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Cruise to the Western Caribbean...

                       Aboard the Norwegian Star


By Angela Ash

Excitement does not begin to describe the feeling in the air at the cruise port terminal.  The space is full of eager passengers, many chatting with the family next to them about their last "fantastic" Norwegian Cruise. 

However, no one has long to make friends, because the check-in process is a breeze, and travelers are whisked toward the gangway within a matter of moments.  And then the adventure begins!


 The ship is just unbelievable.  With a full capacity of a bit over 2,300, and a length of 965 feet, this is truly a remarkable vessel.  She is decorated in bright, island colors... a perfect preparation for the flavors of the Caribbean to come. There is a casual elegance demonstrated throughout the decor, closely mirroring the Freestyle spirit  of Norwegian.

Speaking of Freestyle Cruising, one might wonder what exactly that might mean.  Well, the answer is fairly simple.  It is the most glorious cruise concept on the planet!  It is freedom to basically eat what you want and where you want, with the option to dress up or down.  In other words, after a long day hiking in a rain forest, you may want to hit up the buffet in sandals and shorts.  On a relaxing day at sea, you may decide to pull out that suit and have a mouth-watering steak dinner.  The choice is entirely yours. 

Choice seems to be a big theme with Norwegian Cruise Line.  There are so many stateroom options.  If you are on a budget vacation, or made a last-minute booking and just want to be on the ship, beautifully decorated, spacious indoor and outdoor spaces are available.  If you wish to "feel at one with the sea", I would definitely suggest a balcony room.  


If a suite or villa is more your style, then the Star has another slew of options for you!  Enter the world of the butler and the personal concierge, and experience cruising as if you were visiting royalty.  These are the most extravagant suites in the industry!  Also, do not forget to see what additional perks come along with booking a suite.  These "extras" are priceless, often including priority disembarkation and VIP seating for nightly shows.


Now, it is often said that a person can gain 20 pounds on a cruise.  A voyage on the Norwegian Star could definitely make this hypothesis a reality.  With 14 distinct dining options, to say the possibilities are endless seems like an understatement.


The Norwegian Star hosts two main dining rooms:  Versailles and Aqua.  There are no reservations required for either establishment, which really backs up the idea of "freestyle".  Both dining rooms boast delectable selections nightly, with pastas, steaks, and even lobster. The Star even has a 24 hour restaurant, the Blue Lagoon, as well as room service. And don't forget to sample the fresh, tasty items of the buffet!


Where the dining options really begin to amaze are with the premium offerings.  With a small charge, you can dine at a myriad of tasty venues.  La Cucina is reminiscent of an Italian farmhouse, with giant portions of such favorites that one would expect to be served at a vineyard villa.  One should beware of Cagney's Steakhouse.  Every steak you will ever eat again will be mentally compared to these wonderful cuts.  However, the crowning jewel is Teppanyaki, an authentic Japanese Hibachi grill.  You may view information on all of the savory eateries onboard the Norwegian Star HERE.


Keep in mind, while you may be tempted to never leave the buffet, the activities onboard are almost overwhelming.  The Stardust Theater offers Broadway style shows, mixed with the variety of comedy and magic.  For those of you who hope to "hit it big", the Star Club Casino is the place for you!  With over 150 slots machines and all of your favorite table games, the thrill of Vegas is right there on the open water.  For poker players, Texas Hold 'Em cash games are also available, as well as two  tournaments during the course of your cruise.


If relaxation is on your to-do-list, then visit the Mandara Spa, or immerse yourself in one of 6 hot tubs. And don't forget to take a dip in the refreshing Oasis pool, or even take a twist down a water slide.  There is also a swimming pool just for the kids!  Great activities are also offered daily for every age group, making it easy to see why children love to sail with Norwegian Cruise Line!


