Before we get in to the story of our incredibly great cruise on the
I want to start things off by introducing myself...
I'm Jim Zimmerlin (everyone calls me Jim Zim) and I always cruise with my wife, Kellyn. (Pronunciation tip: it rhymes with Helen.) We're from Grover Beach, California... a little beach town on the California coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. We've been cruising since 1996, and this was our 26th cruise overall... but only our second with Norwegian Cruise Line.
Most of our previous cruises have been with Carnival Cruise Lines. We did over 20 Carnival cruises, and we were quite happy with them. Back in 2008, after our first couple of Carnival cruises, we decided to give Norwegian Cruise Lines a try... just to see how it compared. We did a cruise to Acapulco on the Norwegian Star... and it just didn't measure up well to the Carnival experience. So, we stuck with Carnival for years and years after that. But earlier this year, I got an offer from Princess Cruise Lines that I couldn't refuse (it was an almost-free cruise) and so we found ourselves on our first non-Carnival cruise in a quite a while... and it really opened our eyes! We discovered some things about Princess that we really liked better than Carnival... and it got us to thinking that maybe we should try some of the other big cruise lines (including giving NCL a second chance) and see if anyone else could give us a better cruise experience than what we were used to with Carnival.
The Norwegian Getaway
Now that I've introduced myself, I'd also like to give you a little introduction to the Norwegian Getaway... the newest ship in the NCL fleet.
The Norwegian Getaway made it's debut in January of 2014... and our cruise was during the first week of September of that year. It was cool to be sailing during the inaugural season of this very innovative ship!
While it's not the largest cruise ship in the world (it's not even the largest in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet) the Norwegian Getaway has got some amazing features that make it stand out as one of the best cruise ships in the world, in my opinion.
We were impressed with the huge variety of dining options onboard, some of the best entertainment we've ever seen on a cruise ship, and the best spa facilities we've seen, too.
I'm going to get in to a whole lot of details about our cruise... but before I do, I want to give you the overview. The easiest way for me to do that is to have you watch this 4-minute video of highlights from our cruise: (click the triangle in the center, to start the video playing)
We've been on many great cruises before. For you to understand what took this cruise totally over-the-top for us, I have to tell you about The Haven.
There are about 4300 passengers on the Norwegian Getaway, but only about 250 of them have access to a special V.I.P. section of the ship known as The Haven. It's a private, hidden, quiet area of the ship... with it's own swimming pool, Jacuzzis, outdoor sundeck, sauna, restaurant, bar, and lounge. Everyone staying within The Haven has a butler and a concierge, in addition to the traditional room steward that all cruise ship guests have. The Haven is all walled off from the rest of the ship... with access by way of a special platinum-colored key card...
The focal point of The Haven is known as "the courtyard". It's a private sundeck with a swimming pool, two Jacuzzis, and lots of comfortable loungers and day beds.
Before the cruise, I thought those brown loungers in one inch of water seemed like a dumb idea.
Once I actually sat down in one, I "got it". The surrounding water keeps the temperature cooler,
and to cool down even more you can dip your hands or toes in. It's a nice place to sit and read.
Notice the big umbrellas hanging over the Jacuzzis, to help prevent sunburn
The Haven made its debut with Norwegian Cruise Lines back in 2005 on the Norwegian Jewel... but the roots of the Haven actually go back even further than that. The Norwegian Star, built in 2001, featured a couple of amazing courtyard suites featuring a huge private outdoor area and the ability to have your meals delivered so that you didn't have to eat in the busy restaurants with all the other regular passengers. You know, the folks in "steerage"!
NCL refined and improved that idea with the introduction of The Haven on the Jewel-class ships. The whole concept was to offer a private area within the ship where the folks from the most expensive cabins could spend some quiet time in the sun without having to put up with all the noise and commotion that typically exists around the main pool area of a cruise ship.
In 2010, with the introduction of the Norwegian Epic, they took the concept a step further by offering a private restaurant within The Haven and also by offering a much larger Haven courtyard.
Kevin Sheehan became Chief Executive Officer of NCL in 2008, and at that point they started designing the company's next generation of ships. Perhaps you remember Kevin from a very interesting episode of the TV show Undercover Boss... where Kevin disguised himself so that he could see what was really happening on his ships without his employees realizing that they were talking to the CEO. The first ship that was completely designed and built during the Sheehan era at NCL was the Norwegian Breakaway, which debuted in 2013. It was really interesting to see the improvements that they made to The Haven on the Norwegian Breakaway. The biggest improvement was adding a second deck above the courtyard, featuring lots more loungers and daybeds... so that there would never be a shortage of places to lay out in the sun even if most of The Haven guests all decided to do so at the same time.
From this angle, you can see how The Haven courtyard is set down below the upper deck
to provide privacy and wind protection. Unfortunately, this also blocks any view of the ocean.
Norwegian Getaway (and the Breakaway) offer a solution to the view problem from within The Haven...
a large area of loungers and daybeds up on the second level which all look out over the ocean.
Here's a look at The Haven courtyard at night.
Notice that on Norwegian Getaway, based in Miami, The Haven courtyard is open to the air.
On the Norwegian Breakaway, based in New York, there is a retractable roof over the courtyard.
Notice that towards the windows in back there are some tables for outdoor dining,
which are shaded under a white overhang.
More about outdoor dining within The Haven... in a moment.
First, let's take a look at The Haven restaurant.
With over 4000 passengers onboard, dining in one of the large public dining rooms onboard can seem a little noisy and hectic at times. Guests of The Haven have the option of eating in the much quieter, more refined setting of The Haven Restaurant.
On embarkation day, boarding doesn't begin until 11:30 AM. People are always very excited to get their vacation started, and lots of them arrive at the terminal way before boarding begins. Usually, by the time 11:30 rolls around, there are at least a few hundred people waiting in the terminal to board the ship. One of the perks of being a guest of The Haven is that there's a private lounge in the terminal for check-in of Haven guests, and then when boarding begins you can be among the first to walk on to the ship. But Haven guests don't just walk on to the ship on their own... there's an employee who personally escorts you on to the ship and who takes you all the way up to The Haven. It was pretty cool.
The Haven restaurant doesn't open for lunch on embarkation day until 12:30, so after boarding and until the restaurant opens, you are invited to wait in The Haven lounge and bar area. They served complimentary mojitos and rum punch... and they also brought out sliders as appetizers.
At 12:30, the restaurant opened for business and we were seated at a table by the window. There's not a whole lot of window space within The Haven restaurant, so the tables are crammed a bit too-close together in that area. The lesson we learned, since we like our privacy at meal times and don't like being seated so close to other people that they end up hearing every word we say to each other, is to ask for a table in the interior of the restaurant rather than by the windows. Away from the windows, the tables have a comfortable amount of space between them... as you can see in the previous photo.
Feeling like a real V.I.P. during my first meal in The Haven restaurant,
I ordered a steak for lunch. It was very good.
I snapped this photo of Kellyn during our embarkation-day lunch in The Haven restaurant.
One really great thing about The Haven restaurant is that you can choose to have your meals outside, in the courtyard. FYI, if you want to sit outside in the courtyard and have your meal served to you out there... check in at the entrance to the restaurant just like you wanted to be seated inside, and then tell them you want to be seated outside in the courtyard. If you don't do that, they won't know you're out there... and won't send a waiter or waitress out to take your order.
We found that we totally loved having breakfast outside in the courtyard of The Haven. It was always nice and warm outside at breakfast time... but not too warm. Breakfast always feels like it should be a very casual meal... and outdoor seating in the courtyard seemed just right for us. Back at home, thinking back on our vacation on the Norwegian Getaway, breakfasts outdoors in The Haven courtyard are among my favorite memories of the cruise.
At breakfast time, there's fresh fruit in The Haven courtyard, too...
Here's a typical breakfast we enjoyed outdoors in the courtyard...
Kellyn had a very sensible breakfast of yogurt with mixed fruit, and two gluten-free muffins.
I totally pigged-out with an omelet, potatoes, and pancakes.
A trick I've learned after so many cruises is to always bring along a small shaker of Lawry's seasoning salt.
I did have an odd thing happen during breakfast in The Haven...
They had no idea what a Denver Omelet was! Their breakfast menu offers an omelet with your choice of several listed ingredients. Rather than tell my waitress that I wanted "an omelet with ham, onions, green bell peppers, and cheese" I thought it would be easier to just tell her that I wanted a Denver omelet. She had no idea what that was! That surprised me. Was I really the first person to ever ask for a Denver omelet in The Haven restaurant?!?
I also had an odd experience in The Haven Restaurant during lunch one day. I was excited to see a "French Dip" sandwich on the lunch menu, as this is a sandwich I always enjoy and which I have never been disappointed with. I remember the very first time my father introduced me to one in a restaurant... more than 40 years ago. I'm sure I've had a hundred or more French Dip sandwiches over the years since then. Unfortunately, the one in The Haven would probably rank as the worst I ever had!
You might be wondering how it would be possible to screw up a French Dip sandwich... as it's a pretty simple item to prepare. You just thinly slice some roast beef, throw it on a French roll, and serve it "Au Jus"... which means to serve it with a small bowl of beef broth for dipping.
Well, that's where The Haven restaurant ran in to problems with their French Dip sandwich. The sandwich itself was OK, although it was probably the smallest French Dip sandwich I've ever had. But they did not serve it au jus. Rather than serving it with the typical French dip beef broth, it came with a side of barbecue sauce and (if I recall correctly) mayonnaise. That's not a French Dip! That's a barbecue beef sandwich. A French Dip should always be served au jus... at least that's the way I've always seen it done.
