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dave.s

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  1. My wife and I are booked on the same cruise. Aside from COVID concerns on board, I'm wondering how the itinerary will be impacted by COVID travel restrictions on the islands. We picked this particular cruise for its itinerary. We canceled an NCL cruise we were planning to take in Dec 2017 because the entire itinerary changed, due to damage from hurricanes Irma and Maria. We have until Sept 11 to cancel without penalty, so we'll play it by ear. We live in south FL so we don't have to deal with flights.
  2. Not sure about Go Karts or Laser Tag, but you can make reservations for the comedy shows ahead of time, either online or using the app. However, you won’t know which comics are performing at various times until you’re on board, and even then the app only shows you the schedule for the next 24 hours or so. There are also touchscreens around the ship where you cab make reservations; I don’t know if they show who’s performing throughout the cruise.
  3. We were also taxed on the days we visited San Juan and Tortola, but not St. Thomas or the at sea days.
  4. Here's what it says in the Premium Beverage Package Terms & Conditions: "A 20% gratuity and beverage service charge will be added to all package purchases; your check may reflect applicable VAT and/or taxes for certain ports or itineraries." I don't recall getting charged for taxes on previous NCL cruises with the beverage package. The charges were pretty small. For example, when we had lunch in the Taste MDR on embarkation day, we were charged $1.44 total for two glasses of wine.
  5. My wife and I sailed on the week-long December 8 NCL Encore Eastern Caribbean cruise, roundtrip from Miami, with visits to San Juan, St. Thomas, and Tortola. This was only the third regular sailing of the Encore, so everything on the ship looked brand new. We've done many cruises before, several on NCL, and Encore was the largest ship we've ever been on. I'm not writing a full review, but I wanted to share some notes and impressions from the cruise. I also want to thank BirdTravels for their extremely helpful and detailed review of the first Encore sailing (https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2712544-birdtravels-on-the-inaugural-voyage-of-the-encore-to-the-eastern-caribbean). EMBARKATION We arrived at the terminal at around 11:20am. Our eDocs said to check in at Terminal C, but it was actually Terminal B (same thing happened to BirdTravels). Check in was fairly quick. After check in, we had to wait about 20 minutes in the boarding lounge (which was full) for our group number to be called. Initially the group numbers were called consecutively, but then they started skipping numbers. Unlike most cruises, the photographers weren't really making an effort to get people to stop for photos on the way into the boarding lounge, and it seemed most people didn't. Note that you can't bring your own bottled water onboard, and while you can bring wine, they'll charge $15 per bottle no matter where you plan to drink it. After we boarded, we first went to check on a Cagney's reservation that had been requested but not confirmed (they had the reservation). Staterooms weren't ready yet, so we went to the Taste MDR for lunch and then walked around the ship. By 2:00pm they still hadn't announced that the rooms were ready, so we decided to stop by our room anyway and it was ready (if they ever announced that rooms were ready, we didn't hear it). We had two pieces of luggage -- the first was delivered around 3:10pm, the second a short time later. The mandatory mustering was at 3:30pm. No life jackets required -- they don't even provide them in the room. They scanned cruise cards so there was no roll call. STATEROOM We were in an aft-facing balcony room, 15280. The room was very nice, but narrow, with the bed next to the balcony and only about 18 inches of space between the foot of the bed and the wall. There were no drawers anywhere except two under the large sofa (both full of bedding), but lots of shelves, mostly small. The closet had a good amount of hanging space and lots of hangers (which rattled a lot when the ship was moving). There was a small mini-safe, too small for an iPad unless you leaned it against the back wall. There was no desk chair, just an ottoman that doubles as a coffee table. There's a large "Smart TV" that provides access to a limited number of TV channels as well as access to ship information and your onboard account. The bathroom was nice, large for a cruise ship, with a glass shower enclosure with a handheld showerhead (no tub), and lots of storage. The balcony was a good size, with two reclining chairs and a small table, and private. The first morning of the cruise we found shattered glass all over the balcony; someone must have dropped a glass from above, but the only open space above us was the Laser Tag area 3 decks up and Speedway above that, so we don't know where the glass came from. The bed was comfortable, and the