14 Starry Days w Panama Canal Transit Lengthy Review: Norwegian Star Cruise Review by CruisinMaterial
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14 Starry Days w Panama Canal Transit Lengthy Review
Destination: Panama Canal & Central America
Embarkation: Los Angeles
Pre-Cruise Stay: Crowne Plaza San Pedro
After being awake for 24 hours and a long series of flights and connections, this hotel couldn’t have been more welcoming and inviting. The front desk guy gave us a room overlooking the port but on a feather free floor. When I woke up finally in the morning I was so excited to look out the More window and see the ship. The hotel offers complimentary shuttle service to the pier which isn’t that far away. To get to this hotel from LAX airport I used the Prime-Time Shuttle (red shuttles) and I wouldn’t recommend using them. We waited for close to an hour for a shuttle to arrive, when en route to the location of the first drop off the driver got lost while using a GPS! Stay away from Prime Time shuttle. A long day of travel was made much worse by taking a scenic tour of Los Angeles that I didn’t want.
Norwegian Star 14 Day Panama Canal Cruise – Los Angeles to Miami – January 5 to January 19
DAY 1: Embarkation
Arriving to the port was easy and the line to get into the terminal and through security moved quickly. We arrived to the terminal around 11:30AM and the ship wasn’t boarding yet. While standing in line to check-in, the boarding process began. It was just after 12:30PM when we boarded. We went to Versailles main dining room for lunch. Feglyn, an assistant waitress, gave us excellent service and it was leisurely enough to enjoy while waiting for the rooms to be ready. We had a nice aft view of the Sapphire Princess. Rooms were announced as ready on some decks prior to 1:30PM. All decks were ready by 2PM.
Stateroom 9678: This category BA balcony cabin is located mid-ship on Deck 9 port side and is opposite the Internet cafe. The room for the age of the ship was in great condition. Everything worked as expected in the room. There was a coffee maker which was never used the entire trip and a fridge with a mini-bar that we requested to have removed to chill wines. The only drawback to this room was the bathroom door. With a good pull the door shut completely but to open it made a loud noise which couldn’t work at night very well so it was left ajar at night. Luckily we didn’t have really rough seas so it wasn’t an issue. After dropping the bags it was off to explore the ship.
Fellow Cruisers: The average age on this voyage was higher than any other Norwegian cruise I’ve ever taken. There were three groups on the ship, one was German and the other two were travel agent groups. These three groups would pose constant problems in Versailles during most of the voyage combined with the elderly crowd wanting to dine ridiculously early and line up for dinner at 4:30PM when the doors don’t open until 5PM!! They would seat all at once and overwhelm the servers and kitchen.
Norwegian Star Ship: I’ve cruised on the Norwegian Dawn which is the Star’s younger sister. The layout of the Star is similar to the Dawn with the main flow of action being on Deck 7 including her exterior wrap-around Promenade Deck and partially on Deck 6 with the casino and Gatsby’s located mid-ship along with Le Bistro (French), La Cuccina (Italian) and Aqua (main dining room) restaurants. The ship is one of the older ships in Norwegian’s fleet. With the exception of the carpeting and upholstery in some places, she’s looking quite good. She still shows a scar from her mishap in Bermuda a few seasons back on her aft plating. She was slated for dry dock this year (2014) but with the new ships being delivered, her dry dock has been postponed to 2015. Carpeting was being updated during our sailing and you can see where patchwork of new carpeting has been laid so they are trying to keep her fresh looking.
The atrium on embarkation day always houses a showcase of services for sale on the ship including spa, art auctions, soda packages and wine packages. The Viva Vino Wine package seemed like a good value this cruise when looking at the overall prices of the wine individually. We participated in their first tier program getting four bottles of wine which were split to cover a period of 8 nights. The concept worked great with the exception of trucking the wines with you to the dining room every night but the savings made that minor inconvenience well worth it.
Before we knew it was time for cast off preparations including a lifeboat drill at 3:30PM. Immediately after the lifeboat’s conclusion the ship was supposed to cast off at 4PM. We were slightly delayed in leaving the pier so we could float around on different parts of the ship and see it off. Sailing down the channel was quite a bit of fun as there were restaurants lining the passageway yelling up to the ship and wishing us a pleasant voyage. It was a nice bon voyage party with a dance number from the NCL production cast as well.
I headed back to the cabin to quickly unpack before heading to dinner in Versailles main dining room. Tonight we had great service from Mintarsih (Waitress from Indonesia) and her assistant Dedi. We sat in the aft part of the dining room. The kitchen seemed slow in producing the food as the dining room was chock full of people. As we were served our starters, I noticed a lot of people staring at our table. We were the only ones in the vicinity of others eating. The other tables were waiting on their main courses, I told mom to expect a wait but we were pleasantly surprised to find the dinner service flowed nicely for us and the main courses were received on time and service was phenomenal much to the gripes of the neighboring tables. This would be the first time of several I’d be exposed to grumpy people on this voyage.
I managed to make my 7PM meeting time in the Star Bar while mom floated between the Spinnakers Lounge and Gatsby’s listening to the music of Exotique and Mr. Motown Stan Sykes respectively. We rejoined each other for the 9:15PM variety show time in the Stardust Theater.
Stardust Showtime: Welcome Aboard Variety Show
This was an introduction to some of the entertainment we’d see over the next 14 days. There was a bumper performed by the NCL production cast and the show band which was nice. We saw the magic of Sander & Alison which would be featured later in the cruise with their own show and as part of Elements. The show also featured comedian entertainer David Nester who was far superior to what Second City was offering later in the cruise. All this was hosted by Candi Finkelstein who was the Cruise Director for our 14 day sailing.
After the show it was time to return to the cabin to relax after a long day of travel the previous day and to get caught up on sleep.
DAY 2: Sea day
It was a leisurely day at sea with breakfast and lunch being served by Catherine (Waitress from the Philippines). The morning was slow and leisurely with a walk around the Promenade deck. Since the air was still a little chilly with the wind at sea I opted for a trip to the gym.
Norwegian Star’s Fitness Center: After having been on the Breakaway and the Jewel with their updated fitness equipment, the Star’s fitness center seemed grossly inadequate and antiquated. The weight bearing machines probably have not been replaced since the ship was put to sea and the cardio equipment was also quite dated but operational. Hopefully in the Star’s next dry dock they will re-do this area and update all the equipment. It was functional for the voyage but not up to the other ship’s standards in the Norwegian fleet. There were two personal trainers floating around but neither seemed engaged or willing to want to interact with guests while walking through the gym. Because I was wearing a Norwegian Epic t-shirt, some passengers thought I was a gym trainer and were asking me how to use equipment. I was glad to show them when asked but found it annoying the trainers who were doing nothing were largely ignoring the guests with exception of one younger girl who seemed to live in the gym during this voyage.
