Panama Canal 19 Night Cruise NCL
We are an active retired couple who have been on about ten cruises and especially enjoy longer ones with many sea days.
Cruising on the Jewel through the canal was an outstanding experience. ... Read More
Panama Canal 19 Night Cruise NCL
We are an active retired couple who have been on about ten cruises and especially enjoy longer ones with many sea days.
Cruising on the Jewel through the canal was an outstanding experience. The crew and fellow passengers were exceptionally friendly and the ship was in very good condition; very clean and well administrated. I had worried about the heat and humidity but it turned out to be not an issue. The hottest/most humid weather near the equator was like any hot summer day back home in Ohio.
This review will be detailed to help future cruisers plan and make decisions. We planned very well based on the suggestions on Cruise Critic. Thank you!
Port of Houston:
We arrived at Hobby and took Supershuttle which we booked ahead of time. It was about $75 for four of us to travel to Seabrook. I don’t believe there are hotels near the port that offer a free shuttle from either airport. We stayed at the Best Western Seabrook Suites after reading other reviews of the slim pickings in the area at Baypoint Terminal. The hotel was just fine and had a free shuttle that was well used by the cruisers. The hotel attempts to do their best but many use the shuttle for their water and Pepsi shopping and that causes waits and back ups. There are no restaurants within walking distance so the shuttle stays busy. I would definitely stay there again.
We took the shuttle in the late afternoon to Kenah Boardwalk and there are a number of nice restaurants and shops. It is a pleasant place to spend an evening but severe storms came through around the dinner hour and put on quite a show all night. This was the only significant rain we experienced on the entire trip!
We arrived at the port at 10:20 and were processed through quickly and were allowed to board at about 11:30. We chose to eat at Tsars even though NCL always seems to direct people up to the buffet. The rooms were ready at about 1:00 and the muster drill was in various venues, not the promenade deck. Sail away was a bit overcast but no rain.
The average age was 66 but the group seemed to be very energetic and active. Lots of walkers, exercisers and dancers so the ship was hopping. The group was very positive, greeted and talked with one another. Most were from Seattle/Western Canada and Houston. There were several hundred Germans and an assortment of other internationals. Most couples were eager to share tables in the MDR. There were maybe a dozen children onboard and all were very well behaved!
We scored a free upgrade and were given a very nice balcony on the 10th Deck. Ours was slightly forward of the forward elevators which made for a very quiet location. The deck and chairs needs some maintenance but the rest of the cabin provided enough space and there were bathrobes and a coffee maker (bring your own coffee and filters since the quality they offer is poor). Bring magnets and/or magnetic jumbo clips to keep your papers orderly, a nightlight and a Belkin travel adapter with USB ports. There was an egg crate top on the mattress which makes the bed a bit softer. We slept very well each night.
Tsars and Azura: The menu and quality of food is the same in both venues and the service was the best we have experienced on any NCL cruise. Efficient, pleasant and no waiting. I think the UDP had a positive impact on these restaurants. I only saw pagers being used once but they give you a free drink while you wait.
I would rate the food average in the world of mainstream cruising. Nothing was really memorable nor was anything very disappointing. The food was always hot and served promptly.
O’Sheehans: We enjoyed dining there because of the atmosphere. You can enjoy the music below or the views from the windows. The staff was either very friendly or somewhat somber, but everyone was efficient. The food was okay. The corned beef and cabbage soup was my favorite. Personally, I like the atmosphere but wish they would just bring back the Blue Lagoon menu.
Chin Chins: Average Chinese food and perhaps our only dining disappointment. You would think the entrees would be served with rice or that the server would suggest it. We had to order it after the fact and it came out much later. The service was mediocre. I agree with others that it is obvious that Chin Chins was not a good value when it was a cover charge restaurant. It is not very popular even for free.
Moderno: The service and food were exceptional. This follows the Brazilian steakhouse concept. My only negative was that the diner probably eats WAY too much protein at this place (how do you spell G-O-U-T) but that isn’t Moderno’s fault. Very well done and it was a smart move to put it in the much nicer location.
Buffet: We loved the stations which made the traffic flow more efficient and the selection was excellent. The breakfast buffet offered absolutely everything you might want. The sugarless desserts were always excellent and a surprise. They have a cuisine theme each evening. Well done!
Pool Deck/grilling: There were some very nice luncheons provided outside on the sunny days. Don’t miss out on those. They are listed in the dailies.
I will add that NCL has very recently implemented a room service charge of $7.95 and also has a new policy that prohibits passengers from bringing food from the dining rooms and buffet. This new policy is now fleet wide but started the day after we disembarked so we didn’t experience this. The only abuse I saw was a man bringing a huge plate of whole fruits to his cabin (likely to take off the ship). I can imagine that people who are not feeling well or are feeling some leg/foot problems would be greatly inconvenienced by this new policy. I bring a travel mug each morning to the buffet and fill it up to take a better grade of coffee to the cabin to drink while we get ready. This new policy, if it is really enforced, would be a reason for me to not consider NCL again. Maybe I will work on designing food concealment bags for NCL cruisers.
