About me - Early 30s, all ports were new to me and I was especially interested in the Panama Canal transit even if it was only partial. Unfortunately, I picked up a cold/cough a week before the cruise that not subside. I did get checked out at the doctor prior to the cruise to make sure it wasn’t something more serious as it hit me hard. I’ve done solo cruises before, but they all had been 7 days long. This cruise was more than twice as long and involved needing to fly home.
I booked this cruise nearly last minute so I did not have much time to do research on the ports, mostly winging it. Not my usual style, but couldn’t pass up the last minute pricing and getting the OK from the boss to take the time off. I was also trying a little to get some stamps in my passport, even though you typically don’t need it for beyond embarkation and disembarkation. In all ports, I was not asked for government ID, just ship card. I also used Google Fi in ports for data, so I’ll include a little bit about how that worked in each port.
The ship - The only other NCL ship I’ve cruised on is the Escape, so the Dawn seems quite small in comparison.
Some of which I liked and some of which I did not. I really did not like the decks that did not go all the way through, so you would need to traverse to another deck in order to get to your destination. After a meal, I don’t want to be going up a flight of stairs! Also, you have to literally go through some of the shops (ie The Cellars, Photo Gallery) to get to your destination at times.
Bliss Lounge is nice, but there is no comedy club. Bamboo was something different, but the service was quite slow there it seemed. The food was ok for ship food, but not beating anything on land.
I had an inside cabin on deck 9 aft, could only budget putting in a poor upgrade bid that I lost. My inside cabin was in the same corridor as the balconies and such, no having to walk down to some inside only corridor. It appears a few of us solos were placed on deck 9.
Initially on first look, it appears the Dawn’s inside is larger than an Escape inside. There is a circular table and some shelving in the corner. Then the closet unit has quite a bit of cubbies and shelves. Even the mini bar fridge is stacked on top of the shelving. Unfortunately I only remembered to take a picture from the other angle on one of the last days, when I had my stuff all about. (I used magnetic hooks to hang some items on the walls)
Age is starting to show on the ship though, no card insert to indicate if guest is in their cabin. The cabins have a manual rotating dial to select from (Welcome, Do not disturb, Make up room, Turn down service). On the flip side, power remains on in the cabin even if you leave so you can charge devices, though they discourage leaving items plugged in while away. Only one US style outlet! I brought an adapter to utilize both outlets. The lights seem super slow to respond in the room after engaging the switch. The night lights by the bed are half orbs at head level,most terrible thing ever. Smacked my head on the dumb things more than once.The hair dryer seemed inadequate, looks like only 1000 watts. My hair was never dry. I had to use my extra absorbent towels after each shower, which I was glad to have packed. During muster drill, they checked off room numbers instead of scanning cards. I and many other folks were trying to hand them our cards to scan.
The cruise begins with 3 sea days. I spent most of the first 2 in my cabin trying to rest up and kick the cold. Got a little stir crazy on the 3rd day and finally ventured out to the pool deck to get some fresh air. I saw small island and some birds flying overhead, so we must be getting close to our destination. Did not attend the shows these first few days, but later heard that the comedian was very bad. I went to some of the daily solo meet ups, but it seemed poorly thrown together. The coordinator also said they could not make dinner reservations for us, leaving our large party venturing down to Aqua to try to get tables for ourselves.
I wasn’t feeling so great, but decided to venture out and get a passport stamp.
It was an awkward endeavor, you have to go to another wharf, get permission from the security guard there. Then walk down a while in a sorta sketch looking area until you find immigration under the bridge (technically it’s past the bridge and across the street).
On my return trip, they had moved the floating bridge so some boats could pass. They offer a ferry service when this happens for longer than a certain amount of time. However, I did notice that there were some people still on the bridge as they were moving it, so not totally sure how long it lasts and how long those folks were stuck on there.
I headed back to the ship slowly, taking lots of breaks as I was feeling exhausted from my short jaunt out and about today. Luckily lots of seating, some even in shade. Unfortunately cigarette smokers around too.
Didn’t take too many pictures
(comically large Dutch clogs are abundant)
They offered the $19.95 laundry special, but I didn’t have much clothes needing washing yet.
Not much to look at, we were the fourth ship to dock today so were way down on rather the ugly end. They did provide shuttles to take you closer to the city entrance.