AC worked well. I slept on the side of the bed next to the balcony, and if I had to get up in the middle of the night, it was a bit challenging to get around the bed, especially in the dark. The sound insulation between staterooms was not too good, and one of our neighbors liked to sing, even at night (we had to ask him to stop). When the ship was moving, there was a lot of rocking/vibration, noticeable everywhere but especially in our room. When we were trying to sleep, my wife and I joked that it felt like there was another couple in bed with us going at it enthusiastically, but that's what it actually felt like. It seemed to improve for the last half of the cruise, so I'm guessing there might have been an issue with the stabilizers (the seas weren't particularly rough). FOOD AND DRINK There are many dining options on the Encore, but most of the interesting restaurants are specialty restaurants that charge extra. We had Specialty Dining Package for 3 meals (a free perk) which we used at Los Lobos, Cagney's, and the Food Republic. Except for one of the items we had at Food Republic (cod skewers), all the meals were very good, though service at Los Lobos was a bit slow. Food Republic provides tablets at each table that you use to browse the food and drink offerings and order food (can't order drinks via the tablet) -- the offerings were a bit different from those on the paper menu shown in BirdTravels' review. I made online reservations for Los Lobos and Food Republic a few weeks before the cruise, but Cagney's reservations were no longer available by then; my NCL cruise consultant requested a reservation for us, but as I mentioned earlier it wasn't confirmed so we had to check on it after boarding. We had other dinners and a couple of lunches in the MDR's, once in the larger Manhattan, and the rest in the smaller Taste and Savor (all 3 have the same menu). Taste and Savor are pretty much indistinguishable from one another. On the at-sea days, we grabbed a light lunch in the Observation Lounge before heading out to the pool, which was quick. We had breakfast delivered to our stateroom each morning except the last and ate on the balcony (except once when it was too sunny out there). Breakfast was delivered 10-15 minutes earlier than requested a few times, but on time the other days; oddly they only brought one napkin each morning. The food outside of the specialty restaurants was mostly pretty good. We grabbed some afternoon snacks one day in the Garden Cafe buffet, but didn't eat any meals there; we did walk through it a couple of times, and they had a good variety of offerings. We also had the Premium Beverage Package (another free perk), which includes alcoholic beverages up to $15. This covered all the liquor that we like to drink, but there was a limited selection of wines by the glass that were under $15. Unlike the more expensive Premium Plus package, our package didn't include bottled water, but we bought a water package of 12 half-liter bottles for about $15 (plus tax and service charge). Note that taxes on alcoholic beverages are not included in the Premium package, so there is a small charge for each drink. The bar we visited most often was the A-List, between Los Lobos and Cagney's. We also tried Mixx (between Taste and Savor) a couple of times, and the Observation Lounge once when WT Greer was playing there. We tried the Maltings whiskey bar once briefly, but people kept on going through the outside door coming from or going to the cigar bar outside; every time the door opened there would be a huge wind gust in the bar (and you could smell the cigar smoke). ENTERTAINMENT We saw a few shows onboard: Choir of Man, Kinky Boots, and the Beatles tribute band Yesterday when they played in the Encore theater. Choir of Man was awesome, the best show we've ever seen on a cruise by far. Kinky Boots, which we saw the next night, was very good too, but not quite as good; I think we would have enjoyed it more if we had seen it first. The band Yesterday was very good, except their "young Beatles" wigs didn't quite work on men their age. Both Choir or Man and Kinky Boots required reservations, which we made online before the cruise (they sold out while we were on board), but there was a standby line for people without reservations. The Yesterday performance didn't require reservations, and that band also performed several nights at the Cavern Club. We wanted to see one or more of the comedy shows, but when I tried to make reservations shortly before the cruise, the only available times conflicted with other plans we had made, and all of those shows sold out before the end of the first day. I don't know if there was a standby line, but the Social Comedy and Nightclub where the shows were held is a pretty small venue. I was a bit disappointed that you had to make reservations for most of the shows, and couldn't be at all spontaneous. The only musicians we heard at various times onboard were the Temperature Band, duo Phil & Keysha, and pianist/vocalist WT Greer. They were all pretty good (most of the time). There