My wife and I just returned from a 14-day Panama Canal cruise on the NCL Jewel (Feb 28th – Mar 13th).
We flew in to MIA. The process of getting us to the ship went very smoothly, we used NCL transfers. BUT once we got to the port things rapidly deteriorated. It was so cold in the cruise terminal that I had to wear a sweat shirt, luckily I was already wearing long pants. It was crowded, no lines, just everyone trying to push forward like cattle. You could hear the announcements because they did not use a PA system. Once we finally got onboard and to our cabin, 9th floor balcony, everything suddenly got better!
The NCL Jewel is showing her age. The carpets are ratty and patched in place. Some of the furniture in the public areas are chipped and soiled.
Our cabin, 9610, was small but adequate – although the toilet area was extremely small – luckily my wife and I are both physically fit people. The last time we sailed on NCL we had an Owner’s Suite because we brought some of our kids with us and needed the room – so this was a slight down-grade.
Let me skip to service: Our cabin steward was a “tad” lazy. I caught him skipping a bed linen change a couple of times but I reminded him! Service in the main dining rooms, Tsar’s Palace and Azura, was “spotty” – a little below average service then we have experienced on other cruises. I blame this on “Freestyle Dining”. When you don’t have the same waite staff they don’t seem to care about service as much – I guess they know there won’t be any “extra” tip $$$, only their share of the $13.50 per day per passenger. Food was good in both places. I do like the less formal dining environment – I remember the “good old days” of wearing a tux to dinner on formal night – I hated that. The buffet was pretty good but lacked seating during the really busy times. We only ate one dinner and one breakfast there. I recommend breakfast in Tsar’s Palace.
We ate at most of the specialty restaurants at least once:
Le Bistro – French food is not my favorite but my wife really enjoyed it – good service.
Teppanyaki – Japanese style where the cook it in front of you. Great show and good food. My favorite place to eat.
Cagney’s – Good steak. I ate there twice and had the 8oz fillet mignon both times.
Moderno – Brazilian style. Salad/fixin’s bar was good. Beef was a little difficult to chew. Seafood was horrible but everything else was good. We ate there late so maybe the poor service was due to the waiters being tired – who knows.
La Cucina – Italian & pretty good!
Chin Chin – Chinese. If you like good Chinese food you won’t like Chin Chin’s – but this place is free with the price of the cruise.
We loved the cruise destinations. While we have been through the Panama Canal before this cruise included three places that we had not visited before.
Cartagena, Colombia: A repeat stop for us. We took the “Old City & Spanish Fortress” tour this time – don’t do it! Just do a “hop on/off” tour, you’ll enjoy it a lot more, we did last time we were there. Very crowded everywhere – aggressive vendors!
Panama Canal transit – I never get tired of experiencing it.
Puntarenus, Costa Rica: First time to the Pacific side of Costa Rica. We took the Pacific Train, Bus & Boat Adventure. This should be Bus, Bus, Bus, 15-minute train ride, and 30-minute boat ride Adventure.
Corinto, Nicaragua: We took the “Old & Colonial Leon” tour. I LOVED this tour. We saw one of the local volcanos have a minor eruption while on this tour – incredible!
Puerto Guatemala: We took the “Colonial Antigua” tour. After this tour and being around the most aggressive vendors the I have ever experienced I will NEVER visit Guatemala again! If we are on a cruise that stops there I won’t leave the ship!
Acapulco, Mexico: The only rainy day of the cruise. We took the “Acapulco Cliff Divers & San Diego Fort” tour. We booked this tour without doing our due-diligence. The place where the cliff divers are was EXTREMELY crowded. Literally hundreds of people standing in the rain for 30-minutes (until show time started) trying desperately to catch a glimpse of the entire dive. Plus, the ship docks across the street from the fort. You can simply walk across the street to see it. Don’t take this tour. Hire a cab to take you to where the divers are.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico: No tours here. Just walked around and watched my wife spends money.
Any poker players? Game was $1/$2 NLH. Tried to get a $15/$30 game going but no takers. Their tournament structure is bad. For the regular NLH tournaments the buy-in was $80. You started with 2,000 chips with the blinds 100/200 (10 Big Blinds). First 2 levels were 30 minutes after that level were 15 minutes. You could re-buy during the first 2 levels ($80 for 2,000 chips) and there was an $80 add-on (4,000 chips) after the 2nd level – then no more add-ons. Since it was the only game in town I played in all 6 tournaments, cashing in 5 of them.
Overall I had a very good time on this cruise.
Our cabin was small but adequate – although the toilet area was extremely small – luckily my wife and I are both physically fit people.
Cartagena, Colombia: A repeat stop for us. We took the “Old City & Spanish Fortress” tour this time – don’t do it! Too much talking and not enough sightseeing. Very crowded everywhere – aggressive vendors!
Too much bus. The short boat tour was the best part.
Didn't stop there
Been there several time