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This trip/ship was chosen specifically because of the Panama Canal experience, and the timing in April to coincide with our 45th anniversary. While not our first cruise, our last one was on the old Royal Viking Sea back in 1991 [a 19 day trip from Hong Kong to Bangkok via Philippines, Bali, Java, Singapore, Malaysia]. Before that we did a short 4 day cruise in the mid 80s in the Greek islands. So......... Embarkation at LA was smooth, if a bit slow. Stewards met our cab to take our checked luggage, and we proceeded into the terminal where we filled out a couple forms and then proceeded to check-in. We had to use the "first time with NCL" line, and it took about 40 mins to finally get to the check in person. We were issued our "key cards"; our passports were scanned; and off we went to the ship! Couple of great tips we read about came in handy immediately: first, to bring a lanyard and a clear small plastic holder for the key card which we could slip around our neck for the duration. Very handy! I would guess about half the folks did this. The second tip was to ignore the recommendation once on board to go up to the buffet for lunch, and instead just go to the MDR that was open. We did, and had an uncrowded and peaceful lunch while waiting for the announcement that our rooms were ready. To make the trip special, we splurged on a mini-suite cabin -- 11098. It was very comfortable with plenty of space; a nice queen bed; and a roomy balcony that we used often. We were very glad we splurged. The room steward was top shelf; My wife loved the included in the price ability to request continental breakfast with coffee every morning, even if sometimes we then had a hot breakfast elsewhere. The room was located very near the central elevators, which was also convenient. A second splurge we did was to get the Thermal Suite Pass for the trip. Located on our own Deck 11 aft, it provided us with both an uncrowded access to a hot tub, pool, and steam room --- as well as the "relaxation room" with panoramic windows where I think I went just about every day to read and chill -- "far from the madding crowds" :) Dining: we only did one "special dining" option, Le Bistro for our anniversary. It was excellent. We also went to Ginza one night, and the food was quite good. Otherwise, we pretty much alternated between Versailles and Aqua for dinner, although we went to the buffet twice [a seafood night and an Asian night.] Versailles meant I could not wear shorts like in Aqua, but it was also quieter. The food itself in both MDRs was from very good to excellent. The service was usually excellent, but a couple times quite slow. No in between. For hot breakfasts we either went to the buffet or to O'Sheehan's. While the buffet was essentially like a high school cafeteria for ambience, custom made omelets and good coffee made it just fine. We got a burger at the Top Side grill for lunch twice....it was fine. We did 3 excursions: one of the several cliff diver options in Acapulco [that came with a lunch]; a drive around Costa Rica that visited a coffee plantation, botanical garden, and small village [again, with lunch at the plantation]; and a short visit in Cartagena to the big Spanish fort on the hill and then to the old town were we had some free time [which we used to find a great lunch location]. Otherwise, in Cabo, San Juan del Sur, and Georgetown Grand Cayman we just wandered around at the port and successfully found some great places for lunch. Uh...see the pattern? Lunch!!! The tender process was slow....but I don't see how they could make it faster. Obviously, priority was given to excursions and "status" clients. So in a tender port if we did not have an excursion, we just waited to get off the ship once most folks already left. Docking at a pier always was faster, naturally. We were surprised that at no time did we have trouble spending money using only US cash. In all cases, we even got US cash back. The exchange rates were about 3 or 4% less than the "official" rate, but not enough to stress over. We only used a credit card to pay for lunch in Georgetown at "The Lobster Pot" [highly recommend that place!]. One thing that we did NOT do was go to any shows. However, the musical entertainment in other places on the ship at various times was very good to excellent. OK -- the highlight was the transit of the Canal. As many recommendations we read suggested, you need to go to lots of places to get the full experience. We went thru the original locks even though the new ones are now open. One big surprise to me, at least, was that the "mules" -- the small train engines that hook up lines to the ship in the locks -- did not PULL the ship in and out of the lock, but rather kept the ship in the middle of the lock and off the sides. I had thought they did both. Our transit started just before dawn, and ended about an hour or so before sunset. Captain said it was a bit slower than usual because we followed a huge LNG tanker that was restricted to slower than normal speed. No worries.....got a real appreciation for the massive effort made over a century ago to make this happen. We particularly liked the itinerary of sea day/port/sea day/port etc that pertained most of the time. We only had one port-port experience. The weather was fantastic for the entirety of the trip, especially in the ports and during the canal transit. We did have two unplanned "events". The first one was a medical emergency about 12 hours out from Cartagena --- the Captain came on the PA to inform us that a guest had a medical situation that required evacuation. So he turn the ship due north towards Jamaica instead of staying on the diagonal toward Georgetown. About 20 miles from Jamaica a helicopter came out and landed on the ship to evacuate the guest. This diversion meant that we arrived in Georgetown about an hour later than planned: 9 am instead of 8 am. The Captain extended the stay by half an hour to help compensate. The second event was more interesting: while we were steaming from Georgetown toward Miami, apparently a crew member down below doing some regular maintenance on the ship "hit the wrong button" and switch steering control from the Bridge to down below.....and the ship at speed went into a sharp turn, which caused a list of what I later guessed to be between 30 and 40 degrees. It lasted less than a minute, but was long enough and severe enough to spill some of the pool water out into some rooms on Deck 12, including the Library where it shorted out a circuit. We happened to be in our room at the time. We heard that some plates and glasses slid off tables in the dining rooms. I have to think that crewman no longer works for NCL :) Debarkation at Miami was a breeze for us. We were at the dock by 6 am, and the ship was cleared for debarkation by about 7:30. As we chose to take our luggage off ourselves, we just walked off the ship and were in a taxi to the airport before 8. Couple other tips that paid off: we brought an extension card with 3 outlets. Our room only had one 120V outlet, and 2 220V oiutlets. There were lots of times when we needed to charge more than one device. Second: we brought some wall magnets, and these were handy to post the daily schedules and other info to reference during the trip. Overall we had a great time, and actually RELAXED! Most of the guests were middle age and up -- I think I heard the cruise director announce once that there were only 49 kids on the voyage. We could have been busier than we chose to be -- lots of activities to do if one wanted to. But we chose to relax, read, write [spouse writing a book!], and otherwise "take it easy" for the most part between ports and the canal. We both liked the layout of the ship, and the fact that it never seemed crowded [except during getting on and off at the ports!]. The crew and staff were almost always very upbeat and helpful. For what we wanted out of the cruise, and what we expected, we were very satisfied.

