We just returned from the Panama Canal cruise Monday morning, April 12th. I will start by saying we had a wonderful cruise. The Lirica is a very nice new ship. The staff was very friendly and bent over backwards to please everyone. We were very apprehensive due to the bad reviews we had read, but decided to go with a "Good Attitude" and expect a good experience! We recognize new ships need time to get all the kinks out, particularly since they are an Italian line and are not accustomed to Our American Desires. Thanks to all the previous criticism, they did all they could to correct the legitimate complaints.
Being of Italian decent, we were very much at home with the Italian crew and the food. The pastas were hand made every day and the sauces were delicious. The one item which was always a disappointment was the steak, it was overcooked so many times. Italians do not know how to cook steak MEDIUM RARE!!! If you like rare meat, tell them "con sangue" meaning "with blood" I do not eat any fish, but my companions do and said it was great! The food was plentiful and we particularly enjoyed having our meals in the dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The room was beautifully appointed and the service was very good. Every night, they have a late night buffet, which was very nice. The last Gala Buffet is absolutely beautiful, like the old days on ships!!!
The Entertainment was Fabulous!!! Every night was a different show in the theater, Each one with different acts that were terrific. It was an 11 night cruise, so some of the show people were on more than once, but they were so good and did different types of shows, that we welcomed seeing them again. After the nightly shows, there is a team of young people called the Animation Team that continued entertaining us in the lounges. They were lots of fun and kept the crowd really going!!! There were skits that were very funny and all kinds of music and dancing. Before long, everyone was mingling and having a great time. They also have a large, beautiful, after hours disco, which was great. There was activity planned all day long. The Animation team worked from early in the morning all through the afternoon and into the evening planning activities, getting as many as possible to participate. They were the Heartbeat of the Cruise.
Embarkation at Port Everglades was not what I expected. We were crowds of people waiting on line for a very long time. They seemed to be very slow at the counters processing the passengers. They might have been stalling until all the rooms were cleaned. My last experience was in Miami with Royal Caribbean, the Navigator, which was THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SHIP I have been on. One other disappointment on the Lirica is the size of the rooms. They are really small but I will say if you are organized, you can manage okay.
As for the tours that were offered, We took one in the Panama Canal which was the former canal zone and Gatun locks. It was $57 each and not worth it. It included a visit to the Gatun locks where a lecturer was supposed to explain the entire inner workings of the locks. It was mobbed with people from other tours, we were separated from our tour guide and never heard a word. We got more out of being up early in the morning as we approached the canal and our English speaking hostess narrated the entire entry explaining everything. Other than seeing where the americans lived when they controlled the canal, there was nothing more to see. You are told that Panama regulations only permit guests taking an excursion to go ashore. There are other tours offered such as a Helicopter flight over the canal, or a river boat ride. I do not know anything about them. We also took the city tour in Cartegena, Columbia. It was very close to the ship and a large group, so we felt safe. We would not venture inland in that city. Costa Rica was the greatest for shopping. Save your money for that port. Right outside the ship, they have a marketplace with beautiful hardwoods such as jewelry boxes, salad bowl sets, inlaid wood trays, gorgeous calves leather goods and very reasonable.
If you are booked on the Lirica, go with a Happy Attitude and practice a few Italian words, the staff loves it. They do speak some English. And the Cruise Director Francesco speaks English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and even some Japanese. He is remarkable. He explains everything in all of them and does not miss a beat. We were spellbound by his flow of sentences.
Buon Voyage Jean