The Norwegian Star does not disappoint with nightlife!  The Spinnaker Lounge always has something going on, from dance parties to crazy game shows.  The Red Lion Pub is a traditional English pub, offering tasty snacks and plenty of beer on tap.  Every other type of lounge imaginable is onboard the Star,  from a coffee cafe to a genuine beer garden.


While the ship is the beguiling factor to book a cruise, the customer service is why you will want to return again and again.  I have never seen so many smiling faces go completely out of their way to ensure that you have the vacation of your dreams.  Everyone onboard was exceptional, but Jocel Guzman, the customer service manager, was definitely a standout.  She seemlessly moves from guest to guest, ironing out any little bumps that may arise, and offering tips and information on how to make the most of your time onboard the Star.  Also, David Contreras, the concierge, is reason enough to book that garden villa.  He somehow manages to provide guests with what they want, even before they realize that they even want it. The crew of the Norwegian Star are, in fact, the true stars.

While someone could certainly spend seven glorious nights aboard the Norwegian Star, without ever setting foot on dry land, this Western Caribbean itinerary is one of the best I have ever seen.  With four unique ports of call, your opportunity to see the world has just broadened. Stopping in Belize, Roatan, Costa Maya, and Cozumel requires a plan:  be prepared for adventure!


Belize is located in Central America, nestled between Guatemala and Mexico, with lush, tropical vegetation and some of the most impressive Mayan ruins in existence. With jungles brimming full of life and the Barrier Reef to explore, there is also never a shortage of activities for the nature lover. 

And yes, it is also home to the beautiful beaches of San Pedro, immortalized by Madonna's hit song "La Isla Bonita".

Cruise ships dock in Belize City, which plays hosts to plenty of great shopping and eating.  Keep in mind that there are no beaches right in Belize City, but the attractive waters of Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye are just a water taxi ride away!

With so many exciting options, it is difficult to decide exactly how to spend a week, much less a day.  However, the history buff that lives inside my brain begs for Mayan ruins.



Xunantunich is a true wonder to behold.  Perched atop a hill and overlooking the Mopan River and the Cayo District, this site is literally surrounded by natural beauty.  However, it is for its history that visitors flock to Belize to witness its majesty.

Xunantunich was a Mayan ceremonial site during the Classic Period, and hosts more than 25 temples and palatial dwellings.  The largest structure is 130 feet tall and is called "El Castillo", or most fittingly, "the Castle".  From the top, visitors can even see into neighboring Guatemala.

Visiting such a place fills one with absolute awe.  It is amazing to think that the ancient Mayans built such magnificent offerings, with only their hands and a few crude instruments.  Climbing them and looking in detail at each stone... each symbol... is truly breathtaking. 

And getting there is an adventure in itself.  Vehicles and passengers on foot are carried across the river to Xunantunich by means of a hand-cranked ferry. 


A visit is like stepping back in time to a place where even the ordinary is extraordinary and magical. 

The next attraction on the list is simple.  Known for having the world's only jaguar preserve, I am just dying to see them up close, and I know just the place.



The Belize Zoo is the zoo that you always imagined, bust somehow just never managed to stumble across. This wonderful habitat was founded in 1983 as a place to house a group of animals used in documentary film making.   

Today it houses over 150 animals over almost 30 acres, and the coolest part is that they are all native to Belize!  And in staying with its origins, it keeps animals that have been abandoned, orphaned, injured and unable to be returned to the wild, or sent to the Belize Zoo. 

This is not your average concrete and faux swimming pool establishment.  Expect to see animals in their natural surroundings, often just feet away.


Make this a definite stop on your Belize to-do list, and fall in love with jaguars, monkeys, and macaws... oh my!


Now, if you are in Belize and hunger calls, then you have no choice but to visit Hode's Place, the absolute best food in Belize!

Hode's Place is conveniently located in San Ignacio, close to several attractions, as well as in proximity to the Market.  The setting is beautiful, with a real "island flair".  There is even a playground for the children! 

