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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Cruise From New Orleans on Norwegian Dawn

by Paul Pakusch


A year ago I took two cruises on the Norwegian Dawn.  For the purposes of this report, I will combine the two.  The itinerary was New Orleans – Cozumel, Mexico – Roatan Island, Honduras – Harvest Caye, Belize – Costa Maya, Mexico – New Orleans.

Anytime I fly to meet a cruise ship, I always arrive a day early in order to avoid airline hassles.  In New Orleans we immersed ourselves in the carnivalesque culture that is Mardi Gras and its after-effects.  Mardi Gras was in full swing.  Amongst a raucous atmosphere of music, parades, drinking and gaudy displays of beads, I learned first-hand how pick-pockets work.  I felt an unusual pressure against me, one that I wouldn’t normally feel in a crowd. I fended off the culprit quickly enough that I didn’t lose anything except my false sense of security.  I never did see the person, however, as he or she disappeared into the crowd as quickly as I turned around.  We toured the various shops, sought out beignet, and feasted on gumbo.  

I spent an afternoon touring the National World War II Museum. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans is an expansive complex that focuses on the contribution made by the United States to Allied victory in World War II.  It is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.  You first enter the ticketing area in an atrium that displays a Supermarine Spitfire, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain, and a LCVP “Higgins Boat.”  Exhibits represent the amphibious landings in both the European and Pacific theatres of the War.  Once you purchase your ticket, you can participate in the Union Pacific Car to activate your “Dog Tag Experience.”  As you walk through the museum, use your dog tag to follow the personal experiences of a World War II veteran that was assigned to you.

The museum campus includes the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, showcasing the large artifacts of the war and exhibits on D-Day at Normandy, the Home Front and the Pacific; the Solomon Victory Theater, a 4D theater showing the exclusive Tom Hands production, Beyond All Boundaries; the Stage Door Canteen, where the music and entertainment of the “Greatest Generation” comes to life; the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion, where staff and volunteers restore artifacts in public view; The American Sector restaurant and Soda Shop, with onsite dining options; and the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, where exhibits and interactive experiences paint the picture of a nation mobilized for war.

I purchased tickets for Beyond All Boundaries and the Submarine Experience.  Beyond All Boundaries is a 4-D multi-media show on a large, panoramic screen with special effects.  The show covers the American experience in World War II, from the home front, to the bloody battles of Iwo Jima, Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, the fiery skies of Japan, and the horrors of the concentration camps.  There is plenty of archival footage mixed into the CGI graphics, and enough blood and gore to remind us that war is ugly.  I felt like this reminder is needed after the sensationalistic experience the show gives the audience.

The Submarine Experience is based on the actual combat undertaking of the USS Tang on its final mission.  The visitor walks into an interactive submarine exhibit that allows one to man the various stations of the vessel.  While adults and children alike spin wheels and push buttons, an audio track simulates the frantic discussion of crew members as they sight enemy ships, fire torpedoes, and ultimately sink as the final torpedo broaches and boomerangs back towards the sub.  Overhead, a 360-degree video shows the outside view as the sub surfaces amongst enemy ships, fires torpedoes at them, becomes a target of the ships’ bombs, and then gets hit by its own errant torpedo.  Nine men out of around 90 survived the sinking, only to become captured by the Japanese and remain POW’s until the end of the war.

The Norwegian Dawn entered service in 2002 and carries 2,340 passengers.  It underwent a modernizing refurbishment last year and has 11 restaurants and plenty of bars.

 My normal routine for any ship, as soon as possible after boarding, is to have lunch and then to tour the ship literally from top to bottom.  After touring the ship, there would be some time for relaxing in the cabin, and unpacking luggage if it was delivered yet.  Then came the required safety drill.  After that, head to the pool deck for the sail-away party and the first of my crazy dancing.  I love to jump into the line dancing and freestyle dancing.   Then back to the cabin to enjoy the view of the Mississippi River from the balcony.  We had the fun of making a live Facebook feed of the Louisiana marshes and watching the comments from well-wishing friends back home.

We enjoyed this late afternoon quiet time and then headed for dinner.  We had a group of 8 people meeting up for dinner.  We quickly determined we had a lively group and anticipated a week of fun and laughter together. 

Cozumel is old hat for me these days as I’ve been there six times.  It has the usual assortment of food and drink, souvenir and jewelry shops.  There’s no question that people buy jewelry on cruises, otherwise they wouldn’t keep selling it.  But jewelry is really not my cup of tea.  I prefer experiences.  We went on a snorkeling expedition and were able to see some interesting fish and underwater plant life.  Last year on a cruise to Cozumel, five of our group rented motor scooters and spent four hours riding around the island.

