I sailed the Norwegian Jewel out of the Port of Houston Cruise Terminal on the 11th of April 2015. This was my third cruise out of the terminal and the slowest boarding of them all. Not sure exactly the cause of the slow processing of persons waiting to board, but from the looks there were few clerks to process passengers compared with when sailing the Princess ships I’ve sailed from the same port. The terminal tends to be nicer than terminal 2 in Galveston, but I’ve not seen the renovations and additions they are making in Galveston yet.
We arrived to the terminal around 12:30 pm which is likely part of the trouble getting thru the line quickly. Not being among the elite passengers on this sailing meant we were relegated to the first time cruiser line, but the Latitudes Loyalty line was just as long. Half or more of the passengers were past passengers this week. A number were on the cruise as part of a promotion by their Casino at Sea program which gave them substantial discounts on the cruise fare this week.
Having many repeat cruisers seems to have worked in everyone’s favor as folks seem to know to get around a cruise ship and be back on time for sail away. Out of three ports we left early once, on time once, and five minutes late once as two passengers decided the ship needed to wait for them. Really though they lucked out as the gangway was in and lines were being dropped when they ran down the pier in Roatan. They were allowed to board and ride the ship home.
Weather on departure from Houston was not really that great as it was rainy and somewhat foggy, but not enough to cause problems. Generally it just caused the crew to move parties for sail away inside to other venues because of the wet decks and falling rain. Not a big deal when it’s all said and done, we left and made our way safely to the next port, which is what counts most. The weather on Sunday and in all the ports was acceptable to great as we moved further south along our route.
The trip overall went smoothly. A few minor bumps came up, but that tends to happen with all vacations no matter how well planned and how well the staff at the hotel, resort, or on the ship work to avoid them. Recovery is the key, and when the bumps came up the recovery went well so they didn’t have long term negative effects on my enjoying the cruise. We were treated quite well by the friendly staff anywhere we were around the ship.
The Norwegian story has changed over the past few years towards one of catering more to families offering a fun family friendly experience. They are a long time cruise company that always seemed to lag behind the other lines, but in recent years the turnaround has been pretty amazing. The introduction of the freestyle concept definitely led to not only a great marketing opportunity, but a different onboard vibe that many like. It’s a relaxed atmosphere where with little difficulty one runs into senior officers from around the ship nearly every day and all are friendly.
On their newer ships they’ve loaded up many fun activities that aren’t on other ships. They and Royal Caribbean are the two lines leading the innovation for new fun family friendly and a wider choice of dining options on the existing and new build ships. The Jewel is one of the ships that underwent many changes when in dry dock yielding great dining choices. Also, the advent of unlimited internet on the ships really helps as well. Being connected is very handy when issues come up with work that need more immediate handling, or even when small issues come up that can be easily cleared instead of having a client wait until I was back on shore.
Overall a fun time on the Norwegian Jewel and here is a bit more on the ports we visited.
The three ports of call for this sailing were Cozumel, Belize City, and Roatan rounded out the list. Now that was the planned ports of call, we did make an extra stop in Cozumel for a very short time as we were sailing by on Thursday to send a sick/injured person to the hospital. (It was good to be able to do that and help someone who really needed higher level of care than could be provided aboard the ship.) These three ports of call are regulars for me having been to each many times over the years. Cozumel is probably the most frequented port of call on Western Caribbean routes.
Each port day worked out well and we managed to depart on time or close enough to on time each day. The only hiccup was in Roatan when two passengers were five minutes late to the dock, based on the ships departure. They certainly failed to notice that passengers were due back aboard 30 minutes ahead of the ship’s sailing. These two were called on the page system many times before we departed and the gangway was not pulled up until a couple minutes after departure time.
Starting with Cozumel the weather was quite nice. I watched as many passengers headed off on excursions while a small number of us went shopping on our own. There was no need to go on a shopping excursion as all the main shops are right along the main drag with many right at the pier based shopping center. On this day we were at the dock closest to town which meant we had a walkway to cross the street which puts everyone on the land side of the main drag. Seeing and talking to other cruisers everyone was having a great time. Nobody seemed to be staggering back to the ship so I suppose it’s not the party too hard crowd aboard this week.
Belize city is always a nice stop. I don’t really like the tender service because they often make a big push to be given a tip for providing a ride to the dock from the ship, for which the cruise line pays them already. On the way to shore we got the big push for tips, however on the way out nothing was said. Funny thing though, on the way back they were not operating according to the stated 30 minute intervals, but that seems to have been the tender operator not Norwegian behind the long delay. I suspect the tender service is one reason the line invested in a private island here so they can cut out the cost and also some of the complaints I’m sure they’ve heard about the tender operator. (In Grand Cayman it’s a much nicer tender service that hauls folks to the shore.)
Again in Belize City we shopped. We were on a mission to find a shop my wife used last year for a ring so we could get an additional custom sized stone for it. Never did find the shop in Cozumel, or Belize City. For that matter we had no luck in Roatan either. Because the port area is very small it didn’t take too long to shop. I skipped the temptation of going in the chocolate shop this time because although very good the bars are so big, and fairly expensive as well. Again when chatting with fellow cruisers everyone seemed content with their choice of shopping or excursions. I suppose the post Spring Break cruise crowd is more easily pleased than the Spring Break crowd.
Roatan, our final port of call was again one where many of the passengers went on shore excursions. I’ve done that before having a great time on the zip line, see my zip line video, but this time just shopped. We had fun and ended up with a t-shirt from grandma for my daughter and I picked up a new swimsuit for myself. Again chatting with fellow passengers brought great news of fun on the excursions. Roatan and Belize City will begin over the next few weeks to see fewer and fewer ships each week as the seasonal ships begin to reposition to Europe and Alaska.
Our days at sea were nice as we sailed home. There were more clouds on our second sea day, but then again we were sailing into stormy weather back in the Houston area. Outdoor activities were well attended by many of the cruisers. The buffet was pretty full up at lunch time with those out and about enjoying their time on the ship at sea. Many one time events occurred on the ship during these two days as well, such as the often held ask the captain session. There were plenty of food demonstrations and bar demonstrations all for entertainment purposes.
Overall the trip was fairly smooth sailing back to Houston from the Caribbean. This time of year it can end up calm or quite nasty weather depending on the day and when/if a cold front has come thru the area. Fortunately, no cold fronts were messing with the cruise this time. I can’t say I’ve had that kind of luck every trip though. The nicer sea conditions do seem to lend themselves to a more enjoyable trip for all of the passengers.
One of the exciting activities for someone like me who has lots of sea days is watching the other cargo and petrochemical ships sail by. Of course the closer we get to the USA we start to see more offshore oilfield operations including floaters, drill ships, and offshore supply boats from assorted companies. Having worked on both the boats and floaters I enjoy seeing them again so many years later. It is a highlight of the departure evening and last day heading back to the Houston area on cruises across the Gulf of Mexico.