The public bus was a short walk and the tickets were $5 round trip. Enough to go to Eagle Beach and come back. It was a nice calm beach, someone said the 3rd best in the world. I don’t know that I would rank it that high, but for a short bus ride from the port it was adequate.
You can rent an umbrella and a set of chairs for $40. There appeared to be no facilities to change, so you likely want to come swimsuit ready. There are hotels nearby that might have facilities…
I spent some time in the water and some time sitting in the shade. Still ended up with a slight sunburn and had to get Aloe Vera from the ship’s gift shop.
Fi - Only worked when selecting Digicel, other networks had strong signal, but no data.
I was able to get my passport stamped at the Carnival cruise terminal. You walk in and to the right back is Customs and Immigration.
The solo meet up was impressive tonight, except they printed the wrong meet up location.
The solo coordinator met with us and went to dinner as well, we had one of the larger tables at Aqua ready for us within just a minute or two. Much better than the other night when they had to split up 13 of us and sent us out of the restaurant to get the tables ready. Then it felt super crowded. The large table was much better with enough space for our meals and even the chairs seemed more comfy. The caveat, you could likely only talk to about half the table.
Santa Marta, Columbia
Not much happening here.
The ship docks at a container shipping yard that seems to have a bunch of coal processing going. A bus takes you from the back of the shipping yard to the front where you can go into the city.
(Looks a bit foggy due to condensation on the camera from getting off ship)
There is a little market selling the usual knick knacks. There is wifi in the area, though I didn’t have any luck with it myself.I got my passport “stamped” at the information booth, it’s not really an official immigration stamp. Not really sure where an official stamp could happen.
I did opt for a city tour with a trio of other ladies I met in line waiting for the bus to bring us to the front. The minibus was filled with other people from the ship (because who else would come here?). It was $20 up front, and I thought we got about what we paid for at the time. It made a few stops, making us get off each time, which I were not expecting. I guess I had presumed it was going to be a narrated driving tour (with much better AC). The minibus did have a steep step up, as a youngin it was still a little tough.
Our first stop was at a museum for 15 minutes.
Followed by a stop at a church for 10 minutes.
Then 10 minutes at a Soccer statue.
We were supposed to have a 20 minute stop at some gardens that had an entrance fee. The entrance fee wasn’t posted and 20 minutes seemed such a short time if we were going to pay a fee, our group voted to cut this short and continue on.
Last stop was a little park with statues.
Clearly not a lot of information here as our guide’s English wasn’t great and mostly consisted telling of how long we had at each place.
There were many beggars/Venezuelan refugees that would try to solicit you at some of these sites.
By the end we were ready for the tour to be done with, I headed back to the ship because it felt like 100 degrees with the heat and humidity. With better weather, might of walked around to see a bit more. When I was on the bus I saw a giant chicken on a leash tied to a tree, I didn’t get a picture of it though.
Fi - Was on Claro, no noted issues.
At the solo’s dinner, we had some awful service, food was slow to come out and people got their appetizers at a different times. Eventually one of the waiters admitted they were working the wrong table number. We did loudly complain because it was terrible. They did seem to do their best to get things right after. One of the guys even got the crumb sweeper as a souvenir/don’t get us in more trouble bribe.
This was a really nice stop. Did a city tour with a three other solos, we had a minibus to ourselves which was surprising. Our tour guide, Floritino was awesome, his English was great and he really knew his stuff. He also really crafted the tour to what we wanted to see. We stopped at the Castillo San Felipe Fortress. Those vendors come in at full force!
We drove by former slave dungeons which are now shops and stopped at a part of the city walls. We walked around the Old City and then drove to the New City. There wasn’t much to see, we requested to go back to the Old City to see more of that part of town. He agreed and we drove around the narrow streets of Old City (couldn’t get to these places in one of the big buses for sure).
Funnily enough I watched the Grand Tour Columbia special this evening. Things looked exactly like they saw and went through one of those tight tunnels in the city wall just like they did.
Right by the cruise port is a bunch of animals, including anteaters and various birds including parrots and peacocks that just kind of roam free. There is an aviary with other birds. Lots of photo opportunities.
Fi - Was on Claro, no noted issues.
