- Top Tips for an NCL Getaway Cruise With Kids
- In short
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We were curious how we would experience the ship differently with a tween than with a 5YO. Over all we enjoyed our experience, and liked a lot of the same things we did the first time around.
But there were changes that disappointed us and left us feeling that another Caribbean cruise is probably not in our near future.
Here are our best tips of what to expect, what extras to take advantage of and which ones to avoid if you take a cruise on the NCL Getaway with kids.
Top Tips for an NCL Getaway Cruise With Kids
1. Don’t fear inside cabins
We opted for a discounted fare that lets NCL pick your cabin. The NCL agent pointed out to me that if we wind up with an inside cabin we’ll be paying less for it than if we choose it ourselves.
And, he said, sometimes all the inside cabins book up and NCL would upgrade us to outside cabin (with a window) at the discount price. We took a chance, but it being a peak week we wound up in our first inside cruise cabin.
I was concerned about how we would do in the smallest of cabins with no natural light. But the fact is, unless you pay for the ultra-premium Haven quarters, ship guest rooms are compact and not designed for lounging around.
Even when we had a relatively good-size balcony room we had to be neat and compact with our stuff and it was a place to sleep and change clothes; we didn’t hang out there.
With the inside room we did have to look at a clock to know if it was morning, but the first person awake at a reasonable hour turned the cabin lights to gradually wake everyone else.
The Upshot: The cabin didn’t hinder our experience and what we saved easily covered one of our shore excursions.
When booking a cruise now I would always spend the least we can on where we sleep, and save our money for the things that make a vacation memorable: food, activities and experiences.
2. See the Shows
NCL gets great shows. We loved the Cirque Dreams show on our previous jaunt so we made sure to book the Cirque Dreams and Steam show.
It surpassed all our expectations. The Victorian Steam Punk theme was detailed, creative and visually compelling.
The acrobatics and juggling were some of the most ambitious we’ve seen, and were even more impressive given how much the boat was rocking. A man stood on a plank, on a ball, tossing teacups and saucers onto his head.
A woman lying on her back juggled hula-hoops and balls simultaneously with her feet and hands.
This is a dinner show and carries an extra fee (the appetizer and dessert are the best parts of the meal).
They serve dinner before the show begins, which they didn’t do previously and is a smart improvement. If you can only budget for one onboard splurge, make it this.
We waited until we were on board to get tickets to the two free shows and got shut out.
They were the dance review Burn the Floor (which we’d seen) and the immensely popular Million Dollar Quartet, based on a real Sun Records recording session with Johnny Cash, Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.
If you want to see them (and you probably do) reserve tickets before your trip starts.
3. Eat the Indian Buffet
On one of our at-see days, they opened one of the specialty restaurants at lunch to serve an Indian buffet.
Given the number of South-east Asians on the crew you have to assume the kitchen staff knows its way around curries and biryanis. And you would be right. We heard several Indian travelers telling the staff how good the food was.
It was the only meal on the cruise where I (happily) overate, refilling my plate with korma, vindaloo and fluffy naan.
4. Try the Ice Bar
Pack a pair of socks and make reservations as soon as you can after you board. The Svedka Ice Bar is a fun novelty experience.
The cover charge gives you a 45-minute stay, two vodka cocktails and a heavy fur parka to wear. The parkas and ice sculptures make great photo ops (but don’t try to use a selfie stick here; it’s too small).
Kids are welcome and even get their own mocktails. But before you shell out the cover charge for them consider how long they’ll last in the 17-degree chill.
5. Find the quiet spaces
The Getaway is a mega-ship and winter break is a peak travel week for families in the Northeast. We’re not people who need our vacation to be a constant party. So part of enjoying the cruise was finding the places where other people weren’t.
One of Tween Traveler’s favorite spaces was the ship library.
She found a book she hadn’t read yet in one of her favorite series. And she really enjoyed curling up on a couch to read when the weather was bad or she just needed a break from the ship’s constant hubbub.
It became our go-to meeting spot for the week.
We could reliably grab a couch at the Sugarcane Mojito Bar in the early evening (it was always packed after dinner).
Over the course of the week we tried most of the variations on the short cocktail menu. The mojito spiked with jalapeños had just the right bite and was my favorite.
Rich found a sun deck and sleepy bar toward the front of the ship, a flight up from deck 16.
During the day it was always quicker and easier to get drinks there than at the hectic pool bar. The deck usually had free lounge chairs and was quiet, too.
If have teens or kids who can be at the pool alone but want you to be where they can find you, this is a good spot to seek out.