Entertainment in the Stardust- This has been known as an area where NCL shines, but we were a bit let down in a few areas. First the very good to excellent:
Danielle Bitton- excellent performer and dancer
David Nastor- comedian- fast paced and funny!
LeCirque Bijou- the aerial performers were very good and there was some singing and dancing (not much).
Oh What a Night (Four Seasons quartet) and George Solomon (singer/dancer- lead of Oh, What a Night)
Folkloric Show from Mexico was stunning!
David Levesque- Violinist and comedian (pretty good) and lecturer on historical topics (really good as a lecturer- a man of many talents)
The NCL Singers and Dancers- they were talented but there were no shows that I considered to be well choreographed to display their talents or very creative. The set designs were really a letdown. Band on the Run was the only show that had the typical stage performance. What happened to the Jean Ryan style of singing and dancing?
Sam Fedele – this comedian needs an energy boost and better material
Didn’t see/Wasn’t interested:
Hypnotists, Ventriloquist, Juggler, Showtime: It’s Broadway (heard it was not great and “screechy”)
Last Night Goodbye show- watched a few songs and left
We enjoyed most of the dance lessons and the variety of dancing in the Spinnaker and Fizz Lounges. Most classes were well taught but a few instructors who were the Stardust dancers went too fast (here’s how to do salsa…now do it twice as fast.... Much better when professional instructors are brought on board although a few of the cruise staff did a fine job.
The International Show Band, Twice as Nice and the Alambre Trio were excellent. There were two other performers, a guitarist and a pianist who were very good, but we are dancers and didn’t frequent their shows. The only group that was a bit disappointing was Next Stage. I don’t quite know what the problem was, but they were often late with one member showing up late, but the group often rallied and did a good job. There was a mute DJ and a robot could probably have replaced him. The White Hot Party wasn’t well thought out and the CD staff made some errors in the show schedules. The party was fun but not as well done as on other ships. Stardust is just too small for the “kick off”. It was packed out!
Fitness and Pool
The fitness center is clean and there was a steady flow of passengers using the facilities. Never very crowded. The pools are pretty small and not crowded. No major chair hogging.
A little advice and bragging time: I worked out at the fitness center on most days and used my Fitbit to measure my steps and stairs. My highest achievement was about 23,000 steps and the equivalent of 48 sets of stairs in San Francisco. I eat a pretty moderate but fruit heavy breakfast and an appetizer, nice entrée and dessert for both lunch and dinner. I gained NO weight on this 19 day cruise. My secret is to keep moving and never stuff yourself so that you feel full when the next meal time arrives. I’m hungry at each mealtime.
There is plenty to do onboard with crafts, games, sports, movies, trivia, gambling, seminars, etc. The staff did a great job of keeping a nice variety of activities available. The food demos were way too crowded at the atrium. Maybe Spinnakers would be better.
The Latitudes party had to be divided into two days because of the large numbers. I wish that the MOC would figure out something other than “who has been married the longest” and “what are your secrets to a happy marriage” when surveying the audience.
Be sure to join your roll call and go to the Meet and Greet, Cabin Crawl, luncheons, Slot Pull, LRC games, etc. if they are organized by a nice person on your roll. A few people organized independent tours which were always superior to the Ship excursions and less expensive. We met a few people who we wished were our neighbors back home (Paul and Tanya and John and Connie.., loved all you cruise critics!).
Cartagena, Colombia- Don’t be afraid to get out and see this town. I have to say that I was a bit underwhelmed but glad I went so I can say I was in Colombia. Some nice shopping. We went with Dora and it was nice but I felt we were given too much time in their friends’ shops. This is a very hot port so dress appropriately.
Panama Canal- Doing the Panama Canal wasn’t on my bucket list but I have to admit to absolutely loving the experience in retrospect. Be sure to watch a youtube video ahead of your trip and read “Path Between the Seas”. I skipped the part about the French construction since this is a very long book. I had a great appreciation for the experience because of the book.
The Jewel had a historian/narrator onboard all day and he broadcasted from the bridge. Don’t feel that you need to find one place and stay there. Keep walking around to find different experiences but stay hydrated. We made a banner for our balcony and got our photo taken from the dock. They offer banner craft making times the two days before the canal.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica- We went on the Rainforest Adventure and Aerial Tram (ship excursion) which lets you ride through the canopy of the rain forest. The view from the tram depends on where you are placed. This is a place where you get the best views if you are heavy/tall as they have to balance out tram with the weight of the guide in the back. Being the shortest/smallest was a disadvantage as I was placed in back of all the bigger/taller folks and my views were blocked. The heaviest people got the “best front row seats” and could see everything as we approached. This is in a private park at the EDGE of the rainforest so you won’t really see animals except in cages and terrariums. The ride there took 90 minutes each way and the views were generally uninspiring with many shacks with metal roofs, gravel, etc. Too much time spent in transit Still, a nice experience although you would likely see the same reptiles and amphibians in better displays at a major USA zoo. I would look into going into a National Park next time. The port city and countryside is very depressed and well, there is no other word except “trashy” that conveys the look. The residents just throw trash everywhere. It seemed a major contrast to the country’s efforts to protect their rainforest when the town/country folk just throw things everywhere. I didn’t see this in any other county.