What a long day, the time they expected to enter the locks was 7 AM, which was already early. However, they had the canal guide already on board making announcements before 6:30! Since this crossing was a big part of choosing this cruise, I readied myself to go out in public. From the bow camera I could see that deck 8 forward was just troves of people. When I would go there later in the day, the sides are so high it is quite difficult to see much even if it has a good vantage point.
I spent most of my time aft, in the kiddie pool actually, as there were some kid sized loungers that I could rest my butt on. I was able to get some great pictures. The whole process took longer than estimated, likely due to water conservation efforts going on as the area hasn’t received much rain. The lake levels are much lower than they would like.
Eventually we do finish going through the locks and reach Gatun Lake, I have some proper breakfast in the garden cafe. The people with excursions tender off the ship. Kind of crazy seeing those little lifeboats being used.
Then we set on going back through the locks again. This time I viewed from the lower decks to get more eye level view of the things going on. It’s interesting to see other ships going through the opposite way. You're rising and they are sinking or vice versa.
(Bow view, not great)
They push back the all aboard time to 8:30 PM (from 7:30 PM). I thought it was to give us some additional time in port, but later learn that some of the ship’s excursions are running very late. I think some didn’t even get back until 9ish. I take a short walk outside Colon port, there is a heavy police presence. It’s already late in the evening, so I just end up stopping in the local supermarket to pick up a diet coke and some more cough drops. These items are cheaper here than at previous ports. Beer was cheaper than my soda! I end up at the Colon sign and get a picture there. Then walk back to the ship for dinner and to get ready to see Heartbeats which is two of the ship’s aerialists. It was a neat show though some of the music wasn’t the best and what looks like the couple’s engagement video that they played between scenes/costume changes was a little odd.
Fi - No noted issues, worked during the canal transit and Colon port. Did not note the carrier.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
No plans for today, luckily, the other solos grabbed me up to do a tour.
Since there were six of us, we managed to get a mini bus to ourselves. It took a long time for the tour to get started as they had to find a guide for us.
The first stop was just a random place off the side of the road to see howler monkeys. They must live there as we saw several other tours stop by.
We stopped at a fruit market, where you could sample fruits for free and get fresh coconut water (from the shell) for $1. There were various other stuff for purchase.
We stopped by a Dole banana plantation and they explained about the growing process. Like the blue bags are used so it is like the sky, so it sort of becomes invisible to birds who might eat the fruit.
(wild banana flower, can see the beginnings of little bananas)
Then we did the optional canal tour which was an extra $15. You get about an hour boat ride to spot animals. Our boat guide put us onto sloths, crocodiles, lizards/iguanas, and birds. It was neat to see the wildlife.
Recommend bug spray here, got bitten on the ankles.
Then we went to Playa Bonita for a short bit, it’s beach with a restaurant/bar and most importantly, wifi! I wasn’t really prepared for the beach so I stayed off the sand. The idea was to get lunch there, but I wasn’t totally hungry yet.
Next we went to a scenic overlook.
Then to the downtown area, one of the other solos asked to see inside the large Catholic church so we made that stop.
Then back to the cruise ship. Total tour time was about four hours.
It was nice that we were able to get a private tour to ourselves and they could adjust things as we requested them.
Fi - No noted issues, did not note the carrier
Sea Day (Day 11)
They finally offered the $19.95 laundry special after offering it on Day 4 (first port day), seems like quite a gap in between.
A much needed sea day!
According to my FitBit, I slept 11 hours!
Roatan Island, Honduras
We had to tender today, which was not great even though we managed to get the special escort off. During one of the Q&As later, the captain told us we could not anchor any closer to the port as we were too big and would be in the airspace of the runway of local airport.
I did a private beach club that someone on CC had arranged. It worked out to be $15 for transportation and then whatever you spent at the beach club restaurant. I had the surf & turf along with 2 diet cokes, that came out to be about $35, about $40 with tip. There were many cheaper options on the menu, so my bill could have been much less.
The beach club was nice out of the way with minimal other tourists. I’m not the best swimmer even when I’m healthy so I stayed in the shallows where I could stand up. I still saw many fish and you could even see them without getting in the water if you were patient enough on the covered deck.
I was able to get my passport stamped on the way back, there is a little cart/kiosk under one of the columns where they do it. I put $2 in the donation box that was there.