We stayed in cabin 14136. Hopefully, people who are booked in this cabin in the future will Google it and find this page... so they can see how wonderful it is! We totally LOVED it. The big selling point is the Jacuzzi bathtub, right next to the bed...
The bed was extremely comfortable... the best I've ever had on a cruise ship.
It's not two twins pushed together to make a king, either... so there's nothing goofy in the middle.
I'm including this photo of the cabin door sign
just to make this page even more "search engine friendly"
for anyone who might be staying in 14136 in the future.
Notice the blue glow light effect on the front of the tub
There's a window, so you can look out to the ocean while you're relaxing in the tub
A few things to know about the Jacuzzi tub...
It takes about twenty minutes to fill. When you're all done using it, drain it... just like you would a bath tub. Don't leave it full of water like you would an outdoor Jacuzzi. In the (very unlikely) event the ship hits some rough seas, you don't want water sloshing out of the tub and in to your cabin.
Make sure you don't turn on the jets until the tub is almost full. If you turn on the jets before all the jet nozzles are under at least an inch or two of water, the jets may spray water out in to your room and make a big mess! I did NOT learn this lesson the hard way... but my sister did, on a vacation many years ago! Her story has stuck with me all these years.
While you're away in the evening, the cabin steward turns down the bed,
closes the curtains, and sets the lighting down low to set a mood for bed time
I'm sure that you can tell from the still photos that it was a nice cabin, but I bet you still don't fully get it. For you to really see what's so great about this cabin, I need to take you on a video tour... (click the triangle in the center, to start the video playing)
This category of cabin (H9) is known as a "Haven Spa Suite".
Haven... because it comes with full access to The Haven.
Spa... because it comes with full access to the spa facilities.
Suite... I don't know why!
Usually the word "suite" means there will be a bedroom separate from the living room.
But this was not the case with this cabin.
I don't mean to imply anything negative about this cabin. We LOVED it.
But I don't get why they call it a suite!
I guess they are using the term to simply indicate that it is better than a standard cabin.
Unless you're on a super-tight budget, don't ever consider booking an "inside" or even an "ocean-view" cabin. For the full experience, you have to get a balcony cabin. There's SO much to see! Here's a picture I snapped from our balcony as the ship sailed out of the port of Miami...
And here's a beautiful Caribbean sunset that I shot from our balcony...
A few final thoughts about our Haven Spa Suite cabin...
Because we had access to the Spa Thermal Suite, which had a gigantic thermal pool plus a large Jacuzzi, we only used the in-room Jacuzzi tub three times during the week. But it was really wonderful to have it those three times. The pool and Jacuzzi in the spa are larger and more comfortable... but there are times when it's nice to have the privacy of a no-suit-required Jacuzzi right there in your own room. It especially came in handy on the last night of the cruise. We wanted to spend some time soaking and relaxing on the last night of our vacation... but we didn't want to get our swim suits all wet before we had to pack them in our suitcases for the flight home. By having a private Jacuzzi in our own room, we were able to relax in a warm Jacuzzi without having to get our swim suits wet.
With all that said, when I think back about our cruise and the wonderful cabin we had, the Jacuzzi isn't actually the cabin feature I enjoyed the most. You might be surprised to hear what was. It was actually the modern, spacious bathroom. Having been on 25 previous cruises, I'm used to cruise ship cabin bathrooms being fairly tight. In fact, the biggest negative thing about both of the Princess cruises we've been on was the horribly uncomfortable tiny shower. This bathroom wasn't tight at all, though. In fact, it may have been larger than the one we have at home! It was certainly more comfortable and luxurious. (Not to mention that someone comes in twice a day and cleans it up!) If you skipped past the cabin tour video I shared a few moments ago, go back and play it and pay special attention to the tour of the bathroom. It was such a comfortable bathroom!
The Thermal Suite in the Spa
Our "Haven Spa Suite" cabin entitled us to full access to the ship's spa facilities... and I was a little surprised to find that this was one of my favorite aspects of the cruise. We ended up spending a LOT of time in the "thermal suite" within the spa... which is what they call the area you see in the following pictures...
Daytime shot of the thermal pool
The best part of the thermal suite is the big indoor pool area you see in the first picture. I had seen pictures of it before our cruise and I assumed that the Jacuzzi with the white border, over on the left side, would be warm and that the main pool itself, in the back, would be the temperature of a regular swimming pool. Wrong! The water in the whole thing is like what you would expect in a Jacuzzi. It was wonderfully warm! It was so luxurious to have such a large pool filled with such warm water. I've never been in such a large warm pool before. Normally, no homeowner or hotel owner would want to pay the heating bills involved in keeping such a large pool that warm. But normal rules don't necessarily apply on cruise ships!
Before the cruise, in viewing pictures of this area of the ship, I also couldn't really figure out what that area on the lower right was. A second Jacuzzi? Or what? It turns out that it's a little like a regular Jacuzzi, but a little different. Instead of the force of the water coming horizontally out the sides of it, there are tremendously powerful bubbles coming up vertically from the floor. It's really turbulent in there! It's kind of fun to sit in there and fight the force of the bubbles for a while... but you probably won't want to fight it for long. After a few minutes in there, you'll find just relaxing in the main section of the pool is a lot more comfortable. All the whirlpool jets are on a timer... so after a while they all shut off... and they only come back on if someone pushes the button there along the side of the pool.
Night time shot of the spa's thermal suite
Just outside of the big warm indoor pool is the row of tile loungers that you see in the photo above. What you can't tell from the photo is that those tile loungers are heated! It feels nice to have the heat from the tiles against your skin as you stretch out and relax there. See those windows to the right of the photo? They have a spectacular view! This entire area sits directly above the ship's bridge... and those windows look out forward in front of the ship... basically the same view the Captain and navigation crew have. It's a great view during the day.
In addition to those heated tile loungers, there's also a bunch of these soft padded loungers in this area. Those tile loungers take a little getting used to... the heat is great, but the tile makes it very rigid. Depending on your body size, you may or may not fit the contour of the tile lounger well. What would happen with me after getting on to one of those tile loungers is that I would spend the first minute thinking how uncomfortable the stiff tile and rigid shape made it... but then after a minute or two the heat would work its magic and my body would relax and somehow mold itself in to the contour of the lounger. But if you can do without the heat... you can avoid that uncomfortable first minute by just using these soft loungers instead.
Note the towels on each lounger. At first glance you might tend to think that a "chair hog" was trying to reserve these loungers and that they were "taken". Not so. The staff puts a rolled-up towel on each one. If you see a towel that's not neatly rolled up... THAT'S a chair hog in action.
Now I'd like to offer a few words to future guests of the Norwegian Getaway who may be reading this now... a few words which, I hope, will help promote considerate behavior when spending time in the spa:
There are a very limited number of those heated tile loungers, and everyone that gets out of the pool, Jacuzzi, or sauna wants to use one. Don't be a tile lounger hog. There aren't enough of them to allow you to reserve one for when you eventually get out of the sauna or the pool... so don't stash your bath robe, beach bag, sunglasses, or towels here. If you need a place to stash your stuff while you're in the pool... look around... there are other places you can put them. The heated tile loungers are there to be used... not to be used as a table for your stuff while you're in the sauna or the pool.
A sauna is a fairly standard feature in a cruise ship spa. One unusual thing the Norwegian Getaway's spa has is a salt room. They say that the salty air in the room is good for your skin.
They recommend that you spend about 20 minutes in the salt room. I tried it out, and found it to be a comfortable place to relax and cool down after getting quite hot in the sauna, Jacuzzi, and thermal pool. The salt room was kept at what seemed like a fairly normal temperature and humidity... so it was a nice change from the heat and humidity of the other rooms within the thermal suite. However, I can't say that I noticed any benefit to my skin condition. It just seemed like another one of those unsubstantiated claims that you tend to hear a lot in a cruise ship spa. Luckily, this one did not come with a sales pitch or a price to be paid!
This photo shows where the entrance to the salt room is
in relation to the loungers and the windows at the front of the ship.
The entrance to the salt room has those big glowing gold-colored panels on either side.
The big thermal pool has a very powerful waterfall feature in the center. I enjoyed getting under the waterfall and letting the pressure of the water massage my shoulder and back. Just be careful if you're in the pool and you see someone else head to the waterfall like they're going to get under it. It splashes water around when they're under it... so back off and leave a little buffer zone between you and them so you don't get splashed.
The thermal suite within the spa has limited access. Only people staying in spa cabins, and a limited number of people who purchase a spa pass, will have access to this area. So, it tends to be pretty calm and peaceful in there. With that said, though, there are certain times when it's busier than others. On sea days, of course, it's far busier in the thermal suite than on a port day. We came in for a relaxing soak in the pool on the evening that the ship had been in St Maarten. I guess everybody was so tired from having fun in St Maarten that they just crashed in their rooms that night. Or perhaps the entertainment was so good, that they had better things to do that evening. In any case, the thermal suite was empty that evening and Kellyn and I felt like super-rich snobs with our own private thermal suite. It was great.
Kellyn hides in the shadowy corners of the big thermal pool while I snap a picture of the waterfall feature
Kellyn relaxes on one of the heated tile loungers (far right)
while I shoot yet another photo of our practically private spa
The changing facilities and locker rooms within the Norwegian Getaway's spa are really nice.
It made me think about some of the more cramped locker rooms I had seen on Carnival.