were other musicians onboard but we never ran across them. INTERNET AND WIFI One the free perks we received was the 120-minute internet package, but I paid for an upgrade to Premium Unlimited Internet package, because that was the only one that supported the use of a VPN client (I always use a VPN client on a public WiFi network). The WiFi was pretty slow, which is typical for cruise ships, and I had limited success getting a VPN connection (I use NordVPN from my iPhone and iPad). NCL has a new mobile app (which apparently replaces the old iConcierge app), which allows you to make reservations and purchase packages both before and during the cruise, and gives you access to information about onboard activities and lets you manage your internet connection while on board. Even if you don't purchase the internet package, you can use the app to connect to the ship's WiFi and do anything except access the internet (although they were providing access to Cruise Critic even without the package). The internet package is supposed to only work on one device at a time, and if you try to connect from a second device, you'll be asked if you want to disconnect from the first device before you can connect the second (I was switching between an iPad and iPhone). I accidentally discovered a "loophole": when you connect the second device, if the first device is powered off, you'll still get the prompt to disconnect it, but when you turn that first device on again, both devices will have access to the internet. That's how it worked for me -- your mileage may vary. PORTS There were 3 ports of call: San Juan (5pm - midnight), St. Thomas (8am - 6pm), and Tortola (8am - 5pm). The San Juan stop was on the second full day of the cruise, and the others were the next two days. We didn't book any shore excursions. In San Juan, we had dinner at the Punto de Vista Rooftop Restaurant. We shared empanadas and each had Mofongo, which was great but way more food than we could eat. Unfortunately the outside rooftop seating area was closed due to intermittent rain. The restaurant doesn't take reservations -- we went as soon as we got off the ship and were seated right away, but by the time we left there was a long waiting list. After dinner, we walked around Old San Juan for a little while before returning to the ship. Even though the shops were located in old historic buildings, most of them were selling the typical cruise port touristy merchandise. In St. Thomas we went to Magens Bay, which we always do when we stop here, but it was mobbed and more crowded than we've ever seen it before. Next time we'll have to try another beach. In Tortola, we went to Brewers Bay, which is one of the options if you want to snorkel from the beach, and less crowded than the more popular Cane Garden Bay. Brewers was uncrowded but not empty. The beach bar (Nicole’s) had limited food selections, drinks, and rental chairs ($5 per lounger); the loungers were stacked on the beach and many people seemed unaware that you had to pay for them and were just taking them (and no one seemed to care). The beach was very rocky, but not in the water. The snorkeling is on the left side of the beach (facing the water). The water was a bit murky until you got about 100 feet or so from the beach; there was lots of coral (all bleached), and although the fish were a bit sparse, there were lots of them, some pretty large. We had hot dogs and fries for lunch, which were pretty good, and rum punches, which were not as good but strong. No credit cards accepted, so bring cash. POOL DECK There were 4 at-sea days, including the day we stopped at San Juan at 5pm. We spent some time on the upper pool deck (17) on the first 3 days. The lounges are packed together so tightly there's literally no space between them, and there aren't many lounges in the sun. We always went around lunch time and were able to find a couple of lounges, but it was just too crowded (and very noisy depending on where you ended up). A lot of deck space is used up by the water slides, Laser Tag, Speedway, etc. If we do another cruise on Encore or a similar ship, we might spring for Vibe Beach passes. DISEMBARKATION We chose the Self Assist disembarkation option, which gets you off the ship first but you have to carry all your stuff off with you. Everyone could choose whichever disembarkation group they wanted -- the groups weren't assigned as they usually are. The Self Assist group was scheduled to disembark at 7:30am, but they started letting us off at 7:10. It was a breeze. Customs didn't ask about purchases and there no forms to fill out. We were through Customs and outside by 7:20. We live in south FL so we took an Uber home. IN CONCLUSION We enjoyed the cruise overall, and would definitely consider sailing on Encore again (but a different itinerary). The only things we were unhappy with were the crowded pool decks and the fact that you had to make reservations for entertainment. We took advantage of the CruiseNext promotion they were offering onboard, so we're already looking forward to our next cruise!