This night it was back to Versailles main dining room. We aimed to get there early to make the night work and accommodate all social engagements. Service tonight was horrendous. The whole section we sat in seemed to be seated at roughly the same time which overwhelmed the waiter and the new assistant waitress was confused by what the waiter had written down for food orders. It resulted in food being given to the wrong people and she seemed so flustered she disappeared for a while. The lead waiter got another assistant to help but by then people were complaining. Due to the service issues I had to skip dessert to make the rest of the night’s events. The waiter noticed our displeasure when we took the wine from the wine package with us and got up to leave. By then it was too late and this would be the worst service night in any dining venue the entire cruise.
While I was at the Star Bar, mom was taking in the entertainment of Exotique and Mr. Motown Stan Sykes until the show in the Stardust Theater. This night mom commented on Exotique doing too much talking between songs to be enjoyable. She also said Stan Sykes was like a broken record repeating the same songs in roughly the same order as the previous night. Since I wasn’t there to witness either this evening I’m just relaying what she said to me.
Stardust Showtime: OH WHAT A NIGHT! A tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
Think Jersey Boys musical and you’ve got a rough idea of how this whole show went. Since I’m familiar with all of the songs it was actually quite enjoyable and mom absolutely loved it! It was a group of four guys singing songs such as Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man and more. One of the singers, George Solomon, would return the following evening for his own show. This show was followed by a 70s night in the Spinnakers Lounge where the cruise staff and Exotique were getting the late night under way. I stopped in for a bit with mom before retiring for the evening.
DAY 3: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Our later arrival made for a picturesque view on our balcony as the Star rounded the end of the world at Baja Peninsula and floated in the Cabo San Lucas bay. As we came in for our floating positioning, we passed all the major rock formations Cabo is known for. With a handy guide, you could see El Arco right from the balcony. A port side stateroom was definitely a smart choice for this stop.
NORWEGIAN EXCURSION: Coastal Highlights
After tendering ashore we boarded a tour bus which took us to a glass blowing factory where artisans performed a very hurried tequila holding turtle. It was off to a scenic lookout over the bay where the cruise ships were for a brief water stop and scenic viewing of El Arco from a distance before reboarding the tour bus to San Jose del Cabo. Once we arrived in San Jose del Cabo we were given a meeting time and pretty much left on our own. The guide took those who were interested to the church but didn’t explain anything about it. Overall this tour was the second worst of the cruise and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. The icing on the cake for this tour is it overran its allotted time and we actually held up the ship because of it. I was on the last tender back and had to run for my dinner reservations which wouldn’t have been necessary if the tour had stuck to the plan. I feel the tour informed me of nothing and the tour guide seemed keen on giving us booze and asking if the tour was ok only after tequila had been given out. We arrived back to the ship at 6:30PM a full hour after the ship was supposed to sail.
SPECIALTY DINING: La Cuccina Italian Restaurant
After a bad service experience the prior evening in Versailles we decided it was time to go to the specialty restaurants. La Cuccina was the first of the specialty restaurants we would try this cruise. I ordered the Garlic Steak and it was cooked to order and simply perfect. It was mouth-watering and what I needed after such a long day. The service was friendly and unhurried although because I was starving we did ask for the starters to come faster and the waiter gladly complied.
STARDUST SHOWTIME: George Solomon
He was the lead star from the previous evening’s entertainment (Oh What a Night!). His vocal range and variety of music selections from different artists of yesteryear made him a good treat for my mother. I knew the songs he was singing as well and enjoyed his performance. He even managed to get an encore performance from his fellow singers to do a Franki Valli number as part of the show. This was some really good entertainment for both nights by this group.
I was hoping tonight was going to be the first night to go to the disco but I was still jet lagged so I went to bed. The evening featured 50s and 60s music in the Spinnaker Lounge later into the evening.
DAY 4: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
We had a late arrival into port today and again the port side of the ship didn’t disappoint and had great views as the ship was approaching the port. The locals along the new Vallarta area seemed very friendly coming out to wave at us as we passed by. The ship docked and had a nice mariachi band there to greet us. The port was extremely close to the Wal-Mart which was funny but needed since we forgot bug spray which would be needed at the next ports of call.
NORWEGIAN EXCURSION: Walking Tour of Puerto Vallarta
We boarded a tour bus for the transfer into town and were introduced to Gina our tour guide. Gina gave us all stickers so she would get to know who was in the group and who was trying to tag along for free. Gina walked us all over the place showing us sights like the town square, art along the boardwalk (known as the Malecon), and the former home of Elizabeth Taylor including lover’s bridge and into the old town. All along the way she did a very good job of stopping and gathering us to explain things to us. The tour was listed as a level 2 and for good reason, there are a lot of steps when climbing to the church and to go to Elizabeth Taylor’s former home. Just take it easy going up there and if you’re not in reasonably good shape then don’t book this tour. Two people had issues getting up all the stairs but eventually made it. There are a lot of uneven, almost like cobblestone, streets in Puerto Vallarta so be careful at all times. I thoroughly enjoyed the walking tour and the guide who was extremely knowledgeable about anything and everything you asked her. This tour was one of the great many memories of this vacation and definitely made me want to return to this beautiful place for a longer stay.
STARDUST SHOWTIME: Antonio Ramirez’s Mexican Folkloric Show (5:30PM)
Before the ship left port a mariachi band and folkloric dancers boarded the Star and performed a show for the guests on the ship. It was very well attended by the guests and I loved it. I always like seeing cultural performances and with taking a cruise you sometimes miss the true cultural arts a port has to offer as they are largely done at night and sometimes on resorts only. This show was telling tales of Mexican folklore by music, dance and sometimes lyrics. It would serve as that evenings featured entertainment for my mom and I. We skipped the hypnotist.
Once the folkloric show concluded and we watched the cast off from the balcony which again was facing the port, we headed to dinner at Aqua restaurant. It was the first time I’d gone to dinner in all my 28 cruises wearing shorts. It was a super long day and with all the running around I didn’t again have time to freshen up so I just went as I was. The hostess had no problems getting us a deuce. Yannis, the Food and Beverage Director stopped by to check in and say hello to us and ask us how our day was shore-side which we thought was very nice of him to do. Our dinner service was provided by Vijay from India and his assistant and it was very good – not hurried and not slow either.
After a very lovely dinner service in Aqua we headed to the Red Lion Pub to listen to the vocalist Dennis Veator who was to start at 9:15PM. While waiting for him to show up we ordered some beers from the bar. We moved over to the Spinnakers Lounge for the Country Western Hoe Down to see what was going on. We stayed until 11PM and then decided it was time to head back, freshen up and sleep.