Relaxing and interesting fun trip thru Panama Canal

Norwegian Star Cruise Review by Wombatsailor

5 people found this helpful
Trip Details
This trip/ship was chosen specifically because of the Panama Canal experience, and the timing in April to coincide with our 45th anniversary. While not our first cruise, our last one was on the old Royal Viking Sea back in 1991 [a 19 day trip from Hong Kong to Bangkok via Philippines, Bali, Java, Singapore, Malaysia]. Before that we did a short 4 day cruise in the mid 80s in the Greek islands. So.........

Embarkation at LA was smooth, if a bit slow. Stewards met our cab to take our checked luggage, and we proceeded into the terminal where we filled out a couple forms and then proceeded to check-in. We had to use the "first time with NCL" line, and it took about 40 mins to finally get to the check in person. We were issued our "key cards"; our passports were scanned; and off we went to the ship!

Couple of great tips we read about came in handy immediately: first, to bring a lanyard and a clear small plastic holder for the key card which we could slip around our neck for the duration. Very handy! I would guess about half the folks did this. The second tip was to ignore the recommendation once on board to go up to the buffet for lunch, and instead just go to the MDR that was open. We did, and had an uncrowded and peaceful lunch while waiting for the announcement that our rooms were ready.

To make the trip special, we splurged on a mini-suite cabin -- 11098. It was very comfortable with plenty of space; a nice queen bed; and a roomy balcony that we used often. We were very glad we splurged. The room steward was top shelf; My wife loved the included in the price ability to request continental breakfast with coffee every morning, even if sometimes we then had a hot breakfast elsewhere. The room was located very near the central elevators, which was also convenient.