  6. My wife and I sailed on the August 31 Nieuw Amsterdam Alaska cruise, roundtrip from Vancouver with visits to Tracy Arm Inlet/Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, and Ketchikan. I'm not writing a full review, but I wanted to share some notes and impressions from the cruise. This was not our first Alaska cruise. My wife and I took one on Princess in 2002, and I did two previous Alaska cruises in the 90's, one on Celebrity and the other on RCCL. I've been on many cruises but only once on HAL, and that was almost 25 years ago. It was the first time on HAL for my wife. EMBARKATION We took a taxi to Canada Place from our hotel, arriving around 11:00. The taxi waited in a long line in the parking garage to drop us off -- we should have left the taxi outside and walked. Embarkation was very quick and organized, with lots of staff directing people. We were able to board and go to our stateroom immediately after checking in and clearing Customs, so we were in our room before noon. The MDR was open for lunch from 12:00-1:30, so we ate there. Our luggage was delivered to our cabin around 2:00. CABIN We were in an aft-facing verandah cabin, #5191. The cabin was nice, with plenty of storage, a decent size bathroom with a tub/shower and handheld showerhead. Some of the space for hanging items was short, but I discovered you could fold the shelves up to make more space. Our cabin steward Jalu ("Lu") was very good. The balcony had two chairs with separate foot rests and a small table. The TV didn't appear to work correctly at first, but that's because you have to watch the entire safety presentation (just a few minutes) before you can access the menu. There was a limited selection of live TV, but we only watched the news once in a while to keep tabs on Hurricane Dorian (we live in FL). DINING Prior to the cruise, I made reservations in three of the specialty restaurants, Canaletto (first night), Pinnacle Grill (mid week), and Tamarind (last night). Once on board, we decided to try Tamarind on the second night. We had our other dinners and lunches in the MDR. Pinnacle and Tamarind were very good (Tamarind was better the first time), Canaletto was good but not great, and the MDR was pretty good. On Gala Nights people were not as dressed up as I've seen on other cruises. We had breakfast delivered to room each morning (including the last morning, which most cruise lines don't do). There's a limited selection of hot and cold items. A couple of mornings the order wasn't quite right, and a couple of times breakfast came either early or late, but overall it was fine. As with every other cruise line I've been on, there's an order tag you can hang outside your door before you go to bed. ENTERTAINMENT By far the best entertainment was the band at B.B. King's Blues Club, and we enjoyed that almost every night. We sat at the bar and got to know the bartenders (Jeffrey, Alan, and Luis). One night we listened to the dual piano players. They were good, and drew big crowds, but they didn't really play off each other like we've seen at other dueling piano shows. We were planning to listen to them a second time, but there were no seats available so went to B.B. King's instead. The only Mainstage shows we saw were the illusionist Leon Etienne and comedian Lamont Ferguson (two different shows). They were both good (the illusionist was better). My wife "volunteered" at Leon's show. They did a combined show the last night but we didn't go. Unlike some other ships we've been on, you didn't really have to get to the theater too early -- there were plenty of open seats up front even when the shows started. Bar service in the theater was more limited than what we've experienced elsewhere, and non-existent once the show started. The Orange Party was held at B.B. King's one night. Most people did not wear orange. The only differences between that night and other nights at the club were that the cruise director and some other crew members were dancing, the bartenders were wearing orange hats, and they were serving snacks. INTERNET AND WIFI I purchased the Premium Internet package before the cruise, which you can use on multiple devices but only one at a time. The service was pretty slow and unreliable, definitely not worth the money. I also signed up for AT&T's 30-day Cruise Plan, which gave me 50 minutes of voice and unlimited text on the ship's cellular (no data). They have a more expensive plan that provides some data and unlimited voice. One of the reasons I did this is because we spent a few days in Vancouver before the cruise, and I could use the Cruise Plan there (Canada is not included in my home wireless area). The HAL Navigator mobile app was useful. You don't need to buy an internet plan to connect to the ship's WiFi, and you can view the schedule of events, restaurant menus. and make dinner reservations (for specialty restaurants). You can also send messages other people who have the app (I didn't try that). If you do buy an internet plan, you can use the app to connect. I use NordVPN whenever I'm on a public WiFi network, and I limited success getting it to work with the ship's internet. The Navigator app doesn't work correctly when you're connected to a VPN. SHORE EXCURSIONS AND PORTS The only shore excursion I purchased from HAL (before the cruise) was the Tracy Arm Inlet tour. The ship passes through Tracy Arm Inlet on the way