We are a early 60's couple who booked the Panama Canal cruise for the third time. This time my mother, who just turned 90, came with us, wanting to see the new locks on the Canal. We love this itinerary because the 13 days is more relaxing than the usual 7-day cruises, it is a warm weather cruise and there are an almost equal number of port and sea days. This was our 10th Norwegian cruise; we have also cruised once on Crystal. We are unapologetic Norwegian ambassadors!
Pre-Cruise Preparations - My husband has emphysema and travels with a portable oxygen concentrator (POC), and mom walks with a cane or a rolling walker. That said, traveling can be challenging in this situation. We contacted Norwegian's Access Desk to inform them that we would need 2 wheelchairs at embarkation and disembarkation. We also advised them that mom needs a low/no salt diet. The representative said that once on board we would be contactd to pre-order her meals. More on that under Dining. The airline also requires advance notification with doctor's signature that we are traveling with a POC, as well as the request for wheelchairs for distance.
Travel to Embarkation - We flew United to NOLA on Good Friday. We decided to fold, duct tape and check the walker as luggage. It came through with no problem. The wheelchair porters/pushers were prompt and very helpful. The Airport Limosine driver went above and beyond fitting us and our three large, one medium, one carry-on, a POC and the walker in the Town Car (yes, we always manage to overpack!).
New Orleans - We stayed at the Windsor Court Hotel, booked through our travel agent. It did not disappoint. The room included "Continental Breakfast" but we ordered a full breakfast and it was covered. We dined at Galatoire's in the French Quarter on Saturday night. Good food, but getting to the upstairs dining room was difficult for mom to walk all the way to the back of the restaurant through a crowded dining room, up the elevator, then back to the front dining room, then back again after dinner. We took a trip to Rouse's market to purchase 8 bottles of wine.
Embarkation - We caught a taxi to the port for $7 per person. The taxi dropped us off at the terminal. After we unloaded all our luggage and the porter put it on his cart we found out we would have to walk a long hallway to get to an entrance that would have been closer, and no wheelchairs were available until after we went through security. It would have been better to go to the furthest entrance. We went to the head of the line as mom can not stand for longer than a few minutes without pain. The security agent got us an escort that took us through security quickly. We knew to hand carry our wine, and were directed to the corkage table to pay the $15/bottle corkage, and then to the section to wait for a wheelchair. We waited about 30 minutes for our turn to get 2 wheelchairs. They were very slow in coming. Eventually we got the wheelchairs, got checked in quickly, taken to the VIP lounge and on to the ship. Yay!
The Ship - The Jewel was going into dry-dock immediately after our cruise. There was some wear and tear visible that I assume will be upgraded in dry-dock. The ship was clean and the crew was quite visible in cleaning.
We had a 2-bedroom Haven Villa and mom was next door in a Haven Penthouse. The living room, bedroom and master bath are exactly the same in both cabins, but the balcony is 1-2 feet deeper in the 2-bedroom. The cabins are luxurious with wood paneling, queen bed in the master bedroom, lots of closet space and storage space in the master bedroom and bath. Minimal storage in the second bedroom.
Hot water was slow in coming to the cabin, we had to run the shower to get it more quickly.
The butler and steward were fine, though not impressive. We have had some that matched us much better and may have unfair expectations.
Dining - We ate at five of the specialty restaurants and in Azura main dining room the rest of the nights. Le Bistro, Cagney's, Chin Chin, Mama's/La Cucina are always our favorites. We also ate at the Teppanyaki, which was better than the last time. Mom needed a low/no salt diet. We were not contacted as promised by the Access Desk rep, but the first night at Azura we asked about it and were introduced to one of our Vacation Heroes, Felicitas J. She was helpful, knowledgeable and a delight. She explained that mom could see the next night's menu and pre-order so sauces and dishes would be prepared with no salt. She also explained which restaurants prepared foods "a la minute" with low/no salt and which needed a pre-order. The result was that it worked extremely well and mom had minimal ankle swelling. We like Azura as it is midship and easy to get to from the Haven. Most of the time the food was varied, good, and well prepared.
Cartagena - we didn't get off this time as we've been there twice before.
Huatulco - rglcruise organized a tour with Adelino. He had a late model 13 passenger van and took us through Huatulco to Santa Maria. We walked through a portion of the town, had quesadillas with fresh made tortillas, and watched a carniceria wield his knife. He also told us the history of the area. We drove up into the mountains to a coffee plantation and small town. Adelino was great a communicating his love of his home nation and state.
Puerto Vallarta - Just off the ship is a small area with shops to purchase souvenirs and the ever present Diamond International. Walmart is within walking distance from the port for those sundries you've run out of.
Cabo San Lucas - This is a tender port. Lots of shopping and restaurants at the dock. Also, there are lots of opportunities to catch an independent operator for a tour of the area by boat.
Disembarkation - We arranged with Virginia, the concierge, to have the wheelchairs pick us up. They came a little after the designated time, but then whisked us off very quickly.
We had a 2-bedroom Haven Villa and mom was next door in a Haven Penthouse. The living room, bedroom and master bath are exactly the same in both cabins, but the balcony is 1-2 feet deeper in the 2-bedroom. The cabins are luxurious with wood paneling, queen bed in the master bedroom, lots of closet space and storage space in the master bedroom and bath. Minimal storage in the second bedroom. Hot water was slow in coming to the cabin, we had to run the shower to get it more quickly.