DAY 5: Sea Day
A leisurely sea day is just what the doctor ordered after we had just jumped forward two time zones. I was finally adjusting now that the ship was only one hour behind East Coast time. It being a sea day meant a leisurely breakfast service provided by Christine and lunch we had in the buffet for a light salad. The morning featured a work out and then I went to the sun deck in the afternoon while mom read on the balcony after the initial Latitudes gathering for all Latitude’s tier members. We briefly talked to Lisha the Future Cruise Consultant on the ship from South Africa. She was lovely and informed us that there were about 35 Platinum Latitude members on the ship and that I was the youngest of them!
SPECIALTY DINING: Teppanyaki
For $25 per person your dinner is cooked in front of you. Our chef for the 6:30PM seating was Roolan. We were fortunate to have nice friendly folks sharing the table with us. A nice couple from the UK were sitting next to us and we’d see them the rest of the voyage. The chef put on a modest show in comparison to other ship’s Teppanyaki experiences and we had a nice dinner. Unfortunately we couldn’t linger too long as they had to prepare for the next seating so we were asked to relocate our talking to the Ginza restaurant which we did do. If you’ve never done a hibachi experience then it is definitely worth it the money.
STARDUST SHOWTIME: Band on the Run
If you’ve never seen this show before then it’s really worth catching. It was the first offering of the Norwegian production cast for the cruise. It centers on 70’s music and features the entire cast of singers and dancers. I’ve seen this on a lot of different Norwegian cruises but it’s always a good time if you appreciate 70s music.
THEME NIGHT: Norwegian’s Night Out
As part of the theme night, the Star ran specials including a two for one happy hour in Red Lion Pub for house brands only, a photo studio special for portraits taken on that night and purchased the next day and for Cagney’s Steakhouse if you dined early you would receive a free bottle of house wine. The evening also featured pictures with the Captain in the atrium and culminated in Spinnakers where line dances like the electric slide, Macarena and oldies music seemed to rule the night. I stayed out for a while and then chose to return to the room. I was beginning to lose hope the disco would be any good this cruise.
DAY 6: Huatulco, Mexico
The port side again featured a nice entry into a very small but deep bay where the cruise ship turned around and docked. The pier comes right out of a beach resort area with plenty of restaurants and wifi readily available. The port itself is a beautiful area. You can swim just feet from the ship!
NORWEGIAN EXCURSION: Old Huatulco & Mexico Traditions
Barring the bickering about seats from the elderly folks on this tour, Ana who was our tour guide did a great job explaining things. She explained all the plants and herbs we saw and gave us samples to touch and taste in a small town named Piedra de Moros. We were also served tortillas and corn wrapped tamales. It was a truly authentic Mexican experience, not just what you’d find at On The Border restaurant back in the United States. Next we went to Santa Maria for a nice walk around town and a stop at a church which is believed to have a piece of the cross Jesus Christ was nailed to. She took us to a bakery and to a blacksmith shop where a tour group member who was loco decided to try his hand at black smith work. Make sure when you stop there that you leave all demonstrations to the professional! Our last stop of the tour was the Mezcal Factory. I wasn’t going to partake in any of the spirits but by then I’d become good pals with the tour guide and she called me out and had me sample nearly everything! Thank goodness I brought my own water with me to re-hydrate! Overall it was a great tour and Ana was such a great tour guide.
When we returned to the port we grabbed some cervezas at the beach and snagged some wifi before heading back to the ship and the welcome back party they had going on pier side. The ship was acting as shade so they were outside. Usually this is done at the last port of call but now I can understand why they did it here. Colombia didn’t have any shade available and was so hot!! It was nice to be welcomed back in such a manner and everyone was out there. Cruise staff, the stateroom stewards, a chef with some fierce dance moves and singing talent and a few others from the beverage team.
SPECIALTY DINING: LeBistro
Norwegian’s Signature French bistro garners a cover charge of $20 per person but if you’re a Platinum Latitudes member you get a dinner for two here with a complimentary bottle of wine. It’s a nice way to spend an evening with leisurely dinner service by Shirley. We had the lamb which was perfect and cooked to order. I had the crème brulee dessert along with the chocolate Napoleon. I’d also like to send a shout out to Ria who from Guest Services who was always so pleasant in getting our dinner reservations arranged and for being such a great smiling face all over the ship whenever we saw her – either in the concierge lounge, guest services or in the morning at La Cuccina on port days.
STARDUST SHOWTIME: Second City Comedy Troupe
Every time I see them on every ship I see them on they have the same stupid routine. I’ve grown so tired of this comedy troupe. I know they have a script they have to follow but their improv sections are just horrendously awful. Where they have some free range they still can’t get a laugh put together right. I’ve never seen a sadder bunch of folks and worst part is they occupy so much entertainment space on the ship because they’re a troupe. Norwegian would be better served by giving this space to individual comedians who can do whatever they want and I’m sure would be better. When I saw some of these troupe faces from the Breakaway cruise and other cruises, I wondered why these people were still doing ships… here’s the reason… they stunk! I got up and left their performance and mom left with me.
THEME NIGHT: Tropical Island Deck Party
Music was provided by the pool band Xcite and the night was off to a good start with the obligatory line dance songs like the electric slide and cupid shuffle. Lots of people were out and about and the after hours was down in the Spinnakers Lounge. No one went down to Spinnakers though and it was absolutely dead. The crew were having their party this night which is why they weren’t in Spinnakers either. I have to give props to DJ Joboy for playing some great house music during this night in the Spinnakers but it was so dead it was hard to stay too long. It wasn’t fair to the crew to make them stay in Spinnakers and miss their party so I left with a couple of cruise friends and went to bed.
DAY 7: Puerto Chiapas, Mexico
We arrived into Puerto Chiapas before 8AM and the approach was lovely. The coast line seemed like we were going into the jungle. This port is literally in the middle of nowhere and that’s what made it a good place to go. They’ve built a bar, pool and shopping area just for the cruise ship tourists and outside of that you have to board a bus to the closest city Tapachula. The locals welcomed the ship with a dance performance and local music.
NORWEGIAN EXCURSION: Chiapas through the Ages
The tour brought us to the ruins of Izapa which were small but important in their heyday with a ball court used for fierce competitions. Our tour guide Zaira wasn’t that great and was pretty much piggy-backing on another tour guide who was doing an excellent job explaining things. We continued on into the city and took a brief tour of the city hall and the murals in there before heading to the archaeological museum which contained ruins from the Izapa excavation. We could stay with the tour guide or go off on our own. We chose to go off on our own and read everything inside the museum and we were sure to be back to the tour bus in time. The locals were fierce with their selling and approaches but in the end we were able to haggle and buy what we wanted and re-board the bus back to the ship.