In Belize, we docked at Harvest Caye, a beautiful new and modern port modeled after similar resort islands that most of the cruise lines own these days. It opened in November, 2016.  It has an expansive pool area with swim-up pool bar; cabanas for rent; lounge chairs; a salt water lagoon for water sports; a large marina with a food and bar area; and a beachside indoor/outdoor restaurant featuring a scenic upper deck. 

We chose the zip line for our excursion.  We did not find this zip line to be as exciting as one taken a year ago in Honduras, which happened to be in a rain forest.  This zip line starts at a prominent lighthouse at the Caye and does several lines out and back to the lighthouse.  Then you can “fly like superman” across a much longer, final line that goes across the beach.  Plenty of opportunity to wave to the swimmers and sunbathers down below as they waved back.  We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool and the beach, taking the time to swim in both the pool and the ocean.

That evening I participated in the Dance-off contest.  In it, three male crew members and three female crew members choose three women guests and three men guests to be dance partners.  I got chosen.  I had done this before on another cruise ship (See Mediterranean cruise).  My partner was considerably shorter than I am.  I asked her only one question before we started: “Is it OK if I pick you up?”  She said yes.  I took two opportunities in two separate dances to pick her up and spin her around. Otherwise, we just made things up on the fly, playing off each other.   We were not the best dancers in terms of technique or style, but one of the judges commented that we looked like we were having the most fun.  That’s all that mattered. We came in 3rd out of six couples.  It certainly was fun and I’m satisfied with that.

Our next port was Roatan Island, off the coast of Honduras.  The island rests on an exposed ancient coral reef, rising to about 890 feet above sea level. Offshore reefs offer opportunities for diving. Most habitation is in the western half of the island.  We didn’t do much in Roatan; just explored the shops at the port and took a walk some distance into the village outside the port area.

I saw several excellent shows during the week in both the main theatre and the Bliss Lounge.

Costa Maya is a small tourist area with a newly-developed port for cruise ships.  There are shops, places to eat, a pool and a swim-up bar.  The area surrounding the port is generally undeveloped.  

We took an excursion to Chacchoben Mayan ruins. These ancient pyramids have been excavated and restored, and now stand as testament to the myths and rituals of the mysterious Mayan peoples.

After the Mayan excursion, we spent some time on the beautiful beach in Costa Maya.

A suggestion was made to me that I participate as a contestant in the Mr. Sexy Legs contest.  It’s not the kind of activity I usually do, so I was very hesitant about it. In the moments leading up to the scheduled start time, I sat by the pool and mulled it over.  A friend sat next to me.  She encouraged me to try it.  At the very last moment, I decided to do it. I was partially emboldened by the fact that the MC was one of the entertainment staff crew that I had come to know.  He encouraged me a bit, too. I felt like I put myself in some kind of a trance so I wouldn’t be “conscious” of what I was actually doing.  I was the first contestant.  It’s a good thing, because after watching some of the others, I might have backed out.  But I got through it, had a little fun with my dance, and then I was done.  I didn’t win anything, which was fine with me.  They put a video of the contest on the ship’s TV later.  I couldn’t watch myself; it just didn’t seem like me.  But having done it, I can say I’d probably do it again if I had a group of friends cheering me on.

That evening was the White Hot Party, a popular event across many Norwegian Cruise Line ships.  Everyone dresses in as much white as they can muster up.  I settled for white roll-up pants and a white button shirt.  Since it was on the pool deck, somehow it seemed appropriate for us to go barefoot, so we did.  The ship’s dancers came out with hot, sexy white outfits and angel wings. The teens in attendance cheered the dancers enthusiastically as the DJ played their music.  I didn’t know most of the songs being played, but any beat is good enough for me to dance to.  I did see some teens pointing my way; hard to tell if they were actually impressed by this older guy crazy dancing to their music, or quietly making fun of me.  I’d like to believe the former.

In any case, I didn’t care.  I was having too much fun dancing on the entire cruise.  I truly dance like no one is watching.  It became evident that plenty of people were watching.  As the week went by, not more than a few other guests approached me and told me how they enjoyed watching me have so much fun.  It was gratifying to hear that.

The final evening of the cruise, we enjoyed Broadway show tunes in the Bliss Lounge.  Then we saw the Second City improv comedy show.  After that, we participated in The Quest, an adult scavenger hunt that leaves everyone laughing hysterically.  The room gets divided into groups.  These teams must come up with items, such as clothing pieces, or body parts that match a description, to earn points.  It can get pretty rowdy and raunchy at times.  I was able to meet my team’s needs for a bald guy, and later the oldest person in the group.  After all the oldest members of each group was gathered around the scorekeeper, they told us to do a dance.  But what happens when all the old guys are told what to do?  We all looked at each other and said, “What did he say?  I couldn’t hear him!” But then they started playing music, so we figured it out and started dancing. My team won!  All that effort led to a free bottle of champagne to be shared among the winners.

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