But what sets this eatery apart is the food! With everything from steaks, seafood, fajitas, burritos, and burgers, the variety is fantastic, offering something for everyone.  The dishes are all prepared with fresh ingredients, and come to the table begging to be devoured. 


A daily special is also offered, and we just happened to be lucky enough to dine on glazed chicken day.  The sauce was literally mouth-watering!

For a better peak into the sumptuous food offered, take a peek at the full MENU.

Remember, when in Belize, visit Hode's Place.  It is IMPOSSIBLE to leave with an empty stomach!


                                                                                                                              Lascelle Tillett  

If you are even thinking about visiting Belize, your very first contact should be with S & L Tours and Travel!

I can not even begin to express how impressed I am with this company.  Our professional guide, Lascelle, was waiting early for us to arrive, and already had a plan to stop for plenty of water for our tour.  This was just a small indication as to the level of personal attention that we would receive throughout the day. 

Belize is a beautiful, exotic location that could fill a thousand picture postcards, and S & L Travel and Tours knows exactly where to go, when to avoid the crowds, and how to experience Belize to the fullest with the time that is available.  They have been operating for over 30 years, and it is easy to see why they have won award after award.  They not only offer day tours for the cruise passenger or the day tripper, but extended vacations, airport transfers, and all types of travel.  Whether you want to spend the afternoon cave tubing or exploring long-forgotten cities, S & L Travel and Tours has the itinerary to fit your needs!


To find even more information on Belize, visit the Belize Tourism Board.  This has got to be one of the most extensive, informative, user-friendly travel sites available.  Filled to the brim with everything that anyone could possibly need to know about beautiful Belize, there is even a fantastic Travel Guide that visitors can download. Really... how cool is that? 

Whether you are visiting Belize for the day as a port excursion, or you have a month-long getaway in mind, have no doubt that you have selected the perfect destination!


Next, let's explore Roatan!  Roatan is one of the Bay Islands, which is part of Honduras, located in Central America.  This exotic island is known for many things, but primarily for the superb scuba diving and snorkeling that are offered along the reef.  The vegetation is green and lush, and the climate is mild throughout the entire year.  Sound like a perfect place to drop anchor?


The port is located in Roatan's largest city, Coxen Hole.  There are several great little shops to browse just off the gangway.  However, to really explore Roatan, you must dig a little deeper.  I would strongly suggest using the services of a reputable tour company.


Bodden Tours is a unique tour group that offers visitors to Roatan experiences that will be remembered for a lifetime.  Victor Bodden was born and raised in Roatan, Honduras, and his expertise of the island is easily shown in the wonderful tours that are offered.  

The Fun N Sun Excursion is a perfect tour for the day cruise passenger.  The day will start in a comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle, as you are driven through several areas of beautiful Roatan, stopping for photo and shopping opportunities at Panorama Hill and a fantastic center offering beautiful, mahogany crafts. 


But the fun has not even started!  The tour will then arrive at Victor's Monkey Business, where you can visit with island deer, parrots, monkeys, and other animals.  And when I say "visit", I do mean up close and personal.  The monkeys are so friendly and curious, climbing all over one minute, and then cuddles in your arms the next!  This was definitely the highlight of our Roatan visit! 


Well... I suppose that depends on how one would rate one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean.  After a bit more sightseeing, you will experience West Bay Beach and the gorgeous Bananarama Beach Resort.  During this two hour stop, you will be provided with a beach chair and use of the restroom and shower facilities.  Feel free to grab lunch, snorkel, swim, or simply relax. 


The  beach is made of soft, white sand, and the water is tranquil and warm, protected by the offshore reef. The water is so clear that you can easily see the tiny fish swimming about your feet! 

Bodden Tours also offers several other touring options, including zip lining, snorkeling, and fishing.  And keep in mind that with a private tour, the possibilities are endless! 

Visit Bodden Tours and book a tour for your stop in Roatan today!

Now we will move on to the two anticipated stops in Mexico!


