Background information: We are a married couple, he mid60s, me mid50s. Over the last 20 years have been on 3 other ocean cruises (Cruise&Maritime and HAL x2) and two Russian river cruises with Vodohod. We chose this cruise spur-of-the-moment less than 2 months before sailing! I decided to really try to enjoy the cruise instead of only treat it as a way from A to B as the previous ocean cruises. For some reason that made packing et al much more difficult! I got nervous as if I'd never cruised before and was much helped by CruiseCritic reviews and forums. I'll try to write a review that would have helped me!
Ship information: I found this size/capacity ship to be about perfect. The ‘ride’ was MUCH smoother than HAL’s Statendam. My husband with a history of seasickness did not have to take anything or wear The Patch even on the one day the captain came on the PA and apologized!
Activities: We did not take part in very many of the ship’s onboard activities. No bingo/casino, shopping talks, or duty-free shopping, etc. My husband attended the hypnotherapist’s seminars and was impressed with her sincerity. I wanted to go to the informal knit-and-crochet get-togethers but only did once as they were just a little early at 9:30 on sea days.
Service: We had no call for any special customer service. Our room steward was attentive and greeted us by name whenever he saw us in the hall and gave us a towel animal every night. We booked three excursions ahead of time, then two on the ship which were taken care of easily and quickly.
Port & shore excursions: We did mostly the less expensive tours that were also earliest in the day, figuring correctly that they would give us the flavor of the areas PLUS leave part of the day to wander around and find wi-fi or shopping on our own. In Cartagena this meant the Hop-On Hop-Off bus, which had as a surprise a short walking tour added to the far end of it (not from the middle stop and only one mid-morning time as their website indicated). At Puntarenas we did Bus-Boat-Train and the Boat segment was the highlight with crocodile feeding (by the guide not the guests!) and many bird-sightings. Puerto Chiapas: Chiapas Through The Ages because of my interest in ancient civilizations. A worthwhile tour. This was also the hottest and most humid of shore days! Huatulco: City Tour & Scenic Drive, which provided some shopping opportunities. Puerto Vallarta – no excursion; we rode the city bus to the Malecon, walked the length of it, had a drink on the beach and some tapas in Old Town/Zona Romantica, and hailed a cab to get back to the ship. Cabo San Lucas: Booked the one hour narrated boat ride which got us preferential tendering and was pleasant although the narration was hard to hear and interrupted frequently by the guide to point out landmarks. We then shopped and ate along the waterfront for a while.
Travel to embarkation Port: We took the same day redeye LAX to MIA with at least two additional flights before Sailaway (and only carryon luggage) as our safety net. The day before we left, NCL called twice with recorded messages not to arrive at port before 2pm! We stayed at the airport, bored silly, as late as we could stand which was about 12:30, then taxi to the port where there was lots of seating, no over-long waits, and we were IN our cabin by 2pm. Luggage received from porter and unpacked before muster!
Cabin: Location (mid-mid) in the ship was excellent. Previously we have had 3 adults in HAL “large inside” cabins, and the two of us in tiny view cabins on the Vodohod MS Rus Russian River Cruises. This balcony stateroom was spacious with very good storage for the amount of stuff we had. It’s a Travelodge and not the Ritz, but we did not have unrealistic expectations. See the Cabin Review for more specifics.
Dining: We did not frequent the bars because we had bar set-up in our stateroom. We ate dinner mostly in one of the MDR’s, where we never had to wait to be seated. Breakfasts half at buffet and half at Blue Lagoon. We ate at only one specialty dining venue, which was Ginza. It was good, but not in any sense Asian. We both chose entrees that were supposed to be spicy-hot, but neither were, although they were both savory. I wanted to eat at Moderno, but the time just never came right!
Entertainment: Do not miss Dimitry and Maria and their Cirque-like shows, including their parts in the final night's Elements show; they are amazing. Band On The Run and magician shows were also entertaining -- standup comedians were ok. We missed the Broadway singer but several people said she was good. Did not attend Second City or other shows not mentioned. We did attend both of the hypnotist shows; the theater show was excellent, the "adult theme" suffered from people resisting "going under".
Disembarkation: We took all of our own luggage, went to breakfast, and EZ walked off the ship. CBP checkpoints were fast. The taxi situation at San Pedro is the problem here – only one company is allowed in! and while they do have people on the sidewalk keeping the queue orderly and taking names-plus-number-in-party – in the future I would arrange Super Shuttle or other transport that overrides the protectionist arrangement.
Summary: Had a fine time on this two-week trip. An even mix of port and sea days; the only dreadful things I can name were the free coffee (esp. in the buffet) and the tacky Christmas decorations that were stuck up randomly and plentifully throughout the ship. The piped in Christmas music was also tasteless and tiresome, but we get that everywhere in public thanks to ASCAP.