The adults-only H20 Spice lounge at the back of Deck 15 is the only place onboard where you can sit in hot tub without poolside “entertainment” blasting in your ears.
If your kids are occupied during your sea days and don’t need to be able to find you, take advantage of it. Since our family time was usually during the day, Rich and I would sometimes take a soak in the evening before dinner.
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6. Take Advantage of the Kids Club
On our last cruise Tiny Traveler went to Splash Academy on several evenings and for at least part of every sea day.
This time around, the daytime activities for her age group weren’t compelling. But she went to almost all the evening sessions, which had themes like Spies, Island Survivor and Pajama Party, with corresponding games.
The kids’ club director told me tweens generally do the other ship activities during the day and come to the kids club at night. The kids who are too small for the other activities do more day sessions.
On most nights we took our tween to the buffet for her dinner. Then she’d head to the kids club and we would enjoy a quiet dinner for two and we’d meet up afterward for dessert. It gave us a good balance of family, couple and kid time.
7. Do all the top deck activities
The waterslides, rope courses, climbing wall, spider nets, bungee trampoline and mini-golf are free and fun. Take advantage of them.
Tween Traveler spent nearly an hour every day on the spider. She did the ropes course and climbing wall with her dad and the mini-golf with me (guess which of us is the daring parent).
8. Eat at the specialty restaurants
As varied as the buffet and dining room menus are, over the course of seven days you’ll need a change of pace.
The specialty restaurants are good. And if you choose well they can provide a good value for their supplemental fees.
We mostly enjoyed our lunch at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Rich’s tacos had tartar sauce on them, which was odd, but the conch fritters were tasty and the cheeseburger was a better burger than you’ll find elsewhere on the ship.
The nachos can easily be lunch for two or three people and the sandwiches are sizeable. I recommend sharing plates. The Landshark house beer was a tart summer beer that went with the food.
Our dinner at Le Bistrot included crab salad, a mixed seafood plate, rosy lamb chops and shredded duck.
The meal could have been heavy but the portions were just right. Everything looked pretty and had good flavors.
We wanted to eat at the Asian noodle bar but it’s small, a good deal and first-come-first-served, so we could never snag seats.
We like their Italian restaurant a lot but never got there this time around.
9. Expect Upselling
The biggest negative change from the last time we cruised was a clear cutback in organized activities. It seemed any activity lasting longer than 15 minutes either required a fee (booze tastings, exercise classes) or was built around selling you things, from art to diet products to foot supports.
It also seemed that once an hour they were announcing a limited special offer or a session on how to shop at the ports or the art auction. The selling felt too omnipresent and got old quickly.
An example of how things changed: On the Breakaway I took a 30-minute ”Thriller” dance class in a room with a wall of mirrors. I had fun and actually learned part of the dance from Michael Jackson’s video.
The same class on the Getaway lasted less than 15 minutes and took place in the main atrium. It felt less like a dance lesson or more like we were there to entertain the crowd that’s always gathered there.
Three short sessions we did enjoy were juggling, cupcake decorating and a Q&A with the captain. But both Rich and I found fewer classes that interested us than on the previous sail.
Speaking of upselling… I love a good spa and try to fit a massage into most vacations. But the prices at Mandara were about triple what I pay at upscale day spas in New York City.
This seemed well beyond the expected resort-spa mark up. And you can expect your pricey service to conclude with a sales pitch for the ship’s beauty line.
Get your mani-pedi done before you leave town and get a massage at one of your ports of call. Costa Maya and Roatán have lovely day spas (Costa Maya’s is right in the port), where you can book very good massages and other treatments for a fraction of the onboard prices . If you really want to use the ship spa, look for port-day deals.
10. Pack lanyards
The big difference in our cruise experience this time around was that Tween Traveler loved being independent. She signed herself in and out of the kids club, went back to the room to change and helped herself to ice cream (a few times a day) on her own. She spent so much time on the activities deck, she had staff greeting her by name around the ship.
Our one challenge to all this independence is that none of her clothes had pockets for her keycard. We quickly realized most of the kids onboard had theirs hanging around their necks on lanyards.
You can buy lanyards at the gift shop that have either the NCL logo or a lot of bling. If neither suits you just bring them from home; the service desk can punch a hole in your card if you need it.
This NCL cruise wasn’t a slam-dunk. But on balance we enjoyed more than we didn’t. We relaxed, ate well, did fun things and got away from frigid winter weather for a pretty reasonable sum. For me that’s a successful vacation.
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* Photos of ice bar, libary, Sugar Cane and Margaritaville are courtesy of NCL. All other photos are the property of FamiliesGo!©