A second splurge we did was to get the Thermal Suite Pass for the trip. Located on our own Deck 11 aft, it provided us with both an uncrowded access to a hot tub, pool, and steam room --- as well as the "relaxation room" with panoramic windows where I think I went just about every day to read and chill -- "far from the madding crowds" :)

Dining: we only did one "special dining" option, Le Bistro for our anniversary. It was excellent. We also went to Ginza one night, and the food was quite good. Otherwise, we pretty much alternated between Versailles and Aqua for dinner, although we went to the buffet twice [a seafood night and an Asian night.] Versailles meant I could not wear shorts like in Aqua, but it was also quieter. The food itself in both MDRs was from very good to excellent. The service was usually excellent, but a couple times quite slow. No in between. For hot breakfasts we either went to the buffet or to O'Sheehan's. While the buffet was essentially like a high school cafeteria for ambience, custom made omelets and good coffee made it just fine. We got a burger at the Top Side grill for lunch twice....it was fine.

We did 3 excursions: one of the several cliff diver options in Acapulco [that came with a lunch]; a drive around Costa Rica that visited a coffee plantation, botanical garden, and small village [again, with lunch at the plantation]; and a short visit in Cartagena to the big Spanish fort on the hill and then to the old town were we had some free time [which we used to find a great lunch location]. Otherwise, in Cabo, San Juan del Sur, and Georgetown Grand Cayman we just wandered around at the port and successfully found some great places for lunch. Uh...see the pattern? Lunch!!!

The tender process was slow....but I don't see how they could make it faster. Obviously, priority was given to excursions and "status" clients. So in a tender port if we did not have an excursion, we just waited to get off the ship once most folks already left. Docking at a pier always was faster, naturally.

We were surprised that at no time did we have trouble spending money using only US cash. In all cases, we even got US cash back. The exchange rates were about 3 or 4% less than the "official" rate, but not enough to stress over. We only used a credit card to pay for lunch in Georgetown at "The Lobster Pot" [highly recommend that place!].

One thing that we did NOT do was go to any shows. However, the musical entertainment in other places on the ship at various times was very good to excellent.

OK -- the highlight was the transit of the Canal. As many recommendations we read suggested, you need to go to lots of places to get the full experience. We went thru the original locks even though the new ones are now open. One big surprise to me, at least, was that the "mules" -- the small train engines that hook up lines to the ship in the locks -- did not PULL the ship in and out of the lock, but rather kept the ship in the middle of the lock and off the sides. I had thought they did both. Our transit started just before dawn, and ended about an hour or so before sunset. Captain said it was a bit slower than usual because we followed a huge LNG tanker that was restricted to slower than normal speed. No worries.....got a real appreciation for the massive effort made over a century ago to make this happen.

We particularly liked the itinerary of sea day/port/sea day/port etc that pertained most of the time. We only had one port-port experience.

The weather was fantastic for the entirety of the trip, especially in the ports and during the canal transit. We did have two unplanned "events". The first one was a medical emergency about 12 hours out from Cartagena --- the Captain came on the PA to inform us that a guest had a medical situation that required evacuation. So he turn the ship due north towards Jamaica instead of staying on the diagonal toward Georgetown. About 20 miles from Jamaica a helicopter came out and landed on the ship to evacuate the guest. This diversion meant that we arrived in Georgetown about an hour later than planned: 9 am instead of 8 am. The Captain extended the stay by half an hour to help compensate.

The second event was more interesting: while we were steaming from Georgetown toward Miami, apparently a crew member down below doing some regular maintenance on the ship "hit the wrong button" and switch steering control from the Bridge to down below.....and the ship at speed went into a sharp turn, which caused a list of what I later guessed to be between 30 and 40 degrees. It lasted less than a minute, but was long enough and severe enough to spill some of the pool water out into some rooms on Deck 12, including the Library where it shorted out a circuit. We happened to be in our room at the time. We heard that some plates and glasses slid off tables in the dining rooms. I have to think that crewman no longer works for NCL :)

Debarkation at Miami was a breeze for us. We were at the dock by 6 am, and the ship was cleared for debarkation by about 7:30. As we chose to take our luggage off ourselves, we just walked off the ship and were in a taxi to the airport before 8.

