After spending days and weeks entrenched in school activities and long days working at the office, my husband and I finally agreed it was time for a vacation last April. In almost 10 years of being married, we had never been on a real vacation together kid-free.
Once our moms (thank God for grandmas) agreed to watch our little adventure making daughters, it was pretty clear we had to make the most of this once in a life-time trip. So, we spent a lot of time trying to decide on what the perfect trip looked like. Since we both like to travel, but also wanted to experience a little adventure, a cruise seemed perfect. Where did we land (or sail)? A cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines on the great Getaway. Cruising from Miami to Honduras, Belize and then Mexico, we couldn’t wait for the big adventure.
To save money and since we didn’t have kids and loads of baggage, we decide to go with the budget airline Allegiant Air and took a flight from Charlotte to Orlando. With tickets at $41 a piece, we had nothing to lose. Once we reached Orlando, we rented a fun, red convertible and took our time driving to Miami where we stayed the night at the Hyatt Regency Miami. If we had the kids with us, we probably would have found a direct flight and skipped the convertible. Maybe we should have regardless, as we both ended up sunburned before the cruise even started.
Port of Miami
The next morning, we headed to the Port of Miami after turning in our rental car and catching Avis shuttle with other cruise-goers. Our ship, the NCL Getaway, wasn’t scheduled to depart until 4 p.m., but we arrived at the port around 10 a.m. It was filled with people hustling and bustling. Immediately after getting off the shuttle, the porters take your luggage and tag it. For slow to trust travelers like myself, it felt very odd handing over my luggage.
Once we did, we made our way to the security area where there were about 40 or so people in front of us. Travel tip #1-make sure you use the restroom before you get to the port, because it was tough to find restrooms outside of security. One of the Port of Miami security attendants was super friendly and let me bypass security for a few minutes to use the restroom despite death stares from cruisers standing by.
Once they open the gates, checking in was very fast and pretty organized. All the NCL staff members were super friendly. Next, we were issued a boarding card and waited for our group to be called. Also, they served water/drinks at a nearby table in the waiting area.
Boarding the NCL Getaway
Boarding and getting on to the ship was actually a very quick process. Many were gathered at the entry ways welcoming us. I had done by research in advance and immediately ran to guest services to wait in line to purchase a pass to Club Vibe and was lucky enough to get passes for us both. Rob’s first stop was the Atrium bar while I waited in line.
There’s a ton of time to kill while you’re waiting for luggage to be delivered to your room, so why not explore? I did so much research in advance, I had extra clothes and others things in my carry-on, so we took our time walking around and ate a quick lunch and had a beer at O’Sheehan’s. It was nice and casual- think bar and games and a more laid back vibe.
Then, we started to explore the ship. From the casino, to the waterslides, to the restaurants, to the spa to the ropes course, there was so much to see.
Our luggage was delivered by 1 p.m. We booked a Spa Balcony Cabin, so I was most excited to see what I would have access to in the spa area, but the cabin was also better than I expected. The balcony gave us a wonderful view, the bathroom was a decent size, and our steward was very nice.
On a side note, it became our habit every morning to step out onto the balcony and look at the world around us. I highly recommend a room with a balcony.
Facetiming with our kids
We visited the internet cafe and purchased a NCL premium internet package that would allow us to Facetime with our kids back home while at sea. Being away on vacation was new for us, so we wanted to check-in every morning and night.
For your reference, Facetime was up and down during our trip at sea and we had the best internet package. Sometimes we connected with them just fine for bedtime prayers and virtual hugs, but other times we could not make it work. Every time we were at a port, I also used our Verizon International plan and called or texted. Make sure you call your wireless carrier a few weeks out to add this for the designated countries you’ll be in.
I have to say that every restaurant we ate at and every drink we tasted was overwhelmingly good (Rob’s favorite was the Bahama Mama). Daily we looked forward to heading to the Garden Cafe buffet for meals and snacks.
The omelette station was a regular stop for us every morning. We also really enjoyed the grilled tomatoes. Also, some evenings, they would have a crepe station open.
Although we ate at a few of the specialty restaurants, the buffet was still one of my favorite places to eat because of all of the choices available. We decided if we ever cruise on NCL again, we probably won’t purchase the special dinner package, but the unlimited drink package was well worth it.
One thing I do wish was that great coffee and espresso drinks were included in our package. In the main atrium, there is a coffee shop I visited every morning and paid a little extra for good espresso and lattes.
First stop- Roatan, Honduras
Since I’m such a geek for research, I explored all sort of options for excursions. We decided to book our first excursion through Shore Excursioneer. It was much cheaper than the options through the ship. We selected the Bananarama Dive & Beach Resort excursion. It included travel out to the resort and use of the facilities there.
Another travel tip, be prepared for mass chaos when you leave the ship in Roatan. There were so many vendors and different people trying to make a buck and sell excursions and little to no room for cars to come and go, it was disorganized and confusing. We also had to wait a while for the car to pick us up once we found our host. Once we did get in the van (and felt the AC), it was smooth sailing.
