Our cruise from San Diego through the Panama Canal was almost perfect. With only 1600 passengers aboard, the ship was full of life and still had plenty of room to avoid lines and dance the night away.
The most surprising part of the cruise was the quality of the food, which has always been good and was even better than usual on this cruise. The menu changed each day, repeating itself later in the cruise, and there were always several selections that satisfied. In addition to the high quality of the Tsar’s Palace, we enjoyed Cagney’s and the Bistro for specialty dining. O’Sheehan’s was perfect for breakfast on days we slept late, and we found both breakfast and lunch there to be well portioned and nicely prepared. The omelets and burgers there better than the dining room, in my opinion. In addition, the windows there are bigger and cleaner and often available, whereas the dining room windows show the wear of the sea over time. We also enjoyed sushi at the sushi bar one night (where the server didn’t realize that unfiltered sake needs to be thoroughly shaken) and had Chinese food another night, which wasn’t as good.
There were a number of sea days and we found the ship to be relaxing, spending time in the Spinnaker reading or watching the wildlife (sea turtles!) or wandering about to see what might be entertaining to watch. One day we attended a wine tasting, but the wines were not very good and not worth the extra charge. We tried our luck in the casino, which was a mixed bag and laughed at some of the game shows taking place in the afternoon. The evening entertainment was very good and after a show, we would wander back to the Spinnaker for D’Revelation who played a nice mix of dance music that was a little different every night.
Our cabin was a mid-ship club mini-suite (11604), which had plenty of room for the two of us, a curtain to separate the very comfy bed from the couch, and a nice sized shower. Unfortunately, the designer sink leaves absolutely NO counterspace and so storage in the bathroom was a little tricky but probably worth it for the extra space. The balconies in this section of the ship are not very private due to angled dividers and a floor that hangs out a little farther than on other decks. The result is a bigger balcony, which is nice, but I didn’t appreciate some of the other passengers peering around the dividers at various times during the cruise. On the other hand, the angle gave expansive views during the Panama Canal crossing.
The Botanical Garden and Tropical Aviary was a mixed experience. The boat ride through the mangroves to see many different birds, including three kinds of herons was a nice escape from the heat and the Botanical Garden gave us a chance to stretch our legs walking up the side of one of Acapulco’s hillsides. Unfortunately, the included snack (granola bar and apple) was not sufficient for a five hour tour that didn’t end until 2:30 and by the end the one child that was on the tour was definitely no longer happy. Since you can’t take food off the ship in Mexico, this really needs to be addressed by the tour companies. Our guide was very friendly and very focused on the “glamour” of Acapulco.
We found a great taco tour with Juan More Tacos, where we were able to sample a number of different types of tacos from different parts of Mexico. It might have been one taco too many. The tour ended with tequila tasting and information that was much better than what we had later in the cruise on an NCL excursion. Cabo is very walkable from the tender drop off with numerous chances to buy tours and local merchandise. It’s very touristic.
The canal is a one time must-do, a real marvel of engineering. It was worth getting up early to see the first locks and then spend the day bouncing around various parts of the ship to see the locks from different perspectives. The bow of deck 8, usually reserved for crew, was open to passengers for a great view all day long.
Since we don’t know much about rum, we took the Guatemalan Rum-Aged in the Clouds and Sightseeing tour which started with a very long bus ride to Antigua where we were shuttled to a jade factory (a.k.a. another jewelry store) before we enjoyed our rum tasting. The information about the rum was very interesting and the rum was quite good. The tour included a very nice buffet lunch at an Antigua hotel and ended with a long ride back to the port. Puerto Quetzal probably had the nicest cruise port of all the stops, but it’s in the middle of an industrial area so there isn’t much else to do. We stopped at the visitor information booth for a geocache and came away with a bunch of free bracelets and worry dolls for the grandkids.
We took the NCL Town, Country, and Tequila tour which was mainly a way for the tour company to take us to places where they would get kickbacks. The silver factory was a walk past about five silver smiths into a jewelry store where we spent about a half hour. The tequila tour was really just a tasting of average tequila available for above average prices and a chance to buy lunch. In truth, I make better margaritas at home. Most of the time was spent in the bus. Thankfully, the guide was knowledgeable about the area and interesting.
The Jaguar and Macaw Sanctuary was a real highlight of the trip with caged and free macaws and numerous other birds and animals, including jaguars and other cats. Our guide was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable and made the bus ride to the sanctuary pass quickly. The sanctuary was a photographers paradise and the snack of fresh fruit and bottled water was perfect.
They are building a new cruise port, which should be quite nice when finished. In the meantime, it's best to hire transportation and go to Panama City.