                                                                                                                                                     Photo: Yaya Beach

Costa Maya is located in sunny Mexico, very close to the Belize border.  It offers the visitor many activities to choose from, including exploring Mayan ruins, swimming with dolphins, and zip lining. It boasts a very tourist friendly port, with plenty of food, shops, and even a public swimming pool, complete with sand and lounge chairs.


The port area truly offers so much that many are tempted to merely explore there, or lounge in a chair near the water.  However, with the close proximity to excellent beaches, the call of the sea is hard to resist.

Yaya Beach is the newest beach club in Costa Maya... and it is also the absolute BEST! 

With plenty of seating and tropical palapas for shade, this is really a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the calm, clear waters that gently lap across the sand.  If ultimate relaxation sounds like just the thing, then even lounge on a beachside bed.


If adventure is calling, then take out a kayak, or try a bit of snorkeling.  Hosted by the beach club you will also find Doctor Dive Costa Maya, the safest dive shop in Costa Maya, offering snorkeling, scuba diving, and even boat trips.


And if you work up a hunger or thirst, never fear, because Yaya Beach offers a wonderful restaurant and bar!  Your server will even bring your food and drink order right to your chair on the beach!  The Mexican Combo, my personal favorite, is an appetizing array of Mexican favorites, all prepared with fresh ingredients.  You may view the complete bar and restaurant menu HERE.

While you are a guest at Yaya Beach, you can also take advantage of the free Wifi, as well as the shower and restroom facilities.  This is absolutely the best place to visit while in Costa Maya!


Yaya Beach makes it even easier for their guests by offering several packages to enhance your visit.  Packages can include a nacho snack, open bar, and a lounge chair to Mexican and Fresh Fish combos.  This is definitely the best fresh salsa that I have ever had!  Also, do not leave without trying a margarita... or several.  

The beach club is not only a tropical oasis, but it is also within very close proximity to the cruise ship pier.  It is actually only a $2 taxi ride!  Now tell me, who can resist a visit?


                                                                                                                            Photo:  Paradise Beach Club

Cozumel is located just off the Mexican mainland, and it offers visitors some of the very best snorkeling and diving that they will ever experience.  Cozumel also has many Mayan sites to explore.  Various tours are offered through many operators, ranging from dune buggy rides to a ride on the Atlantis submarine.   However, one thing that is synonymous with Cozumel is her beaches.  You can literally discover paradise.  No... really.

Paradise Beach in Cozumel is precisely what it says it is:  PARADISE!  Located just five miles from the cruise ship pier and easily accessible via taxi, this is the place where exhilaration AND relaxation walk hand in hand, upon one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Mexico. 


Every water toy imaginable is available here.  Try the water trampoline, a 14 foot iceberg climb, floating mats and kayaks, one of several slides, a water rocker, paddle boards, a space walker bungee, and use the complete snorkel gear to explore the warm, crystal waters. Play all day long for only $12.  There is no way you could beat this price anywhere in the Caribbean!


Want something a bit more on the calm side?  Then take a leisurely swim in one of the biggest pools in Cozumel.  This elegant, refreshing pool area is very reminiscent of what one would experience at a five star, all inclusive resort.  Bar service is also available right next to the pool, or never even leave the water by placing your drink order with a member of the super friendly wait staff, servicing the pool and beach areas, as well as everywhere in between.


Now after so much time in the water, if delicious food is what you desire, Paradise Beach definitely delivers. With everything from sandwiches and wraps to fajitas and fresh seafood, the enticing aromas floating from the open-air restaurant are absolutely mouth-watering.  The Nacho Paradise appetizer is covered in a delicious cheese that I am still dreaming about, and I have never had better chicken fajitas. While portions are large, don't even think about "sharing" a meal, because you will not want to give away one bite! You can check out the full menu HERE.  And good luck making a choice, as that everything looks and smells delicious!