to Juneau, so you board the tour boat directly from the ship in the morning, and then board the ship directly from the tour boat that afternoon in Juneau. Overall we enjoyed the tour and are glad we did it, though it was expensive. We were supposed to meet at 8:15 in the theater and leave at 8:30 -- we didn't actually start leaving the ship until 9:15 (we could have used the extra sleep :-). We did two other excursions with local operations in Skagway and Juneau. Skagway and Juneau have become incredibly touristy since our last visit, with many blocks of nothing but jewelry stores and other typical tourist traps. Ketchikan had a bit more character, and the tourism was more integrated and not as in your face as the other ports. Glacier Bay was awesome. We spent quite a bit of time there, and they brought a naturalist on board to narrate. DISEMBARKATION We chose one of the early disembarkation groups (but not self-disembarkation) that was supposed to disembark around 8:30. Our flight from Vancouver was at around 12:30. We heard our group called a few minutes after 8:00, but we weren't quite ready to leave. When we arrived at the disembarkation point on the ship at around 8:20, we were told we were mistaken, and our group hadn't been called yet (other passengers verified that they also heard our group being called). Once they called our group (again), we got off the ship, claimed our bags, and cleared customs pretty quickly. There was no wait for taxi, and the ride to the airport was uneventful. The lines at the airport were short, and we were at our gate an hour or less after we disembarked. There was only one other ship disembarking, the Golden Princess, so that's probably why it went quickly. CONCLUSION We were happy overall with HAL and the cruise, and we definitely try HAL again. We did both get sick (colds or flu) a few days into the cruise, but this didn't appear to be a widespread problem, and we were still able to enjoy our trip.
  7. That’s unusual. Like HAL, NCL and Royal Caribbean require everyone of drinking age in the same room to buy the same package. I’ve sailed Princess too but I might not have purchased their package.
  8. All the other cruise lines I’ve used have the same requirement. They don’t want one person using their package to get “free” drinks for someone else (which would happen).
  9. The beverage package is expensive on all the cruise lines I’ve tried, and HAL is no worse than the others. At least the HAL package includes bottled water — some of the others don’t.
  10. How old is that bar menu? I didn’t see a date.
  11. I should add that I’ve also purchased the on-board premium internet plan for data access when at sea. On HAL that plan is per cabin, and though it supports multiple devices, only one can be connected at a time. I have no experience with HAL’s internet service, but I’ve never had good internet service on any cruise line so I’m not expecting much.
  12. I posted the following reply in another thread about cell plans, but it’s relevant here too if you’re an AT&T customer: The AT&T cruise plan has two options, both good for 30 days: $100 for 200MB of data and unlimited talk/text, or $50 for 50 minutes of talk and unlimited text (no data). One good feature of this plan for Alaska cruises is that you can use the service on land in Canada. I purchased the $50 option for my upcoming cruise because my service doesn’t include Canada. I also have the International Day Pass option but that doesn’t work at sea. Details of the AT&T plans here: https://www.att.com/offers/international-plans/cruise-packages.html
  13. The AT&T cruise plan has two options, both good for 30 days: $100 for 200MB of data and unlimited talk/text, or $50 for 50 minutes of talk and unlimited text (no data). One good feature of this plan for Alaska cruises is that you can use the service on land in Canada. I purchased the $50 option for my upcoming cruise because my service doesn’t include Canada. I also have the International Day Pass option but that doesn’t work at sea. Details of the AT&T plans here: https://www.att.com/offers/international-plans/cruise-packages.html
  14. I just returned from a 5-night Western Caribbean cruise on Infinity. I purchased the "XCelerate High-Speed Internet" package online before the trip, which I think was $143 for a single device (you can use multiple devices, but only one at a time). It was awful, and I wouldn't recommend paying for it. I purchased a package mainly because I wanted to be reachable, and I thought WiFi calling would be a better alternative to paying for shipboard cellular service. I also wanted to be able to access the web and e-mail. The XCelerate service is described as high speed and capable of supporting streaming video, but my experience was nothing like that. I found the connection dropped frequently, and when I was connected it was consistently very slow, making it very challenging to surf the web or even send/receive e-mail. The one time I tried to make a call over WiFi I was unable to. If I knew how bad it would be, I would have just paid for one of the AT&T cruise packages, which would have probably been less expensive even if I exceeded the data allowances, and would have been more reliable. If your cell provider has a similar plan, I suggest you check it out before buying the Celebrity internet package.
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