By comparison, these facilities were really spacious and comfortable.
The lockers were very easy to use, too... you just punch in a 4-digit code of your own choosing.
Men's Locker Room
Notice that they provide hair dryers in the changing facilities
The Free-Fall Water Slide
As someone who's done a lot of cruises with Carnival, it was really interesting to see the many ways that NCL has surpassed Carnival with the Norwegian Getaway... and how, in some respects, Carnival's ships seem a little out of date to me now. One example is in comparing waterslides. The Norwegian Getaway offers, by a wide margin, the best array of water slides at sea.
Sure, Carnival was the first to offer a vertical-drop water slide on a cruise ship... and at the time, it was amazing and impressive. But not only does the Norwegian Getaway now have one of its own... it has TWO... plus three other curvy slides, too. So, that's FIVE waterslides on one ship... which I believe is two more than any Carnival ship has, and four more than most.
The other strange thing about Carnival, as far as waterslides are concerned, is how they took one of only two ships with a vertical-drop slide and sent it to Australia. So, as far as us Americans are concerned, there's only one remaining Carnival ship with a decent waterslide on it. For the bread-and-butter of Carnival's fleet... the Conquest-class and most of the Spirit-class ships... you've just got one very pokey little waterslide on the ship. Not impressive when compared to the five waterslides on Getaway, five on Breakaway, and who-knows-what coming up on the Norwegian Escape next year. So, consider me a fan of what NCL is doing in this area.
It's kind of ironic for me to be poking fun at Carnival over waterslides, since several of my Carnival cruises were paid for by ad revenue generated by a video of Carnival Spirit's Green Thunder waterslide! The video went viral on YouTube, with over 65,000,000 views so far, and the ad revenue from monetizing that video has definitely contributed to my ability to cruise so often. Always hoping to create yet another viral YouTube video, I spent some time one afternoon shooting video of people going down the Norwegian Getaway's Free-Fall slide. It was funny to hear them scream when the floor dropped out from under them... and I really laughed when the ride attendant told me that he often dreams of people screaming! Take a look at the video, and do be sure to have your sound turned on... (click the triangle in the center, to start the video playing)
This video of the Free Fall waterslide has "gone viral" on YouTube! It has been viewed over 4,000,000 times!
Now let's take a look at some of the entertainment available on the Norwegian Getaway. I guess one way to illustrate the vast number of entertainment options is to admit that during my 7-day cruise there was simply not enough time to experience it all. I never made it to Burn The Floor, Legally Blonde - The Musical, or Howl At The Moon. There were just not enough hours in the day to experience it all... and that's a good problem to have on a cruise ship.
But let's cover some of the things I did have time for... and I'll start with what I'd say was flat-out the best entertainment I ever experienced on a cruise ship: it's something totally unique to the Norwegian Getaway called "The Illusionarium".
I've seen magic & illusion shows on Carnival and they've always been good... but what happens in the Illusionarium on the Norwegian Getaway is in a totally different league. It starts with the fact that the Illusionarium, and by that I mean the theater itself, was built specifically for this show and this show only. Nothing else ever takes place in the Illusionarium... it's not a multi-purpose room. It exists solely for this particular show.
Photography and videography are not allowed during the show, so I was only able to take a couple of pictures before the show began. A careful look at the following photo will reveal a few special aspects of the Illusionarium and the show that takes place there.
In the lower portion of the photo you can see the circular-shaped stage where the show takes place. Notice that wrapping around the stage are people seated at tables. The Illusionarium is a dinner theater. They serve a pretty decent surf-and-turf dinner along with the show. I think the fact that they built a theater just for this show, and that they went to the trouble of making it a dinner theater and not just a straight magic show, illustrates how NCL wanted to really make this something special. I think they've succeeded!
Another thing to point out in that photo is the thing that looks like a dome over the stage. Those are actually video screens, and what happens up there on those screens will change to match things throughout the show. It's pretty cool. At this point, before the show had actually started, it was just made to look like a glass dome over the stage.
What happens in the Illusionarium is far from just an ordinary magic show. The show involves four magicians, plus a cast of several other actors and actresses who assist. I don't want to give it away... there's a storyline that forms the basis for all the illusions during the show... and all I'm going to say about it is that if you ever cruise on Norwegian Getaway, do yourself a big favor and go see this show!
One thing I am willing to give away about the show is that if you arrive early enough to be seated during the first 5 or 10 minutes that the theater is open, you'll see an unusual sight. For the first five minutes or so, every visible waiter and actor pretends to be frozen in place! In this next photo, you can see one of the actresses up on stage... and she stood dead still like that for a good five minutes or so. Frozen in place! Throughout the room, there were waiters and waitresses that all appeared to be frozen in place while in the middle of doing their normal routine. And then, after five minutes or so, all together to some silent cue that I couldn't detect, everyone came back to life! It was quirky and whimsical... and just a taste of the fun that would unfold during the show ahead.
I was totally delighted by both the show itself and the food they served. I was also fortunate to have the best seat in the house! One of the perks of being a guest of The Haven is that you get priority seating at many of the shows onboard... including in the Illusionarium. Rather than standing in line outside the Illusionarium like the other passengers did before the show, Haven guests were asked to meet at the concierge desk in The Haven. Then, the concierge walked us (there were about 10 of us) over to a special crew-only elevator and we went down to the Illusionarium and entered via a special entrance which bypassed the line outside the theater. From there we were escorted to the best seats right next to the stage. Once we were seated, the other guests were allowed to enter.
Later that evening, perhaps an hour or so after the show, something very unexpected and totally delightful happened to us! We decided to head to the buffet at the Garden Café on Lido deck to have some dessert. Much to my surprise, two of the actors from the Illusionarium show were sitting at a table having some dinner... and one of them was the lead character from the show, who plays the part of "Geoffrey" and who acts as the host and master of ceremonies. I later found out that his real name is Bruce Gold.
Comedian/Magician Bruce Gold
If you're of a certain age, you may remember Bruce's Got Milk? commercial
On the one hand, I didn't want to mess up Bruce's dinner... especially since the actress he was dining with was drop-dead gorgeous and if I had been dining with her I certainly wouldn't have wanted anyone butting in! But on the other hand, I just HAD to let him know that he had made a big impression on us and that we had been completely delighted with the show. So, I politely interrupted and told them how much we had both enjoyed the show that evening. Bruce is a super-friendly guy, and it was easy to tell from his body language that he didn't mind the interruption at all. In fact, he seemed to encourage the conversation. So, Bruce and I chatted for a few minutes. It was really a fun chat. Both of our lovely companions were content to just observe and listen, though! If it had been up to me, I would have sat down and chatted with Bruce for 15 or 20 minutes... but I knew that would have been rude... so after a few minutes, we left Bruce and his companion to have their dinner.
I spent much of the rest of the evening thinking about all the things I would have loved to have asked Bruce if I had been able to have more time with him. So, imagine my delight when, later in the week, I noticed an item in the Freestyle Daily newsletter about a question-and-answer session with the Illusionarium cast, to be held in the atrium. There was no way I was going to miss that!
A Q&A session in the atrium, with some of the cast members from the Illusionarium
The cast made a few opening remarks and then they opened it up to questions from the audience. I was bursting at the seams, and got the opportunity to ask the first question. Bruce indicated that he recognized me from the other night, and then the cast took my question (about how often things go wrong during the show) and ran with it. It was fun. I could have easily asked ten other questions... but that would have been rude, so I shut up for the rest of the Q&A so everyone else could have a chance to get their question in. When the audience finally ran out of questions, several of the magicians did a few illusions. I included one of my favorites... where Bruce impersonates one of the other magician's making a bird appear from nowhere, and then reveals how the trick works by showing that the very real-looking bird was actually a fake... in the little introductory video I showed you at the top of this page.
One thing I learned during the Q&A session was that NCL will not be putting an Illusionarium on their upcoming new ship, the Norwegian Escape... nor do they plan to add an Illusionarium to any other ship in the fleet. They want it to remain a unique feature of the Norwegian Getaway. I can't wait to see what kind of interesting improvements the Norwegian Escape does have! I definitely plan to sail on her.
That Q&A session in the atrium was just one of many interesting things that happened there in the atrium throughout the day. It's an interesting space that they put to good use... far better than Carnival gets out of their big atriums. In this next picture, of pianist Chris Wade entertaining a small group of folks in the atrium, you can see how the atrium curves around and how there's seating up on the next level that provides a good view of what's happening below.
Chris Wade entertains at the piano in the atrium
They also use the atrium for some things like trivia contests, dance classes, and game shows. I thought this was an interesting use of the space, rather than tying up the main theater with things like that, and it has the added benefit of catching the attention of people just walking by who might not have had any intention of catching the show or activity.
One of the things we enjoyed seeing in the atrium was the "Newlywed Not-So-Newlywed" game... a concept we've seen used on just about every one of the 26 cruises we've been on. It's always good for a laugh or two, and I was curious to see how NCL did it compared to the format I was used to on Carnival. Turns out that it was pretty similar.
Now I have to go on a little rant here for a minute, because the picture of the Newlywed game brings up one aspect of our cruise that was less than perfect.
See the guy in the hat, hosting the show? That's JC Sanchez, Cruise Director of the Norwegian Getaway.
From my experiences with Carnival, I knew that when Carnival rolls out a new ship, they fill it with their best crew members, including whoever they think is their best Cruise Director. I expected, when sailing on the newest ship in the NCL fleet, to be wowed by a great Cruise Director. It was one of just a few areas where they didn't meet or exceed my expectations!
