EMBARKATION: We arrived at the Port of Los Angeles at 11am. It was easy to find. We got to the front of the boarding security line before we were told that we should have given our large luggage to a porter before getting in line! We had to get out of line to do so, but the security person let us back in at the front of the line. The rest of the boarding process was fast and easy, and we were on the ship before noon. We enjoyed a leisurely buffet lunch, and the rooms were ready shortly after 1pm.
ROOM: Our oceanview room with a porthole on deck 4 was pleasantly decorated in cheerful colors. There was plenty of storage space. The bathroom was small, especially the toilet area, and poorly lit. A large person would have a difficult time moving around in the bathroom. The hairdryer (very heavy!) was at the desk outside of the bathroom, and that area was poorly lit as well, but the room as a whole had decent lighting. I had to put on makeup at the porthole to get enough light. We had one fairly hard chair and the bed was not comfortable to sit on. The bed was okay for sleeping but sagged somewhat. The walls were quite thin and we heard noise from the hallway and from the adjacent rooms. We listened to the man in the room next to us belching loudly every evening.
FOOD: The Market Cafe buffet food was fair to good. Many entrees were oversalted. It was a cafeteria atmosphere with cheap seating. At the omelet station they use yucky processed cheese, so I gave that up. They had yummy chilled fruit soup every day, and both soft-serve and scooped ice cream were available. The buffet got very crowded at times, especially on at-sea days. We got tired of the buffet very quickly and started going to one of the dining rooms for breakfast and lunch, as well as for dinner. We never had dinner at the buffet.
We preferred the Aqua Dining Room over the Versailles Dining Room because the seats were more comfortable and we got better service. We always went when it opened at 5:30pm to avoid crowds. If you want to see the 7pm show after dinner, you have to eat as early as possible to get there in time. The food in the dining rooms was good to very good, but not great. The size of the entrees was not consistent; sometimes the entree was large and very filling, and sometimes it was barely enough food. By the end of the cruise we were getting tired of the dining room menu; it needed more variety. Service was usually good but sometimes very slow.
We did not want to spend a lot of extra money on food, but one night we went to the Tex-Mex restaurant (extra $10 per person) and had a very good meal and excellent service. We also had a nice lunch at the Blue Lagoon (no extra charge) to break the monotony of the meals.
ACTIVITIES AND SHOWS: The evening shows were quite good and varied. We enjoyed musicals, a comedian/ventriloquist, and aerialists. The Four Seasons tribute was the best, in my opinion. The daytime activities did not interest us much. We saw some afternoon movies and tried a couple other activities, but we were not willing to pay money for them. The casino ate our money so fast that we gave it up. I made the mistake of going to the art auction--way out of my league! So we started getting bored with at-sea days. We longed for more things to do that didn't cost money. There was not much in the way of shops, either, unless you like to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on jewelry. By the way, the Panama Canal t-shirt sale had a huge crowd, so we were unable to get t-shirts in our sizes.
PORTS: Cabo San Lucas was extremely hot and humid. See El Arco (which you can do from the ship), but there's not much else to do unless you want to shop for jewelry. In Acapulco we walked from the ship to the adjacent Fort San Diego. It's free and well worth an hour or so to see the museum inside the air-conditioned rooms. We also walked to the shaded Zocalo and the modern church there (Our Lady of Sorrows). At Huatulco there's not much to do other than enjoy the beach and look in the shops. At Puerto Quetzal we took the "Antigua on Your Own" tour, which I recommend. The guide told us all about Guatemala during the bus ride (about 90 minutes), and it was easy for us to see Antigua with our own printed guide from the internet when we were dropped off. We had almost 3 hours to see Antigua and enjoy lunch. In Costa Rica we paid $129 each for the aerial tram ride in the rainforest. It was about a 90-minute bus ride there. Then we took a guided walking tour, seeing beautiful flowers, plants, and several reptiles in cages. The tram ride lasted for about an hour, and we did not see any animals except for a couple birds. The tram goes over the tops of the trees and over a waterfall. We then had a very good lunch of chicken, rice, beans, etc. Of course it rained off and on, so be prepared. I thought this excursion was interesting but overpriced.
The Panama Canal was not a port, but an entire day spent listening to the very interesting descriptions and history over the intercom system. It was a hot and humid day, and people who had to stand outside on the decks for long periods of time got quite uncomfortable. Fortunately for us, my parents had a balcony room, which made viewing the canal a delight. Even for someone not interested in engineering, it was a fascinating experience.
My favorite port was Cartegena. We took a taxi from the cruise terminal to the Old Town clock tower ($15 American). The Gold Museum is free and the Museum of the Inquisition cost $6 American, and both were very interesting. We had our own guide to the Old Town that I found on the internet, and we had no trouble finding our way around. Be sure to walk on top of the fort there to get some great views. Also, be sure to be out on the deck of the ship when it approaches Cartagena and when it leaves--the views are wonderful. This was the best day of the trip for me. In Key West we were an hour late getting off the ship because we were the last group to go through the immigration check. (The cheapest rooms go last.) We took a wonderful tour of Truman's "Little White House" and also enjoyed the history museum. Eating key lime pie is a must there.
OVERVIEW: This is a laid-back cruise. There are many days at sea. You need to be able to entertain yourself, or you will probably get bored or end up spending lots of money on the ship. Dress was quite casual. We had two "dress up" days, but they were optional. Some people wore jeans to the dining room every night. There is no reason for men to bring a suit. We used the gym several times and were pleased with the equipment. Disembarkation was a slow process in a very long line, even though we carried off our own luggage. I enjoyed the cruise, but not as much as other cruises I have taken. I think Norwegian is in a class below Holland America, and I really don't have any desire to take another Norwegian cruise.