Back at the port we were greeted by local dancers from the same group which greeted us in the morning. We were able to do some browsing at the port shops before heading back to the ship where all the senior officers were outside greeting us for the return back to the ship. Toni Winkler, Hotel Director and Ana Maria, Guest Relations Manager were both present and were very warm in welcoming us back to the ship and wanted to hear how our day went.
SPECIALTY DINING: Moderno Churriscaria
After we watched the port dancers perform for cast off and saw the ship out of the channel, it was time for a carnivore’s dinner. I love Moderno on the ships but tonight’s experience would surpass all previous Norwegian cruises. Normally this restaurant would be a $20 cover charge but tonight it was free as it was the second Platinum Latitudes complimentary dinner. Both mom and I are Platinum now so we had two free specialty dinners this cruise. The service from Sammy, the Hostess who welcomed us and knew our names immediately without having to check us in or ask for a room number or card, then Jewel our waitress and by and far Nikola Makisimovid from Bosnia who was our passador, was downright outstanding! Nikola knew his stuff inside and out and knew the best pairings of sides with the meat and how to enhance the flavor. The chef had cooked ALL the meats perfectly. None were dry and all were so good! I’ve never had ALL the meats be so good on a ship before. Nikola was so impressive with his service and ability to come back with what I had requested. He was able to fill me after 2 hours in the restaurant. He must have thought I had a hollow leg because mom had long since flipped to red. I was so impressed with the entire experience in Moderno I wrote to the Hotel Director to tell him about it and told lots of people on the ship to give the place a try. With this phenomenal team in place I highly recommend Moderno on this ship! It’s a MUST GO!
STARDUST SHOWTIME: Comedy of David Nestor
We had seen him perform during the opening night of the cruise in the variety show. Tonight was his own show and he was ok. Comedians have a high standard with me but he was far better than the Second City the previous night. He also brought up some serious points in how to cope with situations and offered a bullying lecture I sadly missed later in the cruise. This guy was very much down to Earth and you could see him out and about on the ship as well.
THEME NIGHT: 50s and 60s Sock Hop
The average age of this cruise made this a happening night in the Spinnaker. The music was on par with the eras featured with a twist competition. The music lingered in the 50s and 60s much past the 11PM hour when it was supposed to flip to the nightclub. Good for the older folks on this cruise who weren’t drinking but a party killer for the rest of us who were waiting for something good to do. Another missed night out on the ship. So far my bar bill was doing extremely well.
DAY 8: Sea Day
This day started off with a chai latte from the Java café. I was in full blown Starbucks withdrawal mode and needed a fix of some kind. No coffee here, only tea! I wanted to be awake for the Platinum Latitudes ship tour which was hosted by Lisha, the Future Cruise Consultant on the ship. We started at the Versailles and Aqua main galley before working our way forward to the theater and then finally down to laundry before the bridge tour. It was a short 1.5 hour tour of all the happening places on the ship and it brought us to lunch time. We had a lunch experience like no other thanks to Christine! It’ll be a memory I’ll cherish forever.
The afternoon featured a small workout and then time on the sun deck before we decided to venture back to the Versailles main dining room again. We were fearful of a repeat of the second night service we had there but the hostess suggested we sit in Jose Castillo’s section or in that side of the ship as good comments had been coming from there this cruise. We did and Jose was absolutely wonderful. He had some time to chat with us and got our special orders right away and talked about his home country of Peru. Service was very attentive and flowed just the way we liked it. We had enough time to even catch the early show.
STARDUST SHOWTIME: SHOUT! The Mod Musical
It’s all the females in the cast as they go through the 60s singing hits and talking about major headlines. The show was rated PG 13 for adult material and drug references but compared to the Rock of Ages on the Breakaway this show was so mild!! The bolded warning should be on the Rock of Ages and after seeing that show I had to drag mom kicking and screaming to this one which was a new production number for me. I’ve never seen this before on any other Norwegian ship I’ve traveled on and sadly it’s going to the production graveyard when they change the production cast next. The production manager who did the behind the scenes tour told us that. It’s sad because this show was actually quite enjoyable and both mom and I liked it, even with its strong content warning.
Tonight was ballroom night in the Spinnaker lounge so I used this as a perfect night to watch a movie (Despicable Me 2) and fall asleep. This cruise was the most relaxing cruise for me and I got tons of sleep which never usually happens.
DAY 9: Puntareanas, Costa Rica
We arrived into Puntarenas ahead of schedule but to our surprise already docked was the Island Princess which we had left behind in Los Angeles. Given her schedule of having more sea days I thought she was already in the Panama Canal but nope here she was and in the way. Tours were a little bit more complicated as the tour busses were backing down the pier and accepting Princess first before we got off. It made the pier extremely congested. We disembarked the ship for our tour instead of going to the theater since it had proven to be such a chaotic mess the entire cruise thus far. Go figure because we were with Princess today they’d give us stickers to wear and we didn’t have them but the tour guide gave us stickers anyway.
NORWEGIAN EXCURSION: Pacific Train, Bus & Boat Adventure
This tour lasted nearly five hours and consisted of all the avenues mentioned. First it was our train ride on a narrow gauge railroad. There wasn’t much to see on this railway tour except the backs of people’s houses. The natural beauty of Costa Rica really wasn’t showcased on this train ride until we got on a cliff overlooking plantations. There’s a neat dark tunnel you have to travel through but it didn’t make the train ride overly exciting. Our next stop was a bus ride through the Costa Rican highway system to a boat launch to look for wildlife. It should have been billed as a crocodiles citing tour as that’s what was going on most of the time. The boat driver was giving the crocodiles lunch and they were insanely close to the boat. We did see some birds but mostly the same one over and over again. Back at the dock for the river boat tour we had complimentary drinks served with local fruits of pineapple, bananas and watermelon. I didn’t partake in any of this fresh fruit, even though it was sourced from the country because I couldn’t see what their sanitation standards were in the food prep. Always use caution when eating off the ship! It was largely suspected this port was the cause of an uptick in gastrointestinal issues occurring later on in the cruise. I’m not implicating this tour as the source but just keep in mind when you’re ashore and eating, don’t eat anything that hasn’t been cooked thoroughly first. Overall this tour was ok but if you’re more active then I would suggest going on another tour. A funny note from this tour was our tour bus pulled so close to the train you didn’t have to step onto the ground to go from one to the other, now that’s service or laziness!
Returning to the port we jumped back on the ship for a quick bite to eat before going out and exploring the area around the port which was full of local vendors largely selling the same things. One vendor was selling really nice works of art which could be rolled up for easy carriage back to the ship and flight in the USA. After venturing down a very long row of vendors we circled back by the street which had a lot of street food vendors. We were able to get some good pictures of the ship’s hull art from here.
