First time with NCL, and its more casual style, which generally worked well. One criticism though is the reluctance of NCL to give you any information about the ship! Deck plans are strictly for the website, and almost unprintable, and supplying a paper elevation plan on-board was not much help when trying to find best wheelchair routes on an asymmetric ship! Also scant information was provided on ports of call unless it was for franchised shopping. Even beforehand, their UK helpline couldn't even tell us whether there were one or more showtimes each evening, nor when, in order to plan mealtime bookings in advance (since my wife is disabled, we didn't want to be so casual as to have to hang around waiting for a table). Maybe this is only a first timers problem.
Boarding and disembarkation always seem to be chaotic and though we checked-in quite quickly, we were then held for over an hour and a half because staff said that the port lift (Miami) was not working, and promptly forgot about us (we missed the ship intro tour). Again, even with timed departures in LA, this took more than an hour in the accelerated wheelchair lane, and for many it must have been over two hours shuffling in endless queues along elevated walkways alongside the ship (Should an emergency occur during this time, like a fire in the port hall or on the ship, one dreads to think what might happen as thousands of people have nowhere to go quickly.). That said, once on board ship, staff were incredibly helpful and patient when necessary, almost always with a welcoming smile.
Disabled facilities were generally good and though we booked too late to get a disabled room, our inside cabin on Deck 8 was adequate (save the struggle to get into the loo through a 17" wide doorway(could easily have been 19-20" wide entry with no need for another door inside the small bathroom). Our other minor gripe was that some of the floor strips at ship bulkheads across public corridors were raised above the level of the floors maybe 1/2 ", which would bring a wheelchair to a jarring halt if not anticipated - but only some and it was not always apparent which! So NCL, please can you feather all your floors at bulkhead joints to provide a smooth passage for wheels?
On the up side, from people we met, it appeared that singles are well catered for by NCL too.
We thought that for mass catering the food was generally good, though there could have been a little more variety in the casual restaurants' evening menus. We used the Garden Cafe for very good breakfasts and sometimes lunch, after one disastrous attempt to have a served breakfast in O'Sheehans, which took forever and the eggs still came very undercooked. In the evenings we sampled Tsar and Azura almost equally, finding Tsar to have the best service (especially if you requested something slightly different), though with one exception of one excellent waitress in Azura. One downside of the casual dining was that you had to remember to ask every time if you wanted to share a table and meet with other passengers, and also that you generally had different waiting staff every time, with less chance to build a relationship which might encourage one into additional tipping. Sometimes we did think that the food descriptions on the menus might have been written by the Entertainments Director rather than the Chef, but so long as you didn't have fixed expectations of what would turn-up, labelled as a classic dish, all was well.
If you want to go for more than one experience of a speciality restaurant, it makes much sense to purchase a fixed-price multiple dining pack. We chose the baseline of three, selecting Cagney's steakhouse, Le Bistro and Teppanyaki. The food was excellent (best probably filet mignon in Cagneys and lamb rack in Le Bistro), though rather too noisy a display in Teppanyaki and also too rushed to attend to supporting service (drinks etc.) - but if you were there just for the show -fine maybe ....!! (thankfully there were no Japanese guests to be appalled).
Sadly, the ultimate drinks package (UDP) wasn't, as many common spirits attracted a premium payment, and normal lattes and cappuccinos were not included, unless you had some alcohol in them! Outside the restaurants you had to buy bottled water at an extortionate price too, and are not allowed to bring any back to the ship from excursions.
Ship-booked tours were a plenty, but pricey, and generally OK, having the advantage that it was their responsibility to get you back to the ship before it departed (but forget the"scenic Pacific" train ride in Costa Rica and just go for the Tarcoles river trip, unless you want a diesel shunter to pull you through the garbage back-yards of a no-where village, when they can get it working!). We went independent with Julio tours to Leon (Nicaragua) which was excellent on all counts. The daytime sail through the Panama Canal was fascinating, even for those not technically-inclined, and it was worth watching the film about its construction beforehand (just a pity they didn't show the more recent tv film about the new cut, too). Having a historical interest, the old colonial cities of Cartagena, Leon and Antigua are all worth a visit, though the latter two are a bumpy and sometimes challenging ride for wheelchairs! (OK with Nike attitude!).
Though there are always a fair number of different activities on ship, we didn't overall rate the main evening shows that highly, with a few exceptions, like Cirque Bijou and a member of the galley crew whose singing got a standing ovation - he was definitely employed in the wrong department! Also sound quality was very muffled in several parts of the main theatre, especially on the upper deck (7), and sound-levels were often set so-high that parts of singers' voices appeared to have been clipped-off in the equipment. Otherwise, the variety of musicians on board were generally good and often appeared at their best in the numerous smaller venues and events around the ship.
In all, a memorable and generally very satisfying cruise, with a good balance of on and off ship activities and itinerary, and a canal trip which truly shows it as a wonder of the world.
Modest-sized cabin with partial outside view through lifeboat and good storage space. Arranged as a central double-bed was good, with space under to lose suitcases etc., but it was tight passing a folded-up wall bunk on one side and only a 4" gap at the end of the bed to the fixed side table on the other! A mirror-image layout for the fixed furniture would have worked better. The bathroom was very small and had an unnecessarily tight (17" wide) doorway to access the WC. Since the bathroom was only big enough for one at a time, the sliding door to the WC section was not needed and the opening could then be readily opened-up to19-20" without interfering with the sink unit. The shower worked well, and though small, was fine. The cabin decor was fine too.
Entering the old city by a harbour tour, one could imagine what it must have been like arriving on a Spanish man o'war (at least once past the modern rather over-powering tower-block skyline). The walled city is very much a colonial time capsule, in a wonderfully sheltered and fortified harbour, of what must have been a very opulent and wealthy city in its day. Magnificent churches and open squares abound, with a signature clock tower and cathedral, the latter visited by the late Pope Jean-Paul at the height of the Columbian drug wars. It now thrives on tourism and more recent street art also adds interest. Avoid Mondays to see the wondrous gold museum or go next door into the rather more commercial emerald "museum". We had an excellent guide to bring the city to life in an all too-short half day excursion, and kept-up with the group even having to bump a wheelchair along the cobbled streets! The cooling breeze on our catamaran was welcome after the heat of the city.and the wheelchair was no problem.View All 24 Harbour Tour Reviews
This is very much a boating and local fishing port with an attractively laid-out marina and plenty of wildlife. Boat trips are very popular but weren't particularly suitable for taking the mobility-disabled. However a walk around the marina provided plenty of interest. Pelicans and fish abound and the harbour sealion may very well escort you in or out of port! Clearly developed for the well-heeled with a new up-market shopping mall and many new holiday apartments and hotels, a long sweeping sandy beach adjoins with mega capacity to serve all these developments.
Despite there being many tourist shops at the port, and though it is 1km or so from the town, this shouldn't put you off making the stroll. The local tourist police and resident American volunteers have gone out-of-their way to man and provide a map and local information at every turn along a thick blue line painted on the road to mark the route. As you reach town visit the old theatre on the right (now fully restored after a disastrous fire many years ago) and a delightful tree-lined public square. A couple of blocks over you reach the town central park and imposing cathedral, with a post office there too and a thriving market behind for both tourist gifts and fresh food. You can also take local tours in a hop-on, hop-off bus, or a horse and carriage, or simply walk west until you reach the attractively laid-out malecon with much street art and a beach swimming pool. A little further along you reach the famous rock stack where foolhardy locals will dive into a perilously small sea pool for your camera to catch, given a few pesos. A strong police and army security presence is visible to ensure that the city remains safe for its tourism life-blood.