We arrived at our hotel in San Pedro the night before our cruise departed. The Crowne Plaza was very nice and conveniently located near some very good seafood restaurants near the harbor. The next morning, the hotel shuttle transported us to the cruise terminal about a mile or two away. Embarkation was as expected, a long delay followed by a rush to line up for boarding. Several groups of "Special Event" cruisers were allowed to board ahead of everyone else who had been waiting a long time to board. I think NCL should not allow this. Board by your boarding number and don't give special treatment to large groups. Boarding went okay and we were finally in our balcony cabin on Deck 9. We went to the buffet for some lunch and then went topside for the sailaway. Leaving San Pedro harbor was beautiful with the gorgeous sunset.
The next day was a sea day so we spent most of the day exploring the ship. We had just cruised on her sister ship Norwegian Pearl in June to Alaska, so we were already familiar with the deck plans. The names of some of the dining rooms were different from the Pearl, but the locations were the same. We dined at Tzar Palace on our first night and really enjoyed the lobster dinner. The dining room was almost empty when we were there, but picked up as we were leaving. The staff were very attentive to your needs and were very friendly. During our cruise, we dined at the other main dining room, Azura, and the specialty restaurant, Cagney's Steakhouse. The steaks were excellent and our waiter was always asking us about how we enjoyed our meal. Anyone who cruises should experience a specialty restaurant at least once during a cruise, even though there is an additional charge for eating there.
Our first port was Cabo San Lucas. This was the only port that required us to tender. The tender process did not go very well. It took several hours for some people to get off the boat. We were using the life boats from our ship, but later some local vessels were called in to assist with the tendering process. We did not have any shore excursions planned thankfully, so we spent a short time on shore trying out some local food. We were approached all along the pier to the restaurants by peddlers offering boat trips or taxi rides to town, or locals trying to sell their wares. Some of these vendors were very persistent and would not go away. It didn't matter if we were going into town, or returning to the ship, they would harrass you all along the route. This is why I hate traveling to Mexico.
Our next port was Puerto Vallarta. Again, we did not schedule a shore excursion and just walked around the area near the pier. A large group of cruisers walked over to the Walmart store near the port. Yes, I said Walmart. There's a high end shopping mall next to the Walmart, but catered to the more wealthy people of the area.
After another sea day, we arrived at our next port city of Huatulco, Mexico. The area near the port was filled with shops and restaurants. To get to the city center required a taxi ride. We opted to stay near the port and use the free wifi areas to catch up on my emails. There are really nice shops near the port, so we didn't see a need to go into town.
Our next port was Puerto Chiapas, Mexico. This is a small port know mostly for it's coffee and chocolate. There is a large hut next to the pier that has several shops inside. Otherwise, a long walk or taxi ride would get you to the nearest town. Also next to the pier is a large restaurant with a swimming pool. Most of the crew took advantage of the pool and the special discount they had for beer.
After another sea day, our next stop was Puntarenas, Costa Rica. This is another small port with what appeared to be a flea market atmosphere. The tiny stalls lined a sidewalk along the beach. Everyone appeared to be selling basically the same stuff, so it was easy to get a good deal if you found something you liked. The beach looked like mud, but was just a dirty sand. The water was dirty, but there were many local swimming in the water. If you like rain forests, this is the place to book a shore excusion. There are jungles as far as you could see. The area has several coffee plantations along the mountain slopes.
Another sea day, and finally we reached the entrance to the Panama Canal. I was blown away at the sight of Panama City. It's tall white buildings along the coast were not what I expected. Going under the Bridge of the Americas rivaled going under the Golden Gate Bridge. Then we entered our first set of locks, the Miraflores Locks. This is a set of two locks that lift the ship approximatelhy 55 feet. It takes quite a while to attach the ship to the "mules" that will guide the ship through the locks. Although the ship uses its own power going through the locks, it appears that the trains are pulling it along. This is not the case. Our ship is what is called a Panamac ship, meaning it's the largest ship that can fit in the locks. There was barely room on each side of the ship. It was strange watching the ship being lifted in each lock. It was so slow that you don't notice being lifted as you would in an elevator. However, you could tell you were being lifted. The process takes a while while the water fills the locks. Then the gates are opened and you enter the next set of locks to start the procedure all over again. After the Miraflores Locks, the next set is the Pedro Miquel Locks. This lifts the ship to the level of Gatun Lake, 85 feet above sea level. After leaving Pedro Miquel Locks, we sailed under the beautiful Centennial Bridge and into the Culebra Cut. Most of this area is jungle, a we could here monkeys in the trees along the bank. We couldn't see them, but we could certainly hear them. Finally, we reached the last set of locks, Gatun Locks. This is a series of three locks that lower the ship 85 feet back to sea level. It was in these locks where we encountered a very heavy rain storm. The whole trip through the canal took all day. We exited the last set of locks at dusk. The cruise director and photographers took pictures as the ship went through the canal. The DVD they produced was less than I had expected. It wasn't even high definition. I've seen better videos on You Tube. For th $30 they charged for the DVD, I expected a lot more footage of the ship .
Our last foreign port was Cozumel. Having been here before, we checked out the shops along the strip. As in most Mexican ports, we were followed by vendors trying to get your business. That is especially true at the big stores like Diamonds International, Colombia Emeralds, and all the other stores you are told to shop at during the shopping seminar given on board. We did find some nice T-shirts.
Day 17 and we arrived in New Orleans, my favorite city. Being from Louisiana, it was great eating good southern food again and listening to good Cajun music. While in New Orleans, we visited the WWII museum. This is a must see for anyone visiting New Orleans. It's a very large museum and the movies are a must see as well.
The weather for the entire cruise was hot and humid, with the exception of Los Angeles. Sunscreen, sunglasses, and chapstick are a must. We didn't experience the swarms of mosquitoes everyone told us about, even in the Panama Canal.
A Panama Canal cruise has been a bucket list trip for me for many years. Now that I've done it, I don't think I will ever need to make that trip again.