I don't know if JC Sanchez was just filling in while their main guy was on
vacation... or what... but he sure didn't seem like "best CD in the fleet" material to me. Surely,
they must have better! Oh well, that's OK... if the Norwegian Getaway had to fall a little flat in one
area... that's probably one of the better areas to fall flat in. (And one of the easiest to fix: NCL
please send JC somewhere a little less visible... like the Norwegian Spirit!)
Back to the Newlywed game show...
Perhaps you've seen the show before on another cruise. The idea is to pick three couples from the audience: one who have only been married for a few days, one who have been married for somewhere around 20-25 years, and one who have been married for upwards of 50. The youngest and oldest couples are fairly easy to pick... you just start asking the audience who's been married for the least amount of time and who's been married FOREVER. It's the middle couple that's a little trickier to pick. The host usually does some kind of audition to try to find a lively couple who seem like they'll be fun on stage. On the Norwegian Getaway, they used an imaginary scene from the movie "Tarzan" and had the couples act it out. The wife says something like "Tarzan, Tarzan... where ARE you?!?" and the husband replies with his best Tarzan yell. Whoever hams their part up the best, gets chosen to be in the show.
So, there we were, sitting in the audience of the Newlywed game show, watching people audition with the Tarzan & Jane bit... when we heard them introduce one couple as "Brian and Heidi". This rang a little bell in my head... as I had seen the names Brian & Heidi before. You know how on a cruise, some people will decorate the outside of their cabin door with artwork? Just down the hall from our cabin, I had seen a cabin door with a fake porthole and the names Brian & Heidi. So now here were Brian & Heidi up on stage, doing the Tarzan & Jane thing to try to get in to the Newlywed game. Figuring there probably weren't two couples by the names of Brian & Heidi on our ship, I assumed it was our neighbors. I just made a mental note of it, in case some day during the cruise I might see them popping in or out of their cabin... and I could do a little Tarzan yell to make them laugh and let them know I had seen them on stage.
After that, every time I walked by their cabin door and saw their names on the sign, I laughed and thought how the sign should really be modified to say Tarzan & Jane rather than Brian & Heidi. Not wanting to permanently deface their sign, I came up with a simple way to make my little joke, and hopefully give them a laugh:
So, Brian and Heidi, if someday you stumble across this page and read this story... you'll finally learn the answer to the mystery of who defaced your door sign! It was me, your neighbor from down the hall.
I guess they must have thought it was funny, because they left the post-it notes on the sign for the entire duration of the cruise!
In a couple of the previous pictures, you saw the big video screen in the atrium. There were a couple of others on the ship, too. Here's one at the far aft end of the ship, in the outdoor area known as Spice H2O. By day, Spice H2O is a quiet adults-only area similar to Carnival's Serenity Deck. At night, it becomes party central... similar to how they have outdoor deck parties by the main pool at night on a Carnival ship.
They also use big video screens in their main theater, where they do the Welcome Aboard Show, Burn The Floor, and Legally Blonde - The Musical. It's similar to how they use big video screens on Carnival ships that are set up for the Playlist Productions shows.
The Grammy Experience
Here's another example of where NCL has taken a simple Carnival concept like "let's create an intimate venue for musical acts" and taken it to a different level. The Grammy Experience is simply a small lounge with a stage and a bar, where a musical group plays to entertain guests who would like to listen to some good music. The NCL twist is that there's always one member of the band who has won a Grammy award for musical excellence... and the room is decorated with all sorts of interesting Grammy memorabilia.
The Grammy award winning musicians rotate in and out every few months. For our cruise, it was Grammy award winning blues harmonica player, Sugar Blue.
Kellyn and I are not really in to the blues, so we didn't stay around real long... but we listened to a few songs and got a taste of his act. It was interesting to imagine what it would have cost to see an act like that at somewhere like the House Of Blues outside of Disneyland.
I did get a kick out of looking at all the Grammy memorabilia on the walls of the room. The most interesting piece to me was this set of costumes worn by the Jackson Five back in 1977 for a TV sketch. A photo of the group in those outfits was used on the cover of a greatest hits album that was released in Japan.
One of the things I always truly enjoy during a cruise is having the opportunity to see several good stand-up comedy acts. At home, in my real life, I'm a total homebody and would never go out to a comedy show. But on a cruise, it's one of the things I really enjoy. In my 20+ Carnival cruises, I always appreciated their emphasis on comedy and the way they would have four different comedians perform during a 7-day cruise.
Comedian Scott Henry in a performance in the Headliner comedy club on Norwegian Getaway
Earlier this year, during two cruises on Princess, it was interesting to see the different philosophies that Carnival and Princess use regarding the best way to present a comedy show.
On Carnival, they think comedy is best presented in a small comedy club. I've seen John Heald, Carnival's Senior Cruise Director, discuss this subject in his blog. The small comedy clubs on Carnival always fill up and it becomes impossible to get a seat. Guests complain that the shows should be held in the main theater, so that there would be ample seating. But on Carnival, their philosophy is that a comedian gives a better performance in a small room that's literally standing room only. The comedian see's that standing room only crowd and it makes him feel like he's a hit. It puts him in the right frame of mind to give a great show. Put the same number of people in a big theater, with the comedian looking out at a hundred empty seats along the outside walls and in the back, and the comedian sees all those empty seats and feels like a flop. It affects his performance.
On Princess, they look at it a different way. The philosophy is that the comedian is a pro, and he can give a good show whether there's 50 people in the audience or 500. What they totally want to avoid is making their guests mad... and I can tell you for sure that when you're on a Carnival cruise and you go to the comedy club a half hour early just to find any empty seat and there isn't a single one... it's going to make you mad! So, to avoid this, Princess puts their comedy shows on in their main theater. There are always plenty of seats. That's great for the audience, but the Carnival folks would tell you that it can mess with the mind of the performers. I'm pretty sure they're right about that, too... as I did notice at one of the comedy shows I saw in the main theater of the Sapphire Princess that the comedian made several comments about how badly he was bombing... and he really wasn't! I think those empty seats were indeed messing with his head.
So, that brings us to Norwegian. How does NCL do it? I was surprised and amused to find that they employ a hybrid approach to the problem. In other words, they do it both ways! They have some comedy shows in the small "Headliners Comedy Club" on deck six... and they also do a few shows in the big Getaway Theater. I never would have predicted that... but I think it's a great idea!
Comedian Flip Schultz in a performance in the Getaway Theater
There's one other thing about the comedy shows on Norwegian Getaway that I found particularly interesting compared to what I had seen on Princess and Carnival. On both of those lines, someone from the entertainment staff will host the comedy show. On Princess, I think it was the Cruise Director... who just opens the show with a few welcoming remarks and then introduces the comedian and gets off the stage. On Carnival, it's just some guy from the entertainment staff who gets designated as "the comedy club manager" and who starts the show off by reciting a few rules ("keep your table talk to a minimum!") and then gets off the stage after quickly introducing the comedian. On a couple of Carnival cruises, there have been super gung-ho comedy club managers who have padded their parts a little bit by telling a quick joke to warm up the crowd.
On the Norwegian Getaway, they once again went a step above what I was used to. The crew member assigned to open up the comedy show and introduce the main act was himself a professional comedian. And instead of doing a one-minute introduction and then getting off the stage, he did a good 10 minute comedy routine to open up the show and warm up the crowd. At the first comedy show we attended, I thought he was the main act! Imagine my surprise after ten minutes or so when he introduced the main act and headed off the stage. I thought it was a really great way to get the show started.
Comedy show host, James Ervin Berry
So, every comedy show that we attended on Norwegian Getaway began with James Ervin Berry. The shows in the Headliner Comedy Club featured James and one other act... the shows in the big Getaway Theater featured James and two other acts.
Just for the record... all of the comedians on NCL are provided by the Levity Entertainment Group.
Crew Talent Show
I spotted a little blurb in the Freestyle Daily newsletter one day about a crew talent show in the Getaway Theater. I took my camera with me and shot some video of the show... and then edited down the video to just two minutes of highlights, to give you a little taste of what the crew talent show is like. It gives you an interesting look in to the diversity and cultures of some the ship's crew. Take a look... (click the triangle in the center, to start the video playing)
There's one last thing about the Getaway theater that I'd like to mention, before we move on from the subject of entertainment...
If you've ever been on a Carnival ship, and seen a show in the main theater on any of their ships, you may remember that there are lots of seats within the theater that have their view of the stage blocked by poles supporting the decks above. I was delighted to see that the theater in the Norwegian Getaway did not have that problem. Every seat in the theater has a clear view of the stage... there's not a support pole in sight anywhere in that theater. Nice design, NCL.
Restaurants... Count 'Em Down!
One of the best things about the Norwegian Getaway is the wide variety of food choices onboard. Whether or not you like the food on your cruise ship makes a HUGE difference on your overall cruise experience. I learned this the hard way on the Norwegian Star in 2008... which had some nice things going for it, but by the end of the week I disliked the food so much that I would dread dinner each night.
Everyone's taste in food is different... and no one restaurant is going to please everyone. The key to keeping everyone happy is to offer a wide array of restaurants that cater to all sorts of different food tastes. That's why I've come to like the newer, larger ships... they seem to offer the most food choices... and that gives me lots of options and ensures that I can always find something I like.