Fi was on Claro HND, no noted issues
Harvest Caye, Belize
We had to tender again today, but it was using actual ferries rather than the lifeboats, so it went more smoothly. I took one of the first tenders and was able to secure an umbrella spot (which are complementary along with the loungers). In the early morning, the umbrella didn’t block much sunlight. Some other folks used towels off the umbrella to block the sun (need clips or lightweight towel). In the late afternoon when the sun was overhead, the umbrella really did it’s job. There were a few palm trees around for shade as well. Clamshells were for rent in the back.
The beach wasn’t great. The water wasn’t very clear, you could barely see your feet, so it was not good for snorkeling. The sand was gritty which kind of hurt to walk on bare feet. There were many little shells you could find on the beach if that is your thing.
The pool was nice, there is a swim up bar and a few spots with shade. I even saw wild iguanas along the pool, which was neat.
The nature sanctuary was ok, nothing really spectacular, but worth a look if you’re already there.
The information hut is suppose to have someone that can stamp your passport, but checking twice today, they were not in.
Fi sort of worked, while on the island I often didn’t have signal. Sometimes it would pop in for a bit. With the Dawn anchored offshore, I did have signal on the top decks using SMART network. However, it seemed many webpages would not load or resolve, cruisecritic being one of those that did not work. Google hangouts seemed to work, but not Gmail. So I really don’t know what is allowed or not allowed ...
Costa Maya, Mexico
There were four ships including the Dawn docked here today!
(The Getaway is behind me, I couldn't get all four ships in one shot!)
It’s a private port so all the tours inside the port are affiliated with the ship (they will charge it to your room). It’s a bit of a maze to loop through before you can get out of the port. Probably a 10 minute walk. Once outside of the port, there are taxis that may offer you tours. We walked a bit further down and talked with Toucan Tours to do a tour of Chacchoben Ruins.
They were a little more expensive than just one of the taxi fellas, but we got a very knowledgeable English speaking guide who toured the ruins with us. The office has good wifi to use as you await to get the tour started. It was three of us then a fourth person we knew from the ship also joined the group. They also supplied bottled water as well.
Never seeing ruins before, I was impressed. Also saw a wild monkey and a lizard. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND bug spray as I got quite bitten up this day. (The guide did have some insect repellent lotion that I used sparingly regretfully.)
We stopped briefly on the way back at the fisherman’s village. It looked nice, I’d probably make a visit if I came to this port again.
Fi worked somewhat, but not on the road to the ruins or it would pop in and out sporadically. It was fine in the port. I didn’t super pay attention at the ruins, but seemed sporadic as I recall messages coming in a bunch at a time.
Elements was the show tonight and it was good visually. Oddly they also had the We Are Norwegian at the end.
Did not seem to be advertised in the Freestyle, but they had seafood night in the buffet. There were cocktail shrimp of decent size and they weren’t marinated in lime juice to death. There were also mussels. I happened to see them setting it up when I went to grab a late lunch after the ruins tour. I don’t visit the buffet every night so it’s possible they have been doing the theme nights unadvertised. I recall once at O'Sheehan's that they had BBQ mixed grill that was not advertised in the Freestyle. The solo dinner is typically in Aqua, so I don’t always visit buffet or O'Sheehan's to see what they have.
Sea Day (Day 15)
Went to the Q&A with the GM and the officers. It was very informational and seemed a little more in depth than the one I had on the Escape. Unfortunately I didn’t get to get a selfie with Captain Ronny to add to my collection.
Harry the Irish Guy was back for a matinee show, and then it was the crew talent show.
Spent the rest of the day lounging and doing packing activities.
I had a somewhat early flight so I did self assist and was able to get off the ship before 8. You get off midship, so if you happen to get off aft elevators, you have to snake into the Bliss lounge then outside. Not too bad, not like having to snake through the casino then the entire Manhattan dining room like on the Escape…
If you have a free hand, you can take the escalator downstairs. If you do not, you need to wait for two sets of elevators to get downstairs.
Customs was fast with US passport. Soon I was outside the terminal and ordered my Uber. Unfortunately the app and signage is not clear on where you need to be. Only taxis are allowed in front of the terminal. So you need to cross the street and go to a garage for private vehicles/Ubers/Lyfts/shared van.
I arrived at the airport with plenty of time. The flight actually got to our destination 30 minutes early. They said to remember that the next time they are 30 minutes late. 😆