Scott Macnab joins the revellers aboard cruise liner Getaway for a sunshine break in the West Caribbean. Coupled with a few days in Miami, it’s the perfect way to banish the winter blues
Miami’s South Beach is famous the world over and would figure on most sunseekers’ wish lists, but nothing quite prepares you for the spectacular grandeur of the area’s Art Deco-style hotel buildings. We fly with Norwegian Airlines to Fort Lauderdale, then it’s a 45-minute journey to Haddon Hall, a boutique hotel which has been painstakingly refitted in Art Deco style down to the fixtures, fittings, and furniture to get visitors into that Miami vibe. Not that many people are staying too long in the hotel. This is a party town, with some of the best restaurants and bars in Florida. The famous Lincoln Road shopping and food area is just a couple of blocks up, but the real place to see and be seen in Miami is on Ocean Drive. The beach front hotels here have provided the settings for Hollywood blockbusters like Scarface and The Birdcage. And stretching out before you lies the world-famous beach front with its miles of white sands and warm Atlantic surf. Miami is also the cruise capital of the world, with a fleet of mega-ships to be found in its huge harbour. It’s here I embark on the massive Getaway, the latest addition to Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) fleet along with 4,000 other passengers. The first thing that hits you is the sheer scale of the thing. There are 16 decks, most of which host staterooms (nobody calls them cabins any more) and more activities, entertainment venues, restaurants and bars than you could really hope to fully experience in just one week. The hub of the daytime activities happens on the top two floors where the ship’s “waterworld” swimming areas are located, along with its massive sun deck. Kids will love the four water slides, including the “Freefall slide” which hurtles them down at a near vertical angle into a pool below in just six seconds. Actually the adults seem just as keen on this. Perched above the top deck of the ship is a breathtaking rope walk course which even allows participants to “walk the plank”. It’s only a couple of metres, but you do feel like you’re hanging off the edge of the ship and it’s worth it for the adrenalin buzz alone. Others may prefer the 33ft rock climbing wall. The Garden Cafe buffet-style restaurant is also located here. The choice and volume of food available is really breathtaking – more than you could possibly want at all times of the day. And the quality really is excellent, with cooks ready to rustle up everything from omelettes to order every morning to burgers at night. And as this is all included in the package, there’s no danger of ever going hungry. Over-indulgence is the real hazard. There are three main dining rooms, a help-yourself buffet and a variety of casual cafés, grills and on-the-go choices, but not all are included in the package. Most of these are located in the middle of the ship in decks six, seven and eight which is where most of the entertainment is to be found. The ship’s central atrium area hosts a range of events from live music, to quiz shows and even dance classes. The ship’s purpose-built Getaway theatre is also quite an experience. A Latin dance spectacular entitled Burn the Floor was a hit with punters on our trip as was an enjoyable rock’n’roll tribute show featuring the hits of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins entitled The Million Dollar Quartet. Partygoers can dance the night away at the open air H2O Spice dancefloor or the indoor Bliss club. With so many people on board, things can get a bit crowded on the main activity decks, but boredom is unlikely to a problem.
Among the highlights of the trip was the chance to visit NCL’s new Harvest Caye resort, a 75-acre Belizean island which the firm bought and has transformed into an exclusive West Caribbean highlight on its cruise itinerary. The place is entirely staffed by workers from the mainland and only comes to life on cruise days, but it’s easy to see why it’s already creating such a stir. The highlight of the activities was certainly the “Superman” experience which sees those game enough to try it hurtling from the top of a lighthouse over swimmers in the bay below suspended from their back on a 450-metre zip slide. It’s exhilarating stuff, well worth overcoming the vertigo for. There’s also a lagoon for watersports enthusiasts, which includes the opportunity to try out paddleboards, kayaking or a more leisurely spin in a battery-powered boat. But although the island is owned by the firm, none of the activities is included in the package, and come at an extra cost. The island also boasts the biggest outdoor pool in the Caribbean stretching over 15,000 square feet, complete with poolside bars. But perhaps the easiest way to enjoy Harvest Caye is on its white sandy beaches – we’re talking about the warmest waters in the Caribbean, even in late November.
Next stop is Costa Maya on mainland Mexico’s Caribbean coast, which has become a cruise magnet over the past decade. The beach town of Mahahual offers holiday makers massages on the sand for just $20 or simply take a dip in the turquoise waters. The beachside bars are also worth checking out to enjoy authentic tacos and a beer for just a few dollars. Keep your eyes open when you’re out and about as you may just spot an iguana darting across the pavement.
The Mexican theme continues the following day as the Getaway docks at the sunshine island of Cozumel. We opt for an activity-based day which includes quad-biking an inland trail and a stop-off at an ancient Mayan sink hole. The Mayans used to sacrifice virgins by hurling them off the 30ft drop into the water below and some hardy fun-seekers with more brawn than brain still take the plunge to this day. There’s also a half-hour snorkeling excursion from the beach which is good fun for beginners. But perhaps the best way to see Cozumel is to hire a scooter for just $20-$30. No deposit is required – just your stateroom keycard – and a simple coastal road allows you to explore the place with the sun in your face. Stop off at the spectacular beaches on the south coast for a quick dip to cool off. It takes no more than a couple of hours to navigate the island, so it’s well worth the money. Then all too soon it’s back to Miami and the long journey home to Scotland – and the memories of some Caribbean magic to get through the winter blues. n
NCL’s Getaway seven-night Western Caribbean cruise from Miami to Roatan, Bay Islands (Honduras); Harvest Caye (Belize); Costa Maya (Mexico); Cozumel (Mexico) and back to Miami (Florida) costs from £739 per person based on two people sharing an inside stateroom, £969 per person based on two people sharing a Balcony room, or £2,389 per person based on two people staying in a Haven suite, departing Miami on 29 October 2017.
Fly with Norwegian Air, operating a direct year round service to Fort Lauderdale on a fleet of brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. Fares start from £159 one-way in economy and £499 one-way in Premium including all taxes and charges. To book on Norwegian Cruise Line, tel: 0333 2412319, www.ncl.co.uk
To book Norwegian Air, tel: 0330 828 0854, www.norwegian.com/uk