Tonight was dinner in Versailles main dining room and great service again by Jose Castillo. Tonight I spoke with an assistant waiter in the nearby section name Mauricio Lorenzo from Colombia as my quest for a special item was coming closer in Colombia. He gave me some pointers and was very humble and nice about my questions even though he was from Bogota, not Cartagena.
STARDUST SHOWTIME: Comedian-Ventriloquist Michael Ziegfeld
This guy dared to go where no other comedian had thus far this cruise and did political jokes. He poked fun at both sides in a way that was humorous and didn’t seem to piss off too many people. His ventriloquist act largely centered around vile noises so if that offends you then you might want to skip this guy. Overall he wasn’t bad but the sight lines for the evening performance were obscured in the balcony. A word to the wise, don’t sit along the far back wall on the sides of the theater because you can’t see the stage without being on the edge of your seat. For a 45 minute show this can get extremely uncomfortable. His show was good overall.
Next we went to the 55 to stay alive game show in the Spinnakers lounge where lucky contestants competed for what the cruise staff called crap prizes while the rest of us looked on and laughed. It was a good short game show sparsely attended but fun. After this it was back to the cabin to pass some time on the balcony while waiting for the next major event which was Dancing with the Norwegian Stars.
SPINNAKERS ENTERTAINMENT: Dancing with the Norwegian Stars
If you’ve seen DWTS on TV then this is Norwegian’s take on it. You have a crew member paired up with a guest who has entered into the competition. Signups were light and cruise staff were practically begging people to partake. I was asked twice by Lorena to do it but kindly turned it down since its broadcast repeatedly all over the ship! Cruise staff members Lorena, Joey and Kevin were in the mix. Many different genres of music are played and teams are evaluated based on their creativity and how well they get the audience into the participation, it has next to nothing to do with actual dance moves. The long and the short is it was a hilarious time and Joey won, which was the second time I’ve sailed with him and he’s won the competition! He won on the Breakaway trans-Atlantic as well! With a sea day I spent a while in the Spinnakers and had some drinks before going to bed. Tonight the music was actually geared to the younger set on the ship so it was quite enjoyable.
DAY 10: Sea Day
A relaxing day at sea consisting of another bridge tour which Captain Idar Hoydal was kind enough to extend to members of the Cruise Critic community. He was there this time to give the tour unlike the Platinum Latitudes tour which was given by one of his other bridge officers. He was very thorough in his explanations and answered any and all questions – including when he would find out in what order we’d be sailing through the Panama Canal and who would go first, us or Princess? It turned out Princess went first but the Panamanian folks were kind enough to throw a few cargo ships between us so we didn’t have to stare at other cruisers while doing the transit.
The afternoon consisted of a leisurely lunch at Blue Lagoon consisting of chicken tenders and some sun on the sun deck. Here is where the fellow cruisers struck again. There is a quiet zone on the forward part of the ship. You’re not supposed to talk up there and not loudly. People got into the hot tub up there and were just non-stop complaining about the ship, the service and the food and loudly so. I was highly annoyed as I was trying to catch some sleep. I went up there to get away from all the complaining most of the elderly folks were doing during this voyage and here they are disobeying the rules! Mind you if I stepped out of line in anyway they’d be accosting me in a heartbeat which happened twice on this cruise but it was fine for them to do what they wanted. I’ve never seen a grumpier set of geriatrics in my life. Respect the quiet zones on the ship people!
Early in the evening was the Gold and Platinum Latitudes party. There were far more Gold members than Platinum and we were able to talk to several people from Yannis, Food and Beverage Director to Toni Winkler, the Hotel Director and Aldo, the Bar Manager. Aldo was very nice and talked with us quite a bit about Norwegian’s response to the tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and how cooperative they were with him and caring about him by calling. It made me feel like my donation to the crew fund Norwegian setup was in good hands and would be distributed where the need was greatest.
SPECIALTY DINNER: LeBistro
This was our second time here this cruise but tonight was by invitiation from Ana Maria Haza, the Guest Services Manager, whom we had gotten to know during this cruise very well. She was seemingly everywhere so it was nice to get to know her a lot better as a person and to see her relaxing with guests. She was eagerly listening to our feedback on the ship. When I asked her where she was from originally and she said Colombia I was eager to pick her brain and she was so happy to help. This was the first time I had ever dined with an officer formally on a ship before. It was another memorable highlight of the voyage! Ana Maria is such a great person.
STARDUST SHOWTIME: Jeri Sager
This Broadway Belter as she was dubbed had great vocal range and sang a number of hit Broadway tunes while talking to the audience. At one point she could have used a little less talking about the history of a Broadway number and just sang it but her voice was amazing. She was a good show to catch. With an early rise expected the next morning for the Panama Canal transit, I retired after Jerri’s second show.
DAY 11: Panama Canal (Daylight Transit)
The number of boats approaching the ship just after 5:30AM woke us up as several people were boarding and disembarking from the Canal Authority. Later it would be explained to us they were checking out the ship to make sure it was fit for the transit and wouldn’t break down in the locks or otherwise cause a traffic disruption in the canal. We also embarked our narrator for the transit. Today we opted for breakfast on the balcony along with mimosas. Ana Maria was kind enough to have a pitcher of orange juice delivered with two champagne flutes and ice to cool the champagne so we could toast our transit in style. It seemed to be forever that we were approaching the Bridge of the Americas and this was so a cargo vessel refueling in front of us could go first. We passed under the bridge slowly making several vantage points for pictures. The narrator was explaining everything we were seeing all along the way.
In the locks and on the ship there were photographers from the ship taking pictures. My only regret was not buying them when I was in the photo gallery at the end of the cruise as I meant to return and make final selections and then completely forgot! The ship photographers take pictures of you on the ship from the locks so it makes it more special than you taking them yourself. Don’t miss the pictures and the assistant manager Sarah from Canada. She’s such a great girl and sometimes dresses up as a mermaid at one of the ports.
Anyway, back to the canal transit as we passed through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks the narrator explained the process of what we were seeing all along the way. Things happened at such a slow pace you were able to take advantage of all the different vantage points the ship had to offer, even the bow which was opened up to public access just for this one special day. Once into the canal we were heading through Culebra Cut into Gatun Lake. It was time to grab lunch at a barbecue topside and head back to the balcony to view the scenery and eat before we entered Gatun Lake. Plenty of ships were queued up to go the other way and waiting for us to get out of the cut as we were the last ship going North.
