Travel Stage: While staying in Palm City with family, we take a cruise to the Bahamas
Date Range: Jan 25 – 29, 2016
Summary: We leave the dogs with Tom’s parents and hop on a cruiseship for 4 tropical nights in the Bahamas! Oh, and did we mention it was all-inclusive?
We are firm believers in taking vacations, living it up, and splurging every now and then. However, we are also pretty frugal, and are always looking for the best deals possible. The idea of taking a cruise while we are in the middle of a tightly-budgeted adventure — that some may call an extended vacation in itself – may seem overindulgent. We had several (very good) reasons for doing this:
- We skipped our anniversary this year. We closed on our house the day after our 2nd wedding anniversary, so we didn’t do ANYTHING besides finish moving out. We decided that we would celebrate it later when things weren’t so hectic, and threw out the idea of a cruise since we were planning to be in Florida in a few months.
- We were in Florida. When you don’t have the added cost of airfare to get to the city and perhaps an overnight at a hotel, it reduces the total cost tremendously!
- Tom’s parents were in Florida. We had doggysitters! Ones that our dogs knew and loved! Scratch that cost and anxiety from the “reasons against” list.
- Last minute deals. Because of our flexibility – not having to coordinate vacation time off with an employer far in advance – we could snag some last minute deal and make it work. Which is what we did.
- Lots of boondocking that had kept our “Lodging” expenses low for the past 4 months. This meant we were way under budget, so we had a little room to splurge!
- It would be an ADVENTURE! Which is what this whole thing is about. Caitlin had never been on a cruise, and since we were this close to the Bahamas we should go see them.
The stars aligned, and we bought a cruise at the end of December for the end of January.
We bought a 4-night cruise to the Bahamas on Norwegian Cruise Line for a total of $677 through Costco Travel. That comes out to $84/person/night. Bonus: this cruise was one of the first of Norwegian’s all-inclusive beverage trials, where all beverages including alcohol (excluding top shelf) were complimentary!
Day 1 – Sailaway
Parking and Embarkation
We drove to the Port of Miami in the morning. We had signed up for an 11:30am boarding time, and the ship was to depart at 5:00pm. We decided to park right at the dock because we had read about some pretty horrendous stories about some of the available off-site parking lots. Many required you leave your keys with them, which we were definitely not comfortable with!
People reported dents, scrapes, and even broken windows. We also read that some of the shuttles to the port could make you late (for departure), or leave you waiting at the dock for hours after returning to Miami. We were not willing to chance ANY of these things to save a couple bucks. All in all, we decided to pay the $20/day for the convenient parking right next to our ship. Check in and loading was a relatively smooth process.
After going through airport-like security and filling out a questionnaire about our recent health status, we checked in and received our swipe cards, then proceeded to the seating area to wait for our loading group to be called. When it was, we boarded and were warmly greeted by some of the ship staff with music and fanfare. Waiting our turn to board the Norwegian Sky Everyone was directed through some of the ship’s main areas and past some vendors soliciting sign-ups and reservations.
Most of us still had our luggage with us, and since we had opted to board earlier it would be a few hours before our rooms were ready for us. There was a luggage drop-off area on the ship, but we chose to keep our luggage near so we could have access to all our things during the wait. We made our way to the Pool Deck, where the all-inclusive bars were already being frequented, and the buffet was open. The hot tub was already starting to fill and we aimed to join in! This was the reason we opted to board early – more time to enjoy the amenities!
Once our luggage was finally stored away in our small but quite clean and suitable stateroom, and the mandatory life jacket drill, we were ready to set sail!
We stood on the front deck to watch our departure out of the Port of Miami as the sun set. For Caitlin, the ship seemed huge! (Even though the ship we were on, the Norwegian Sky, is the smallest ship of the Norwegian fleet.) We were almost as tall as some of the skyscrapers on the Miami skyline, so it made for a great view of the sunset! That night we sat down at one of the fine dining restaurants included with our fare (there were other presumably finer restaurants that were not complimentary), and did so the rest of the week. We hit up the Variety Show at the theatre that introduced us to the very talented entertainment crew on board that would keep us highly entertained for the remainder of the trip.
Returning to our room, we discovered another daily amusement – our cabin steward made up towel animals every time he straightened our room!
Day 2 – Great Stirrup Cay
We awoke the next morning to the loud clanging sound of anchors being released into the water. While not the most pleasant awakening, we were excited for the day to come!