At Bananarama, we decided to pay extra to parasail- we had never done this before! Between my lack of trust in our guides (one who couldn’t have been older than 9 or 10) and Rob’s fear of large bodies of water, we were quite the sight! But, I am so glad we did this. Also, it was a lot cheaper in Honduras than it was at other ports along the way.
Once back on the ship, we spent time cleaning up, relaxing and exploring more of what the ship had to offer.
I mentioned earlier we purchased the Club Vibe pass and it was worth it to us because many times the hot tubs, pools and chairs were very crowded. Most of the time, Vibe had a very small crowd. It felt very VIP and the best part of it was that we made some great friends at Vibe and had the chance to hang out with them during the rest of the cruise.
Next stop- Harvest Caye, Belize
It’s really important to remember that Harvest Caye is owned by NCL. So, the shops, the food, the activities are all very expensive and don’t seem to display the authenticity I’m sure Belize has to offer locally, outside of this protected area. The resort style area was beautiful, but a little too commercialized and artificial for my liking. We spent some time on the beach, visited the pool and swim-up bar (note a bucket of Heineken was super expensive) and walked through the butterfly garden and shops, but by 1 p.m., we were ready to get back on the ship.
This is actually travel tip #3, board early and enjoy an empty relaxing ship with no lines and plenty of food. We ate lunch at no cost. For a good hour, we went down the waterslides as many times as we could with no lines. Then, I headed to the spa and Rob headed to Club Vibe.
Dune Buggies in Costa Maya, Mexico
I was most looking forward to the one excursion we booked through NCL. The Dune Buggy tour was a blast, but definitely bumping, so hold on to your hats. They took us by the countryside, along the ocean. We passed small beach houses, a town center and resorts. We were in a buggy with another couple we met in Vibe and each of us took a turn driving. Rob and our friends purchased a drink out of a fresh coconut by the side of the road from some locals for $1. I couldn’t bring myself to try it, but Rob says it was worth the dollar.
I have to say that I was very surprised by how empty and run-down parts of Costa Maya were. We had a good experience, but it took us a while to get out of a sort of empty, ghost town feeling area. There’s a lot of development, but also some pretty run down areas.
Also, they took us to an area where we had two hours to drink, eat and sit by the water. There were tourist tents/vendors set up selling goods. Tip #4, do not buy from these local vendors. In Cozumel, we found some of the same items for a quarter of the price. They bring you to an isolated area so you will shop and spend your money, don’t do it!
On our own in Cozumel
For our last stop, we decided we didn’t want to book any type of scheduled activity and ended up walking around Cozumel exploring and shopping. I broke out some of my Spanish skills when made a wrong turn and people were really friendly and directed us back to the main drag. Once we were finally back on track, we rented a moped and decided to cruise down the strip along the water.
We made it to Playa Mia Grand Beach Waterpark and had a great timing on the obstacle course. It felt a little like we were on an episode of Wipe Out. All was fun until Rob playfully pushed me into the water and I swallowed a bunch of salt water.
We were on a tight schedule, but the resort appeared to have a massive buffet. I’m not sure how good it was (or if it was safe to eat), but they had quiet the spread set-up outside.
We left the resort right before the rain hit. This brought an end to our fun, but it was time to wrap at that point and head back to turn in our moped.
We really enjoyed the freedom of exploring on our own and promised to do that on our next cruise.
On our way back, I was able to hop into a little store and grab a white shirt/top for NCL’s infamous “white hot” party. Cruising tip #5, don’t forget to pack something cute, a little more formal and most importantly white.
White Hot Party
By far, this one was of my favorite nights on the ship. After a few french martinis (tried for the first time on the Getaway and loved), we really had a great time jumping and dancing to the lit up, glowing stage. The combination of drinking, jumping and the boat swaying, for the first time on the trip, made me really nauseated. So, take your time, have fun and don’t jump in heels after a drink or two.
Final Night on the Getaway
We had a wonderful time our final night on the Getaway with the cruise buddies we met in Club Vibe, who were a blast to hang out with. We spent the last night at Howling at the Moon and had the best time. Before heading out, we did follow the directions to have our luggage packed and put outside of our door. We almost missed the deadline (they come by and pick up), so be sure when you are having fun your last night, you’re still paying attention to the clock.
Disembarking at Port of Miami
This had to be my least favorite part of the trip. All the fun is over, people are not cheery, and we stood in the longest line we’ve ever seen. Getting our luggage was very confusing and once we finally did, I heard many people saying other ports like Orlando are much more organized and coordinated when people are leaving.
We tried calling an Uber and we were unsuccessful. So, make sure you’e arranged transportation in advance versus leaving it to Uber.
Our girls were delighted to have us home and we brought them souvenirs from every stop along the way. Overall, our cruise was a fantastic experience and we can’t wait to go again. We have our 10 year anniversary coming up in January and we’ll be taking to the wild seas again, but this time on MSC. I’ll let you know how it goes!