My wife and I are in our late fifties and this was our 9th cruise and first on Norwegian. We have taken 5 on Princess and that remains our favorite cruise line. Overall we enjoyed this cruise a lot and the Panama Canal is great and definitely worth the trip, but there was room for improvement.
Embarkation was slow, we waited about 2 1/2 hours. The prior cruise had norovirus so they were sanitizing the ship. I get that. What I don't get is they didn't seem to have an orderly plan to embark. As the terminal was filling up and there weren't enough seats, I said to my wife that it would be chaos when we finally are able to board. Then we noticed some passengers had cards with numbers on them, which we hadn't seen and nobody had mentioned to us. So my wife asked a staffer about it and he said to just board when the first group was called. So we did, and we probably got onboard ahead of people who were there before us. Just before boarding we came down an escalator into a relatively small area and the line stopped for several minutes. But people kept streaming down the escalator with no room to get off at the bottom. Finally people at the bottom yelled up to the top to tell them to stop coming down. Nobody from Norwegian directing traffic. You would think they would have this whole process down to a little better science.
Our interior cabin was fine. Comfortable enough and roomy enough as interiors go and everything worked fine and service was excellent. Entertainment was great, probably the best we've ever had on a cruise. The show in the main theatre every night was excellent to outstanding, with a lot of variety. They had an illusionist, hypnotist, acrobatic team, a Jersey Boys knockoff group, Second City comedy troupe, several other musical acts, and Elements, a Cirque du Soleil type show that was amazing. Some of these performers stayed on the ship the whole 2 weeks and gave other shows and presentations in other venues throughout the cruise. I was concerned about getting bored on a 2 week cruise with 6 sea days, but there was always something to keep me entertained.
We had beautiful weather with no rain at all. The ports were ok. Cabo and Puerto Vallarta were beautiful, Hualtico a very pleasant surprise, Cartegena was a nice stop, and Puerto Chiapas and Puntarenas were ok.
Food and the whole dining experience was our biggest downside to the trip. The food in the MDRs was ok, but probably the weakest of any of our cruises. When we would ask each other about our meal, the response was usually an ok, rarely really good. Versailles was a nice dining room, but Aqua was like a dungeon. Small windows, low ceiling, dark, and service was usually pretty slow, especially when we sa at a table of 6 or 8. The entrance to Aqua was a tunnel about 10-15 feet long that was wide enough for 2 people. If there was a line, as you left the restaurant you had to battle through that line just to get out of the place. Very poorly designed. I got the feeling that they keep the food mediocre to encourage people to use the specialty restaurants and pay more money. We didn't try any.
The buffet was real disaster. Part of this was because of the norovirus we couldn't serve ourselves the whole trip so that slowed things down. But the food was mediocre, the furniture was cheap cafeteria quality and the design was terrible. The seating extended out from the windows with 4 seats on each side. If you sat next to the window you had to slither through 3 sets of back to back chairs to get to your seat, and there often weren't enough seats.
A couple other pet peeves. No self service laundry. First ship we've been on that didn't have that, and for a 2 week cruise, laundry was needed, but the only way to do it was to pay for the ship to do it and they charged $2 for one pair of underwear. They had a special one day of $25 for all you could fit into a grocery bag so we did that. If we would have paid for each item separately it would have been well over $50. One day I slightly sprained my ankle playing basketball so I went to the infirmary to get an ice pack and they didn't have any. I couldn't believe it--one of the most basic first aid items there is. They gave me a plastic bag and told me to call room service for ice, which took over an hour to arrive. Disembarkation was also not great. They have customs come on board so there is a long line parading around the ship to get through customs before you get your luggage. We opted for the NCL shuttle to the airport and that was complete chaos. No organization to boarding the buses, uncertain lines, a lot of confusion. It took us about 45 minutes after getting our luggage to get on a bus and leave for the airport. Again, you would think they would have a process down after doing this so many times.
We might try Norwegian again sometime, but it would only be on one of their newer ships. I wouldn't take the Star again.