We tend to be frugal in our cruising -- interior room, main dining room for dinner, no drinks, no casino. Our final bill is usually a few ship excursions and auto gratuity.
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 Maï¿½tre 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.