In the opinion of this experienced cruiser (10+), it is very difficult to not have a good time on a cruise unless something unusual happens- so with the itinerary of Panama Canal and Costa Rica, along with the standard western Caribbean ... Read More
In the opinion of this experienced cruiser (10+), it is very difficult to not have a good time on a cruise unless something unusual happens- so with the itinerary of Panama Canal and Costa Rica, along with the standard western Caribbean port swing through Harvest Caye, Roatan, and Costa Maya, good times were expected- and NCL met expectations. Those who cruise a lot may note that exceeding expectations is what distinguishes different cruises from others - I will try to tailor my comments for those new to cruising and for the more seasoned.
The food is often the focus of many reviews- and I side with those who find the food ranges from "good" to "great" in all venues - and my wife and I ate in them all on this 12 day itinerary (although we did find somewhat repetitive menus). Service and attitudes were also accommodating from almost all crew – they certainly are a highlight. If you want to ensure a high-end experience, the special venue for breakfast and lunch for Haven and suite guests - the Moderno restaurant on this ship - was definitely that in terms of flavors and service – especially breakfast. In fact, the best filet I have had in any venue on NCL ever, including any Cagney's, was the Steak and egg breakfast I had in that venue - several other cruisers mentioned the same thing – a perfectly cooked and seasoned filet mignon. This was a Thanksgiving cruise, and the main dining room had a standard turkey entree and a ham holiday entree on the menu that evening that met my expectations. Desserts sometimes exceeded expectations- from the macerated berries with Grand Marnier sabayon in the main dining room, to the OMG cheesecake in several specialty venues on the ship, the raspberry crème brulee, a perfectly cooked apple tart, to a cassava cake on the buffet and even a sugar-free coconut pudding on the buffet. Snack time at the back of the ship had fresh baked goods that were a highlight. O’Sheehans was good for junk food and watching football, and you can find tasty hamburgers and hot dogs on the buffet and at the outdoor grill. Obtaining drinks were never an issue, as waiters seemed ready and able to serve (thanks Gede in the Sky High Bar!). I can recall only once in the Spinnaker lounge where the bartender could not make a drink because it was unfamiliar (although it really isn't difficult to figure out the ingredients for a dirty monkey – I went somewhere else to get it). Additionally, our concierge has now set a high bar in terms of service - she was truly outstanding. We only saw a few shows, and while talent is usually a standout on NCL, the theater experience was so-so. Legends in Concert was worth attending, but some comedians were not. I must say Dennis Veator, the guitarist in the main atrium, was outstanding. The woman scheduled for the last night, as a singer, was actually pretty good – even though that slot is going to play to a less than half-empty theatre with passengers starting to pack, she did her best to fire us up. Additionally, the guitarist and singing at the entrance to the buffet, not by pros, but by food staff (also named Gede), always put a smile on my face as well. I had a great time and new cruisers should certainly consider this ship. As far as the ports, the Maya Key resort in Roatan was enjoyable, had great food, great wildlife rescue center - and luckily, not too crowded (this could alter the experience). I would describe the Costa Rica excursion exploring their rainforests and canals/rivers as enjoyable as well, but the Maya Chan resort in Costa Maya - booked privately outside of NCL - is the best value as drinks are included, massages are available for a price that is more than fair, and the food is wonderful. So, for the more seasoned, where were the areas that needed improvement?
Well, the initial itinerary of this cruise had the port of Cartegena, Columbia, but was switched to Grand Cayman - announced two days AFTER final payment was due. My suspicion is that NCL may have known about the changes a bit before the deadline, but cannot be sure. There were no towel animals- even after telling the steward we missed them. The "sky high bar and grill" is supposed to be a complimentary eating venue, but was only open for lunch on sea days, and even then had only hot dogs and burgers (although they were tasty in other places on the ship) - this still seemed a bit like false advertising.
“Problematic” is the term I would use to describe the Panama Canal shore excursion. Although I can now check off my bucket list “traversing the entire Panama Canal”, the last three locks of the canal was done on a shore excursion tour ship that held 500 passengers (approximately 200 were on our ship) – not small, but by no means large. You have to wait for other ships to join you inside the locks before they will operate them, and a Princess tour ship of the same size, and a large sailboat, and a huge tanker, all had to enter the lock before it could operate and we could move forward. At first, it is somewhat interesting, but the next two locks were the same experience, and it takes just under an hour for all of that shipping volume to arrange itself inside the lock – each time. Coupled with a lunch that I would classify as “edible” and nothing more (bland pasta, badly seasoned chicken kabobs – NOBODY went back for seconds even though there was plenty available) and then having to wait for the Princess boat to dock and let off their passengers before we could disembark and finally take the 70 minute bus ride home, made for an extremely long, sometimes boring day, and had me feeling a bit “second class.” We were off the boat at 9:15am, back on at 7:55pm – the last ones to arrive. I am glad I did it, as one small benefit was seeing the entire cityscape of Panama City lighting up at night. Nevertheless, I certainly wish I got a LOT more for my money, and got back to the boat sooner.
Also concerning was some of the experiences in the specialty restaurants- most of the main courses, especially the proteins, were outstanding. For example, Cagney’s veal chop with Morel mushroom sauce is a new fave– ordered it twice – and the wife’s steak was perfectly cooked. Half of our dining experience in Moderno was spent waiting for lamb to be properly cooked, which, initially, it absolutely was not – way, way overdone – we were happy that the restaurant manager acknowledged the issue and gave us a an estimated time for the new lamb without sugarcoating. We waited for better lamb, and when we eventually got it, we were more than pleased. The show in Teppanyaki and the food combines, still, for a worthwhile experience in my opinion. However, the appetizers and sides have declined a bit in taste and quality in some venues - both Cagneys and Moderno had issues. I can remember issues with both the bisque, the Mac and Cheese and the truffle fires in Cagneys, and the beans and rice in Moderno, among other items. La Cucina, outside of pasta, is just “OK” on this ship. While some desserts are great in these venues, some others tasted as if NCL bought them at the local supermarket (once again, please update your apple pie, NCL). The chairs in Cagney's and the Summer Palace MDR definitely need improvement - some were just darn uncomfortable to sit on. In addition, why the constant "hunt for Splenda" (or their brand “Wee-Cal”)? It was not always easy to find in certain places on the ship - impossible in others. They even ran out of it in the Haven breakfast on the last day. Really, what's up with that?
The bottom line is that the dining experiences at complimentary venues are quite good- and I am beginning to think that the "free at sea" benefits that come with the purchase of the cruise at certain prices may not be worth it. If I can convince my wife of of a cabin where NCL assigns the location, (usually the lowest priced or "teaser" deal - because you don't get the free at sea deals with this category) I might consider that. If things keep going this way, even though I have platinum status on NCL, I may have to start comparing costs dollar for dollar with other cruise lines for what NCL claims is “included” in the cost of my cruise. Cruising is still a great value, and this cruise in particular was as well, but this cruise has made me really think carefully. I am well on my way to “platinum plus” with NCL and I have 4 cruisenext deposits on hand, but I think I can be lured away – I guess we shall see… Read Less