There are 28 dining locations on the Norwegian Getaway. Here's the full list:
Regarding the four restaurants listed twice, with one being "on the Waterfront"... I'm a little hazy on the details. I didn't eat at any of the "on the waterfront" restaurants during my cruise, so I didn't get any details on them. But if I understand correctly, they offer a modified, more-limited menu than the indoor versions of the restaurants do. I'm not sure how the pricing works... it may be a la carte. I'm sorry that I didn't nail down the details on this.
This is the part of my cruise review where I show you pictures of some of the things we ate during our cruise. Now, keep in mind that I'll be expressing some opinions based on my tastes in food... and that may be quite different than YOUR taste in food. So, enjoy the pictures and don't put too much credence on my opinions of the food... as my food tastes never evolved much past that of a 12-year-old boy.
Let's start with the kind of food that I absolutely HATE! This was my dinner in The Haven restaurant on the first night of the cruise. I really enjoyed my steak lunch in The Haven restaurant on the first afternoon... so I was excited to see what kind of a dinner they offered. It turns out that it's gourmet "foodie" food. Tiny little portions. Beautifully prepared. Art work on a plate. Worst meal I had on the entire cruise!
Neither of us liked the dinner menu in the Haven restaurant, so we never went back there for dinner after that first night. Now, if you're one of those "foodies"... you'd probably LOVE it. But we didn't!
So, The Haven restaurant wasn't our thing... but let me tell you what was. Oh my goodness... we had never been to a Brazilian steakhouse before! What a treat!
Clam chowder and dinner rolls from
Moderno Churrascaria, the Brazilian steakhouse
The main course...
A plate full of all sorts of delicious meats from Moderno Churrascaria, the Brazilian steakhouse
There was also a gigantic salad bar.
This was just a small part of it...
So, Moderno Churrascaria, the Brazilian steakhouse, was a huge hit with us. We walked out of there totally satisfied and completely full. Too bad they don't have a Brazilian steakhouse back home... I'd be their best customer!
Luckily for me, the Norwegian Getaway actually has a second steakhouse onboard. In addition to the Brazilian steakhouse, there's also Cagney's, a traditional American steakhouse. I totally enjoyed my meal at Cagney's, although I made a slight mistake when ordering. What I should have done was not order an appetizer... because it ended up being too much food! By the time I finished the sliders I ordered from the appetizer menu, I was well on my way to being full.
Sliders, from the appetizer menu at Cagney's steak house
Here's my entree from Cagney's...
For a steak lover like myself, you couldn't pick a better cruise ship than the Norwegian Getaway. Two onboard steakhouses, both of which offered a wonderful meal, perfectly prepared. Plus, I had also had a delicious steak for lunch on the first day in The Haven restaurant, and later in the week I had another steak in the Tropicana Room... although that one wasn't quite as good. All things considered, though, this carnivore was very satisfied. It was a far cry from a bad experience I had last year with a horrible steak in the steakhouse on the Carnival Sunshine.
Now, let me tell you a little about the Tropicana Room... I have to say I really enjoyed myself there. I liked the menu and the food, and I totally loved the atmosphere of the place... with the huge vaulted ceiling and the live band and people dancing on the dance floor. Here are a few pictures...
So, the ambience of the Tropicana room was really nice, I liked the things they had on the menu and the food itself. We ate there twice... and if we had discovered it earlier in the week we might have ended up eating there three or four times. Of all the cruises we've been on, it was certainly one of my best main dining room experiences.
Lasagna, from the Tropicana room
Molten chocolate cake
The bad news is that it was not as good as Carnival's warm chocolate melting cake
and they also were slow in getting it to me, so the ice cream had melted.
The good news is that the overall experience in the Tropicana room was still great!
I have to say, the Norwegian Getaway really impressed me as far as food and dining goes. We got off to a bit of a rocky start with that first dinner in The Haven restaurant, as I am not a "foodie" and don't like that gourmet style of cooking... but as the week went on and I got to know the other specialty restaurants onboard, I became more and more impressed. When I look back on the week and think about the dinners I had in the Tropicana room, the two steakhouses, plus the surf and turf at the Illusionarium... I just really enjoyed it. I'm a picky eater, and I've had trouble on cruises before. Norwegian Getaway definitely offered the best overall dinner experience I've had on a cruise. However... for lunch, I'd have to give the prize to Carnival, because I love those Guy Fieri burgers they serve and their pizza is pretty good, too.
There's one other aspect of the food and dining experience that we haven't talked about yet... and that's the dress code. It's so much more relaxed on Norwegian than on Carnival. I didn't really expect that... as I had always thought of Carnival as a pretty relaxed and casual cruise line. But NCL is even more so. On a 7-day Carnival cruise, there are two formal nights. Don't even think about wearing a pair of jeans to dinner anywhere but the buffet or the pizza place on those two nights. And if you go to the steakhouse, any night of the week, you better dress nice. That's Carnival. It turns out that NCL's freestyle concept is much more my style. Instead of having two mandatory formal nights, there's just one night... and you can dress up IF YOU WANT TO... or don't! It's up to you.
I prefer to dress very casually when I'm on vacation. So this quote, directly from the NCL dress code, makes me very happy:
We want you to be comfortable, so cruise casual attire is perfect
for... most specialty restaurants.
For men, jeans, dress shorts, and casual shirts work nicely.
Read the full Norwegian Getaway dress code here
Over the course of our 20+ Carnival cruises, we found that it was a lot easier and more comfortable to eat most of our meals in their buffet restaurant rather than in their main dining rooms. We liked the fact that we could dress super casually in the buffet restaurant, and that we could have total control over what (and how much) food went on our plate. An added bonus was that we could get through a meal in the buffet in 20 minutes or so, rather than the 90-120 minutes that it might take in the main dining room... which left more time to get out and have fun.
On our two Princess cruises earlier this year, we were quite impressed by what we felt was an even better food selection at the buffet than we were used to on Carnival. So, we were very curious what the buffet experience would be like on the Norwegian Getaway.
The first thing that surprised us at the buffet was to see that they didn't just rely on hand sanitizer to ensure proper guest hygiene. They had installed sinks at the entrances to the buffet, so that people could fully wash their hands before eating.
Sinks for hand washing, at the buffet entrance
Another thing that surprised me was to notice that they had an ice cream station within the buffet... and it was stocked with about ten different flavors of ice cream. It was available at lunch and dinner, every day... at no extra charge. Also, in addition to regular hand-scooped ice cream, there were also self-service soft-serve ice cream dispensing machines that were open all day long.
Strawberry ice cream from the Garden Café buffet
While Kellyn and I always enjoyed our Carnival cruises and had many enjoyable meals in their buffet, we had a running joke about how lousy their cakes were. I always said that my favorite cake in the world was a white sheet cake, like they make in several good bakeries in our area... and why couldn't Carnival ever offer anything like that? Imagine my surprise, on the first day of the cruise, to see this beautiful white sheet cake in the Norwegian Getaway's buffet...
Not only was this cake delicious, but they let you slice off a piece yourself...
so you could take as large or as small of a slice as you wanted.
It was a BIG sheet cake, too... approximately two feet wide!
This shot gives you an idea of the casual style of the seating within the Garden Café.
Large picture windows line the entire restaurant, offering excellent views of the ocean.
They offer a very good omelet for breakfast at the Garden Café buffet
Unfortunately, there's a lot of room for improvement regarding the pizza at the Garden Cafe. The good news is that you're never standing around waiting for one to come out of the oven... like you have to do on Carnival. It's there, under a warming lamp, ready for the taking. Also, as you can see in the picture above, they have several varieties for you to choose from. The bad news is that the pizza just doesn't taste very good!
I totally love good pizza... and there's no shortage of good pizza restaurants in my home town. I typically have pizza twice a week at home. It made me very happy, several years ago, when Carnival switched to a new style of pizza... which was a big improvement compared to what they used to serve. So, I was excited to try the NCL pizza.
Unfortunately, I just didn't like the pizza from the Garden Café buffet at all. I never had any more during the week after trying it one time. Honestly, I've had frozen pizza from the grocery store that tasted better than this.
There are actually three different sources for pizza on the Norwegian Getaway, and I understand that each makes their pizza differently from each other. You can get it by the slice from the Garden Café, like I did. Or you can order a whole pizza from room service, for $5... and have them deliver it to you anywhere within the ship. It doesn't have to be delivered to your cabin... you can have them deliver it to you by the pool, or wherever you want it. The third source for pizza is La Cucina, the Italian restaurant... but it will cost you $15 per person there.
I never tried anything but the Garden Café pizza... so I can't offer any personal experience on the other two options. However, I've seen a lot posted about it on the NCL forum on Cruise Critic... and a lot of people seem to say that the room service pizza is even worse, but the pizza at La Cucina is a lot better.
A Few More Restaurant Pictures
I didn't eat at these three places, but I snapped these photos so you could see them...
La Cucina, the Italian restaurant
The exterior of Le Bistro, the French gourmet restaurant
Carlo's bake shop
Created by Buddy Valastro, of the TV show "Cake Boss"
Before I wrap up the topic of dining on the Norwegian Getaway, there is one little complaint I'd like to throw in. It's actually something I noticed on my first NCL cruise, six years earlier on the Norwegian Star, and the situation still has not changed. In every restaurant I ate in, they served room-temperature dinner rolls and chilled butter. Have you ever tried to spread chilled butter on a dinner roll that's room temperature? It just doesn't work very well. This is one area where Carnival does it better... serving warm dinner rolls, and softened butter.