Make sure you top off your dining experience with an expertly crafted cocktail from the bar menu.  With so many tempting treats to choose from, keep in mind that you will not go wrong with the frozen margarita.  However, the Melon Ball, a decadent mix of vodka, midori, and pineapple juice, is now my new favorite drink!


And did I neglect to mention that there are hammocks?  I think I may have also skipped right over the fact that they offer Wifi, restrooms, showers, changing rooms, and massages right on the beach!

Paradise Beach has truly thought of everything... except they do need a bit of work on a suitable exit strategy, because I wanted to go into full-blown, four year old tantrum mode when I was warned that we only had an hour before we needed to be back on the ship.  

Go to Paradise Beach, as soon as humanly possible.  You can only completely comprehend how beautiful it is until you see it with your own eyes!

And before you sail away, console yourself with some much deserved retail therapy, as that Cozumel offers the best shopping in the Caribbean!

  new orleans

Now, let's talk a bit about your options before and after the cruise.  When sailing out of New Orleans, please do not just consider this the gateway for your vacation.  This is, in fact, where the good times should begin! 

New Orleans is like no other city in the world. With so much to offer, it is an absolute MUST to spend a few days here before or after your cruise.  But are you aware that it might actually SAVE you a bit of money?  Let me explain.



The Ramada Metairie is the perfect place to stay in New Orleans when departing for a cruise vacation.  Located just off Interstate 10, this lovely property is just ten minutes from downtown and the airport.  Convenience does not even begin to describe what the Ramada Metairie has to offer. Neither does convenience and elegance, but we'll start there.


The rooms at this Ramada are beautiful and tastefully appointed.  The beds are super comfy... just perfect for resting up after a night on Bourbon or Frenchmen Street.  They offer all of the usual amenities, along with the bonus complimentary HBO and WiFi.


This property also features a gorgeous courtyard pool, in the French Quarter fashion.  The setting has a lovely "tropical feel", mixed with the romanticism of New Orleans.  It is the perfect place to relax at one of the many seating areas, after a long day of sightseeing. 

A delicious breakfast is offered to all guests.  This is not just a cold cereal and muffin bar.  There will be eggs, waffles, and yes... the ultimate comfort item... biscuits and gravy! Fresh popcorn is also available all day.  The Ramada Metairie really knows how to treat their guests.


Now, I have truly saved the best for last.  (Yes, this is the bit about saving money!) Anyone who has ever visited New Orleans realizes that parking can be a bit pricey downtown and in the French Quarter, and if you are cruising from the Julia Street Terminal, leaving your vehicle will cost you $16 a day.  Yes, that is well over $100 when on a week long cruise. Well, there is an alternative.  The Ramada Metairie offers FREE guest parking.  And would it be showing off if I mention that they also offer a FREE shuttle to the cruise terminal?

It just makes sense to stay a few days in New Orleans before departing on your cruise vacation, because let's just face it, the price of parking for a week more than covers a night's accommodations, which enables you the ease and safety of parking your car in a secure area while you bask in the sunlight of the Caribbean.


With so much to see and do in New Orleans, do not arrive just in time to board a ship and sail away.  While the attractions are literally endless, immerse yourself into something that New Orleans is well known for... and that is her haunted past.



                                                                         The infamous Bloody Mary explaining the burial process

Bloody Mary's Tours offer, without a doubt, the best paranormal tours in the country. Unlike many other companies, a vast myriad of options are offered, either public or private, and... SURPRISE... not merely limited to the French Quarter. 

But, as with all proper New Orleans stories, that is where we will start.

Many tourists or visitors to the Crescent City never leave the Quarter, and it is often easy to see why.  A majority of the attractions and museums are located there, or close by on Canal Street.  And of course, the Vieux Carre has no shortage of ghost tales, ranging from the bittersweet romances to the most grotesque, disturbing visions that one could ever possibly conjure. 

But why use all of that imagination?  Simply book Bloody Mary's Tour of the Undead.


