgin Gorda, the reason being “The Baths”. I had seen so many pictures of The Baths, that I didn’t care if it was too far for a short stopover, I just had to make it there. It was every bit as beautiful as I thought it would be. Free shuttles from Spanish Town take the crowd up and down the Gorda Peak National Park. Takes about 20-30 mins through narrow winding roads.
Tip #8: Be sure to note return timings of the shuttle and the ferry so you get back on the ship before departure. It gets crowded on return ferry. There’s an entrance fee to the park collected at the peak. This is the only place you’ll find restrooms around. No restaurants or cafes here, so I suggest bringing your own food and loads of water to drink.
The hike down to the beach goes 2 ways: one to Devil’s Bay and the other to The Baths. They form a loop ultimately. Devil’s Bay hike is around 20 mins from the peak. Needless to say, the hike is worth it. The white beach and stark blue waters leave you utterly speechless. From there on we headed to The Baths.
Huge boulders formed caves and tidal pools by the coast. Hence, the name “The Baths”. After an hour of snorkeling in rough waters on a sunny yet windy day, we hiked through the caves, climbing flimsy wooden ladders, crawling through small openings between boulders to get to the other side, treading through tidal pools and catching glimpses of the Atlantic ocean. Such a dreamy place!
Last stop of our cruise was at Nassau Town in The Bahamas. Unfortunately, this day my partner caught flu bugs and fell terribly ill. Strong as he is, he managed to drag himself out of bed and to the streets of Downtown Nassau after a couple of Ibuprofens. I strayed to a free public beach near The Atlantis, but the huge crowd and unkempt beach made me turn right around and back to the town. Unless you’re staying at The Atlantis or paying $60-80 for a tour, you don’t have access to Paradise beach. Another option was to take a tour to Blue Lagoon but we were restricted by ship timings. The weather was extremely windy and the waters were rough so it didn’t make sense to go to another beach and experience the same weather at an extra cost.
Tip #9: If you have enough time and good weather to support, take a tour to Blue Lagoon Island, go snorkelling, visit the Ardastra Gardens , go island hopping, tiki bar hopping. The Caribbean Sea is not overrated!
Instead, we decided to explore the downtown. They have maintained the Bahamian charm of Nassau town but turned it a bit too commercial. Streets are lined with pastel-colored colonial-style buildings that look adorable with front porches. There were ample shopping opportunities from carts to hole-in-the-wall shops to high-end boutiques. I wish I could stay there drinking daiquiris all day long. But it was time to return to the ship and head back to mainland.
Cruising with Norwegian Cruise line was a dream come true. It was the best decision and they made sure we didn’t have a single moment of boredom throughout our vacation.
Thanks to NCL for the support and collaboration!
Apparels and accessories from Michael Kors, Aerie, Forever21, Aldo.
Camera – Sony Alpha A6000, GoPro Hero5, Iphone 6S
Editing Software – CaptureOne