678 Ocean Place
678 Ocean Place is a special focal point of the ship that is an open area from deck 6 all the way through deck 8... thus the name. It's topped off by a beautiful (and gigantic) chandelier.
To help you judge the size of this thing,
look in the lower left corner of the picture
where you can barely see two people standing
The big chandelier changes color over time.
Compare this picture with the previous one,
and you'll see what I mean.
There are certain things that you just HAVE to do on a cruise on the Norwegian Getaway.
One of them is to pose for a picture with the colorful chandelier behind you.
Pools, Jacuzzis, Fun!
All the beautiful pools and Jacuzzis and outdoor areas that I've shown you previously were part of the limited-access Haven and Spa areas. Let's take a look at some of the fun stuff that all 4300 passengers have access to...
This is the main pool, also known as the adult pool.
Notice the bandstand. If there's not a live band playing,
there's recorded music playing.
A still picture makes it look more peaceful than it really is.
Sometimes we would walk by here on the way to The Haven courtyard.
The difference in energy/serenity levels between the two was huge!
If you're looking for a party, this is your place.
Notice how there's an inch or two of water in that area surrounding the pool.
It's a great place to sit (see the chairs around the edges?) and get your toes wet without going in all the way.
On a 90 degree day in the Caribbean, it's a great way to cool down.
This angle gives you a better view of the four Jacuzzis in this area
Be prepared to be friendly in these Jacuzzis, as you will almost certainly be sharing them at some point.
Don't be surprised if your fellow passengers do not speak English, though!
The children's pool.
In the distance on the right, you can see the children's play area.
Since I didn't have any grandkids of my own with me on this cruise
I had to take pictures of other people's kids playing in the children's water play area.
I hope it didn't seem too creepy to their parents that some stranger with a big lens was shooting pictures of their kids.
At night, it's quite colorful out by the pool
They set up a little outdoor shop next to the kid's pool
in an area known as The Market Place.
It's a good place to find inexpensive little items.
The main gift shops within the ship lean more to the high end.
I've mentioned several times already about ways where NCL took a concept I had seen on other cruise ships and made it even better on the Norwegian Getaway. The Waterfront is a great example of that. Perhaps you are familiar with the Promenade deck on a Princess ship. That's an outdoor area the runs the length of the ship, giving you a place to walk or just to sit and relax... down close to the water. Here's a Promenade deck picture from a cruise ship I was on earlier this year...
Now let's compare that to how it's done on the Norwegian Getaway...
What they've done with "the Waterfront" is to take an outdoor space that a lot of ships devote to deck chairs and turn it in to an outdoor seating area for several of the ship's bars and restaurants. I think it's a brilliant idea!
On a warm night in the Caribbean, wouldn't it be great to have your dinner out here?
The Fireworks Show
(and perhaps the funniest story from the whole cruise!)
Here's another example of NCL offering something just a step above what you find on the competition. I've been to plenty of deck parties on Carnival ships... but I've never been to one that featured fireworks! It was pretty cool.
Here's a tip for you about the fireworks show...
The deck party happens back at Spice H20, at the far aft end of the ship, on deck 16. If you want to be part of the party, that's where to go. What I mean by that is that if you want to take part in the dancing, be where the music is, get a drink from the bar... that kind of thing... go enjoy the fireworks and the deck party at Spice H20. But if all you want to do is watch the fireworks, and you'd rather stay away from the crowd a bit more, and you have no interest in the dancing and all that stuff... head on up to deck 18 aft, and watch the fireworks from there. It will be very un-crowded there.
Now I did want to be part of the party... so I made my way to Spice H20 about a half hour before they said the fireworks show would begin. At this point, one of the most mind-boggling incidents I had ever seen during a cruise happened right before my eyes! In 25 previous cruises, I had never seen a fellow passenger do something as inconsiderate as what I was about to witness!
Everyone wanted to see the fireworks show, so it was REALLY crowded up at Spice H20. As I said, I got there about a half hour early, but even at that point it was really crowded and there were more people pouring in every minute. But off in the distance, at one of the far corners, I could see what looked like two empty chairs... so we headed over there. When we got closer, I could see that someone had draped a clothing item over the chairs as if to save them for someone. On Cruise Critic, this is known as "chair hogging". Little did I know that I was about to meet the King and Queen of the Chair Hogs!
As I got real close to the chairs, it must have appeared that I was considering sitting in them. A woman sitting in the next chair snapped at me in a very bitchy voice and let me know in no uncertain terms that they were saved. Presumably she had some friends or relatives or something that would be showing up soon to sit in them. Perhaps it was for an elderly couple who would need them.
I was on vacation, in a very wonderful mood, and the last thing I wanted to do was have a confrontation of any kind. So, I didn't reply to the woman in any way... I just walked around behind the chairs and my wife and I stood there out of everybody's way. It seemed like a good place to watch the show. So, that was our spot for watching the show... off in the corner, behind two empty chairs being saved by a bitchy chair hog. As time went on, the chairs remained empty, and Spice H20 continued to fill up with more and more people. People were really excited about the fireworks, and the crowd got huge. It was just a sea of people. Oh yeah, and two empty chairs.
Finally, when they announced that the Fireworks would begin in just two minutes, it was starting to get obvious that no one was going to show up to sit in those two empty chairs. You would think that at this point the bitchy chair hog would say something like "sorry... it looks like my friends aren't going to show up... would anyone like these two chairs?" That would have been the nice thing to do, right? Especially considering the fact that there were several elderly people standing nearby. My wife and I are in good shape and we've got no problem with standing for a fireworks show. But there were other people in the area that were quite a bit older, and could have used those chairs.
So, there we were... two minutes away from the fireworks starting... and the bitchy chair hog finally figures out that her friends aren't going to show up. What she did next just completely boggled my mind!
Rather than give the chairs up to any of the elderly people standing nearby, bitchy chair hog lady and her husband proceeded to take the chairs that they were sitting on and stack them on top of the two unused chairs... and then sit on the stacked chairs so that no one else could have them! It was so unbelievable that I had to take a photo of it, just so you could see it...
I was so shocked and amazed by this behavior that I took the photo and posted it to the NCL forum on Cruise Critic the very next day. It caused quite a stir on Cruise Critic! They love to talk about chair hogs on Cruise Critic... and these two were clearly the King & Queen of the Chair Hogs. Very quickly, the story caught on, and people had lots to say about it... including lots of interesting speculation about what they would have done if they had witnessed someone being so rude. Yes, I definitely considered having a few words with those two... especially after the show when we all walked out together and I was standing right next to them as they headed to the elevators. But like I said, I was on vacation and confrontation just isn't my vacation style.
Anyway, the people on Cruise Critic had a lot of fun talking about the King & Queen of the Chair Hogs... and someone even took my picture and made a "meme" out of it. I laughed out loud when I saw it!
Before the cruise, I had read about some new technology that MTN Communications had developed to improve the speed of Internet access from cruise ships. I was very excited to learn that the Norwegian Getaway was one of the first ships to get it.
MTN posted a video on YouTube that explains the whole thing. Basically, they developed a hybrid system. When the ship is at sea, the Internet connection is made by satellite. When the ship gets close to certain ports, a wireless connection is made to a tower on land for a much higher-speed connection. After watching the video, I had high hopes for a good Internet connection during my vacation on Norwegian Getaway!
You're probably getting tired of me mentioning that I've been on 25 previous cruises. On 24 of those, the Internet connection was horrible. If you've ever used the Internet from a cruise ship, I'm sure you know what I mean. Service is slow, and flaky. However, one time I got really lucky! I had the very good luck to cruise on the Carnival Magic during the summer of 2012 when they were doing a six-week trial of some new Internet equipment. I don't know how they did it, or why I've never seen it again since then, but during that cruise on the Carnival Magic they had a pretty darned good Internet connection even while we were at sea. So good, in fact, that they offered an unlimited Internet package! Instead of paying by the minute, they offered a package of unlimited access for just $99.99 It wasn't quite as fast as the connection you'd have at home, but it wasn't bad... and it was great that it was always on and you didn't have to constantly log in and out and pay attention to the minutes. I loved it, and that was the only time I can say that about Internet access at sea! So, when I heard about the new technology on the the Norwegian Getaway, I was hoping that this was the official rollout of the technology I had been lucky enough to experience during the six-week trial on the Carnival Magic two years earlier.
Unfortunately, it wasn't! At sea, the Internet connection wasn't really any better than any I had seen on my other cruises. They certainly didn't offer an unlimited access option. And even when we got to our first port of call, St Maarten, I don't recall noticing any improvement to the Internet access speed. I'm not sure if I thought about it that day, though. I was having a lot of fun in St Maarten, and by that point I had long forgotten about that YouTube video about MTN's hybrid network.
The next morning, though, as the ship approached St Thomas, I did connect to the Internet and I immediately noticed an improvement in speed. So, I went to SpeedTest.net and ran a quick test to see how fast my connection was. I was surprised, and delighted!
For those of you who are not techies, let me just say that those are very impressive numbers! That's way faster than you could get on a DSL connection at home, and along the lines of what you'd expect on a cable modem. Well, actually, I wish I got those kind of upload speeds at home with my cable modem! A 33 meg download speed is about what I get at home, but I only get upload speeds of about 5 megs. So, at 55 megs, I was getting upload speeds 11 times faster on a cruise ship than I would usually get at home. Very impressive!