The narrator hosted a session in the theater where he gave the history of the Panama Canal and how it came about and who the key players were and just how it got built. I was stayed for this a little bit and then floated around the ship. I rejoined mom for a mimosa again before heading to the bow where we would watch the ship transit the Gatun Locks together. It was a truly memorable experience. I felt like Rose and Jack on the bow and queue Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On! On the partial transit I did with Princess we were not allowed to go out to the bow of the ship. For this reason I would recommend Norwegian’s experience of the Panama Canal. Also, our room was on the port side and we missed all the lock action from our balcony. If you wanted to see more of it between the locks, starboard would be a better side of the ship to book. It didn’t matter though as I was floating around the ship everywhere to get pictures!
Dinner tonight was later in the evening in Versailles with Anna from the Philippines serving us. It was the first time we’d branched out of Jose’s section and it was only because his section was full. Anna took good care of us and we had a good dinner service.
STARDUST SHOWTIME: Sander and Alison’s Magika
The art of illusion is alive and well with this duo. I’ve seen their tricks before on another ship where I believe they were part of the cast of Elements as well. Their show features the smaller illusions such as turning napkins into pigeons and other items into pigeons and making things disappear and then re-appear. It was a good show but I was so tired from a long day on the ship that I fell asleep at the show and it was time to go to bed.
DAY 12: Cartagena, Colombia
Since I have Colombian friends and neighbors here in the United States I was quite excited to get to this port as I was slated to go here with Princess on that partial transit cruise but it was cancelled due to unrest in the country. Not today! We docked in Cartagena and again the Island Princess was in there first. Today’s pier situation was more chaotic and the Norwegian shore excursion department was completely unprepared for the chaos that ensued on the pier. We went to the theater knowing the ship was going to require us to stay together since Princess was there. They were running late and we were called a half hour after our tour was supposed to start. This day would fall apart with the shore excursion folks.
NORWEGIAN EXCURSION: Cartagena Sightseeing
This was billed as an on the go tour and I could tell given its short duration. What I didn’t expect was a completely useless tour guide named Blanca who didn’t speak loudly or in very fluent English. When she told us to stay together with her and gave us stickers I thought she’d be keeping track of us but she didn’t. Our first stop was at the fort San Felipe de Barajas. We got there and she said we had 15 minutes to get pictures and then return to the bus. I thought she was joking and would explain things we were seeing including the statue out front since we didn’t have time to go into the fort. She said absolutely nothing and just walked us down there while vendors were hawking goods to us the whole way.
Back on the bus our next stop was to walk the colonial city. She didn’t do much explaining of anything along the way and if it wasn’t for my Colombian friend I would have had no clue what the things were I was passing. I knew what some of them were an explained them to mom. All the while Blanca, the tour guide was useless and largely unheard from. We got to the old town and she explained where the craft market was and then we were dumped out of the bus to walk around in the city. She didn’t explain many things and was constantly running ahead of the group. You couldn’t grab a picture of anything because she was constantly moving. She would gather us in front of a street vendor and tell us to watch them make something they would later want us to buy! C’mon now… this isn’t a tour.
The frosting on this shore excursions cake was the dumping of us at Pierino Gallo home of shops featured by Norwegian cruise line for their Colombian Emeralds. Amazingly we had the LONGEST amount of time at this stop with a whopping 45 minutes. Great like I needed to shop for Emeralds. What I was looking for the street vendors didn’t have outside either. I was left with a really raunchy taste in my mouth from this tour. It downright stunk and there’s the summation.
EXPLORING CARTAGENA ON MY OWN
We returned to the ship and grabbed some lunch. Mom and I ventured to the port shopping mall and café to see what they had. The port area was quite nice with flamingos and parrots abound outside and inside a nice huge shopping complex for souvenirs. I wasn’t happy with the tour and told mom I wanted to go back to the city and explore some more. We went outside to the taxi stand where the dispatcher was trying to fleece us. I knew roughly what a taxi to the old town would cost from the port and he was trying to quadruple the fee. It is $7-10 per person each way and the more you get the lower the price goes. He was quoting me $20 per person for roundtrip. I agreed and the taxi driver spoke fluent English and did a great job of pointing out the sights. Mom didn’t accompany me but I went to the fort and had more time to explore there. I drove past the India Catalina who was the focus of my return trip to the city and headed to the old town. The driver showed me different highlights from the taxi, more than what the tour guide had done earlier in the day. We stopped at the craft market where I was in search of a specific uniquely genuine Colombian gift for my friend. Amazingly nearly every stall had this gift which the earlier tour couldn’t manage to find and it’s a symbol of Cartagena!! No, it’s not emeralds either. Finding two of the items, statues of the India Catalina, I returned to the waiting taxi driver and returned back to the port. This amazing two hour experience blew the morning’s tour away and only further served to irritate me since it was half the price of what the ship charged! At the port for a nominal charge of $3 USD for one hour I got wifi which was rather fast and talked with my friends back home and caught up before heading back to the ship.
Back on the ship it was time to get ready for dinner. We dined in Versailles and sat in Jose Castillo’s section tonight. The chef’s regional specialty was Colombian paella and I had it. It was a nice change from the regular offerings! We conversed with both Mauricio, the assistant waiter from the next section and Ruben, the assistant maitre’d both from Colombia about the day we had in port. Both were very excited to hear of our adventures. It was also when I knew something was up as the ship was going into code red lock down for the rest of the voyage. Norovirus was starting to creep its ugly head up and in the past 24 hours there was a spike in reported cases to the ship’s medical center. Bread was not on the table anymore, butter was withdrawn and salt and pepper shakers were removed as well. During dinner service the Captain made an announcement about the uptick in ill passengers and said these things were being instituted as a precaution and to stop the spread of any illness. The uptick was reported to the CDC and the total number of passengers who had fallen ill with gastrointestinal issues was 130 out of 2,318 passengers or roughly 5 percent of all passengers. Norwegian knows how to handle these outbreaks so I knew with my already standard sanitizing procedures and the ship’s ramped up efforts I would be fine but good grief if the passengers needed one more thing to seemingly complain about and they sure did! It’s no wonder the outbreak wasn’t worse given the number of males not washing their hands. To those who failed to use the sanitizer when available and failed to wash their hands and come down with noro symptoms I have no pity for them.
We were just leaving dinner when Candi came over the public address system and paged Graffiti Classics to the Stardust Theater immediately. Tonight’s entertainment was supposed to be the aerialists Maria and Dmitry but Dmitry had been quarantined. He was one of 12 crew members to be quarantined during the outbreak. This last minute change meant Graffiti Classics had to stand in. While mom went to get a seat for the show I went to the shore excursion desk and talked to the Shore Excursion Manager from India (didn’t catch his name). He was on the last tender from Cabo at the start of the cruise so I knew exactly who he was. I outlined the concerns and presented him with the name of the tour guide, bus number and exactly what went on. I told him I was seriously displeased and felt this tour was a complete rip off. I also told him it was the first time in my Norwegian cruise history I was complaining about a tour. Not only did I feel it wasted my time, it tried to fleece me twice over by dumping me in spots where the cruise ship gets a kick back for recommending shops and leaving me there trapped for the longest amount of time. He said he would look into it and get back to me.
