We booked a Mexican Riviera 7 night cruise on the spur of the moment - sort of a "I'll gas up the car, you pack!" situation. It was a great decision.
We had never cruised with NCL, but found Freestyle Cruising to be very appealing.
We arrived at the San Pedro Terminal at 11 am and were boarding by 12 pm. We were invited to drop off our carry-on items right away, even though the cabin may not be ready. At 2:30 pm the announcement was made that the cabins were then available to use. After a walk-through of the ship, we arrived at the cabin at 3:15 pm to find our checked bags had already been delivered. I was able to get everything stowed by the 4:00 pm lifeboat drill. After many boring uncomfortable drills, this was a pleasure. We went to our muster stations, but did not have to put on our life jackets. Their use was demonstrated together with how to get into the lifeboats. It was over in about 15 minutes, as effective as any I've been involved with.
We loved the fact that we could choose where we wanted to eat, how and when. There were over 13 different locations to eat on the ship, with perhaps 5 that had a supplemental fee. The low end of the fee structure was at the Sushi restaurant which was a la carte ($2.50 for a great California roll), to $30 at Cagney's steakhouse. The Brazilian meat experience (Moderno Churrascarria) was about $20 each, but an excellent, amazing meal with a killer salad bar as well. And for $5 you could have an extra large custom-made pizza served to your room, which was outstanding. But you do not have to spend $$ to have a good meal. Among the non-fee locales was the Blue Lagoon that served comfort food 24 hours a day.
This is a happy ship. We were greeted warmly at every turn, with excellent personal service even with unusual requests. Every crew and staff member greeted us eye-to-eye as we passed by, with nary a soul avoiding contact.
Sharing a ship with 2,000+ other passengers can be trying sometimes, but the staff had one goal: make our vacation the best ever. We had a great time. I'm convinced this is a better way to cruise, at least for us.
Some port notes:
The itinerary was Los Cabos, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta. We'd been to Los Cabos numerous times and were familiar with PV. It had been 30 years since I was in Mazatlan, well before the recent troubles in Mexico.
Mazatlan was our favorite port. We spent most of our day wandering through the Centro Historico (old town) that was quite close to the Cruise Terminal. An abundance of Volunteers in blue shirts answered many of our questions about the city when we got off the ship Most were Canadian and US ex-pats living in the Mazatlan area, all excited about sharing information about their adopted home. They provided free maps and guides for walking tours and historic sites. The Blue Line is painted on the sidewalks and streets to take you from the Cruise Terminal for an easy 20 minute walk through residential areas and past local shops to the Plazuela Machado, a pleasant shaded square in the center of the district, with lots of character. The Cathedral and adjacent square is about a block away, which is elegant and shows the wealth of this city's history. From there, the Central Market is an easy two block walk. We wandered through displays of beautiful fruits, vegetables, fresh baked Mexican pastries, past stall of butchers plying their trade with beautiful cuts of meat, and we always were greeter with courtesy in response to our curiosity. We ordered some tacos from a small stand and watched the owner-cook prepare the tortillas, grilled the meat and assembled our meal, with wonderful condiments. They were delicious, inexpensive and clearly she was happy to have us there.
From the market, we followed our maps and walked to the Malecon, or seafront, about 6 or 8 blocks away. The residential area was very colorful, reminding me of certain areas in old San Juan. after another meal at a seaside cafe, we returned to the ship. Overall, a very pleasant visit.
Clearly the Mazatlan authorities are making efforts to assure visitors that their city is secure. The Tourist Police were stationed at nearly every other corner in the area we visited. The Municipal Police provided crossing guards across busy streets and had lots of cruisers on the streets themselves. The Norwegian Star was escorted into and out of the harbor by Naval Patrol craft as well as while at the pier. Overall it felt very safe, and we were glad to visit this historic, beautiful city. Not only were the people warm and inviting, but it felt very "real": much less crowded and less showy than PV, and far less built-up and more Mexican than Los Cabos. It actually felt like we were guests of the city.
Thanks NCL for making the decision to make this a regular port of call...