Regarding the ping test... keeping those numbers down as low as possible is what it's all about. The shorter the ping time, the more responsive things are going to feel as you use your computer on the Internet. It's that feeling of things happening - WHAM! - the moment you click that button. The bigger the ping number, the more sluggish the connection is. At home, I get about a 20ms ping... and I have no hopes of ever seeing a number that low anytime during my lifetime from a cruise ship at sea. I doubt they could ever come up with technology that could provide a 20 ms ping time from a ship at sea... at least not during my lifetime. The fact that they got it down to 94ms is pretty darned impressive, actually. I think anything under about 150ms is probably pretty good.
So, anyway... apparently MTN Communications has one of their special towers in St Thomas so that the ship can make a high speed wireless Internet connection whenever it's within view of the tower. They must have one in Nassau, too... as the Internet connection was just as good when we were there. From their video, it appears that they have one in Miami, too... although I never did try accessing the Internet either of the days we were within sight of Miami. I'm not sure about St Maarten. Either I didn't use the Internet that day, or I just didn't notice the speed, or they don't have one of those special MTN towers there.
If this whole subject of high-speed Internet access at sea is interesting to you, I think you might get a kick out of this video I made to demonstrate just how frustratingly slow it is at sea and how amazingly fast it can be when the ship gets within sight of one of those towers... (click the triangle in the center, to start the video playing)
When I did finally get the speed test to work while we were at sea, the
585ms ping, .82 Mbps download, 1.08 Mbps upload
The problem with this new hybrid system from MTN is that you get all the benefits of the technology when you least need it! At sea, when you'd really want a high-speed connection to the Internet, it's really no better than the technology of 10 years ago. It's only blazing-fast when the ship is in port, or within visual range of the port... and that's when most of the ship's passengers don't need to use the Internet at all, because they're off on shore excursions! So, for me, this new technology really wasn't worth much.
I'm much more excited about the new technology that Royal Caribbean's going to be using on their newest ships. There's a company called O3B Networks that has recently put 8 new satellites in orbit to provide high-speed Internet to parts of the world that have not previously been able to get it. (Such as cruise ships!) You can read a little bit about it here. It looks like it's going to be able to provide high speed Internet access during an entire cruise, and will allow the cruise line to offer an unlimited Internet package. I'll be cruising on Royal Caribbean's Allure Of The Seas later this year, and I understand the new system will be installed and operational by then... so I'm really looking forward to giving it a try.
Speaking of things that are technology-related...
They did have some pretty cool interactive touch-screens throughout the Norwegian Getaway.
Here's a demo...
Odds & Ends
Here's a few other things that caught my eye during the cruise...
Now you see why I called this section of the review "odds & ENDS"
It's a picture of the aft end of the ship! I am laughing quietly to myself right now.
A few things to point out in that picture...
Let's start at the top... you can see the back side of the big video screen that's in the outdoor area known as Spice H20. Just below that, the row of black windows that runs the entire length of the ship... those are the windows in the Garden Café, which offer some really nice views while you enjoy a buffet meal. Below that, you can see six decks of aft-facing cabins. Notice how wide the balconies on the corner are. Those are the aft-facing Haven penthouse suites. Directly below those six decks of cabins you can see a row of windows and a walkway. The windows look in to the Cagney's, Moderno, and the upper portion of the Tropicana room. The walkway connects the port side of the Waterfront to the starboard side. Finally, that lowest row of windows is the lower level of the Tropicana room.
I really like pelicans, so I just wanted to throw in this picture of some of the hull art work
People standing outside the ice bar in big, warm coats.
I'm not sure if they had just come out from the ice bar, or were about to go in. I didn't actually go inside where I probably could have gotten a much more interesting picture. We did an Alaska cruise in June, so for this cruise I had no interest in getting cold!
Here's a little tip for you...
Sometimes on a cruise ship it's hard to know which way takes you to the front of the ship and which way takes you to the back. They make it really easy on NCL by putting a little visual clue in the carpet in the hallway outside your cabin. The little fish in the carpet are always swimming towards the front of the ship.
Here's something else I liked about the Norwegian Getaway...
it had a 13th floor.
I like to think of myself as slightly more intelligent and evolved than men of 500 years ago. I will walk under a ladder if I want to. I don't keep garlic around the house to ward off vampires. Black cats don't bother me. And I see absolutely no reason that the deck above deck 12 should be deck 14. I like knowing that rational people are running NCL.
If I'm so intelligent and rational and highly evolved,
why would I post a picture of a wall of urinals here?
Two reasons: because I also have a sense of humor, and because I want to talk about how the restrooms on the Norwegian Getaway are so much larger and nicer than those on Carnival!
If you've ever been on a Carnival ship and used one of the public restrooms, you know what I mean. Those restrooms are TINY! I really like the way they made the public restrooms on the Norwegian Getaway so large and comfortable. And dare I say stylish? We do not have such fancy urinals back home!
This I really like! I've got better things to do with my own money than to spend it on this... but do I have any rich friends out there? Someone, please! Take some pictures off my web site and have a Jim Zim bobblehead made up for me. I need this! Preferably in a Caribbean shirt, flip flops, and a pair of shorts.
For you kids out there... these is how we used to do selfies in the old days.
We'd pack a tripod with us and use the camera's timer to snap the photo.
Up until now, it's all been about the ship. Now, let's have a look at some pictures of all the fun we had on shore... starting with our day in St. Maarten, where we took the "Mirabella Catamaran Sail & Swim" shore excursion.
It was a beautiful day in St Maarten, and we had a lot of fun in the warm water. The great thing about taking a Caribbean cruise during hurricane season is that the water is as warm as it ever gets all year long... that's why hurricanes form this time of the year. Hurricanes only form when the ocean waters are at their warmest... and in the Caribbean that tends to be August and September and sometimes October. We like to cruise in September and October because of those warm waters and the fact that most kids are in school so there aren't as many kids on the cruise ships. Perhaps an even better reason is that cruise prices are quite low during hurricane season. It's always a gamble taking a cruise during hurricane season, because you do run that risk of having weather-related problems... but so far, we've never lost that gamble.
Kellyn took this picture of me snorkeling off the coast of St Maarten
This was actually the first time we had ever been to St Maarten. It's been a place I've wanted to visit for a long time now. I first became fascinated with it when I ran into videos on YouTube of planes landing at the Princess Juliana airport in St. Maarten. The runway butts right up against the beach, which makes for some crazy shots of airplanes flying very low over beachgoers. The best YouTube videos from the airport in St Maarten are from 747 landings... because 747s are so big that they have to use the entire length of the runway just to land... so they touch down right at the beginning of the runway, right by the beach... which makes for some very dramatic videos.
I would have liked to have gone to the little beach by the airport runway and shot some video of planes landing, but that seemed like a strange way to spend my first visit to St Maarten... and probably wouldn't have been something Kellyn would have enjoyed. So, I thought the Mirabella catamaran excursion was probably a better way to spend the day. But as luck would have it, the Mirabella took us to a beach that was not far at all from the Princess Juliana airport... and, as luck would have it, I got to watch some planes land... including a big 747! I just had to capture the moment on video... (click the triangle in the center, to start the video playing)
It would have been a much better video if I had been on the little beach right at the end of the runway,
but I had a lot more fun swimming and snorkeling off the Mirabella than I would have had at the airport!
A look towards the front of the Mirabella catamaran,
as we headed back to the ship after a nice day in St. Maarten
When we got close to the ship, I snapped this picture of Kellyn
She asked me to hand over the camera, so she could take a photo of me, too
While we're at it, how about a picture of just the ship?
We've been to St. Thomas many times before. I always enjoy it there. As someone who likes to spend a lot of time in the water, it doesn't get much better than the beaches of the Virgin Islands. There are many excellent shore excursions that can take you to beautiful beaches on St Thomas or on several nearby islands.
This time we decided to take the "PowerCat Snorkel & Beach" shore excursion. It's a two-part excursion, with the first part snorkeling at Turtle Cove on nearby Buck island... and the second part hanging out at Honeymoon Beach on St. Thomas.
Honeymoon Beach, St Thomas
The Virgin Breeze "PowerCat" catamaran
I made a very stupid mistake in packing for this shore excursion! The previous day, in St Maarten, we had some really good snorkeling and I got some nice underwater video of a big school of fish, using my waterproof Olympus camera. It was one of the clips that made it in to my "highlights of the cruise" video at the top of this page. Figuring that I already had all the underwater video I needed, I made the (bad) decision not to even pack my waterproof camera for the shore excursion in St. Thomas. I figured I would try to spend more time enjoying the snorkeling, and less time concentrating on the camera work. In retrospect, I think it may have been a mistake!
It turns out that on this particular day at Turtle Cove, we had just about the best snorkeling conditions we've ever seen in all of our 26 cruises! The clarity of the water was perfect, and there was all sorts of marine life to be seen that day. I saw so many turtles that I almost got bored with watching them after a while. There were LOTS of fish, and even a sting ray. Some beautiful coral, too. It was like snorkeling inside some billionaire's aquarium. And I didn't have my waterproof camera with me to get a single picture of it!!! Oh well. I enjoyed the snorkeling very much, and I won't soon forget that day.
There's another aspect of this particular shore excursion that I really appreciated, too. St. Thomas is part of the US Virgin Islands. It's a US territory. It's VERY American... in all the good ways. Every single crew member of the Virgin Breeze PowerCat was as American as apple pie. It was easy to understand their instructions, because it was like listening to your neighbor talk... no accent. And they were very relaxed and set a really nice tone for the whole day. Sometimes you get on these Caribbean snorkeling excursions and the crew are foreign and speak with a thick accent. Hard to understand! Or sometimes on snorkeling excursions the crew are wound really tight, and it creates some tension... like when they're yelling at people during snorkeling to stick together in a group. I really don't like snorkeling in a big group of people! The guy behind you is always bumping in to you, and the guy in front of you is always kicking you with his flippers! So I really liked that the snorkel guide on the Virgin Breeze was OK with us doing our own thing. All in all, it couldn't have been a better excursion.
