While our frugality is probably not good for NCL's bottom line, it did not interfere with our enjoyment of our Panama Canal cruise on the NCL Star. Our goal was to get out of January in Chicago and there is likely no better cruise. 2 weeks, warm, and lots of sea days to relax.
Ports - Typical Central American ports. Find a T-Shirt that says you were there and do something fun. Most ports have tours available at walk off for much less than ship tours, but since we had never visited any of the ports, we booked several tours. If we take this cruise again, probably no ship tours.
Panama canal - Must see for frequent cruisers. People get up early (3am) to find the perfect spot -- but there is no perfect spot. Be prepared to go around the ship for pictures -- forward, aft, promenade. We found the spinnaker lounge to be a good headquarters for watching the canal (air conditioning) and then go outside for pictures.
Ship - Prefer the Jewel class and Spirit layout. We eat at the buffet for breakfast and lunch -- which tends to get congested. No outside aft eating area to handle overflow.
Food - According to the Ma'tre d', the MDR menu has been upgraded (despite cost cuts elsewhere). We were impressed with the food and felt no need to upgrade to the premium restaurants. I'm guessing their menu is geared for 1 week cruises, since the first week seemed the best. I would have been glad to have them reset the menu for week 2 rather than getting creative.
Entertainment - Great overall. 2nd city needs some new material (same show as March 09 cruise).
Rooms - Typical NCL interiors. Good enough to shower, sleep, and change clothes. Carnival has larger rooms, but we like freestyle.
Nickel and diming / cost cuts - NCL gets a lot of grief for this. Yes, there are always options to spend money, but they are optional. My only concern was with the crew who seemed to be stressed. Our room steward had 36 rooms to clean. I'm guessing the food service people had some quotas. I hope NCL doesn't drive their crew to mutiny. To compensate for low ticket prices, cruise lines are cutting costs and adding fees like the airlines.
CC Meet and Greet - Good to see other CCers. The cruise director Ray and other VIP crew showed up to welcome/appease. They seemed concerned about negative CC reviews, so this site has power. They asked to be notified about issues so they could resolve rather than read about them online. Seems fair.
Overall - Great cruise. Will continue to make NCL my preferred cruise line.
This seems to be a resort town with lots of new construction. We took a ship snorkeling excursion. They have a coral reef. Warm water 82F (even in January).
This port seems built for cruise stops. If we were to visit again, we would probably skip the ship excursion and go with a local.
There are shops, restaurants, and a public beach within walking distance of the cruise dock.
Acapulco seems to be a has-been port. There are nice areas, but poverty and age make it feel run down. Our post tour walk was a little uncomfortable.
Nice port for pictures, but no interest in returning to Acapulco.
Plenty of restaurants, shops, and tours available within walking distance. In hindsight, would not waste money on ship excursion.
Our only tender port, which shortens time available ashore.
Industrial port, so not much to do within walking distance. For a cheaper option, take a taxi from port to old city, however, we were happy to pay for the extra security of a ship excursion at Cartagena.
Within walking distance from the cruise dock, there is a public beach with street vendors selling souvenirs.
We could not find any ship excursions in Guatemala that interested us, so we arrived in port and just shopped the tents that were setup in port. Vendors had some good deals for negotiation.
There was a free shuttle to a restaurant about a mile away that offered free wifi. Nice to catch up with email. This option seemed popular with the crew as well.
Some friends took a taxi to San Jose. They stayed in the cab and returned to the port -- not visitor friendly.
We were happy to shop the port vendor tents and get some cheap internet access.