STARDUST SHOWTIME: Graffiti Classics
The opening of the Stardust was delayed to the point where it was a huge crowd outside and one side was opened before the other side was. By the time the doors opened on the other side most of the seats were full. Mom didn’t want to sit in the sides in the far back because of the poor sight lines so she returned to the cabin but I stayed. I knew I had seen this group before but couldn’t quite place where. When they took to the stage I recognized them instantly! They’re a contemporary spin on classical music and I’ve seen them before on Norwegian. They’re an awesome group. Both young and old can enjoy their performance. They’re a must see. These folks joined the ship in Colombia same day after flying from the UK and were given just 30 minutes to warm up and perform. They were downright awesome and did a phenomenal job!
SPECIAL NIGHT: Chocoholic Buffet
What’s not to like about chocolate? The ship was rocking a little bit so it made a large crowd in a buffet a little harder to navigate with chocolate but there was plenty to be had and each section of the buffet repeated the offerings so it allowed for better crowd control. Before it got too busy I was out of there and went down to the disco where the beats were happening and the drinks flowing. Besides, what else was there to do? Colombia was the last port of call and next time we saw land up close it’d be time to leave!
DAY 13: Sea Day
It was a nice leisurely day at sea. After breakfast we spent time in the photo gallery looking for the pictures and grouping them together. I ended up buying 3 Panama Canal stock photos and put the rest of the pictures aside hoping for a special on the last day of the cruise. Sarah was so pleasant in the photo gallery helping us find the pictures and talking to us while putting out more stock photos they were printing.
I would spend this day as the last day to take in some sun before hitting Miami. The sun was out and the ship was starting to settle down from a period of slightly rough seas. It was a great way to spend the afternoon watching the sea go by and the back of my eyelids. It was a bit windy topside but quiet so I liked it. I also stopped by the atrium to drop off some Vacation Hero cards and saw Lisha, the Future Cruise Consultant who was just so sweet so I bought a Cruise Reward from her. I was out of them as of this cruise and wasn’t sure I was going to buy another.
Toni Winkler, the Hotel Director, invited us for a Cruise Critic reunion at the Star Bar at 6PM and brought out the senior officers to ask if we had any problems so far in the cruise. The team received high praise from all of us and it sounded like everyone was having a great time. The Norwegian Star senior management team was really genuine in their wanting guest feedback and fixing problems. It was also this day when I heard back from someone in the shore excursion department giving me fifty percent of my Cartagena tour price back as a refund. Since I had paid just about that much with tip for a taxi to go back and do a better job than the ship’s tour I felt like it was appropriate compensation. The tour in Cartagena really wasn’t worth the $49 paid anyway. I loved Cartagena as a port of call but hated the Norwegian shore excursion.
SPECIALTY DINING: Moderno Churriscaria
Did I ever mention that I like meat? Tonight was a special night as we shared a table with new found cruise friends and dined overlooking the atrium. Sammy sat us and we had a different waitress but our passador Nikola was back and this time he knew exactly what to bring. Not only did he have a good instruction on how to pair things but he had a good memory as to what I liked earlier in the cruise and wasted no time bring those skewers out! The meat was again cooked perfectly and the service was very cheery and happy. During the dinner service we were treated to a performance in the atrium by the talented crew, staff and officers. They have a really talented chef who can sing and dance and performed there. Thanks to Toni Winkler for a splendid evening of dining and entertainment in the atrium.
STARDUST SHOWTIME: Encore Graffiti Classics & Jerri Sager
Graffiti classics performed a second show of all new material I hadn’t seen from them before and it was great. They did a nice job and were very entertaining. They nearly played the entire show and then it was Jerri Sager’s turn. It was a great last minute show thrown together by Candi to cover for the gap in last evening’s entertainment. I really loved Graffiti Classics!
THEME NIGHT: Norwegian’s White Hot Party
It’s the one night during the cruise where the nightclub is the focus and everything is in white! There are ice sculptures and a drink station setup in the middle of the room along with sparkly bottomed glasses. It’s a fun night where the music can make or break it and the music was good. The vibe was great and I actually got out on the dance floor for the first time the entire cruise!! It was a great night in the disco and I was quite happy with how it all played out. My biggest fear was a ballroom White Hot Party. Thanks to a group of Filipino twenty-somethings who were traveling with their larger family on the voyage for making the night fun and exciting! Without them the disco would have been dead by midnight. It was also the latest night I stayed out which was 2AM. The bartender Lonnie made the night very fun as well.
DAY 14: Sea Day
It was a brisk morning out on the ocean. The temperature had dropped quite a bit which made sunning on the pool deck out of the question. I went to the gym and sanitized everything very well before using it and after using it. It was the last workout of the voyage and it was a short one. I was still tired from the White Hot Party the previous evening so after lunch in Versailles I went back and took a nap.
We chose to dine early in Versailles so we could get the night off to a great start and get everything done, including packing. We had the great service of Jose Castillo from Peru one last time. The chef’s regional specialty was a surf and turf consisting of shrimp and a filet mignon. It was very good and hearty so I would recommend it. We said our goodbyes to the dining room staff. Thank goodness we found Jose’s section and the entire team on the starboard side area. They were very friendly and helping each other out when one section was full and another was empty. Great team work and keeps the crew happy all the way around.
STARDUST SHOWTIME: Elements
This was the third and final Norwegian production featuring elements of Earth, Air (Wind), Water and Fire. Each element is featured in its own way. For best sight lines I recommend sitting from Deck 6 in the middle to Deck 7 as some of the action takes place in the audience over your heads in this area if you sit too close to the stage. New for this particular production was the fogging of the theater during the air segment. They used high power fans to blow fake smoke into the audience. I thought this was cool with the strobe lights but people with respiratory issues, my mother included, were coughing quite a bit as the theater did fill completely with the fake smoke. I loved the show and it was just as good as the other productions I’ve seen on the Spirit bearing the same name. The magician does a few illusions during different parts of the show with the neatest part being during the fire segment. The aerialists do some work in the production as well. This was our only chance to see them. Overall the show is outstanding and a must-see!!
