Thursday, October 26, 2006

Back from a week at sea...

Okay, sorry for the lengthy delay between posts. The cruise ended last Saturday, but I've been busy since then (it's amazing how many tasks pile up when you've been away from home for over a month) and haven't had the chance to write until now. (The fact that Blogger's servers have been down for maintenance for much of the past couple of days hasn't helped, either.)

Anyway, our week aboard the Norwegian Dream was okay. Not horrible, but not spectacular, either. I think Lori and I both came to the conclusion over the course of the trip that being stuck on a big boat with 2,000 other people for a whole week just isn't the most exciting thing in the world after all.

To be fair, neither Lori nor myself (nor my parents, for that matter) really gave much thought to the possible problems that might befall a two-year-old on his first cruise and trip to Mexico. Saturday night, the seas in the Gulf of Mexico were very choppy. Kirby (like many other people on the boat, apparently; thankfully Lori and I took our Dramamine) got seasick and vomited all over Lori during dinner, which was not the nicest way to start a vacation. The seas weren't much smoother on Sunday, and Kirby was still vomiting and miserable. Lori finally had to take him down to the ship's infirmary to get some children's anti-nausea medication for him, and after that he seemed much better (it also helped that, for the rest of the week, the seas were generally much calmer). However, somewhere along the way Kirby picked up an intestinal ailment which caused him a severe (and rather messy) bout of diarrhea. Yuck! Kirby's perfectly fine now, and when we hasn't sick he did seem to be enjoying himself (there were toddler-oriented activities available on the ship that he could particpate in), but the amount of time we spent taking care of Kirby when he was not well certainly interfered with our overall enjoyment of the cruise.

I thought that the food, which was included in the price of the cruise, was very good. Norwegian's "Freestyle Cruising" arrangement means that nobody is assigned a "sitting time" to eat dinner; this was good in that we could eat whenever we felt like it but bad in that there was often a wait to get into certain restaurants. Drinks were rather expensive, but I imagine this is true for all cruises because that's where the money is made. On port-of-call days I managed to get around this by having my fill of beer on shore, where it was much less expensive. Otherwise, I was forced to pay $6 every time I wanted a Heineken or a Fosters. I also thought it was really lame that they didn't even serve free drinks in the on-board casino!

There was a variety of on-board activities and entertainment, but much of it seemed to be geared to seniors (which made sense, given that most of the passengers were of this age group) or to gamblers (there were daily bingo games in the lounge and nightly poker tournaments in the casino) and little of it appealed to Lori or myself. The magic show we watched one night was okay if you're still impressed by ossified stage standards such as the linking ring trick, the restored rope trick or the metamorphosis trick.

As for the three ports-of-call; I found Progreso (on the northern shore of the Yucatan Penninsula) to be the nicest. It was small, sunny and not "over-touristified" like other Yucatan beaches such as Cancun. Cozumel, on the other hand, was heavily touristified but still enjoyable; the five of us spent a day at the beach there and the white sands and blue waters of the "Mayan Riviera" really are hard to beat for their beauty. The third port-of-call, Belize City, was dirty, impoverished and rather unimpressive (I did, however, like the local Belikin Beer).

Some "experienced" passengers we spoke to were critical of the Norwegian Dream in relation to other newer, larger and more opulent vessels that they had been on. Having never been on a previous cruise, I had no frame of reference to go by, but I did get the sense that the ship had seen better days. Nevertheless, it was clean and the staff were prompt and friendly. Some people we spoke with said that they thought the staterooms were larger than on other ships, but Lori and I still found ours impossibly small (especially since much of the available space was taken up by Kirby's crib).

The last two days of the cruise were spent slowly crossing the Gulf of Mexico and were really rather boring. I slept for much of the time because there really wasn't much else to do. The ship docked at the Barbour's Cut Terminal (which is run by the Port of Houston Authority but is technically within the municipal limits of Morgan's Point) early Saturday morning, but it took several hours before we were finally allowed off. Fortunately, we arrived early enough such that we still had time to go home, drop off our luggage, and head out to Robertson Stadium for the afternoon tailgate and football game (where the Coogs snapped a three-game losing streak with a much-needed 34-17 win over UTEP).

I'm sure some people think that cruising is the greatest thing in the world. There were probably people aboard that ship that never bothered to get off the boat at even one of the ports-of-call. But I guess I'm just not one of those people. I just didn't experience any great sense of enjoyment from "being at sea" for the week. Lori wasn't too impressed, either. In fact, I think that, after waiting so long for what was supposed to be her big vacation of the year, she came away rather disappointed by the experience.

This is not to say that Lori and I will never take another cruise again in our lives. Nor is this to say that the cruise was a excruciatingly miserable experience, because it was not. But I think we've decided that we'd just prefer to make the two-hour flight to Mexico, spend a week on the beach, and make the two-hour flight back when the week's over. For us, the more important aspect of vacation travel is the destination, rather than the trip itself.

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