Norwegian has a private island in the Bahamas called Great Stirrup Cay. Not knowing quite what to expect, we packed up our beach and snorkel gear and made for the gangway. The cruise ship was anchored off shore (no port) and we were taking shuttle boats to shore. We got on to one of the first shuttles and made our way toward the island paradise.
This ended up being our favorite stop on our cruise. Why? The all-inclusiveness followed us to shore, our ship passengers and staff were the only ones there, and there were no locals trying to sell/rent us anything! There were LOTS of beach chairs to use, lot of beach space, and it was a beautiful day to just relax and enjoy the sun.
The free booze and food also came to shore with us, so you didn’t have to worry about spending and money. We brought our snorkel gear with us and enjoyed swimming around off the beach. The coral was nothing spectacular, but we still had fun. It looked as though the island had been seriously worked over to make it suited for cruise passenger visits as evidenced by the claw marks in the exposed coral and beach rock.
Day 3 – Nassau, Bahamas
We stepped off the boat the next day after our yummy buffet breakfast in the port of Nassau. We wanted to go for a walk and do a little bit of exploring. We immediately felt the pressure of the city, reaching out to us, trying to sell us anything and everything. In response, we just kept walking. We walked down the main street, past all the T-shirt shops, the jewelry shops, the souvenir shops. We walked until we found Junkanoo Beach. It wasn’t a spectacular beach, besides of course the spectacular water! It didn’t even look real. We couldn’t pass it up. We watched the sunset from the deck of the ship and prepared for another evening of wining, dining, and entertainment!
Dining with the Cruise Staff – All Questions Answered!
That evening we dined with a couple crew members and other passengers who had signed up for the dinner as well. We got to ask all the questions we had been guessing at thus far.
We learned that there is a whole other world below deck. For the estimated 2000 passengers on board there were 900 crew and we only see about a third of them. Most of them are from other countries – the Philippines and India are common. They live in cabins like ours. The higher-ups get private quarters, but most of the staff are 3 or 4 to a room and have shared bath facilities. They have their own mess halls, entertainment, shops, barbers (we heard you could get the best haircut ever down there), and more. Most employees work 18-month contracts, and you don’t get days off. When they go into port, some staff will leave the ship for a few hours, but some never even come above deck!
White Hot Party
The White Hot Party took place on the Pool Deck, with all the professional dancers and performer from the Entertainment staff pumping up the party! Everyone was wearing white so we glowed in the black light. The entertainers expertly ramped up the party and kept it going for hours! There was fog, lights, loud high-energy music, and LOTS of dancing.
Day 4 – Freeport, Grand Bahama
We awoke the next day in Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. Unlike Nassau, we were in a shipping port that was not within walking distance of town, and it was going to be a shuttle or taxi ride into town. We opted to stay aboard – we didn’t have any excursions planned or places to see, and the weather forecast called for rain in the afternoon.
Instead, we lounged by the pool for a few hours.
Then we hit the gym (made us feel a little better about the sugary drinks we were sipping by the pool!)
Then we hit up the complimentary sauna and steam rooms at the spa.
Then the rain started! It absolutely down-poured, and the Pool Deck which was not covered actually started flooding a bit! We found a lounge to hideaway in for some drinks and conversation with some other passengers before dinner. That night we had a fantastic singing and dancing show in the theatre, followed by a hilarious Quest Game where the audience has to find or perform ridiculous things in teams competing for…well, I don’t recall what they were doing it for.
Day 5 – Arrival back to Miami
…and don’t let the door hit you on the way out
We woke up to a note slid under our door about a $108 “Service Charge” that was automatically applied to our credit card, which I believe it said was for paying the staff. That was $13.50/person/night. This really ticked us off because we hadn’t seen this in any of the prior documentation.
While I received excellent service from all the staff, I believe it should be the company’s responsibility to compensate accordingly and have those charges reflected in the up-front cost vs. sneaking it in at the very end under the guise of it being “for the employees.” After our lovely week of fun in the sun – and us believing that we really got a good deal – this was a sour note to end on.
We took our time getting off the boat – leaving our cabin just 15 minutes before we had to be out, and then loading up on a generous breakfast at the buffet and eating it in the sun by the pool.
Looking back on the pictures, we are still very happy that we went, even if it did end up costing $108.12/person/night including the service charge and parking instead of the original $84. All-inclusive drinks were really nice, and though the ship was small and older, it was cozy and you could learn your way around pretty quickly. Overall we would recommend it, but factor in the service charge before you buy!
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