Do not pass up a trip to the Panama Canal, even on the Norwegian Star if that is the only way you can afford to do it. Any other options available - take them! The Canal experience itself was damaged by the fact that there was no expert talk until we were actually in the Canal (Lake Gatun, specifically) which meant to hear it you missed part of the point of the trip. (Surely Panama has a presenter that can do a better job with a power point presentation than a fourth grade level!) Oh and don't forget to stand in an hour long line to purchase your commemorative tee shirt on "one day only!"
After repeated warnings to drink plenty of water while out on deck, jammed against the railings, struggling for a view, much less a picture opportunity, the friendly cruise staff was there to SELL you bottled water! Yes, that is right, sell you water while on the ship! No frosty urns of icy cold water to stave off fainting and heat stress.
There was no inside area at the front of the ship where you could be seated comfortably or for the physically challenged to enjoy the passage. The crew had the best view, and granted with their hard work they pay the biggest price for this fleeting privilege.
Luckily through Cruise Critic we met very nice people who were enjoying the suite that was made from the formerly spacious public room featured at the front of the ship. They graciously invited us to watch the locks from their cabin and we really greatly appreciated the opportunity. We could actually see them and how they work! Fabulous!
I love to cruise and met great people on this voyage but the common theme of conversation was disappointment...about the food and the lack of things to do. Yes, that's right, nothing to do. Most every activity involved selling - how and why to buy art, emeralds, pearls, acupuncture, and hypnotism. The hypnotist was entertaining during his evening performances but the three additional hour long sales pitches were on my "things to not do list." Cruising standbys like towel or napkin folding that are so interesting for especially for first time cruisers was not offered. No tour of the ship's kitchen or theater available. I did take photos of a used Kleenex that lay on the floor outside the pool area for several hours including - as I watched - while officers and various staff walked past it.
I really felt nickel and dimed - or 15 and 20 dollared - to death. A charge for Yoga, for Pilates, for a Spin Class, for tastings, for special lunches, for champagne at the chocoholic buffet. Up charges for restaurant dining which were even further up charged if you ordered certain items and that was beyond belief. First cruise I have ever been on where you never saw the captain until the last day. Even the welcome back lunch for repeat cruisers was served buffet style and no crew member made a little thank you speech.
Food...yes they served food. Average small town restaurant quality, sometimes served correctly as ordered. The same food over and over and over. Both non paying restaurants served the same menu on the same day, the third one served the same menu every day. Only line I have ever sailed that not once offered lobster or crab legs. I don't eat those but they do signify fine dining. (Lobster was available in the steak house at an additional charge on top of the dining fee for that meal.) The shrimp cocktail was "Vegas Style." That means tiny salad shrimp all mixed in the sauce. Always available, but I only ordered once. Real shrimp was available on the Room Service menu for $20. Room Service had no hot options for pre ordered breakfast service. There was not, however an additional charge for Room Service so that is GOOD THING.
A GOOD THING was that the entertainment in the Stardust Theater was a nice variety and several shows were exceptional. Being a former Chicagoan I enjoyed the Second City performances wherever they were. The theater is beautiful but ridiculously uncomfortable. I am only 5'3" tall and my knees were touching the seat in front of me! After the first time we sat upstairs on benches that curve away from the stage so you sort of sat sideways and your view was obstructed by fingerprinted glass. (When mentioned to the cruise director that the theater seats were so tight he actually commented that the theater was built for Chinese people!)
Speaking of fingerprints, on this ship you do not see crew members constantly cleaning things. A 13 night trip and we never had a notice that balconies or windows were being washed. Hand rails were not wiped down routinely as we have found to be the standard on other lines. Hand sanitation stations would empty of product so a crew member sprayed your hands with the same stuff he was cleaning the tables with. Probably effective but not aesthetically pleasing!
And NOISE. Never have I been on a noisier ship. Constant music, not background but blasting. Never used the main pool because you could not even speak to one another. I used the kid's pool at the back of the ship which had only adults in it anyway. There is a "Quiet Zone" but the poolside music is loud and clear there also.
A GOOD THING is that this ship has the most beautiful, comfortable library which is open 24/7. I read more on this cruise than ever before because, remember, there wasn't much else to do.
Do I sound very negative? My trip was good because I can check the Panama Canal off of my "sights to see" list. (I will probably do it again with a better cruise line to enhance -not detract from- the experience!) I will not again consider a Norwegian Cruise Line ship under ordinary circumstances. But if NCL was the only way to follow to satisfy a longing to see a certain place then I would.
Travel is a great bargain and as I started out, if you have read this long review, The Panama Canal is a 'MUST SEE.' If NCL makes it affordable for you...jump on it. You don't even need to take a good book but also do not pack your great expectations and accept it for what it is. A way to get the job done!
(I see there is no rating choice for disembarkation! My experience was 45 minutes in line before exiting the ship is to begin customs. Not acceptable to me based on previous lines I have sailed.)