Couple other tips that paid off: we brought an extension card with 3 outlets. Our room only had one 120V outlet, and 2 220V oiutlets. There were lots of times when we needed to charge more than one device. Second: we brought some wall magnets, and these were handy to post the daily schedules and other info to reference during the trip.

Overall we had a great time, and actually RELAXED! Most of the guests were middle age and up -- I think I heard the cruise director announce once that there were only 49 kids on the voyage. We could have been busier than we chose to be -- lots of activities to do if one wanted to. But we chose to relax, read, write [spouse writing a book!], and otherwise "take it easy" for the most part between ports and the canal.

We both liked the layout of the ship, and the fact that it never seemed crowded [except during getting on and off at the ports!]. The crew and staff were almost always very upbeat and helpful. For what we wanted out of the cruise, and what we expected, we were very satisfied.
Wombatsailor’s Full Rating Summary
Value For Money
Embarkation
Dining
Public Rooms
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Cabin Review

Mid-Ship Mini-Suite with Balcony
Cabin MA 11098
More space than expected, and very comfortable. Surprisingly good water pressure and temperature control. Only cramped space was the toilet :)

Bed was comfortable. We slept well every night!

We used the balcony often...just sitting out there watching the ocean. We saw dolphins, turtles, a shark, some other kind of fish jumping -- and birds while cruising.
Deck 11 Inside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

  • Quebrada Cliff Divers
    Got what we expected. The divers themselves were spectacular, although the show was only 15 or 20 mins. The part of town it's in really shows it's wear and tear. The drive to the lunch location showed us the "newer" part of town. The lunch location was very good -- high on a hillside overlooking the bay and city -- and the lunch itself was good. Glad we took the tour, as we likely would NOT have got off the boat here on our own.
    View All 21 Quebrada Cliff Divers Reviews
  • Cabo San Lucas
    The hordes of cigar and silver hawkers became obnoxious after a while. But the port itself was clean, and we found a great place for lunch: "Uncle Tony's".
    View All 1,298 Cabo San Lucas Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Cabo San Lucas Cruise Port Review
  • Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
    Oh my! The Castillo de Felipe required some serious walking and climbing in the heat and humidity! We managed it OK, but wife probably would not have done it had she known how much of a hike it was. Then we were taken to the old walled part of the city, where we were given a short orientation tour and the usual stop at an emerald store. But the good news was that we had about 2 hours of free time, which we used to find and enjoy an excellent restaurant with free WiFi! The old town would be a great place to wander around in with more time and less crowds. But glad we saw it.
    View All 43 Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas Reviews
  • Grand Cayman
    After spending the previous 10 days trying to use my high school Spanish in every port [with some, but limited success], it was a change of pace to be in an English speaking place -- albeit one where the cars drove on the other side :) We actually had pre-booked a place for lunch before the cruise began at "The Lobster Pot", and we were well rewarded! It was located about 20 mins walk north of "downtown" on North Church Street on the beach. Wonderful! Lobster! After lunch we wandered around the town a bit. I'm sure this stop was a lot of fun for those who wanted to do water related activities like snorkeling and fishing etc as those opportunities seemed endless. A very small, but pretty town. Nice stop.
    View All 3,376 Grand Cayman Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Grand Cayman Cruise Port Review
  • Coffee Plantation
    Had a nice day touring around a bit of Costa Rica. First stop was a small botanical garden, and then we drove up and up to the coffee plantation where we had a tour and a decent lunch. Finally more driving and a stop in a small town with an old church. All in all it gave us an impression of the high valley where most Costa Ricans live. Glad we did it!
    View All 33 Coffee Plantation Reviews
  • San Juan del Sur
    Just walked around the beach side looking for a lunch location, and found one that had great food AND fast free internet! A really peaceful little town for a cruise stop. But we enjoyed it.
    View All 90 San Juan del Sur Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's San Juan del Sur Cruise Port Review