When it was all over, and the catamaran was headed back to drop us off at our ship, I had a very special moment. As luck would have it, our path took us right past the next ship that we'll be sailing on later this year... the largest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean's Allure Of The Seas. I got a real kick out of being able to take a good look at her, a few months before I'll have the chance to actually sail on her.
Allure Of The Seas
I couldn't resist the opportunity to shoot some video of her as we sailed by...
When we finally got back to the Havensight pier in Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas,
I snapped this photo of the Norwegian Getaway...
One thing to notice in this picture is that building up on the hillside in the upper right.
There's a cable tramway that runs up the hill... and that building is what's at the top of the tramway.
There's a restaurant and a gift shop and a spectacular view of the cruise ship and the bay.
If you're ever in St Thomas and don't have anything better to do, take the tram ride. It's gorgeous.
Our final port of call was Nassau, in the Bahamas. This was another place we've been to many times, and it's always been fun. It was nice to do it with a different cruise line this time, as there were some options for shore excursions that we hadn't ever had before. We elected to go with the "Blue Lagoon Island Beach Day"... because I had seen pictures of the little water park they have on Blue Lagoon island, and I wanted to let my inner 10-year-old come out to play one last time this cruise.
That's me going down the big inflatable slide at Blue Lagoon
I got lucky and happened to have my camera rolling when this funny thing happened...
On the boat ride back to the ship, we passed by the world-famous Atlantis hotel...
On previous visits to Nassau, we've spent the day playing at the Atlantis water park.
That's lots of fun, and I definitely recommend it if you have a full day in Nassau.
For some reason, the Norwegian Getaway makes kind of a brief stop in Nassau,
and I didn't think it was quite long enough to justify the cost of an Atlantis excursion this time.
Back at the pier in Nassau, our neighbors for the day are Carnival Victory and the Disney Dream
The Disney Dream has a cool waterslide feature known as the Aquaduck...
In my previous visits, I've seen plenty of other cruise ships in Nassau...
but I've never been docked next to a warship.
F310 is known as the Fridtjof Nansen. She is a frigate of the Royal Norwegian Navy.
I guess the Norwegians stick together!
What Camera Do I Use?
Whenever I post these cruise reviews, I always get questions about what camera I used to take the photos. I actually bring two cameras with me on a cruise.
One is just a fairly inexpensive waterproof camera, so I can shoot pictures and videos while snorkeling. The one I use is an Olympus TG-830. However, that's a slightly older model now... and if you're in the market for one, you should get the new version which is the Olympus TG-850.
For everything except the underwater stuff, the camera I use is a Canon EOS-70D digital SLR camera. That's probably too much camera for most people... so if you're in the market for a very high quality digital SLR camera, the one I actually recommend for most people is the Canon Digital Rebel T5i. If you get one, make sure you get the T5i with the 135mm lens, not the cheap version with the 55mm lens.
I also like to have a Canon EF-S 10-18mm lens with me when I'm on a cruise ship. This is a wide angle lens, which is extremely useful when trying to shoot in small spaces (for example, my cabin tour video) or when shooting something very large (like a cruise ship, when you're standing on the pier next to it.)
I also bring along a tripod with me, to allow me to shoot long-exposure shots in low-light situations. It's also handy to have for shooting "selfies". I've got a tripod that is just the right size to fit inside my big suitcase but which is heavy duty enough to be stable. It also has a fluid head, which is something that's very important to look for in a tripod if you intend to use it when shooting video.
One important technique that I use, since I'm looking to getting the highest quality photos possible, is to shoot in RAW format rather than JPG. This preserves the photos with the highest possible quality, and gives me the greatest ability to tweak them after shooting them. However, it does require a lot of extra work. Any photos which I want to share (via email, Facebook, or on this web site, for example) have to be converted from RAW to JPG. This takes some time and effort, but it's worth it to me in order to get the best end results. Just about all the photos you see on this page have been tweaked to some extent to give them the best finished look. For most photos, I do some sharpening and color correction. On some photos, I have to do even more tweaking than that to get them to look just right.
Why Cruise In September?
September is one of our favorite times of the year for cruising in the Caribbean. Cruising in September may seem like a bad idea at first glance, because it's the absolute peak of Hurricane season... but there are actually several good reasons to do so.
Because it's the peak of hurricane season, which lowers the demand, cruise prices are VERY low compared to most of the rest of the year. Another great thing about September is that ocean water temperatures are the highest that they get all year long. (Which is why hurricanes are most likely to form this time of year.) Almost all of the shore excursions we take are beach-related, and we spend a LOT of time in the water... so we like to cruise when the water is at its warmest.
Another benefit of cruising in September is that there are a lot less children cruising than during the summer and during holidays. We're in our 50's and we've raised our children already... we like peace and quiet now! Most parents won't take their kids out of school for a vacation during September... so you don't tend to see very many children on a September cruise.
When cruising during hurricane season, it's always a good idea to keep an eye on the National Hurricane Center web site... so that you're aware of any potential threats. I also put together a web page featuring the latest satellite weather photos from all the places I tend to visit in the world. You might find that useful when trying to visualize what the weather is at your home or at your travel destination.
If most of your previous cruises have been with Carnival or Princess, there's one aspect of Freestyle Cruising on NCL that you should be prepared to deal with: the reservations. While my cruise on the Norwegian Getaway was one of the most enjoyable cruises I've ever been on, and one of the most casual, it was also the most highly scheduled.
Advance reservations are required for a lot of the shows and for many of the restaurants. Because of this need to reserve so many things in advance, you'll find that you'll need to plot out your entire week in advance on a piece of paper and commit to a plan. This seems counter to the word "Freestyle", but it's just a fact of life on Norwegian Getaway. My advice is that you research all the dining and entertainment options several weeks before your cruise and make some advance reservations before you even get aboard.
How Can We Top This?
Our cruise in The Haven on Norwegian Getaway was absolutely the best cruise we've ever experienced. So, what ship could possibly top this one? The brand new Norwegian Escape... currently under construction and expected to debut in October of 2015.
We're booked in The Haven on Norwegian Escape for 2016. I put together a little video that explains why I'm so excited about our upcoming cruise on Norwegian Escape, and detailing some of the improvements it's going to have over Norwegian Getaway.
If you're researching the idea of taking a cruise on the Norwegian Getaway,
here are a few documents you might want to download:
Freestyle Daily newsletters for the entire week (.pdf)
(Warning: large 25 megabyte download!)
Norwegian Getaway Deck Plans (.pdf)
Overview of the schedule for the week (.pdf)
Freestyle Dining guide (.pdf)
Regarding the deck plans... if you have access to a color printer that can print on 11x17" paper, I recommend you print out these deck plans double-sided on 11x17" paper and bring them with you on your cruise. They are better than any deck plans they give you on the ship, and they will make it a lot easier to find things on the ship. Another option is to copy them over to your phone, tablet, or laptop... and then just use the zoom feature to look at details on the deck plans.
Packing List & To-Do List
Here's my official packing list.
Perhaps this will help you think of things to pack for your cruise.
On a few of the unusual items, I'll provide a link to the exact version I recommend at Amazon.com
Airline boarding pass
Cruise boarding pass
If driving, printed directions to the hotel & cruise terminal
Wallet (I actually forgot this on one cruise!)
Waterproof beach shoes
Underwear & socks (incredibly, I actually forgot to bring socks on one cruise)
One dressy outfit
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Travel-size Kleenex for the airplane
Lawry's seasoning salt
Laptop computer or tablet computer, including charger
Digital SLR Camera
Camera tripod, or selfie-stick
Wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer
6-outlet power strip
Cell phone & charger
My pre-cruise to-do list:
Stop newspaper and mail delivery
Book shore excursions
Send an email to family members with my travel plans & itinerary
Turn off water to the house to prevent the chance of a pipe break
Turn down (or turn off) the water heater to save energy
Make sure garden sprinklers are on
Make sure house is locked and alarm system is active
On the last day at work:
Update voice mail message to indicate my return date
Update out-of-office email message, and turn it on
Make sure my temporary replacement has an updated desk guide
Put a sign at my desk indicating my return date
My Haven Hat
Take a close look at the hat that I was wearing in this photo:
When I was on the ship, several passengers and several crew members wanted to know where I got the hat. The jokester in me really wanted to mess with some of the passengers and say that I got it "in the Haven gift shop... you know, right next to the Haven petting zoo"... just to make them question how they had managed to miss both the Haven gift shop and petting zoo. (Neither of which actually exist, of course.)
The truth is that it's a one-of-a-kind item! Kellyn custom made it for me on her embroidery machine. She downloaded the Haven logo, used some special software to convert it over to a format that her embroidery machine would understand, and then voila! The machine did the rest. She also stitched the same logo on to a t-shirt for me.
If you're wondering if you could pay her to make one for you... sorry, we have to decline. We can't use NCL's copyrighted logo except for our personal, non-commercial use.
Perhaps you're wondering what kind of custom hat or t-shirt Kellyn wears. That's easy. Her t-shirt has got a big arrow pointing over to me, and text that says "I'm with stupid"!
The Cruise Ships We've Been On
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