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NCL Sun Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize, Cozumel South Beach

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2003 Date: 3/14/2003

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Email: greg@cruisingreview.com

TEL: 608-238-6001

Travelocity versus NCL Online Reservations

I booked as a "normal" full fare paying passenger on this cruise. NCL did not have space available for me as a "Press Rate" passenger, so I booked anyhow. Thinking that the NCL online booking site was my best bet, I started there to see what the rate was for a balcony cabin category "BA" under their "Best Fare" section. I then tried Travelocity with the exact same cruise, ship, date and category. To my amazement, Travelocity was $1,000 less than Norwegian. This is a whopping thirty percent difference. It pays to shop a bit. From others I spoke to on the cruise, Travelocity was also cheaper than most travel agents. When I called their 1-800 number to book (it's actually faster than online), I got an agent right away. About a week later I needed to change some details of the cabin, and received prompt service. Even better than the $1,000 I saved instead of booking through NCL direct, I got another $100 rebate from Travelocity.

www.travelocity.com

Northwest Airlines

For this trip, I booked my own flights online via the Northwest Airlines website. I did compare same date and itinerary prices on Orbitz.com and Expedia.com, and found the prices to be very close. This will be my first trip where I booked all "First Class." After flying Business Class from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui, I was converted. For this trip, I'm paying about $300-400 extra each way which is worth it to me since I can work while I'm flying. I've noticed that when you sit in the back, there is not enough room to operate a notebook computer if the seat in front of you is reclined.

Check In

I arrived at the airport an hour early, figuring that at 5:00 am nobody would be there (hence no delays). I was surprised to find that it was the busiest that I've seen. The lines were huge. Apparently Northwest and the other airlines all had flights going out around 6:00 am. The Economy Class check in was at the very least 1/2 hour long. I checked in through First Class, where there was no line. After getting my tickets (I had booked online), I got in the very long line for the security screening. Even though the line was almost a block long, they processed people smoothly and efficiently, and I was through in about 15 minutes. Since you are required to put almost everything in a bin, be sure to keep track of items. I never let go of my ticket and passport, but I saw people put even those items into the bin. For convenience, I travel with a fanny pack where I place my wallet and other loose items. It doubles as a great day pack for carrying my digital camera and other items.

Flights

The flight from Madison to Memphis was smooth and uneventful. The RJ 85 had adequate room up in First Class, and a little cramped in Economy. Because of it's four engines, I find the RJ 85 to have a more noisy cabin than most jets. Arriving to an overcast Memphis ontime, I sought out the Northwest WorldClub, to only find that it's only international First Class and "Elite" cardholders that may enter. No matter, my flight was boarding in a few moments. The Airbus 319 from Memphis to Miami had a bumpy start, but smoothed out early into the flight. While the Airbus itself didn't look old, the seats in First Class were clunky, as if they were recycled from another jet. There was adequate breadth in the seats, but not much between the seatback. My test for this is if I can easily use my iBook without having the seat in front come down to render the space useless.

The Marriott

Within five minutes of walking off the plane at Miami International, I was in a taxi headed towards South Beach. After a $24 cab fare (set by local ordinance) I checked into the Marriott. The hotel is on Ocean Drive, but the back of the hotel is right on the beach with a cozy pool and hot tub. The hotel is beautifully appointed with art and very stylistic backlit blue overhead lights which exemplify the "Art Deco" district for which South Beach is known for. The room was well decorated in a tropical flavor, and had a STSN high-speed Internet access (Ethernet cable included). For $9.95 you have access from noon-until-noon the next day.

Dinner At Smith and Wollensky's

Outdoor Dining

At 5:30pm we headed over to Smith and Wollensky's on the ship channel, which is only a few blocks away from the Marriott. Situated just up from the marina and port, sport boats, cargo ships and cruise ships can be seen passing by within yards. This is my favorite dining destination in South Beach. Manager Paul Spiess does a wonderful job of running a fantastic restaurant. Smith and Wollensky's is located at 1 Washington Avenue, South Pointe Park, Miami Beach, FL 33139. They can be reached at Tel (305) 673-2800 or Fax (305) 673-5943.

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Smith & Wollensky

Martini's and Lobster

Martini's

With my date for the evening Carol, we started off with a round of martini's and the Maryland Crab cake's which was comprised of a more traditional crab cake on a layered combination of additional crab meat and a fusion of both hot and sweet sauces. We followed that with a delicious lobster bisque and the piece de resistance, we split a "Surf and Turf." Headlining the entree was a three pound freshly steamed Maine lobster and a 12 ounce perfectly seared steak. The dinner was capped off by a chilled bottle of champagne. The sunset was obscured by a distant thunderhead, which provided a luring lightshow as the evening progressed. The General Manager, Paul, made sure our evening was very delightful. Smith and Wollensky's is my favorite dining destination in Miami (no doubt there are other fine restaurants), but this one has a allure which captivates you and provides you with the most enchanting evening.

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Evening Thunderstorms

That night Miami was provided a most spectacular lightshow by being surrounded by distant thunderheads. The towering cumulus were lit up like the flashes from a distant battle, being waged in the heavens.

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CONTACT TEL: 608-238-6001 Email: greg@cruisingreview.com