                                                           Gina, Tour of the Undead guide, performing a ritual

This was, refreshingly, like no other Frech Quarter walking tour I have experienced.  Blending ghost and vampire tales with unique New Orleans history, this tour reaches depths that not only gives examples and renderings of events and legends, but actually explains WHY public thought and action led to these occurrences in the first place.  You will dig deep into the religions that formulated their way of life, often built upon mysticism, magick, and hereditary tradition. 


                                                                                                            Lalaurie Mansion

And these tales are not spun from the safety of a hotel lobby, but typically whilst standing on the cobblestone directly in front of the property or venue which still houses the spirits directly connected to such tragedies that they are not able to rest.  Instead, they often choose to appear in photographs, or as a quick tug on the sleeve... or cold chills on a humid New Orleans night.


                                                                                                                                                                                    Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop

The starting point of this tour is even unique, with all tour goers assembled not outside, but actually within the walls of the revered Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, once belonging to notorious pirates, and birthing hundreds of reported paranormal experiences.

But don't stop there. The Moonlight Graveyard Tour offers an exciting take on the unique places and methods with which New Orleans chooses to bury her dead. We were lucky enough to actually have Bloody Mary herself as our guide for this experience, which took us into two cemeteries and outside of several others.  The most interesting, by far, was Holt Cemetery... where mourners have created home-made tombstones and other sentimental effigies to their loved ones.


                                                                                             Holt Cemetery

It was absolutely surreal to wander about these cemeteries as the day gave way to complete darkness, often with only the moonlight to guide our way. This experience is a MUST.  It takes you away from the French Quarter and out into a completely different area, while still remaining easily and quickly accessible via streetcar. 


While the sites visited on this tour were fantastic, to say the least, the highlight was Mary herself. Mary has been featured on the Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures, A&E, and the History Channel... just to name a few. However, while possessing such extensive knowledge, she never once fills a story with too many mediocre facts.  She skillfully mixes information with the macabre as if it is her second nature. 

Whatever you wish to experience in New Orleans, chances are that Bloody Mary's Tours has something right up your alley.  There is the Haunted Pub Crawl, that visits bars, restaurants, and even a former brothel.  The Back 'O Town Tour is a van tour that visits several cemeteries and other exciting locales, and culminates in the creation of actual Voodoo dolls.  They don't call Bloody Mary the New Orleans Voodoo Queen for just anything! The New Orleans After Dark Tour is a complete paranormal outing, that visits, cemeteries, haunted houses, and sacred sites spanned across four neighborhoods, with psychic exercises to top off the experience.  Also if you crave a bit more time in the graveyard, do not leave out the Cities of the Dead Tour, where three rarely explored cemeteries await exploration with a truly gifted, knowledgeable guide!  And of course, an array of private tours are just waiting for your reservation!

To make scheduling your favorite Bloody Mary tour even easier, print the Pocket Tour Schedule to make the most of your time in one of the most haunted cities in the world!

When in New Orleans, do not consider leaving without taking part in one of Bloody Mary's signature adventures. These tours represent the scale upon which all things paranormal should be measured.

mur building

Now, I am sure you have heard about the food in New Orleans.  it is pretty much a legend.  Mark Twain even said "New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin".  If you are in New Orleans, then I know just where you need to go!

Muriel's Restaurant in Jackson Square is nothing short of sinful.  The food... the atmosphere... the service... are all extraordinary.  But I will warn you.  This food will keep you awake at night, plotting and scheming to return to New Orleans so that you can walk... no, run... through Muriel's front door.

mur food

Lunch, Dinner, and a Sunday Jazz Brunch are offered.  A special pre-theatre menu is also available.  You may access the menus, to better prepare for the dining extravaganza of your choice.

Lunch Menu 

Dinner Menu

Sunday Jazz Brunch Menu

Pre-Theatre Menu

A cruise vacation is a magical experience.  It affords the opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, while doing as much or as little as you choose.  Make the call today at 1-866-234-7350, or visit Norwegian Cruise Line online to book the experience of a lifetime!