For our 17th cruise, we wanted to experience the Panama Canal. We had taken NCL in Sept. to New England and in October around the Western Mediterranean. This 3rd Norwegian cruise was a charm. We are a couple in our 60's recently ... Read More
For our 17th cruise, we wanted to experience the Panama Canal. We had taken NCL in Sept. to New England and in October around the Western Mediterranean. This 3rd Norwegian cruise was a charm. We are a couple in our 60's recently retired and it's time to travel while we're still able to do so. While working and limited to 7 days off, we did the East, West, and South Caribbean total 10 times over 17 years. This time we went to the Panama Canal area. ABC isles, Cartagena, Colon, Panama Canal, and Limon. from Miami. 12 days on the Norwegian Joy 020220 - 021420.
Our Embarkation was terrible as we had to wait outside for 2 hours in hot weather as we were in a Carnival terminal (why?) and all passports were checked slowly for recent travel to China in lieu of the new Corona virus concerns (that's good that we were checked).
The ship was very nice. Clean, recently updated, and very comfortable but for a very small pool on Deck 16. Most of that area is empty for lounging. The pool takes up less than 5% of the open deck area. It made for easy seating to view the Superbowl on departure day. Even though out of Miami where the Superbowl was, we had a Latin America TV feed with commercials for soccer and Cricket. The same 3 commercials all game, at every time out.
Our cabin was inside (as we like it dark) and had a large shower and bathroom comparatively but little storage space (36" closet with 4 shelves on the inside. So I put my underwear and socks above the bed and n my night table. So what? We're only in the cabin to sleep, and when we've previously had a balcony we didn't use it at all.
The food offerings were very tasty buy sparse. We ate breakfasts in the buffet when we had early excursions so we'd get out quickly, but opted for the dining rooms on days at sea or late port arrivals so we could have our favorite smoked salmon not offered at the buffet. For lunch we ate at the buffet only because there was a greater variety offered that the dining rooms. For supper, we ate only 4 of 12 nights in the dining rooms because we didn't like the menu options offered. On our previous cruises in Sept. and Oct. 2019 on NCL we had shrimp cocktail offered each night as an appetizer option as well as salmon.
These options were missing, but I found them on the Haven (luxury suites with their own dining room above deck 16) every night instead. That's NCL trying to get us to pay big bucks for a small food option now considered premium. Boo! But nobody was going away hungry, ever. Also, the many main dish selections in the buffet at lunch and dinner had dwindled from many to several, and we found salad selections mixed with hot foods, kinda doubling up on the facings of the same thing. Lunch meats were ham, salami or (salty) turkey. Salads were fresh and fine, fruits were apples, oranges, honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon and pineapple. only a handful of different hot offerings were given each day at lunch and dinner along with daily pizza, pasta, hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage, grilled chicken and french fries. White rice was everywhere. Onion soup was on every dinner menu buffet and dining rooms and only 1 other 'cream of'' soup: 2 soups daily. The India chef had a 'Taste Of India' section that was rarely visited by anyone and with dishes I never heard of before. I didn't go there at all. That should be fixed by rotating other country offerings nightly. But in general, all of the other food tasted excellent.
Nightly entertainment was very good, with 3 shows (1 for fee - Wine Lovers) and broadway class performances of 'Footloose' and 'Elements' (same show we saw in the Western Mediterranean in October on the N. Epic (Now THAT was a ship with a lousy cabin setup). Other nightly entertainment offerings were a Beatles cover band twice in the theater and 4 times at the Cavern bar (excellent), 4 different comedians in the Social Club, and 2 singers (one was a duet 1st time including the cruise director DanDan who was a surprise tenor with a wonderful voice).
Service in the buffet was excellent, and the dining room was hit or miss as we had only one bad experience. But I'd still give service 5 stars.
I don't want to dwell on the ABC islands as many other folks have been there and we've been to Aruba and Curacao thrice before, but our Bonaire experience (first visit) was a bad tour vehicle with limited vision, no loudspeaker, and 2-1/2 hours until a bathroom stop and it was given by a tour operator Voyager Bonaire Tours. My mom said if you don't have something nice to say about someone, don't say anything. 'Nuf said.
Shore excursions by NCL were very good but expensive. In the ABC islands, we opted for the excursion tents for tours to give the money to the locals. These tents are right outside the ship entrance. Except for Bonaire, Aruba and Curacao were very good and for $20 or $25 pp, you get an equivalent $79-$99 NCL tour. I don't want to dwell on the ABC islands here as many other folks have been there and we've been to Aruba and Curacao twice.
But the Cartagena, Colon, and Limon ports had no such tents and also high crime rates in the first two. So we opted to stay safe and use NCL cruises to be safe and it was the right thing to do. We took NCL's "Exploring Magnificent Cartagena" as our tour. As soon as we got off the tour bus at every stop we were hounded by sidewalk vendors with jewelry, handbags, sunglasses, coin collection cards, you name it! Dozens, no hundreds of vendors suffocating us no matter which way we turned. It was worse than I could ever imagine. I sat down with my wife at an outdoors area for a drink and Columbian coffee (a must) and were besieged constantly by at least 20 of them in 15 minutes. We were safe but under duress. "No thank you". No thank you. No. No thank you. You run out of no thank you's all day long and at every stop. It was suffocating and left a bad taste of the city. The NCL tour there was very good, visiting the large fort "Castille San Felipe de Barajas" outside only (enough), then on to "Palacio De La Museo Historico de Cartagena" which showed the torture history of previous eras, and a cultural exposition "Exposicion Derivas" which featured a native dance troupe.
Next day in Colon (as far as I'm concerned pronounce it both ways) we took the NCL tour "Former Canal Zone History and Miraflores Locks" and for $79 pp it was a bargain. We made a stop at a Latin 7-11 with 2 policemen standing guard with automatic weapons in front. Very clean but unsettling. We stopped next at the Goethals monument for a nice photo. After a total 1 hour drive, we arrived at the Pacific side of the canal.Then we went to the Miraflores canal locks. There was an IMAX theater (we didn't get tickets) and saw a 12 minute film. We then went up to a grandstand looking over the locks and watched as the locks opened and closed and a 5000 car carrying ship went through, guided by electronic 'mules'. It was a wonderful experience. When we left, we drove back to the ship, Just outside the ship is the slums, with partially demolished but standing buildings that look line WWII photos of bombed out streets. We were warned in advance not to visit as even near the ports people can be mugged in broad daylight without any repercussions.
The next day was the Panama Canal transit. It started at 5 AM and we went through 3 locks, turned around and went back through the same by 2:30 PM. It was sort of Deja Vu as we witnessed it up close on the Pacific side the day before at Miraflores. It's still an engineering marvel not to be missed.
The next day was our last port of call, Puerta Limon (Limon) Costa Rica. This is a nature area with rainforests. A Biologists dream come true. Again no port cruise tents here. We signed up for NCL's tour "Caribbean Train, Eco Cruise and Countryside" ($79pp). We were bused offroad first to an old rickety wooden 3 car train for a 50 minute ride through the rainforest. Take the seats on the left side as the right has the ocean most of the way. I loved it. Like traveling in the '30s. We got off and were taken by bus past a very large banana plantation for miles. We arrived at 'EcoJungle Natural Tours'a ' for a short river cruise past sloths, lizards, and birds. It was fun and enjoyable. It was also not full of bugs so I was told that the repellent I used was not needed. We went back for complimentary pineapple and tea and took the bus back to the ship. We had 2 days at sea to return to Miami. Read Less