Christmas Cruise Day 1 – Tampa

This is it!!  Cruise vacation here we come.  Norwegian Star. 18-25 Dec. 2011 – Western Caribbean.

Friday night Bryan and I started packing a few things, and finished up on Saturday moring.  We were too excited to sleep very well, and got on the road earlier than we thought!  The kids woke up and played while we tucked our stuff in the car.  After breakfast a very excited Zoe did her ‘swimming hand’ symbol for the cruise…and we were off. 
Actually we had a couple stops for wipes, dramamine, and mail.  The drive down was quick and simple; I- 75 all the way.   I had used priceline to book a fancy downtown hotel for cheap, so we checked in early at the Westin Harbour Island.  Spent the afternoon swimming at the hotel pool and then wandered downtown along the channelside before heading downtown for some dinner.

Mom and Dad, Bethany and Stefan, and Tyler and Rosalee flew in ealier.  We were all a bit spread out at different hotels through Tampa…without too much transportation.  There was also an NFL game in town bringing crowds, so we decided we’d all finally reunite on the boat.

So, this morning I woke up and glanced at the clock – it was just after 7am.  I got super excited and ran to the window. Sure enough, a giant cruise ship was floating by our window!  awesome!! Bryan thought I was nuts to be up so early, but I was so excited.  Zoe got up to see with me.  We tried to go back to sleep, but were just too excited.  Time to sing, “Jingle Cruise” and get ready!!

Before going to the port we took a quick side trip to the Tampa Thai Buddhist Temple. They have a weekly market on Sundays that we wanted to visit.  It was really cool to see a Thai Temple in Florida, and the
market had great food.  We tried some chicken and potato dish with rice.  It was a great breakfast.  The kids enjoyed mostly rice and playing with some other little kiddo’s that were running around.  After that it was off to the boat!  We made a quick pit stop at Bethany & Mom’s hotel to drop off some packages for Bethany.

Parking at the Tampa cruise port is super easy. We rolled in around 12pm.  It’s a lovely parking garage directly across the street.  We just pulled in – prepaid for the parking for the duration of our cruise, parked, and dragged our giant suitcase and duffle to the terminal.  Easy peasy.  Out front of the terminal – port 3 to be exact – were lots of porters ready to take our bags.  We filled out a few tags with our room number, tagged our bags, tipped a couple bucks, and went up the escalator.  In the terminal there was a security screening similar to at an airport.  No shoes off or ’empty that water bottle’, but we still had to send all our carry on bags and Zoe’s Doggy through the x-ray machine and then walk through as well.  After that we stood in a line to get checked in.  There were tons of people in line, but NCL kept them moving pretty well.  At the check in counter we each got our picture taken and gave them a credit card to be used for our room account.  We were then each (yes, even the kiddo’s) given a ship card; it was our boat ID, our room key, and our charge account for any purchases while cruising.  Pretty cool!  Next…up the escaltor again to get our family picture taken before boarding the giant boat.

The Norwegain Star is huge!  As we walked on the crew greeted us singing  Christmas songs and cheering.  We entered straight onto the 7th floor in the grand atrium.  Tyler texted us that he was aboard and in the Red Lion pub.  We booked it upstairs to the Kids Crew area to get Zoe registered and pick up a schedule.  She has been so excited to go on this cruise and go play in the kid area. As we wandered back downstairs we ran into my parents and then Bethany and Stefan as they came aboard as well!  Our whole gaggle pushed over to the Red Lion pub for hugs and greetings.  Woo hoo! We all made it!!  The Chrismas Cruise has begun.  Soon after that, the boat crew announced that rooms were ready.  Time to check out our home for the next 7 days.

Room 5120 is just a few doors down the hall from the mid-ship stairs.  It was a great room!  Dark blue carpet with nautical knots, super comfy big king bed with white bedding – a great duvet, and wood trim everwhere.  It seemed very upscale to us!  At the entry is a mini hallway.  Just past the door on the left is a little safe, a couple big shelves, and a big closet with hangars and more shelving.  Just past that is a set of drawers and a mini frig above them. After that is a little table with our full ice bucket and some glasses.  Above the table is a shelf with the TV, and a shelf above it.  Plenty of storage in this room for all 4 of us and our clothes!  On the right side of the entry hall is the bathroom.  It had a pretty ingenious design…walk in to a large sink and wall mirror – storage under and over the sink with a towel rack the whole length of it.  To your right is the toilet in it’s own little closet room with a sliding door; to your left is the shower in it’s own little sliding door area.  Cute!  The main room also had a desk with shelves and drawers – lots of space for us to move in, which we did.  The big bed was two singles pushed together, with a barely noticeable crack.  Above that was the pull down bunk for Zoe and crammed beside the bed was a pack n play for Avi. On a side note, there was a trundle bed under ours that could potentially be pulled out to make room for another person – it would need to be pushed back under every night to allow any room, though.  Against the far wall was a nice big window that we could sit in and watch the world go by!

After settling in a bit we went up to the 12th floor Market Cafe buffet for some late lunch.  This is a gigantic place with 5 buffets.  We later figured out they were each a bit different.  Good selection of food – everything from salad to burgers to custom-made pasta and vegetarian Indian food.  For drinks there was water, milk, juice, and ice tea.  Soda’s and alcohol cost extra on the cruise.

At this point Avi was getting sleepy, so Bryan took him down to the room for a nap.  I think Bryan also appreciated the nap since I woke him up so early.  Zoe, Mom, Dad and I explored the boat. Lots of deck area, pools, playground, hangouts, performance spaces, and restaurants!  The cruise also got underway!  We boarded pretty early.  All the passengers were to be on board by 2:00 PM, but the boat wasn’t leaving until 4. It actually left about a half hour after that. It was too cool and super exciting to watch Tampa slowly…very slowly at first…disappear in the distance as the sun started to set.

When we returned to our room, the suitcases had been delivered, so we spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking.  In the evening the whole fam met up at the main dining room – the Aqua.  It was on the floor above us and super convenient.  Bethany had made reservations for us at 6:30….with a group our size they recommended reservations any time we wanted to eat together.  This is the ‘freestyle’ part of Norwegians “freestyle cruising”: no set dining time or tables.  Nice for a no-schedule vacation, but a snidge inconvenient with a big group because we needed to plan ahead anyway.  Dinner was nice – I had the lobster, Bryan got a steak, and we ordered Zoe a sweet potato thing that arrived and was too fancy for her liking. Lesson learned…order off the kid menu for her.  Avi, however, LOVED his portion of fruit salad and cheese for dessert.  I LOVE cheese plates for dessert.  awesome.  Dinner took almost 2 hours, and the kids got antsy but did OK.  Bethany and Stefan brought gifts for the kids, and the rest of us (against the rules).  It was super nice, and they were entertained with their new little treats. 

After dinner we all trucked over to the Stardust theater.  This is a full-size-stadium-seating-with-balconies theater!  huge.  The show for the evening was a bit of an intro for the week; a bit of singing, alot of ‘what’s offered’ this week, and some acrobatics.  It kept our attention and gave all of us some ideas of what we would do for the week.  I think this may be one of the few nights we all end up doing the same activities…there are all kinds of other things going on.  The show was at 7:30, so it was off to bed for us after that.  I think Bethany, Stefan, Tyler and Rosalie were staying up for a party.

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