Ship excursions: this experience reminded me why we rarely do them. This was pretty expensive and the driver won’t drop you off in the shopping area. Not a huge issue, but a private tour would be more accommodating. They told us it is the ship rule that they have to return all passengers to the ship.
Hualtaco- there is a very nice beach that is safe and clean right by the docks and it is free. We did some shopping and had a beer at a beach tent. All was fine until a woman surrounded by several young teen girls approached my husband (I wasn’t around). I saw her later showing a binder of photos of young girls for hire to single men on the beach. That ruined my opinion of that port since it was so obvious and overt. Despite that, a nice port.
Acapulco- oh, why does NCL go there? The best thing I guess I can say is that I had the experience of being in a sketchy port. There was a huge military police presence that was there to protect the passengers, likely because of the recent violence/killings and drug trafficking. Jeep/trucks with mounted machine guns at the ready circling through town and scores of police near the port. I didn’t hear of one passenger saying they enjoyed that port. Passengers like the Cliff Divers but many ship tours were shorted on their time in port or had a luncheon that was reportedly really bad. The hustlers were overwhelming and it was just plain old icky around the port. Most people just walked a short distance and then felt like it was time to return to the safety of the ship.
Cabo San Lucas- a refreshing port- more upscale and you felt relatively safe. We took a tour to Land’s End on a glass bottom boat- lots of operators right at the dock so don’t book onboard. The trip was really scenic and lovely. Glad we did that. The town has many stores for shopping, souvenir and upscale. Find Burger King for free Wi-Fi with purchase. The port and sailing vessels were very nice.
San Francisco- We had never been there so didn’t quite know what to expect. We love this city. The wharf area is safe and has been cleaned up we were told. We bought tickets to Alcatraz for the 9:30 tour online weeks ahead of the cruise as they often sell out weeks in advance. The dock for the ferry to Alcatraz is just a 5 minute walk from the pier. The ship passengers had to go through US Immigration (the one and only time) so that took a while.
Alcatraz was a very worthwhile and well organized trip. We returned to the ship for a quick lunch and a power nap and then headed off to Fisherman’s Wharf and down to Ghirardelli Square. Those low rider cars were a blast to see. The line for the Cable cars was quite long and we will save that for another time. Sunday afternoon is pretty crowded anyway!
NCL added three hours to the port time in SF and we sailed past Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge at dusk. Go to the Great Outdoors on deck 12 for the best view- outside with a great opportunity for nice photos or video.
Astoria, Oregon- We kept our fingers crossed as sometimes the cruise ships aren’t allowed to enter because of the dangerous weather/rough wave conditions. We saw what they were talking about when we left the port at the end of the day. Yikes!
This port is absolutely charming. The town makes a great effort to welcome the visitors and even engages their city and school buses to shuttle people around. We first went to the Marine Museum which is a great experience (even for someone like me who is just mildly interested). We then hired a taxi for $20 each way to take us to Fort Clatsop and we are so glad we did. This is the site of the winter home of Lewis and Clark when they finally made it to the Pacific. You felt like you were in a primitive forest and the natural surroundings are amazing. I highly recommend going! We qualified for the $10 Senior Pass for the NPS, so that was a great bargain. We didn’t make it to the Astoria Column but heard it was also a very nice experience. The downtown isn’t very worthwhile for a visitor unless you want to eat at a local restaurant. Shopping is mostly antique/crafts. Souvenirs are sold at stands at the dock by the locals.
Victoria, British Colombia- A very nice CC friend organized a tour with Nico from “I Love Victoria” sightseeing tours. The bargain of the century! For $14 pp, he took us for a tour of the city, sang to us and took us to Butchart Gardens (entry fee extra) which is about 30 minutes away. Our trips in the past to Victoria were always in the evening making the gardens not a wise choice. Be sure to go there during the day as it is perhaps the prettiest garden setting I have ever seen. This was in early May and the flowers were out in full glory. Only the roses were not in bloom. Try to get there early as it gets quite crowded. Nice gift shop and restaurant/coffee shop. Two hours is just enough time, although you could spend longer. Nico dropped us off on route to the ship wherever we wanted in Victoria. We got off at Hudson Bay near China town and walked the rest of the way to the ship along the harbor. There are lots of benches along the harbor and they have a Fisherman’s Wharf where you can have a lunch/snack. If you are able to walk, do this instead of the shuttle.
Debarkation in Seattle- Very smooth with no customs requirement. We had a 2:30 flight so we stored our baggage at the terminal for $3 per bag and walked to Pike’s Market. We had arranged for Seattle Express to pick us up at the terminal and drive us to the airport. $12 pp and very efficient. We had a wonderful driver from Poland named Adam. High marks.
Southwest lines were very efficient and we had a fish lunch at an airport place. There are two good fish eateries there.
In summary, this was really an outstanding experience. Most of the ports were memorable and the ship experience was really excellent. I would highly recommend this trip but unfortunately, it seems that NCL is doing only one PC cruise next year rather than the four in 2015. Read Less