SPINNAKER SHOWTIME: The Second City Unplugged
It’s an adult’s only comedy show where the cast goes largely improv and does their own thing based on audience participation. I was there just waiting to say goodbye to folks I’d met along the way and we agreed to meet there to say our goodbyes. The skits were horrible and the cast again struggled. The words chosen weren’t bad but the cast members couldn’t guess what they were and the ideas being given by the other cast members weren’t helping. It dragged on much later than it should have and I was thankful when it was over. It’s painful watching such bad comedy. The disco started and the people I had become friends with swung by and it was time to head to bed just after midnight.
DAY 15: Miami, Florida, USA
Today was disembarkation and I thought for sure they’d be eager to kick us off the ship since it would need a thorough sanitization before the new passengers embarked. I woke up at 7AM and the ship was already docked but not cleared by customs yet. It was scheduled to start at 8AM anyway and the food venues for a sit down breakfast were open until 8:30AM. Our flight was at 2PM so we had plenty of time or so we thought. We dined leisurely at breakfast and they announced the Easy Walk-Offs had begun. About a half hour later they started the luggage tags but then things started to slow and the disembarkation was stopped several times for over a half hour apiece as the terminal was full. As time wore on the ship fell way behind in the disembarkation process. We thought we’d be the last ones off the ship but by 10:45AM there was still the last two luggage tag colors to be called and we couldn’t wait anymore. We joined the line to get off the ship and were just getting off the ship when the last two luggage tags were called. Customs and Border Patrol was really backed up. There was a large German group on the ship and many other foreign countries on this sailing. As a result they had to go through enhanced screening to re-enter the USA including photographs, fingerprinting and other questions which some didn’t understand. It slowed things down to a crawl. In Fort Lauderdale and in New York City they sort it based on US citizens and non-citizens and Miami should institute the same. I was starting to get nervous we’d miss our flight and called the airline from the cruise terminal as it was 11:30AM now and we’d still not cleared customs. A female taxi driver pulled up and before she could get out of the car I had the luggage in the trunk and told her to get us to the airport stat and a good tip would be had. She flew us there in record time and we got checked in and barely made the flight with a last call. I don’t blame Norwegian at all for this but rather US Customs and Border Patrol. Make sure to leave plenty of time for your luggage and expect delays on this cruise if you’re coming into Miami. Given the line outside the terminal when we left and the number of people waiting to board, I’m sure the future reviews will mention a delayed embarkation and it would’ve been severely delayed since at Noon the terminal still had cruise passengers disembarking in it!
I want to start by thanking people who made my vacation extra special. To start with the restaurant department servers Christine Supremo and Merinelle Perto who both offered exceptional breakfast and lunch service throughout the cruise. I couldn’t thank them enough for the memories created and the laughs it caused in reflection. I dubbed Merinelle the Queen of Swiss Miss by the end of the voyage as she always loved pedaling ‘special’ hot chocolate!! The Moderno staff was by and far the best I’ve encountered on any Norwegian ship with Nikola being a stand out for sure. In Versailles I was thankful for the service from Jose Castillo from Peru and his assistant along with the assistant matire’d named Ruben and Mauricio Lorenzo both from Colombia. In the bar department Lonnie from the Philippines took care of me in Spinnakers and was great the entire cruise. The assistant bar manager and Aldo, the Bar Manager, were quite friendly and even though I didn’t grab the assistant’s name he would say hi to me even when he was off duty in ports and heading ashore. Sarah, the Assistant Manager in the Photo Gallery was a huge help all along the cruise with getting me information and great pictures. Joey, Kevin, Everton and Junior on the cruise staff were super friendly and always out and about. I saw Kevin and Joey everywhere – early morning gangway duty to late night in Spinnakers for the game shows or theme nights. I’ve never thanked the security team before in a cruise review and this was the first cruise where I actually got to know their names – Dev and Padam were everywhere on the ship and always saying hello. The ship was well secured but even the security was friendly and Padam had an almost scary memory of my name since the first gangway in Cabo San Lucas! He’d greet me all the time by name before I swiped my card!!! Now if that’s not great service I don’t know what is! Also, the senior management of the ship from Captain Idar Hoydal and Toni Winkler, Hotel Director to Yannis Kazalis, the Food and Beverage Director were always out and about at the gangway greeting returning cruisers or making rounds on the ship to see how things were going. Apple who was the group cruise consultant on the ship was also everywhere too and even picked up a tray of beverages at a Latitudes gathering to make sure everyone was served. A special shout out to Ana Maria Haza, Guest Service Manager, for being so kind to mom and I at the gang-way and all throughout the voyage and constantly asking how things were going. It was an honor to dine with her in LeBistro and something which made this cruise that much more memorable! She’s such a great woman and very nice.
The only major downside to this cruise (besides incessantly grumpy elderly passengers which Norwegian couldn’t control) was the shore excursions team, the offerings seemed to swing and miss in Cabo San Lucas and in Cartagena but in Puntarenas I wasn’t overly impressed either. The staff in the Shore Excursion department was also rude and short-tempered for no apparent reason. I’ve never had such experiences with the shore excursion department before on any ship and never usually have to visit them because I pre-book but this cruise I definitely felt fleeced with the Cartagena tour and I informed them of that. The compensation offered was appropriate I felt but the tour needs to be renamed to give the cruiser an idea it’s geared more to jewelry shopping than sightseeing. I may never return to that port so wasting my time left a sour taste in my mouth. The tours in Puerto Vallarta and in Huatulco were the best of the entire cruise and I do recommend them!
The cruise overall was what I expected it to be with a combined Mexican Riviera and full Panama Canal transit. For me it was two cruises in one and crossed two itineraries off my bucket list. The ship was excellent for the Panama Canal and outside of having a balcony cabin on the wrong side of the ship for the transit we had great viewing the whole cruise including whales and dolphins!! The food, especially Moderno, was awesome and the service by and large was great minus the second night in Versailles. The Stardust entertainment and the game shows were great for the most part. Given the average age of the passengers being extremely old I understand Norwegian had to cater the entertainment to the majority. It was fine with me as I didn’t spend as much as I had budgeted so maybe there’s another cruise in my future?! It also meant more relaxation time for me. In the end I would recommend this cruise over the Island Princess itinerary which is a day longer and has less ports of call. Norwegian Star is truly the happy, friendly ship with the staff and crew (minus those instances stated herein) and now I know why some loyal Norwegians love this ship! Less
Cabin review: 9678
Stateroom 9678: This category BA balcony cabin is located mid-ship on Deck 9 port side and is opposite the Internet cafe. The room for the age of the ship was in great condition. Everything worked as expected in the room. There was a coffee maker which was never used the entire trip and a fridge with a mini-bar that we requested to have removed to chill wines. The only drawback to this room was the bathroom door. With a good pull the door shut completely but to open it made a loud noise which couldn’t work at night very well so it was left ajar at night. Luckily we didn’t have really rough seas so it wasn’t an issue. After dropping the bags it was off to explore the ship
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